Is nobody perfect, or are our expectations distorted?

Nobody’s perfect. You can hear people say it, often to excuse another person, or themselves, for doing something ‘wrong’. And it seems so true: nobody can do everything. Or be everything. But, that’s inherent to being human. So, I would argue that the fact that we humans can’t do everything, is exactly what makes us perfect. All of us.
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Active citizenship and mobility – Alberto Alemanno in European Portraits

Alberto Alemanno teaches about Europe

Screenshot from the MOOC Understanding Europe

In his MOOC Understanding Europe, Alberto Alemanno shows how you unlock knowledge for the masses. He presented it with energising flair, and made the complex matter of how the European Union works very easily understandable. I took the course, and admired also the way he graciously embraced even the most vitriolic contributions on the discussion forums. But Alberto Alemanno is more than a professor of MOOCs from HEC, he’s a public interest lawyer, a civic activist, a European, and another person from the 40 under 40 Young European Leaders to share his thoughts here. I’m honoured!

What does the EU mean to you?
Europe is the space where I was born, grew up and live my life. Europe is therefore part of my identity. Europe is also the object of my work, the space in which I think and where my work and ideas are expected to have an impact. Europe is therefore part of my daily life and possibly future life. Finally, the EU is the public authority that – like most of the EU citizens – I trust the most and from which I expect good policies improving my life and that of my family, friends and society as a whole.
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Europese verkiezingen: een stemadvies na #DeStemming

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In het programma Nederland Kiest werden een aantal dingen duidelijk over wat Europa nu eigenlijk voor Nederland betekent en kan betekenen. Mijn conclusie: lid zijn van de EU is goed voor Nederland. Stem dus op een partij die voor meer Europa is.

Waar baseer ik dat op? Wel, op het volgende:
EU lidmaatschap levert Nederland geld op. De directe netto kosten komen neer op 235 Euro per huishouden per jaar. Maar het voordeel dat Nederland haalt door handel met EU landen levert een maandsalaris op. Dit kan je vergelijken met 10 Euro contributie betalen aan een club, zodat je 100 Euro extra kunt verdienen. Lijkt me een goede besteding van 10 Euro. Kan je natuurlijk ook in je zak houden en er patat van kopen. Maar als dat op is, wat dan?

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An extension of home – Stephan Okhuijsen in European Portraits

Stephan Okhuijsen, with his greenhouse in the background

Stephan Okhuijsen, with his greenhouse in the background

What does the EU mean to you?
It means I feel connected to the countries around me and the people living there. That I find it normal to ride over a thousand miles and still pay with euro’s. That I know that countries in Europe will quarrel but not fight. And that somehow we try to strive to a better future for all of us.
And it feels a bit like an extension of home.
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Culture, food, life: Nikos Loukas in European Portraits

Nikos at work: reviewing airline food, photo courtesy of Nikos Loukas

Nikos at work: reviewing airline food, photo courtesy of Nikos Loukas

Airline meals are not often associated with the joys of travel. Even though some airlines work hard to change the image of their inflight food. And one man made it his mission to uncover the best and brightest in plane foods. That man is Nikos. He founded Inflightfeed and is now a global expert of food on planes. He’s a European Citizen, who grew up in Australia, which gives him a unique position to reflect on the upcoming EP elections.

What does the EU mean to you?
The freedom to travel anywhere here without borders although I still feel there are certain restrictions in some places. It’s as though they don’t want you to travel freely or they still want to know your movements. Yes I’m talking about you German border police.
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How will you change the EU? EP2014 candidate Abdul Turay answers

Abdul Turay, photo by Ave Maria Mõistlik, wikimedia commons

Abdul Turay, photo by Ave Maria Mõistlik, wikimedia commons

One of the beautiful things about the European Union, is that a citizen from one EU country can be elected in local government of another, or as a Member of European Parliament. Abdul Turay, originally from the UK, is one example of that. He’s an elected member of the Tallinn city council in Estonia, and now he’s hoping to be elected for the European Parliament, also for Estonia. He was generous to answer the 5 ‘How will you?’ questions I distilled from the European Portrait series earlier.

How will you tackle youth unemployment?
I think youth unemployment should be tackled primarily at a local level and at a national level, before the European wide level. Europe was founded on the principle of subsidiarity, meaning matters should be resolved as far as possible locally. To give an example it is much harder to get a job as a hairdresser in France than it is in the UK because of the paperwork required.

Getting rid of this paperwork is the job of local and national governments in the first instance.

Of course open borders and freedom of travel within Europe means that a young person can move from one part of Europe to another to get a job. Again: it is about educating young people, also about the possibilities of Europe.

How will you stimulate and facilitate entrepreneurship?
This is a tricky issue, because often attempts to stimulate entrepreneurship by throwing money at the problem has led to carpetbaggers moving into a country just to exploit the access to European Union grants. This is what we have seen in Estonia with the all start-up craze.

The EU already spends a lot of money on entrepreneurship, but most of it ends up in the hands of these carpetbaggers.

The best way to stimulate entrepreneurship is to do it at a grassroots level. This must go hand in hand with regional development.

