The EU changing engines on a moving train

On Thursday, July 17, 2014, in EU Policies, by Joel Hirv
[caption id="attachment_5468" align="alignright" width="300"]New President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker New President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker[/caption] Following the European Parliament (EP) elections at the end of May, the EU entered into an intricate period of transformation. As if changing engines on a moving train, great care was taken not to derail any wagons, or in this case, alienate any MemberStates or political parties, and to keep the European project going. Compared with previous elections in 2009 and 2004, the winning European People’s Party’s (EPP) support decreased significantly due to an alarming rise of Euroskeptic right-wing parties. They were able to secure an overall victory, but the second largest group in the EP – Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – is not lagging too far behind. In any case, a coalition was needed to secure that the EPP candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission (EC) – Jean-Claude Juncker – passes the vote in the European Parliament. For the first time major European political parties had agreed before the elections that for greater transparency they would introduce their candidates for the Presidency of the EC publicly. They would not allow the Member States to appoint a candidate behind closed doors in the European Council. This agreement was followed by an ultimatum by the EP to veto any other candidate apart from the top candidates presented before the elections. The process of nominating the President of the EC has changed greatly over past decades: from a unanimous decision of the Council before the Treaty of Maastricht to Council’s qualified majority decision, which needs to take into account the results of the EP elections and receive an absolute majority in the EP after the Treaty of Lisbon. Such shift from Intergovernmentalism to parliamentarianism has not been to everyone’s tastes. The Prime Ministers of the UK, David Cameron, and Hungary, Viktor Orbán, objected to the nomination of Juncker mostly because of his federalist views. Despite some disgruntled voices, Juncker passed the vote in the EP on 15 July with the backing of a coalition of the EPP, S&D and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). He secured 422 votes, while 250 MEPs voted against him and 47 abstained. Juncker needed an absolute majority of 751, meaning at least 376 votes were required. This coalition also guaranteed the re-election of Martin Schulz (S&D) as the President of the EP. It is not yet clear who will be succeeding Catherine Ashton as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy because the exact assignment of portfolios in Juncker’s Commission is still pending. Only a few Member States have come forward with their candidates for Commissioners and a consensus on the personae of the High Representative and the President of the European Council was not reached at the special summit of 16 July. The whole Commission is expected to take office in November this year following hearings and a vote of investiture in the European Parliament and the new President of the European Council will be taking over from Herman Van Rompuy in December. The EP’s top positions – Vice-Presidents and Questors, as well as Chairs and Vice-Chairs of Committees and Delegations – were distributed between groups following d’Hondt method as usual, which allowed each of them to take their pick according to their relative size. Nevertheless, those preferences needed to be legitimised by votes either in the Plenary or respective Committees and Delegations, and in some cases pro-European groups joined forces to scupper Euroskeptics from taking the top jobs. Of the signatories of the ICT’s pledge “2014 for Tibet” ( Ulrike Lunacek (Greens/European Free Alliance, Austria) was elected a Vice-President of the European Parliament; Michael Cramer (Greens/EFA, Germany) the Chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism; Yannick Jadot (Greens/EFA, France) a Vice-Chair of the Committee on International Trade; Robert Rochefort (ALDE, France) and Catherine Stihler (S&D, UK) Vice-Chairs of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection; Jaroslaw Walesa (EPP, Poland) a Vice-Chair of the Committee on Fisheries; and Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg (S&D, Poland) a Vice-Chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs. Tunne Kelam (EPP, Estonia) and Ulrike Lunacek will also be speaking up for the rights and freedoms of Tibetans in their capacity as Members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Monica Macovei (EPP, Romania) as a Substitute Member. Karima Delli (Greens/EFA, France) was appointed a Member of the Delegation for relations with India; Stefan Eck (Confederal Group of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), Germany) a Member and Philipp Lamberts a Substitute Member of the Delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China; and Yannick Jadot and Thomas Mann (EPP, Germany) Substitute Members of the Delegation for relations with the countries of South Asia.  
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Over the last few weeks I have been traveling out of the United States to advance the plans related to the strengthening of our international advocacy. Below you can find a brief summary and some considerations. In mid-June, I attended the meeting of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy ( in Dakar, Senegal. The WDM is a network that includes activists belonging to organizations from all over the world committed to the promotion of democracy. Its function is to create a space where the opportunities, challenges and trends related to the development of democracy all over the world can be discussed and new ideas and projects can be developed. Democracy as a precondition for the full enjoyment of human rights is a founding principle of this movement that I share completely. [caption id="attachment_5454" align="aligncenter" width="520"]Steering Committee of the World Movement Meeting of the Steering Committee of the World Movement of Democracy in Dakar saw the participation of the Minister of Justice of Senegal Mr. Sidiki Kaba.[/caption] The threat posed to democracy by the rise of undemocratic states on the international stage (of course we discussed China, for example its impact on foreign policies of democratic countries), was widely discussed among other topics, as the understanding of the connection that exists between national developments of influential nations and international politics is every day more evident. I am glad that I was able to participate to this discussion on behalf of ICT, and we are looking forward to strengthen our relationships to support Tibetans all over the world. [caption id="attachment_5461" align="alignright" width="300"]ICT Germany From left Kai, Martin, Matteo, Erich and Markus during their recent meeting at ICT Germany’s office in Berlin.[/caption]After the visit to Senegal, I finally had the great pleasure to visit the Berlin office of ICT Germany. ICT Germany was created in 2002 and since then, it has established itself as a reliable, professional and strong voice to support the rights of Tibetans and to bring positive change to China. Tens of thousands of people in Germany support the work of ICT and, under the leadership of the Executive Director Kai Muller, Anne, Erich, Markus and Martin have been able to make a difference in the perception of the Tibetan issue in Germany, in particular by its political class, as I was able to personally experience in the meetings I had there. It is for ICT crucial to maintain and grow a strong presence in Germany, a key country in Europe where the Chinese government is constantly trying to spread blatant propaganda. So, congratulations for all you’re your achievements to ICT Germany and we look forward to a bright future! Matteo
Matteo PS: Also, congratulations also for the well deserved victory in the 2014 Soccer World Cup!

