With good reason the eurozone’s political leaders have been criticised for reacting too slowly to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. But what’s new about that? Slowness often seems to be a defining feature of Europe’s approach to policymaking.
Consider the proposals that are in the air for the creation of a European Monetary Fund to manage Greek-style crises in the future. There is widespread support for such a fund, ranging from the European Commission to Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s centre-right finance minister, and socialists in the European Parliament.
Nothing captures Germany’s anger and frustration with Greece better than the story – if you can call it that – in Tuesday’s Bild, the mass-circulation German tabloid. “Goodbye, euro. Bild gives the drachma back to the bankrupt Greeks.” Beneath the headline is a picture of a well-dressed, bespectacled young man, presumably German, handing a wad of drachmas – a defunct currency – to a rather frightened-looking, middle-aged Greek lady. The message is brutally clear: we Germans don’t want to share the same money as you lot. Drop out of the eurozone and leave us alone.
In this FT video, Victor Mallet, Madrid bureau chief, follows the migrant trail from Tangiers, north Morocco, to an immigration camp in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and across the mouth of the Mediterranean to southern Spain.
He sees how the regions’ economic ties and the financial crisis have shaped the lives of millions of migrants.
If the Greek debt crisis is teaching the European Union some harsh lessons about the design of its monetary union, no less serious is the message coming from Ukraine about the effectiveness of EU foreign policy. Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s newly elected president, agreed a deal with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia last week that gave Moscow a 25-year extension of the right to station its Black Sea fleet in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. In return, Ukraine secured a 30 per cent cut in the price of Russian gas deliveries.
George Papandreou, Greece’s socialist prime minister, is an honourable and courageous politician who has done a great deal in his career to improve his country’s image in the eyes of its European Union partners. So it cannot have been easy for him to announce today that he was requesting the activation of the €40bn-€45bn eurozone-International Monetary Fund financial rescue package for Greece.
No eurozone member-state has suffered such a humiliation since the euro’s launch in January 1999. But Papandreou must have feared, as soon as he took office after last October’s election, that emergency foreign assistance was going to be necessary.
A look at what the euroblogs are saying ahead of the second prime ministerial debate tonight:
Europe and the UK election (Gavin Hewitt, BBC blog)
The election of Dervis Eroglu as Turkish Cypriot president appears at first sight to deal a severe blow to the latest United Nations-sponsored efforts at solving the Cyprus problem. But appearances can be deceptive. There may, in fact, be an opportunity for a breakthrough. Crucially, however, it will require the involvement of the European Union.
Eroglu, 72, is usually dubbed a “hardline nationalist” in the international media on account of his long-standing commitment to Turkish Cypriot independence. This is to miss the point that the Turkish Cypriots are economically dependent on Turkey and Eroglu can hardly act in defiance of the government in Ankara. It is in the Turks’ wider diplomatic interests to bring about a Cyprus settlement. They have already made it plain to Eroglu that they expect him to behave constructively.
Viewed from Brussels, the rise of Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats in Britain’s election campaign is a fantasy come true. For most of its 37 years in the European Union, Britain has been the bloc’s most awkward, cussed member-state. Now, the unthinkable is happening. Britain’s opinion polls are topped by a party whose leader spent five years working at the European Commission and another five years as a MEP in the European Parliament. Gott im Himmel! A Brit who actually understands the place!
And it doesn’t stop there. Clegg studied at the elite College of Europe in Bruges, an institution geared to producing crop after crop of graduates with a lifelong enthusiasm for EU integration. He speaks Dutch, French, German and Spanish, making him as proficient a linguist as such dedicated Europeans as Herman Van Rompuy, the EU’s full-time president, and Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg premier.
Clegg has a Dutch mother, a half-Russian father and three children called Antonio, Alberto and Miguel. There has been no British party leader like him since the EU’s 1957 Treaty of Rome. In fact, you may have to go all the way back to Charles James Fox, the Whig who briefly served as foreign secretary in the Napoleonic wars, to find a British statesman whose mental outlook was so naturally rooted in Europe. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive! Clegg’s emergence is enough to make even the most agnostic Eurocrat think that there must be a god, after all.
Europe’s volcanic ash emergency is, if I may say so, a lot of hot air rather than a genuine threat to the economy. It means that a couple of million people failed to show up at work on Monday - but so what? To us Europeans, there’s nothing so unusual about that.
After all, the Icelandic volcano erupted at the fag end of Europe’s astonishingly long Easter break – a luxurious stretch of two and a half weeks, no less. When you get holidays as long as that, the temptation to stay away from work on the first Monday back, and inhale one more time on Europe’s opiate way of life, can be pretty strong.