Maemo Summit – help make it great

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This year, I’ve been asked to help with the content selection for the Maemo Summit, which will be held in October, in Amsterdam. We’re aiming for a very cool conference with lots of tips, tricks, hacks and general hardware coolness over 3 days.

Nokia is organising the first day, and the second and third days are entirely organised by the community. After a round of discussion, myself, Valerio Valerio and Jamie Bennett will be choosing content for the summit from among presentations proposed by the community. We’re aiming for presentations which will target three main audiences: tablet users, application developers and platform developers.

You can read more about the call for content or how to submit a presentation on the Maemo wiki. We’ve agreed on a fairly novel way of filling the schedule – we are starting from an empty grid, with three tracks, a couple of plenary sessions, and some lightning talks. As great talks come in, we will add them directly to the grid. If we don’t think that talks are up to scratch, they will be rejected, the submission will move to the Talk page for the Submissions wiki page, and if we are hesitant, the proposals will stay in the Submissions queue.

This has some great benefits over the usual call for papers/deadline/selection/publish the entire schedule scheme of things. Most proposers will know straight away whether their talk has been accepted, rejected, or converted into a lightning talk. Attendees will see the schedule building up and be able to propose sessions to account for topics that are not yet accounted for. And we will be able to keep some small number of slots until quite late in the organisation cycle for “late breaking news” – those great presentations that arrive too late for your deadline, but which you would really love to see get onto the schedule. And it is a kind of auction system – you have a great interest in getting your presentation proposal in early, rather than waiting for the last minute.

Anyway – let’s see how it works. You can follow the progress of the schedule on the wiki as well.

Good luck to all!

European parliamentary elections

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Warning: politics post

Since moving to France, the only elections I get to vote in here are the European and municipal elections – so on Sunday I blew the dust off my voter card & trotted down to my local “bureau de vote” as one of the 40% of the French electorate who voted. I had a chance to think about why the European elections inspire people so little.

In the past couple of weeks, debate about European issues has been mostly absent from newspapers and TV. What little we hear is more like celeb news – “he said, she said” or “the sworn enemies unite and appear on stage together pretending they like each other”. But to me, the fundamental questions about what we expect from Europe, and how a vote for one party or another will move towards that vision, are absent.

There are a few reasons for this – the political groupings in the EU parliament are detached from the local political landscape in France. Even the major groupings like EPP, PES, the Liberals and the Greens don’t have an identity in the election camaign. There is no European platform of note. Very little appears to be spent spent on advertising. In brief, the European election appears to the public to be nothing more than a mid-term popularity contest with little impact on people.

That is not to say that the EU has no impact. But the European parliament is quite hamstrung by the European law-making process, as we saw with the vote for the EUCD: in that case, the EU parliament was unhappy with the law proposed by the commission, and proposed many amendments which improved the law, only to see the majority of these reversed by the council of ministers. When the law came back to the parliament, there were three options available: accept the law, reject it outright (requiring an absolute majority of MEPs, difficult to obtain), or reject it by a majority (by proposing amendments) and send it into a commission, made up 50% of nominees from the council of ministers and 50% from the EU parliament.

The process is weighted toward the commission (which writes the law in the first place) and the council of ministers, who have veto power at every stage, and against the parliament, due to the requirement of an absolute majority for rejection in second reading. The commission and the council of ministers are both nominated by the governments of the member countries. I would argue that because of this, they don’t represent the European population, so much as they represent a cross-section of European political parties.

On other occasions, a stand-off between the governments and the EP is possible – as with the nomination of the Barroso commission in 2004. And when people are asked their opinion on the direction of Europe, as in the first referendum on the Nice treaty in Ireland, the French and Dutch referenda on the European constitution, and now the referendum on the Lisbon treaty in Ireland, if the result doesn’t match with what is supported by the member governments, a way is found to work around the result. In the case of a small country like Ireland, a couple of special case amendments, and you rerun the referendum. For the bigger countries like France, you renegotiate the form of the agreement so that it’s a treaty, not a single document (which, by the way, makes it harder to read and understand), so that you can ratify it with a working majority in parliament.

And so Europeans are slowly but surely distancing themselves from Europe. Fringe parties and independents representing a protest vote get very good scores, like the UKIP in the UK, or NPA and (until recently) the Front National in France. The European parliament is becoming less representative of European opinion, rather than more representative. Only 4 in 10 registered voters go to the polls. I would be willing to bet that Lisbon will not pass the second time around in Ireland, plunging Europe into another institutional crisis.

These are the twin problems facing Europe: the national governments in Europe are not representing the views of their citizens, and the only representative body we have is pretty ineffectual, even when they try to do something.

The solutions in my opinion: Elect commissioners and members of the council of ministers. Create Europe-wide political parties with Europe-wide campaigns, like in the US. Let the voters know what they’re voting for in the parliament, and allow them to vote the executive branch of the European government. The path to greater voter activity in Europe is greater voter inclusion in the electoral process.