Charlie Hebdo attacks : the downfall of EU privacy ?

One minute of silence in front of the EU Parliament for the Charlie Hebdo victims. CC/Flickr/EU Parliament

One minute of silence in front of the EU Parliament for the Charlie Hebdo victims. CC/Flickr/EU Parliament

France is still licking its wounds after the end of the manhunt of the suspected perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo attack that took place on January 7. Four more people lost their lives in yesterday’s hostage takings, in addition to the deaths of the three suspects.

Meanwhile at EU-level, the reactions are already cascading, and one of the unintended victims might very well be EU privacy.

In recent years, the European Union has been the stage of a crucial debate on the importance of an individual’s privacy when confronted to national security or economic concerns. One of the most famous illustrations of this debate involved the development of a so-called right to be forgotten (or right to erasure) for European netizens, first in the upcoming Data Protection regulation, then in a ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) last May.

Yet privacy is likely to become much more difficult to defend when faced with the trauma of terrorist attacks. Several prominent EU officials, such as European Council President Donald Tusk, have already asked for progress on the EU passenger and name record (PNR) draft directive, which has been on hold in the European Parliament for the last three years after being voted down by one of its commitees in 2011. The proposal would give access to the Member States’ police to the details of any passenger traveling in the European Union.

In mid-2014, the CJEU had already struck down a EU directive on data retention on the grounds that invading the privacy of people that were not suspected of any crime was in breach of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter.

“We need to talk about the problems investigators are having in connecting the dots and the information that is already there instead of passing new measures for the blanket collection of data from everyone,” German Green MEP Jan Phillip Albrecht said on January 9 about the PNR draft directive to the EU Observer.

Albrecht is also one of the most prominent MEPs involved in the development of the aforementioned EU Data Protection regulation.

Some dates to watch out for in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack for further EU developments : 

* January 19, 2015 : Foreign Affairs Council

* January 28, 201 : Home Affairs Council

Pencils for Charlie

Crédit image : Alexis Hontang

Picture credit : Alexis Hontang

As I look back on this horrendous day for freedom of expression around the world, I still have difficulties sorting through my emotions. I distinctly remember, for example, the moment at which I got the news : 12 people dead at the headquarters of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo after it was attacked by gunmen with assault weapons.

At first, I just could not believe it. It kind of felt like an episode of the TV show Homeland, but then I realized that it really had happened here, in Paris, less than a mile away from my very office. Denial was over and that is when confusion and disgust started to set into my system. What can we expect from the future when confronted with such violence and intolerance ? Of course, I truly feel for the families of the victims, who have to endure the media torture on top of their pain. Tweets on the topic keep popping on my newsfeed, and only echo the dark feelings that are shooting through me and in the end it’s the French satyrical news website LeGorafi (kind of like the Onion in the US) that maybe managed to sum up in three words how I felt in that moment : “monde de merde” (litterally, crappy world, but this could be a reference to the French translation of F**k my life (“Vie de Merde)”, and could therefore be translated as “F**k the world”).

As the hours went by, I guess I also felt more and more powerless. Here I was sitting in front of my screen, unable to focus on my daily work and sharing pictures and twitchy statuses about the attack (in other words, doing nothing of consequence). I was hitching for action, anything that would allow me to get rid of a bit of the frustation building up as I receive controversial reactions to the attack in my inbox.  Fortunately, the whole office had understood that our work was done for the day. By 5PM, a group of my colleagues and myself were heading out to a rally at Place de la République to support the victims’ families and freedom of expression.

As we got out of the metro, we did not know what to expect. We emerged from the depths of the underground not too far from the statue that towers in the center of the huge square, and tens of thousand of people were already crowding the place. Above all, the relative silence was striking, almost solemn. I had never been such an event. People spoke in hushed voices and cautiously observed the mass surrounding them. Every now and then, someone would scream “Liberté”

A Parisian demonstrator holds up a pen to support freedom of speech after a terrorist attack killed 12 people at the headquarters of a French magazine

A Parisian demonstrator holds up a pen to support freedom of speech after a terrorist attack killed 12 people at the headquarters of a French magazine

(Freedom), and five others would respond “d’expression” (of speech). Or the crowd would start clapping hard, while crooning the word “Charlie, Charlie”. Here and there, there were big signs on which the most famous satires of the magazine had been reproduced, or else the now iconic hashtag #JesuisCharlie (I am Charlie). Hours went by, and the ranks of the supporters got tighter and tighter as new people kept arriving. At some point, I listened to the conversation of a nearby group of young people discussing their fear of a new attack, while realizing that despite that fear, they just HAD to be part of tonight’s rally.

