Monthly Archives: March 2009

They say newspapers are the first draft of history. Here I’m on a mission to prove that blogs are the second draft.

The piece of history I have in mind is the European Union summit of March 19-20, when the bloc’s 27 leaders issued a statement pledging €75bn in new EU contributions to the International Monetary Fund to help fight the global economic crisis. This commitment was duly reported in the Financial Times and other newspapers and was the “first version of history”. Read more

When she talks about her government’s forthcoming European Union presidency, Cecilia Malmström, Sweden’s European affairs minister, likes to quote the late John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

Given the EU’s troubles with its frozen Lisbon reform treaty, it might have been equally apt to cite the lyrics in Lennon’s 1968 song, ‘Revolution’: “You say you’ll change the constitution/ Well, you know/ We all want to change your head.” Read more

The European Parliament, looking to strengthen institutional ties between the US and the European Union, called this week for the creation of a transatlantic political council to co-ordinate foreign and security policy.  The council would be chaired jointly by the US secretary of state and the EU’s high representative for foreign policy and would meet at least every three months. 

The parliament also called for the establishment of a transatlantic assembly, linking the EU legislature with the US Congress, which would meet twice a year. It said the EU and US should aim for a unified transatlantic market by 2015. Read more

When he’s not busy lashing out at American economic policies, the free-falling Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek can always give free rein to the other side of his personality – mordant central European humour. Here’s an example from a press conference last week at a European Union summit in Brussels.

A reporter asked Topolanek, whose government collapsed on Monday and whose country’s EU presidency is turning into a long bad dream, why the six summit participants represented at the press conference were all men, with not a woman in sight. ‘Why, were you expecting Martians?’ the prime minister replied. Read more

The knives were well and truly out for Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek at the European Parliament this morning. Topolanek, blaming the fall of his government on Tuesday on his domestic Social Democrat opponents, blithely assured legislators in Strasbourg that there would be no impact on the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union.

Not surprisingly, this prompted a stern lecture from Martin Schulz, the German head of the parliament’s socialist group. “You are a fighter, but so far you haven’t understood what the task of the EU presidency is,” Schulz told the hapless Czech premier. Read more

It’s one of the most eagerly awaited events of the European Union’s 2009 political calendar. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is giving a speech on Tuesday to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and everyone who’s anyone in Europe wants to be there to hear it.

One reason is that people remember the last time a UK premier addressed the EU legislature. It was Tony Blair in June 2005, and those who were present recall it as one of the finest speeches of his entire political life. Looking at Blair’s speech almost four years later, how well does it hold up? Read more

The European Parliament this week launched its promotion campaign for next June’s elections to the legislature. Among the publicity material are postcards asking questions such as “How should we help balance family and career?”, “How much labelling do we need?” and “What should cars run on?”

Like the animals that boarded Noah’s Ark, Europe’s leaders are entering their summit conference centre in Brussels today with the world’s economic floodwaters rising around them. According to the Book of Genesis, Noah was almost 600 years old when the rains started. That surely makes him the Old Testament forerunner of Jean-Claude Juncker, Europe’s longest-serving leader. The gaunt-looking Juncker has been prime minister of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg since 1995 and its finance minister since 1989.

As the leaders climb on board for their two-day European Union summit, it is eerie to hear them, one by one, saying exactly the same thing.  “We don’t need to do a new fiscal stimulus… Any room near the lifeboats over there?”  “We don’t need another fiscal stimulus… I’ll just squeeze in here by the bilge water.”  “Another fiscal stimulus? We don’t need one… Pass me a life jacket, would you?” Read more

Short of giving him a pair of horns and a forked tail, it’s hard to see how you could make the people who run institutional Europe dislike Declan Ganley more than they do now. Ganley is the British-born, multimillionaire Irish businessman who spoiled the European Union’s party last June by spearheading a successful campaign to persuade Irish voters to reject the EU’s Lisbon treaty. The Irish vote threw the EU into a state of organisational confusion from which it has not recovered to this day.

Now Libertas, Ganley’s political movement, is putting up local candidates across the EU for next June’s European Parliament elections. Ganley himself will stand for the constituency of Ireland North West. It is clear that Libertas will run a highly populist campaign – in one recent statement, it attacked a European Parliament decision to “go ahead with building a €9m gym and pool in Brussels which only MEPs and parliament staff can access… The move to go ahead with it while families across the EU are facing financial hardship shows a complete lack of respect for the people of Europe.” Read more

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is a strong believer in the benign powers of European Union diplomacy – and in the seductive qualities of sunny Greek islands. This explains why, as the current chairperson of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), she is proposing that all 56 OSCE countries send their foreign ministers to a Greek island in July for some serious but informal talks on European security.

“We’d have more than 24 hours of really open talks, without any restrictions,” she told me enthusiastically this morning in Brussels. Read more