Dieser Blog präsentiert eine Auswahl verschiedener Texte von mir. Die Herangehensweise ist multilingual und interdisziplinär. Die Themen sind international und betreffen vor allem Nachhaltigkeit, Wirtschaft, Politik und soziale Aspekte.
Viel Vergnügen! - JJ Bürger -

Ce blog rassemble une séléction de mes textes. L'approche est plurilingue et interdisciplinaire. Les sujets sont internationaux et concernent notamment la durabilité, l'économie, la politique et certains aspects sociaux. Bonne lecture! - JJ Bürger -

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Alternativlose Worte


Zum Unwort des Jahres 2010 wurde das Adjektiv "alternativlos" gewählt. Die Jury "Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres" begründete dies wie folgt:
"Das Wort suggeriert sachlich unangemessen, dass es bei einem Entscheidungsprozess von vornherein keine Alternativen und damit auch keine Notwendigkeit der Diskusion und Argumentation gebe. Behauptungen dieser Art sind 2010 zu oft aufgestellt worden, sie drohen, die Politikverdrossenheit in der Bevölkerung zu verstärken."

Allerdings reicht dieses Phänomen noch deutlich weiter in die Vergangenheit hinein, wie beispielsweise der hier verlinkte Artikel aus dem Jahre 1967 belegen mag, den der Guardian vor einiger Zeit aus den Archiven neu veröffentlicht hat. Darin bezeichnet der damalige Vizepräsident der EG-Kommission Sicco Mansholt den Beitritt Großbritanniens als alternativos: weder habe Großbritannien eine Alternative zum Beitritt der EG, noch habe die EG eine andere Alternative als Großbritannien aufzunehmen (trotz des lange Zeit vehementen Widerspruchs Frankreichs).
Illustriert wird der wiederveröffentlichte Artikel von einem Bild Margaret Thatchers, die ihrerseits ja auch deshalb als "Eiserne Lady" galt, weil sie sich selten auf Kompromisse - oder eben: Alternativen - einlies. Das Bild zeigt sie jedoch im Jahre 1975, als sie noch Oppositionsführerin war und im britischen Referendum von 1975 für den Verbleib Großbritanniens in der Europäischen Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft (EWG) warb. Das Land war der EWG nach langen Verhandlungen 1973 beigetreten, stimmte jedoch bereits zwei Jahre später per Referendum über einen möglichen Austritt ab.

Quelle: Guardian / AP

Die wechselhafte Geschichte der europäischen Beitritts- und Verbleibsverhandlungen des Vereinigten Königreichs (von Mansholt 1967, über Thatchers verschiedene Stationen der Europapolitik, bis hin zu David Camerons derzeit diskutiertem EU-Referendum) illustriert also, das bereits zu früheren Zeiten der Verweis auf vermeintliche "Alternativlosigkeit" irreführend war.
Und nicht erst seit 2010 - dem Jahr, in dem als "alternativlos" zum Unwort des Jahres wurde.
Allerdings gibt der Präsident der Jury "Sprachkritische Aktion Unwort des Jahres", Horst Dieter Schlosser, in einem Interview mit Deutschlandradio Kultur aus dem Jahre 2007 zu bedenken (anhand des Beispiels "Humankapital", Unwort des Jahres 2004), dass auch "ein alteingeführter Begriff" zum Unwort des Jahres werden könne, wenn der öffentliche Diskurs dies nahelege. Es müsse sich also nicht immer um ein neu geschaffenes oder an sich verwerfliches Wort handeln, sondern es könne auch um eine bestimmte Verwendung eines Wortes gehen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Energy from the crowd


Insolvencies involving fraud at the level of millions and billions of euros get a lot of media attention, especially if they come from the "green energy" industry, such as the Prokon insolvency. However, this is not necessarily the fate of every sustainability project, especially if it's a smaller project that invites us everyday normal citizens to invest just a little bit of our funds - a concept also known as crowd funding projects. Indeed, there are several interesting examples for crowd-funded energy projects.

One of them is Econeers, a platform which has been used to bring together developers and investors in order to finance several solar, bioenergy and efficiency projects in the past. For example, for one PV farm in the German region of Saxony-Anhalt, 442.750 EUR were invested by 322 people, implying an average investment of 1375 EUR per person. At an expected profitability of 4,5% per year over seven years, this average investment of 1375 EUR is of course not going to replace your financial plans for retirement. However, this is not what people should aim for with this kind of investment, since it becomes a "subordinated loan" given by the multiple citizen investors to the project developer - which means that in case of insolvency of the project, those loans might not be paid back to the investors. Nevertheless : if the minimum threshold of total investment is not met, like for example in this biogas project, the investors' money will of course not be lost but reimbursed, given that the project was not able to get started.

Actually, those are principles which are in general quite common for crowd-funded energy projects. As a matter of fact, they are common to Econeers and also to Bettervest. The latter is a crowd-funding platform specialised mainly in energy efficiency projects in Germany and in solar projects in Africa, as their impressive record of successful projects shows. They currently even offer the possibility to participate in a crowd-funding towards the further development of their own website! Also, Bettervest calls for "energy detectives", meaning third persons identifying potential further projects, against a compensation derived from the project's success.
Bettervest allows users to invest sums as little as 50 EUR, whereas Econeers seems to imply a minimum of 250 EUR, at least for currently ongoing projects. Another difference might be that Bettervest mainly aims at smaller total investment amounts than Econeers, which makes it easier for the necessary amount of investment to be reached, and for the users to diversify their investment into different projects.

