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Ex-Bureaucrat’s journal. Episode 1 – Lost in Brussels/Euronarnia

7 Nov

I am sitting in the office of Director General Servoz. I realise fast that the man has nothing to do with the topic we discuss. Clearly, either he didn’t bother to read the brief prepared by his services or he simply doesn’t give a Eurocratic speech.

I waste my time explaining what works and how it could work better based on years of trying, failing and trying again. Still he is blank therefore I decide to be more graphic about extreme poverty and the risks hoping he can show some, even polite interests. I argue we could transform the existing Harry Potter EU Funds in something that could impact the poorest EU citizens outside of reports, conferences and bombastic speeches written by others. Same blank stare at the wall behind me that leaves me wondering if the meeting is happening in my dreams.

It feels like talking to a statue of Budha – highly illogical but somehow hopeful. The man could have a brilliant career working as a custom officer at the border between Euronarnia and the Kingdom of the Undesirables but it seems an odd choice of a director general of the European Commission.

Then I remember that Junker, the man nobody heard beyond the smallest EU state- Luxembourg, the epitome of uninspiring and the leader that makes Theresa May look good is the president of the most important European Institution. The fact that Servoz is one of the most important people in the Commission seems suddenly logical.

Inclusion of refugees is the only thing that sounds vaguely interesting for him. I doubt it is for the right reasons but he shows some brief signs of life.

We end the meeting with a promise that he would do what we suggested and he instructs his services to follow through. Less than 3 months later he will do the exact opposite of what we agreed and blame the usual temporary amnesia of our meeting- a tactic that I grew very much familiar with working within the Romanian government.

As I hold a rather high-level position at another European organisation I have a meeting with another Director General. As with Servoz her services are also very much committed and keen on doing things that make sense. She is new in her position and as with most of the high rank European officials seems to be very keen on doing everything possible to keep the existing status quo – a strategy that will slowly but surely make a joke out of the hopes and dreams of those that made the EU possible.

The people I meet that are both knowledgeable and pragmatic are either in positions of advisors or British therefore hardly the most influential in a Commission that deals with the Brexit.

The institution I represent is far from better when it comes to leadership. The Council of Europe Ambassador to the EU is an old diplomat close to retirement that spends more time dealing with his horses than anything else. The entire period I was there he was not in the office. He is well connected in the sense that somehow manages to stay in a job where he doesn’t do much. I had to arrange all my meetings myself. The most he was able to do was to arrange one meeting with some third rank official. I managed myself to get much higher level meetings including a meeting with the vice-president of the European Commission.

The meeting with Timmermans is exceptional. He is human, inspirational, very well informed and extremely smart. Unfortunately Timmermans himself is an exception in a European Commission that is weak, fragmented and chaotically lead by a Council and a Parliament where people like Orban and Farage often dominate the scene. As with any exceptions Timmermans (and arguably a few others) does nothing else but confirms the rule that uninspiring and often incompetent politicians appointed as Commissioners by corrupt, demagogic and populist parties control the Commission.

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Why are we losing to Farage

24 Oct

Farage won. We could argue if it is a pyrrhic victory or not. Regardless, for now, Farage won. A sociopath, a clown, a racist and arguably a corrupt man won against the Europe.

His lies but also his rude and aggressive attacks against European Institutions have triggered more often than not laughable replies. If somebody calls you an idiot a polite reply in a mind-numbing Euronarnian jargon helps nobody but proves to many that Farage might have a point.

The European institutions are weak.

The European Commission with few exceptions is lead by politicians that are mediocre at best. A good part of them are vulnerable to attacks due to their previous political lives in parties that were or are struggling with corruption scandals and nepotism. Some are simply a liability and most are far from being even a small asset for the European Commission. As it is the case with many Director Generals, Juncker has the political intelligence, vision and charisma of a multilingual boot. Recently, in Romania he met enthusiastically and completely illogically with some of the most corrupted and toxic Romanian politicians.

The Romanian Commissioner is an embarrassment for the European Commission and she is far from being an exception.

It is true that some of the smartest public servants available work for the Commission but they are a minority. A good number of them happen to be British. Unfortunately their intelligence is often in strident discrepancy with the intellectual capabilities of their politically appointed leaders.

