(I have to take a short break from forging code to share my concerns regarding the important upcoming European elections:)
Recent developments regarding the security of the internet show a striking resemblance to western societies apathy towards the crumbling of basic democratic values. Looking a little closer the seeds of the European Union started about the same time a bunch of Californian hippies worked for the military on the internet. The idealistic spirit of those times is a unique heritage, never before did we have a decentralized means of communication and never before did we have such a diverse representation in policy-making as in the European parliament. "United in diversity" - indeed. Let's avoid the sad corruption of the internet to a tool of oppression and keep the EP working in the idealistic spirit of its creators.
Besides legislating on the standard parameters of toothpaste-stripes there are few very important policy domains that point beyond the usual 5 year horizon of the average elected EP representative. The European Parliament has been fundamental in stopping ACTA just 2 years ago. A battle which started long before (thanks wikileaks) the current batch of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) took their seats. Stopping the attempt to install EU-wide censorship - disguised as a child porn filter - was also a success. We have a lot of hope in the recently revised data protection regulation and just this month the network neutrality regulation proposal got saved by a broad coalition against the intent and interests represented by the lead rapporteur.
We lost the unitary patent battle last year - and thus also the EU economy and competitiveness. We still have all kind of data sharing agreements with the US. The network neutrality and the data protection proposal by the EP will also probably go into a second round after the elections. But the council will be smart enough to wait for the results before committing itself to the next step (which seems to involve the UK to veto this in the name of censorship hidden behind the ragged excuse of child porn.) We lost the cybercrime issue as well, vendor liability has not even been mentioned in the final proposal. We also lost the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, an important initiative about the prospects of the radio frequencies freed up by switching to digital television. Instead of opening up parts of this liberated commons, it is auctioned away to telco companies. With good legislation we could have created a new industry that provides local radio-based internet services. Instead we fed the quasi-monopolies.
Among the many outstanding issues, most importantly ACTA is back on steroids called Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), a classical FTA renamed to TTIP so it does not sound so scary. Another concerning agreement is the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), which seems to be coming out of the same corner as TTIP. Similar future challenges are the conclusions of the Data Protection and the Network Neutrality initiatives. Data retention has just been ruled unconstitutional by the European Court of Justice, this topic will surely come back in the next term. The world is copying our laws, let's make sure they are copying good stuff.
We live in exciting times, on the global level Europe has a lot of merit. However the other global players are not interested in a strong Europe, thus Euro-skepticism and national politics plays into our global competitors hands. The NSA scandal is a great example of this, as it shows weak isolated inaction in the member-states. The only serious effort has been the more than dozen hearings on this issue in the Civil Liberties Committee of the EP.
As with many populists movements, the root-causes of euro-skepticism are partly valid and quite interesting. The European institutions are overly bureaucratic, some useless or redundant (looking at EP in Strasbourg for example), non-transparent, undemocratic and quite corrupt. The answer of the euro-skeptics to the broken system is quite wrong, the tool is great we just need to take responsibility, fix it and learn to use it! We are not living in a small isolated town, Europe is a major player in a global competition. As such we must use our power in a concentrated way, we must fix the problems identified by the euro-skeptics and be a role-model for the whole world with positive action like the rejection of ACTA or a strong Data Protection regulation.
I see however a chance to become a skeptic myself. As with any technology, the EP itself I believe it is neutral, what matters is who and how uses it. If we allow the EP to degenerate by staffing it with the corrupt political elite that fails us daily at home, then I see a reason for skepticism myself, but still not against the institution but its inhabitants and rules.
"United in diversity" - indeed. the European parliament has members from 28 countries, between 170-190 parties, even if there are large political blocks - or groups as they're called in Brussels-speak - in the EP. There's no sign of a suffocating and anti-democratic majority dominating the parliament, there's almost always some dissenting splinter-group. Of course in such a diverse crowd there are also all kinds of interests represented, mostly narrow interests. Some are fully legitimate such as the narrow interests of Mediterranean fishers for example are not concerns shared by a polish miner, or less legit meddling of foreign, non-european interests like the tobacco industry, or the US State department, Hollywood, Monsanto, or the pharma industry, you name it. Of course the bulk of the parliament is from dumb populist parties that have no values but lots of closely controlled voters. But for every topic you have some kind of small core group of representatives that is deeply engaged and informed about the issue. Some of these core MEPs can be considered the villains representing narrow industry or interests external to Europe.
