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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gaza Graduates Search for Vitamin W




Sunday, November 15, 2009


Why Sarkozy’s Mediterranean plan looks worth a try

The once-promising relationship between the European Union and the Mediterranean neighbours is floundering badly. Jean-François Daguzan traces the reasons for its decline over the last 10 years and suggests the policy mix needed to get it moving again.

With no little pomp and ceremony, a high-level conference was organised in Barcelona last November by the Spanish government to re-launch the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (MEDA), which for some time had appeared paralysed. Heads of state and government from the European Union and Mediterranean countries were invited as it was felt their presence would symbolise the notion of a special relationship between north and south, and would celebrate the 10th anniversary of MEDA’s launch in Barcelona in 1996. Unfortunately, only EU heads of government turned up. The southern side of the table, so to speak, was unoccupied other than by Prime Minister of Turkey, as a candidate for EU accession, and the chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Paralysis, it seemed clear, had indeed set in.

Disappointing though all this was for the conference’s organisers, the reasons for the meeting’s failure were obvious enough. There is much dissatisfaction in the south with the slender results of the past 10 years (however much responsibility the southerners may have for this) accompanied by a widespread lack of understanding of Europe’s objectives for the future. The southern partners have refused to be bound by the European Neighbourhood Policy. Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the Algerian Prime Minister, at one point drily remarked: “Mediterranean countries find it humiliating that Europeans demand reform in exchange for a handful of euros.”

A five-year working programme has yielded only patchy results. It has not tackled hard security, but emphasis has been placed on human security and on more cooperation over migration. There has been satisfactory development of transnational projects in sectors like transport and energy that were sorely lacking in earlier plans, and education has become one of the programme’s strong points. Another important element is the unspoken yet apparently definite consensus on the creation of a Mediterranean investment bank based on the experience of the European Investment Bank’s Mediterranean instrument. This working tool, first requested by Mediterranean and southern European countries more than 10 years ago, but systematically refused by governments in northern Europe, is badly needed for the development of the Mediterranean zone.

Issues like terrorism – where Tunisia has proposed an anti-terrorist code of good conduct – and security were touched upon only in the presidency’s non-binding conclusions.

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has said that the Mediterranean is an “absolute priority for Europe”, but it’s not at all clear whether the south shares the same priorities. For some southern countries the EU’s “fraternal support” is looking increasingly burdensome. In exchange for a degree of financial aid (the actual amounts of which are not yet known), the Union is asking its partner states to subject themselves to stringent conditions that reflect its own concerns: democracy and human rights, a free trade area, tougher controls on terrorism and migration, nuclear non-proliferation and so on. At the end of the day, much is being asked in exchange for rather modest returns. What is more, the southern states are rightly wary of the fact that they will not be setting the same privileged treatment as the countries on the EU’s eastern periphery. In 1995, the ratio of European aid between the Mediterranean and the east was fixed by an informal agreement between the southern Europeans and Germany at 1 to 3 in eastern Europe’s favour, and the fear now is that this ratio could easily worsen.

The region’s many problems persist, of course. As well as the time bomb of the near East, economic, social and political crisis besets all the Arab countries. The huge benefits enjoyed by those that are oil or gas producing countries, and Israel’s position as a technological and globalised society, do nothing to mask the absence of dynamism and investment in other countries of the region. Like emigration rates, political and terrorist violence are barometers of societies in crisis and of authoritarian regimes that are incapable of dealing with either intellectual or industrial modernisation. Europe is therefore particularly concerned with any expressions of radicalism whose origins can be blamed, unconsciously or not, on “the other side”. The other side, meanwhile, often returns the compliment and holds the West responsible for almost all its problems and humiliations.

And when we look at all these issues from a global, geo-political perspective, the situation seems even more worrying. In recent years, we have witnessed a shift in the world’s centre of gravity from western Europe to Asia; the region’s massive economic development now means that many major worldwide strategic issues like climate change are concentrated along a Tehran-Beijing-Tokyo axis, with China and India as the essential points of gravity.

