Monthly Archives: October 2009

As Tony Blair’s chances of becoming the European Union’s first full-time president fade, so the chances go up that David Miliband will be the EU’s next foreign policy supremo.  This is the picture emerging on the second day of the EU summit in Brussels.

The killer blow to Blair’s prospects was delivered by Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, who let it be known that she would prefer the EU’s first permanent president to come from one of the EU’s smaller states.  By definition, this rules out Blair. Read more

As European Union leaders gather for their two-day summit in Brussels, the word is that the British government’s effort to have Tony Blair selected as the EU’s first full-time president is running into trouble.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just finished a round of afternoon discussions with other European socialist leaders, trying to persuade them that Blair deserves the job.  The talks did not go well. Read more

The fuss over who will be the European Union’s first full-time president is obscuring the less sexy but potentially more important question of who will get the two or three most powerful jobs in the next European Commission.  A good many governments would prefer to see one of their nationals in a truly influential economic policymaking role in the Commission than occupying the EU presidency, which may turn out to be a more hollow job than once foreseen.

Commission president José Manuel Barroso says he will not nominate his new team until EU leaders have chosen their new head of foreign policy, a post that entitles its holder to a Commission seat.  Any country wanting a big economic portfolio at the Commission will therefore steer clear of putting forward a candidacy for the foreign policy job, because there is only one Commission seat for each nation. Read more

Champion of a strong voice for Europe (George Parker and James Blitz, FT)

EU leaders to exchange picks for the presidency (Tony Barber, FT) Read more

With a mere 27 members (all European heads of state or government, admittedly), the electorate that will pick the European Union’s first full-time president and new foreign policy high representative is even smaller than the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals that chooses a new pope.  But this isn’t stopping other European busybodies from trying to muscle in on the decision.

Take the main political groups in the European Parliament, for example.  They have no formal say in the matter whatsoever.  Nonetheless, the parliament’s socialist group appears confident that it has an informal understanding with the centre-right European People’s Party that the full-time EU presidency should go to a EPP politician and the foreign policy post should go to a socialist. Read more

There can be few presidential campaigns that have kicked off with the declaration “I am not a dwarf”.  But this is what Le Monde quotes Jean-Claude Juncker today as saying in the interview in which Luxembourg’s prime minister reveals he would consider being a candidate for the European Union’s presidency “if the call came”.

I have interviewed Juncker and seen him in action more than a few times over the years, and I can confirm that he is not a dwarf – though I have heard other disparaging terms applied to him that need not concern us here.  What most interests me is the enormous gulf in perceptions of Juncker’s potential candidacy between the UK and certain mainland European countries. Read more

Hopes on Czech approval of the Lisbon Treaty (Tony Barber, FT)

EU needs big hitter, says Miliband (George Parker, FT) Read more

This post from the Financial Times’ Brussels blog features a video of Gideon Rachman and Quentin Peel debating the Lisbon treaty ahead of the EU summit.  Read more

There is something fishy about the race to fill two of the biggest jobs going in Europe – the first long-term presidency of the European Union, and the post of EU foreign policy chief.  The closer the EU gets to decision time, the more various unofficial candidates are ruling themselves out or running into difficulties.  As far as concerns the presidency, the latest person to say she doesn’t want to be considered for the job is Mary Robinson, the former Irish head of state.

In some ways, it’s a shame.  The politically independent Robinson commands much respect across Europe and beyond – more than certain candidates I could mention from Belgium and Luxembourg.  It would also be a clever move on the part of the EU’s 27 leaders to put a woman in the presidency and so boost the EU’s profile in the eyes of its citizens. Read more

A single-market celebration (Charlemagne, The Economist)

ECB warns Brussels on hedge-fund rules (Ralph Atkins and Nikki Tait, FT) Read more

Twenty years ago, on October 19, 1989, I found myself in East Berlin reporting on a crisis that was to lead (though very few experts predicted it at the time) to the fall of the Berlin Wall only three weeks later.  I have been asked many times since then if this was the ”best” story I’ve ever covered, in the dual sense of “biggest” and “most enjoyable”.  I have usually answered Yes in the first sense of the question, but No in the second sense.

