The Tweety Song

I’m a big fan of Twitter. As you’ll have seen from the feed alongside, while I wasn’t writing the blog very often, I was still Tweeting. There’s been a lot of introspection about it recently, with blogposts like this one.

My gut feeling is that asking if the Commission should Twitter is as daft as asking whether it should use the phone or write. Twitter is a means of communication, not an end in itself. What the Commission, like any organisation, has to consider is HOW it uses it. One of the basic rules about communication is identifying who you want to talk to and how do you best talk to them. Twitter is just part of that. Here’s some advice I gave to one of my colleagues in the Commission who is considering using Twitter.

With Twitter you a) talk to  a self-selecting audience and b) have to be pithy. For those reasons it’s got an edge over a website. Plus you can, maybe even have to, be a bit more personal – if you look at even the very official ones (Parliament, Conservatives, Lib Dems) there’s a personal tone. So I would say it’s best to have  just one or two people who are really up for doing it. It’s the most interactive of all the social media and it needs upkeep and someone who finds it useful and sees the value in it.

I find it good more for what I learn (breaking news, good EU gossip) than what people get from me. It has helped me find quite a lot of people interested in EU issues. Reading Jon Bernstein, that’s true for people at the other end of the news telescope. I’d be interested to know what you think.

Beast of burden

There was a lot of nonsense in the EP election campaign about the EU being responsible for 80% of UK legislation, which I have already dealt with elsewhere on this blog. Even there, I suggested that if we were getting up into big numbers, it would only be in certain areas, such as business and environment and certainly not all legislation.

And then comes the British Chamber of Commerce’s Report  World’s Apart: the EU and British Regulatory Systems of May 2009 which says in its executive summary:

In terms of the number of regulations, the EU this year accounted for only 20%. The reduction from the previous EU level of about 30% is the primary reason for the overall decline in 2007/8. By value, EU legislation was only responsible for about £1.9m net costs to business (0.1%). It would appear that, for this year, virtually all regulatory activity can be attributed to Whitehall. With a developing single market, business regulation should be needed for the EU as a whole or not at all. UK regulations that are additional to those enacted across the EU reduce business competitiveness.

So not only does EU regulation have much less of an impact on business than some would like to believe, we are doing better at reducing that regulation.

Of course, the document isn’t all glowing about the EU and it make some very cogent points about the process of impact assessment, and how ours could be better linked with national ones and vice versa. But nonetheless, it does shine a light on how things are rather than how some would like to believe them to be.

Have you ever been away

Sorry about the extended silence, but it’s my mid-year resolution to write more often (until I go on holiday in 3 weeks time that is…)

We start with the story doing the rounds on EU rules reducing your pensions, which started in the FT and then moved to the Express. This reminds me of the claims that equal pay legislation would price women out of the labour market – and we have seen that that didn’t occur. A case of over-simplifying, and extrapolating from one factor in a decision to an overall effect. All our proposal tries to do is address the need for sound financial institutions, and I think a lot of people can live with that. While I am sure that our proposals need refining, and the process means that if the case is made for sensible changes they can be incorporated, it isn’t going out on a limb to say that changes are needed in the financial architecture, and prudential rules are part of that. Pensions are going to be at least as much affected by the last year’s market volatility as anything the European Commission can come up with. That’s what this and other proposals, at national, regional and hopefully international level, seek to address.

For months we’ve been wrangling with the issue of electronic identification for sheep. The UK was at the forefront of calls for electronic identification of sheep in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis, when a report for the government recommended its quick introduction. The UK agreed to the legislation when it was put forward, and supported the Commission when it did its implementing legislation. But now, as the memory of foot and mouth has receded, much (but certainly not all) of the farming industry and members of the government are against it. The Commission, aware that there are costs involved in introducing the technology, has made financing available to help farmers at the beginning, but I understand that issues with co-financing mean this isn’t so readily available to farmers here. EID is already being used in the UK, including by the 2007 and 2008 winners of Farmers Weekly’s Shepherd of the Year.

Statement of European Commission and Czech Presidency on WHO pandemic alert

Today the WHO raised the pandemic alert for Influenza AH1N1 from phase 5 to phase 6. This reflects the application of the agreed WHO definition of phase 6. It only covers the epidemiological distribution and pattern of spread but not the severity of clinical symptoms. To date, the influenza AH1N1 virus has presented mild to moderate symptoms and a low mortality rate. In reaction to the current developments, EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and the Czech Minister of Health Dana Jurásková agreed on joint coordination following the formal declaration of phase 6 by WHO, which means that the National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plans will be activated accordingly. The Commission and the Czech Presidency of the EU agreed during the Extraordinary Health Ministers Meeting (30 April 2009) on priority actions to respond to this threat. During the Health Council of 9 June in Luxembourg, the Commission and the Member States committed to discuss, using the Health Security Committee, a concerted response and a common approach on this threat. The Czech Presidency and the Commission will continue to play an active role in planning, coordinating and facilitating measures to contain and mitigate the effects of influenza A (H1N1). The Commission works closely with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Medicine Agency (EMEA) and is in regular contact with the World Health Organisation and our international partners in the Global Health Security Action Group in United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan (GHSAG). We will continue to follow closely the development of the situation and act accordingly.

Lazy

It’s perhaps a little lazy on my part, but here are links to a few interesting articles from the weekend, as we head into election week:

The Independent on why next week’s elections should be about Europe and not MPs’ expenses

Peter Preston in the Guardian gets all futuristic about a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

A reminder that history is not always how it’s painted (something I am reminded of when I see Churchill on UKIP election material – do they know who coined the phrase “United States of Europe“?)

And a general link to the consistently good (even if I don’t always agree with him) Charlemagne.