Polish PM Donald Tusk becomes new president of the European Council

2014 - Donald Tusk (16)
Current Polish prime minister Donald Tusk has been designated as the next president of the European Council and as such tasked with chairing the meetings of the council which consists of the heads of government of the European Union member states as well as being the figurehead of the EU, a role he will officially take over from current president Herman Van Rompuy on December 1.

The selection of Tusk, an influential and high-profile liberal-conservative politician from one of the newer EU member states of central Europe could be seen as an acknowledgement of the growing importance of central and eastern Europe in European affairs, with Poland emerging as the regional heavyweight.

The modernization of the monarchies

One of the strongest traditions of the monarchical institutions has been the steadfast view that a monarch reigns until death, unless exceptional political circumstances have forced the incumbent out prematurely. The only traditional exception to this rule has been the Dutch monarchy, whose reigning queens during the 20th century have not hesitated to take a step back and go into retirement when their successor has been deemed ready to take over. But that has been the quirky exception to the rule.

Now, in the 21st century, however that age-old monarchical taboo however seem to be regarded more and more as an anachronism in today’s world. In a sweep that started with the – actually even more unprecedented – stepping down of pope Benedict XVI and then continued with the abdications of both the Dutch queen Beatrix as well as the Belgian king Albert II and, latest, Juan Carlos I of Spain, it seems like a new precedent is forming. In the modern monarchy it seems the head of state are now seen as entitled to retirement. Or deemed unproblematic enough to have around as a retiree. Because it must also be noted that the other side of the coin with abdicated monarchs is that you will in such circumstances have an ex-monarch who theoretically can remain an influential power voice and a voice that is no longer as bound by convention and position. Such a person could theoretically be a problematic political problem, all depending on his or hers personal ability to slip into the new and in many ways undefined role given. With the diminishing actual political power of the monarchs in today’s European states that could be a lesser problem, but nevertheless it is still to be seen during coming years if this new tradition of handing over the crown “in advance” will prove to be a beneficial move or not for these very archaic institutions. For now, it seems to be functioning.

Ukraine’s last hope?

The agreement now on the table might be the last chance to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine and also to avoid a situation devolving into a civil war. The main question now is how much the agreement actually will be worth. The current regime in Ukraine has not shown itself to be very trustworthy when it comes to earlier agreements and at the same time the opposition, or at least its more hardcore elements, will most likely have difficulty accepting an agreement that leaves the hated president in power for maybe up to the end of the year.

It is also ominous that the special envoy of Russia unlike his EU counterparts from France, Poland and Germany apparently haven’t signed the agreement as was first intended. The Russian statement that they too want to see a stable Ukraine might not mean in their mind the same thing as it does for the EU.

(This text is also posted at Tonakai World.)

Time for German coalition talks

The German federal election became a success for incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU, but simultaneously something of a problem in that the liberal FDP, the traditional CDU/CSU ally, for the first time in German post-war history saw themselves voted out of the Bundestag. This means that Angela Merkel now has to find a new coalition partner, which by necessity would mean either the social democrats or the greens. In either of these cases it will mean lengthy and difficult talks before any coalition may be put in place.

The most likely outcome is a new grand coalition between the Christian democrats and the Social democrats, but this won’t be achieved without a great deal of bargaining. The SDP is most likely wary of sitting in a coalition as the junior partner again, with clear memories of the not all that rewarding time in the latest grand coalition of 2005-2009. The Greens on the other hand are perceived to be further from the CDU/CSU in ideology, even if the differences in key areas such as the nuclear energy question much have disappeared after the Christian democrats’ u-turn after Fukushima. A CDU/CSU-Green coalition is not ruled out, but remains the more unlikely option for now.

Can pope Francis make a change?

Pope Francis
Pope Francis (Source: Vatican.va)

Pope Benedict XVI’s unexpected stepping down from his office made way for the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope Francis. A new pope from a new part of the World and with a new, never before used papal name, apparently taken out of reverence for one of the most well-known and saintliest Saints of the church.

The Swedish writer Göran Hägg made a note in his book about the popes throughout history that the 20th Century popes seemed to fall into a pattern of alternating jovial pastoral men with more teological academical ones and the current election seems to follow neatly in that pattern. The newly elected pope Francis is much more like late John Paul II than his immediate predecessor Benedict XVI. Once again the Roman Catholic Church has at its helm a man that is following a pastoral call.

New Dutch government coalition installed

A new Dutch cabinet has been installed after the latest election. The new cabinet is a coalition government consisting of the liberal VVD and the social democratic Labour party PvdA. Each party will have ten minister posts. Mark Rutte (VVD), who also was prime minister in the outgoing cabinet, will continue as PM.

The new government is seen as more pro-Europe and pro-austerity than the previous coalition which fell on disagreement over budget cuts.

Sources: De Telegraaf, EUobserver.com

The Pirates are entering Berlin politics

For the first time has a Pirate Party entered the political arena for real. With nine percent of the votes in the election in Berlin, the German Piratenpartei managed to get a good bit above the threshold limit and enters the Berlin Abgeordnetehaus where it will have 15 of the 152 seats in the parliament.