My Experience with ICT’s Tibetan Youth Leadership Program

On Friday, June 27, 2014, in Recent, by Rinchen Phuntsok
[caption id="attachment_5447" align="alignright" width="300"]Rinchen Phuntsok in Washington, DC. Rinchen Phuntsok in Washington, DC.[/caption]The Tibetan Diaspora is faced with a tremendous challenge of sustaining our struggle as well as preserving the rich and diverse culture of Tibet. The issues and the obstacle that we need to overcome as a community and as a distinct race of people are equally complex in nature and colossal in scale. The plight of our people and our nation is not only in the hands of those we consider our adversaries, but in our own hands, and more so, in the hands of Tibetan youth, who are carrying this responsibility and taking it forward to the next generation. The Tibetan Youth Leadership Program (TYLP) organized by ICT (International Campaign of Tibet) provides a platform and an opportunity for aspiring young Tibetans to take that first step towards becoming responsible and well informed leaders. The details of the program and the experiences of 2014’s TYLP alumni are eloquently put by Tencho la (Program Coordinator) on ICT’s weblog here. As an alumnus of this year’s TYLP, I decided to take this opportunity to share a few of my observations and experiences during this program. In essence, the program provided three things for the participants, a platform for exchange of views, a unique immersive exposure to multiple aspects of the Tibet issue and exposure to advocacy strategies, efforts and opportunities. This was a unique opportunity for many of us. The opportunity to speak with young Tibetans from a diverse set of backgrounds and equally differing environment of upbringing brought a wealth of unique viewpoints and perspectives. These differences brought to light the challenges a young Tibetan faces in the US trying to grow up as a Tibetan. Some of us shared their experiences of the identity dilemma they faced, whether to consider oneself purely Americanized western youth or a Tibetan in essence or even an amalgam of both. We spoke of challenges that barriers of language bring when you want to cross that cultural divide between wanting to be a Tibetan as well as an American. Preservation of Tibetan language seems to be a great challenge especially in the US. At the same time we heard of many of the initiatives taken to overcome this challenge, e.g the many after school or weekend Tibetan programs in places like Minnesota, Washington, DC, and Utah. The issue of Tibet for many is that of the difference between the colors black and white. And yet many of us would agree that understanding and resolving the issue of Tibet would take more than merely the realization of facts or history. ICT’s TYLP provided this opportunity for a remarkable immersive experience for the participants, where not only the historical context of issues surrounding our struggle were presented, but contemporary events and issues that are shaping our movement were also discussed. Most of the discussions about Tibet in most places seem to lack an informed view on the Chinese perspective when it comes to the issue of Tibet. This program provided an opportunity to speak with Chinese Americans striving for democracy in China to a fellow from a think tank who brought some objective analysis of Chinese stance on Tibet based on its geopolitical realities. It was a very enriching experience for the participants in the program. Despite the seemingly unscalable mountain of challenge for Tibetans, one thing we must take a little credit for is the significant amount of success the issue of Tibet and Tibetans have received in terms of our advocacy efforts. The world today is wrought with a barrage of issues ranging from wars, terrorism, famine, financial crisis, geopolitical instability and what not. But the issue of Tibet, despite everything else, has remained alive and vigorously represented. This clearly demonstrates the success we all had in advocating the issue of Tibet, not only to various political entities in the world, but more importantly to the people of the world. The participants in this program were made familiar with the dynamics of various advocacy efforts (including that of ICT’s), the strategies employed and the opportunities that are available for any young Tibetan to engage in meaningful advocacy efforts on behalf of other fellow Tibetans. Before this write up goes too long, I must insist that the quality and value in ICT’s TYLP is at another level. Young Tibetan across the US and Europe, who are eager to learn more, in getting engaged and in finding that route towards becoming informed leaders for Tibetans, must take this opportunity. There was a lot more I would have loved to share, but this should suffice before it gets boring. Feel free to contact me for any more information on our experiences. Email :

