Monthly Archives: November 2009

The FT’s Brussels blog is taking a break and will return soon.

Why commercial property in Spain is like Monopoly Read more

From the FT’s Westminster blog

Cathy Ashton is Europe’s new foreign policy supremo. Even friends are stunned that someone so low key could have been elevated to such a high profile job. To date she has served as EU trade commissioner, leader of the Lords, and as a junior justice and education minister. Here are 10 more details about her: Read more

So it looks as if it is to be Herman Van Rompuy, Belgium’s prime minister, as the full-time president, and Catherine Ashton, Britain’s EU trade commissioner, as the foreign policy supremo.  This is the culmination of eight years of efforts, starting with the EU’s Laeken Declaration of 2001, to reform the bloc’s institutions and give the EU a more dynamic world profile.

Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, thinks the EU had a historic opportunity in its grasp and flunked it – at least as far as the full-time presidency is concerned.  The British government itself was saying more or less the same thing until tonight.  It was adamant that the EU needed a big-hitter as president to convince the rest of the world that the EU was going places.  Now it has participated in a classic EU trade-off that has produced exactly the result it said would be no use to anyone. Read more

The sun is shining in Brussels and the sky has an unseasonably blue, cloudless, late-November-in-Rome quality as European Union leaders make their way here for the summit of summits - the event where they will choose the EU’s first full-time president and new foreign policy chief.  I wonder if the weather will be so fine when the leaders finally drag themselves away from the negotiating table after what is shaping up to be a night of relentless hard bargaining.

By general consent, the frontrunner is Herman Van Rompuy, the amiable, haiku-writing Belgian prime minister.  Even a speech he gave in 2004 that reveals him to be an implacable opponent of Turkey’s entry into the EU (Turkey has been an official candidate for the past four years) doesn’t seem to be doing Van Rompuy any harm.  Well, why should it?  It fits in perfectly with the views of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Read more

My colleague Philippe Ricard wrote a fine piece in Monday’s Le Monde about the scarcity of women candidates for top positions in the European Union – not just the first full-time president and the new foreign policy high representative, but the next 27-member European Commission.

He made the point that if only a few women are nominated to the new Commission, the European Parliament is likely to cause real trouble when the nominees appear for their confirmation hearings, expected to start in December.  The legislature does not have the legal authority to reject individual nominees, but in 2004 it demonstrated that it had the political strength to force their withdrawal when it torpedoed the appointment of Rocco Buttiglione, an Italian conservative, as justice commissioner.  Moreover, the parliament does have the legal power to reject the Commission in its entirety – the so-called “nuclear option”. Read more

The winner of this year’s FT ranking of European finance ministers, France’s Christine Lagarde, talks about tackling the economic crisis. Read more


UK needs different ‘top job’ in Brussels (William Hague, FT) Read more

I confess to a certain surprise at the way that Massimo D’Alema is climbing up the list of candidates for the post of European Union foreign policy chief.  At first sight the former Italian prime minister and foreign minister ticks far too few boxes to get the job.  But there are, in truth, some straightforward reasons for his ascent – none of which reflects well on the EU.

First, the unticked boxes.  1) His communist past.  This is usually condensed into: “He’s a former communist and therefore unacceptable to Poland and other EU countries, which suffered under Soviet domination while the Italian communist party was gorging itself on covert funds from Moscow.”  In fairness, D’Alema abandoned communism 20 years ago.  I spent five years in Rome covering Italian politics, and he never struck me as an extremist or a hardliner.  Quite the opposite: he was highly pragmatic, in a shifty kind of way. Read more

Watch the Bank of Spain’s governor discuss the need to reform the labour market Read more

Enlargement of the European Union is, almost imperceptibly, moving forward once more.  EU foreign ministers are expected next week to forward Albania’s membership application to the European Commission for an opinion.  This is a necessary technical step on the path to entry – small, but important.

The Commission is already preparing opinions on the applications of Iceland and Montenegro.  The opinions will take quite some time to deliver – longer for Albania and Montenegro than for Iceland – but the machinery is now in motion. Read more

There are all sorts of threats to the European Union’s unity, but something tells me that the biggest threat isn’t the Visegrad group.  This appears to be a view not shared by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

Speaking after the October 29-30 EU summit in Brussels, Sarkozy criticised the fact that the leaders of the four Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – had held a pre-summit meeting to co-ordinate their positions.  “If they were to meet regularly before each Council, that would raise some questions,” Sarkozy said. Read more

I was fortunate enough to speak with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Tuesday about how the European Union is going about the task of choosing its first full-time president and its next foreign policy high representative.

The longer our conversation progressed, the more I realised how damaging to editorial standards, not to mention the people’s understanding of politics and government, are the competitive pressures on modern news organisations to be ahead of the rest of the pack.  For this particular EU story has, over the past few weeks, produced a cornucopia of nonsense as every broadcaster and newspaper has fallen over its rivals in a fruitless and fundamentally misguided attempt to show that it, and it alone, has got the lowdown. Read more

If you search for information about Garwolin on the internet, you will find that it is a simple but attractive little town in eastern Poland, about 50km east of Warsaw.  Yet 25 years ago, when I lived in Poland, Garwolin was the scene of a nasty confrontation between the forces of communist secularism and Roman Catholicism that has echoes in a landmark judgement last week by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled that the display of crucifixes in Italian state school classrooms unlawfully restricted the right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their beliefs.  The seven judges contended that the presence of crucifixes could be “disturbing for pupils who practised other religions or were atheists”. Read more

Related reading:  Read more

EU states given stark warning on debt levels (Tony Barber, FT)

Walesa: Collapse of Berlin Wall saved Solidarinosc (Elizabeth Pond, EurActiv) Read more

October 30 saw one of the most important moments so far of Dmitry Medvedev’s presidency in Russia.  On a video blog posted on the presidential website, he squarely addressed the issue of the mass repressions carried out under Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator from the mid-1920s to 1953.  I agree with Tomas Hirst, who wrote on the Prospect magazine blog that this was a brave step on Medvedev’s part.

Medvedev didn’t simply condemn Stalin’s crimes.  He criticised Russians – and, sad to say, there are an awful lot of them – who make excuses for Stalin by saying some supposed “supreme goals of the state” justified the arrest, deportation, imprisonment, execution and death by starvation of millions of people.  It is still quite common to hear Russians defend Stalin by saying that he led the Soviet Union to victory over Nazi Germany.  Significantly, however, Medvedev entitles his video blog “Memory of National Tragedies is as Sacred as the Memory of Victories”.  Read more

The distance separating Britain’s perceptions of the European Union from those of its Continental partners is so vast that the English Channel might as well be the Pacific Ocean.  This was my first thought when I read not just David Cameron’s speech on what steps a future Conservative government would take to limit EU involvement in British affairs, but also the way the speech was reported and the reactions on each side of the Channel.

The Financial Times story, for instance, said Cameron’s speech set out “a very limited programme for European reform” – an interpretation which would raise howls of laughter across much of Europe, where the Conservative leader’s proposals are not viewed as “very limited” and are most definitely not seen as an effort at “reform”. Read more

Anger of GM’s Opel U-turn (Daniel Schäfer, FT)

Oracle braced for EU objections on Sun deal (Nikki Tait, FT) Read more