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Tag: EU

Down with Article 13, which is now Article 17!

Saturday, 23 March, 2019

The EU, despite its enormous bureaucracy and budgets, has singularly failed to produce an Apple, a Google, an Amazon, a Facebook, a Twitter, an Instagram, a Microsoft, an Adobe, a Whatsapp, a Reddit, a Procore, a Wikipedia…. The list goes on and on and on and on and on.

Despite its enormous budgets and bureaucracy, though, the EU is very good at one thing when it comes to technology: the shakedown. If it’s not European tech and it’s really popular, fine it. That’s the thinking in Brussels, and this has turned out to be a rather nice little earner over the past decade.

The latest scam is a proposed reform of EU of copyright law (PDF). Brussels claims this would force internet platforms to share revenues with artists by forcing the likes of Google and Facebook to pay publishers for displaying news snippets and removing copyright-protected content from YouTube or Instagram. The platforms would have to sign licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers, authors, publishers and journalists to use their work online. To do this, the platforms would have to install filters to prevent users uploading copyrighted material, but these algorithms might not see the joke in Hitler’s comments about Boris Johnson. And the filters are seen by many as the thin end of an EU wedge to throttle free speech and impose Brussels-like dreariness upon a creative continent.

The European Parliament is set to have its final vote on the proposals next Tuesday and protests against the legislation are scheduled across Europe today. The demonstrations are being organized by the Save Your Internet campaign, which has labelled the legislation “a massive threat to the free exchange of opinions and culture online.” So, sign up, hit the streets and sing along.


Spoiled brats blame Trump for Europe’s failings!

Saturday, 16 February, 2019

“Spoiled for 70 years with an American security blanket, and for the past 20 by a common currency that artificially boosts its export market, Germany has most overreacted to Trump’s unorthodox views concerning NATO and trade. Yet Trump is not to blame for the fact that Berlin’s Nord Stream 2 project is a blatant violation of E.U. competition rules and an abject moral and political betrayal of its Eastern European allies. Trump is not to blame for the pathetic state of the German military. And Berlin has the gall to complain about Trump’s hasty retreat from Syria, despite not having committed a single soldier to the mission.”

So writes James Kirchick for The Brookings Institution in a piece titled Blaming Trump for their problems is the one thing Europeans can agree on. Kirchick has nothing but righteous contempt for Europe’s effete elites:

“In response to Russia’s blatant violations of the INF treaty, which puts the strategic stability of Europe at grave risk, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas reflexively called for a global disarmament conference. ‘The minister and his cabinet,’ writes Gustav Gressel of the European Council on Foreign Relations, ‘are detached from military realities.’ You could say the same about Germans generally, 55 percent of whom believe the United States is a threat — twice as many as those who view North Korea as one.”

The absurd Maas and his sycophants will spend this weekend declaiming their mantras at the annual Munich Security Conference but their bleatings are pathetic and transparent. James Kirchick nails it here:

“But as long as Trump remains in the White House, expect most European thought leaders to continue using him as an excuse to avoid contending with the continent’s serious, systemic and structural problems, or pretend that these challenges are somehow the fault of the ogre in the White House. After all, Europeans can agree on so few things these days.”

The sting is in the tail there.


Houellebecq on farming in Ireland and France

Tuesday, 8 January, 2019

After a publicity tour for his novel Platforme, which was published in 2001, Michel Houellebecq was taken to court in France for inciting racial hatred, so he moved to Ireland for several years and lived on Bere Island off the west coast of Cork. The rugged landscape there has much in common with rural Normandy, the backdrop to Sérotonine, his latest novel.

The protagonist of Sérotonine is Florent-Claude Labrouste, a European Union agronomist. Coincidentally, Houellebecq worked as an agronomist before he took up novel writing and this fact gives substance to his observations of rural life. Although he lives in Paris, Labrouste spends considerable time in the countryside and, while he sympathizes with farmers, he knows he’s powerless to halt the decline of their traditional way of life. “Where there are now slightly more than 60,000 dairy farmers,” he notes, “there will be in 15 years 20,000. In short, what is taking place with French agriculture is a vast redundancy plan, but one that is secret and invisible, where people disappear one by one, on their plots of land, without ever being noticed.”