From this standpoint, the Mediterranean finds itself on the periphery, set back from the course of history and global developments. The European Union, which some claim as being at the centre of the 21st century’s new dynamics, is crippled by its on-going institutional and identity crisis. The “drift of economic continents” , the phrase Henri Régnault used to describe the rapprochement between the European, American and Asian economies to the detriment of the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, has turned into a strategic drift towards America and Asia from which Europe is increasingly excluded.

France’s new President Nicolas Sarkozy has, however, made a proposal that suggests some new thinking on the subject. In February, during his election campaign, he outlined in Toulon the idea of a possible “Mediterranean Union”. It made little impact at the time, but grew legs in May when Sarkozy returned to it in his victory speech. “The time has come,” he said, “to build together a Mediterranean Union that will be the bridge between Europe and Africa.” It would be composed of countries ringing the Mediterranean, some democratic, some clearly not − Spain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and so on. Some observers liken it to the early days of the European Union, but obviously it would be more diverse.

Periodic meetings of members would be held in the style of the G-8 industrial countries, while the secretariat would be provided by a Mediterranean Council based on the model of the Council of Europe. A collective security system would be introduced, while co-development would be the basis of the contract between signatories. It would seek to end corruption, organised crime and terrorism, and would be involved in concrete projects with a primary focus on the environment. This Mediterranean Union would, it goes almost without saying, replace France’s more traditional Arab policies.

Sarkozy’s suggestion is fraught, though, with a number of difficulties that will have to be faced: Turkey, which it must be presumed the idea is also addressed to, has already rejected the initiative, which it not unreasonably sees as a consolation prize for being denied EU membership. Reactions from Italy and Spain have also been reserved.

At the same time, the Israel-Palestinian and Lebanese-Syrian issues have already brought the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership to a standstill, and may well do the same for the Mediterranean Union. Dreams of a collective security pact for the Mediterranean will have to wait until both issues are resolved. And underlying all this, the fundamental issue remains the deteriorating political, economic and social situation of the south and the growth of Islamic terrorism.

But a custom-designed approach, taking baby steps, might just be possible, starting with North Africa. Finding ways to start up the Euro-Mediterranean relationship again in a new format demands a policy of baby steps: the first step must be a reinforced but reciprocal economic policy of reform. Introducing good governance is not enough: this must be accompanied by modernisation of the political and administrative structures of southern countries. The second step is towards sustainable development. The decline in living conditions on the other side of the Mediterranean basin affects its competitiveness and its attractiveness to investors. Introducing joint policies combining ecology and economic development would be a promising line of attack. The third step is connected with the second and involves energy interconnections, for which there is considerable potential given Algerian and Libyan hydrocarbon resources. And the fourth step would be cooperation in dealing with organised crime, trafficking and terrorism. These are matters that have already been discussed fairly fruitfully within the MEDA framework in Dialogue 5+5 in Tunis in 2003, and even in NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue. But they could, usefully, be the object of a new ad hoc partnership.

The EU’s grand Mediterranean designs – the “alliance of civilisations” advocated by Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, and also by Kofi Annan when he was UN Secretary-General – has got off on the wrong foot, except perhaps from the very limited standpoint of security. Things have reached such a standstill that the European Commission’s most recent pronouncement on MEDA was entitled “Time to Deliver!”. Mistrust and doubts about the future still linger on, displacing any hopes of a new political vision and shared economic dynamics. Yet millions of people on the other side of the Mediterranean are still waiting for concrete solutions to their pressing economic, social and political problems.

But for how much longer will these people continue to look towards Europe? Relaunching the EU’s faltering Mediterranean policy by founding a new union of the region’s neighbours may just be the way to break the deadlock, but it will be a fine line to tread. Turning the Mediterranean basin from a sea of actual and potential conflict into the oft-mentioned “lake of peace” is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. But Europe’s security depends on it, and with the situation now increasingly pressing, let’s give the Mediterranean Union a chance.

Autumn 2007
by Jean-François Daguzan



Thursday, November 05, 2009

Who Says Saving the Planet Has to Cost a Fortune?

