EU trademark sparks gamers’ hopes for Fallout 4

Fallout 3 on a screen

Is Bethesda working on Fallout 4? (CC Adam Fagen via Flickr)

The EU’s Office for the Harmonization of the Internal Market (OHIM) does usually not attract much public attention, but a trademark filed last week caused gamers worldwide to speculate about a potential continuation of Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout series.

The rumours started after the gaming website The Vault spotted two trademark applications for the name “Fallout 4”.

The gaming community admitted that Bethesda could have simply filed the trademarks to protect their intellectual property, but said that the video game developer followed a similar procedure before releasing first clues about a previous part of the series.

The Spain-based OHIM is the European Union’s central registry for trademarks and designs for the EU’s internal market. According to OHIM, the organisation has registered more than one million trademarks since its creation in 1996, but mostly legal and business publications report on it.

Fallout is a series of video games set in a post-apocalyptic and retrofuturistic world, which many magazines rated among the best role-playing games.

Lost in translation – the EU’s 24 official languages

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

Can a sole EU official language end the translation chaos?

The EU’s 24 official languages make the legislation and administration in Brussels costly and slow, critics say. English or Esperanto as sole working language could be alternatives, but are feared to handicap non-native speakers.

This is a translation of my contribution for the 2013 Day of Multilingual blogging (see German version of this article).

The European Union’s language services translate EU regulations in all 24 official and working languages. MEPs can present their speeches in the European Parliament in any of these languages with simultaneous translation. Furthermore, citizens from all member states can contact EU institutions and receive an answer in these languages.

The huge amount of time and costs for translation has often been criticised as unproductive and unnecessary. Shada Islam from the think-tank Friends of Europe told PRI: “We’re spending too much time and energy on this language issue.”

There are several alternative suggestions:

  • English as sole official language: This proposal seems to be a practical idea, but critics say that English-speaking nations would be favoured.
  • Several official languages: While this solution is widely considered fairer than English as sole official language, criticism from some EU member states would have to be expected. Moreover, the expenditure for administration and translation would be higher than with a single official language.
  • Esperanto as sole official language: The political movement Europe Democracy Esperanto campaigns for introducing the constructed international language Esperanto as sole EU working language. There are only few Esperanto speakers, with optimistic estimations speaking of two million people worldwide.

The key point of discussion is whether a single official language would infringe the EU motto “united in diversity”, which was created to ensure that the diversity of EU member states is thoroughly represented in the European Union.

Would the introduction of English as “lingua franca” end Europe’s cultural diversity? I am inclined to agree with Shada Islam:

„The world is moving fast, the world is moving ahead and we need to be looking at other ways of fostering diversity and inclusiveness. You do really need to have a common understanding and I think that’s where English came in as the natural language that everyone spoke.”

The EU’s 24 official and working languages are: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.

Lost in translation – die EU und ihre 24 Amtssprachen

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

Kann eine alleinige EU-Amtssprache das Übersetzungschaos beenden?

Die 24 offiziellen Sprachen der Europäischen Union machen die Gesetzgebung und Verwaltung in Brüssel kostspielig. Englisch oder Esperanto als “lingua franca” der EU könnten eine Alternative sein, benachteiligen aber Menschen, die diese Sprachen nicht sprechen.

As you have already noticed, I have written this post in German. I am taking part in today’s 2013 Day of Multilingual Blogging, but will make an English version available for you tomorrow.

Die Sprachdienste der EU übersetzten alle EU-Regulierungen in die 24 offiziellen Amtssprachen. Sprecher im Europaparlament können in jeder der Sprachen mit simultaner Übersetzung Reden halten. Außerdem können Bürger aus Mitgliedsstaaten in jeder dieser Sprachen mit EU-Behörden in Kontakt treten.

Dieser enorme Übersetzungsapparat und die entsprechenden Kosten stehen immer wieder in der Kritik. Shada Islam vom Thinktank Friends of Europe kritisierte den Aufwand als kostspielig, unproduktiv und unnötig. Gegenüber PRI sagte sie: “We’re spending too much time and energy on this language issue.”

