Barroso at EU-Russia summit
José Manuel Barroso, the European commission president, emerged from the latest EU-Russia summit with a conditional pledge from Moscow to lift a blanket ban on European vegetables imposed more than a week ago in the midst of a deadly E. coli outbreak.
Moscow’s concession may bring a conditional sigh of relief from European farmers, who have been devastated by the outbreak. But it underscores the simmering tension between the two trading partners when it comes to the health and sanitary standards that govern agricultural goods.
Russia has become the biggest market for EU exports of meat and vegetables. But if it is an important customer, it is also a hugely demanding one. The chief complaint among EU producers is that Moscow uses arbitrary health and sanitary standards to restrict their goods – be it German pork or Dutch apples.
Pakistan looks set to snag a European Union perk it has long coveted: admission to the bloc’s GSP+ trade programme. But the death last week of Osama bin Laden in a compound just up the road from Islamabad may cast a shadow over the country’s entry.
The Generalised System of Preferences, or GSP, is an EU programme that aims to help developing countries by reducing tariffs on their exports to Europe. GSP+ is an even better bargain. For the poorest countries, it eliminates tariffs altogether, provided they commit to protecting human rights and good governance. Together, the programmes covered some €53.3bn in EU imports in 2009.
By a narrow margin, Pakistan has repeatedly missed out on GSP+ in the past. It seems its economy is a bit too dynamic, based on the numerical criteria cooked up by EU trade wonks. That should now change after Karel De Gucht, the trade commissioner, won commission support on Tuesday for a GSP revamp.
It’s been something of a rough week for European relations with China after the Spanish government erroneously put out word that Beijing was preparing to invest €9bn in its struggling savings bank. Chalk it up to an over-eager translation of Chinese intentions.
As we’ve been reporting for the last couple of days, many of the fiscal measures that we once thought had been agreed for the two-day summit are unravelling, thanks in part to Finland’s objections to finalising an increase in the eurozone’s €440bn bail-out fund and Germany’s sudden objection to the structure of the €500bn fund that will replace it in 2013.
The European commission has asked member states to begin testing imported Japanese food for increased radiation levels, although officials believe that health risks for consumers are low.
That assessment is based on the fact that Japanese agricultural exports to the European Union are limited to begin with – particularly from the affected regions. Moreover, the disruption and devastation from the earthquake and tsunami are likely to reduce those exports even further.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, heads off for a tour of the Middle East and North Africa today – a trip that’s expected to include both Tunisia and Egypt – after coming under quite a bit of criticism for her handling of the upheaval in the region.
But the criticism has not all been in one direction. Ahead of her trip, a senior EU official briefed the Brussels press corps and laid some of the blame for the frequently discordant European reaction to recent events in the laps of national foreign ministers.
“One of the difficulties that we have is making sure that we not only speak with one voice but act with one voice,” the official said. “I mean, how many foreign ministers are in the Middle East now? It’s a bit complicated. The high representative wants to go, but can she go the same day or the day after when three foreign minsters have been? To do what? It’s a real problem.”
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.
The election of Dervis Eroglu as Turkish Cypriot president appears at first sight to deal a severe blow to the latest United Nations-sponsored efforts at solving the Cyprus problem. But appearances can be deceptive. There may, in fact, be an opportunity for a breakthrough. Crucially, however, it will require the involvement of the European Union.
Eroglu, 72, is usually dubbed a “hardline nationalist” in the international media on account of his long-standing commitment to Turkish Cypriot independence. This is to miss the point that the Turkish Cypriots are economically dependent on Turkey and Eroglu can hardly act in defiance of the government in Ankara. It is in the Turks’ wider diplomatic interests to bring about a Cyprus settlement. They have already made it plain to Eroglu that they expect him to behave constructively.
Ask a minister in a European Union government what post their country hopes to get in the next European Commission, and the response is the same every time – something important to do with the economy. Well, you can’t blame people for not hurrying to step into the shoes of Leonard Orban, the Romanian commissioner for multilingualism.
On the other hand, there aren’t enough top economic jobs for Commission president José Manuel Barroso to satisfy everyone. Truth to tell, the Commission looks too big with 27 members. But that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it will stay under the EU’s Lisbon treaty. A guaranteed seat on the Commission seems a simple, visible way of making a country’s citizens feel connected to the EU.
Since February 1999, when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s anti-bribery convention came into force - with the aim of reducing bribery of foreign officials in international business deals - the US has brought 103 cases, Germany more than 40, France 19 and the UK just one. So says “Global Corruption Report 2009: Corruption and the Private Sector”, a study published on Wednesday by Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog.
From a British point of view, the report makes uncomfortable reading. “UK companies still have a long way to go to increase their awareness and adopt robust anti-bribery compliance programmes,” it says.