Patent Lies

One of the nagging issues in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit are demands that the US and Europe provide massive aid so poorer countries can buy expensive emissions-free technologies. Activist David E. Martin claims many of the patents for today's low-carbon technologies -- including some used in wind power and hybrid cars -- are already in the public domain.

When the host of a party predicts a flop, it rarely inspires much confidence in a good bash. With just over a month to go before international climate talks start in Copenhagen the Danish government has done exactly that: Don't hold your breath, it said, it's unlikely there will be a binding global deal. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had even stronger words earlier this week: "Of course we are not going to have a full-fledged binding treaty, Kyoto-type, by Copenhagen. There is not time for that."

Money is threatening the fight against climate change. Climate experts have priced emissions-cutting technologies needed by developing countries at €100 billion ($149 billion) a year starting in 2020, and they want to see about half of that investment burden shouldered by public funding from the United States, the European Union and Japan. The world's poorest countries warn that without a solid promise of funds, they will walk out of the Copenhagen summit. But €50 billion is more than the loose change European states, Washington and Tokyo are willing to dole out -- particularly after bailing out their banks. European leaders meeting in Brussels last week shirked concrete commitments, saying only they would contribute their "fair share" to upfront climate financing.

Need It Be that Expensive?

David E. Martin is travelling the globe to prove negotiators wrong about the cost of battling climate change. He's not making himself very popular. It's not that the 42-year-old patent expert and consultant denies global warming. It's that he says designs for green gadgets, from hybrid cars to wind turbines, are now in the public domain and freely available -- if you know how to find them. Martin has made it his life's mission to make sure an increasing number of people, companies and countries have access to this information. Most recently, in collaboration with the World Bank's Information for Development Program, he launched an online database of gadgets whose lapsed patents in advanced energy, water and agricultural technologies represent potential license savings worth, according to the World Bank, more than $2 trillion.

To big business, Martin is a nuisance because he questions the very validity of some of the vast profits expected from a new climate deal. To governments, his truth is inconvenient because it threatens a delicate relationship with corporate giants they want backing their climate goals. For Martin, it's a continuation of his interest in what he calls linguistic genomics - the study of how the meaning of words shifts and changes, and how this can be used to obscure meaning and gain an advantage. Patents, he says, keep getting issued because even though they cover the same ground, they're worded in different ways. So car brakes that charge an electric car become a "regenerative brake device having a driving wheel, an electric motor and a battery," or a wind turbine becomes "a power house and vanes rotating in the wind." The more complicated the wording, the more likely that a patent will be granted. Indeed, it can take a patent expert up to three days to assess two three-page patents for overlapping claims.

Trawling Patents

Martin first grappled with the many meanings of words when he was five years old. Back then, in southern California, he huddled over the family kitchen table with his mother and three brothers, translating ancient Greek into a version of the English Bible that is now in its fourth edition. Thirty-odd years and several natural disasters later, he is trawling environmental patents for double meanings, just as he once trawled religious texts. As he sought to do with his childhood Bible text, he is trying to shed light on weighty issues -- only this time it is not about the foundations of faith, but about how much developing countries from China to Tanzania should have to pay in the fight against global warming. His custom-made software and a vast server are programmed to trawl and compare hundreds of thousands of files containing patent information from what would seem an incongruous list of places: Papua New Guinea, Berlin, the Brazilian rainforest, New York. Some of these patents are new; others have expired. What Martin -- and those who work with him in his M-CAM consultancy -- say they found is that one in three patents registered today on energy-saving technology duplicate gadgets that were first dreamed up in the wake of the 1970s oil crisis and are now freely available.

With his unpopular data and promotion of free technology that is legally available in the effort to slow global warming, Martin's work tracking illegal patent claims has made him an army of foes among big business, patent examiners and even climate negotiators. "I've lost count how many times people have threatened to hurt me and my family," Martin told SPIEGEL ONLINE in a phone interview. "It's because I'm talking about a truth that is inconvenient."

That hasn't stopped him. He has testified before the US Congress and butted heads with patent offices worldwide. He is contributing to the emerging drive by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation and members of the European Parliament to make this truth known. His clients include the US Treasury and Commerce Departments and his work inspired the Swedish activist project The Patent Bay, which analyzes the validity of patents in Europe to promote innovation.