The Commission is also stuck in a losing paradigm. The European Social Funds should well be called the Harry Potter Funds as a good part of funding allocations is based on a remarkable but inexistent ability to read the future.

The way the funding process is designed is a nightmare for anybody that wishes to change the realities at the grassroots and the way its priorities are implemented is even worse. The Commission together with (often inept) national politicians managed to create an industry of fake solutions based on fake reporting and wrong incentives that makes lying at fancy conferences and seminars and not hard work in the communities to pay off.

Afraid of not losing their budgets, services within the European Commission prefer to finance the same type of projects that proved to be great on paper and mediocre if not disastrous in reality.

The same types of problems are to be found within all the other intergovernmental organisations with the important distinction that nepotism within is slightly or much worse.

Depending financially on the support of some of the biggest abusers of human rights such as Russia and Turkey and ravaged by corruption scandals within the Parliamentary Assembly the Council of Europe is a good example of a great idea risking becoming a joke due to an increasingly dysfunctional institution that is unable to reform itself.

The European Parliament is no exception. The most popular European politician leads the third biggest party and had no chance whatsoever in the elections for the president of the Parliament. A close ally of Berlusconi with similar qualities as Juncker is holding that position.

But not the weakness of European Institutions is the main problem. I will argue that a culture of lip-service, an obsession for finding always the minimum common denominator and a major lack of spine is what puts in danger the European Project.

Imagining that Russian propaganda and shrewd populists and extremist politicians can be fought with an incomprehensible diplomatic jargon and financial sweeteners is as delusional as pretending that the European Union is fine and we should keep the existing status quo.

Reform is needed. And that should start with inspiring leaders. Timmermans is one but he is far from enough.

 

 

The Harry Potter funds

16 Oct

I believe a good part of the European Social Funds (ESF) is successfully used for creating and maintaining a thriving industry of magical and obviously fake solutions. This is catastrophic not only when it comes to the spending efficiency of European public money but also for the credibility of European institutions. It gives populists and sociopaths such as Farage an easy argument against what I believe is the best thing that happened to Europe – the EU project.

Unfortunately, not just the ESF but most of the funds available for NGOs are based on the wrong assumption that ‘experts’ are able to predict the future and ‘good practices’/success can be copied and replicated. These funds I call: the Harry Potter Funds.

In the case of Eastern Europe most of these ‘experts’ are people that more or less share the same qualities, education and ideas as the people within the intergovernmental organisations, foundations and governments. They are all fluent in euronarnian jargon and have significant experience in being part of the show/circus around the European Funds. Conferences, reports, seminars, consultation with stakeholders, evaluation, trainings, field trips are part of their professional DNA. They all benefit (sometimes greatly) being part of the blessed individuals that fill airplane seats, hotels and conference rooms. A significant percentage of these people move from one intergovernmental institution to the other or switch forth and back between NGOs and these institutions.

Most of those that hold decision powers for distributing the funds do not have any hands on experience at the grassroots and know, at best, superficially the issues. That doesn’t stop them from proposing ‘solutions’. Unfortunately a very strong lip-service culture meant to please the authority makes it almost impossible to dismiss their solutions. The result is many moronic ideas at the core of calls of tens of millions of Euros. Money that end up with negative or no effect at the grassroots but with some grandiose speeches and reports presented during mostly useless but pompous and expensive conferences.

Success in the case of ‘experts’ receiving these funds depends often on their existing networks or ability to lobby/please as many donors/people in power positions as possible. The skills that they develop are rarely skills that are useful in designing or implementing successful projects in the most difficult communities. Writing applications that will score the highest and having the right connections matter a lot more than real experience making a difference in their respective fields. Relationships with people in power, paper production, number of speeches, trainings, certificates and conferences weight a lot more than the years spent in changing lives and helping directly the most vulnerable or the results.

Not once European Commission gave money to a government, a UN agency, to OSCE or to Council of Europe, institutions that charged a hefty administration fee and contracted the World Bank or a big consultancy that did the same before employing a big NGO that also took a slice of the funds before employing another one that finally employed people that work at grassroots. This type of practices is a direct result of a deeply flawed institutional culture and the’ skills’ I wrote about above.

