Our colleague Gideon Rachman in his FT column this week gives one reason why the euro is in trouble: just look at its banknotes.
Unlike other currencies such as the US dollar or the drachma of old, euro notes shun portraits of dead statesmen and national monuments in favour of abstract bridges and arches. You apparently can’t stick Finland’s national liberation hero on a euro banknote, because he is likely to be unknown in Portugal.
Gideon argues this illustrates the lack of a common European identity that would come in handy in the current crisis.
One other peculiarity: unlike other large currencies, it lacks any kind of nickname. A happy American feels like a million bucks; an Englishman pays three quid for a pint of beer; a Frenchman in the past might have paid cinq balles for a baguette.
But ten years after the notes and coins first appeared, the single currency is still known as, well, the euro. Read more
Flowers are the traditional way to say “I love you”. But in European Union etiquette, they can just as well be the side-product of a political spat.
Romanian authorities this week-end blocked six trucks filled with flowers from the Netherlands, citing health concerns linked to unspecified “dangerous bacteria”.
The blockade came – perhaps coincidentally, but likely not – just one day after the Dutch government said it would veto the enlargement of the passport-free Schengen zone to Romania and Bulgaria.
The Dutch are not the only sceptics when it comes to expanding Europe’s borders to include the eastern duo, a decision that requires unanimity among current Schengen members.
At least a dozen other countries, including France and Germany, lined up against Schengen enlargement last year, worried that though Bulgaria and Romania had met the technical requirements laid out in the accession programme, the endemic corruption in both countries had to be addressed first. Read more
Yves Leterme resigned as prime minister of Belgium in April 2010, prompting a 500-days-and-counting run without a government during which he stayed on as caretaker leader. Now it looks like he intends to resign from that job as well, to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. Does that mean a new government may finally be afoot?
The announcement last night that Leterme would become deputy secretary-general at the OECD, the rich country think-tank stunned the Belgian political world, which is currently negotiating to replace him with a full-powers government. Read more
Later this week the European Commission will put forward its plan to reform the passport-free Schengen area, as we detailed in our paper edition some weeks ago, and again today.
But its proposals won’t address what to do about Bulgaria and Romania, the two EU members who want to join Schengen but so far haven’t been allowed to.
Both countries have met the technical requirements to be part of Schengen, but existing members – led by France and Germany – say systemic corruption in the civil service are undermining border controls. An onerous “cooperation and verification mechanism” is meant to ensure steady improvement.
Diplomats are thinking creatively, however. One of the sticking points is that allowing Bulgaria and Romania into the pact would create a “land bridge” from Greece to mainland Schengen. (Greece currently has no land borders with other Schengen countries, and seeing as the Greek-Turkish border is the prime gateway for illegal migrants to come into Europe, losing the existing buffer is a problem.)
Poland, which is now handling the dossier as holder of the rotating EU presidency, has revived an idea to grant Schengen access to Romania and Bulgaria in two stages: keep passport controls for now on land and sea borders, but abolish them for air travel. Read more
Brussels has a mysterious way of letting legislative proposals get stuck in the institutional mire – look at the single EU patent idea first mooted over a decade ago, or the “six pack” measures to curb excessive debt, which the parliament and national governments are still fighting over.
But an episode this week suggests that imbroglios can disappear just as quickly as they first formed.
After three years of stasis, a proposed extension of copyright on music recordings from 50 to 70 years was brokered in just a few weeks and very much below the radar.
The recording industry has lobbied heavily for the extra 20 years, going so far as wheeling out its ageing rockers – think Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney and The Who – to convince governments that their 1960s hits should be covered by copyright until the 2030s. (The European Commission, which as the EU’s executive arm proposes all legislation, had suggested 95 years in an early draft) Read more
Europe’s track record of getting its member states to abide by common debt rules is clearly a mixed bag. Perhaps not for long, if Günther Oettinger, the German energy commissioner has his way.
In an interview with Bild, the mass-circulation daily, Oettinger floats a new debt-busting plan which he hopes might succeed where past treaties have failed: countries with excessive debt should have to live with the mortification of having their national flags flown at half mast outside official European Union buildings.
The unconventional idea – acknowledged as such by the commissioner – “would only be a symbol, but it would be a powerful deterrent,” he said. Read more
The US isn’t the only big democracy electing a new president in 2012. The European Union will also potentially select a fresh leader after Herman Van Rompuy’s first two-and-a-half year term expires next spring.
The European battle was never likely to rival the US ballot for excitement. For one, the president of the European Council – Van Rompuy’s job title – is “elected” only by members of the said Council, which is made up of national leaders.
On top of that, it was always widely assumed that Van Rompuy would be put in for a second two-and-a-half years, matching the five year tenure of other EU officials. On Monday he indicated his interest in staying on through January 2015, in an interview on Belgian radio VRT:
If I dare to think about a second term, it’s because the work is not yet done. I must not do it for my own glory.
According to the Belgian press, the European Commission is readying itself to wade into the miasma that is Belgian politics, urging the country to end its 492-day run without a permanent government.
Thursday’s Le Soir newspaper claims the EU’s executive arm has lost patience with its host country’s political class, and will publicly urge a coalition to be forged in double quick time in order to enact economic reforms.
The article prompted an energetic rebuttal from the Commission, which released a statement making clear that it has no new views on the subject. Yves Leterme, caretaker prime minister, also dismissed the story.
To wit: it’s not that the EU would object as such to a new government. It’s just not complaining about the current absence of one. It “has confidence in the democratic process in Belgium”, such as it is. Read more
That Brussels slows down during August is well known. Though European Commission spokespeople repeatedly stress that the EU’s executive arm remains hard at work – especially this year – anyone strolling through the corridors of its Berlaymont headquarters can see there are more than a few people out of the office.
Now in the age of social media, it might be a bit easier to establish who is working and when. To wit: of the eight EU commissioners who regularly use Twitter, four of them have gone completely quiet for the whole month of August, with another commissioner managing only one entry.
All told, the group have tweeted 23 times in as many days. That’s less than a tenth of the usual Twitter activity. In June, for instance, the eight tweeters managed 270 messages, including retweets, between them.
A breakdown of Twitter summer stats after the jump. Read more
Those who have read today’s paper edition of the FT will have seen our interview with Didier Reynders, Belgium’s finance minister and doyen of the EU’s economic and financial council meetings.
Reynders has been in the job since 1999, three years before the euro was introduced in its physical form, so knows a thing or two about the politics of monetary union. Because we never have enough space in the paper to delve into everything we talk about in such hour-long interviews, we thought we’d offer a bit more for our Brussels Blog readers. Read more