I was elected to the European Parliament as an independent candidate. As I had to remain true to my beliefs and voters alike, I had no other choice but to continue as an independent Member of the European Parliament. Since the “old” ideas like liberalism, conservatism and social democracy cannot give answers and solutions to the challenges of the 21st century, I decided to join the political EP group that has a potential to do this – the Greens. I found their perspectives and globally valid point of views very fascinating – more fascinating than having more and more power…
Besides, the Greens did not want me to join their party, unlike other political groups. One may say that it was a matter of flexibility – we respect each other’s point of views and co-operate where and when we can. When we have different opinions, then I will not sabotage their objectives and they will understand that my opinion is my opinion…
At the same time, as political culture in Estonia is very young and still developing, suffering under political parties both in power and in the opposition that do not respect citizens rights and freedom of speech – the Estonian Green Party did not manage to get a mandate during the last European Elections. It would be only healthy to have a country represented in all the (significant) political groups in the EP. Also, it is vital to uphold the political diversity in Estonia and protect freedom of speech, open lists during elections and prevent people from getting sucked into political parties against their will.
On the 19th of Nobember 2009 the Goethe Institute in Brussels together with the Finnish Cultural Institute for Benelux organised a literary evening with Sofi Oksanen, a Finnish-Estonian writer and Indrek Tarand.
The event marked the translation of Ms Oksanen’s “Purge” to Dutch, which talks about the events and lives during the Soviet Occupation in Estonia. The book has been “a No. 1 bestseller in Finland with sales exceeding 140 000 copies, Puhdistus has won its author numerous literary prizes, including Finland’s premier literary award, The Finlandia Award, and biggest literary award in Nordic countries, Nordic Council Literature Prize 2010. Oksanen is the youngest author ever to win either one of these prestigious prizes.”
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The European Parliament is directly elected institution, which represents about 500 million citizens and their interests which are of course very differing. The EP is in close co-operation with the European Commission and European Council; together they produce legislation on issues affecting our daily lives, for example environment protection, consumer rights, equality, transport and the free movement of people, capital and services. Not to mention human rights.
The subjects or topics I am engaged in are mainly connected to the committees and delegations I sit at, although these are rather close to my heart as well.
Among them is, for instance, Iceland, the country that 1st recognised the restoration of the independence of Estonia in 1991. Currently the negotiations on Iceland’s possible accession to the EU are being held. But does the small island-state itself event want to join? Recent polls have showed that people are rather sceptical, even the political groups in Althingi have been said to debate on the issue quite seriously. If Iceland were a Member State, its economic prospects might look better than they do currently in view of the so-called Icesave case, although the latter will not be tied to the negotiations. The EU on the other hand may have a stronger voice in the Arctic region. And this is a region that will attract very much attention in the years to come…
As former Chancellor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Estonia, I was appointed the Green shadow rapporteur in AFCO regarding the European External Action Service report. Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium, EPP) and Elmar Brok (Germany, S&D) were jointly writing the report on how the new “Ministry of Foreign Affairs EU” must be constructed. This involved months of work on when and where to emphasise Human Rights, how to set up crisis prevention and management, who should be in charge of the delegations, how to deploy development aid, how much and in what areas should the EP have control over their budget and so on.
Of course having such an institution as the EEAS is vital if the EU will want to speak with one voice on a global level – or with its neighbours, for that matter. The issue of energy security is the first practical challenge that comes to mind…
This autumn the European Parliament adopted the Alejo Vidal-Quadras (Spain, EPP) resolution on security of gas supply, which calls for the EU to introduce a regulation in order to further secure gas and energy supply in Europe. The document contains several methods and ideas on how to prevent future gas conflicts as seen in the case of the Russian-Ukrainian problems in recent years. This regulation would provide preventive safety measures to ensure that nobody would be left in to the cold.
