Monthly Archives: May 2007

cut the c(r)ap…

The average EU cow receives a higher daily subsidy than more than half of the world’s population.

A fact that can’t go unnoticed by the average human being on this planet. The fact that billions of people are suffering from poverty and struggling to survive day after day after day is worrysome enough. Trying to help them out of this inhumane situation is one of mankind’s biggest endeavor. And while you’d expect a continent that prides itself with humanistic traditions to be the very forerunner in this effort, I can’t help but shake my head in disbelief every now and then when I think about European policies. Let’s start with the sample mentioned above, shall we?

The Oxfam calculations obviously go back to net EU spendings on subsidies to the dairy industry per annum. Added up, this amounts to a good €16 billion a year. Money used to… to do what, exactly? Polemically speaking, it’s used to keep European dairy farmers busy while paying for their “fair standard of living”, as the original CAP framework stated. Economically speaking, it is used to finance exports of overproduction to non-EU markets and for domestic “sales schemes”, which is nothing else but a market distortion by artificially lowering prices for dairy products, hence creating demand. The former, also known as “export refunds”, are payments to the European dairy industry intended to cover the difference in costs of products sold at the world market because domestic demand was exhausted. Whether in the form of deficiency payments or, as intended by the Fischler reforms, of direct income support payments, in the end the whole concept stays a huge waste of money that is economically unreasonable, and it’s far from restricted to the dairy industry. What worries me even more than the waste of taxpayer’s money is, however, the negative externalities included in this scheme:

  • A) Negative environmental externalities

The obvious triggering of overproduction, in almost all agricultural sectors, overstrains the capacaties of nature and supports big style industrial agriculture. The unnecessary damages done to the environment are manifold and easy to imagine: emissions, fertilizers, deforestation…

  • B) Negative development-related externalities

Not only are the terms of trade with the rest of the world distorted, but EU export subsidies (and import restrictions) also heavily influence world prizes of agricultural products – up the point where it is pushed below the costs of production of small farmers in LDCs that have no chance to compete with the high-standard EU products that are being dumped on their markets. Their existence is in danger, and I’m not just talking about the existence of their farms and jobs, but their lives… Putting this in direct relation to the first line of this entry, you really wonder where this world is coming to.

While the CAP as Europe’s biggest problem child is certainly a big black stain on the white vest of the Old Continent, it’s by far not the only one. And even if Europe tries to help out, does it really do any good? In the framework of the ACP and GSP programs, all dealing with PTAs with developping countries and LDCs, and manifested in the Cotonou agreement, lots of money is flowing into development aid and support. In addition, favorable trading conditions are generously offered to those countries, seemingly eliminating artificial barriers to trade and hence, laying the foundation for economic growth. Realistically speaking, however, the finest PTA isn’t good enough if signed with a European Union that offers even better PTAs to other (groups of) countries. In addition, the highest amount of development aid doesn’t seem to do too much good if it’s finally used inefficiently, be it to pay corrupt politicians or to finance militias and armies, just because conditionality in giving out aid is a no-go these days and creative alternatives to traditional aid are frowned upon. Not to mention all that money that doesn’t even reach the development programs.

As usual, I watch the sun go down behind the Vrijthof churches with that feeling of dissatisfaction in the back of my head… the feeling that there’s so much more that can be done.

Hoffnung means hope…

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Songs to listen to on your way from Amsterdam to Maastricht – Part II

Okay, so this time it was only Eindhoven. No changing the facts. Luka Bloom was performing this song live during the Naked Song Festival where I also got to enjoy Teitur’s magical performance. I rushed to acquire all Luka Bloom CDs I could possibly get and carried this one around in my head for the last couple of days. Brilliant song, brilliant singer, brilliant feeling just listening… geweldig.

Luka Bloom – Sunny Sailor Boy

On a day of days
I stood and gazed
Over the western sea
Startled and struck,
Frightened to look
When a mermaid called to me

Ooh-wah Ooh-wah
Ooh-wah Ooh-wah
My sunny sailor boy

Like a man in a dream,
For an age it seemed
I stood as still as a stone
While the mermaid sang
And her melody rang
Like a memory calling me home

Then the sea and the wind
And the shores did spin
Though my resistance was strong
All the stars in space
Filled the mermaid’s face
She captured my will with her song

Somehow I spoke,
The enchantment broke
I rubbed my eyes open wide
Like a dream she was gone
What remained was a song
Borne on the ebbing tide

Ooh-wah Ooh-wah
Ooh-wah Ooh-wah
My sunny sailor boy

Hoffnung means hope…

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An Rauer Küste

Raue Küste

Focus on waves so far away
their little whitetops seem like snow
on a mountain top in a far away land
a vision so desperate and cold

but they break so soon and they flow away
it’s what the ocean does to you
when you stare too long and you don’t watch out
you’re getting pulled into the blue

so what have you done to deserve all this?
you’ve given the answer yourself
in all those years that you stood and stared
the coastline’s eroded away

Hoffnung means hope…

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Teituresque

Have you ever met a person that made you believe in magic? A particular artist for example, someone whose aura is almost visible and holds you tight, pulling you into a different world? If you haven’t, you might want to attend a Teitur gig. It’s what I did last night. The Naked Song Festival in Eindhoven featured a bunch of wonderful singer/songwriters, all of them amazing musicians and incredible storytellers, but none of them quite like Teitur, the number one reason I chose to attend the festival. His 45 minutes of performing were short but – you’ve guessed it – magical. Impossible to put into words. Check out his tour calendar – and plan a trip to his next gig. Until then, feast on the beauty of his art electronically.

