Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Latest radio 1 show

Latest radio show on 1 in Holland. Scroll to 1:29 (1 hour and 29 mins) for my item about minimum pub prices, high street whores and smaller wine glasses.


Friday, 22 January 2010

Icelandic repayment delays cast doubts on EU liability

Iceland’s President, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, declared on 5 January that he will not sign parliament backed Act No. 96/2009, a Bill which arranges the terms under which Iceland should pay back nearly £2.3 billion to the UK Government and €1.2 billion to the Netherlands, after the countries compensated hundreds of thousands of savers in 2008, when Icelandic bank Icesave went bankrupt. 

Icesave was part of the Reykjavik-based Landsbanki and fully operated online. Grímsson said he has ‘decided to refer this new Act to the people’, which means a referendum will take place ‘as soon as possible’. “The referendum is not about whether to pay the Icesave obligations, but rather the terms of the government guarantee”, said Guðmundur Oddsson, Partner at LOGOS.Although Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir insists the money should be repaid under the agreed terms and conditions, the delay has cast doubts on how seriously Iceland is taking its liability for the bankruptcy of Icesave. “The reluctance of Icelanders to compensate the British and Dutch Governments has a primary cause”, said Magnus Arni Skulason, Head of the Reykjavik Economics Institute. “The unclear legal basis of the claims under the EU Directive [Deposit Guarantee Schemes Directive 94/19/EC] and reluctance of the British and Dutch Governments to have them clarified by the European Court of Justice.” 

Gudmundur Oddsson agrees that “there remains a highly debated legal question as regards whether EU/EEA legislation on the EU Deposit Guarantee Scheme includes a government guarantee for the funds in each EU/EEA member country.” Oddsson believes the payment obligation is more a political and moral matter than a legal question. “It is clear that this legislation was not drafted to foresee a total systematic collapse as has happened in Iceland. I for one am of the opinion that there is no such provision in the EU legislation nor Icelandic law for that matter.” 

The Dutch Minister of Finance, Wouter Bos, said: “It is up to the Icelandic people now. I hope they recognise their international responsibility and they do not let the Dutch tax payer carry the burden of the problems in the Icelandic financial sector”. In August 2009, Iceland agreed to reimburse the UK and Dutch Governments £3.5 billion. The ‘terms and conditions’ Bill was approved in December. Repaying the money is estimated to cost €12.000 per Icelandic citizen.

Michiel Willems (2010) - Cartoon: www.toonpool.com

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Latest Radio 1 show

My latest radio 1 show in Holland, scroll to 1:22 (1 hour and 22 mins) for my item, about sliding and slipping in the UK, ice skating on the high street and Scotland's coldest night in years, -22.3 in the fortunate town of Sutherland


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The year of the e-reader

Is 2010 going to be the year we start saying goodbye to ordinary books? Last Christmas the electronic reader, the digital counterpart of a conventional book, was the most popular present in the United States. On 26 December 2009 Amazon released a press statement saying that ‘Kindle has become the most gifted item in Amazon’s history’. 

On Christmas Day, customers purchased more Kindle books than hardcopy books, for the first time ever. If this trend continues in 2010, consumer electronics companies can expect golden times. The Kindle e-reader is the most popular, followed by Sony’s version. It is expected that obtaining books from the internet will be very easy in the near future. Although they have been there for a while, mass demand has only started to grow recently. 

Is it just a matter of time before students no longer have to carry tons of books with them, but only a laptop or e-book? Costs are very low and many websites offer free books or newspapers. It is possible to download whatever you want on an e-reader, and read, print and distribute the material. It is likely the e-reader will change the mind of the conventional book lover. Will 2010 be the start of a new digital book era?
- Michiel Willems (c) 2010 

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Looking to 2010

The winter might have brought a global freeze in the US and Europe but there are signs that 2010 will show an economic recovery. In the US the change of administration has seen a shift in Congress’ attitude towards fiscal policies and legal implementations. It seems the year is going to end with the Obama Administration successfully introducing a revised healthcare bill. A much wanted victory for the US President, who lost much of his international standing in Copenhagen last week. In Europe the weather is more uncertain. 

The barometer is certainly showing signs of change but, as in previous years, the environment can blow hot and cold. The EU Lisbon Treaty has come into force, at last, but only a few believe anything will really change in the decision making process and bureaucratic machine, which is called Brussels. Time should tell whether the French and Dutch ‘No’ in the past turn out to be justified after all. While Germany looks back on a dull election year with an outcome embraced by investors and the financial markets, it is the United Kingdom who is warming up for the big battle of Downing Street. Will the next UK Prime Minister be called Gordon or Cameron? The question how Italy’s entertaining internal struggle - with Prime Minister Berlusconi as the absolute centre of (un)wanted attention – will most likely be answered in the course of the year.

