Thursday, December 29, 2005

New Food and Feed Rules in the EU as of January 1, 2006

In the EU, new food and feed legislation goes into effect on January 1, 2006. As written at the Brussels CTA Weblog on December 23, 2005:

"The first of January 2006 marks a significant milestone for food safety in the EU, with the entry into application of a large updated body of food and feed legislation. The Food “Hygiene Package”, the Regulation on microbiological criteria for foodstuffs, the Regulation on official feed and food controls, and the Feed Hygiene Regulation, constitute a complementary set of rules to tighten and harmonise EU food safety measures. These laws will apply at every point in the food chain, in line with the EU’s “farm to fork” approach. A key aspect of the new legislation is that all food and feed operators, from farmers and processors to retailers and caterers, will have primary responsibility for ensuring that food put on the EU market meets the required safety standards."

Questions and Answers on the new EU rules on food and feed hygiene and controls at the EU website here.
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Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

EU Pundit Christmas 2005

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New Ajax Technology - EU Law as an Example Page

Via CaryGEE, who always has his finger on the trigger of tomorrow, this is a vestige of things to come....

Take a look at ProtoPage.com which offers "Free AJAX start pages now with RSS news feeds, sticky notes and bookmarks".

The user need not register, but if no registration is made, the created page expires in 48 hours. Registration is free, so it is definitely worth the experiment.

We have created an AJAX page for links and RSS to the law of the European Union at http://www.protopage.com/orcimtfos. This kind of a page can be created in a very short period of time for almost any topic - the applications are immense.

AJAX viz. Ajax is the acronym for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML.

As written by Jesse James Garrett on February 18, 2005 in Ajax: A New Approach to Web Application, Ajax "represents a fundamental shift in what’s possible on the Web".

Garrett writes further that:

"An Ajax application eliminates the start-stop-start-stop nature of interaction on the Web by introducing an intermediary — an Ajax engine — between the user and the server. It seems like adding a layer to the application would make it less responsive, but the opposite is true.

Instead of loading a webpage, at the start of the session, the browser loads an Ajax engine — written in JavaScript and usually tucked away in a hidden frame. This engine is responsible for both rendering the interface the user sees and communicating with the server on the user’s behalf. The Ajax engine allows the user’s interaction with the application to happen asynchronously — independent of communication with the server. So the user is never staring at a blank browser window and an hourglass icon, waiting around for the server to do something....
"

No more waiting around? Terrific. The promise of this technology is immense, and that is why Google is using it. Garrett writes further:

"Google is making a huge investment in developing the Ajax approach.... Others are following ... Flickr ... Amazon’s A9.com search ...."

AJAX is going to be a blockbuster. Take a look at Garrett's Q&A.

Crossposted to LawPundit.
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Thursday, December 22, 2005

European Union Realities - Baltic, Ireland, United Kingdom

Did you know that the world's first decorated Christmas tree was made in Riga, Latvia? in the year 1510.

And what about now? As stated at InspirationRiga.com: "Today Riga is one of Europe’s most dynamic and rapidly developing cities."

What about the rest of Latvia and the Modern Baltic?

Mark Landler in Tallinn, Estonia, (hat tip to CaryGEE) sends us a December 21, 2005 Letter From Estonia to the New York Times titled A Land of Northern Lights, Cybercafes and the Flat Tax which touches upon many of the difficult issues currently facing the Baltic, and also the European Union.

As Landler writes about neighboring Estonia: "Estonia, one realizes after a few days in the abiding twilight of a Baltic winter, is not like other European countries".

Landler writes further that "Estonia's economic growth was nearly 11 percent in the last quarter - the second fastest in Europe, after Latvia, and an increase more reminiscent of China or India than Germany or France."

The Old Europe vs. The New Europe

In Europe, we sometimes find two previously opposed worlds, the now increasingly dynamic "New Europe" of the East (predominantly in urban areas) and the sometimes all too encrusted "Old Europe" of the West (often in rural areas).

Part of the problem in the European Union is that some of the established nations of Western Europe do not want to move forward, whereas the economic demands of the times, driven by the globalization of the world, really give them no choice. In the longer term, they must move forward if they want to survive. This is a basic rule of life, "grow or die".

The Model of Ireland

The country of Ireland is the outstanding example of a country which is adapting well to the ever-changing demands of the world. A December 20, 2005 article by Teresa Küchler at EUobserver.com is titled "Irish most happy, Brits most unhappy with EU" and reports on a recent "Eurobarometer" poll taken by the European Commission, in which 86% of the Irish think that they have benefitted from EU membership, as compared to only 37% in Britain.

