Friday, January 28, 2005

It's Like Lisbon...or Something

This is from today’s Wall Street Journal Europe, but it loses something without the Beavis and Butthead illustration they used in the paper. They also teased it on the front page with a small graphic of B&B and the headline “Lisbon, um, stinks”. They won’t print the word “sucks”, apparently. Anyway, I can retire now.

January 28, 2005




BRUSSELS -- You've got to admire the moxie, the determination, the utter indefatigability of the European Union when it comes to the economic stimulus strategy it calls the Lisbon Agenda. Like an emergency-room doctor pounding on a code-blue patient's chest, screaming, "Breathe, dammit, breathe!" EU leaders endlessly try to resuscitate what has long been diagnosed as a hopeless case.

Even the words agreed upon at the Lisbon summit in 2000 (which explains the otherwise inexplicable name) have become a joke: That by 2010 Europe will transform itself into "the world's most competitive and most dynamic knowledge-based economy, capable of sustainable economic growth accompanied by a quantitative and qualitative improvement in employment and greater social cohesion."

Not exactly "It's the economy, stupid."

Nevertheless, every six months or so, the EU coughs up another new initiative aimed at restoring life to the strategy -- while reassuring doubters that sweeping economic reform will not come at the cost of Europe's supposedly cherished social values.

Initiatives and publications abound. Remember the Sapir Report? Chances are you do not. Issued in 2003 by a group of so-called "wise men" -- one of whom apparently was named Sapir -- it excoriated EU governments for failing to meet their Lisbon targets. "Growth must become Europe's No. 1 economic priority," it pleaded. No one -- least of all the politicians to whom it was addressed -- listened. Last year brought the Kok Report, which may have attracted a little attention if only for its Beavis and Butthead-inspired title. It said basically the same thing.

Sapir, Kok, Lisbon. Bureaucrats in Brussels actually expect this mnemonic nonsense to motivate people. Instead, to insiders, the term Lisbon Agenda has come to mean something that cannot be achieved; to the average European, it means nothing. (Lisbon, by the way, is a beautiful and vibrant city. It does not deserve to become a synonym for failure.)

At a recent EU summit, European Parliament President Josep Borrell showed a surprising grasp of reality when he suggested a name-change might be in order. "The first thing which we need to do with regard to the Lisbon Strategy is to stop calling it that," Mr. Borrell told EU leaders last November. "Nobody knows what we are talking about."

Unfortunately, his suggested replacement doesn't exactly fit on a T-shirt, either: the "strategy for competitiveness, social cohesion and the environment."

With the 10-year clock ticking, frustrated and desperate to salvage their economic agenda, and unmoved by Mr. Borrell's brainstorm, EU leaders tried another approach. Late last year, they appointed a commission president who is actually from Lisbon. José Manuel Barroso talks a good game about making economic growth the No. 1 priority of his five-year mandate. But no matter how hard he tries -- or how many reports he produces -- he will still have to get past member-state governments reluctant to act.

He is undaunted. Next week the European Commission will unveil yet another effort. Yes, five years into the 10-year plan, Lisbon is getting a "relaunch." Like a desperate restaurateur hoping a new menu concept will bring in customers, the EU is repackaging the same old ingredients, and continuing to serve up the same promises it will ultimately fail to keep.

Conveniently dropping the talk of overtaking the U.S. as the world's economic leader in 10 years, the relaunch focuses on 10 points. Exactly, it's a 10-point plan for growth, aimed at creating "more and better jobs in an innovative and attractive Europe." These include "attracting more people in employment," "more and better research and development," "promoting innovation and sustainability," "completing the internal market," "creating the conditions for a strong European industrial base," etc.

Do we detect a pulse in the patient? It's very faint. So get ready. The commission is grabbing its defibrillator paddles for one more try. Clear!

Mr. Winneker is editor of TechCentralStation Europe.

Copyright 2005 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Je Blog, Donc Je Suis

Here's a version of my column this week in European Voice newspaper on how blogging is catching on in Europe. I didn't mention it in the column, but I would add here that Marc Johnson's European Weblog Review offers an excellent look at what's out there.

BLOGGING is a genuine media phenomenon in the US – it played a prominent role in the last presidential election, proving in a few cases to be more reliable and incisive than the ‘mainstream’ press – but it is only just catching on in Europe.

However, if the trend continues, the on-line weblog or ‘blog’ may become a significant media force in an age when major European newspapers are busy losing circulation and sometimes credibility.

True, plenty of inhabitants of the ‘blogosphere’ are certifiable nutters – operating on the lunatic political fringe or somewhere beyond it. But others publish web sites that are well-written and informative – and come equipped with advertisements, useful links and even the occasional scoop.

Naturally, politicians are getting into the act, including the one charged with communicating the EU to its citizens. European Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström has just launched her own blog. Yes, some of her entries are a bit mundane. Take this one from 19 January: “It is six o’clock in the morning. It is also dark, wet and cold. The only living creatures we can see are a fox, two cats and the newspaperman. Me and my husband are out for a regular 45-minutes walk or slow jog.”

But her 13 January instalment – the blog’s inaugural entry – is genuinely moving in places (her concern for friends in Sri Lanka), funny in others (her assessment of 2004 – it “sucked”), and overall an interesting read.

Other Brussels types, including MEPs, have also started blogging. Netherlands deputy Jules Maaten is one of the more active online diarists. In his most recent posting he plugs a speech he gave last week at European Voice’s conference on health care.

New blogs – some serious, some otherwise – launch every week. A Fistful of Euros has a fairly comprehensive list of other EU blogs and even includes a ballot for readers to vote on the best European blog. Nominees include: The Yorkshire Ranter, Viewropa, and the perfectly named, Paris-based website Je Blog.

Then there’s the intriguing and well-written Europhobia, which bills itself thusly: “The musings of a non-partisan one-time Eurosceptic turned pro-European and his far better-informed friends.” Its most recent posting excerpts a lengthy treatise on EU-US relations from the New York Review of Books.

And how could anyone resist the transatlantic musings of the French expatriate whose blog is called Au Texas, Tout le Monde est Fou Sauf Moi?

Political partisans abound in the blogosphere. UKIPwatch devotes itself to skewering the Eurosceptic British party. Socialist Group president Poul Nyrup Rasmussen started a Euroblog during the 2004 parliamentary campaign to “combat voter apathy”. And Publius, in French, is devoted to coverage of the EU Constitution. Its most recent entry links to an op-ed written by Pierre Moscovici in Le Figaro.

Which paddles us back to the media mainstream. Even Le Monde, Europe’s most sophisticated newspaper, has started a blog section, with correspondents filing diary entries on a range of subjects.

Latest example: the paper’s editor-in-chief, Eric Le Boucher, is blogging from Davos during the World Economic Forum. He describes the celebrity panels being held, including one discussion on whether artists can still change the world featuring French model Carole Bouquet. Confides Le Boucher, “J’hesite pas.”

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Update on Mr. Bang

Well, I've helped to make Bang even more famous than he already is. The Bankgok Post has reprinted the article I wrote from Koh Mook. You can read it here if you haven't already seen it via TechCentralStation, and even if you have read it before you can at least see a picture of Bang. The other guy in the photos is not me.