Greek protesters prepare for Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit this morning in central Athens.
Since coming a surprise second in June’s Greek elections, Syriza, the radical left-wing coalition, can point to at least one (admittedly modest) success in addressing the country’s monstrous unemployment problem: It has found a job for Aphrodite Babassi.
Babassi, a Syriza supporter who appeared in the FT’s pages in May, had been jobless for three years before she took a post in July on the staff of one of the party’s new members of parliament, Afrodite Stapouli, researching science policy.
We bumped into Babassi, 27, at Syntagma Square on Monday night, where – as she prepared to protest against the pending visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – she recalled the joy of receiving her first pay check.
Who will succeed José Manuel Barroso as president of the European commission?
That question has long been debated around the corridors and coffee bars ofBrussels. But it gained special urgency after Barroso’s state-of-the-union speech in Strasbourg last week. In it, Barroso suggested that each political party nominate their own choice for commission president and place that person atop their list for the 2014 European elections.
The idea is to generate some much-needed excitement for EU elections that tend to suffer from paltry voter turnout.
“This would be a decisive step to make the possibility of a European choice offered by these elections even clearer. I call on the political parties to commit to this step and thus to further Europeanise these elections,” Barroso said.
So that begs the question: who is generating the most buzz as the next commission president? Who has the right stuff? As a service to our readers, Brussels Blog has decided to present a list of early contenders from each of the major political families.
China’s solar panel manufacturers are facing an uphill battle in their legal fight against the EU, which last week targeted them as it launched the bloc’s biggest-ever an anti-dumping investigation. The case involves Chinese exports of solar panels, wafers and other products that totalled some €21bn last year.
More than half of such anti-dumping investigations result in tariffs being imposed, according to EU officials. Yet there are at least two technical factors at work in the solar dispute that could make the odds even worse for the Chinese.
Over at the socialist gathering held in a conference centre overlooking an ornate garden in the centre of Brussels, a gaggle of reporters – and a few bemused tourists – clustered around Jean-Marc Ayrault, the new French prime minister, as he arrived for the meeting.
Jean-Marc Ayrault arrives at the meeting of the Party of European Socialists (PES). Reuters
The European commission, the European Union’s executive arm, has been one of the staunchest supporters of the proposed Nabucco pipeline, a 3,900-kilometer behemoth that would carry natural gas from the Caspian region to Austria.
For the commission, Nabucco represents the backbone of a new southern corridor that would break Europe’s dependence on imported Russian gas. It has touted the project repeatedly over the years, and has also opened its wallet, committing up to €200m in funding.
But in a recent conversation with Brussels Blog, Gunther Oettinger, the energy commissioner, made a departure from the usual script and gave support to the growing suspicion that the full Nabucco may be a lost cause.
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the tidal wave that unleashed a disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility and forced a profound shift in Europe’s nuclear debate.
Within weeks of the disaster, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, decided to switch course and phase out the country’s nuclear plants – a move that was subsequently copied by Switzerland and Belgium.
Talk of a nuclear revival that once filled the air in Italy and other member states – encouraged by the industry and supportive governments – has been dashed. Even in France, Europe’s nuclear champion, public opinion has turned increasingly negative.
But in spite of Fukushima, one European Union member state has lost none of its nuclear ardour: Lithuania.
When word filtered out on Tuesday that Russia’s Gazprom would be capping its gas shipments to the European Union, a shiver went through an unusually frigid Brussels.
After two major supply cuts in the last ten years – the most recent in 2009 – European policymakers have become conditioned to believe that any interruption in Russian gas may be the beginning of another full-blown crisis instigated by the Kremlin.
Gazprom said it was going to have to limit European sales in order to serve the needs of domestic consumers struggling through a cold winter. Fears appeared to subside a bit, though, when the company promised to try to make up the difference over the coming days.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the incident is how quickly it has become a non-event. The reason, according to EU officials, is that the continent learned the lessons from the last gas crisis and has worked to make itself far less vulnerable to future Russian shocks.
Hungary's Viktor Orban during his address in Strasbourg last year. Brussels Blog will be live blogging his appearance on Wednesday .
Viktor Orban, Hungary’s combative prime minister, already had a lengthy list of Brussels’ critiques to rebut during an address today at the European parliament in Strasbourg, which the Brussels Blog is planning to live blog when it begins at 3pm local time.
Expectations are high after last year’s rowdy appearance, and the list of particulars has only grown in the last 24 hours: the European commission, the European Union’s executive arm, on Tuesday declared three new Hungarian laws in violation of the EU treaties, and warned that one may threaten the independence of the country’s central bank.
Just this morning, however, the commission added to the list again, hitting out at Orban – who prides himself on ridding his country from Soviet communism – for failing to respect “media freedom and media pluralism”, the same criticism he faced in Strasbourg a year ago.
Baltic Sea fisherman. Image by Getty
Has the UK lost its influence in Europe? That has become the conventional wisdom in Brussels after prime minister David Cameron last week spurned France and Germany by refusing to sign up to a new “fiscal compact” to further integrate the bloc’s economies.
A first indication may come over the next 24 hours, during which a group of bleary-eyed ministers will try to close an agreement on the European Union’s annual fisheries quotas. Unlikely as it may seem, the UK is expected to get its way because it has rounded up support from France and Germany.
The December fisheries council is one of Brussels’ quirky annual rites and arguably the world’s ultimate fish market. Working late into the night, European diplomats barter quotas on scores of salt water species – from North Sea cod to the nephrop norvegicus – to piece together a comprehensive agreement governing the fisheries of the world’s biggest seafood consumer.
As my colleague, Andrew Bolger, reported in Thursday’s FT, Scotland’s fishing industry is nervous, thanks to Cameron’s defiance.
For the unfortunate diplomats locked in the Justus Lipsius council building all of Friday and into Saturday morning, the European Union’s 2012 budget negotiations were an arduous affair. Upon emerging, one groggy diplomat lamented “an evening I can never get back.”
But to the union at large, the remarkable thing about the talks was how easily they went down.
For those who missed the news early Saturday morning, representatives from the EU’s 27 member states, the European parliament and the European commission agreed on a 2.02 per cent increase in next year’s budget, bringing it to €129bn.
That was well below the 5.23 per cent sought by MEPs, and the 4.9 per cent recommended by the commission.