Two weeks ago European leaders decided to postpone an upcoming summit of something called the Union for the Mediterranean. It is safe to say that very few people in the Mediterranean noticed or cared.
The story of the UfM is a classic tale of what passes for foreign policy in today’s European Union. The organisation was the brainchild of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who wanted to strengthen relations between the EU’s southern member-states – such as France, Italy and Spain – and their North African and Arab neighbours across the sea. It was not a bad idea in principle. But it aroused the suspicions of Germany and other northern EU countries, which insisted in the name of European unity that all EU member-states should belong to the UfM. 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
A potentially decisive moment is approaching in the Cyprus settlement talks that started in September 2008. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, is to visit the divided island on Sunday and stay there until Tuesday. He does not, of course, have the authority to impose a settlement or even seriously to bang heads together. But what he can do is impress on the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders that the world is watching them and that a great deal hangs on the outcome of their negotiations.
A sense of urgency hangs over the talks because presidential elections will be held in Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern Cyprus on April 18. Mehmet Ali Talat, the leftist president who helped revive the effort at reaching a comprehensive settlement more than 16 months ago, looks vulnerable to the challenge of Dervis Eroglu, the nationalist prime minister. Read more
The European Union should be pleased with the outcome of the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election. Not because the politician who received the most votes was former premier Viktor Yanukovich, the most pro-Russian of the main candidates. Rather, because the election for the most part met the very high standards of democracy, legality and fairness that the EU had demanded of Ukraine to sustain the process of bringing the country closer to the 27-nation bloc.
It was a genuine contest among a variety of distinctive candidates, and the second, knock-out round on February 7 between Yanukovich and Yulia Tymoshenko, the incumbent prime minister, will be a genuine contest, too. Compare this with the tainted presidential election of November 2004, which precipitated the Orange Revolution that propelled Viktor Yushchenko to power. In terms of democracy and the political maturity of society, Ukraine has progressed a long way over the past five years. Read more
Tuesday’s murder of Bobi Tsankov, a young Bulgarian journalist who wrote about his country’s over-mighty gangsters, took place in broad daylight in a crowded street in the centre of Sofia. As a statement about the power of organised crime in Bulgaria, it could hardly have been more explicit.
Moreover, it could hardly have come at a worse time for Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s government. Borissov came to power in July facing the arduous task of regaining the trust of Bulgaria’s European Union partners. Some of them bitterly regretted their decision to let Bulgaria join the EU in 2007 before it had properly confronted the scourge of organised crime. A 2008 European Commission report on Bulgaria’s progress in tackling corruption and organised crime was, in my view, the most negative ever produced about a EU member-state. Read more
What does 2010 hold in store for the European Union? With people in Brussels only just drifting back to work after a couple of weeks of snow, sub-zero temperatures and seasonally adjusted flu, it seems too brutal to plunge straight into topics such as the “2020 Strategy“, the “Reflection Group“ and other elusively named EU initiatives of which we are certain to hear more as the year moves on.
What one can say is that the EU ended 2009 feeling rather more pleased with itself than perhaps it had expected 12 months previously. Despite suffering the most severe economic contraction in its history, the EU avoided a meltdown of its financial sector, stuck fairly well to its rules on fair competition and free trade, and even witnessed a return to growth in certain countries. Read more
Seen from continental Europe, one of the biggest questions of 2010 concerns David Cameron, leader of the UK’s opposition Conservative party. The Tories are widely expected to win the forthcoming British election, but few European Union politicians can claim with confidence to know where he truly stands on the all-important matter of Britain’s relationship with the EU.
The lack of clarity isn’t helped by the Tories’ distant relationship with their fellow EU centre-right parties. I am in Bonn at a congress of the European People’s Party, the leading centre-right party group. Everyone who matters is here: Germany’s Angela Merkel, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi, Herman Van Rompuy (the newly appointed full-time EU president)… Countries from Malta to Latvia and Georgia to Croatia are represented. But there are no Conservative party politicians at all here – not Cameron, not William Hague, his shadow foreign secretary, not Kenneth Clarke, the only authentically pro-EU voice in the shadow cabinet. Read more
Next week’s summit of European Union leaders faces an important choice on Turkey. Should the EU toughen existing measures that are holding up Turkey’s EU accession talks, because of Ankara’s refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic? Or should the EU recognise that this would send completely the wrong message, just when Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders are trying to reach a comprehensive settlement of the long-standing Cyprus dispute?
Precisely because the EU is divided on the Turkish question – the Greek Cypriot-run government of Cyprus wants a strong line, and other countries are split between supporters and opponents of Turkey’s entry into the EU – it seems unlikely that a consensus can be reached in favour of placing additional obstacles in the path of Turkey’s negotiations. Read more
Enlargement of the European Union is, almost imperceptibly, moving forward once more. EU foreign ministers are expected next week to forward Albania’s membership application to the European Commission for an opinion. This is a necessary technical step on the path to entry – small, but important.
The Commission is already preparing opinions on the applications of Iceland and Montenegro. The opinions will take quite some time to deliver – longer for Albania and Montenegro than for Iceland – but the machinery is now in motion. Read more
Even before he was elected as president of France in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy made it crystal-clear that he didn’t want Turkey to join the European Union - ever. Now concerns are growing in Brussels that Sarkozy is contemplating a formal Franco-German initiative next year to offer Turkey a “privileged partnership” instead of, as now, the long-term prospect of full EU membership.
The idea of a “privileged partnership” has been around for a good few years. Sarkozy likes it, and so does Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic party. It also appeals to Angela Merkel, the CDU chancellor. However, Merkel has up to now taken a nuanced approach, recognising that Germany, along with other EU countries, recognised Turkey as an official candidate for membership in 1999. A responsible country cannot just wriggle out of agreements made in good faith, Merkel believes. Read more