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June 7, 2011

EU team arrives in North Korea to assess food situation

Filed under: Economy,EU,Food,Regional politics — comeoneurope @ 9:28 am

Officials from the European Union arrived in North Korea on 6th June to assess the food situation of there.

Five workers from the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department are divided into 2 teams itself to visit as many places as possible till 17th of June.  They are going to visit many hospitals and orphanages and also have a meeting with N.Korean residents and authorities to investigate the situation.

Moreover, the EU team is planning to meet and talk to the officials of the international organizations and non governmental organizations staying in N.Korea.

After this step, within 2 or 3 weeks, the European Union will decide whether they support N.Korea or not. Many experts expect the positive result from this because the European Union is known as the region that supports the biggest amount of humanitarian supports to N.Korea.

Meanwhile, the USA, that already finished the investigation in N.Korea, is now doing the assessment and will make a final decision with reference of EU’s survey result. However, the experts see that the USA’s decision will be negatively affected by the tension on the Korean peninsula. Thus, it seems that the USA’s decision of the food aid is going to be delayed than as expected. Korean experts analyse that the food supported by the USA will be delivered to N.Korean people this late summer.

– Su Yeon Lee

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June 1, 2011

Katowice seeking to be the next cultural capital

Filed under: Culture,EU,Interview — comeoneurope @ 12:34 pm
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Norek's Plexiglas sunflowers swaying in front of the European Parliament

The selection for the European Cultural Capital 2016 is on its way. The winner will be a city from either Spain or Poland. The current capital is Turku from Finland. Seeking to be the next one is a long term project since the interested cities have to submit an application six years prior to the actual event date. After this the cities have 10 months to appear and report officially to the European Commission.

The selection committee consists of thirteen members. Seven nominated by the European institutions and six by the member state concerned, after consulting with the Commission.

One of the 5 cities applying in Poland  is Katowice, an industrial city from the southern parts of the country. Their theme is called “Katowice– the City of Gardens”. Elzbieta Oliczarek, a member of the Katowice office says that the main point of their taking part is to change the city’s image.

– Katowice has this sort of  “no culture, only work”  feel to it.

However Katowice already has a lot of culture. To bring itself known and acknowledged the city organized an installation in front of the European Parliament. The installation was developed in 2009 by a Polish artist Agatha Norek with a German light installer. The artwork consists of numerous Plexiglas disks placed on high rods, symbolizing sunflowers.

– I love to create these garden installations. With Katowice the logo motivated me. I like the way it’s like a heart but still abstract,

Norek says. She has studied painting and graphic design and is graduating to be a doctor of fine arts. The sunflower installation has a really interesting effect while swaying in the wind and reflecting sunlight. The “flowers” are designed so that their shadows form hearts on the ground.

– With my work I want to support Katowice to be the next cultural capital.

The installation was held from 21st til 30th of May 2011 in Brussels.

Jarno Väistö

“S.Korean companies should challenge the world market for more growth.”

Filed under: Economy,EU,Interview,Uncategorized — comeoneurope @ 10:45 am

ㅡ On July 1st, the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement is going to be activated. In May, finally, the agreement was ratified by the National Assembly in South Korea. The European Union already had approved it in the Parliament last February. The European Union is known as the biggest united economic union and also the most enormous market in the world. Now, many of Korean economic experts are looking forward to it due to tons of positive economic effects.

Korean diplomat, Lee Tae-won, however, mentioned that S.Korea still has to expand its economic boundary in the world market. What are the answers for Korean economic growth? What effects does Korean government expect from FTA?

Lee Tae-won is the first secretary of Korean Embassy and Mission to the EU in Belgium. He was appointed one and half year ago. For this Korea-EU FTA, he worked for the completion of the FTA treaty. Before coming to Europe, he worked as a diplomat in Algeria and the Korea MOFAT (*Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade) headquarters.

 

Q. What is the main reason that S.Korea is signing FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with many other countries?

– Basically, South Korea has been growing through trade with many other countries. However, it’s getting harder to reach a settlement as the new developing countries, such as China and Brazil, are growing. Stake and interest among the countries are getting complicated. Thus, it’s taking a long time to settle DDA at this moment because the situation and interests are a lot more complicated than in 1995 when WTO (*World Trade Organization) was launched. Since WTO/DDA (*Doha Development Agenda) settlements are at a standstill, we changed our goal as ‘to sign a FTA with the countries which have had close trade relationships with S.Korea’ to keep the economy growing. Basically, we see that the high level of FTA between 2 countries can contribute toward DDA.

