In the corridors of Brussels’ elegant Stanhope Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, the well-turned-out movers-and-shakers of the European energy world were marvelling at the sizeable budget and high-profile guest list for the event they were attending. Read more
European leaders and policymakers tend to take a dim view of credit ratings agencies – those watchdogs of Anglo-Saxon capitalism who fell asleep on the job while Lehman Brothers and other banks were gorging themselves on toxic securities.
But they may want to read the latest report on Greece from Fitch, one of the largest ratings agencies. It suggests that Eurozone governments and the International Monetary Funds should be preparing to write another cheque to Athens. It also hints that any delay in paying Greece’s bondholders – an idea that has increasingly gained traction among policymakers – could have nasty consequences. Read more
Maria Fekter, the Austrian finance minister, said what many of her colleagues appeared to be thinking when she turned up the pressure on Dominique Strauss-Kahn to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund. Read more
Tuesday saw Catherine Ashton at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. But leaving Brussels did not mean a vacation from the torrent of criticism that has rained down on the European Union’s first foreign policy chief.
Just after Ashton finished debating Syria, Libya and other foreign policy hot spots with MEPs, Franziska Brantner, the German Green who serves as the parliamentary group’s foreign policy spokesperson, released a blistering critique.
“EU foreign policy is suffering from a chronic lack of direction, leadership and imagination under Cathy Ashton’s watch, despite the fact the union today has more foreign policy competences and instruments than ever,” said Brantner, long an advocate of the new EU diplomatic corps. “Clearly, Cathy Ashton is failing to grasp what her job is.”
Pakistan looks set to snag a European Union perk it has long coveted: admission to the bloc’s GSP+ trade programme. But the death last week of Osama bin Laden in a compound just up the road from Islamabad may cast a shadow over the country’s entry.
The Generalised System of Preferences, or GSP, is an EU programme that aims to help developing countries by reducing tariffs on their exports to Europe. GSP+ is an even better bargain. For the poorest countries, it eliminates tariffs altogether, provided they commit to protecting human rights and good governance. Together, the programmes covered some €53.3bn in EU imports in 2009.
By a narrow margin, Pakistan has repeatedly missed out on GSP+ in the past. It seems its economy is a bit too dynamic, based on the numerical criteria cooked up by EU trade wonks. That should now change after Karel De Gucht, the trade commissioner, won commission support on Tuesday for a GSP revamp. Read more
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
Is it possible that people are overreacting to the crisis at Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear facility? Read more
The Liberal Democrats chose the elegant Palais D’Egmont for their pre-summit gathering. While the leafy grounds are gorgeous – particularly on a very un-Belgian sunny day – the mood was anxious. Read more
Who is having a good crisis over at the European commission’s Belaymont headquarters?
Probably not Gunther “Apocalypse” Oettinger, the energy commissioner, whose dire remarks about the Japanese nuclear situation were an embarrassing example of publicly pouring fuel on an unstable reactor. Not Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, whose aide told reporters that a no-fly zone over Libya was both impractical and unwise – only to be overruled a short time later by Britain and France.
While it is still early days, the buzz among eurocrats is that one commissioner who has proved effective in these troubled times is Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva. Read more
The European commission has asked member states to begin testing imported Japanese food for increased radiation levels, although officials believe that health risks for consumers are low.
That assessment is based on the fact that Japanese agricultural exports to the European Union are limited to begin with – particularly from the affected regions. Moreover, the disruption and devastation from the earthquake and tsunami are likely to reduce those exports even further. Read more
Beleaguered Japanese officials are already grappling with a humanitarian crisis wrought by a biblical earthquake and tsunami, and the prospect of apocalyptic meltdowns at a pair of stricken nuclear reactors. Add to their list of woes one European commissioner.