This reminds that one has to think beyond (but not excluding) its national borders in Europe. Internet freedom and intellectual property rights are issues that affect us all, especially when EU will introduce reforms in this field in the near future regardless whether you are a consumer or a provider of Internet content, be it written articles, music or videos. How should the EU respond to illegal file sharing? We are living in the 21st century and we all download a variety of things from the net. But what about the people that provide the content? If we chose to restrict downloading in today’s form, what measures can be taken? To what extent can we monitor peoples’ activities online? As anyone may guess, these questions affect us all.
Should there be introduced any directives or regulations on a EU level that the citizens will regard unsuitable, lacking or simply bad and they wish to change it – or even call for creating an entirely new EU policy – they have the chance to do so with the European Citizen Initiative. This is a project going to be launched next year, with the aim of giving EU’s citizens the right to introduce an idea for new legislation by the Commission; the latter has to respond and justify its answer and action that will or will not follow.
This is undoubtedly a big step in the development of the citizen society, moreover that all people from all Member States can have a say. This all will have to follow strict rules that are currently in the making. For example, according to the latest state of play, at least 1 million signatures have to be collected from at least 1/3 of the Member States, plus the number of signatures has to be proportionate to the population of that state. This opens up an even greater window of opportunity for small countries. As for now, the setting up of the system continues.
The First Web War took place in Estonia in 2007 when different government institutions were overrun with cyber attacks that supposedly came from Russian computers and servers. Luckily no serious damage was inflicted and all ended well. About a year later, the NATO Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence was founded in Tallinn. This was a remarkable sign of trust and faith in such a little country to deal with an ever-growing 21st century challenge. Today the whole world has come to realise the seriousness and scale of the threats regarding the Internet – abuse and misuse can cause serious consequences for governments, private companies and ordinary citizens alike.
In addition to NATO, there are other institutions that have to deal with this problem, such as the European Parliament. A serious challenge consists of certain foreign countries who wish to block and censor (European based) websites. A more imminent problem might on the other hand lie in the domestic sphere as several EU countries wish to obtain more control over data online (e-mails, calls, chats, pictures, videos, etc). This raises questions about when and on what grounds would tapping Skype calls, for instance, be legal and justified. Downloading and sharing films and music is a known issue and has made the relevant industries take action; raising awareness on this issue even gave the Swedish Pirate Party 2 seats in the European Parliament elections.
In Autumn 2009 the EP scored a great success regarding the so-called “Telecom package” (EU’s plan for the reform of the regulatory framework for electronic communications) where a point that would have restricted the use and freedom of Internet users was removed. Instead, an amendment emphasising the need to respect and withhold the rights of Internet users as ordinary citizens was pushed through.
But how to regulate the handling and use of intellectual property, found on basically every step on the Internet? Member States have already started to update their legislation on this issue, supporting to the EU’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive or IPRED created in 2004. The IPRED law in Sweden, Hadopi law in France and the Digital Economy Bill in Great Britain are a few examples.
In France there is the 3-strike system, meaning that the authorities will send a letter to a person who has been caught illegally downloading data; should he or she not comply, the measures taken will get more severe and a person can be deprived of his or her Internet connection and/or receive a fine. Belgium is expected to adopt a similar law in 2010.
There’s a heated debate going on in the European Parliament on IPRs. This year the so-called Gallo report was adopted. This IPR report, tabled by French MEP Michelle Gallo (EPP group) offers a variety of methods that could be used for enforcement of IPRs. This report proved to be a very controversial one, that led the Social-democrats along with the Greens/EFA to table their own alternative resolutions, as their view was that the report restricts citizens’ rights and puts downloading and sharing files on the same level with large scale piracy. Their concern was shared by Reporters Without Borders.
At the same time, however, different artist associations across Europe turned to the EP asking MEPs to adopt the report in its current form. The European Writers’ Council, European Visual Artists, European Federation of Journalists, Society of Audiovisual Authors, Federation of European Film Directors and the European Council of Artists wrote in their letters that the Gallo report emphasises the appropriate and necessary protection of IPRs from the point of view of the authors. Other associations’ letters followed. Furthermore, the alternative resolution tabled by Social-democrats and the Greens/EFA group as a sign of protest was widely condemned by the artists unions.