Chinese admiration for the enduring Tibetan faith

On Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Culture & History, by Rinchen Tashi
This, being the month of Saka Dawa in the Tibetan Calendar, there is an increased number of postings on Chinese social media commenting on Tibetans’ faith. Saka Dawa is the month where the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha is celebrated, so it is a time when Tibetans go on pilgrimage to holy sites, and dedicate time for prayer and spiritual actions. One particular posting that is being shared a lot is by an anonymous Chinese blogger who posted online an image of a Tibetan family prostrating on route to Lhasa. The blogger writes, “If you do not prostrate on the ground as Tibetan do, you will never have the perspective to see the world as they do. Please don’t be judgmental on so called faiths based on your own perspectives.” Below is the complete translation and photos from the blog post.

Five Kids on the Road of Pilgrimage

prostatingmother and kids
Because we do not know how peaceful a simple soul can be in a clean world, we do not understand how these devout Tibetans feel; enriched and joyful while they approach step by step, the holy land of their hearts, by prostrations. Many of the sufferings that we human beings express originate from our own shallow mind and from disregarding actions toward the natural world. If you do not prostrate on the ground as the Tibetans do, you will never have the perspective to see the world as they do. Please don’t be judgmental on so called faiths by your own perspective. Never. February 23, 2007, on the way to Lhasa from Nyingchi, five children led by their mother were prostrating toward Lhasa, measuring the way for pilgrimage with their own bodies. Seeing pilgrims coming to Lhasa is not surprising for people who live in Lhasa. However, people can still be deeply moved by seeing these little kids with dusty faces and clean expressions in their eyes in the first place. They are a family from Ganzi (Prefecture). They started the journey last August, and it has been seven months journey. The father pulls the cart everyday while children and the mother prostrate. The kids are 6, 8, 12, 14, and 16 years old - the 12-year-old boy is a monk at the monastery in their home town. childkids
Those tattered sweaters worn by the children may not be able to block the cold wind, and the road to Lhasa is still far away. They have to cross MilaMountain soon. The mountain is 5,000 meters high, and the top is covered by snow year around. The weather in this high snowy mountain is unpredictable. One’s heart cannot help but quiver, with the thought of these small children and their tiny figures, deep in the world of wind and snows on the climb to Mila Mountain. But as the saying goes: “As long as the mother carries a smile on her face, the sky won’t collapse! Hardship is the one which they have to deal with all the way, but mother’s smile is the greatest encouragement for children.” Although there is a long way to go for this pilgrimage, and there's still a lot of unpredictable hardships in the days ahead, the mother looks persevering and dedicated. Father located a camp site and began to unload the luggage from the cart, setting up the tent for the night. No matter how bitter the way for pilgrimage is, they will keep going. As long as the faith is there, there will be the day to see the Buddha. motherfather