Is this the beginning of a new political movement getting a foothold in German and European politics, much like the green parties once started their road to become a serious part of the European political landscape, or is it only a temporary fad and more of a protest against the established parties? It is yet a little too early to tell. There certainly are signs that the issues that the pirate parties count as their core areas – personal integrity, data protection, net freedom and the likes – are growing in importance, much like during the 1970s and 1980s the environment got in focus. The question is if this new set has the momentum needed to foster a new political alignment. That the Pirate Party get their first real success in Berlin is in itself not all that surprising. The city has a relatively large number of people with alternative lifestyle views and on top of that a booming creative and internet-focused culture. Even so it still must be seen as somewhat surprising that almost one tenth of the voters chose to give their vote to this yet untested party. The future will tell if the Pirates manage to repeat their electorial success in other, more traditional parts of Germany or not.

German Greens’ success in BW

From what it looks, the German Greens have won their first government premier position in the state elections of Baden-Württemberg. With 24.2 percent of the votes the Green Party managed to become bigger than their traditional ally SPD with 23.1 percent. This by all likelyhood means that the next premier in Baden-Württemberg will be the Greens’ Winfried Kretchmann in a Green-SPD minority coalition government. The Christian Democratic CDU which are traditionally strong in the region got 39.0 percent of the vote and are now losing their grip over the state government for the first time since 1953.

Even if the circumstances can be said to be unusually in favour of the Greens’ politics, with the local debate over Stuttgart 21 – the big rebuilding of the railway station in Stuttgart – as the main focus and the nuclear disaster in Japan as a backdrop, it could also very well be seen as a possible bigger shift in political preferences, especially in Germany where the Greens have gone on to becoming a big, established party besides the traditional left and right parties SPD and CDU/CSU and catering to voters that want something else than the traditional parties.

The problems with nuclear power

As if the earthquake and the following tsunami were not enough, Japan got into another nightmare with its damaged and apparently out-of-control Fukushima nuclear power plant.

It can of course be argued over the logic in the reasoning to construct nuclear plants in a region that is on the absolute top of the list when it comes to earthquake risks. Japan have naturally not been unaware of the risks involved, but have apparently deemed that in order to provide the electrical energy needed to power the world’s second largest economy the risks were worth taking. It now seems that the safeguards even in such a hightech country have not been sufficient.

It is not the first time the safety of Japan’s nuclear programme has been questioned, or even the first time incidents have cast a shadow on the policies. But this is by far the worst such incident.

Twitter subpoenas: Highlighting the problem with globalized data

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of the Althing – the parliament of Iceland – and a former Wikileaks supporter has apparently been informed by Twitter that the US Department of Justice has demanded that Twitter turns over the stored Twitter data they have regarding her account. This includes all actual tweets as well as some personal information about her. Not surprisingly, she is regarding the subpoena as a breach of privacy since she is not suspected of any crime. While Twitter have chosen to actually inform the targeted person of the existence of the subpoena, there seem to be a rising suspicion that other companies such as Google and Facebook are not as open toward their users. Which of course makes it an even worse privacy break since the persons are not even aware of that their personal information are eventually turned over to a third party, no matter that the third party happens to be a US governmental body.

The main problem here is not only the fact that personal user data aren’t as protected as the users in most case presume it to be, but also the fact that personal data belonging to persons not even in the legal jurisdiction of a country can be submitted to that country’s views of legality when it comes to data protection. In one way, if the process described in this case is deemed legal by US courts, it is perfectly legal. A sovereign state has the full right to have a bad legal protection when it comes to data – so long as it doesn’t go against any potential international treaties and agreement said state has signed of course. The problem however takes on a diffent dimension when personal data given up by persons not residing in or in any way having a connection to said state end up getting their personal information ceded to the authories in that state.

Now, of course there most likely is a clause in the user agreements for both Twitter, Facebook and Google that states something like that the user agrees to having their personal data stored and handled in the USA, and as such being under the jurisdiction of the US legal system. But the real question is how many of the millions of international users who are actually aware of this fact. Data protection and safety are tricky things, since they are so elusive in their geographical attachment.

Sources: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jan/08/us-twitter-hand-icelandic-wikileaks-messages, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jan/08/wikileaks-calls-google-facebook-us-subpoenas?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

Hungary’s EU presidency marred by their new media law

As Hungary takes over the EU presidency for the first half of 2011, there remain a controversy over the country’s newly approved media law that will impose a rather strict government body control over both public and private media companies, as well as in theory also applying to the more informal modern forms of media outlets such as blogs. Exactly how this latter part would be feasible is on the other hand questionable. In any case such stringent overseeing by a government authority is bordering to state censorship and it is highly questionable if such a law is in correspondence with the European legal framework on the right to free speech.

Sources (selection of): http://www.eesc.europa.eu/?i=portal.en.vice-president-communication-amd-blog.13823, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/01/07/hungary-media-law-endangers-press-freedom

Swedish parliament election

The Swedish parliamentary election resulted in a new mandate for the sitting center-right coalition government. The coalition did however lose their majority in the parliament and will continue govern as a minority government.