European Union diplomats will meet at 3pm today to discuss possible responses to the ongoing violence in Syria. Even before that meeting commences, one thing is clear: The EU’s Big Three are determined to begin work on sanctions against the Assad regime as quickly as possible.
A paper circulated by Germany, France and the UK ahead of today’s meeting, and obtained by the Financial Times, calls for member states to begin the prep work for travel bans and asset freezes against those top Syrian officials responsible for the violent crackdown against protestors.
“Our credibility depends on rapid action. Some steps can and should be taken immediately. Others will require run-up,” the paper states. “But the lesson learnt from other countries in the region is that we should put ourselves in a position to take action as quickly as possible on a wide variety of measures.”
The Big Three are also calling for an arms embargo and a cut-off of EU aid if the regime does not change its behaviour “within in a matter of days.” Read more
With France’s presidential election already in high gear, some top EU diplomats Brussels Blog has talked to in recent weeks are concerned that in the months leading to the summer break, the Brussels agenda could become overwhelmed by the politically sensitive issue of migration.
Tuesday’s summit between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is evidence their concerns are well placed.
For those who haven’t read it yet, it’s worth taking a look at the letter Berlusconi and Sarkozy sent to the EU’s two presidents, Commission chief José Manuel Barroso and Council boss Herman Van Rompuy. Pay special attention to the letter’s section III, where the two propose “enhanced security” in Europe’s visa-free Schengen area. Read more
As Brussels shuts down for the Easter holiday, those of us at the Brussels Blog would like to leave readers with a joyous thought to contemplate over the break: Arnold Schwarzenegger as president of the European Council.
As far fetched as the idea may seem, at least one former advisor to the Governator thinks it’s a runner: Terry Tamminen, who served as cabinet secretary (essentially chief policy advisor) to Schwarzenegger during the Austrian-born movie star’s tenure as California governor.
In a Schwarzenegger profile published in the new issue of Newsweek, Tamminen says he has already raised the possibility with his former boss.
“In the next few years, the EU will be looking for a much more high-profile president – somebody who can unify Europe,” Tamminen is quoted as saying. “The French won’t want a German, and the Germans won’t want an Italian. How about a European-born person who went off to America and…could return to be the Washington or Jefferson of a new unified Europe?” Read more
It’s been something of a rough week for European relations with China after the Spanish government erroneously put out word that Beijing was preparing to invest €9bn in its struggling savings bank. Chalk it up to an over-eager translation of Chinese intentions. Read more
Martin Wolf refers me to this new paper by Paul De Grauwe, The Governance of a Fragile Europe. It very well argued and, I think, entirely convincing. Unless something is done, the prognosis for the eurozone is not good. Here is the abstract: Read more
Talk that Greece has asked for its debt to be restructured and the anti-euro True Finns party gaining ground in the Finnish general election have undermined the single currency. Lex’s Sarah O’Connor and Luke Templeman discuss the economic and political problems facing the eurozone. Read more
What do the following stories have in common?
1. France has started to block trains from Italy to intercept illegal migrants from North Africa.
2. A Eurosceptic party has made big gains in the Finnish general election. Read more
Political junkies throughout Europe will, for one weekend at least, take their eyes away from the ongoing turbulence in Portugal and shift 3,500km to the northeast, where Finnish voters go to the polls on Sunday in what has become one of the most interesting national elections since the outbreak of the eurozone crisis.
As we’ve chronicled in the FT for several months, the once safely pro-EU Scandinavian country has seen an incredible surge in support for the populist True Finns party, which has run on an avowedly anti-euro and “no more bail-outs” platform. A victory for the party, led by MEP Timo Soini, could throw a huge wrench into EU efforts to rescue Portugal.
The final opinion poll going into Sunday’s vote shows True Finns support slipping a bit, however. Last month, a TNS Gallup poll put them in second place at 18.3 per cent, just 2 percentage points behind the front-running centre-right National Coalition party. The latest TNS Gallup survey had them at just 16.9 per cent, however, and a survey issued Thursday by public broadcaster YLE put Soini back in fourth with just 15.4 per cent. Read more
Is it possible that people are overreacting to the crisis at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear facility? Read more
Portugal will be asked to implement sweeping austerity measures and conduct a major privatisation programme when negotiations begin next week to hammer out a likely €80bn bailout package with the European Union and International Monetary Fund. Read more
Another eurozone country has been humbled by its banks. Earlier this week, Portugal’s banks were threatening a bond-buyers’ go-slow unless the caretaker government sought financial help from other European Union countries. After being beaten up in Wednesday’s debt auction, Lisbon has waved the white flag. The country’s caretaker leaders have now admitted that Portugal will need outside help. Read more
As the international community prepares for a gathering of political leaders in Qatar next week to discuss the crisis in Libya, it is worth watching the recent travels to Brussels and other European capitals of Jean Ping, head of the African Union commission. Read more
It has been more than a week since European presidents and prime ministers signed off on a raft of measures to shore up the eurozone’s debt-ridden peripheral economies, but so far the markets haven’t responded the way most leaders hoped – particularly in Portugal, where the ongoing political turmoil has driven borrowing costs to euro-era records just as the country needs to dip back into the market.
There have also been some rather unusual public recriminations from top European Union leaders who feel the so-called “grand bargain” did not go far enough, including Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, and José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president. Read more