 

Q. What countries are in the steps for another agreements and which country is expected to bring the positive effects?

– At this moment, S.Korea is having negotiations with 12 countries; Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Colombia, Turkey etc. However, something what people should know is the government never settles an agreement just like that with any country. Before choosing the country to make the agreement with, we consider and preview all the expected effects which might happen after the agreement. If it turns out to bring a lot of positive effects to our economy, we begin to make researches and studies for the agreement. Thus, most of countries which are decided to make FTA agreement with us will have very positive effects to our economy. Secondly, volume of the market is also an important issue to us. The reason we are interested in the European Union and the USA is also because they are one of the largest markets in the world.

 

Q. Some people expect that the Korea-EU FTA will affect on the Korea-U.S. FTA which has been delayed. What is your opinion on that matter?

– We finished the Korea-EU FTA earlier than the Korea-U.S. one. Because of this, the European Union will dominate the Korean market in advance. For instance, in a service industry, which is in competition between the EU and the USA, it’ll be hard for latecomer to enter the market. Because of this, the USA is watching the relationship between S.Korea and the EU very carefully. Among the American industries, it is said that they wish the European Council would pass the law later than us so they can dominate Korean market earlier than Europe.

 

Q. Since South Korea lacks many natural resources, we have to keep challenging the world market. In your point of view as a diplomat, what would be the good strategy for developing S.Korea?

– We have to expand our ‘Economic territory’ by signing WTO and FTA with other countries. The government has to make a good environment for the Korean companies to fairly compete with the foreign ones. Let me give you an example about economic depression in Japan: These days, it is said that economically thinking Japan has lost last 20 years because of its low growth of economy. The reason why Japanese economic growth is at a standbill is because they didn’t reform the regulations and just protected their own market and companies. That cannot make any development and growth of economy in the world market. Although many of Japanese companies have strong competitiveness in the world market, nowadays, Japan is not growing at all because of the protection of its government. On the other hand, South Korea has made a growth because the government encourages our companies to advance to the world market and compete with other strong foreign corps. That could be one of the strategies we keep taking.

 

Q. Were there any difficulties or troubles while South Korea and the European Union made a deal?

– We had a lot of difficulties of course. I can say two major difficulties. One was that we had to consider the interests among many industries of South Korea while we were making the details of the deal. As the agriculture takes a lot of part in Korean industry, we couldn’t ignore it and we had to find the solutions to keep our industries competitive. The other was to convince the European Union with our strategies. We had a few crises, but we went through them and solved the problems.

 

Q. We have only one month before the FTA between South Korea and the European Union will be activated. What results do you expect to happen?

– One of the world’s largest markets is going to open to our companies. Exporting goods without paying the tariff strengthens our competitiveness. The European Union imposes 10% of tariffs to the cars but it will be abolished in upcoming 3 to 5 years. One of our primary industry, electrical and electron equipments is expected to have more competitive price there. Because of these expected positive reasons, Japan is also trying to make FTA agreement with the European Union, but it’s not going to be that easy. Japan is also worrying about the loss of their competitiveness in Korean market because of the FTA between us and the EU. If the European goods and services dominate the Korean market, it’s going to be harder for Japan to advance into Korean markets after the FTA.

– Su Yeon Lee

 

The biggest threat to EU might be itself

Liisa  Jaakonsaari, a Finnish politician with a respectable career of over 30 years has soon held a position in the European parliament for two years. I sat down with her to discuss about Europe’s state today and in the future, especially from a Finnish viewpoint. The European Union is facing serious problems which Jaakonsaari sees more than else as acid tests.
                                               

Liisa Jaakonsaari is the former head of the Committee of Foreign Affairs in Finland

I am meeting Jaakonsaari outside the parliament building in Brussels. As we move on to a close by café we chat about her everyday life in Brussels.

– I walked to the parliament this morning. It takes something like an hour from my apartment.

Jaakonsaari, who likes to hike and fish on her free time, says that for a MEP apartment is close to a must since most of the work is situated in Brussels. She has been extremely busy lately and says that it has mostly to do with taking part in too many committees. At the moment her first priority is the special committee of Financial, Economic and Social Crisis.

Financial crisis is a touchstone for the EU

To the question, whether financial aid is the right way to go in Europe these days, Jaakonsaari answers fairly diplomatically.

– The efforts to help have been right and ambitious and judging by the circumstances they have been successful. It is however true that using this kind of conduct cannot continue forever.

Jaakonsaari sees the Union’s bigger and richer countries, such as Germany and France, as a wolf pack that wants to eat the smaller and not so well balanced countries, financially speaking.

– Politics is the anti-force in this juxtapositioning.

