Monthly Archives: May 2009

The closer the European Parliament elections, the sneakier the stratagems of British centre-right politicians and activists in Brussels.

As David Cameron made clear on May 18 when he launched the election campaign of his opposition Conservative party, the Tories are poised to leave the mainstream European People’s Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) group soon after the vote.  They plan to set up a new centre-right group in the EU legislature that would be strongly opposed to more EU political and economic integration. Read more

My eyes bulged in amazement last week when I read the news from Germany.  The policeman who shot dead an innocent civilian in a West Berlin street demonstration in 1967, an event that set off more than a decade of leftwing violence in West Germany and influenced the country’s political direction for even longer, turns out not to have been an ordinary Berlin cop at all.  He was an agent of the communist East German Stasi secret police.

As historical revelations go, this is hard to beat.  US-based bloggers have made the point that it is as if the infamous 1970 killings of four students at Kent State University had been carried out not by the Ohio National Guard but by KGB men infiltrated on to the campus. Read more

It’s quiz time, and here’s your starter for ten.  Which 18-year-old hottie home-breaker, as the European tabloid press is calling her, recently made the immortal statement:  “I want to be a showgirl.  But I’m also interested in politics.  I am flexible.”

Yes, it’s Noemi Letizia, the teenager at the centre of a divorce suit launched against 72-year-old Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi by his wife, Veronica Lario.  Reading the interview that young Noemi gave to the Corriere del Mezzogiorno newspaper (“I often sing with Papi Silvio at the piano, or we do karaoke”), it’s hard to know who to feel more sorry for – Lario, Noemi’s ex-fiancé Gino Flaminio, or the entire 60m Italian people. Read more

Like an athletics race in a deserted stadium, the campaign for the European parliamentary elections is set for a tense finish – and few except the most dedicated fans are watching. Read more

The use of “ethnic profiling” by European police forces dates back to well before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.  Since then, there is no doubt that the practice has become more widespread in Europe.  But in terms of preventing or solving crimes, how useful is it?

A study published today by the Open Society Justice Initiative, which campaigns for law reform and the protection of human rights, argues that ethnic profiling is “may be pervasive, but it is inefficient, ineffective and discriminatory… Ethnic profiling strikes at the heart of the social compact linking law enforcement institutions with the communities they serve.  It wastes police resources, discriminates against whole groups of people, and leaves everyone less safe.” Read more

Never mind the recession, what about the après-crise?  Hope springs eternal in the human breast, wrote Alexander Pope.  And so it is that fashionable Europeans are devoting their thoughts not to the mundane matter of extracting their continent from the worst economic crisis in four generations, but to the altogether more interesting question of how to enjoy the post-recession future. Read more

Interactive map: the election campaign across Europe FT

Q&A: guide to the European elections FT Read more

Tony Barber is away. The Brussels blog will return towards the end of May.

Opinion polls show that the general European public has got only the vaguest idea of what the European Parliament does. So here is a personal six-point guide:

1. The parliament has equal power with the Council of Ministers (national governments) in deciding most European Union-wide laws. This will increase to cover virtually all EU legislation if the Lisbon treaty comes into force next January. Read more

Across Europe, politicians of various political stripes are stamping their feet in impotent fury. José Manuel Barroso, the centre-right Portuguese leader who has served as European Commission president since 2004, seems strongly placed to secure a second five-year term. His enemies and critics would love to stop him, but all they can do is boo from the sidelines like disappointed children.

Barroso’s adversaries, especially on the left, have only themselves to blame. If they wanted to torpedo his reappointment, they should have put forward a candidate for Commission president in next month’s European Parliament elections. But petty rivalries, unseemly personal ambitions and a good deal of incoherent political tactics put paid to that. By contrast, Europe’s centre-right parties rallied behind Barroso, even if some supporters held their noses when they agreed to back him. Read more

A new website,, was launched this week with the noble aim of improving transparency in the European Union affairs’s and perhaps even raising the quality of EU public debate. Its main achievement is that, for the first time, it makes the voting records of members of the European Parliament available online. Later this year or early in 2010, the website will be expanded to include coverage of votes in the EU’s Council of Ministers, which groups the 27 member-states’ governments. Read more

There is a wonderful scene in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”, the 1979 movie that satirizes religion, in which two bungling terrorist groups, the People’s Front of Judea and the Campaign for Free Galilee, conduct simultaneous raids on Pontius Pilate’s palace and end up fighting each other rather than the Romans, their common enemy. This is the scene that comes to mind when one looks at the European Union’s recent diplomatic interventions in the Middle East.

The trouble started in January with the embarrassing spectacle of two separate European missions - one led by the Czech Republic in its capacity as holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, and the other led by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France – touring the region in an attempt to calm down the Gaza conflict. One or two countries, notably the Czechs, appeared distinctly more sympathetic to the Israeli notion of justified self-defence against Hamas than did the majority of EU member-states. Read more

The Czech hosts of Thursday’s European Union summit with six ex-Soviet states are not happy bunnies. The list of the EU leaders who couldn’t be bothered to show up for the Eastern Partnership event in Prague, a highlight of the Czechs’ six-month EU presidency, was embarrassingly long.

Let’s take them one by one. Read more

Just two hours after the Czech upper house of parliament passed the European Union’s Lisbon treaty on Wednesday by a comfortable margin, I found myself in the Prague offices of Mirek Topolanek, the outgoing Czech prime minister. Tired but in good humour, he clearly wanted to hammer home the message that his turbulent four months running the Czech Republic’s EU presidency had been more successful than his critics allowed.

Like his country, which is a medium-sized EU member-state, Topolanek is a figure of medium-sized Shakespearean dimensions – a Coriolanus, not a Hamlet. He has done the noble thing by helping to get Lisbon passed. But he will be out of power on Friday, and he doesn’t want or expect praise from the plebeians elsewhere in the EU. Read more

Here I am in Prague – a disappointingly wet Prague, for early May – as tensions mount ahead of a vote in the Czech Senate on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. Officials in the government of Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, which collapsed in March but will not finally leave office until Friday, appear confident that the Senate, parliament’s upper house, will approve the treaty – probably by late afternoon today (Wednesday).

But if that’s what happens, it won’t be thanks to any stirring oratory from Topolanek. Speaking to the senators just now, he’s said that he isn’t a passionate enthusiast for the Lisbon treaty, but ”it’s the price for membership of the club”. Read more

Let me tell you, you can learn a lot from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In its latest social indicators survey, Society at a Glance 2009, the Paris-based OECD discloses that French people spend longer asleep than any other nation that belongs to this elite club of the world’s advanced economies. To be precise, an average French person sleeps for eight hours and 50 minutes every day, a good hour or so more than the average Korean or Japanese. Read more

When Olli Rehn, the European Union’s enlargement commissioner, underwent his confirmation hearings in 2004, he was asked what goals he hoped to achieve by the end of his five-year spell in office. He named six: a) a EU of 27 member-states, b) Croatia’s entry negotiations in their final stage, c) other western Balkan states put on a EU path through association agreements, d) Turkey firmly on the European track, e) Kosovo’s status settled, and f) Cyprus reunified.

Speaking last Friday at a conference in Prague to mark the fifth anniversary of the EU’s “big bang” expansion from 15 to 25 (and later 27) members, Rehn claimed that he had met five of his six targets. Only Cyprus’s reunification was missing. But even on Cyprus it wasn’t all doom and gloom – talks on a comprehensive settlement had been going on since last September. Read more