Es gibt zahlreiche Alternativvorschläge:

  • Englisch als alleinige Amtssprache: Dieser Vorschlag erscheint aus praktischer Sicht umsetzbar, Kritiker bemängeln jedoch, dass er die Kräfteverhältnisse zugunsten englischsprachiger Nationen verschieben würde.
  • Begrenzte Anzahl offizieller Sprachen: Auch bei diesem Vorschlag ist Kritik von Mitgliedsstaaten zu erwarten, die sich benachteiligt fühlen, obwohl er mit Sicherheit fairer ist als Englisch als alleinige „lingua franca“. Der Verwaltungs- und Übersetzungsaufwand wäre wiederum höher.
  • Esperanto als alleinige Amtssprache: Die politische Bewegung Europe Democracy Esperanto fordert die Einführung der erfundenen Plansprache Esperanto auf EU-Ebene. Die Bewegung argumentiert, dass damit kein Land benachteiligt würde. Allerdings sprechen nur wenige Menschen Esperanto: Optimistische Schätzungen belaufen sich auf zwei Millionen Menschen weltweit.

Der springende Punkt der Diskussion ist das EU-Motto „united in diversity“, das sicherstellen soll, dass die Verschiedenheit der einzelnen Mitgliedsstaaten in der EU repräsentiert ist.

Würde die Einführung von Englisch als „lingua franca“ zu Ende kultureller Diversität führen? Ich bin geneigt mit Shada Islam übereinzustimmen:

„The world is moving fast, the world is moving ahead and we need to be looking at other ways of fostering diversity and inclusiveness. You do really need to have a common understanding and I think that’s where English came in as the natural language that everyone spoke.”

In der EU gibt es 24 offizielle Arbeitssprachen: Bulgarisch, Kroatisch, Tschechisch, Dänisch, Niederländisch, Englisch, Estländisch, Finnisch, Französisch, Deutsch, Griechisch, Irisch, Italienisch, Lettisch, Litauisch, Maltesisch, Polnisch, Portugiesisch, Rumänisch, Slowakisch, Slowenisch, Spanisch, Schwedisch und Ungarisch.

Possibility of EU referendums arises in German coalition talks

Referendums reduce policies to "Yes or No" (CC Nils via Flickr)

Referendums reduce policies to “Yes or No”
(CC Nils via Flickr)

Negotiators in the German coalition talks have suggested to give German citizens the possibility to vote on major EU issues in referendums, a move aimed at restoring trust in the EU’s democratic legitimacy.

According to media reports, referendums could be hold when new countries join the EU, when Germany bails out other member states or powers are transferred from Berlin to the European Union.

Similar referendums exist in other EU member states, with Britons voting on transferring powers to the European authorities.

In contrast, Nicolas Sarkozy abolished the necessity of French citizens voting on new countries joining the EU.

Members from both negotiating parties seem to support the suggestion: Conservative interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) and Thomas Oppermann from the Social Democrats (SPD) put forward a paper saying Germans “should be asked directly on European policy decisions of special importance”, the Financial Times reported.

But outside the coalition talks many members of chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU oppose referendums on EU issues. “The proposal won’t see the light of day. We would be reducing ourselves to the level of British policymakers”, MEP Elmar Brok from the CDU told Reuters.

Are EU referendums the way to go?

Many Europeans feel disconnected from the European institutions and complain about a lack of democracy.

Direct democracy would certainly give citizens of EU member states a say about key issues such as new countries joining the European Union or powers being transferred.

However, it cannot replace the mechanism of finding compromises in political institutions in my opinion. I doubt that complicated policies can often not be reduced to a simple “Yes or No” question, but referendums require such questions.

The perceived lack of democratic legitimacy has to be on the agenda of EU institutions, but referendums in single member states should not be the way to solve a European issue. Instead, the discussions should move towards making the existing EU authorities and mechanism more democratic.

Giving up data protection for free trade?

