Monthly Archives: September 2009

Europe ponders how to pressure the Czechs on Lisbon (Charlemagne blog, The Economist)

Brussels targets carbon trading fraud of Copenhagen summit (Ashley Seager, The Guardian) Read more

Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon treaty on Friday should in principle be about the treaty’s contents, not the state of the Irish economy.  But the economy’s collapse over the past 12 months compels both pro-Lisbon and anti-Lisbon forces to confront the question of whether membership of the European Union – and, specifically, of the eurozone – has helped (even saved) Ireland, made things worse, or not made much difference one way or the other.

An interesting angle from which to approach this question is to ask whether Ireland has fared better than another island off the north-west coast of Europe that was thrown into turmoil at almost exactly the same moment last year – namely, Iceland.  Iceland isn’t a EU member and doesn’t use the euro.  Has this accelerated Iceland’s recovery or held it back? Read more

One day I’ll break the habit of only visiting Ireland when there’s a referendum on a European Union treaty.  It can easily mislead you into thinking that the Irish people like nothing better than a passionate ”national conversation” (as the latest faddish expression puts it) about Europe.  In fact, it is closer to the mark to say, as Eamon Delaney does in an article for the Irish magazine Business & Finance, that “Ireland is an island with a self-absorbed political culture which is not all that interested in overseas affairs”.

Be that as it may, I’m back in Dublin and the contrast with the political atmosphere of June 2008, when Irish voters rejected the EU’s Lisbon treaty on institutional reform, is pretty startling.  Fifteen months ago, businessmen and economists I talked with were in no doubt that Ireland was heading into a recession, but none predicted the whirlwind that has wrought unmatched havoc on the economy and come close to destroying the national banking system. Read more

September’s prize for Headline of the Month goes to the sub-editor with the dry sense of humour who put these words at the top of a story about Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister: “Berlusconi is Best Leader in Italy’s History, says Berlusconi.”

The story itself quotes Berlusconi as telling a news conference in Sardinia, where he was hosting talks with Spanish premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero: “I sincerely believe I am by far the best prime minister Italy has had in its 150-year history.”  So the headline, if not the sentiment behind it, cannot be faulted for lack of accuracy. Read more

A Commission report-card (Charlemagne, The Economist)

William Hague on the Lisbon Treaty (Ben Brogan, Daily Telegraph) Read more

In December 1984 western governments detected the first signs of potentially far-reaching change in the Soviet Union when Mikhail Gorbachev, three months before he took over as Communist party leader, went on a trip to London.  Gorbachev greatly impressed Margaret Thatcher, the then prime minister, who saw him as an articulate, vigorous man with whom, famously, she could “do business”.

Is a Gorbachev moment about to happen in European-Chinese relations?  In two weeks’ time, Xi Jinping, China’s vice-president, is due to pay a visit to Europe and, among other activities, spend some time at the European Commission in Brussels.  The parallels with December 1984 are intriguing. Read more

From the FT:

European financial regulation: Big promises fail to dispel prosaic doubts Read more

Since February 1999, when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s anti-bribery convention came into force - with the aim of reducing bribery of foreign officials in international business deals - the US has brought 103 cases, Germany more than 40, France 19 and the UK just one.  So says “Global Corruption Report 2009: Corruption and the Private Sector”, a study published on Wednesday by Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog.

From a British point of view, the report makes uncomfortable reading.  “UK companies still have a long way to go to increase their awareness and adopt robust anti-bribery compliance programmes,” it says. Read more

The colourful posters on Hamburg’s streets tell the story of Germany’s 2009 election.  “We’re electing the chancellor” says the slogan of the Christian Democrats, next to a reassuringly maternal image of Angela Merkel. 

It is at once an idiotically simple but cleverly conceived slogan.  Because Merkel is the incumbent, it communicates the subliminal message to voters that her rivals, and the rivals to the CDU, are smaller in stature.  In particular, it diminishes the Social Democrats, the CDU’s coalition partner.  All the polls show that voters think Merkel makes a better chancellor than Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her SPD foreign minister and challenger, ever would.  Merkel is the CDU’s trump card. Read more

I’m in Hamburg today wondering what would happen if next Sunday’s German election were to produce not some messy, inconclusive result, but a clear-cut victory for one party or the other in the ruling Christian Democrat-Social Democrat grand coalition.  What might this mean for the allocation of top jobs in the European Union?

