When it comes to dealing with the rise of China it seems Europeans are from Venus and Americans from Mars. The popular phrase of Robert Kagan, the US commentator, appears more apt than ever when talking of the rise of the potential Asian superpower.
The US has acted decisively twice in recent weeks to try to force open the doors to the workshop of the world – to a predictable howl of outrage from Beijing. For the time being, the European Union is prepared to watch from the sidelines – and perhaps even benefit as US-China relations degenerate.
Five years after it entered the World Trade Organisation, the US feels China has not lived up to its obligations. Piracy is still rampant and too many ailing state enterprises are being propped up with subsidies, Washington says.
The eurosceptic UK Independence party once portrayed the European Union as an octopus. If true, it has very short tentacles. Last week the Commission’s competition directorate was shown the limits of its powers as companies and governments agreed to dismember Endesa, the Spanish power company. Brussels had taken Madrid to court for blocking Eon’s bid but the German utility decided a half a bid (sic) in the hand was worth one in the bush and agreed to slice it up with Enel, its Italian rival and Spain’s preferred partner. The Commission will continue with a case but any victory would be one of principle alone.
The Commission was reading the riot act to airlines and governments over their failure to enforce new rights for passengers.
There is an interesting exhibition currently on show at the Brussels Bozar cultural centre that got me thinking about a rarely-explored aspect of the European Union. Entitled "A vision for Brussels" the show tries to analyse why the EU has generally produced such dismal buildings for its institutions – and examines ways of improving the Union’s poor architectural record.
As any visitor to Brussels’ European quarter can testify, there is little that is beautiful or inspiring about the headquarters of the European Commission, the European Council or the European Parliament. The first two are housed in vast, anonymous blocks of stone and glass, while the Parliament is housed in a megalomaniac, post-modernist nightmare that arrogantly dwarfs the tranquil surroundings of the Place Luxembourg.
Perhaps even worse than the individual buildings, the EU has so far paid little or no respect to the urban environment in which it has dropped its shoe boxes.
The architects behind the Brussels exhibition – who hail from the respected Rotterdam-based Berlage Institut – have one radical suggestion to improve this sorry state: for starters, they call for the demolition of the European Parliament.