Containers on a ship

The EU hopes a trade deal would create thousands of jobs (CC Jean Pierre Martineau via Flickr)

The EU and US resumed talks on their planned free trade agreement today despite some European officials suggesting to suspend the negotiations.

Negotiators for both sides said the benefits of the proposed agreement were too great to be affected by allegations of NSA eavesdropping revealed in the last few weeks.

Right after the alleged hacking of German chancellor Angel Merkel’s and millions of Europeans’ phone by the US agency was made public, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called for a stop of the talks, among other senior EU officials.

However, at a summit in October the heads of all 28 member states decided to go ahead with the negotiations.

Now that talks about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) resumed economic arguments have again for the most part replaced the discussion about NSA activities.

Creating a single market could lower prices both for Europeans and Americans, experts say. A EU study suggests imported goods such as car currently cost 10 to 20 per cent more than they would without trade regulations and duties.

The European Union says a free trade agreement could bring more than 100bn euros of US investment into the EU member states each year and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

EU data protection could be undermined

Since the beginning of the talks experts identified data protection as one of the talks’ crucial points, with the US seeking much weaker regulations than the European Union.

On his Guardian blog, George Monbiot wrote about common regulations opening the door to companies to “sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens”.

According to Monbiot, companies could use a trade agreement to evade national protective regulations through a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement.

“It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing.”

It is not a myth that the proposed trade agreement could pose a danger to European citizens’ data protection.

Yes, European economies could benefit a great deal from a single market.

But my questions is: Can the economic benefits of free trade be great enough to give up data protection?

European Greens open online primary for Commission President candidates

EP elections wil be held in May 2014 (CC European Parliament)

EP elections wil be held in May 2014 (CC European Parliament)

The European Green Party has started its online primary election of candidates for President of the European Commission ahead of next year’s EU parliament elections – a process that could be distorted by the nature of online audiences.

In the Green primary election European citizens over the age of 16 can vote for one or two of four proposed politicians, who are then going to run as candidates for the President of the European Commission’s office in next year’s European Parliament (EP) election.

The four candidates the Greens have put forward for the primary election are José Bové from France, Monica Frassoni from Italy, Rebecca Harms and Ska Keller both from Germany.

The Greens are the first European party to put forward such a process. According to the party, it is aimed at giving EU citizens a direct say:

„We believe running the Green Primary will help reduce the gap between political institutions and the citizens. Increasing direct citizen involvement can bring European politics closer to the people.“

The flaw of online audiences

However, the unrepresentative online audience could distort the primary’s results.

According to a study, almost 50 per cent of European Internet users are younger than 35 years, a group that accounts for a much smaller percentage of the European population.

Moreover, citizens in some member states use the Internet a lot less than those in others.

The Internet is a convenient platform to reach a big audience, but the European Green Party cannot expect to get a representative result from its primary online election.

In my opinion, the European Greens’ primary can be a model for the future and open a public pan-European debate, with both regional and demographic Internet gaps hopefully closing in the future.

Revolution of the electoral process

Next year’s EP election (22-25 May) is the first one since the Lisbon Treaty, which asked for a stronger integration of European citizens as political actors.

The European Commission (EC) has recommended that the European parties decide on top candidates for the EC President, the highest executive power in the EU.

The EC’s recommendation was based on a survey that suggested that 62% of Europeans think having party candidates for Commission President and a single voting day would help increase dropping turnouts (I wrote about this earlier).

The European people’s party, the biggest party in the current EP, has yet to name a candidate. The second biggest party, the Party of European Socialists, announced last week that Martin Schulz is going to run for them.

The European Green Party’s online primary election runs till 28 January 2014.

Europe’s young generation demands minimum wage for internships

Young Europeans propose measures to fight youth unemployment

Participants of Citizens’ Agora 2013 (© European Parliament)

Young citizens from across the European Union have put forward recommendations to tackle the record youth unemployment. Key proposals include control over a part of the youth unemployment budget, a minimum wage for internships and better recognition of volunteering.

