Monthly Archives: November 2008

Buried in last Wednesday’s €200bn European Commission economic recovery plan for Europe was a proposal that sent waves of relief through Lithuanian policymaking circles. This was the idea of allocating €5bn for trans-European energy connections.

A large chunk of this money is destined for Lithuania, the aim being to reduce the dangers that face the country after the planned closure of its Ignalina nuclear power plant on December 31, 2009. Ignalina supplies 70 per cent of Lithuania’s electricity, and when the plant is shut down Lithuania will be almost entirely dependent on Russia for its energy. Read more

I am in snowy Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and a city that reminds me of a communist-era joke that I first heard in Poland in 1980.

A Frenchman visits Warsaw, so the story went, and is so shocked by the bleak buildings and empty shops that he thinks he must have arrived in Moscow by mistake. Meanwhile, a Russian visits Warsaw and is so pleasantly surprised by the colour and the range of goods on sale that he thinks he must have arrived in Paris. Read more

The style supremos at the Financial Times frown upon the word “unprecedented”, but let’s be reckless and use it anyway. 

Just when the European Union is at pains to emphasise its unity in the face of the financial crisis and the economic recession, it is ironic that some member-states are taking the unprecedented step of invoking an EU rule that allows them to pursue a policy together even if other countries disagreeRead more

It is unfortunate that Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, must stand trial for alleged involvement in a plot to smear his compatriot, President Nicolas Sarkozy. Unfortunate for de Villepin, and unfortunate also for Sergey Stanishev, Bulgaria’s socialist prime minister.

Only a week before the sad news about de Villepin came out, Stanishev announced with great solemnity that he had appointed the French ex-premier to chair a panel of eminent foreigners who will advise the Bulgarian government. Their specific task will be to help Bulgaria overcome its massive problems with corruption, organised crime and a rotten judicial system. Read more

The global economic downturn is hitting Serbia hard, so you’d think quite a few Serbs would be interested in the €1m reward that the government is offering to pay for information leading to the arrest of Ratko Mladic. Curiously, however, the trail of the fugitive Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect never seems to get any warmer.

Roughly two months ago, a western government passed a tip to the Serbian government as to Mladic’s whereabouts. A raid was carried out, but the tip turned out to be a dud. Wisely, perhaps, the Serbian authorities chose not to publicise this incident. Read more

According to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, last weekend’s G20 summit was a big success. “Never before have Anglo-Saxons agreed to subject credit ratings agencies to oversight and regulation,” he declared.

You know what, he’s right. Check out the ‘Historia Ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’, the 8th century AD masterpiece by the Venerable Bede. This greatest of all Anglo-Saxon chroniclers had nothing to say about credit ratings agencies, and not just because he wrote in Latin. Read more

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, was having some fun this week at the expense of western countries as he mused about the impact of the financial crisis on world capitalism. “I’ve noticed an upsurge of interest in theoretical works by certain authors of the past, such as Karl Marx,” he said. “A German publishing house has just reprinted 2m copies of ‘Das Kapital’.”

Whether or not ’Das Kapital’ has anything useful to say about today’s turmoil, there is no doubt that the crisis is producing a shift in the European intellectual climate against classical free market liberalism and in favour of state interventionism and economic nationalism. The political and cultural soil for this shift was already rather fertile in France, Germany and Italy, though less so in young democracies such as the Czech Republic and Poland. Read more

It’s been a long time coming, but the European Union is finally launching its first naval operation - a mission to fight piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia, one of the world’s most dangerous sealanes. Financially speaking, it’s a modest operation – the common costs are estimated at 8.3m euros for one year – but in terms of the EU’s self-image it may make quite a difference.

As French defence minister Hervé Morin put it this week, “This operation is proof that a Europe of defence is starting to take shape.” Read more

It seems likely that the European Union will decide this week to resume talks with Russia on a long-term partnership agreement. This step will get a lot of attention inside the EU, fascinated as ever by the navel-gazing question of how united or divided it is in its Russia policy. One suspects the Russians themselves will be rather less obsessed.

Suspension of the talks was announced by the EU’s 27 leaders at a September 1 summit in Brussels, a few days after Russia effectively dismembered Georgia by recognising Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. At the time, the leaders said they would not resume the talks until Russian forces had withdrawn to positions occupied before August 7. Read more

In Europe, US presidential elections are memorable events - partly because European politicians say such memorable things about them. Here are the best three quotes on Barack Obama’s victory from politicians in the European Parliament:

1. Francis Wurtz (French communist): “Barely forty years after the hard-fought struggles for civil rights, I perceive the popular movement which has brought an ‘African-American’ – as Barack Obama likes to present himself – to the presidency of the United States as a great and beautiful moment of history.” Read more

The European Commission’s latest annual report on Turkey is striking for its kind words on Turkish foreign policy and its harsher language on internal Turkish political developments. It describes progress in some areas towards meeting the criteria for joining the European Union, and little or no progress in others.

In short, there is something for those who want Turkey one day to be in the EU, something for those who do not, and a lot for those who prefer to let the whole thing just drift along. Read more

What is the European Commission doing in the financial crisis? Commission president José Manuel Barroso answered that question last Friday in a speech that deserved rather more attention than it got.

After listing various initiatives the Commission is advancing on capital requirements, deposit guarantees, accountancy rules, credit ratings agencies, executive pay and cross-border financial supervision, Barroso delivered a remarkable message. Read more