Monthly Archives: January 2008

At a conference on Europe’s future held last October in Brussels, Robert Cooper, a high-level European Union foreign policy strategist, made an interesting observation. "I like the idea of 27 countries struggling to agree with each other. It is rather undignified, but it is a powerful message," he said.

Well, when it comes to the EU’s policy on Serbia and Kosovo, one can certainly agree with the "undignified" bit. Something of a low point was reached this week at the regular monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers. It produced an offer to Serbia of an "interim political agreement", dangling the carrots of freer trade, visa liberalisation and educational exchanges in the vague hope that this would cause Serb voters to back Boris Tadic, the moderate incumbent, in this weekend’s presidential election run-off.

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It is time to sort out the mess in Afghanistan – and where better to start than by talking with the enemy?

For six years, Nato has been fighting Taliban insurgents in what has turned into the biggest military operation in the alliance’s almost 60-year history. But in terms of results there is not a great deal to show for it – and the European public senses it. Support for Nato’s operations in Afghanistan was fairly broad-based to begin with. But now it is fracturing – and not just in Germany and Italy, where the enthusiasm for sending troops to a war in Asia was not exactly robust in the first place.

Yet if the EU and the Americans, Canadians and others were to pull out, it would deal a damaging blow to Nato, to western security more generally, and to the EU’s hopes of running a successful common foreign and security policy. What is needed isn’t a disorderly withdrawal, but an imaginative rethinking of the whole operation.

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When I lived in Vienna in 1983, my apartment was next to a gay bar with scrubbed-out windows and an English-language name: Why Not.

I find myself asking the same question as the 10th anniversary of the euro approaches and a cosy atmosphere of self-congratulation in Brussels warms up. Why not? Why shouldn’t the European Union pat itself on the back?

After all, the euro is at present the strongest of the world’s major currencies. It underpins steady economic growth and a very high average standard of living for 318m people in 15 countries.

And if you live in Spain, I hear those purple 500-euro banknotes come in very handy.

But a new report by the Bruegel think-tank, a Brussels-based institute that specialises in economic issues, dispels any complacency about the longer-term future of Europe’s monetary union.

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Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, promised us a “new industrial revolution” last year and it looks as though he might just deliver.

Barroso seized on climate change as a new raison d’etre for the bloc on its 50th birthday, now that war between its members was a distance memory. An economy built on fossil fuel would have to be weaned off it, he said.

No one really believed him, though the club’s 27 members were dragged far enough along, with differing levels of enthusiasm, to endorse fairly stiff targets for greenhouse gas reductions – a fifth below 1990 levels by 2020.

The potential gains are great, but the pain is also becoming clear, and as the Commission prepares to deliver its medicine on January 23 howls are growing louder around Europe.

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If oompah music and fire-eaters in folk costume are the way to win the European media’s heart, then Slovenia, the new holder of the rotating EU presidency, is off to a flying start.

The melodies struck up by the accordionist, horn player and guitarist who entertained a pack of Brussels-based reporters at a farm restaurant outside Ljubljana on Monday night were so rumbustious that one normally vivacious French journalist slumped ever more glumly in his seat. “Is this what EU enlargement really means?” he was no doubt asking himself.

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