Some 60 young people from different member states came together in Brussels for the Citizens’ Agora 2013, an event hosted by the European Parliament, and decided on several measures (PDF version) to battle youth unemployment.

Although I doubt that a meeting organised by EU authorities can really help Europe’s youth to find a common voice, some of the proposals are definitely interesting:

  • a minimum pay for internships
  • professional guidance and a mentor free of charge
  • mutual recognition of qualifications across all member states (including skills from volunteering)
  • a European-wide, free of charge, language learning system
  • a EU platform providing information about career and training opportunities
  • involve young people in the decision-making process and give them control over a small part of the Youth Employment Initiative budget

The heads of the member states will have to prove if they take the young generation’s proposals serious at the conference on youth unemployment in Paris on 12 November.

In any case, a meeting like this can only be a first step in a discussion about European youth unemployment. I consider it essential that young people are allowed to take part in these discussions because they should have a right to decide on their future. However, young people have yet to prove that they can play a constructive role in policy-making and not only demonstrate on the streets.

Youth unemployment in the European Union is now at a record-high of just above 23 per cent, according to Eurostat figures. In the crisis hit countries Greece and Spain over half of the under 25s are without a job, while only Germany and Austria have youth unemployment rates under 10 per cent.

Video about the Citizens’ Agora (by the European Parliament):

Here are some statements by young Europeans who took part in Citizens’ Agora:

Ricardo Rosas, 22, employed, from Spain: “I think that the EU should push member states to put in place concrete measures for young people who have just finished university and lack work experience.”

Jan Verlaak, 24, employed, from Belgium: “An entrepreneurial mind-set around Europe should be created and the mentalities changed: it’s not only about strict measures.”

Junior Sikabwe, 23 from Denmark, doing an unpaid traineeship: “I don’t think the EU can do something very concrete, but it could set a framework of how to fight youth unemployment. Problems are different in each country. There is no unique solution.”

Guillaume Vimont, a 31-year-old job seeker from France: “The EU must fight against tax evasion and fraud. It represents a lot of money today that could be used for other things.”

Tania Del Sarto, 27, employed from Italy: “The problem is that education is far from the demands of the labour market. We need to change that. Schools in Italy do not reflect real life and real jobs.”

Maria Djurhuus Petersen, 27, employed, from Denmark: “The internships are both a solution and a problem. The EU should try to push countries to provide more useful internships and transform them into real jobs.”

What should the European Union in your opinion do to fight youth unemployment?

Free LUX Prize film screenings could be a model to revive Europe’s culture


Cinemas will show LUX
Prize films for free (CC Fernando de Sousa via Flickr)

The three finalists of the European Parliament’s LUX Film Prize are being shown for free in cinemas across the 28 EU member states. However, other cultural sectors like theatre, dance and concerts could really benefit from free performance initiatives, as more and more Europeans turn their back on those events.

According to the European Parliament (EP), the LUX Prize aims at raising public awareness for “major EU policy areas as immigration, integration, poverty and violence against women”.

The former vice-president of the EP, Stavros Lambrinidis, said that the film selection would also influenced lawmakers because passing laws was not „a cold process“.

Europeans can watch the finalists for free in cinemas across Europe and vote for their favourite.

The three finalists for this year are:

  • The Broken Circle Breakdown (Felix van Groeningen, Belgium, 2012): A love story of two very different characters who have to fight for their love when their daughter falls gravely ill.
  • Miele (Valeria Golino, Italy and France, 2013): Irene, the lead character in the film, secretly helps terminally-ill people to die in dignity, but a new “patient” challenges her believes.
  • The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, United Kingdom, 2013): Two boys growing up in an underprivileged town in Yorkshire start working for a local scrap-metal dealer after being excluded from school. Soon tensions develop among the three.

Other cultural events should also be free

The popularity of cinema explains why the EP sees the LUX Film Prize as a good possibility to reach a big number of Europeans. However, in my opinion, other cultural events should be awarded with similar free performances.

Europeans are turning their back on culture, with cinema being the only type of culture events more people attended in 2012 than in 2007, a European Commission study (PDF version) recently found.