As with the farmers on Ireland’s smallholdings, the farmers of Normandy are caught between the rock of agribusiness and the hard place of the European Union, with its unending regulations that make their miserable lives even more miserable. In a Satanic Mills description of a modern poultry farm, Labrouste notes that the “300,000 or so inmates, plucked and emaciated, struggled to live among the decomposing cadavers of their fellow chickens.” On entering these vast white-meat factories, the first thing the visitor notices is the birds with their “look of panic and incomprehension, who don’t understand the conditions into which they’ve been dragged.” The link in this section of Sérotonine between the luckless chickens and France’s farmers, despised by Brussels bureaucrats and uncared for by the urban elites who demand premier Calvados and the urban masses who demand cheap food, is obvious. Struggling, panicked and desperate, the small farmers of France have nothing to lose when they don those gilets jaunes.

More Sérotonine here tomorrow.


The Art of The GM Deal

Friday, 27 July, 2018

Last Sunday, Reuters headlined an article thus: “EU approves Monsanto, Bayer genetically modified soybeans.” On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump met Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, and both sides claimed that they’d prevented a (trade) war and struck a great deal.

Juncker praised the US agreement not to impose any additional tariffs (including the president’s threatened levies on European car exports) as “a major concession by the Americans,” while Trump called it “a big day for free and fair trade,” and highlighted Juncker’s promise that the EU would import more American liquid gas and soybeans.
And it’s in that context that the European Union’s approval of genetically modified (GM) Monsanto/Bayer soybeans becomes interesting and that under-reported Reuters story becomes significant. Were the GM restrictions removed to placate The Donald? If so, there will be ructions when the euro Greens return from their holidays in September.


The GDPR monster

Friday, 25 May, 2018

BBC headline: “GDPR: US news sites unavailable to EU users under new rules.” What’s up? The BBC again: “GDPR gives EU citizens more rights over how their information is used. It is an effort by EU lawmakers to limit tech firms’ powers.”

The Twitter debate about the GDPR monster has been won by the inimitable joe.

GDPR


Zuckerberg vs. Europe

Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

During Mark Zuckerberg’s two days in April before the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington, the criticism from the opposite side of the Atlantic was loud. The questioning politicians were uninformed, old, laughable and, to boot, American. If only urbane Europeans were allowed to get their hands on the Facebook CEO, the truth would out and the ruffian would pay the reckoning.

Well, yesterday the European Parliament had its moment when Mark Zuckerberg appeared in Brussels. And the outcome? The format was totally unfit for purpose and Zuckerberg didn’t make a single substantial pledge to change the way Facebook operated. Sure, he said he was very sorry about how his platform has been used by disreputable people for reprehensible purposes, but was that a sufficient piety for getting him to fly across the ocean? Fine words butter no parsnips, say the Eurocrats in the Berlaymont, before they order another bottle of Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru.

The reality is that Zuckerberg was never under pressure yesterday and Facebook has nothing to fear from the European Parliament’s toothless tigers. What’s more, just a few hours before the Brussels “grilling”, Jake Kanter had a story in Business Insider titled “The backlash that never happened: New data shows people actually increased their Facebook usage after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.” Snippet:

The Cambridge Analytica data debacle was billed as Facebook’s biggest crisis, but it looks like it didn’t even leave a scratch on the company.

Facebook weathered the worst of the storm and usage actually increased, according to a client note from Goldman Sachs, citing ComScore figures. In other words, the #deleteFacebook backlash never really arrived.

Goldman Sachs said Facebook’s US unique users on mobile rose 7% year-on-year to 188.6 million in April, when the scandal was biting hard… The findings, coupled with a full recovery in Facebook’s share price, completely undercut other research, which suggested that people’s trust in Facebook has nosedived since mid-March, when whistleblower Christopher Wylie first helped reveal that 87 million users had their data compromised by Cambridge Analytica.”

The MEPs in Brussels and the Senators in Washington can huff and puff as much as the like but they’re not the smartest people in the room when dealing with Mark Zuckerberg. Moreover, he’s not afraid of them. So where does that leave the rest of us? We are on our own and we must live with the complex reality created by these powerful platforms.


The Unintended Consequences of the GDPR

Thursday, 17 May, 2018

The blogger Yeats, as opposed to the poet Yeats, might say that the “rough beast” of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), “its hour come round at last,” slouches towards us to be born on 25 May. For Rainy Day, which runs on WordPress 4.9.5, this will have implications. Our hosting service, WP Engine, had this to say earlier today:

“With WordPress 4.9.6 coming this week, we will be seeing a few new features built around GDPR compliance. This release is different in that it is introducing new features in a Maintenance/Security update, and that it applies only to websites already running WordPress 4.9 and higher. While this is atypical of a release, it is important to include these new features because they provide an essential toolkit for handling GDPR compliance. We have weighed the risk in introducing these new features and since they are not manipulating or impacting existing WordPress features, we feel that this release is not only safe but also important in enabling you to make your site GDPR compliant.”

