A big and rather heavy parcel arrived in the Brussels office last week.
It contained three weighty tomes – including Norman Davies’ 1,365 page work ”Europe a History.” Also in the box were three discs, two large, glossy picture books and two brochures – all linked to the western Polish city of Wroclaw.
Read a European Commission document closely enough, and there’s usually a nugget in it somewhere. In the case of Tuesday’s communication on rising global food prices, it was to be found in the final paragraph, which asked the question: Should the EU drop its biofuels target due to rising food prices?
European Union leaders committed themselves last year to producing 10 per cent of their road transport fuel by 2020 from biofuels. Among scientists, car manufacturers and green campaigners, not to mention several EU governments, it was always a contentious target. But the Commission reaffirmed the goal in January, describing biofuels as one of the few measures “realistically capable of making a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions from transport”.
For weeks it has been an uncomfortable secret in Brussels that the European Union’s law and order mission in Kosovo is stuck in a political, diplomatic and legal morass. This initiative, announced with great fanfare last December, was supposed to show the EU at its best, shouldering responsibilities in a conflict-torn part of Europe where it did not exactly cover itself with glory in the 1990s.
Instead, officials now acknowledge that there is absolutely no chance that the EU will deploy its full complement of 1,900 policemen, judges, prosecutors and other administrators by mid-June, as originally planned. Why not? Because the authority to transfer police powers from the United Nations operation that is already in place in Kosovo to the new EU mission rests with the UN Security Council, where Russia has a veto.
The European Union’s leaders travel next month to Khanty-Mansiysk for a summit with Dmitry Medvedev, the new Russian president. Will they find time, I wonder, in this booming western Siberian oil town to stop off at the crossroads of Sverdlova and Pionerskaya streets? They should do. There, in front of School No. 5, they will find a recently erected memorial to the victims of Stalin’s repressions - at least, so the town’s government website says.
The existence of this memorial reminds us to think twice before rushing to judge today’s Russia. The country clearly moved to a more authoritarian, centralised form of rule under Vladimir Putin, and civil liberties were curtailed. But many Russians remain as determined as ever to expose the truth about their country’s bloodstained communist past. These days, Stalin cannot be airbrushed from Russia’s history as easily as he used to airbrush his opponents.
The European Commission takes a lot of flak for being full of highly paid, unaccountable elitists brimming with a Euro-zeal that finds no match in the European population at large. So it is a pleasure to say that the Commission’s report on 10 years of European monetary union is a model of incisive analysis and sensible recommendations.
For sure, as Jean Pisani-Ferry and André Sapir wrote in the FT, the report has its fair share of “hype”, trumpeting the euro as a “resounding success”, etc, etc. But why not? Part of the Commission’s role is to be a cheerleader.