According to the study, 52 per cent of the European citizens go to the cinema at least once a year, but only 35 per cent go two concerts (2 per cent less than 2007), 28 per cent to the theatre (four per cent less than 2007) and 18 per cent a dance performance or an opera (same as 2007).

The study identified money as one of the reasons why fewer Europeans attended cultural events.

Of course, free theatre or opera performances would be a lot more costly than free film screenings, but can the price to prevent Europeans from turning their backs on culture really be too high?

Are you going to any of the free LUX Prize screenings? Do you think the European Union should invest more money in theatre, dance and concerts?

Faroe Islands take on European Union in fishing war

Herring catch (public domain)

Imports of Faroese herring were banned by EU authorities

The small Faroe Islands (50.000 inhabitants) launched a trade battle with the European Union in a David and Goliath contest over EU trade sanctions on its fish.

The islands in the North Atlantic dispute a EU ban on importing Faroese mackerel and herring and restricting vessels to enter EU ports in an official request to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The Faroese Prime Minister Kaj Leo Holm Johannesen said in a statement: “The measures implemented by the EU are in clear contravention of basic provisions of the WTO Agreement.”

EU authorities agreed on a ban of Faroese fish in August, after the territory between Norway and Iceland decided to raise its catch limit of herring to just above 105.000 tonnes per year. The European Union wants to restrict the islands to a limit of 31.000 tonnes.

Trade battle is a modern-day version of Asterix and Obelix

With its trade challenge to the EU the small Faroe Islands appear like a modern-day version of Asterix and Obelix versus the Roman Empire: The islands find themselves in a very isolated situation. They are a self-governed territory of Denmark – Denmark supports the Faroese battle for its fish without taking a clear side – but do not belong to the European Union.

Taking on the overpowering European Union in a “fishing war” could pay off for the islands: Fishing accounts for over 90 per cents of the territory’s exports; higher catch quotas could therefore significantly boost the Faroese fishing industry.

Harbour of Klaksvik, Faroe Islands

Over 90% of Faroese exports is fish (CC Arne List)

The Faroese government argues that many mackerels and herrings have moved into its territorial waters in recent years and that a higher catch limit would not endanger the species.

“Contrary to claims by the EU that the measures are a means to conserve the Atlanto-Scandian herring, the coercive measures implemented by the EU against the Faroe Islands appear designed to protect EU industry interests,” Faroese PM Johannesen said.

60 days to prevent EU-Faroese showdown

Until the raise of the catch limits Norway, Russia, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the European Union jointly managed the herring stock in the Northern Atlantic Ocean.

For now the trade battle over import bans is not yet in full swing, as the EU and Faroe Islands have 60 days to settle their dispute.

If they cannot find an agreement, the WTO will be asked to adjudicate and the David and Goliath battle will see its showdown.

Unemployment in Europe will stay high for years

The unemployment rate in the European Union will stay around 12 per cent until 2015, although the EU has reached an economic “turning point”, according to commissioner Olli Rehn.

In fact, the European Commission’s economic forecast, which was presented today, supports Rehn’s statement, predicting the eurozone’s GDP to grow by 1.1 per cent in 2014 and 1.7 per cent in 2015.

Europe’s jobless, however, will have to wait until the strengthening economy will affect them: The unemployment rate, currently just above 12 per cent, will drop slightly to 11.8 per cent by 2015.

“We are seeing clear signs of an economic turnaround but growth will pick up only gradually and will translate into jobs only with lag and that’s why we cannot yet declare victory and we must not fall into the trap of complacency”, Rehn said at the presentation of the newest forecast.

While Rehn focussed on the positive aspects of the economic recovery, experts are less convinced of the progress made. ING chief economist Carsten Brzeski told EUobserver that the commission forecasts “reflect the sad truth about the European recovery. It is a very slow, fragile and anaemic recovery.”

One glimmer of hope is that also crisis-struck countries like Greece and Spain are expected to grow their economies in the near future, even if a lot less than, for example, Germany (overview of forecasts for single EU member states).