Someone may well have been drinking absinthe when they decided it would be a good idea to pack up an entire parliament once a month and shuttle its members and their assorted aides and documents to a second home 400 kilometers away.
On Wednesday, members of the European parliament, meeting in their Strasbourg quarters, will have the opportunity to acquaint themselves with absinthe, the spirit renowned for its green tint and supposedly psychedelic properties. Specifically, they will be voting to determine just what absinthe is.
Their decision could escalate a brewing fight between northern and southern European makers of the spirit, which gained fame in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a favoured drink for bohemians and artists including Rimbaud, Degas, Hemingway and Toulouse-Lautrec. Read more
Hamburger anyone? Getty Images
There is never a good time for a food chain scandal in which people across a continent are suddenly informed that what they thought was beef lasagne was actually horsemeat of unknown provenance.
But there is an added wrinkle of awkwardness to the EU’s horsemeat scandal, since it coincides with the launch of free-trade negotiations with the US in which food safety standards will be central.
The EU-US effort to forge a trans-Atlantic free-trade agreement was announced with great fanfare on Wednesday afternoon in Brussels by José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, and Karel De Gucht, the bloc’s trade commissioner. The press conference was the culmination of more than a year of diplomatic spadework between the two sides and decades of dreaming by free-traders, business groups and Atlanticists. Read more
The politics and rituals surrounding the selection of a new pope are even more opaque and mysterious than the back-room negotiations over a long-term EU budget (a recent source of obsession at the Brussels Blog).
Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president, has added to the sense of papal mystery surrounding the resignation announced on Monday by Benedict XVI with the release of a terse, two-line statement. Read more
It’s hard enough to get 27 member states to agree unanimously on a seven-year, €1,000bn budget – as anyone following the latest EU summit wrestling match can attest. But completing an EU budget deal requires one more thing: the consent of the European parliament.
Martin Schulz, the German social democrat and parliament president, reminded EU leaders and the Brussels press pack of this fact on Thursday evening. In a mildly foreboding press conference, Schulz re-stated his threat that leaders should be prepared for MEPs to block any budget proposal that strays too far from the €1,033bn proposal submitted more than a year ago by the European commission, the EU’s executive arm.
“Yes, we are prepared to make savings, but we are not prepared to have the European Union budget simply amputated,” he said.
Schulz declined to say whether the latest €960bn proposal being considered by Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president, crossed the line from extreme weight loss to amputation. But he was clearly displeased. Read more
There have not been too many Greek success stories in Brussels the last few years. But one of them may have emerged on Wednesday after a landmark vote in the European parliament to overhaul Europe’s troubled common fisheries policy.
Many hands deserve the credit – from MEPs to environmental campaigners and fishermen, themselves. But near the top of the list must be Greece’s Maria Damanaki, the fisheries commissioner.
Damanaki got the ball rolling when she introduced her own proposal curb overfishing in 2011, and has worked tirelessly since then to keep the momentum going.
“I’m a big fan,” Richard Benyon, the UK fisheries minister, said in December. “I think she has driven the reform process in a very determined way.” Read more
The big question entering Thursday’s summit is whether Herman Van Rompuy, the European council president, can find the right balance between the UK’s demands for an austere long-term budget and France and Italy’s calls for a more robust one. The more Van Rompuy stretches toward the Brits and fellow budget hawks by reducing his proposal, the more those on the other side of the debate pull back. Eventually, the whole thing could snap.
But on the eve of the big meeting, Van Rompuy may have found a clever way to give his budget more elasticity: By increasing the gap between budget commitments and payments. Read more
During his inaugural address on Monday, US President Barack Obama committed himself to a European priority that was shoved to the background during his first term in office: Fighting climate change.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
Those words were music to the ears of many in Brussels, who had assumed – wrongly, it turns out – that the White House was poised four years ago to join the EU’s campaign to forge an ambitious global climate treaty.
The irony of Obama’s climate pivot is that it was announced on the same day when the price of carbon in the EU’s emissions trading scheme fell to an all-time low, offering a distressing reminder about the disarray in a market that is the centrepiece of Europe’s climate policy. Read more