Live And Learn

Pete North recently wrote a series of tweets about the virtues of blogging. What I found particularly interesting were the characteristics he described which distinguish blogging from legacy journalism.

The idea that “learning is a collaborative effort” and that “blogging is opening up a dialogue for cross-pollination of ideas” particularly chimed with me.

In the past I have drawn comparisons to the collaborative style of communication blogging encourages and the open source software movement.

This is another tricky subject. The “technology industry” as people now call IT (roads and writing are also technology, ed.) is full of techno-utopians who appear to think that applying Silicon Valley fads to subjects outside the domain of software design will solve all of the world’s problems.

I appreciate the danger of taking ideas from one domain and using them to describe another, but in the case of blogging and open source software I think that the domains are (or can be) quite similar. The similarities are especially apparent when you are writing about technical subjects or matters of fact and you are aiming for accuracy. Comments can help you debug your blog posts.

To that end, my previous blog post has so far prompted two responses. The first, a pertinent question, with a (hopefully) clarifying answer.

The commenter asks, “In the EU Treaties does the term “third country” not relate to a country which is not a member state of the Union?” In this particular case, I am nearly certain that the commenter in question already knows that the answer to that particular query is, “yes”. In the context of the EU treaties, the term “third country” is used to refer to any sovereign state that is not also an EU Member State.

Fine. That’s nice and clear. This being the EU, however, the matter does not end there.

As I wrote in my previous post:

To clarify, “third-country” is a value-neutral term, used by the EU to describe any country that does not participate in the Single Market. If the UK leaves the EU and does not negotiate to join EFTA, so as to participate in the EEA agreement, the UK will become a third-country.

At the risk of belabouring the point, I will note that, as already mentioned, in the EU treaties the term “third country” is used to describe an non-EU Member State, whereas above, I am using the term “third-country” to describe any state that does not participate in the Single Market.

So, was I wrong to use the term “third-country” in that particular context? The short answer is, “I don’t think so”. In all honesty, the division is not as clear as one might like, although I do think it is possible for people of good faith to agree a common understanding of the term, thereby allowing debate to move forward.

The complication stems, at least in part, from the fact that the European Commission uses the term “third country” to mean both countries that are not in the EU and countries that are not in the EEA, which also includes three EFTA members (namely, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).

One such example is the Data Protection Directive, guidelines for which are provided here. The discrepancy arises, I suspect, from the fact that the three EFTA countries that participate in the EEA agreement are not considered “third countries” in matters covered by the EEA (Single Market) acquis.

Even the way in which the term Single Market is used is something of a movable feast. Amidst this confusion, however, lie the seeds of a solution. The fact that even the EU struggles to clearly articulate a coherent vision of its neighbourhood policy would appear to indicate that a British government imbued with a proper sense of purpose could present Brexit as an opportunity to build something much better.

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