However, Jaakonsaari is not completely satisfied with how this anti-force works at the moment.

– It is true that the Union develops through crisis as one of the founding fathers, Robert Schuman, said but the leaders of today are not strong enough. People need to be told how things should be done.

Jaakonsaari ads that the full consequences of the financial crisis are still somewhat unclear. Mutually agreed financial strategies have failed and the only thing possible is to create means and procedures to prevent same kind of scenario of happening again.

– It migh even be that because of all this, the golden era of the European Union is already behind us. The countries that need help, show that a cohesive economic zone is really difficult to maintain.

The problems and their unwanted effects cause the popularity of EU-critical political parties to grow. This has happened in many countries throughout Europe, especially in Sweden andFinland. The recent Finnish parliamentary vote went into news all around the EU because of the huge growth of the EU- and immigration critical True Finns party. Eventually the party didn’t join the government even though it had become the third largest political party in Finland. The spokesman of the True Finns, Timo Soini, commented that the decision to stay out was made because of the promises made to voters about not joining a government that supports financial aid for example in the case of Portugal.

Jaakonsaari says that she gives the party credit for their success but very little on a political level. She feels that the stepping down from negotiations about forming the new government didn’t have that much to do with staying out but having to stay out.

– Finland is tightly knit into the EU and for an EU-critical party it would be impossible to work in a pro-EU government. Soini made a wise populist move.

The next presidential election is not so much a test for the popularity of  True Finns but the municipal election even more so. It remains to be seen what is the future of EU-critical parties in all of Europe.

NATO or Euroforce?

Europe has stayed fairly untouched by the wave of uprisals and revolutions that have been roaming the Middle East and North Africa. However, recently Spain and Greece have faced similar situations that started it all for example in Egypt. EU hasn’t taken part in military operations in the Middle East except indirectly under NATO.

During the whole existence of the EU, talks have been on and off about a “Euroforce”. This means a single unified and independent military force that would cover the whole EU. NATO already operates as a peace keeping force all over Europe and often in the Middle East also. In addition there is Eurocorps formed by the West Europian Union, EUFOR that stands for a temporary peace keeping force operating under NATO command and the Battle Group of the EU, a sort of rapid response unit.

Taking all this into consideration it is pretty easy to question if all is really necessary. Wouldn’t a unified European military organization working closely with NATO, or even these two combined, be the optimal resolution?

– There are discussions about Euroforce regularly but I just can’t see it ever happening. Member States are wasting a lot of money in weapons systems that are already outdated and they are really not that eager to turn over their whole armies under mutual command.

Jaakonsaari sees that more than anything the military forces operating in Europe are nowadays needed for natural disasters and humanitarian work. Earthquakes, human trafficking and piracy are much more eminent problems than actual armed conflicts between two European countries and for these needs the system works as it is.

From a Finnish point of view this is especially interesting since the question of whether to join NATO or not, has been on the table forever. Jaakonsaari admits that she is absolutely pro-NATO.

– It just seems that the nation still doesn’t want the official adjoinment. This is the kind of thing that needs a national referendum and I think that is mainly the reason why the only thing Finland doesn’t participate in NATO is the decision-making.

Why do the opinion polls repeatedly express that the majority of Finns wouldn’t accept NATO-membership? Jaakonsaari admits that this has a lot to do with the old but timely subject of Finnish fear of Russia. Since the peace treaty between Finland and Soviet Union in the Second World War the eastern neighbour had a tight grasp on Finland on every level. Throughout the cold war things were done in Finland pretty much inside the frames of Russian approval. Even though the chance of a military conflict is remote and even fairly unrealistic, Finland has enough trade with Russia to be worried about its future.

–  Some say facism is raising its head, others state that Russia will be the new financial super climber. Any way you look at it the whole Europe should be prepared for different kinds of  future Russias.

Future EU

As we have seen, holding a union the size of Europe together, is not an easy task. Jaakonsaari says that efforts are great, however not yet enough.

– The EU has to tighten up a lot which means steps towards federation. Measures have to be taken to prevent future catastrophes and to keep the Union together and working. For example we need to stop indebtedness and develop the supervision of international banks.

Baring in mind all the existing problems but also the recent troubling developments in the Middle East, I ask Jaakonsaari what she would name as the biggest threat to EU. The answer is crystallizing and blunt.

– Itself.

Jarno Väistö

Finnish farms are breaking the law

Filed under: Uncategorized — comeoneurope @ 9:47 am

28 percents of Finnish farms act against the law last year, when the number has usually been around 20 percent. This is result of EU’s animal welfare inspections last year.