Ireland and the UK

So what distinguishes Ireland from the United Kingdom as far as the EU is concerned? Are these differences real - or merely differences in the way things are viewed?

Ireland, as far as we have been able to determine from news reports and analyses, has moved unfailingly toward modernity and toward European integration. See e.g. The Celtic Tiger. Take a look at Ireland's ComReg website. Fast, Comprehensive, Intuitive. Remarkably good. There you find an immediate link, e.g. to the "New EU Framework". Ireland is on the move.

By comparison, when I went to the UK telecommunications site, I was confronted with the statement that "The Oftel website is now closed" and was redirected, but not automatically, from Oftel to Ofcom. Try to find something at that website about the telecommunications framework of the European Union.

Indeed, compare both websites for the amount of informational content contained on all kinds of issues. The Irish website wins hands down, both in content and design. Why is that?

In November 2004, according to the BBC, the Economist judged Ireland the best country in the world to live in, followed by Switzerland, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Italy, Denmark and Spain. The United Kingdom ranked 29th. As the BBC writes:

"The researchers said although the UK achieved high income per head, it had high levels of social and family breakdown."

Does anyone really think that this high level of social and family breakdown has anything to do with the European Union? Or are there other factors of the past which have not been satisfactorily resolved? There is surely no sense in blaming the EU for these problems, which would exist even if the UK were not a member of the EU. Indeed, it might be suggested here that eurosceptics in the UK try to remove such non-EU-related problems from their political equation. Perhaps the role of the EU might then look different in their eyes.

Insularity is No Solution

One common denominator for those unhappy with the EU seems to be the desire for insularity, i.e. the attempt to reject the economic and political realities of the modern world and to live in the past, a past long gone. As suggested by Phil Kirk: "Forget the past and look to the future."

The possibility that EU problems are more ones of attitude and less problems of substance is manifested by two nations at opposite geographic ends of the EU, the United Kingdom and Latvia. The citizens of both nations are among the unhappiest with the EU (this in spite of the fact that Latvia currently has the fastest growing economy in Europe).

Latvian Rural Areas Emptying

In order not to offend the people in the UK, I will talk about my own ancestral nation. I was in Latvia last month and was again - as I was last year - as amazed at the dynamism in Riga as I was amazed at the lack of dynamism in rural areas, and, it is precisely from these rural areas that most of the opposition to the EU comes, just as in the French "no" vote to the Constitution, which was centered around farmers and workers.

Yet, while the eurosceptics in Latvia laud the good old days and the blessings of rural life, the younger generations continue to stream to Riga and elsewhere (particularly as workers to Ireland) to seek the blessings and wages of "modern life", leaving behind an impoverished "rural paradise" populated by the elderly. As my father (otherwise a great patriot who married on the Latvian Day of Independence) used to say about the good old days in Latvia, his teeth hurt down on the farm when he was a boy in Latvia and there were no dentists around to correct the problem nor money to pay them had they been there. Romanticism should not replace reality in politics.

My father left the Latvian countryside for Riga as a boy to support his family and ultimately emigrated to the United States after WWII to - rightly - seek his fortune. What has changed? Apparently very little.

See e.g.:
OECD Agriculture and Rural Development in Baltic Countries: Seminar held in Tallinn, Estonia, 10-12 June 2003
Basic skills in Latvia - A pessimistic outlook
Baltic Blacks among Celts (this title is provocative because "Balt" in Latvian means "white" and there is some indication that the "Baltic" name derived from that appellation)
Dan Bilefsky, Migration's flip side: All roads lead out, International Herald Tribune

As Slugger O'Toole writes:

"While there has been much talk about how Ireland has had to adjust to the more than 130,000 East Europeans from the new EU member states who registered to work here from May 2004 to date, Dan Bilefsky in the International Herald Tribune (paper copy only) reports how Latvia is emptying, where now “there is hardly a family left who hasn’t lost a son or daughter or mother or father to the mushroom farms of Ireland”."

That is the reality. Those who wish to perpetuate an antiquated traditional rural culture which is being abandonded by those who live there simply do not see the writing on the wall.

The Great Divide

The problems facing the UK are of course different, but, as in Latvia, there is still a great divide between economic realities and the utopian politico-economic theories of the eurosceptics and traditionalists, who long for some romantic perfect world in the past, which never existed.