The Law of Unintended Consequences lays out three outcomes: Unexpected Benefit, Unexpected Drawback or Perverse Result. Which one the will the GDPR deliver? Well, the reality is that the EU can only enforce the GDPR against entities that do business in the EU. Any website hosted outside the EU doesn’t have to comply with the GDPR and the EU cannot compel China, say, to accept its notion of privacy. Companies that want to keep tracking users will either ban EU customers and visitors, or move outside the EU and do business elesewhere.

And, if a company’s servers are in the US and if it doesn’t have any EU assets, it can keep tracking EU visitors. Brussels can’t do anything about this because US courts are not going to uphold EU law against US citizens who have not broken US law. In other words, because the web is worldwide, one consequence of the GDPR will be the creation of a false sense of privacy.


JavaScript vs. GDPR

Monday, 7 May, 2018 0 Comments

“Simply paste our JavaScript snippet into your website’s code. We’ll check every visitor of your site and will block access to users located within the EU.”

That’s the USP of a startup called GDPR Shield. Its sole product is a snippet of JavaScript that simply blocks EU users, so that websites don’t have to deal with GDPR compliance. The entrepreneurial coders in the service of Dr. Nikolaus Fischer, with an address in Düsseldorf, describe their offer thus:

“The European Union’s new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), which takes effect on 25th May 2018, creates uncertainty and risk for website owners. It applies to businesses world-wide, because it protects all users accessing your site from the EU, regardless of where your business is located. GDPR threatens website owners with fines of 4% of turnover or €20 million (whichever is higher). If you don’t have an in-house legal team, complying with the law requires you to consult with a lawyer specializing in data protection law. In addition, you’re at risk of vindictive reporting from no-win-no-fee legal firms.”

Looks like it’s time to add JavaScript to the list that includes coffee and bacon and answers the question: Is there anything it cannot do?

GDPR


Will Cecilia Malmström tax Bob Dylan’s Bourbon?

Monday, 30 April, 2018 0 Comments

The trade philosophy of the EU is based on the principle of the free movement of goods. And, so far, so good. Disruption may be coming to Brussels, however. A trans-Atlantic trade war looms after Washington hinted it will reject the EU’s demand for an unconditional waiver from metals-import tariffs. The Trump administration is asking allies to accept quotas in exchange for an exemption from steel and aluminium tariffs meant to kick in tomorrow, 1 May, when a temporary waiver expires. This puts the EU in a rather awkward position: either yield to US demands or face punitive tariffs.

Brussels is not shying from the fight, though. Cecilia Malmström, EU Commissioner for Trade, says she could apply 25 percent tariffs on around $3.5 billion of imports from the US — targeting iconic US goods including Levi’s jeans, Harley-Davidson motorbikes and Bourbon whiskey. Which is where Bob Dylan enters the picture. According to the New York Times, the great singer-songwriter and Nobel laureate has teamed up with a liquor entrepreneur to turn a deconsecrated church in Tennessee into a whiskey distillery. Their “Heavens Door Spirits” will produce a straight rye whiskey, a double barrel whiskey and, what Cecilia Malmström might like to tax, a Tennessee Bourbon.

Cecilia, should note however, that Bob has rather firm views on whiskey and taxes. Here’s a couplet from Copper Kettle, which appeared on his 1970 album Self Portrait:

“Daddy he made whiskey, my grandaddy he did too
We ain’t paid no whiskey tax since 1792.”

Dylan


Autocrats have a very high friend in Brussels

Wednesday, 10 January, 2018 0 Comments

“If @FedericaMog didn’t exist, the world’s autocrats would be trying to invent her.” So tweeted @EliLake yesterday. Background:

“As the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs, she is a tireless advocate for engaging rogue states. Few diplomats though have pursued this kind of engagement with such moralizing puffery. In Mogherini’s world, diplomacy with dictators should not aim to transition these countries to open societies, but rather to prevent conflicts at all costs.”