Yet negotiators still largely hold on to the sense that patent licenses are fundamental to encouraging green innovation. To avoid hostile debate, climate negotiators hope to use part of the €50 billion for payments to patent holders, even if their patents may be redundant.

Politicians Keep Corporations Sweet

There is no official number or estimate on how much such pay-offs might be worth. Patent licenses are just one way for companies to generate wealth from green innovation. But the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change estimates green patents will boom if a global deal is sealed. That boom would be worth billions of dollars, particularly if corporations raise their license fees to profit even more from the new wave of public spending. The UNFCCC predicts the biggest boon will go to those countries that are best and quickest at filing patents, namely European states, the US and Japan -- in other words, precisely those countries looking for a way to back out of financing developing countries' climate technology.

"The money to be saved in this (through cutting back on license payments) is potentially massive," Sanjeev Kumar, an emissions trading expert at green activist group WWF, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

"But what government is going to start? Is the US, is Europe brave enough to cut the royalty chains of large technology companies? This is a principle that is morally right but the politics aren't there yet," he said.

The world's poorest countries -- known as the G-77 -- together with China went even further last June, calling for climate-friendly technologies to be excluded from patenting -- a demand they have since withdrawn.

As if to reassure industry, European environment ministers signed a document on Oct. 21 virtually guaranteeing this would not happen. The document -- to be used as a basis of negotiations in Copenhagen -- stressed "the necessity of protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights (IPRs) for promoting technological innovation and incentivising investments from the private sector."
Part 2: A Chicken and Egg Question over Patents and Technology

With Copenhagen's success in the balance, some experts now hope bilateral and national agreements will improve on the tricky issues Copenhagen will avoid: Within the EU an agreement on sharing technology for carbon sequestration is emerging, and Washington and Beijing are rumored to be discussing a technology agreement.

But on patents, the crucial question will continue to center on whether a boom in new patents harms or promotes innovation. Rather than saving the planet, such an onslaught of new patents will hinder green innovation, argues Bruno van Pottelsberghe, a Belgian university professor and senior fellow at Brussels-based think tank Bruegel who has been calling for an overhaul of the world's creaking patent system.

"The danger is clear -- if you give a patent for something that already exists, it reduces the speed of innovation," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "You allow patent holders to block a technological field. You give them power that they would not deserve."

It's an attitude that Martin calls "wilful ignorance" -- leading to big firms being paid vast license fees. Understaffed patent offices dealing with hundreds of thousands of applications, and fear of costly legal disputes, compound the problem. In many cases it is easier for a patent office to grant a patent and for a company to pay a license fee rather than take on an industrial giant: A row between General Electric and Germany's Enercon, for instance, over a disputed wind turbine patent some years ago ended in Enercon agreeing to a settlement and GE charging fees for a patent whose validity experts still question. Other green patent disputes and appeals are lining up, with a US trade panel currently reviewing a ruling that would keep wind turbines made by Japan's Mitsubishi off the US market at GE's request.

Yet much powerful support for new patents still rests on the assumption that they encourage innovation, even if they are redundant.

"Sometimes patents are not worth what they claim they are in terms of innovation," Gerard Giroud, the recently retired head of the European Patent Office, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But it seems to me a detail. Patent offices should grant patents to encourage investment in a particular type of technology -- because that investment is what will save the planet."

'What Belongs to the Big Guys and What Belongs to Society'

Europe's institutions seem to have pledged support for green IPR protection. Even environmental groups seem to agree money paid to big business in licenses -- even if these are questionable -- could be crucial in pushing toward a climate deal in December.

"A failure to constructively tackle IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) … will limit the pace of innovation… and potentially poison the international climate negotiations," a summer report by environmental action group E3G and London's independent Chatham House think tank states.

To Martin, shedding light on redundant patents and license fees is as important as questioning any accepted world order, just as he did as a young man translating Greek Bible text.

"What we do is trawl documents for their true meaning," he says. "But what we care about are basic human issues. In this case, it's to show up what belongs to the big guys and what belongs to society."

By Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck in Brussels