Monthly Archives: July 2008

Compared with their US equivalents, Europe’s places of higher education are truly the poor relations. The European Union spends 1.3 per cent of its gross domestic product on higher education, against 3.3 per cent of GDP in the US. That translates into an average €8,700 per student in the EU (minus Bulgaria and Romania), versus €36,500 in the US. It also explains why so few European universities match their US peers in terms of high-quality research output.

These and many other sobering details are contained in a new report, “Higher aspirations: An agenda for reforming European universities”, published this month by Bruegel, a Brussels-based think-tank. As the report says: “European growth has been disappointing for the past 30 years, remaining persistently lower than in the United States. There is now much evidence that this situation is closely linked to the state of innovation and higher education in Europe.” Read more

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president who wants to be reappointed next year to a second five-year term, has in recent days received two important but somewhat curious endorsements. The first was from Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who has been sharply and publicly at odds with Barroso over the European Central Bank’s policies and over the European Commission’s handling of world trade negotiations.

The second was from Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister. The areas of potential or actual conflict between Italy and the EU are numerous to list here. But among them are Italian state aid to the near-bankrupt airline Alitalia, a rubbish collection crisis in Naples, and the treatment – or mistreatment - of Italy’s gypsy population. Read more

The European Union can hardly contain its pleasure at the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, the murderous Bosnian Serb leader who was picked up in Serbia on Monday after 11 years on the run. For all those who believe the best way to ensure long-term stability in former Yugoslavia is to accelerate Serbia’s path to EU membership, Karadzic’s arrest was cause for celebration. 

The arrest appears to vindicate the EU’s strategy over the past year of overtly supporting pro-EU political forces in Belgrade. The aim is twofold: to neutralise the militant nationalists who have poisoned Serbian public life for the past 20 years, and to persuade Serbian voters that their best hope of a decent future lies in aligning their country with the EU. Read more

For those of you who missed Nicolas Sarkozy’s appearance last week at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, there are always YouTube and Dailymotion. In one revealing clip, the unforgettable 1968 student rebel Daniel Cohn-Bendit, now a Green MEP, is shown berating the French president for his decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

The tieless, slightly crumpled Cohn-Bendit waves his arms about, jabs his fingers and slices his hands through the air. Sarkozy, immaculate in a dark suit, remains seated, listening carefully, his fingers caressing a pen. Read more

Not long ago, I spent some time with a Romanian socialist member of the European Parliament called Adrian Severin. He is an impressive figure. He is not only a former Romanian foreign minister (1996-97) but also – according to his official CV – the proud recipient of the “Man of the 20th Century Award”. This, in case you didn’t know, is a distinction conferred by the International Biographical Centre, which is something based in the English university city of Cambridge.

Severin was talking to me just after Irish voters said No to the European Union’s Lisbon treaty in their June 12 referendum. What he said has stuck in my mind ever since. “There are countries without which the EU cannot function, and countries without which it can,” he pronounced. Read more

Just read the latest version of Sarko’s “European pact on immigration“.

To recap, this is his plan for European countries to bring their immigration policies closer together. EU interior ministers broadly backed the measure at their meeting in Cannes on MondayRead more

Question: What do the European Central Bank, EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, French army commanders, French public television broadcasters, the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and Snagglepuss the Mountain Lion have in common? Answer: they have all come under withering attack in the past week or two from President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

Actually, Snagglepuss hasn’t, but Sarkozy has sprayed his ammunition so far and wide that it was probably a close-run thing. It would be easy to dismiss the presidential antics - imagine Silvio Berlusconi on speed and you are halfway there - as a huge embarrassment for France just as it started its six-month European Union presidency on July 1. But I reckon there is a great deal of method in Sarkozy’s madness. Read more