So far nobody has had the time to use this tragedy for another purpose, and there is one thing above all that I will remember : today’s symbol is not a French flag, but a simple pencil. Today, it was not only France that was under attack, but freedom of speech in the whole world, and that is why the crowd held up pencils and pens towards the sky.

Forget about hate, I’ll bring freshly sharpened pencils in front of the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo! 

je suis charlie

EU elections: why I will vote tomorrow

CC/Flickr/Rock Cohen

CC/Flickr/Rock Cohen

We are now halfway through the 2014 European elections, and no matter which way things go, we will have to own up to our choices (or the lack thereof) for the next five years. Yet on Thursday, British and Dutch citizens went to the voting booths in record-low numbers (less than 35% in the Netherlands).

The European Parliament arguably has more power than ever in influencing the workings of the Union and is the only directly-elected institution within it. Yet EU citizens care less and less at every election.

Voter turnout in the European Parliament Elections. Picture credit: Quartz

Voter turnout in the European Parliament Elections. Picture credit: Quartz

No matter whether you are pro-EU or eurosceptic, the Union and its member states are at a turning point: the aftermath of the economic crisis, the negotiations surrounding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States of America, the diplomatic crisis with Russia, the digital transition undergone by our society, and, most importantly, the repositioning of European member states within the global order…

Part of the answer will happen through the European Union. For better or worse, its institutions have changed the lives of hundreds of millions of European citizens through the internal opening of its borders, its agricultural policies, its fight for civil rights, etc. Whether it is to take apart, or to make it stronger, citizens must take it upon themselves to show up at the booth to make their preference is taken into account.

This year in particular, the votes gathered by European parties should actually impact the election of the President of the EU Commission as a result of the 2010 Lisbon Treaty. Critics pointed to statements from Angela Merkel and Herman Van Rompuy indicating the European Council may present an outside candidate for the post (such as Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde), but few have talked of the reaction of the future eurodeputies: parties such as ALDE, the EPP or the S&D indicated they would shut down the European Parliament if they were imposed an outsider, yet stressing again the growing importance of the elected body.

People often complain the European Union is not democratic enough, but how can we believe they really do want to participate in its decision making if they pass out on the EP elections? Go vote if you haven’t done so already.

Picture credit : European Parliament

Picture credit : European Parliament

Party candidates for the EU Commission Presidency

*EPP – center-right: Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg)
*S&D – center-left: Martin Schulz (Germany)
*ALDE – liberals: Guy Verhofstadt (Belgium)
*Greens: Ska Keller/José Bové (Germany & France)
*European Left: Alexis Tsipras (Greece)

French MEPs, where are you at?

Empty chair policy at the EP?  Credit: CC/Flickr/Ronnie Mcdonald

Empty chair policy at the EP?
Credit: CC/Flickr/Ronnie Mcdonald

José Bové (Green party) was the first one to draw attention on the absence of French MEPs at the European Parliament (EP). So much so that Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Front de Gauche) felt compelled to publish a document on his website justifying his absences.

Question: what is the secret to being a good MEP? Is it the percentage of votes you participated in? The amount of time you spent in the Parliament buildings during your mandate? The number of questions or remarks? What do you think, readers?

In the meantime, here are some numbers on the main French MEPs looking for a new mandate to the EU, so that you can make up your mind on the value of these statistics. Reminder to understand the ranking in parenthesis: there are currently 766* representatives in the European Parliament. Also, an attendance record below 50% means the MEP loses half of his/her daily allowance.

To give you a sense of perspective: here are the numbers of Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid (UMP), who won the Parliament Magazine award for best MEP for regional development. She is contributing to the creation of  pan-European railway network.

85% attendance in parliamentary votes (453rd)
33 questions (336th)
131 reports amended (99th)
3 reports drafted (140th)

José Bové (Greens) CC/Flickr/dmonniaux

José Bové (Greens)
CC/Flickr/dmonniaux

José Bové (Europe Ecologie):

86% attendance in parliamentary votes (412th)
25 questions (487th)
Motions for resolution (252nd)
54 reports amended (426th)
5 Reports drafted (80th)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Front de Gauche)

70% attendance in parliamentary votes (677th)
42 questions (357th)
40 motions for resolution (150th)
6 reports amended (690th)
0 report drafted (677th)

Corinne Lepage (formerly CAP21, now the founder of Europe citoyenne)

80% attendance in parliamentary votes (566th)
44 questions (343rd)
13 motions for resolution (311th)
184 reports amended (24th)
2 reports drafted (215th)

Marine Le Pen (Front National)

66% attendance in parliamentary votes (709th)
3 questions (715th)
0 motions for resolution (454th)
0 reports amended (738th)
0 reports drafted (551rst)

Harlem Désir (Parti Socialiste)

50% attendance in parliamentary votes (752nd)
14 questions (601rst)
26 motions for resolution (212th)
12 reports amended (660th)
1 report drafted (372nd)

Alain Lamassoure (UMP)

83% attendance in parliamentary votes (503rd)
7 question (673rd)
4 motions for resolution (491st)
35 reports amended (565th)
4 reports drafted (97th)

All numbers are courtesy of VoteWatch Europe, as seen on April 11. 

