Saturday, June 17, 2006


We’re almost halfway 2006 now, and who’s nuts enough to read MFBB’s EU posts knows what that means: time for another EU summit!!!

Austrian EU PresidencyYes indeed, one of those fancy EU leadership thingies is that, while legislative power is in the hands of the EU Parliament (just like legislative power in the States is in the hands of Congress), the executive power is shared by two entities: there’s the EU Commission, led by José Manuel Barroso, which has a four year term and which is responsible for the day-to-day decisions, and then there’s the EU Presidency, which rotates among the EU member states in six-month periods, and which is supposed to set out, and implement, the strategic guidelines. During the first half of 2006, Austria had the EU Presidency, as I'm sure you noticed.


Hey, come back! I got some nude, uh, new Diane Lane pics yet! It was only a "graptje"! (Flemish slang for joke - MFBB)

Austrian EU PresidencyBut it's true. I’m hitting 41 this summer and have seen already quite some EU Presidencies, but I can’t recall none which was so boring. Appointing Scott McClellan for EU President for six months would have been more fun. And the two-day summit (15 and 16 June) they’ve just concluded the show with in Brussels was just as dull (the photo shows Austrian PM Wolfgang Schluessel , center, with to the left Austrian FM Ursula Plassnik and to the right Commission Chief Barroso). Actually, the only thing that sticks with me about Austria at the EU helm is that poster campaign in January with these larger-than-life photos of Bush, Queen Elizabeth and Chirac fornicating. Btw, QE and Chirac are Europeans, but why Bush? Answer: 21st Century Artists' logic, ya know. The last sane artist, Hopper, dropped dead back in 1967 already. But I digress. The next EU Presidency, till 31 December 2006, is for Finland and judging from their performance at the Eurovision Song Festival, there's hoping the EU won't look like a dead hippopotamus by year's end. Btw, did you know that "Finns" spelled backwards sounds as "sniff"? Mu ha ha ha.

OK, that summit. The 25 were mainly still blathering about the EU Constitution. That is to say, with all the focus that has been on France’s “NON” and Holland’s “NEEN” of last year, you might think the whole of Europe has rejected the Constitution. Well, that’s actually quite far from the truth. In fact, of the 25 member states 13 have already ratified it, while two more are close to ratification. Of course, in a number of countries the Constitution did not pass by popular referendum and the parliaments ratified it. This happened, a.o., in the Union of Soviet Socialist Repooplickers of Belgistania. For me, being an Outlaw, voting was a moot point anyway. Notice that, although a slight majority is thus in favor, only one country’s “NO” is sufficient to stall the general adoption of that dreadful 500-page document as the European Constitution.

Now, if I say “blathering” it’s mainly between two blocs, the bloc which wants to see the EU Constutuon approved asap and move on towards further integration and the bloc which wants to take a break, take a deep breath and consider what to do next. As the situation is now, the EU can expand further to 27 countries, and almost certainly will, by accepting Bulgaria in 2007 and Romania in 2008. After that, there's no legal basis provided by the existing Treaties anymore to allow for further expansion. If you wonder why that should be a problem, well, the existing treaties provide for one Commissioner ("Minister") per country, and so Barroso's Commision (the EU's "day-to-day gumint so to say), is 25 Ministers strong. But apart from Bulgaria and Romania there are still six other countries waiting in the wings: Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia and... Turkey. Since adding six more ministers to the EU Commission would make it unworkable, there's a general consensus already that after Bulgaria and Romania not every country will have an own commissioner. For distributing these key posts among the smorgasbord of nationalities there have to be rules. And these rules have yet to be established. These were some of the topics discussed at this latest summit, utterly boring I guess for non-Europeans, but that's what you get when you try to make work a supranational entity with a lot of fierce egos. It became also clear on this summit that, while accession talks with Turkey have started, the Turks are by far NOT on board yet – phew. Actually, in the most optimistic scenario access is only for 2015 or so, and even then I don’t really see it happen. Barroso said on this summit that "it (Turkish membership) will be a very difficult task". Oh yeah, if there's any Turk out there reading this, you may be interested to know that if someone had asked me back in, say, 1984, whether you guys could come on board, I'd have answered you could right away, no problem. Anno 2006 however, with a closet islamist like Erdogan in power, and the Turkish population already here growing ever more islamist itslef, I say njet, definitely.

Lake Bled, SloveniaBasically, right now I can see only one tangible development, and even then it’s about a real small country: Slovenia, a nation about the size of Israel (20,273 sq. kloms, that’s 7,827 sq miles) and with just under 2,000,000 inhabitants. Capital Ljubjlana. The photo shows the famous Lake Bled, a must see when visiting this tiny but very beautiful nation. More info and nice pics here. Slovenia, not to be mistaken for Slovakia, was the very first republic to break free from the artifical construction which was Yugoslavia, in 1991. There was a brief “war” with about 100 KIA between the young republic and the federal Yugoslav army, but nothing comparable to what went on later in Croatia and Bosnia. Already prior to the rift, Slovenia was the most wealthy part of Tito’s realm, it got through the troubled nineties unharmed, and is today fairly prosperous.

Well, Slovenia will join the so-called Eurozone on the 1st of January, 2007, as the 13th country. It is the first of the 10 new EU members to meet the criteria of the so-called “Stability Pact", which outlines the conditions for access to the Eurozone and thus adoption of the euro as currency (photo shows the biggest note in use, the 500 EUR one. Worth about 600 bucks). To cut a long story short, the Stability Pact states that eurozone members must have a budget deficit of less than 3% of the GDP, a public debt not exceeding 60% of the GDP, as well as low inflation and interest rates. Note that Lithuania’s candidacy for adopting the euro was rejected only because its inflation was considered too high – a bit of a sham, since it was only slightly higher than the benchmark (see also this table). In fact, some neighboring countries supported Lithuania’s bid, as did the European Parliament itself. But the EU ministers of Finance were adamant. Ludicrous imho – the two biggest member states, Germany and France, violated the budget deficit rules last year and were not punished.

Slovenia's current currency is the tolar. Under normal circumstances, the EU Finance ministers will on July 11 establish the exchange rate between the tolar and the euro, and then the Slovenian Central Bank must prepare the task of distributing 155 million euro coins and 42 million bank notes by January 1, 2007. Brings back memories of how our currency, the Belgian franc, was replaced with the euro, some four years back already. One euro was set to equal 40.3399 Belgian francs. The actual replacement, from a technical POV, went quite smooth. Getting used to a totally different money scale is less evident however. To this very day, most Belgians, when confronted with a purchase, especially an important one, mentally do the math and quickly calculate what a euro price stands for in BEF.

Gorenje factorySlovenia has more to offer than postcard images, btw. Finland may have Nokia, but Slovenia has Gorenje. I fear that over there in the States Gorenje is still unknown, but this brand of electrical household appliances is conquering Europe by storm. Its modern main factory, with more than 8,000 employees, is set among rolling hills and cozy villages an hour's drive outside the capital Ljubljana. It churns out more than three million fridges, cookers and washing machines yearly, the grand majority of it for export throughout Europe. Qualitywise it's a match for established values like AEG, Siemens, Bosch, Smeg etc., and they are at the forefront of the altest developments, with brainy washing machines, state-of-the-art steam ovens (all the rage in Eurowonderland now) and so on. Lately they have begun focusing on design too. Capitalism works, you know.

OK. I promised it.

You will agree that it's better to start with the Austrian EU Presidency and end with Diane lane than the other way round. MFBB for Radio DowneastBlogo, Old Europe, over and out.


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