People that do not play the game and dare to question the efficiency of projects and the fairy-tales described in the reports are seen as unwelcomed disruptors. The Eurocrats have well paid jobs and most are keen on having a comfortable life and not keen on taking risks or trying to change the world. The national bureaucrats also hate when somebody rocks the boat as that leads to problems in absorption of EU funds or penalties – things that are ‘deadly’ for their careers. ‘Experts’ hate to be challenged considering that they are vulnerable and that their livelihood depends on availability of Harry Potter type projects.

Spending the money and being covered by very clear indicators and outputs is what matters the most and not real change at the grassroots. That is the reason why a 500.000 EUR conference is always preferred to a 500.000 EUR invested in innovative but complex and rarely predictable projects meant to change to the better the situation of vulnerable communities. Decades and hundreds of millions spent on consultations, interviews, action groups, trainings, seminars, research, conferences and reports with often insignificant change at the grassroots resulted in a highly productive but toxic expertise that allows ‘specialists’ to rationalize the waste of EU money.

As long as people that produce papers and hot air are paid many times more than people that make a difference at the grassroots it is unlikely things will improve.

There are solutions but all these solutions will have to address the core of the problem: corrupt, weak or inept leadership and strong incentives to oppose any significant reform.

Sure there are exceptions but those are nothing but that – exceptions. There is a need of reports, conferences, consultations, trainings and field visits but those should represent a small percent of the way public money is spent. The majority of funding should make a difference in the lives of the disadvantaged. And for now that is, again, just exceptional.

* I was part of these systems. I held senior management positions in the private sector, NGOs, government and intergovernmental organisations. All the organizational cultures are far from being the correct ones. The link between nepotism and corruption is highly disregarded in all of them. The high level of sociopathy among people in power and the absence or corruption of the mechanisms meant to ensure transparency and enforce the ethical and moral objectives of those organisations are among some of the worst problems. Lip-service disguised as diplomacy, fear of breaking the status quo, conformity and wrong incentives that encourage lying or long but ineffective work hours and not hard work and efficiency are all issues worth looking at.

 

 

 

The industry of fake solutions

3 Oct

I hate staying within rules. My mother thinks I was born a disruptor. She says it with pride like her stubbornness paid off and she lived her life as the Queen Elisabeth and not as an abused and poor Romani woman. Anyway being a disruptor, is clearly a brilliant (and arguably) genetic choice as being a Roma/Gypsy would not have sufficed.

For the last many years I was, paradoxically, employed or involved in the activities of some of the most elitist political bodies. Enjoyed greatly being a misfit. Not as much as I enjoy writing about the experiences I had to the dismay of the high level bureaucrats, politicians and diplomats I worked with. Some of the opportunities, I guess, came because I was a Gypsy and having a Gypsy on the payroll shows some kind of commitment to human rights.

During these years I had the “pleasure” to meet many morons, sociopaths, vulnerable or easy to blackmail, corrupt, mediocre or spineless leaders. I also met some very polite thugs in incredible power positions. Most of the times those were surrounded by rather decent people that decided to validate a catastrophic institutional culture based on lip-service, shameless praise towards the authority and vicious gossip to release accumulated frustrations.

People that are fully dependent on ridiculous salaries considering the efficiency of their actions. People that will not hesitate to make incredible compromises for the sake of keeping their own position and rationalise their choices in order to fit their positive bias.

I also did have the chance to meet some truly exceptional people, some, in positions of leadership. Those, unfortunately, are just the exception to the rule.

For most of these years I kept a diary. Recently I was invited to talk about trafficking. I talked about the industry of fake solutions. An industry built on talks and imagined solutions from very expensive offices, based on reports that have little to do with reality. About the hypocrisy around the refugee crisis, the stupidity in the way we tackle prostitution and begging.

And I remembered something.

In my last job I was told that what I write doesn’t fit with the institution I was supposed to represent. That I am “more like a foreign body “within the institution and that I need to adapt to the ‘organisation’. The guy telling me this was a retired ‘diplomat’ that worked all his life in the same institution. That used his privileged personal relationship with one of the leaders of the institution to obtain a position that he had no qualifications whatsoever for it. It was done in order for him to get a higher pension.

I realise that indeed compared with him and many others I am a foreigner and I kind of like being one.

I decided that I will write a monthly episode about the industry of fake solutions. Most probably I will start writing about a stupefying meeting with a Director General of the European Commission.

