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. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.” 

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. 

Interactive map: the election campaign across Europe FT

Q&A: guide to the European elections FT 

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. 

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.