* There will only be 751 left after the May elections (max. number allowed by the Lisbon Treaty) – proportions had to be recalculated because of the addition of Croatia to the Union.

European campaigns in France : when and where ?

We have talked a lot about a few small European parties, so here are the dates of the launch of their European campaign. Go see for yourself what they are all about !

Us Citizens (Nous citoyens) is launching its campaign on the 5th of April. Meet them at 15:00 at the Espace Charenton, in the 12th arrondissement of Paris.

Citizen Europe, the European list of the Citizen Gathering (Rasemblement Citoyen), will be meeting in Paris Wednesday 09/04 in the Rue des Rosiers. More details to come ASAP!  You might have to make an early choice there, because the UMP plans to launch its European campaign that very same day.

Pierre Larrouturou’s New Deal party (Nouvelle Donne) will be in Strasbourg on the 11th of April for the presentation of their EU objectives. Meet the candidates at 20:00 at the Cultural Center of Illkirch.

The European party (Parti Européen) has not yet determined a date to meet with its supporters – we will keep you updated !

The ones you’ve already missed

The Socialist Party (PS) took an early start by launching their campaign at the beginning of March. If you missed it, here is a video of most of the action (in French of course) with the head of the EU socialists Harlem Désir.

http://dai.ly/x1effxp

 

Same thing for the FN, which presented its candidates a few weeks back.Aymeric Chauprade, the leader in Ile-de-France for the FN’s European list, was even present during several of the campaign meetings for the local French elections.

Here is a poll on EU voting intentions in France published by Le Figaro on Tuesday.

http://www.lefigaro.fr/medias/2014/04/01/PHOe8276fbc-b99d-11e3-b80b-3bfae645a38e-805×353.jpg

The Party of the European Left has not specified a date for the launching of its European campaign.

Special award for originality

France might arguably be the most original of all EU member states in terms of political parties. Here is a new one I stumbled upon:

  • Alliance Royale, a political party whose main goal is to restore a monarchy in France while remaining open to the concept of Europe. Its leaders hope to improve on 2009, where they only won 0,05% of the votes in Ile-de-France.
Alliance Royale meeting on March 24, 2012. CC/Flickr/Remy Noyon

Alliance Royale meeting on March 24, 2012. CC/Flickr/Remy Noyon

France: parties blooming for a European spring?

European Parliament, Brussels CC/Flickr/William Warby

European Parliament, Brussels
CC/Flickr/William Warby

As the EU elections draw closer, France has seen several new parties appear in its political landscape. This is particularly interesting given the recent scandals in French politics: the left has mainly suffered from Hollande’s controversial leadership, while the right is divided and weakened by recent revelations (the Sarkozy recordings for example). Some see the FN as the big winner in this situation, but French voters may very well turn towards fresh alternatives.

Here is a short insight into the convictions of these new political movements. We will be following them closely in the upcoming weeks.

Nouvelle Donne (New Deal)

This leftist party was started in November 2013 by a former socialist politician, Pierre Larrouturou,  who is also a renowned economist and who named his movement after FDR’s New Deal. At the European level, Nouvelle Donne advocates a more social Europe led by its Parliament as opposed to the governments of its member states.

Parti Européen (European Party)

The European Party was created in February 2014 by young politicians looking to renew the very foundations of the European Union. They envision a federal Europe granting more powers to its different regions. Their program presents very concrete proposals in different areas (defense, social rights, environment, security, etc.), such as the harmonization of labor law, and a common European minimum wage. For the anecdote, one of their suggestions aims to protect funfairs throughout Europe.

Nous Citoyens (Us Citizens)

The movement was created in December 2013 by a French entrepreneur called Denis Payre. Nous Citoyens calls for a more democratic Europe that would no more take the fall for the errors of national politicians. They see the Union as an essential tool to control the influence of capitalism over the European society.

Le Rassemblement Citoyen (The Citizen Gathering)

Movement founder Corinne Lepage, who is also a member of the European Parliament, advocates the end of the traditional divide between right and left in French Politics. Since its creation in March 2013, the party has affirmed its belief in political stances such as energy transition, non-discrimination, and a federal Europe.