Rising from in the Ashes

Each morning, hundreds of planes are landing in Brussels airlifting the politicians, civil servants, researchers, businessmen to meetings in the capital. Since mid last week this airlift came to a standstill. Brussels Airport has been closed and access to Brussels limited to those that can take a train or car. While this could just work for the original EU6, the train is not an option for the EU27.

But we are well in the 21st century and when we privately need to talk to someone in a different time zone, we use the Internet; tools like Skype, Google Talk, Messenger or any of the other internet technologies that allow us to see and hear the person on the other end. Researchers use more elaborate collaboration tools such as Adobe Connect, Webinar or Webex or combine voice or text chat with collaborative text editing environments such as Google Docs.

None of that is possibe with the officials in the Comission, Council or the Parliament. The first thing I noticed when moving into my office in Justus Lipsius was how well it was firewalled. Skype, of course, did not work. Even secure web pages do not work, because any decent browser would complain that the firewalls are trying to cheat with certificates. The culture of on-line collaboration with the officials is therefore non existent. Pity, because an on-line meeting with screen sharing and collaborative document editing can be more productive that a real meeting.

Here’s what should be done:

  • the Great Firewall of the Union should be opened so that at least one free “few to few” real time voice and video conferencing tool would be available. Skype, as a European invention, would be a natural candidate. This would create a culture of real time collaboration among civil servants in Brussels. It would also create pressure on the national bureaucracies to do the same.
  • a fraction of the money that the airlines will be requesting from Brussels to offset the “natural disaster” should be diverted into a buildup of in-house, secure video conferencing and screen sharing facilities. This should be IP based so that not special equipment or software purchase would be need by the participants. Like Adobe Connect. A high end system that could be used on a ministerial level should be set up as well.
  • the European council should lead by example, holding some of its meetings on-line.

People that fly to Brussels in the morning typically have to wake up between 4 and 5AM to catch a flight to a meeting starting between 9 and 10 around Schumann. They bring their sleep deprived grumpiness to the tables of European decision making and all they can look forward to are the incredible queues at the Brussels airport security controls in the evening.

Massive replacement of person-person meetings with videoconferencing could also result in a happier European politics. 

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