The situation was even worse at fur farms, 60 percents of them broke the laws. Most of the violations were related to cages’ doors and space requirements. Accountancy was also neglected in many cases. At pig farms biggest problems were lack of stimulus material and space. Pigs’ living places were also unclean and unsafe at some farms.

According to Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira, deficiencies weren’t caused by ignorance or lack of professional skills. Reasons are mostly the growing production requirements and the high cost of regulatory compliance.

Member States must inspect their farms

The European Union orders the Member States to conduct every year inspections on a representative number of their animal production farms. Some of the farms are selected on random basis, others on the basis of certain risk factors defined for the different species. Inspections are conducted by national veterinarians and results are reported to the European Comission.

EU animal welfare inspections started in 1998, first in calf and pig farms. Since 2003 fur farms and farms with more than 350 laying hens have been inspected too. Today inspections cover also duck, goose, sheep and goat farms. Last year also adult cows were inspected and the inspections of broilers started this year.

Freedom rules

EU gave general rules for the protection of all species of production animals in 1998. These rules reflect so-called “Five Freedoms” as adopted by the Farm Animal Welfare Council:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst – access to fresh water and diet for full health and vigour
  2. Freedom from discomfort – an appropriate environment with shelter and comfortable rest area
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease – prevention or rapid treatment
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior – adequate space and facilities, company of the animals’ own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress – conditions and treatment which avoid mental sufferings

These rules lay down the minimum standards for animal welfare. There are also more specific rules for different species.

Senni Puustinen    

Demonstration against European railway liberalization

Filed under: Demonstrations & Uprisals,Traffic & Mobility — comeoneurope @ 9:46 am
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The European railway workers from around 15 countries were loudly demonstrating against the recast with horns and fireworks at the Place du Luxembourg, in front of the European Parliament.

Hundreds of European railway workers demonstrated for quality public railway services in front of the European Parliament on the 24th of May. Many workers are afraid to lose their jobs because of the European Commission plans to further liberalization and fragmentation of railway companies.

The Demonstration was organized by the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF). The ETF and its affiliates strongly resist many of the amendments made by Italian MEP Debora Serracchiani in the draft report on the so-called Recast of the 1st Railway Package.

The ETF thinks that the suggested full separation of railway operations an infrastructure management as well as rail related services are not only going to make people losing their jobs. It will also dismantle the integrated railway companies and destroy the internal labor market.

– This will encourage to cost savings instead of investing in high quality, safe and secure railway services, states Sabine Trier, Deputy General Secretary of the ETF.

According to the ETF the recast would also “interfere the national right to strike by imposing the introduction of minimum services for infrastructure managers in the case of strikes.”

The European railway workers from around 15 countries were loudly demonstrating against the recast with horns and fireworks at the Place du Luxembourg, in front of the European Parliament.

Melanie Pallien and Christopher Willert had came to the demonstration from Germany

“The machines can’t replace us!”

Melanie Pallien from Germany works at ticket sales and is worried that her job would be one of the first cuts.

– Replacing us with ticket selling machines will be an easy way to spare. At least that’s what the companies think. But the truth is that people still need us. You can’t for example ask help from machines – they just can’t give as quality service as we can.

Pallien emphasizes that the fear of loosing jobs is real.

– If the liberalisation plans will be ratified, around one thousand people are going be sacked within 5-6 years, she believes.

It’s not only about the jobs

One of the most influential protester was Roberto Lopriore, the staff member of the European Parliament’s Committee on transport and tourism. He is afraid of the situation.

– If the liberalization goes further, the security of trains will not be that good anymore and the services will be weaker, he thinks.

– Still, the new amendments are already made, so there is pretty much nothing we can do, Lopriore tells annoyed.

 – Jussi Kotila 

May 30, 2011

Finnish interpretation in trouble

Filed under: Uncategorized — comeoneurope @ 10:16 pm

Finnish interpreters are threaten to run out in the EU.

The University of Turku has decided to abolish the education for conference interpreter. It has been the only unit in Finland which offers further education in that field.  Need for Finnish interpretation has been growing lately and now the EU Commission is afraid that EU will lack interpreters in the future.

Marco Benedetti, the director general of Interpretation in EU, reminds Finland of one of the principles in the European Union, the right to have information in ones mother tongue.

The reason to abolish the interpretation unit is lack of finance.  The education was earlier funded by  special financing from the Ministry of  Education. The financing stopped in 2009 and now the University of Turku is committed to find new ways to finance the education.

Senni Puustinen

May 26, 2011

EU starts to test nuclear plants

Filed under: Nuclear power — comeoneurope @ 2:27 pm
Tags: ,

The EU will launch the “stress tests” to all its 143 nuclear plants on June 1st. The tests will be about surviving the environmental disasters and accidents made by human failure.