Practically speaking this means no money for high tech start ups, (that should come from venture capital, not EU grants) and more money for small local run businesses in the countryside and small towns, such as handicraft shops, bed and breakfasts, small tourism outlets, small producers of niche goods. Grants should be spent on training programmes and local information to teach local people how to run businesses.

Estonia needs infrastructure development, it needs a large fully functional conference centre.

How will you bridge the gap between voters and MEPs?
Simple, cut MEP salaries. Prior to 2009 MEPs were paid at the same rate as MPs in their home countries.

The current salary system was set up in 2009 because it was regarded that it was unfair that MEPs from different countries were earning less for doing the same job. All it has done is lead to charges that MEPs are corrupt and greedy.

If I were elected I would campaign for MEP salaries to be cut to the median salary for an MP in Europe. Furthermore MEP expenses should be properly audited so that everybody can see how much MEPs are actually spending on their expenses and what the money is spent on.

If MEPs voluntarily reduced their salaries and agree to audit their expenses, voters faith them will be restored.

How will you make the EU more democratic, transparent and accountable?
See my answer above. This question is too complex to answer in one paragraph. We can start by cutting MEP salaries.

How will you address climate change and its disastrous effects on our children’s planet?
I don’t buy the argument that cutting CO2 emission by 25 percent or 40 percent will effect climate change. These are just numbers. What we need is to switch from fossil fuels to another energy source entirely and that means investment into research. There are big corporations that have a stake in keeping the current system as it is, this should be resisted. EU grants should be spent on research that forces oil and gas companies to change their business model or go out of business.

We mustn’t forget the human dimension. If pensioners are getting higher bills because of CO2 quotas, that is a bad outcome.

If you want to know more about EP2014 candidate Abdul Turay from Estonia, visit his blog, and follow him on Twitter.

The things you should know about Europe


One question I asked in the European Portrait series, is to share something about their country (of origin, residence, or…) that more people should know about. I’ve collected these now in the map above.

What things about your European country should more people know about? You can add a marker to the map.

An alarming disconnect between citizens and politics: Lilian Lau in European Portraits

View over Paris, photo courtesy of Lilian Lau

View over Paris, photo courtesy of Lilian Lau

It takes dedication and real effort to become the top ranking contributor to a discussion forum of a Coursera MOOC. So if this MOOC is about the EU, and a non-citizen is on that top, something interesting is going on. That’s why I’m happy and proud that Lilian, a Malaysian national, who has lived in Europe for over 16 years now, first in Dublin, now in Paris – about which she writes on a wonderful blog – shares her insights here as well.

What does the EU mean to you?
To me, EU means building a Europe that is peaceful, borderless, cooperative and shared. For the EU citizens, the rights to freedom of movement – be it to travel, to work or to reside in the EU member states – have been instrumental in cultivating the fabric of a true European society. This also opens up to new ideas, new opportunities, new integrations and more importantly, new dialogues among unlikely individuals and/or organisations.
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Destroy the red tape: James McBennett in European Portraits

James McBennett and the stool that rocks, photo made by Mike Trow, courtesy of James McBennett

James McBennett and the stool that rocks, photo made by Mike Trow, courtesy of James McBennett

James is the founder of design startup assmbly.com that aligns his interests in entrepreneurship with cutting edge digital design and manufacturing. Beginning his studies in architecture at University College Dublin, James worked for three of the world’s leading architects and taught M.Arch students in digital design. After spending one year at the Architectural Association in London, James decided to pursue an alternative path starting successfully on Kickstarter and recieving a grant from Startup-Chile. Invited to speak on entrepreneurship and design at General Assembly, Google Campus and various leading universities, James is a proponent of how design is re-shaping commerce. He filters his thirst for generalist knowledge as an avid fan of OpenIDEO and TED, co-organising TEDxLondon and advising TEDxDublin. When not working, James is a keen outdoor endurance swimmer. He attempted the Channel Swim from England to France, but was unfortunately dragged by strong currents in the wrong direction towards Holland, abandoning the attempt 36km from shore.

What does the EU mean to you?
The EU is a vast place made up of many diverse and culturally-rich communities.
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5 ‘How will you’ questions for #EP2014 candidates

Huge #EP2014 election campaign posters in Düsseldorf

In the last couple of weeks, I published 10 portraits of Europeans, in order to get a better picture of what Europe is really about in the run up to the elections for the European Parliament. My 9 friends and I shared their visions for Europe here, and together they have raised some great issues for European Parliament candidates to consider. During the campaign, but most importantly: when they are elected and take their seats in Brussels and Strasbourg. With only two weeks to go until the elections kick off, and several portraits yet to come, here’s a status report, summarising what those Europeans said in five ‘how’ questions. It’s up to the candidate MEPs now to share their views.

Question 1
How will you tackle youth unemployment?

Question 2
How will you stimulate and facilitate entrepreneurship?

Question 3
How will you bridge the gap between voters and MEPs?

Question 4
How will you make the EU more democratic, transparent and accountable?

Question 5
How will you address climate change and its disastrous effects on our children’s planet?