The views of artists as people directly involved with IPRs have to be taken into account. Nonetheless one should ask a critical question: do these associations reflect more the views of the artists or the industry?
Anyway the report has been adopted. The document calls upon the European Commission to harmonize the EU’s IPR laws and remove the obstacles from creating a single digital market; also, the report suggests the creation of IPR enforcement so-called helpdesks abroad, where EU companies would be able to receive help when exporting or doing business in India or Russia, for example.
At first, however, as the report puts it – a thorough research has to be carried out on the modern problems and possible solutions related to IPRs.
As file sharing, buying books and music affects us all, it would be useful to know your view, dear reader. Is there anything you would like to change in Europe or in your country with regard to IPRs, file sharing, downloading and uploading films, music, audiobooks, etc? There will surely be new reforms on IPR in the EU in the near future. Whatever the restrictions in this field (or merely changes) may be, they will be felt by both Internet users and artists providing the content for it.
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La quadrature: About the Gallo report
On the evening of the 2nd of March this year, a documentary called “Disco and Atomic War” was screened in the European Parliament. This film, made by Estonian directors Mr Jaak Kilmi and Mr Kiur Aarma, tells the story of a unique, even strange information war across the Gulf of Finland during the Cold War. Although Soviet-occupied Estonia was cut off from the free world, a small window was left open in the form of Finnish TV and radio stations that transferred their frequencies from only 80km away. Disco music, roller-skates, “Dallas” and “Knight Rider” were all seen as an enormous threat to the whole communist empire back in Moscow…
The film, which has won several awards in international festivals, attracted a bit more than 100 people that evening. A lively discussion followed the screening between the directors and the public, consisting of Finns, Swedes, Germans, Americans, French and Estonians about the events depicted in the movie, but also about how a similar thing took place on the borders of the once separated Germany.
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The creation of the EEAS is one of the most significant changes introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. Its aim is to make EU’s external policy more consistent and efficient, thereby strengthening EU’s political and economic influence in the world.
This new service is aimed at assisting the High Representative of the Union of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, in fulfilling her mandate.
EEAS shall include officials from the Council and the Commission, as well as staff from the national diplomatic services of the 27 EU Member States. It will work in close cooperation with the national diplomatic services of the member states and its delegations outside EU, playing a supporting role regarding diplomatic and consular protection and help of EU citizens in third countries.
Jointly with the European Parliament the service is expected to get up and running as soon as possible. The Council shall adopt the launching of the EEAS on a proposal from the High Representative after consulting the EP and getting an approval from the Commission. The necessary financial and staff regulations, as well as the draft amending budget shall be adopted by co-decision with the EP.
From the 1st of January, 2011, 1525 officials from the office of the Secretary General of the Commission and Council shall be sent to the external action service. There is also an additional 100 newly created posts. In the EEAS there are 1625 posts altogether. The service shall comprise one central administrating unit and 136 formal European Commission’s delegations. The Service headquarters is in Brussels.
Despite the fact that the “double-hatted” HR promised that “the recruitment will be based on merit, with the objective of securing the services of staff of the highest standard of ability, efficiency and integrity, while ensuring adequate geographical balance”, it is now clear that in reality so far there is no such balance regarding the appointment of officials. Naturally it has created a lot of disapproval among the MEPs and debates on the matter are ongoing.
Indeed, it is in the member state’s interest to, for example, present more female candidates for the senior overseas jobs. At the moment, only 11 out of the 115 ambassadors are female. 11 member states are over-represented while 16 are under-represented.
Only two of the newly appointed 115 ambassadors are from EU new member states, and sadly enough, no Estonians among them. Candidates’ language skills, diplomatic job experience just did not reach the threshold of requirements for the posts. Also, alas, the new member states’ geographic position might have not been of advantage.
Catherine Ashton has voiced her criticism about this, talking about the creation of a “Western European old boys club” diplomatic service.
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