The European Union may have its faults, but it is far better than any alternative that otherwise exists to guarantee the economic and political survival of Europe and its nations. Without the EU, the future of Europe would be fairly bleak, because relatively small, independent and individually weak nations would face global competition at all levels - and, more significantly - from bigger and stronger competitors. Indeed, the political dominance of large political unions such as the United States, Russia or China is comparable to the economic dominance exerted on the world economy by large multi-national corporations. One can either be dominated - or not wishing to be dominated - can form competing dominant political and economic unions. There is no other alternative in the long term.
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Sunday, December 18, 2005

On Selling the European Union to the Public

We have been thinking about the future of the supranational European Union (see also Oxford Scholarship Online).

Let us apply some Madison Avenue thinking along the lines of ("We are the World") to that question.

The European Union is a Political Product for a Multicultural Audience in a Supranational Setting

In many ways, the European Union is a political product which has to be "sold" to its multicultural, supranational consumers of 25 nations. It is a political union which has to be made both understandable and palatable to its constituents, otherwise, as the German proverb states "Was der Bauer nicht kennt, das isst er nicht" (What the farmer doesn't know, he doesn't eat). As noted concerning the French "no" vote on the EU Constitution by the World Socialist Web Site:

"The division between the camps was along social lines. Three-quarters of blue-collar and two-thirds of white-collar workers, as well as the majority of small farmers and rural workers, voted “no.” "

Obviously, the farmers and those of the same mentality were rejecting that which they did not know. In France, one must clearly make the politics as palatable as the food, no easy task.

Although not everyone likes to look at this matter as a non-political issue, all political groupings, even nations, are consumer products to be accepted or rejected by the voters. Pure democracy is politically capitalistic, culminating in the philosophy of "one man, one vote". Each voter in a democracy is in a position to vote for the political product he chooses.

What makes a political product desirable? and why is the European Union having so much trouble keeping their flock of sheep together, or is even failing at achieving such an objective as the ratification of a European Constitution which more or less codifies laws already in force. Obviously, the EU is doing something wrong. What should they be doing right?

Google Worldwide as an Example for Successful Supranational Marketing

Here, as an example, we thought of Google (started by Stanford students), which in the last analysis, is also "a product" to be consumed. After all, there are many alternative search engines. What makes Google so successful?

In many ways, Google's success was highly improbable. Before Google came on the market, there were already some very good search engines available, e.g. AlltheWeb, originally powered by Fast, which we still have installed at InternetLawWeb, and which still gives excellent search results. Prior to that the web had and in some part still has Excite (started by Stanford students), Yahoo (started by Stanford students), WebCrawler, GoTo (later Overture, purchased by Yahoo), Lycos, HotBot, Ask Jeeves, and AltaVista (we still use their translator). And there are also many newbies such as MSN Search, LookSmart, Teoma, Clusty, and IceRocket.

So how did Google, which was only started in 1999, become such a powerhouse in only six years? By Madison Avenue standards, where successful - and always risky - new product placement requires millions of dollars of advertising, this achievement was awesome.

Kim Peterson, Seattle Times technology reporter, has a superb article "How 'search' is redefining the Web — and our lives" in which he writes:

"Clean, simple, inviting

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., hit the $1 billion quarterly sales mark in 2004, just five years after its official launch. Its search engine won fans immediately upon debut because it served up relevant results in fractions of a second and had the minimalist appeal of white hotel sheets — clean, simple and inviting. Google's vault into the spotlight was perfectly timed to two important events: Mainstream users began discovering search, and competitors, distracted by the dot-com bust, lost their focus on quality.

Other search engines stopped improving their results, and the blinking and sparkling banner ads on their Web sites screamed for too much attention. Google produced answers fast, showing some unobtrusive ads along the way. That wasn't a bad tradeoff for users.

"We were finding things before Google came along, but they definitely raised the bar and raised the expectations of what we could get out of search," said Sullivan at Search Engine Watch. "They made it more manageable."

Google is the most popular engine today, home to 35 percent of Web searches. It receives hundreds of millions of requests every day, and studies them so thoroughly that it puts out a regular update of user patterns....
"

Clean, simple, inviting

If we look carefully at Peterson's article, we see his description of Google's success as based on making their product "clean, simple and inviting" to everyone (at last count, 116 different language interfaces).

In contrast, the European Union is not viewed as clean, simple, and inviting but is rather viewed as formidable and complex, precisely the opposite of the image that it needs to have in order to win over its constituents.

This is doable, since the prevailing image of the EU held by the ordinary citizen is absolutely false. The European Union bureaucracy is in fact quite modest in size.

The total employees of the European Commission - the main EU employer - number about 24000.

This is much less than the student body of many college campuses at universities in the United States, e.g. Arizona State University(38117), University of Texas (36473), Ohio State University (36097), University of Florida (33094), Purdue (30391), UCLA (24946), University of Michigan (24677). These are just the number of undergraduate students, not even including the graduate students.

