Monthly Archives: February 2011

If it is axiomatic that success has many fathers, it should be no surprise that many will this week claim parentage to “The King’s Speech”, the low-budget film that ran away with the most Oscars at Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony.

But the European Union?

Monday morning, Androulla Vassiliou, the European commissioner in charge of cultural issues, put out a statement noting the film received €562,000 in “distribution support” from the EU’s Media programme, which spends about €110m per year to promote and distribute European films. Read more

Vladimir Putin and 12 of his ministers blew through Brussels Thursday, reiterating many of their long-stated complaints about the European Union’s energy policies, which Russian leaders believe discriminate against Russian energy giant Gazprom.

But Putin’s remarks on Libya may deserve more scrutiny, especially since the UN Security Council will be meeting today to discuss possible sanctions against the regime of Libyan leader Muammer Gaddafi. Russia is, of course, one of the five permanent members of the security council.

Russia long proven resistant to US and European efforts to impose sanctions against another regional oil producer – Iran – and could prove so again, if the prime minister’s comments at a press conference with José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, are any indication. Read more

Putin and BarrosoIn today’s paper, we have a story about the history of bad blood between Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, an account based on dozens of US diplomatic cables that we got our hands on thanks to WikiLeaks.

The two men are summiting today in Brussels, so we thought it would be worth posting the full text of a cable from the US embassy in Moscow detailing the last time the two men summited in February 2009. Although we have redacted the names of the officials who briefed US diplomats, they included a senior European Commission official and a top diplomat in Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs. Read more

José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, tells Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, that he is confident an agreement over what to do with the euro will be reached when the eurozone member states meet at a summit in March.  Read more

With Libya at risk of becoming the latest North African country to be destabilised by a popular uprising, the European Union’s diplomatic service faces a problem: Tripoli has long been the only capital in Europe’s neighbourhood without an EU diplomatic representation.

Sources in the diplomatic service say that is about to change.

The European Union is to open a representative office in Libya as part of its burgeoning European External Action Service network, they say.

Tripoli has been a gaping hole in EU diplomacy thus far, the only country in the European neighbourhood where its diplomatic service doesn’t have a baseRead more

Belgium sets a dubious record on Thursday when it overtakes post-war Iraq as the country that has gone longest without a government.

It’s a surreal achievement greeted with a mix of amusement and quiet despair in the streets of Brussels. (I speak of “Brussels” as the capital of Belgium here – Eurocrats based in the city pay only passing attention to things Belgian).

For those not following the Kafkaesque saga that is Belgian politics, ever since the government collapsed on April 26th, and after Flemish nationalists became the country’s biggest party in the ensuing June elections, politicians have been unable to patch over linguistic and cultural differences that separate Dutch speakers in Flanders from Francophones in Wallonia. Read more

With all the controversy surrounding succession at the head of the European Central Bank, at least European finance ministers could agree on another ECB succession challenge with quite a bit less conflict.

Peter Praet, a regulation expert from Belgium, has been selected to replace Austria’s Gertrude Tempell-Gugerell on the European Central Bank’s governing council, eurozone finance ministers unanimously agreed during their afternoon gathering in Brussels.

The outcome doesn’t come as much of a surprise: the only other nominee, Slovakia’s Elena Kohutikova, had a lacklustre hearing at the European parliament, even as Praet’s star continued to rise.

But his nomination means there will be no women on the 23-member council, comprised of 17 central bankers from the countries that use the euro, and six executive board members, of which Praet will be one. Read more

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, heads off for a tour of the Middle East and North Africa today – a trip that’s expected to include both Tunisia and Egypt – after coming under quite a bit of criticism for her handling of the upheaval in the region.

But the criticism has not all been in one direction. Ahead of her trip, a senior EU official briefed the Brussels press corps and laid some of the blame for the frequently discordant European reaction to recent events in the laps of national foreign ministers.

“One of the difficulties that we have is making sure that we not only speak with one voice but act with one voice,” the official said. “I mean, how many foreign ministers are in the Middle East now? It’s a bit complicated. The high representative wants to go, but can she go the same day or the day after when three foreign minsters have been? To do what? It’s a real problem.” Read more

Paris lost no time in rebutting yesterday’s study suggesting members of the European Parliament would rather end the monthly to-and-fro between Brussels and Strasbourg.

A statement released by the foreign ministry on Friday was a Gallic blend of rebuke, snub and curtness.

“The question of the seats is judicially mandated by the treaties: these are applicable to member states and to institutions alike,” it reads. Read more

There are plenty of things to like about Strasbourg – the Christmas market, the soaring cathedral and the ambient spirit of Franco-German reconciliation. But you might not want to visit the place 12 times a year.

That appears to be the verdict of members of the European Parliament, who – in one of the European Union’s stranger rituals – decamp to the Alsatian capital roughly once a month for a plenary session. Accompanying them on their journey from Brussels are thousands of journalists, assistants and diplomats – as well as a special trainload of files.

But a new study commissioned by Briton Edward McMillan-Scott, a Liberal Democrat MEP, indicates that 91 per cent of MEPs and their staff find the trip intolerable and would prefer to stay put in Brussels. Schlepping to Strasbourg is inefficient, they say, and takes a toll on their work and emotional life. Read more