The German presidency of the EU will be remembered for the deal on fighting climate change and the outline agreement on a replacement for the constitution.
But aides to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso’s speak of another less remarked upon achievement of Angela Merkel during her stint in the hotseat: the development and delivery of a tough European line towards Vladimir Putin – epitomised at the fractious Samara summit in Russia.
After years of disunity and fawning by Gerhard Schroder, Ms Merkel’s predecessor, and Jacques Chirac, the former French president, Europe now has a set of leaders prepared to be frank with Moscow. Nicolas Sarkozy, whose family hail from Hungary, and Gordon Brown are not starry-eyed about Putin.
Just in case you know George Parker, I am a student. And as you may have guessed, I am not George Parker. I am Brian Parker, George’s youngest brother, and for the last 4 days I’ve been doing work experience here in Brussels with George, learning about the typical week of a journalist, which is, surprisingly if I’m honest, interesting. Oh, and I’m 14, so cut me some slack.
While my first day was certainly fun, I wasn’t exactly eased into things. My day began by attending the EU commission’s mid-day briefing (it seemed like a big thing at the time) and followed by lunch with an ambassador, though to be on the safe side I’m not saying which one. While I have since come to realise that I could learn to love a job that counts four-course meals as ‘work’, at the time all I could do was worry. A lot.
Though I had read up on as much about the EU as I possibly could before coming to Brussels, the briefing still went way over my head. Possibly because the speakers were using what I’ve generally heard referred to as technobabble. Probably because I was still thinking about the upcoming lunch with a person who, though not famous, was, certainly important.
Brussels has never taken to Gordon Brown. The man who refused to let Britain join the euro is seen by some as a scowling eurosceptic, who only turned up at monthly Ecofin councils to lecture other finance ministers.
Most European capitals know little about the new prime minister: unlike Tony Blair he does not have a big network of foreign politicians he can call friends. But there is a willingness to give the new man the benefit of the doubt and see whether the move from Number 11 to 10 Downing St will change his style.
My guess is that he will, not least for domestic political reasons. By projecting himself as a hard-headed pro-European he hopes to present David Cameron’s Conservatives as a bunch of eurosceptic obsessives, happier in the company of climate change-denying Czechs than mainstream Christian Democrats.
Mr Cameron has already helped him with this strategy by pulling the Tories out of the moderate European People’s Party, alienating such allies as Germany’s Angela Merkel. The folly of this policy was highlighted in brutal style by Quentin Davies, the Tory MP who defected to Labour this week.
Another sign of possible things to come was the appointment on Thursday of David Miliband, a personable pro-European, as Britain’s new foreign secretary. Miliband founded the Centre for European Reform, a Blairite think tank, and has long espoused an active British engagement in the EU. Read more
Nicolas Sarkozy used the French election campaign to resurrect the old whine about "fiscal and social dumping": the idea that impoverished eastern European countries are undercutting companies in the west through lower tax rates and poor working conditions.
There are at least three good reasons why the French president should stop stoking those fears. First, there is scant evidence that jobs are really being "delocalised" to low-cost destinations in the east in large numbers. Such cases that exist are usually well publicised precisely because they are so rare.
Second, Mr Sarkozy is not going to get anywhere in his campaign to force eastern countries to put up their tax rates (like Slovakia’s 19 per cent flat tax). These countries do not have France’s excellent public services or transport systems and have to compete somehow. Tax is a national issue, not a matter for the EU or Paris.
Jean-Claude Trichet, European Central Bank chief, won some grudging admiration from trade union bosses in Seville after giving a typically urbane explanation of why workers had to keep their pay claims down for the sake of the economy.
Mr Trichet argued at the European Trade Union Confederation’s four-yearly congress that low pay rises equalled low inflation, equalled stability, equalled more opportunities for the comrades’ unemployed brethren. "He was pretty good," admitted one veteran union baron.
If he had not been plausible he might have been given a much tougher time during a panel debate with senior union leaders I happened to be chairing. Because workers feel it is time they got their share of what has so far been almost a "payless recovery".
Estonia’s problem may be about to become Europe’s problem. The Russian outrage sparked by the Baltic state’s decision to remove a Soviet war memorial from Tallinn city centre could have wider ramifications for the whole of the EU.
The rowdy demonstrations outside Estonia’s embassy in Moscow, backed by vitriolic comments in the Russian media, have been worrying enough for diplomatic families to be sent home out of harms way.