Too many ‘emperors’ are not just naked but toxic for our democracies. Most, I believe, even if they try could not get a grip on reality or change their ways. Lip-service is not going to save anything but a culture of hypocrisy. Corruption is not going to disappear if we continue to imagine there is a silver line in any disastrous project financed through public money. Yes there might be value even in a turd but not if it costs more than the horse it produced.

Well intended bureaucracies and NGOs that rationalise the corruption of politicians, that totally or partially close their eyes to nepotism and incompetence as well as blatant abuses against Human Rights in order to continue to have access to funding tend to end up being a reason for the problems and not the solutions of Europe.

These following articles contrary to most of what I write are not pamphlets. On 4th of November will publish the first one.

End of a path

14 Sep

I understood that there are standards that I am unable to fit. Expectations I was and still am unable to meet. That my percentage of failures and wins is slowly but surely becoming frustrating not only for me but also for those that want things to change to the better within the Roma communities. I also understand that my articles and political stands can hurt the interests of some or most Roma groups due to many reasons.

Therefore, I am giving up being a Roma rights activist. I feel that I tried as hard as I could while I was involved in it. Obviously, I was not as successful as I wanted to be. I will not be part of any Roma organization and I do not intend to take part in anything dealing specifically with Roma. I will have no professional contacts with the Roma political or civil society but I will stay in touch with a few friends. I will continue to volunteer in the ghetto in Bucharest and will remain very involved in the political issues that I am passionate about – those related to children rights, populism and corruption.

I am not planning to talk or write more about the reasons for my decision or about what I will do next. I think most of you reading this already know about the challenges ahead for the Roma movement, and I know there are enough strong, smart and courageous activists ready to tackle these. I very much enjoyed working with some of them.

I know this might risks to seem as a call for attention. Far from it, I feel I received far more attention than I deserved. At the same time I do not want to have to repeat the last two paragraphs that have been my standard reply to people that wanted to find out  what happened.

I apologize to all of you that I will not reply or be in touch in the future.

USR

1 Aug

Ma intreb de cateva saptamani cum a ajuns USR-ul in situatia actuala. Cum s-a putut intampla ca singurul partid in care zdrobitoarea majoritate a senatorilor si deputatilor sunt onesti, super destepti pe nisa lor si o parte dintre ei profesionisti impecabili, in loc sa devina partidul magnet pentru  cei mai multi dintre noi, cei care am iesit in strada in iarna, a devenit o mai mica sau mai mare dezamagire si o justificare pentru dezgustul sau apatia politica a celor care ar trebui sa fie implicati in politica?

Si dincolo de asteptarile noastre, adesea exagerate care de multe ori se potrivesc mai bine partidului pestisorului de aur, dincolo de cosmarul managerial pe care il implica un grup de zeci de oameni foarte inteligenti, incapatanati si fara prea mare experienta in a accepta si a munci pentru un compromis agreat, dincolo de petardele  ‘formatorilor de opinie’ platiti de mafioti de tip Vantu si Ghita ma framanta ce s-ar putea face pentru ca USR-ul sa devina motorul pe care multi ni-l dorim pentru a reforma clasa politica.

E clar ca s-au facut multe greseli si ca USR-ul a avut o comunicare haotica si adesea contradictorie. Ca in loc sa isi impuna o agenda politica clara a permis ca agenda lor sa fie de multe ori impusa din exterior. De asemenea, e clar ca paranoia nationala de tipul „se fura partidul”, a dihotomiei tampite „ ori esti cu noi ori esti impotriva noastra”, complexul dreptatii absolute si inflexibilitatea opiniilor sunt toate motive serioase pentru care avem in acest moment un partid in criza si in mare pericol de a se faramita.

Nicusor Dan a creat USR-ul si merita mult mai mult respect decat primeste in acest moment. Din pacate nu cred ca are nici carisma, nici dorinta si nici calitatile manageriale de a conduce un partid in care marea majoritate a celor care sunt in fruntea lui au obsesia de a schimba lumea. Obsesii bune dar de multe ori contradictorii. Poate Nicusor ar putea  fi un primar exceptional pentru Bucuresti  si poate acesta ar trebui sa fie obiectivul principal al lui pentru perioada urmatoare .  Cred ca USR-ul are nevoie de o personalitate sau si mai bine de personalitati  capabile sa conduca si sa motiveze oameni super inteligenti si desigur dificili. Desi personal cred ca ar fi cel mai bine ma indoiesc ca Dacian ar vrea sa se implice in asta. In plus sunt sigur ca nu este  singurul capabil sa impuna indeajuns respect incat sa asigure disciplina si motivatia necesara pentru a face USR-ul un partid capabil sa bata PSD-ul in alegeri.

