Monthly Archives: February 2009

According to Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, the selfish economic nationalism of certain eurozone countries “has deformed the joint project of the euro more than any other imaginable event”. Is Europe’s monetary union at risk as a result of narrow-minded, reckless or incompetent government responses to the financial crisis?

Undeniably, the recent sharp widening in spreads between Germany’s bond yields and those of countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal points to unprecedented strains in the 16-nation eurozone. Moreover, the gap in business competitiveness between Germany and many of its partners is a serious long-term concern. Read more

The bad feeling between France and the Czech Republic is finally out there for everyone to see. For anyone who likes their European Union united, it is not a pretty sight.

Suspicion was in the air even before the Czechs took over the EU’s rotating presidency from France on January 1. The French doubted that the Czechs would be up to the job. The Czechs sensed that President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to stay in the spotlight even after the end of France’s six-month EU presidency. “Old Europe” was in the red corner, “new Europe” was in the blue, and Round One was about to start. Read more

The European Commission’s spring 2009 Eurobarometer poll on public attitudes towards the European Union should be the most interesting in a long while. No such survey has been conducted with Europe’s financial system in such precarious condition and its economic outlook so grim. Large drops in output are forecast everywhere: a 4.9 per cent contraction of the economy this year in Lithuania, 4 per cent in Ireland, 2.3 per cent in Germany, 2 per cent in Italy.  To some extent, this will surely be reflected in a blacker public mood across the EU.

Yet in their most recent survey, carried out in autumn 2008,  the Commission’s pollsters cautioned that “the division of countries by positive and negative trends does not necessarily reflect the economic outlook in these countries, although some countries show a correlation”. People can have good feelings about the EU, so the argument goes, even if their economies are in recession and they’re losing their jobs. Read more

Welcome to a new feature of the blog. Once a week I will pick something that has caught my eye at the European Parliament and highlight it in the blog. Not long from now, I will switch to the forthcoming European Parliament election campaign. But for the moment, here we go:

This week it’s the parliament’s vote urging European Union governments to accept inmates from the Guantánamo prison camp if the US so asks them. The resolution was passed by an overwhelming 542 to 55 majority, with 51 abstentions. Read more

Ever since it looked probable that Barack Obama would win last year’s US presidential election, European governments have fretted about how they would react if, upon taking office, he asked them for a bigger military contribution to the US-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The war isn’t going down well with European public opinion, especially in Germany and Italy. On the other hand, you can hardly say No to the man you were desperate to see replace George W. Bush in the Oval Office.

Perhaps the Europeans have been asking themselves the wrong question. The evidence is growing that Obama will fundamentally rethink US policies and recognise that there are more desirable – and achievable – goals in Afghanistan than a traditional military victory. The appointments of Richard Holbrooke as the special US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of Karl Eikenberry as the next US ambassador to Kabul, are part of this picture. Read more

The Vatican is scurrying to make peace with the world’s Jewish communities after Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to rehabilitate Richard Williamson, a British-born bishop who has denied the full extent of the Holocaust. But what else is there to know about Williamson? Quite a bit, it turns out.

The ultra-conservative Williamson, 68, was thrown out of the Roman Catholic Church in 1988, not for Holocaust denial but for being ordained without the Vatican’s permission. Last month, the pope lifted the excommunication in a manner that made him look more interested in healing the Church’s schism than in considering the impact of Williamson’s reinstatement on Jews and others. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the influential liberal prelate responsible for the Church’s religious relations with Jews, acknowledges that the Vatican mishandled the affair. Read more

Almost 20 years after the end of the Cold War, it is sobering to see how military and security policy decisions taken in Washington and Moscow can still shape the fate of Europe. Take the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, which sets out to reform the EU’s institutional arrangements.

The treaty, rejected by Irish voters last June but still viewed in official EU circles as an absolute necessity, is perhaps the last foreign policy issue on the mind of either Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin. But the US president and Russian prime minister are making overtures to each other on Europe-based missile and anti-missile shield systems that may damage the treaty’s prospects of ever coming into effect. Most EU leaders would see that as a great loss: they fear Europe won’t be able to project its influence effectively on the world stage unless the Lisbon reforms are in force. Read more