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Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

Bonjour Paris: my article on France, EU response to Middle East

February 7th, 2011 6 comments

I write in this week’s Bonjour Paris an article about Tunisia, Egypt, the situation in the Middle East and the response of the US and the EU (including France). You can read it here.

US travel tax angering EU, which could react with similar policy

September 28th, 2010 2 comments

In German news magazine Der Spiegel, European Union officials are responding negatively to a travel fee ESTA that the US is imposing on residents of countries that are currently not required to obtain visas to visit the US, “36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania.” Although the $14 fee is small, $10 of it goes to promoting tourism in the US. While the US economy is certainly not at its strongest point, it is the #2 travel destination in visitors (France is #1) and already pulls in the most revenue. This fee, combined with notorious US customs and immigration officials, make for a very unwelcoming and unattractive image of America abroad as a travel destination. This is undermining our global image and respect. I certainly hope this policy is repealed and that the EU does not retaliate with similar measures.

Excerpts below.

European Union Up in Arms over US Travel Tax

“European Union officials are furious with a new US fee mandatory for most travelers from Europe. Calling the charge tantamount to a new visa requirement, the EU is now considering introducing a similar fee for American travelers. Fourteen dollars may not sound like a lot. But this autumn, the sum — in the shape of the new fee being charged by the United States to some overseas visitors coming into the country — is proving enough to inflame tempers in the European Union. This month, an increasing number of members of the European Parliament and other EU officials are blasting the charge for being both incongruous and for running counter to US-EU agreements.

“I think it is a bit bizarre to introduce a tax to promote tourism,” intoned Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of European Parliament with Germany’s business-friendly Free Democratic Party during a recent debate on the issue in Strasbourg. In addition to pointing out that such a tax could actually dissuade people from traveling to the US, Lambsdorff also said “it seems a bit absurd that the US of all countries would tax people who are not represented in this debate. Taxation without representation, I believe, has played a certain role in American history.”

At issue is the so-called Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), a $14 fee which travelers from 36 countries now have to pay prior to visiting the US. While $4 dollars of the fee is to be for ESTA administrative costs, $10 is to pay for US efforts to promote the US as a tourism destination. Travelers to the US, in effect, are being asked to pay for the advertising aimed at encouraging them to travel to the country…Now, the EU is exploring the possibility of introducing a similar system for travellers from the US, according to the European Commission for Home Affairs. A “policy study” is currently being undertaken to investigate the feasibility of such a fee…

…The US fee applies only to travelers from countries not currently required to obtain a visa prior to travel — a list comprising 36 countries worldwide including every EU country except for Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland and Romania. In a parliamentary debate last week, several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) complained that the fee was simply a different kind of visa, particularly given that those travelers who do not pay the fee can be refused entry into the US…

…The fee, part of a tourism promotion package pushed through primarily by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been controversial in the travel industry as well. “It’s like inviting a friend over for dinner and then charging them a fee at the door,” Steve Lott, a representative for the International Air Transport Association, told CNN earlier this month. “If the idea is to make the United States more welcoming and to increase tourism, raising the entry fee seems to be counterintuitive to what you’re trying to do.”

European Commission officials have promised to take up the issue in upcoming meetings with their US counterparts. Speaking on behalf of EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton, EU State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel insisted that “the EU places great importance on the issue of reciprocity” when it comes to trans-Atlantic travel. He said his office “will pull out all the stops to work with the Commission to establish the principle of reciprocity on travel…”

Europe’s “austerity measures” hitting some hard

September 24th, 2010 No comments

In this New York Times special report, Europeans speak out on government plans across the continent to bring public finances under control amid corruption and suspicion of governments not doing enough for the common man. Well this currently in France amid protests against raising the retirement age as part of a larger pension reform package to help control spending. Those who are protesting see bankers getting large bonuses while they are forced to work longer. But France’s retirement age is the lowest in Europe and many French know that their social safety net cannot remain the same for future generations.

You can see a series of insightful video interviews from Athens, Madrid, Paris, London and Frankfurt here.

Also, an interactive map of Europe’s debt crisis.

“…Some acknowledged that they might have contributed to the crisis by spending beyond their means, and said there was probably no alternative to bailing out banks and countries like Greece to prevent a wider downturn. They are, grudgingly, willing to accept cuts in pensions and salaries, provided that politicians, whom they see as complicit in the crisis, quickly clean up the mess. Yet despite the problems, they would also be unhappy to see the European Union unwind…’We are part of a generation who knows that things can vanish,” said Mathilde Donovan, 29, a French public relations executive….”

Cloud computing in Europe hampered by privacy laws

September 19th, 2010 1 comment

This interesting New York Times piece touches on differences between the U.S. and EU legal systems governing privacy laws and what they imply for cloud computing – infrastructure storing data, files, documents, etc..online to make sharing information more accessible and flexible and cost efficient. You may think of Google Docs, for example, as a popular form of cloud computing. I’ve seen French concern, for example, over privacy issues, as privacy is considered similar to a human right, whereas in the U.S. it’s more of a consumer issue.

I’m personally in favor of efficiency and the exchange of information, though I understand concerns about companies getting too much access to private information for their benefit.

Excerpts:

“…Global sales of cloud services are poised nearly to double by 2012, to $102.1 billion, Gartner estimates. But Europe is expected to remain a relatively modest user of cloud services, accounting for only $18 billion this year, or about 26 percent of the global total. By 2012, Gartner estimates, Europe’s proportion of global cloud sales will rise to 29 percent, even though the bloc’s economy is larger than that of the United States.

Facing legal obstacles in Europe, the U.S. businesses with the greatest stake in cloud computing — primarily Microsoft, Google, H.P. and Oracle — are lobbying lawmakers to loosen restrictions on cross-border data transfers. Alternatively, some are developing new methods to make cloud computing work within Europe’s complicated legal landscape….In Europe, the legal definition of what constitutes personal data is much broader than it is in the United States, extending to information like names, addresses and phone numbers in phone books….”

Sarkozy defends Roma deportations at EU Summit

September 17th, 2010 1 comment

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has fanned controversy at the EU Summit this week by defending the Roma deportations amidst opposition to France’s actions by other European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. As BBC states:

During the summit, Mr Sarkozy clashed with the European Commission over the matter of Roma deportations.

Since August, France has dismantled about 200 Roma settlements and deported about 1,000 of their inhabitants to Romania and Bulgaria. It has also evicted French nationals from illegal traveller settlements.

Earlier this week, the EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding had appeared to compare France’s actions to persecutions in Nazi-occupied France.

“The disgusting and shameful words that were used – World War II, the evocation of the Jews – was something that shocked us deeply,” Mr Sarkozy said.

He then went on to have a heated exchange with the EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.

This is an unprecedented row between Brussels and Paris, our correspondent says.

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