Estonia, as an EU member, rightly expects support from the rest of the Union. On Wednesday Germany, holder of the EU presidency, insisted that Moscow respects its obligations to protect embassies, diplomatic staff and their families.
In the big power centres of Europe, there was a sigh of relief on Sunday as Nicolas Sarkozy emerged unscathed from his "cowboy" photo-op in the Carmargue and with a healthy lead in the first round of the presidential elections.
Although Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain’s socialist prime minister, might hope Segolene Royal wins (to replace his old quasi-socialist chum Jacques Chirac) most of the rest of Europe’s big leaders would have voted for Sarko.
That includes Angela Merkel, German chancellor, Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, and British "socialists" Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, neither of whom have even met their comrade Ms Royal.
Is fraud endemic in the European institutions? You might think so, reading the coverage of the revelations that three Italians have been arrested in a multi-milllion euro case involving bribery and forgery involving public tenders for EU buildings overseas.
The allegations of fraud lasting more than 10 years are shocking, and have been presented in some media as the latest manifestation of a sickness at the heart of the European Union. While the particulars of the case are grim, I’m not sure the problem is as chronic as some believe.
Before I’m accused of being a Brussels apologist, could I plead that I was the journalist whose interview with Marta Andreasen, the sacked EU chief accountant, put her story on the front page of the FT and helped to establish her as a eurosceptic martyr? My colleague, Tobias Buck, broke the Eurostat fraud scandal.
José Manuel Barroso raised a few titters in Berlin at the weekend with his assertion that "size matters" – a reference to the fact that the 480m people of the European Union made it a big player in the world.
I took away from the EU summit in Berlin a different impression: the little things matter. Strip away the speechifying and the Berlin declaration – a worthy enough attempt to mark the Union’s 50th birthday – and what will linger from the summit was the fact that 27 European leaders (and their spouses) actually seemed to have a good time.
That may sound trivial, but sometimes European Union leaders spend so much time slagging off Brussels or other national leaders that they forget that they are in this together, they have things in common, and they need to make it work.
Gordon Brown knows how to deliver a budget. His last financial statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday contained the usual bullish economic optimism (of course) and a surprise: a cut in the basic rate of income tax.
So much we know. For all the criticism of Mr Brown’s personal style, his macro-economic record in the UK is envied by many in Europe. But can Mr Brown, prime minister-in-waiting, translate his economic standing into real influence in Brussels?
There are signs that Mr Brown is starting to take Europe more seriously. His lieutenant, Treasury minister Ed Balls, has been a regular visitor to Brussels projecting a less abrasive face than that usually seen from the chancellor’s camp. Read more
Poland could be about to make life much harder for Angela Merkel, German chancellor, as she tries to give the kiss of life to the EU’s comatose constitutional treaty. Warsaw is threatening to reopen one of the treaty’s most contentious issues: how much power each country should have in the Council of Ministers, the Union’s main legislative body.
"The proposed voting system in the EU constitution mostly hits Poland, according to mathematicians," said Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland’s prime minister last week. I don’t know which mathematicians he’s been speaking to, but he’s plain wrong.
The real maths behind the argument are fascinating, because they underscore a traditional Polish suspicion of their western neighbours – a factor which could make a Poland-Germany summit this week on the Baltic coast especially tricky.
David Cameron’s new Movement for European Reform is a strange thing. Launched by the British Conservative leader on Tuesday in Brussels, there were several things which struck me as slightly unusual about the inauguration of this new centre-right group.
The first was the fact that the Conservatives had gone to the trouble to bring along about 90 students from London schools to "see at first hand" Europe’s future being discussed: they also performed the useful role of filling empty seats at the back of the hall and looking youthful.
The second is the fact that the Movement for European Reform – which is intended to pave the way in 2009 to the creation of a new political group in the European parliament – does not actually really exist.
There was a time when the spring European Council was dedicated to questions of economic reform – the annual paying of homage to the Lisbon agenda, and its vainglorious targets for making the EU the top performing economic bloc in the world.
Not any more. This year’s summit on March 8-9 will see Europe’s leaders focussing instead on energy policy and – most important of all – climate change. I doubt if their discussions on the Lisbon agenda will last more than ten minutes, if that.
I just wonder whether we are in a classic "top of the cycle" moment, when Europe lulls itself into the dangerous view that the reforms are paying off because the economy is working well.
