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 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
Friday’s summit of European heads of government has long been signposted as one of European Council president Herman Van Rompuy’s new interim conclaves to deal with a policy issue of crucial importance to Europe, in this case energy security.
But as many diplomats predicted, energy is increasingly getting drowned out by other, more pressing demands.
First, José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, called on the summit to be used to hash out an overhaul of the eurozone’s €440bn sovereign debt bail-out fund so it’s able to more flexibly deal with bond market assaults on struggling “peripheral” economies.
Although that won’t happen, Van Rompuy has agreed to turn over the summit’s traditional working lunch to the eurozone crisis, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has decided to use the opportunity to float a new plan for greater coordination in economic and fiscal policies among eurozone countries.
Now, it seems, the afternoon is being taken over by yet another crisis: Egypt. Read more
It was buried amid the excitement of the European Union’s summit in Brussels, but I’d like to draw your attention to a revealing report published on Thursday on the subject of European access to strategic raw materials. Prepared under the supervision of the European Commission, the report names 14 critical materials that Europe risks not having enough of in the future – with potentially far-reaching implications for Europe’s economic development, not to mention its defence and security. Read more
A wall of resistance from European Union governments and industry stands in the way of the efforts of Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate action commissioner, to secure a pledge from the 27-nation bloc to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by even more than it is already committed to doing.
Hedegaard contends that the EU can afford to set itself higher targets, because Europe’s recent recession – the worst in its history – reduced economic activity and so slashed the cost of meeting the goals set in 2008. The EU’s basic target is a 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels. Hedegaard would like to raise the target to 30 per cent, thereby maintaining Europe’s self-image as the frontrunner in world efforts to tackle climate change. Read more
If you’ve been breathing a bit easier of late, there may be a reason: carbon dioxide emissions covered by the European Union’s cap-and-trade system fell a remarkable 11 per cent last year, according to preliminary data released by the European Commission. That is the biggest one-year fall since the emissions trading system began five years ago.
Unfortunately, the drop was not owing to the sort of forward-looking, green technology investments so frequently touted by Commission president José Manuel Barroso. Instead it was an unintended gift from the worst economic crisis since the Depression, which has slowed industrial activity. In weight loss terms, this is a bit like shedding 5 kilos through the accident of a stomach flu as opposed to the sustained virtue of diet and exercise. Read more
Yulia Tymoshenko’s refusal to acknowledge Viktor Yanukovich as the legitimate winner of Ukraine’s presidential election is starting to embarrass her friends in the European Union. The White House, Nato and the EU have all congratulated Yanukovich on his victory. The longer Tymoshenko maintains her defiant stance, the more it will cost her in terms of prestige and contacts in Europe.
Only last December I saw the red carpet rolled out for Tymoshenko at a congress in Bonn of the centre-right European People’s Party, the biggest party in the European Parliament. Everyone was there – German chancellor Angela Merkel, EU president Herman Van Rompuy, French premier François Fillon, Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, etc. Tymoshenko was one of the star attractions from the “new” eastern Europe. Read more
It’s striking that the Czech constitutional court announced its approval of the European Union’s Lisbon treaty on Tuesday morning just as the prospect of another Russian gas import crisis began to loom on the EU’s horizon. For even though the news from Prague is welcome, a moment’s reflection is all you need to remind yourself that the Lisbon treaty will, in and of itself, do very little to help the EU address its most serious foreign and economic policy problems.
The sheer sense of relief at adopting a new EU treaty – it’s taken eight years, required two different texts, gone through three failed referendums and caused endless trouble in countries such as the Czech Republic, Ireland and the UK – risks fostering the delusion that everything will be better once Lisbon is in force. But this is to fall into the trap of assuming that process can substitute for substance (see Monday’s blog on how the same fallacy affects the EU’s approach to relations with other big powers). Read more
According to an opinion poll, more than half of Denmark’s population has little or no confidence that world leaders will strike an agreement on fighting climate change at December’s landmark United Nations summit in Copenhagen. It is just a hunch, but I reckon one impulse behind this pessimism is the widespread European suspicion that China, which recently overtook the US as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, will play an unconstructive role at the talks.
What if this suspicion is unfounded? Read more
What should be the top five priorities of the next European Commission?
1) Top of my list is the defence, and if possible the strengthening, of the single European market. This is the European Union’s bedrock achievement. It secures prosperity for its citizens, and it underpins the EU’s collective weight in the world. Without the single market, the EU would lose not merely its cohesion but its very reason for existence. The single market is under strain at present because of the emergency measures taken over the past year to prop up Europe’s banking system. These have, in effect, suspended the EU’s state aid rules in this sector. The Commission will need to be tough in making sure that EU governments do not manipulate the rules as the emergency measures are gradually withdrawn. Meanwhile, it should continue to press the case for integrating and liberalising the EU’s service sector, which accounts for two-thirds of all EU economic activity. Read more