Whether it’s climate change, foreign policy or the increasingly alarming fiscal crisis, the European Union’s difficulties can be summed up in one word: disunity. After December 1, when the EU’s Lisbon treaty came into force, disunity was supposed to be a thing of the past. Instead, disunity has proved to be very much a thing of the present. What’s more, the Lisbon treaty may – at least in the short term – be making matters worse.
Take the world conference on climate change at Copenhagen in December. According to Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s incoming climate change commissioner, disunity – in the sense of a cacophony of European voices – was an important factor behind the ability of other powers to brush aside the EU’s views. “Those last hours in Copenhagen, China, India, Japan, Russia and the US each spoke with one voice, while Europe spoke with many different voices. Sometimes we spend so much time agreeing with one another that when finally the EU comes to the international negotiations, we are almost unable to negotiate,” she told her confirmation hearing at the European Parliament last month. Read more
From central Ukraine and capital Kiev, a leading oligarch, a bar owner, a foreign investor and ordinary hard-hit people discuss what the new president needs to do to mend Ukraine’s broken economy. Read more
President Barack Obama’s decision not to travel to Spain in May for a US-European Union summit does not come as a great surprise to EU policymakers. They knew weeks ago that he had gone cool on the idea. Nonetheless, it will hurt. It will be read as a signal from the White House that the president doesn’t think the meeting would be especially productive. And that speaks volumes about how other powers, even allied countries such as the US, view the EU as a force on the global stage.
“An unsentimental President Obama has already lost patience with a Europe lacking coherence and purpose,” wrote Nick Witney and Jeremy Shapiro in a report last November for the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank. “In a post-American world, the United States knows it needs effective partners. If Europe cannot step up, the US will look for other privileged partners to do business with.” Read more
The expression “it never rains but it pours” may seem inappropriate for a Mediterranean country such as Greece. But it was the phrase that sprang to mind when I heard last week that Greek tax collectors are planning to go on strike in protest at the government’s austerity measures. Like the political manipulation of budget data, the inefficiency of the tax system is one of the Greek state’s most glaring weaknesses. How will a tax collectors’ strike help matters?
That said, I do not share the view of German and French government officials who insisted vehemently last week that the solution to Greece’s problems lies almost entirely with the Greeks themselves. If this were the answer, nothing would be simpler than for the Greeks to roll up their sleeves and get on with a 10-year programe of wage restraint and productivity growth. Read more