Uma Thurman, in front of a cutout of her "Kill Bill" character "The Bride", during its 2003 premiere.
Few people pay much attention to European Union public information campaigns, except when they misfire. This seems to be happening with one particular set of ads designed to boost the public’s enthusiasm for EU enlargement.
The European Commission on Tuesday took down a video it released last week that critics claimed was veering on racism. In the clip, still visible here, the EU is cast as “The Bride”, the yellow tracksuit-donning martial artist played by Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.
The clip features the heroine being besieged by a group of assailants which – and this is where the problems lie – are grossly stereotyped versions of India, China and Brazil. The impending threat they pose is disarmed when the EU fighter multiplies into 12 fighters who can intimidate the savages into peaceful dialogue.
Is this really offensive? Arguably, the stereotypes are used for a reason: because we see them everywhere, including in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and video games. Read more
The long-running campaign to scrap the European parliament’s once-a-month commute to Strasbourg bagged a sizeable ally this week: none other than the chamber’s new president, Martin Schulz.
While much of the attention in recent days has been on Greece, the parliament has been on the road again, leaving its usual Brussels residence for its second home near the French-German border.
The two-seat arrangement is estimated by critics to cost €200m a year, a public-relations disaster for the legislative arm of an institution which is imposing austerity across much of the continent.
Schulz has always been rumoured to be an anti-Strasbourger. But he has thus far remained closeted, presumably to avoid ruffling French feathers ahead his ascension to the presidency last month. Paris is very eager to keep the parliament on its home turf, if only once a month. Read more
Monday’s meeting of EU leaders is meant to focus on growth and jobs, which makes it all the more ironic that it will likely be heavily disrupted by a general strike called by Belgian unions on the same day.
The timing of the strike is a coincidence, unions claim: this is a Belgian rather than a European strike. It was called for in response to clumsy pensions reforms by the new government, led by the Socialist Elio Di Rupo, rather than as a protest against the EU’s austerity measures (though the unions don’t like those much either.)
The impact of the strike is unclear. One high-ranking official in the secretariat of the Council, which organises the event, told Brussels Blog yesterday that there had been serious talk of moving the entire meeting to Luxembourg, where some EU ministerial-level meetings are regularly held.
But assurances from the Belgian government that the show could go on convinced Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs the summits, to push ahead. As a Belgian who championed (and partly enacted as premier) the reforms that are being disputed, he was perhaps unlikely to yield to the street.
“Inside the building, it will be business as usual,” the source said. The subtext is that outside the Justus Lipsius venue it will be impossible to get to Brussels, find a taxi or even a sandwich. Read more
EU commissioner Neelie Kroes
Viktor Orban is in Brussels today on the second part of a charm offensive designed to cool tensions between Budapest and the European Union.
Last week he flattered the European parliament by dropping in on its second home in Strasbourg to reassure MEPs that the sweeping reforms his government are currently undertaking are in line with fundamental European values.
But one commissioner at least is standing firm against the Orban’s overtures, and in a very public way. Just hours before Orban was to meet Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, Neelie Kroes, the commissioner who oversees media issues, held talks in Brussels with the management at Klubradio, a talk and news station which is no fan of the Fidesz government. Since Orban came to power in 2010, it has had a knack of losing out in radio frequency allocation rounds, which it says is an attempt to muzzle dissident voices.
After the meeting, Kroes tweeted to her 33,876 followers:
Journalists arriving early for the European Commission’s daily midday briefing Monday caught a once-familiar figure in the press room: Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the former German defence minister who resigned in disgrace earlier this year after it was revealed he plagiarised his doctoral thesis.
The aristocratic zu Guttenberg , once widely tipped as a future German chancellor, was in Brussels at the invitation of Neelie Kroes, telecoms commissioner, to work on an anti-censorship initiative targeted at dictatorships blocking parts of the internet.
“This is not a political comeback,” zu Guttenberg insisted, on what looked a lot like the first step of his political comeback. Read more
European commissioners’ official Twitter feeds usually consist mainly of links to their latest speech on arcane regulation, or platitudes about whichever country they happen to be visiting.
Enter Laszlo Andor, the social affairs commissioner:
Automatic sanctions are a joke. Fiscal union needs collective, democratic decision-making that can respond to challenges & manage agg.demand
Assuming the Germans are monitoring the micro-blogging platform, they will probably be unamused by the Hungarian’s assessment of automatic sanctions for countries breaching EU debt rules being branded “a joke”: it is one of the pillars of their crisis resolution plan, and will thus feature heavily at the summit of national leaders on Thursday and Friday. Read more
Eurozone governments: Are “the markets” refusing to lend to you? Turn to “the people” instead.
That is in essence what Belgium is proposing to do, with an appeal to retail investors (i.e. you) to buy the sovereign bonds it is struggling to sell to institutional investors (i.e. Goldman Sachs).
Yves Leterme, prime minister, plugged the bonds-for-the-people in the local press on Thursday, arguing they were a particularly good deal now that Belgium’s institutional muddle has helped send yields to attractive levels.
For those who have not been following Belgian politics in the past 577 days, the country has been run by a caretaker administration since April 2010 while its political class tries to cobble together a new government. Read more
Image by Getty.
One week, two set-backs for Belgium. First markets started attacking its debt, then the putative prime minister throws in the towel in his protracted efforts to form a new government, citing lack of common ground between the main political parties over the 2012 budget. After 529 days of negotiations, is it time for a technocratic government?
It’s probably a bit soon. Elio Di Rupo, the Socialist leader, may have offered his resignation to King Albert II, but it has yet to be accepted. It would not be the first time that Di Rupo has “resigned”, only to be begged to stay on as new, unexpected consensus is found. The King, at his countryside estate recovering from a recent nose operation, is consulting party leaders this week and will advise on Di Rupo’s fate later this week. A few have already reaffirmed their faith in Di Rupo.
Two factors suggest a government is closer at hand than may at first seem the case. Read more
After a two hour overrun, the meeting of the EU 27 has broken up here in Brussels, to be followed by a pow-wow of the 17 eurozone members. This could be another late one.
One thing we know has been agreed so far: more meetings.
Instead of a single summit of eurozone leaders next Wednesday, as had been planned on Thursday afternoon, it now looks like there will be at least two – but probably three – more separate get-togethers.
The most important of those will be European Council (of 27) just before Wednesday’s eurozone summit.
This is painted as a big win for Britain and Poland, the biggest “outs” (of the eurozone) who are afraid of seeing their influence on the wider EU wane by literally not having a seat at the negotiating table for the big decisions taken by eurozone leaders. Read more
European summits are fertile ground for PR stunts, if only because of the hundreds of journalists milling around waiting for decisions to be made.
Oxfam today has distributed copies of “(Not the) Financial Times”, a 4-page edition of our paper dated November 2016 and devoted to the effects of a hypothetical tax on cross-border financial transactions, or Financial Transaction Tax, apparently agreed in 2011.
In this alternative universe, bankers will be pleased to discover that the adoption of a so-called Tobin tax has helped boost their popularity rating from near 0 per cent today to 80 per cent by 2014. Read more