Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Spanish press is dominated by Eta’s attack in Mallorca, which left two police officers dead. El País reports that José Antonio Alonso, spokesperson for the ruling PSOE party, says there is “zero” chance of dialogue with the Basque separatist group. El Mundo, meanwhile, says the incident marks “50 years of terror, 50 years of blood and 50 years of fear”.

One of the big stories in France today is the announcement of Renault’s huge first-half loss of €2.71bn. According to Le Figaro, these are the worst results in the company’s history, far beyond the 12.5bn francs lost in 1984 (equivalent to €1.9bn today). France’s second biggest carmaker has been the victim not only of the economic crisis, the paper reports, but also of its ties with Nissan, Avtovaz and AB Volvo. The FT also has the story.
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The German MP whose official car was stolen in Spain – where she was on holiday – continues to drive the agenda of her national press. Süddeutsche Zeitung reports today that the Social Democrats will not name Ulla Schmidt (who is currently Germany’s health minister) in their team for the September elections until they know the results of an investigation into the theft of her car.

Nicolas Sarkozy appeared on French television yesterday to reassure people about his health. The French president was hospitalised on Sunday after falling ill while jogging. He said he had simply been momentarily “overcome by fatigue”; the incident was not, as the Elysée said earlier this week (in a statement they subsequently retracted), related to any “cardiac” problems. Libération has the story. Read more

Today sees the last cabinet meeting in France before the summer recess. Top of the agenda is a controversial proposal to reform the country’s postal service. Libération reports that the reform would introduce a part-privatisation of the post office next year, which unions complain will damage working conditions and service. The draft legislation will be debated by parliament in September. The unions plan to mark the discussions with a nationwide day of strikes and demonstrations.

In Germany, a scandal over the use of official cars has stalled the Social Democrat party’s campaign for the Septemeber general election, writes Die Presse. Ulla Schmidt, health minister and a Social Democrat, recently had her official chauffeur-driven Mercedes stolen in Spain, where she was on holiday. Yesterday it was reported found. Several other ministers, all of whom happen to be Social Democrats, subsequently admitted that they were also using their official vehicles during vacation – but of course only for official business. Polls show the Social Democrats lagging 15 per cent behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right coalition. Read more

The German and Austrian press devote much coverage to Volkswagen’s takeover of Porsche, also reported in depth in the FT this morning. According to Germany’s Die Welt, the takeover has sparked renewed debate over the so-called VW law, which protects the car company against hostile takeovers. Centre-right MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne is quoted as saying the European Commission should challenge the law – but it’s unlikely to do so, the paper argues, because Commission President José Manuel Barroso wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Elsewhere in the Germanophone press, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports on Iceland’s application to join the EU, saying it may take longer than expected to reach its more-than-likely successful conclusion. Die Presse writes that negotiations over access to the country’s fisheries, a key sector of its troubled economy, may present an obstacle. Read more

Further comment today on Tony Blair’s candidature for the EU presidency (should the position come into being under the Lisbon Treaty, of course).

Le Figaro makes the case for the former British prime minister, saying that with a job description yet to be defined, a prestigious title and the option of staying in office after the two-and-a-half-year term comes to an end, the position would suit him perfectly. However, the writer questions why Gordon Brown felt it so urgent to announce his support for his former boss, arguing that early candidatures have a habit of fizzling out. Read more

Plenty of banking news in the European press today. Some selected highlights:

Germany is considering nationalising parts of its banking sector by force, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung. The government has reached the conclusion that its bad bank scheme stands no chance of increasing credit flows, the report argues, and it is now looking to the US and the UK for ways of doing so. The apparent move has been driven by fears of further economic trouble coinciding with a general election at the end of September. Read more

Is the “Stop Barroso” campaign finally running out of steam?  Leaders of the main political groups in the European Parliament have pencilled in September 16 as the day when they will hold a vote on whether to confirm José Manuel Barroso for a second five-year term as European Commission president.

If this arrangement holds, then it will mark a defeat for the anti-Barroso forces who wanted to delay the vote until after Ireland held its October 2 referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty.  They were striving to create a situation in which (assuming the Irish voted Yes) the EU would simultaneously choose its first full-time president, the bloc’s new foreign policy high representative and the Commission president.  In such circumstances, they hoped, Barroso would no longer be a shoo-in to run the Commission.  Other candidates would emerge.  Haggling would ensue.  It would (they dreamed) be adeus, José Manuel. Read more

If it were not funny, it would be tragic.  The UK Conservative party’s decision to quit the European People’s Party (EPP), the main centre-right political group in the European Parliament, is backfiring on the Tories in spectacular fashion.  The decision was always daft – a bit like the right wing of the US Republican Party splitting off and forming a minority group in Congress – but it now looks more short-sighted than ever.

On Tuesday the Tories relinquished the leadership of their new “anti-federalist” faction, the so-called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, to Michal Tomasz Kaminski, a Polish politician.  They felt obliged to do so after Edward McMillan-Scott, a Tory MEP, refused to respect a deal in which Kaminski had been promised one of the parliament’s prestigious vice-presidency posts. Read more

Jerzy Buzek’s election as president of the European parliament yesterday provided a temporary let up in the speculation surrounding who will land the more powerful jobs leading the Commission and as first permanent president of the Council. Very temporary.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Franco-German Green MEP still best known for his May 1968 antics, is now suggesting José Manuel Barroso should get the Council job “as a “perfect compromise” and a “face-saving” move for both the European Parliament and the EU heads of state and government,” reports Euractiv, a Brussels-beltway news service. (That would leave the Commission job open for a centre-left candidate, one assumes). Read more

Jerzy Buzek is the new president of the European Parliament. There isn’t much power associated with the job, but it will be seen as a symbol of new member states gaining influence in Brussels. “For my country, it’s very important,” Mr Buzek told the Financial Times before the vote. “And for new member states – I hear it in parliament all the time – it would have a lot of symbolic importance.”

Perhaps Mr Buzek’s election really does reflect a change in power structures. “Poland was so eager to win the post that, according to one senior E.U. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, Prime Minister Donald Tusk held no fewer than 15 meetings to lobby other heads of state and party leaders,” says the International Herald Tribune. Read more