In the tests the EU will draw attention especially to the power supply of the cooling systems to avoid similar accidents as happened in Fukushima.

-We have to learn from the incident of Japan and create the highest security standards of the world in Europe – says the EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger.

The Member states had different opinions about how to test the nuclear plants for possible terror attacks. Austria and Germany wanted them to be part of the exercise but France and Britain argued that those tests should stay in national hands. In a compromise the EU proposed forming a working group to deal with terrorism.

The tests will be run by national officers but the reports will be checked at EU level. The tests should be ready at the end of April 2012.

-Finland has already checked the safety situation in the nuclear plants afterFukushima. Now we have to do it again under the instruction of EU – tells Petteri Tiippana, the head of the Radiation Protection of Finland.

May 20, 2011

Uniting young journalists

Filed under: Uncategorized — comeoneurope @ 2:19 pm

Iikka Kivi and Adam Zetterqvist are the founders of Barents Press Youth

Barents Press Youth (B.P.Y.) is a new voluntary based network for young journalist living in the Barents Region.  Besides providing a forum to the young journalists from up north, B.P.Y. also wants to increase people’s knowledge and respect towards the Barents region.

Barents Press Youth is a kind of a sub-organization of Barents Press, which is according to them “likely to be the most successful form of journalistic cross-border co-operation that can be found in Europe.”

The idea about founding B.P.Y. came up during the Barents Press international annual meeting in Levi, Finland in the beginning of May 2011.

– We young journalists used to have some unofficial meetings there in a small tepee. Soon we noticed that there we had a group with lots of fresh ideas, innovation and passion. That spirit there was something we didn’t want to give up after the annual meeting, so we set up Barents Press Youth, tells Iikka Kivi a 25-year-old freelance journalist from Oulu, Finland.


Everybody is welcome
 

Now “the virtual tepee” like Kivi calls it, can be found from Facebook. In B.P.Y. group page there are almost 150 members and the chats between them are quite vivid.

– In the Facebook group of B.P.Y. people can share their ideas, get more public to their stories, inform the others about interesting national topics, create some projects together, hint about job offers of Barents region and improve the international co-operation between the journalists, Kivi lists.

According to the other founder of B.P.Y., the 26-year-old Swede Adam Zetterqvist, everybody is welcome to take part in the network. Living in the Barents region isn’t mandatory. For example there are also some Canadian journalist in the group as well.

– The more the merrier, Zetterqvist states.


For fun and profit


Besides being a professional network, B.P.Y. is also a place for making international friends.

– For example on Wednesday I held a sightseeing tour around Oulu for a journalist from Murmansk, Russia. I had met her in the Facebook group of B.P.Y., and in return I got the wider perspective about the Russian journalism and every day life. That’s something you can’t understand properly, if you don’t have a chance to talk about it face to face, Kivi tells.

The other main goal for the B.P.Y is to increase people’s knowledge and respect towards the Barents region.

– We got lots of stories worth of publishing here. All important issues don’t come from the South. We want to remind northern journalists that they can be proud of their work. Working in the Southern media can’t be the only respected opportunity, Kivi declares.


Help for employment

However, both Zetterqvist and Kivi agree that to get a job as a young journalist isn’t easy in the North, they hope that B.P.Y. can provide some help to improve the situation.

– If there are no jobs in the traditional media for us, we young journalists should try something new. As the offspring of the information society, we got some technical skills, ideas and innovation that older journalist don’t have. Between the young colleagues of B.P.Y. we can improve those ideas with some helpful and critical debate, Kivi says.

In the future, B.P.Y. will “probably be more organized”, according to Zetterqvist.

– It would be great to start sub-organizations in each country. Those national organizations could host cool events and projects, says Zetterqvist.

To keep up with Barents Press Youth, check their Facebook group here.

Former IMF director from jail to house arrest

The former IMF chief faces home detention.

The resigned  head of International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been granted bail and is expected to be freed from jail today. He is charged with an alleged attack on a housekeeper in a New York hotel.

To get released from jail Strauss-Kahn had to agree to post $1 million in cash and a $5 million bond, surrender his travel documents and submit to home detention.

Bill Taylor, a defence attorney of the former IMF director commented that

– In our view, no bail is required. He has one interest at this time and that is to clear his name.

Strauss-Kahn is indicted on seven criminal charges which Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance describes as “extremely serious”. Strauss-Kahn will now live with his wife in a Manhattan apartment waiting for his trial.

Jarno Väistö


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