Monthly Archives: December 2010

Over at the Liberal Democrats’ huddle, everyone did their best to say as little as possible about the particulars of the EU’s new bailout fund. Read more

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was one of the last to arrive at the pre-summit gathering of centre-right leaders outside Brussels, but on the way in, she had some calming words to offer.

Some diplomats had feared Merkel would insist on new language to be included in the otherwise benign treaty amendment scheduled to be debated tonight, making the approval process more complicated.

But she told reporters she is backing “very limited treaty change”, a signal there will likely be little opposition from Berlin. Read more

Out at Belgium’s bucolic National Botanic Gardens, where centre-right leaders are having their pre-summit gathering, a hard, cold rain is keeping most heads of government away from the press. Read more

It is a pre-summit tradition in Brussels for the heads of state to divide up and huddle with their fellow partisan big-wigs for a few hours before the main event. The idea is that they are “coordinating their positions” – although one suspects they are probably trading gossip. 

The big excitement this afternoon will be at the gathering of the centre-right European People’s Party in a suburb outside Brussels. The expected attendees include the European Union’s heaviest heavyweights – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and Jose Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, to name a few.

Back in town – and just down the road from the Council building – a handful of Liberal Democrat leaders will congregate, including Ireland’s Brian Cowen, the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte and Finland’s Mari Kiviniemi. 

But one group has called off its pre-summit powwow this time around. That would be the Socialists. A party spokesman said the group had taken the decision because its leaders met just last week at their party conference in Warsaw. Instead, they will make do with a simple pre-summit conference call. Read more

The EU’s final two-day heads of government summit of 2010 starts Thursday and early betting is that it will be much quieter than the last time the 27 leaders assembled in Brussels, a gathering that set off a bond market panic which the continent is still recovering from.

The main event will be Thursday night, when the leaders are expected to sign off on a brief change in the EU’s treaty to allow for the creation of a new financial rescue system to replace the current, temporary €750bn bail-out fund.

There is still some nervousness that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, may push for additional language in the text to make explicit that the new bail-out system can only be accessed as a “last resort,” or ultima ratio in Latin, the phrase being used by the cognoscenti.

But Merkel did not mention the ultima ratio demand in her list of principles before the Bundestag Wednesday, and there seems to be little appetite among other members to let her bulldoze the new language in – particularly since it could cause more confusion among bond traders, who might wonder what all the other resorts are before the last one. Read more

Monday saw the launch of Brussels Leaks, which pretty much does exactly what you would expect a website with the “-leaks” suffix to do.

Like its illustrious forebear, WikiLeaks, Brussels Leaks wants to bring extreme transparency to the decision-making process, with a focus on the European Union.

It’s a fairly rudimentary set-up by a group of moonlighting Brussels professionals working anonymously and with clearly limited resources. Read more

Among the more revealing EU-related disclosures in the WikiLeaks trove are not about Washington’s view of the European Union, but rather about how members of the EU view each other.

One of the more colourful dispatches that have come out thus far is an April 2004 account of an otherwise dull Brussels evening event in which a US official was seated at a table with the featured speaker: Chris Patten, the high-profile British diplomat who at the time was the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner.

Labeled “Dining with Chris: Random Thoughts from Relex” – relex is Euro-speak for the foreign policy, or “external relations,” portfolio – the cable offers Patten’s vivid views on everything from Romania (a “feral nation”) to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin (when discussing Chechnya, “Putin’s eyes turn to those of a killer”). Read more

One of the most high-profile dust-ups between the US and the European Union since President Barack Obama took office was a White House decision to skip out on a May summit with the EU that was to be held in Madrid during Spain’s turn at the bloc’s rotating presidency.

The decision was seen by many Europeans as a snub, and hurt feelings have persisted for months. The issue was raised anew just last month when Obama finally agreed to an EU summit, this time tacked onto a Nato gathering in Lisbon, with the US continuing to insist that the only reason the Spanish summit was scrapped was because of Obama’s already heavy European travel schedule.

But two cables made public as part of the WikiLeaks dump this week present a more complicated picture of the White House decision-making. They make clear that senior US officials believed that there simply was not enough substance to the agenda to make the meeting worthwhile.

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Among the hundreds of confidential US diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks thus far, very few have dealt with Washington’s relations with the EU. But occasionally, EU leaders have popped up in summaries of other international events in which they have only tangentially been involved.

The most pointed EU-related revelation to be released thus far comes in a 2008 cable from the American embassy in Moscow following French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s heated September 8 confrontation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over the Kremlin’s invasion of Georgia.

The US account of the “at times…openly hostile” meeting, where Sarkozy “at one point grabbed FM Lavrov by the lapels and called him a liar in very strong terms,” has been reported widely. Less noticed, however, was Moscow’s reception of José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president.

In a section labeled secret and “noforn,” meaning it was not to be shown to non-American officials, an unnamed French source retells how “the Russians treated Barroso harshly and condescendingly, and tried to exclude him from many of the sessions.” Read more

We have a live Twitter #hashtag chat with Cynthia O’Murchu, FT reporter, on our EU structural funds special investigation. Read more