Consider also that the German Pension Insurance Association (Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund) has 53000 employees, more than twice as many as the entire European Commission.

The Department of Work and Pensions in the United Kingdom numbers more than 100000, many of those in the Pension Service, more than four times the number of persons employed by the European Commission.

The French pension authority employs 35900 persons (La Caisse des Dépôts emploie 35 900 personnes), about 10000 more than the European Commission.

As written in Newsweek some years ago:

"Brussels's budget is just more than 1 percent of the EU's total GNP. Moravcsik points out that once you exclude translators and clerical workers, the European Commission employs 2,500 officials, "fewer than any moderately sized European city and less than 1 percent of the number employed by the French state alone." Any new law it wishes to pass needs more than 71 percent of weighted national-government votes--"a larger proportion than that required to amend the American Constitution." "

Not only is the budget of the European Union smaller than most persons imagine, but a majority of that budget goes right back into the pockets of European citizens, for example, through agricultural subsidies, which have historically made up about 50% of the EU budget.

As can be seen from the chart at page 34 of European Public Finances: Much Ado About Nothing?, by Lars P. Feld of the University of Marburg, net budget-induced gains or losses, as judged by each EU country, are next to negligible.

In the same vein, it is disturbing to read misleading news reports about, for example, a "massive" translation department which in fact consists only of an overworked 1600 Brussels-based translators, and outside agencies, who, rather than being a burden to Europe, are actually playing a significant role in maintaining the importance of the languages of the countries of Europe. Perhaps those who criticize the translation expense in the EU should be the first to volunteer "their" language to be excluded from EU translation....

How could this exaggeratedly false view of European Union institutions have come about?

Understandably, the institutions of the European Union have worked hard in the past to project themselves as big and powerful. Although this image projection was perhaps necessary in initial years to establish EU institutions, especially since Member States retain a great deal of their sovereignty, perhaps these institutions have been too successful in projecting this big image. What is now perhaps required is the creation of a more positive image in the minds of European citizens that the EU is not going to steamroller them by means of a giant bureaucracy, a giant bureaucracy that simply does not exist.

The reality is that the European Commission, which does the brunt of the work of the European Union, is smaller than the student enrollment at many an American university and smaller than the government pension services in each of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Lastly, a false image about the European Union is created by a European Constitution which is simply too verbose, inclusive and unnecessarily complex. The original US Constitution was 4 pages of written text including only the most essential elements of government, whereas the EU Constitution runs 485 pages in the official .pdf version, including masses of detail having no place in such a document.

Clean, simple and inviting. These are perhaps the major characteristics which should mark a re-marketing of the European Union to its constituents.

Crossposted to LawPundit.
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Saturday, December 17, 2005

EU Treaty Links at EUR-Lex and EULegal.Org Link Updates

The URLs of websites of the European Union and its institutions are in a constant state of flux, which has required us to substantially update our European Union links at EULegal.Org, our website on "European Law, Policy and Institutions." These links should now all be operational, but please inform us in the future if you find a dead link at the EULegal.Org website.

We might also note that the EUR-Lex link page for EU treaties is currently unsatisfactory in our view because some references are not to the commonly used names for the treaties. These commonly used names usually include the place at which a treaty was signed, e.g. Maastricht Treaty. The EUR-Lex links give official names of treaties only, i.e. rather than Maastricht Treaty they use Treaty on European Union, a linking practice which makes finding and use of the treaties difficult for anyone not thoroughly familiar with the subject matter, especially since the press generally uses "Maastricht Treaty".

Hence, in addition to linking to the EU treaty link page, we also link at EULegal.Org to the MCE European NAvigator ENA, which lists treaty links both by their official names as well as their place of signing. Hence, ENA lists "Treaty on European Union (Maastricht, 7 February 1992)" whereas EUR-Lex has only "Treaty on European Union (consolidated text) Official Journal C 325 of 24 December 2002".

Moreover, the Official Journal date above applies to the consolidated version of the treaty, which has no force of law because no one has signed these consolidations as treaties. It is the original - unconsolidated and signed - treaty per se, which is the actual "legislation in force". The Official Journal date in the link to the consolidated version of the treaty could thus be misleading to users, since the original Maastricht Treaty was already published earlier in the Official Journal on July 29, 1992, a fact which one discovers at the EU site only by clicking further to the website page on "Founding Treaties". We think it would be advisable for the EU to list all of these treaties on one page and with complete identifying information for each treaty to avoid this kind of potential confusion. The current way of linking presumes knowledge of the treaties on the part of the user, but this knowledge may often be lacking.