While Banks are regrouping and fighting to survive, others are repositioning themselves within the market, regionally and globally. It will be a decisive year for the airline industry, with some familiar names likely to go under. If we think positive, 2010 should be the year the last mess is cleaned up, it stops raining and the temperature can rise again, while another conference - halfway 2010 in Mexico - is going to try to tackle those extra degrees.

Looking to Spring

The gambling industry in 2009
The winter might have brought a global freeze in the US and Europe but there are signs that 2010 will show a thaw in gambling restrictions. In the US the change of administration has seen a change in the attitude to online gambling in Congress.  In November 2009, the Obama administration delayed the introduction of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) regulations. Congressman Barney Frank has introduced a law to legalise online gambling.

In Europe, the regulatory weather is more uncertain. The barometer is certainly showing signs of change but, as in previous years, the environment can blow hot and cold.
In 2009 the Czech Republic opened up its market, but prohibited foreign operators from joining. In March, the EU asked the US to grant prosecution immunity to EU operators. In the summer, the European Court of Justice decided that Member States that prohibit private companies from operating in their countries may be acting within the scope of Art. 49 of the EC Treaty. France approved a new gambling law in October, yet many believe it will change little. Still we hope 2010 promises a brighter future for us all. Happy new year.

Council agrees to financial data transfers to the US

The US Department of Treasury will be able to access, from February 2010, financial data held in the EU in order to combat terrorism, under an agreement (16110/09) the EU Council reached with the US on 30 November 2009. 

The agreement ensures that the Department of Treasury will continue to have access to financial information held by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) - a financial communications platform - when it starts operating a centre in Switzerland. The Department of Treasury requests the data through its Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP).    

The agreement will make the 2007 unilateral commitments of the Department of Treasury to the EU legally binding. Breaches of any of the commitments - which include using the data for terrorism detection purposes only and retaining the data for five years - will entitle the EU to suspend or terminate the agreement. It also requires that a European judicial authority verify the legality of the US requests for data and authorise transfers. Strict obligations regarding data security will also be imposed, and data subjects whose personal data has been mishandled will be able to seek legal redress.   

The agreement was signed before the Lisbon Treaty - which increases the EU Parliament's power over international treaties, amongst others - came into force on 1 December 2009. 'To ensure that the European Parliament is able to exercise its new powers under the new Treaty in this regard, the agreement is for a maximum duration of nine months', it reads. 'The Commission will come forth with a new proposed mandate in early 2010 for a subsequent agreement based on the Lisbon Treaty.' 

"The agreement provides that there is to be full respect for data protection and privacy rules", said Francis Aldhouse, Consultant at Bird & Bird. "This is pure legal formalism. The US will have access to the data, and the considerable and costly efforts made by SWIFT in planning a new European server centre in order to follow the requirements of the data protection authorities have been rendered nugatory."   A statement from SWIFT read: '[We were] not involved in the EU-US discussions but are closely monitoring the next steps in the EU decision process. The legal framework must be sound and leave no room for ambiguity to ensure private companies have legal clarity to operate'.

China to issue licences for e-pay services

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is set to issue licences for non-financial institutions that offer online payment services to the country’s consumers. The move is likely to increase competition in China’s e-payment sector and will regulate e-payment platforms – financial and non-financial payment service providers. 

Draft legislation was issued in November to regulate the issuing and managing of e-currencies. Non-financial organisations have not been subject to any real supervision so far. The difficulty in regulating such market players has arisen “as there are large numbers of market players, which have different qualifications”, according to Natasha Xie, a Partner at Jun He Law Offices in Shanghai. “The supervision is analogous to that over quasi-financial institutions. The regulator is not entangled in how many licences should be issued, but focused on formatting criteria for third party vendors,” said Xie. “The regulator is considering how to govern the business continuously.” The licensing process would only concern national payment providers.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

London: Winter Wonderland

London, and the rest of South-East England, turned into winter wonderland in the last 24 hours. The Met Office issued an "extreme weather" alert on Tuesday night, with warnings of up to a foot and a half of snow in some areas. Such falls of snow would be more than four times those before Christmas which caused severe travel disruption throughout the UK.