The Brussels blog is taking a break and will return during the week of January 4. Read more
The biggest fights at European Union summits are usually about money. It’s no different this time. At their final summit of 2009, the EU’s 27 national leaders have been wrestling in Brussels with the question of what contributions each country should make to a “fast-start” fund to help developing countries address climate change.
It looks as if EU governments will come up with an offer of about €2bn a year – much of it coming from rich countries such as France, Sweden and the UK - for the three-year period of 2010 to 2012. “Anything above €2bn will be an impressive offer,” European Commission president José Manuel Barroso said this morning. Read more
Seen from continental Europe, one of the biggest questions of 2010 concerns David Cameron, leader of the UK’s opposition Conservative party. The Tories are widely expected to win the forthcoming British election, but few European Union politicians can claim with confidence to know where he truly stands on the all-important matter of Britain’s relationship with the EU.
The lack of clarity isn’t helped by the Tories’ distant relationship with their fellow EU centre-right parties. I am in Bonn at a congress of the European People’s Party, the leading centre-right party group. Everyone who matters is here: Germany’s Angela Merkel, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, Herman Van Rompuy (the newly appointed full-time EU president)… Countries from Malta to Latvia and Georgia to Croatia are represented. But there are no Conservative party politicians at all here – not Cameron, not William Hague, his shadow foreign secretary, not Kenneth Clarke, the only authentically pro-EU voice in the shadow cabinet. Read more
Is it Islamophobia, ignorance, a crisis of European identity, a problem of a poorly integrated minority community, or something of all of these?
According to an opinion poll published in today’s Le Soir , one of Belgium’s leading newspapers, some 59.3 per cent of Belgians support a ban on the construction of new minarets in their country. This is about 2 per cent more than the proportion of Swiss who voted in a referendum last month to halt the building of new minarets. Read more
By Stefan Wagstyl, eastern Europe editor
Small European countries generally make international news only when they get into trouble, as crisis-hit Latvia has found to its cost. Read more
It passed largely unnoticed by the outside world, but perhaps the most intriguing event in European foreign policy last week was a visit paid to Belarus by Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. The European Union has kept Belarus at arm’s length for years because of the repressive domestic policies of President Alexander Lukashenko. Berlusconi was the first western head of government to go to Minsk for well over a decade.
There was something surreal about the visit. Lukashenko, once dubbed Europe’s last dictator, praised Berlusconi as “a global, planetary man of politics, our friend”. Berlusconi responded: “Thank you, and thanks to your people who, I know, love you, as is demonstrated by the election results which everyone can see.” One can only assume this was an example of Berlusconi’s famous sense of humour. Read more
There is an amusing and rather revealing story doing the rounds in Brussels about a conversation that took place at last month’s European Union-Russia summit in Stockholm.
In the course of a conversation with European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a mischievous allusion to the EU’s imminent institutional changes, under which Barroso will for the first time deal with a full-time EU president representing the bloc’s 27 governments – Herman Van Rompuy, Belgium’s ex-prime minister. Read more
Next week’s summit of European Union leaders faces an important choice on Turkey. Should the EU toughen existing measures that are holding up Turkey’s EU accession talks, because of Ankara’s refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic? Or should the EU recognise that this would send completely the wrong message, just when Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders are trying to reach a comprehensive settlement of the long-standing Cyprus dispute?
Precisely because the EU is divided on the Turkish question – the Greek Cypriot-run government of Cyprus wants a strong line, and other countries are split between supporters and opponents of Turkey’s entry into the EU – it seems unlikely that a consensus can be reached in favour of placing additional obstacles in the path of Turkey’s negotiations. Read more