Monthly Archives: February 2008

Tony Barber

Miroslav Lajcak of Slovakia is an amiable, gifted diplomat with the hardest job in town. As the international community’s high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, he is tasked with turning this most unhappy and dysfunctional of states into a viable long-term entity. He is also supposed somehow to put Bosnia on an irreversible path to European Union membership. Neither goal looks remotely in sight.

When Lajcak met some reporters in Brussels this week, he was pressed to say what impact the Kosovo crisis would have on Bosnia. After all, the declaration of independence by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority in the teeth of opposition from Serbia would seem to provide the perfect justification for the ever restive Bosnian Serbs to announce that they want to secede from the state that boxes them together with Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats. Read more

Tony Barber

Oh, the magic of democracy! Three European election results have lifted spirits in Brussels: Poland’s parliamentary vote of October 2007, the Serbian presidential ballot of February 3, and the first round of Cyprus’s presidential election last Sunday.

In each case, the winners stood for better relations with the European Union and a co-operative approach to solving European diplomatic problems. The losers were prickly, obstructive nationalists and the opposite of everything the EU likes to think it stands for.Whether these three results will be enough to wipe out the painful memory of the Dutch and French referendums of 2005 that killed off the EU’s experiment in constitution-building remains to be seen. But for many in Brussels, the message from Poland, Serbia and Cyprus is that democracy not only works, but strengthens the EU and the cause of European integration.

In other words, don’t be afraid of the voters – they can be trusted, in the end, to get it right. In Poland, the October election produced a whopping defeat for Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the prime minister who had achieved the reckless feat of simultaneously irritating Germany and Russia, Poland’s far more powerful neighbours. The winner was Donald Tusk and his pro-European, pro-business Civic Platform party.

In Serbia, the pro-European Boris Tadic scored a victory over the ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolic that was narrow but just enough to let the EU claim that Serb voters had chosen a European path over the road of darkness.

Most intriguing of all was Sunday’s result in Cyprus. Read more

Tony Barber

When it comes to EU security missions abroad, most eyes turn to Kosovo, where 2,000 law and order officials are about to be deployed over the next four months to stabilise the province after its secession from Serbia. But surely we ought to be paying just as much attention to events in the former French colony of Chad, where a 3,700-strong EU "peacekeeping" force is finally beginning to arrive after months of delay.

The ostensible purpose of the EU force is to help humanitarian aid workers and protect hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled violence spreading from Sudan’s Darfur region, east of Chad. But the question asked in some EU capitals is whether the EU’s mission is turning into something quite different – namely, a prop for French foreign policy in a former African colony.

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It is the $22m (€15m) question. How does Europe deal with Chinese imports? That is the hourly rate of the trade deficit with the rising superpower and it is causing angst on the continent.

Even a liberal such as Peter Mandelson, the EU trade commissioner, says the figure is on Europe’s mind. Having praised China’s rise as an unalloyed good for Europe and the world, he has recently taken to wielding the stick with Beijing, warning of a backlash if it does not itself open up to foreign companies.

Mandelson wants a two-way street. China’s vast cheap labour force is bound to mean its exports increase, he says. But there should be a flow of imports of the kind of upmarket goods in which Europe specialises the other way. Service providers should have more opportunity in China’s domestic market. In the meantime, the backlash has started.

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Tony Barber

It is difficult to find anyone in Brussels who is enthusiastic about the likely return to power of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. When you mention his 2001-2006 premiership, and especially the way he ran Italy’s European Union presidency in July-December 2003, you sometimes see that rarest of sights – a Eurocrat shuddering in revulsion.

But if Berlusconi wins the elections forced by the collapse of Romano Prodi’s government, I predict interesting times ahead. Not because Berlusconi will once more make himself an outcast by comparing German members of the European parliament to Nazi concentration camp guards. Rather, because it is in Brussels that his massive conflict of interest, between his political role and his position as Italy’s pre-eminent media tycoon, may at long last be challenged. Read more

Could Tony Blair’s shadow candidacy as the first full-time president of the European Union go the same way as Rudy Giuliani’s US presidential bid? Like Rudy, Tony has the name recognition factor and track record in government to be a frontrunner. He is also a figure bigger than his party, appealing across the divide. Blair himself is more popular in some EU countries than his own.

However, they share a chequered past. Giuliani was dogged by allegations from US firefighters that he cut and run on September 11 as mayor of New York. Blair is charged with invading Iraq on false pretences.

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