In any case, both of these examples have in common that they represent crowd-investments, which could perhaps be regarded as a sub-category of crowd-funding. Indeed, crowd-funding can also work without promising a financial return on investment.
An energy-related example of this "non-profit" kind of crowd-funding is the following campaign from the Greek branch of Greenpeace :

Source : Greenpeace Greece
By calling for a "Solarization" of Greece, the NGO intends to raise funds for a project delivering PV panels to low-income households on the Greek island of Rhodes. They argue not only on environmental grounds when advocating this alternative instead of the consumption of fossil fuels, but also on a micro- and macroeconomic level, as fuelling the island's oil generators comes at a certain price to customers, and also to the State (via fossil fuel subsidies ; also by a contribution to the trade deficit). However, no return on investment is foreseen for the users who participate in this fund-raising campaign, except for certain small gifts (called "perks") that can be claimed. Also, it does not seem possible to make your participation count as a donation eligible for tax reductions.
Of course you could argue that this Greenpeace campaign might not have answers to all the further questions it implies (e.g.: even if the idealistically high target sum of 1 million EUR was reached, would that really be enough to provide sufficient PV panels to all low-income households in Rhodes? And even if that was the case, could you really just phase out fossil fuels on Rhodes - what about night and backup needs? Not to mention their long-term goal to "kickstart the solarization of the Greek economy (and beyond!)"...).
Yet, gathering some amounts of money for this project could still be a pragmatic way of people helping people directly in these difficult times. For example, as one of its similar projects in the past, the NGO quotes a project (PV plus heat pumps) carried out recently on Rhodes for a children's orphanage that could not have afforded heating during winter. This kind of help is probably an example of useful crowd-funding that everybody can agree on...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

European road transport - A little "p.s."


As if reacting somehow to our last article about their figures for European road transport (and our follow-up article adding some further analysis), German newspaper FAZ and Statista published a new graph about this topic.

According to them, Germany is quite an important hotspot for road transport in terms of transported goods (represented 7 times in the Top 10; see graph below). Other highly active countries are Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

The 10 busiest interconnections for European road transport of goods (in terms of million tons transported) in 2013. Click on graph to enlarge. Source: Eurostat as quoted by FAZ/Statista

Again, it would still be interesting to also know about realized profits and where they are located. For this question, further research and pieces of information would still be necessary.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

European road transport (2/2) - Getting to the goal together!


If we take a closer look at Eurostat figures, we can see that only 6 countries are above the limit of 1bn tons annually transported on the road : France, Spain, Germany, the UK, Italy and Poland.
Portugal, for instance, has one of the lowest figures for road transport in Europe - meaning that the numerous registered heavy-goods vehicles in Portugal, which we saw in our last blog post, must be at a rather low utilization rate (at least within the Portuguese territory).

Click to enlarge. Source: Eurostat

With regard to absolute figures, Germany has the highest record, reaching almost 3bn tons of road transport in some years (tendency rising during the last 10 years). France is quite close, maintaining a relatively stable average of 2bn tons. Therefore, the different figures of registered heavy-good vehicles in France and Germany, as reported by FAZ/Statista, may be due to other context elements (company strategies on where to register the vehicles; regulatory factors which influence those strategies; utilization rates of the vehicles; size of the vehicles; etc.) but not the quantity of road transport itself. 
Furthermore, the absolute figures show a steady rise for road transport in Poland, as well as a peak around 2007 in Italy, Spain and the UK, followed by a decrease (however, with different intensities : figures keep decreasing in Italy and Spain, whereas the UK figures seem to have recovered or at least stabilized).

Click to enlarge. Source: Eurostat

Further research would be required to assess which countries and which companies benefitted most from those road transports. At this stage, we can only take a limited first glimpse at the road transport sector in Europe.

Nevertheless, we might already have a look at the European representation of road transport. One of the biggest EU-lobby organizations of the road transport sector has kept its French abbreviation (possibly yet another indicator for a French leadership in this sector?), instead of switching to an English one like most lobbies. Indeed, the "Union Européenne des Transporteurs Routiers" (UETR) represents 16 national associations from 14 countries (according to its German member BTV). Yet, the new president of UETR, elected in February 2015, is not a French national... but she is from Germany!
In any case, with three vice-presidents coming from France, Italy and Slovenia, the association indeed keeps up quite a European mix.

After all, it maybe doesn't always matter so much about who leads the race, but more about getting to the goal together.

Dagmar Wäscher, the newly-elected president of UETR. Source: BTV

P.s.: It is also quite interesting to take a look at the importance of road transport in each country, expressed as a percentage of all inland freight transport, and compared to waterway and railway transport, just to complete the picture. For example, it is noteworthy that the share of road transport is relatively low in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, which in return rely more on waterway transport (Netherlands, Belgium), railway (Sweden) or a mix of both (Germany) :

Road, railway and waterway share in total inland
freight transport (tonne-kilometres, 2012). Source: Eurostat

Thursday, February 26, 2015

European road transport (1/2) - Who is leading the race?


Which are Europe's leading nations of road transport?
If you think that they must definitely be located in the centre of Europe, with many road interconnections to other countries, you may have to think again. Internal trade might be just as important as external commerce... At least when regarding the number of registered heavy-good vehicles, according to German newspaper FAZ quoting Statista and Eurostat, less centrally located countries like Spain and Portugal are also part of the European Top7. Moreover, France seems to be right on top when it comes to leading the road transport sector...
However, even if France has got the highest number of registered vehicles, further indicators would be needed to analyse the full picture correctly: how many commodities are transported by those vehicles per year, and to the benefit of which transport companies? What impacts does regulation have on the choice of vehicle registration (e.g.: taxes, administrative burden)?

Number of registered heavy-good vehicles per country. Source : Eurostat as quoted by FAZ/statista
We will analyse some further pieces of information in a separate blog post, in order to complete this picture.