A strike on the London Underground marks a rude reminder that the holidays are over, and grim reality returns. But the transport chaos in London failed to disrupt a special occasion at the headquarters of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development this week.
Greece has got a pat on the back in its first post-bailout report from the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF. “The programme is off to a very strong start,” they said in Athens. So that should be a green light for the next €9bn tranche of the total €110bn rescue package to be paid out next month.
But there is a fly in the ointment. Plucky little Slovakia, a eurozone member state that knows all about tough austerity measures, is refusing to sign up for its contribution to the rescue plan.
In spite of fierce pressure from Brussels, the new government in Bratislava is adamant that it would be wrong to pay its hard-earned taxpayers’ money to another eurozone member that has “consistently carried out irresponsible fiscal policy.” It is prepared to back the European Financial Stability Facility – the €750bn standby rescue package set up to stop contagion from the Greek crisis – but not the original Greek bailout.
Poor old Turkey has been getting mixed messages from European governments again, after visits by Britain’s David Cameron and Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, this week.
The UK prime minister was very outspoken in his support for Turkish membership of the European Union. “I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership,” he said. “Together I want us to pave the road from Ankara to Brussels.”
It was familiar British policy, but spelt out with unusual passion, and very few cautionary words. Praising Turkey’s contributions as a Nato ally (no mention of Ankara’s tiresome blocking of Nato-EU co-operation on security issues), Mr Cameron declared: “It’s just wrong to say Turkey can guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent.”
Turkish media seized on some of the most flattering comments from Mr Cameron. “Our golden age” was the headline in the top-selling newspaper Hurriyet, while the Sabah daily blazoned its front page with “The EU would be poor without Turkey”.
Any day now the advertisements should go out for the top jobs in Brussels’ new diplomatic service – the European External Action Service, as it will be boringly known.
If the optimists are right, the service will be anything but boring. It’s the most important single invention to come out of the Lisbon treaty, say the true believers. It will give the European Union the eyes and ears to forge a genuine foreign policy, and the voice to put it into effect.
On the other hand, eurosceptics are convinced it will just be a vast and expensive new bureaucracy, merely duplicating the role of national embassies. So the battle to keep its wings clipped may also be anything but boring.
The 27 member states sit somewhere in the middle – not quite sure they believe in what they are creating, wanting to keep it under control, and no doubt trying to do it all on a shoe-string. In the end, their attitude will determine if it’s a success or a failure.
Christian Wulff, Germany’s new federal president, has not been idle. He had barely wiped his feet on the doormat in Schloss Bellevue, his splendid new Berlin residence, before setting off on a foreign trip.
While his job is without power, it carries lots of prestige. Indeed, the role is more about symbolism than substance. But the symbolism matters.
His first stop on Wednesday was in Strasbourg to meet Jerzy Buzek, European Parliament president. Second stop was Paris, for a chat with Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée palace. And third stop, on Thursday, was Brussels, where he had lined up Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato secretary-general.
It was all about pouring oil on troubled waters, to be sure. Germany’s relationship to the European Union has seldom caused so much anxiety amongst its neighbours, since Berlin started to bang the drum with a vengeance about the need for fiscal discipline – first in Greece, and now in the rest of the eurozone.