Moreover, the operative dates for treaties are not the dates at which they appear in the Official Journal but rather the dates on which they were signed and on which they took effect. When one clicks to a particular treaty in ENA, these dates are then appropriately given at the bottom of the page, for example, in the instant case:

"Caption
The Treaty on European Union is signed on 7 February 1992 in Maastricht and enters into force on 1 November 1993.
Source
"Treaty on European Union", dans Official Journal of the European Communities (OJEC). 29.07.1992, n° C 191, p. 1."

To access the links to these European treaties at ENA, click on "European Union" in the left menu column of the ENA website home page. A list of the treaties then appears under "Synopsis".

Crossposted to LawPundit.
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Thursday, December 08, 2005

.eu Domain Launches and Raises Questions

The European Union's new .eu domain launched on December 7, 2005. As reported by Lucia Kubosova at EUobserver, EURid reported that 40,500 applications were received in the first 15 minutes of launch and over 100,000 had been received by evening of the first day.

Business applications were highest for internet names such as hotels.eu, tickets.eu and job.eu although over 200 applicants also filed for the domain sex.eu.

The assignment of these types of generically named domains is tantamount to a license to print money and we think it would actually be more sensible for the EU to retain these domains for use by non-profits or for EU government use.

Generic names such as hotel.eu, hotels.eu or travel.eu, which cover an entire business field and to which no private business should actually have any priority of access, should be awarded to the major non-profit associations or consumer protection organizations dealing with these subjects in Europe.

sex.eu should be used as a site for sex education or should be awarded to a consumer protection organization dealing with sex sites on the internet, rather than to give it to some private sex website who will make millions just because of having this domain name.

Indeed, the EU has the power to set some new sensible precedents here in the assignment of domain names, especially for those generic "business" domains which are claimed by multiple parties.

We would adopt an internal rule at EURid that generically named sites which are claimed in the "sunrise periods" by more than one party and to which no unique EU trademark priority exists would automatically be reserved for official EU or non-profit use.

Of course, once the "sunrise periods" are over, domains should be assigned on a first come, first served basis, as long as trademarks are not violated, but that is a different question.

Cross-posted to LawPundit.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

European Voice EV50 Europeans of the Year Awards 2005

EV50, the Annual Awards of the European Voice (a publication of the Economist Group) were announced on November 29, 2005 at a gala dinner in Brussels.

The 2005 Winners as EV50 Europeans of the Year are:

Commissioner of the Year: Dalia Grybauskaite
[Lithuanian Head of the EU Budget]
For her unrelenting efforts to shift EU spending towards areas that would enhance competitiveness such as research and development

MEP of the Year: Michel Rocard
[French Socialist MEP]
For turning the software patent directive into a fascinating debate about the future of technological innovation

Statesman of the Year: Aleksander Kwasniewski
[President of Poland]
For his role in ensuring that Ukraine’s Orange revolution remained peaceful

Diplomat of the Year: Martti Ahtisaari
[Former President of Finland]
For mediating talks between the government and rebels in Indonesia, which brought about a ceasefire after 30 years of conflict

Campaigner of the Year: Florian Müller
[Nosoftwarepatents.com]
For leading a campaign against the software patents directive, killing off the proposal
(Mueller afterwards declined the award)

He said: "My greatest concern was that by declining the EU Campaigner of the the Year award, I would disappoint the many who have supported our tremendously impactful Internet campaign for votes."

I supported Mueller and I think that this was not the right thing for him to do. If he intended not to accept his reward, he should have stated so in advance, not after the fact. You have to work within the system as much as possible to make desired changes. Perhaps he was disappointed at not being voted "European of the Year". Sometimes victories are not complete, but they are better than losses. And when you win, you act like a winner, not as a loser. Still, we thank Mueller for his campaigning efforts.

Business Leader of the Year: Carlos Ghosn
[CEO of Renault]
For his success at Nissan which has brought him the top job at Renault

Journalist of the Year: Anna Marszalek
[Rzeczpospolita]
For her persistent investigations, which have exposed huge corruption scandals in Poland

Achiever of the Year: Ian Tomlinson
[Cancer Research UK]
For the Cancergenes project to identify genes that reveal a predisposition to types of cancer

Non-EU citizen of the Year: Viktor Yushchenko
[President of the Ukraine]
For turning Ukraine towards the West and fighting to stem out corruption to stay faithful to the country’s Orange revolution
see also Ukraine

European of the Year: Jean-Claude Juncker
[Prime Minister of Luxembourg]
For securing a 'yes' vote from his citizens after voters in France and the Netherlands had rejected the EU constitution

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