Hoffnung means hope…

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Unwetter

Unwetter

Raindrops patter on the roof terrace of Hoogbrugstraat 40
listen closely, they’re telling a story
of the vagrant life they lead, out there in the dark
from heaven to earth, and back again, in cycles
sometimes salty, like tears. Sometimes sour
but always fluid, always water
changing the face of the earth, taking their time

Lightning lights up the dark streets around Hoogbrugstraat 40
look closely, it’s painting a picture
about strength, might and energy, bundled in a flash
from heaven to earth, as fast as possible
sometimes nearby, painfully bright. Sometimes distant
but always charging, always power
changing the face of the earth, within an instant

Gusts joggle the windows of Hoogbrugstraat 40
pay attention, they’re singing a song
of fury and rage, fueled by frustration
between heaven and earth, knowing no boundaries
mostly unfriendly, like bitterness and hate. Sometimes refreshing
but always fleeting, always wind
changing the face of the earth, if only for a while

Silence has come back to Hoogbrugstraat 40
go back to sleep now, it’s calming you down
peaceful and quiet, lulling and still
heaven on earth, if you chose to believe
always soothing, like faith, love and hope. Always dulcet
but never disruptive, never brute
changing the face of the earth, one person at a time

Hoffnung means hope…

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Heiligendamm heats up

When the G8 meet, there’s important things to talk about. In two weeks, climate change, development aid and hedge-fund transparency will be on top of the agenda at Heiligendamm, Germany. Huge issues and pressing problems of global scope. If there’s ever been a moment where the world’s misery needed to change, then definitely now that international icons like Bono and Bob Geldof have openly and directly critized the G8 for not taking appropriate actions. Cough. Completely apart from trends of public opinion, however, it should be clear that much responsibility lies with the representatives sent to the Heiligendamm summit. Nothing will change fundamentally within a 3 day summit, but foundations can be layed to solve the problems chancellor Merkel so rightly specified as the most dangerous problems threatening our planet and our kind these days. In the light of the severity of these problems, you’d expect the media to constantly report about ways how to tackle them, how to make this world a better place, how to end poverty and stop climate change… right?

Well think again.

The topic dominating the German news media in combination with the Heiligendamm summit is far less substantial, if you want. At least, it’s not in direct context with the topics discussed. It’s all about security… and measures taken by the police and national security to ensure that riots like those in Genoa 2001 will not be repeated. The last couple of weeks, both camps have been pretty busy arming up and adding fuel to the fire. Anti-globalisation organisations have called for huge and massive protests, sometimes even using the 2001 summit as an example. Security forces have responded with razzia and raids, trying to acquire information about potential autonomous protesters and building up fences preventing protesters from entering the city in the first place. Quite interestingly, this has sparked an intensive media debate about democratic values, the freedom to demonstrate and express your positions, and security. No doubt an interesting discussion that needs to be held – but isn’t it unfortunate that the police as well as supporters of economic and political ideas alternative to those dominate global economics these days are willing to violantly fight in the streets just to get their voices heard? Isn’t this killing the original idea of protesting?

In the end, hardly anyone would disagree on the importance of the issues on the Heiligendamm agenda and the pressing need for them to be solved. What people disagree on is the manner in which to achieve such a positive change… and as so many times in the history of mankind, those differences will most likely result in violence, stolidity and regression instead of progress. Very unfortunate indeed, as the resulting inactivity and the shifting media focus will only come back to hurt those who are in need right now… and eventually, us as well. In an optimal world, the time would have come to join hands and work together. In the real world, we cling to inefficient paradigms and methods of protest that never helped anyone out of trouble. At least that’s the way it looks like right now… you never know, miracles happen at times… if you have hope.

Hoffnung means hope…

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In the morning, in suits, in a new town…

At 1.22 am, I’m home again, after crossing the Maas river and watching the beautiful black of the flowing water crawling upnorth in direction of Nijmegen, Den Bosch, the North Sea… the view over the river gets me every time, and I can’t help but stop and watch for a couple of minutes… the river seems to symbolize my hopes and dreams of the last couple of months like nothing else. It’s taking the same journey I used to take every Friday; from Maastricht to Nijmegen, winding through Limburg and eventually entering Gelderland, always near the railroad tracks, during day and night, rainy and stormy weather, summer and winter… and while the Maas has done so for centuries, I have only done so for half a year. My UNL time is over for now, even though it seems like I’ll be back to that rythm only a short 12 months from now. For now, however, a new generation has begun… the first local selection rounds were taking place today, and Maastricht’s right at the centre of it. In a couple of weeks, about 30 young and ambitious people will stand at the same point I was standing a year ago, the first step towards one of the most important semesters of their lives, an experience that might change their lives just as it changed mine. UNL has so much to give to that next generation of “delegates”… inspiration, experience, education, and most importantly, the people they’ll meet… after all, it’s the people you meet. For me, it was the people I met. The people I met…

The people I met. Her.

Hoffnung means hope…

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