Great to have some feedback on my recent comment about Britain’s attitude towards Europe post-Blair. But some people in Brussels would chuckle at the idea I’m some kind of self-loathing federalist Brit – a species which admittedly can be found in this habitat.
My point is not that Britain should sign up to a federalist agenda (indeed there aren’t many countries left that are still pushing it, apart from Belgium), but rather that there exists a great opportunity for Gordon Brown or David Cameron to shape the EU in a way that helps the UK.
As a French MEP told me the other day: "The Brits are winning in Europe. So what is their problem?" Indeed one of the reasons cited by French politicians for the No vote to the constitution is that it was too Anglo-Saxon.
Tony Blair is not the most loved politician in Europe: too pro-American, too liberal, too British and so on. But what many European politicians seem to have missed is that Blair is the most pro-European British prime minister since Edward Heath in the 1970s: things aren’t going to get any better.
Gordon Brown, Blair’s presumed successor, has a reputation around Europe for being uninterested in the EU and dismissive in his dealings with fellow ministers. But what would happen if Brown lost the next British election – probably in 2008 or 2009 – to the Conservatives?
A glimpse of Britain’s European future came on Wednesday in a wide-ranging speech by William Hague, the Conservative foreign policy spokesman. If you thought Tory thinking had moved on much since the days of Margaret Thatcher, this might make you think again.
A rare sighting of Gordon Brown in Brussels on Tuesday, which dutifully followed his usual routine for Ecofin councils. Namely the British press in London is briefed in advance on the lecture he intends to deliver to fellow finance ministers – this time on the failings of the EU’s single market.
Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer then turns up at the meeting and delivers the message that other finance ministers have already read about in the morning papers. Then he flies home again. Job done.
“He’s right of course,” says one Ecofin participant. “His observations on the single market and what needs to be done are valid, but the way he does it is counter-productive. He comes across as arrogant, he doesn’t get involved in networking.” Read more
I’ll be in Madrid on Friday, listening to the representatives of 20 countries protesting their love for the European Union constitution (deceased), and insisting that as much of the hallowed treaty should be saved as possible.
That is their right and they have a point. After all, 18 out of 27 member states have ratified the constitution (that’s the equivalent of 270m people) and Portugal and Ireland will also be in Madrid as non-ratifying but honorary "friends of the constitution".
But they should prepare to be disappointed. The fact is that if anything is going to be saved it will have to be modest, unthreatening and boiled down to its barest essentials. This is how you do it:
Has the president of the European Central Bank finally given ground in the long-running "battle of the Jean-Claudes"? After months of refusing to discuss holding more meetings with Jean-Claude Juncker, the political head of the eurozone, ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet, now seems ready to talk.
Mr Trichet famously refused to reply to a letter from Mr Juncker last year, after the Luxembourg prime minister suggested they should have regular informal chats – possibly over breakfast. The ECB president reckoned his public acceptance of this invitation to coffee and croissants could be seen as giving in to political pressure.
But earlier this month the two did get together for an informal 45-minute chinwag in Frankfurt, along with Joaquin Almunia, the EU monetary affairs commissioner. More such encounters could follow. So has Mr Trichet sold part of the bank’s independence, as some of the sobre suited boys at Germany’s Bundesbank seem to believe?
It may seem like clever domestic politics, but Ségolène Royal’s plan to re-run France’s referendum on the EU constitution looks like a disaster waiting to happen: both for France and Europe.
Ms Royal will win plaudits for her commitment to giving the French people their democratic voice, should she win the French presidential elections this spring. Nicolas Sarkozy, her rival, has already committed himself to trying to negotiate a "mini" version of the constitution and to ram it through the national assembly. Read more
Visiting Berlin last week, the front page headline in Bild Zeitung transported me back to Britain 15 or even 20 years ago. "Crazy salaries," shouted the story from the newsstands, complaining about how Brussels officials earn so much more than their Berlin counterparts and listing their allegedly lavish perks.
It could have been The Sun, during the good old days. The fact is that the British tabloid has concluded that Europe is boring and frankly a lot less threatening that it used to be. The paper hardly ever puts the issue on the front page. So what’s up with the Germans?
The fact is that British euroscepticsm, while undoubtedly rooted in the country’s geography and history, was fanned by a feeling that the British system was under threat. During the 1980s and 1990s there was a sense in the right-leaning media that Brussels was trying to kill the Thatcherite revolution with ideas of "social Europe" and suffocating red tape.