Monthly Archives: September 2008

How many lessons do European Union policymakers need before they rid themselves of the illusion that Europe’s economy and financial system are to a considerable extent “decoupled” from those of the US?

In six EU countries – the Benelux trio, Denmark, Germany and the UK – we have seen emergency state intervention over the past few days to rescue or nationalise collapsing banks and mortgage lenders. In each case, the action would not have been necessary had it not been for the financial upheavals in the US. 

The August war in Georgia, and Russia’s recognition of the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, have plunged relations between Moscow and the European Union into their iciest condition since the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991. But if it plays its cards right, it is the EU, rather than Russia, that in the long run will gain something from the crisis.

One month after the Kremlin embarked on the path of dismembering Georgia by recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, what is most striking is how negatively the rest of the world has reacted. As far as I can tell, only Nicaragua has followed Moscow’s lead to the point of full recognition. Even Belarus, the former Soviet republic closest to Moscow, has held back. 

Remember Declan Ganley? He’s the British-born businessman who played a big part in Ireland’s rejection in a referendum last June of the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. Ganley often seemed a strange ally for the Irish nationalists, conservative Catholics and leftists who made up the No camp. But I saw him in action in Dublin and there’s no doubt in my mind that he was a formidable campaigner, fatally underestimated by the Irish political establishment.

Thanks to some good reporting by the Irish Times and the Czech newspaper Lidové Noviny, we now know a little more about Ganley. The Czech paper discovered that Ganley had paid a visit to Prague in late July and met President Václav Klaus, the Czech head of state. Klaus is a notorious eurosceptic who, immediately after the Irish vote, declared the Lisbon treaty dead – something not even President Lech Kaczynski of Poland or Gordon Brown, the UK premier, dared do. 

Something unsatisfactory hangs over the summit that the leaders of the European Union and India will hold in Marseilles on September 29. These are two of the world’s most important power centres, and they share much in common, such a commitment to democracy and respect for a rules-based international order. But their partnership, though friendly, lacks real substance. It is marked by misunderstandings and friction as much as enthusiastic co-operation.

When the EU published its first ever Security Strategy in 2003, it identified the US as its closest ally and and five other powers with which it sought ”strategic partnerships” – Canada, China, India, Japan and Russia. Among those five, ties with Russia are under the greatest strain. But it is with India that the EU has its most under-developed relationship. 

Brussels would certainly be a duller place without the sparkling wit of Jean-Claude Juncker. As guest speaker at a think-tank breakfast on Wednesday, the Luxembourg leader was challenged by an over-excited British questioner to admit that the eurozone economy was in a complete mess. Lest matters grew even worse, the questioner asked,  shouldn’t Juncker and his colleagues immediately start arranging the “orderly” break-up of the single currency area?

As the European Union’s longest-serving prime minister and chairman of the ‘eurogroup’, which unites the eurozone’s 15 finance ministers, you would hardly have expected Juncker to answer this question in the affirmative. And indeed, he replied: “No … Something in my heart is telling me that the British will be happy [one day] to join the single currency.” 

European Union leaders are on course to approve a French-inspired pact on immigration policy at a summit in Brussels next month. The text of the pact may undergo changes before the October 15-16 meeting. But for now it looks as if this document will mark a subtle shift in power to national governments from the EU’s policymaking institutions.

That may surprise people who suspect the European Commission, European Parliament and European Court of Justice of constantly finding new ways to grab control of sensitive policy areas. And it is true that ever since 1999, when the EU’s Amsterdam treaty came into force, the pressure in Brussels for a supranational approach to migration, asylum and border management policies has become increasingly strong. 

The less often a country appears in the news headlines, the more likely that it is a peaceful, happy sort of place. But is this true of Kosovo? Its declaration of independence from Serbia in February, and its subsequent recognition by the US and 20 of the European Union’s 27 member-states, were big news at the time. Now Kosovo gets less attention, driven from our TV screens and newspapers by other events in Georgia, or Afghanistan, or Sudan.

An authoritative report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) makes clear that Kosovo since February has had its fair share of good news as well as bad news. On the plus side, in spite of two outbreaks of politically motivated violence in northern Kosovo in the month after the February 17 declaration of independence, the overall security situation has “remained remarkably stable”, the report says. 

August 7 was some day in European history. In Georgia, a war broke out. In Strasbourg, the ceiling of the main chamber of the European Parliament fell down.

Unlike in Georgia, there were no casualties in Strasbourg. No one was even in the chamber at the time – a not unusual sight. Only 12 times a year do hundreds of Brussels-based parliamentarians, aides, lobbyists and media people make the 430km trip to Strasbourg for a monthly plenary session of the legislature. The rest of the time, their base is the Belgian capital. 

How much will it cost the European Union to fight global climate change? Clearly, the answer depends on what your target is, how you propose to get there, and the size of the EU’s contribution compared with those of the US, China and so on. But a new report from the Centre for European Policy Studies thinktank offers some useful estimates.

The report assesses six recent studies, ranging from the Stern Review and a World Bank analysis to research prepared by Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company. In these reports, the average annual global costs for mitigating and adapting to climate change are put at anything from €230bn to €614bn, based on 2006 data. 

In Cold War times it was a rule of thumb that, whenever the Soviet Union’s behaviour was particularly bullying, the US and western Europe would put aside their differences and close ranks in reaction. Conversely, when Moscow was less threatening, there was less pressure for complete unity in the western alliance. France (Charles de Gaulle), West Germany (Willy Brandt) and the US (Richard Nixon) each sought benefits for their own countries from closer contacts with the Soviet leadership.

For all the European Union’s show of unity on Monday at its emergency summit in Brussels, the crisis over Russia’s destruction of Georgia’s territorial integrity clearly hasn’t reached the point at which all the Europeans are with each other in heart and soul. The explanation isn’t hard to find.