That would be Gunther Oettinger, the energy commissioner, whose ill-judged remarks about the crisis on Wednesday have helped to make a bad situation worse. Read more
As he entered today’s EU summit, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, made his first public comments about his unexpected plan for for “defensive” air-strikes against forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, saying they should be used in the event Gaddafi uses chemical weapons or unleashes airpower against unarmed demonstrators.
“The French and the English have said that we are open, if the United Nations wants it, and if the Arab League accepts it, and if the Libyan authorities that we want to be recognised ask for it, to have targeted defensive operations in the sole eventuality that Gaddafi would use chemical weapons or use his warplanes to target non-violent demonstrators,” he told reporters. Read more
If MEPs cannot dump Strasbourg, once and for all, they may at least be able to spend a bit less time with her.
That seems to be the thinking behind the European Parliament’s vote on Wednesday to drop one of the 12 plenary sessions it holds each year in the Alsatian city that is the symbol of Franco-German reconciliation at the heart of the European project. In past years, the Parliament has held two Strasbourg sessions in September or October in order to make up for the summer recess. Pending a legal challenge, it will merge those sessions into one visit for the next two years. 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
Implicit in suggestions today from Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, that Hosni Mubarak should not be rushed out the door was this: A fear of what could come after the long-ruling Egyptian president. Chief among them is the possibility that Mr Mubarak would be replaced by an Islamist government hostile to the west.
But to David Cameron, the UK prime minister, Egypt’s future should not be cast in such binary terms. “I simply don’t accept that there is just a choice in life between, on the one hand, having a regime that does not respect rights and democracy and on the other hand having Islamic extremism,” Mr Cameron said, pointing to the example of well functioning democracies in Muslim countries such as Turkey and Indonesia. Read more
As European leaders gather in Brussels for a summit meeting nominally dedicated – for the first time – to energy policy, one uninvited guest is looking on with some dismay: Russia.
High on the agenda is energy security. Which is a polite way of saying that European leaders are discussing how the bloc can break its dependency on Russian gas. In some parts of the EU – notably among the new member states of central and eastern Europe – that policy goal has become an obsession.
“We are totally dependent,” said one Lithuanian diplomat. “Whatever Gazprom says, we pay.” Read more
If you’re a European policymaker and you’ve become exhausted by the idea of austerity, then you might consider a new report by Charles Roxburgh of the McKinsey Global Institute.
The report, “Beyond Austerity: A path to economic growth and renewal in Europe”, is an attempt to skip past the discussion about how drastically governments should slash spending to look at ways they can stoke growth. It coincides with a growing complaint among some Brussels diplomats that months of economic crisis fire-fighting have caused the EU to neglect policies that create jobs.
On the job-creation front, Europe’s record is actually better than many people might suspect. Between 1995 and 2008, the European Union generated slightly more jobs than the US – 23.9m to 20.5m. (For statistical reasons, the study only includes the 15 countries that were EU members before its 2004 enlargement).
“There’s quite a good story on job growth,” Mr Roxburgh said. “The flipside is in productivity.” Read more
How much does it cost to launch your own fleet of satellites to provide accurate navigation data to rental car drivers, airlines and missile commanders alike? If you’re the European Union, quite a lot.
In 2003, the European leaders gave their formal backing to the Galileo programme, a state-of-the-art satellite navigation system created so the EU would not be reliant on the GPS service run by the US Department of Defence or Russia’s Glonass. The cost of Galileo was supposed to be roughly €3.4bn – some of which would be picked up by private investors – and the system was supposed to be operational by 2010.
But, like so many public works projects, Galileo has run behind schedule and over budget. The latest estimates are spelled out in a report to be presented to the European Parliament on Tuesday by Antonio Tajani, the EU’s industry commissioner. Mr Tajani will call for an additional €1.9bn for Galileo infrastructure in the next financial framework, which covers the budgeting period from 2014 through 2020. The report also pegs Galileo’s annual operating costs at a staggering €800m. Read more
Over at the Liberal Democrats’ huddle, everyone did their best to say as little as possible about the particulars of the EU’s new bailout fund. Read more