Of course, unless the opinion polls are wildly wrong, it is inconceivable that the Social Democrats will emerge as the largest party in the Bundestag.  The post-reunification fissures of the German left seem to have doomed the SPD to second place in perpetuity behind the Christian Democrats.  But if the inconceivable were to happen, then Angela Merkel would no longer be chancellor and would presumably be looking for a new challenge and a new job. Read more

Will re-election let Barroso be Barroso? (Charlemagne blog, The Economist)

Hungarian Finance Minister sees end of IMF support (Wall Street Journal) Read more

Now that José Manuel Barroso is safely re-installed as European Commission president for the next five years, it would be tempting to think that – from an institutional point of view, at least – all is well in Brussels.  Tempting, but wrong.

Once again, it is our old friend the Lisbon treaty that is the problem.  On October 2 Irish voters, who rejected the treaty in a referendum in June 2008, will have the chance to reverse their verdict.  Opinion polls indicate that the Yes camp will win this time.  But there is an unmistakeable air of nervousness at the European Union’s headquarters that the polls may not be a reliable guide to the eventual outcome. Read more

In the end, it was all so easy.  A few minutes ago, José Manuel Barroso won approval for a second term as European Commission president, after a vote in the European Parliament that went 382 in his favour and 219 against, with 117 abstentions.

Barroso thus comfortably cleared the threshold of 369 votes – that is, more than half of the 736-seat parliament – that he needed in order to remove any doubts about his political authority over the next five years.  No wonder he was wreathed in smiles as he accepted a congratulatory bouquet of flowers from Cecilia Malmström, Sweden’s European affairs minister. Read more

Slovenia’s announcement last Friday that it is ready to lift its veto on Croatia’s European Union entry talks gave a welcome boost to the EU enlargement process.  Other than Iceland’s decision in July to apply for membership, enlargement has been running into one brick wall after another in the past couple of years.

This is partly because of petty arguments such as the Slovenian-Croatian maritime border dispute (still unresolved, in spite of last Friday’s breakthrough) which held up Croatia’s talks.  But it is also because of a certain fatigue and disillusion in many of the EU’s 27 member-states, especially in western Europe, about admitting new entrants. Read more

The EU’s Zimbabwe dilemma (Blessing-Miles Tendi, The Guardian)

Interview with Declan Ganley (Brian Carney, Wall Street Journal) Read more

It’s less than a week since General Motors agreed to sell Opel, its European arm, to a group led by Magna International of Canada, but already a wave of anger at the implications of the deal is building up.  Nowhere is this more true than in Belgium and the UK, where workers at GM plants seem far more at risk than their colleagues in Germany of losing their jobs.

This episode is, however, about much more than potential job losses.  It’s about Europe’s reluctance to come to terms with huge overcapacity in its car industry.  It’s about how best to preserve a broad manufacturing base in an era when the other main recent driver of European economic growth - lightly regulated financial capitalism – is discredited.  Finally, it is a test of the European Commission’s ability to uphold its strict rules on competition and state aid during the worst recession in the European Union’s history. Read more

Why Barroso deserves another go (Charles Grant, The Guardian)

Brussels is a shining symbol of where the real power lies (Boris Johnson, Telegraph) Read more

Like it or not, the European Union faces the distinct possibility that the latest United Nations-mediated effort at producing a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus dispute will fail.  From a EU perspective, would that be a disaster?  Or just a bit depressing and annoying?  Disaster is a strong word, but the consequences of failure would unquestionably be serious.

Talks between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots have been going on for the past 12 months, and the next round is due to be held on Thursday – having been postponed for a week, because of a row over some Greek Cypriot pilgrims who were trying to visit a church in Turkish Cypriot territory. Read more

When does No mean Yes – or maybe?  I’m not venturing here into the treacherous territory of date rape law, but rather thinking of what politicians say when they’re asked if they want to be the European Union’s first permanent president.

Take Felipe González, Spain’s socialist prime minister from 1982 to 1996.  Rumours have swirled around Brussels for months that González is interested in the job and that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France would be pleased to see him get it.  González’s fellow Spaniard, Javier Solana, who is the EU’s foreign policy high representative, is on record as saying last June that he believes the ex-premier “has the energy and the capacity for the job”. Read more

After the fall of communism in central and eastern Europe, one compelling argument for bringing the region into the European Union was that the experience of prosperity, democracy and everyday multinational co-operation would ease national and ethnic tensions there.  Who knew, perhaps eventually it would get rid of them altogether, just as France and Germany were gradually reconciled after the second world war?

A flare-up of tensions last month between Slovakia and Hungary will serve as proof, to those western Europeans who were always hostile to enlargement, that such hopes were premature.  Worse still, it will confirm them in their opinion that, by admitting the two countries in 2004, all the EU succeeded in doing was to trap a nasty virus inside its own borders. Read more