For the truth is that it wasn’t an enjoyable experience at all.  From early morning to late at night, I spent the day attached to a clunky word processor in a grim, East German government-supervised press centre in Mohrenstrasse, very close to the Wall.  There I churned out thousands upon thousands of words about the accelerating disintegration of the regime for my pitilessly news-driven employers, the Reuters news agency. Read more

Italian police close in on ‘toxic’ shipwreck (Guy Dinmore and Eleonora de Sabata, FT)

Sun blames Brussels as 3,000 jobs are cut (Richard Waters, FT) Read more

Buried in this month’s “Annual Report on the Euro Area 2009″ from the European Commission is some absorbing material on competitiveness in the eurozone.  Some countries, above all Germany, Europe’s export champion, have consistently outshone others in terms of business competitiveness since the euro’s launch in 1999.  The result has been the accumulation of large current account deficits in countries such as Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and Spain – but also in Ireland, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia.

As the Commission says, in impeccably understated language: “The build-up of large external liabilities has increased exposure to financial shocks…  In the current downturn, financial markets have become more responsive to the net external financial asset position for the euro area countries.  Even if to a large extent the net external position is related to the private sector, the public sector can be affected by private sector debt in the form of potential bail-outs and other fiscal implications.” Read more

Global Insight: EU plays waiting game (Tony Barber, FT)

President Blair would give EU clout (Giles Merritt, Guardian Comment is free) Read more

As the fuss continues about whether or not Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, will sign the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to a detail that appears to have been generally overlooked.  It concerns Klaus’s demand for a special protocol or legally binding exemption from the treaty’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which, he says, is necessary to prevent a flood of claims on Czech property from the descendants of the roughly 3m Sudeten Germans expelled from the former Czechoslovakia after the second world war.

Leaving aside Klaus’s dubious assertion that the Charter could be exploited as the basis for such claims, the fact is that the Lisbon treaty already contains a special declaration by the Czech Republic on the Charter.  It is buried near the end of the treaty’s official text in a part called Final Act of the Intergovernmental Conference, Section C: Declarations by Member-States.  The Czech declaration, which is labelled No. 53, sets out the Czech position that “the Charter does not extend the field of application of [European] Union law] and does not establish any new power for the Union”. Read more

Even before he was elected as president of France in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy made it crystal-clear that he didn’t want Turkey to join the European Union - ever.  Now concerns are growing in Brussels that Sarkozy is contemplating a formal Franco-German initiative next year to offer Turkey a “privileged partnership” instead of, as now, the long-term prospect of full EU membership.

The idea of a “privileged partnership” has been around for a good few years.  Sarkozy likes it, and so does Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic party.  It also appeals to Angela Merkel, the CDU chancellor.  However, Merkel has up to now taken a nuanced approach, recognising that Germany, along with other EU countries, recognised Turkey as an official candidate for membership in 1999.  A responsible country cannot just wriggle out of agreements made in good faith, Merkel believes. Read more

Do small countries care about foreign policy? (Charlemagne blog, The Economist)

Havel, still a man of morals and mischief (Alison Smale, New York Times) Read more

Ask a minister in a European Union government what post their country hopes to get in the next European Commission, and the response is the same every time – something important to do with the economy.  Well, you can’t blame people for not hurrying to step into the shoes of Leonard Orban, the Romanian commissioner for multilingualism.

On the other hand, there aren’t enough top economic jobs for Commission president José Manuel Barroso to satisfy everyone.  Truth to tell, the Commission looks too big with 27 members.  But that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it will stay under the EU’s Lisbon treaty.  A guaranteed seat on the Commission seems a simple, visible way of making a country’s citizens feel connected to the EU. Read more

It was inevitable, I think, that Czech President Vaclav Klaus would take his last stand against the European Union’s Lisbon treaty on the Sudeten German issue.  This has been one of the most highly charged themes of Czech politics since the former Czechoslovakia threw off communism in 1989.  By raising it, Klaus aims to break out of the extreme political isolation into which his hostility to Lisbon has pushed him on both the Czech and the wider European stage.  But it is a step that smacks of desperation as much as of calculation.

The Sudeten German question touches a genuinely raw nerve among some Czechs.  It relates to the several million ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of the second world war at the behest of the Prague authorities, who were convinced – with good reason - that large numbers of the German minority had served as a Nazi fifth column.  Some Czech politicians have proved willing to play on the fears of ordinary Czechs that descendants of the Sudeten Germans may one day succeed, through legal action, in reclaiming the property of which their forebears were stripped. Read more

UN warns EU against scapegoating migrants (Stanley Pignal, FT)

Latvian contagion (Lex, FT) Read more