Din afara solutiile par, bineinteles, mult mai simple. Un mesaj foarte clar de unitate a partidului si un apel bine scris pentru a atrage in USR a pe cei care isi doresc reforma clasei politice, ar fi primii pasi. Folosirea unor principii relativ simple cum ar fi onestitate, succes profesional care sa preceada cariera politica si obiective clare pentru a schimba in bine Romania cred ca ar putea atrage oameni noi si ar schimba situatia actuala. O disciplina foarte clara de partid de opozitie ar fi urmatorul pas. Explicarea clara a unei colaborari cu Platforma 100 este, de asemenea, necesara.

Pentru mine logic ar fi ca Platforma 100 sa devina think-tank-ul reformei administratiei locale si al clasei politice, iar USR-ul partidul capabil sa forteze implementarea .

In mod paradoxal sper din toata inima sa nu am dreptate, iar USR-ul sa reuseasca sa isi rezolve problemele de leadership fara interventii din afara partidului. As fi vrut sa ii spun toate astea si chiar mai multe lui Nicusor Dan, dar, din pacate, desi am incercat in mod repetat sa ma intalnesc cu el, nu am reusit. Eu cred ca USR-ul este singurul partid frecventabil pe care il avem si o sa fac tot posibilul sa ajut de fiecare data cand voi putea sau cand va fi nevoie.

 

Within and outside

6 Jul

Anti-Gypsyism remains a very serious problem all over Europe. There is enough out there and in all kind of shapes and forms to satisfy even the most eclectic tastes and justify ‘opinions’ starting from those who think we, Roma, deserve to be killed or permanently sterilized to those that reject us just because we are ‘different’.

I witnessed every type of anti-Roma rejection from institutional ones(the only meeting within an intergovernmental institution where I saw guards in front of the doors was in the case of a rather small Roma meeting) to biological one(segregation in hospitals in order to protect the majority population from the ‘gypsy diseases’). I heard people saying some of the most awful possible things about us, the Roma, but I also heard well intended people making racist jokes that were considered funny by those around them.

The worst type of anti-Gypsyism I faced came not from the majority but paradoxically enough from Roma. The most absurd accusations, the most vicious attacks, the most disgusting theories of racial, sexual and religious superiority and also the anti-Gypsyism that affected me the most came from us, Roma, and not from the majority. Unfortunately I am not at all an exceptional case.

I do understand the triggers and the reasons and I am smart enough to find numerous ways to justify it. The lack of resources, the marginality, survival techniques, power struggles, self-contradictions and ambiguities of Roma identity are just some of these.

A good majority of those of Roma facing the worst of racism on behalf of the majorities are not speakers of Romani and come from a mixed ethnic background. I, myself, grew up in a mix family and with rare opportunities to speak Romani. The overwhelming majority of leading Roma activists are in the same situation.

Somewhat expected, nowadays, some of them push a rather radical agenda that has very little to do with Human Rights but most to do with access to resources and political power based on ethnicity and not much else. Such a movement is in my opinion dangerous as it risks alienating the majorities of both non-Roma and Roma. It is also dangerous because involves a necessary radicalization of the race discourse that we should abhor.

Fighting against anti-Gypsyism should be a part of fighting against Human Rights abuses, against extremism and populism and not a justification to endorse abuses. It is not rare that anti-Gypsyism is used, unfortunately, as an excuse to justify corruption, violation of rights (especially of children) and maintaining power by toxic leadership. Sometimes is used to justify blatant racism that targets the non-Roma.

Solutions to address the existing situation of Roma in Europe should have indeed fighting anti-Gypsyism at the very core. But those solutions should not ignore neither the risks of racism within the many and very heterogeneous Roma groups nor the reverse racism that seems to become more and more acceptable among some of the Roma political elites.