That’s from Europe’s High Representative for Appeasement, in which Lake highlights the disgraceful conduct of Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Snippet:

“Just consider her trip last week to Cuba, a plantation masquerading as a nation-state. Did Mogherini use her visit to call attention to the struggle of human rights activists or to comfort the families of political prisoners? No, Mogherini was in Cuba to reassure a regime that Europe will not go along with America’s trade embargo.”

Shabby and all as Mogherini’s behaviour in Cuba was, her position on Iran is horrifying:

“Mogherini’s ideology is a particular tragedy in the case of Iran. The West can help aid Iran’s freedom movement by linking the regime’s treatment of its people, and particularly its political prisoners, to economic and political engagement. The U.S. has some leverage here, but Europe — because so many of its businesses want a piece of Iran’s economy — has far more.

As Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told me this week: ‘This is the European moment on Iran.’ Europe’s response to the regime’s violent suppression of protests after the stolen election of 2009 was firm. The EU should send the same message today: ‘We are not going to sustain political and economic engagement with a country engaged in the suppression of peaceful protests,’ she said.

So far Mogherini and the Europeans have delivered the opposite message. On Monday, the high representative invited Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, to Brussels next week for more discussions on the Iran nuclear deal. Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the RAND Corporation, told me this week that Mogherini’s statement on Iran was ‘saying both sides are equal, when it’s Iranian security forces that are shooting and killing people.'”

Iran, Cuba, Russia and North Korea have a friend in very high places in Brussels. That’s bad news for everyone, apart from autocrats, of course.

Federica Mogherini


New Year’s reading: Brexit

Tuesday, 2 January, 2018 0 Comments

We’re spending some time this week with the books that were the presents of Christmas past. Yesterday, it was The Best of A.A. Gill, a gift from the famously generous Noel Donnelly, and today’s it the turn of Five Escape Brexit Island, which was put in the Rainy Day Xmas stocking by that well-travelled editor, Ian McMaster.

The former bookseller Bruno Vincent has a very nice little earner going now with the “Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups” series and popular titles include, Five Go Gluten Free, Five Get on the Property Ladder and Five Get Beach Body Ready. Older readers might recall that the “original” Enid Blyton was a phenomenally successful writer of children’s books and the characters of Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog became household names in post-War II Britain. In the new, “Grown-Ups” series, Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy confront such challenges as getting a good gluten-free cream tea and escaping beastly Brexit for the safety of mainland Europe. We join them, and a fellow refugee, Wally, on their make-shift raft off the coast of Dorset:

‘It is a treacherous business, trying to negotiate the high seas in nothing but a humble craft, and, at last, I understand why discipline had to be right in the old British navy. All it takes is for one person to despair and it spreads to all the others.

‘The poor, benighted, weak-spirited folk with whom I share my craft are sure to crack under the pressure any moment. I can feel the madness spreading among my crew, here on the MSS Gillian Anderson, and am watching these feeble creatures for any signs of murderous intent.’

‘Julian, would you mind not saying all that shit out loud?’ asked George. ‘It’s not really helpful.’

‘My pencil’s broken, hasn’t it?’ So I’m trying to memorize the captain’s log.’

‘Just think it then. If you must,’ said George.

‘And we’d rather you didn’t think it, either,’ said Anne.

‘Also, we didn’t agree to the ship being called the HMS Gillian Anderson,’ said Dick.

‘It’s a perfectly reasonable name. She was born in London and is one of our greatest exports. And, after Brexit, strong exports are exactly what we will need. What would you rather call it?

‘Just the Raft,’ said George. ‘Stop worrying about it.’

‘Nobody suggest the Theresa May — even in jest,’ Julian said. ‘One use of the phrase ‘strong and stable’ and we’ll be under the waves in seconds.’ Seeing Wally’s confusion, Julian explained that Theresa may was the prime minister.

‘There’s a WOMAN prime minister?’ Wally screamed.

‘You’ve got a lot to catch up on, mate,’ said Julian.

Dick squinted against the sun. ‘It’s very odd. We haven’t seen land for hours, but we keep being dragged on this current that moves like lightening. We could be hundreds of miles from where we started by now.’

‘Shut up,’ said George. ‘At some point in the next twenty-four hours, we’re obviously going to get run down by a bloody ferry, if we don’t actually sink first.’

‘What if we drift to Ireland?’ asked Dick. ‘That would be good; the Guinness is better over there, and we can fix ourselves up with EU passports — Grandad was born in Dublin, you know. Think how useful that would be.’

And on and on and on and on until the inevitable end: ‘Woof!’ said Timmy.

Five Escape Brexit Island