Some representatives have a strong interest to strategically serve the diverse European society. Issues like copyright, patents, data protection, network neutrality have been heroically fought over by a handful of few MEPs. These sound like quite technical matters, but they are very much defining our environment and our daily lives. One of the most heroic of all was Amelia Andersdotter the young Pirate MEP from Sweden. Who although started only at half-time of her term - due to the blocking of the french - she took on responsibility as some kind of rapporteur for 17 issues with quite hard topics. She also authored more than a 1000 amendments, putting her way ahead of most of her colleagues when it comes to hard work and representing European social interest. Other notable champions were
- Claude Moraes (NSA hearings),
- Jan Philip Albrecht (Data Protection),
- David Martin, Francoise Castex, Zuzana Roithová, Alexander Alvaro, Stavros Lambrinidis, Pawel Zalewski (ACTA)
- Carlo Casini (roll-call votes in committees)
...and lot's of others, see the following part:
Ranking of MEPs
The campaigns of the leading political groups are incredibly boring, promising populistic visions of "Jobs, Growth and Security". Let's not get into the statistics and history game about their merits in this regard. Instead let's look at some facts on long-term strategic positions affecting all our society. score-ep.org ranks all MEPs based on their voting behavior on Climate Change, Fracking, GM Crops, Arms Trade and LGBT Issues. The presentation of this data-set is beautiful. Much less visual, and overlapping in the Climate Change dataset I have also prepared such a scoreboard.
Based on the input of four interests groups whose assessment of the MEPS was available to me, this is a ranking of all MEPs serving in the 7th (currently ending) term of the EP. The four data-sets I used came from:
- La Quadrature du Nets Memopol - and covers various internet and digital rights related topics.
- Lobbyplag created an assessment based on the amendments submitted in the civil liberties committee to the Data Protection Regulation.
- CAN Europe, Sandbag and WWF Europe rates MEPs based on votes related to climate change (this is overlapping with the ep-score.org data).
- Phillip Morris tried to influence the tobacco directive and some of its MEP assessments have leaked to the public and thus into this list ;)
The results: eastern countries and conservatives have the least respect for civil liberties, long-term public good or social benefit. On the good side the official champion is Rui Tavares, he and his green fellows rank highest when it comes to representing the widest interests. Personally I was expecting someone else to come out on top, Amelia Andersdotter. Her problem, she was in the wrong committee - Industry instead of Civil Liberties - only members of the latter got scored by Lobbyplag. If not only the amendments of the civil liberties but also the Industry committee would have been rated she would've come out on top.
The top 10 MEPs
|2.8888||Rui Tavares||Portugal||Bloco de Esquerda (Independente)|
|2.8809||Jean Lambert||United Kingdom||Green Party|
|2.6472||Jan Philipp Albrecht||Germany||Bündnis 90/Die Grünen|
|2.6333||Pavel Poc||Czech Republic||Česká strana sociálně demokratická|
|2.6174||Tarja Cronberg||Finland||Vihreä liitto|
|2.6166||Cornelis De Jong||Netherlands||Socialistische Partij|
|2.5681||Rebecca Taylor||United Kingdom||Liberal Democrats Party|
The bottom of this list is mostly populated by (french) conservatives.
Ranking of countries according to the 4 criteria:
So what I want to say is that, the EP is a powerful tool, there are a lot of important issues, there are a few good people in the parliament, they have been working hard, there's also a few corrupt people in the parliament that have vast industry support. And then we have the majority of the parliament who is so busy with other issues that they have no clue, they amount to about 90-95%. These masses follow either the champions or the villains. We must make sure that we have more champions and less villains and that the remaining masses are aligned with the Champs.
So please look at the rankings, go and vote, express your skepticism of the people who brought us here, not the institutions that have been abused. It matters. Thank you.