Monthly Archives: September 2010

Great news for the Vatican’s diplomats: Google has added Latin as one of the languages in its computer-translation service.

Google Translate is like a guilty secret in the corridors of Brussels: everyone uses it, but no-one dares admit it lest their lacunae in German, French or Estonian should expose them as bad Europeans. Linguistic ability is an essential trait for career success in an institution which has 23 official languages.

Google’s online translations are far from perfect, as even its engineers admit. But for those keen to get the gist of an official document or browse the newspaper headlines from across Europe, it is an invaluable service.

That Brussels should have become a beneficiary of Google Translate seems only fair as it was an unwitting backer to the service at its inception. Read more

Peter Spiegel

Fresh off Turkey’s recent national referendum approving constitutional reforms officials hope will move the country closer to EU membership, Ankara’s chief EU negotiator, Egemaen Bagis, was making the rounds in Brussels this week in an attempt to restart the stalled effort. Read more

Brussels got a welcome burst of colour today as tens of thousands of trade unionists converged on its boulevards to express outrage at planned public spending cuts. Read more

For Europe, this is the pivotal week in which sweeping new rules will be introduced to overhaul the way that governments manage their finances. Read more

It is not easy building a brand new European diplomatic corps. First, there is all the squabbling between the European Union’s old and new member states and rival institutions about how to divvy up the jobs. If that were not enough, there is the dawning age of austerity, which means that European leaders like David Cameron, the UK prime minister, are increasingly demanding that the job be done on the cheap.

For Lady Ashton, Europe’s first foreign policy chief, and the architect of its new external action service, there may be no easy solution to the first challenge. Some worthy constituent – be it Poland or the European Parliament – will surely feel slighted by her appointments. (In fact, they already do). Read more

Those looking for gritty details of fraught European politics will enjoy today’s Le Monde newspaper, which delves into the Roma-themed spat that erupted last week.

Its Brussels team has painstakingly recreated the lunch at Thursday’s European summit, the scene of a breath-taking clash between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and European Commission head José Manuel Barroso. Read more

After yet another of their periodic public spats, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel are trying – yet again – to mend fences, this time on the margins of the U.N. poverty conference in New York.

Their mini-summit occurred Monday, less than a week after an E.U. conclave where the French president claimed the German chancellor not only supported his controversial policy of shutting down camps housing impoverished Roma, but that she was also planning on closing similar camps in Germany. Read more

Given the messy state of their own affairs, the prospect of Belgium’s EU presidency raised nervous eyebrows in Brussels before the summer break. Unable to form a government in their own country since April, how could the Belgians possibly run one that binds together 27 member states?

Nigel Farage, the euro-loathing UK Independence Party leader, delighted at this predicament on the floor of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. “You still can’t form a government in your own country, and yet you’re presidents of the European Union!” Mr Farage snorted. “Whichever way you look at it, the whole thing is a bit of a dog’s dinner, isn’t it?”

Well – Mr Farage notwithstanding – the emerging consensus is that the Belgians are proving rather effective. At least so far. Read more

Viviane Reding was the star of the European Commission’s surprisingly blunt condemnation of France for its treatment of the Roma. And rightfully so. The prepared statement read by the famously helmet-haired commissioner on Wednesday forcefully punctuated weeks of caution and dissembling by the commission. More than one Brussels correspondent expressed shock at the outbreak of bonafide news at the typically somnolent midday briefing. Read more

What if 27 European leaders – and their respective foreign ministers – gathered in a room and had nothing much to talk about? That is the dilemma confronting the European Union on the eve of this Thursday’s summit in Brussels. Read more

A strike on the London Underground marks a rude reminder that the holidays are over, and grim reality returns. But the transport chaos in London failed to disrupt a special occasion at the headquarters of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development this week. Read more

It has long been apparent that presidents of the European Commission secretly aspire to being treated like presidents of the US. I remember being present in the Commission press room, when Romano Prodi – the Commission president who preceded José Manuel Barroso – came to speak to the journalists. Prodi’s press secretary, presumably acting under instructions, announced loudly – “Ladies and Gentlemen, the president.” I was sitting in the front row and burst out laughing, and got a dirty look for my pains. I really wasn’t trying to be rude. It was just a genuinely ludicrous moment. Read more