German finance miniser Wolfgang Schäuble with Finland's Jutta Urpilainen at Monday's eurogroup
The German finance ministry is on the brink of an extraordinary achievement. Like many power shifts within the EU, it is happily hidden behind the most fiendish jargon. But if all goes to plan, Berlin is securing something rare and coveted in Brussels: the effective power to block future EU banking regulation.
Put another way, it is quietly resetting the ground rules of the single market in financial services without the need for treaty change or a referendum or a big speech. Take note David Cameron.
How has Berlin managed it? It is all concealed in the thicket of legal arguments over establishing Europe’s €55bn bank rescue fund via an intergovernmental agreement, rather than through the EU’s normal “community method”, where majority (or at least qualified majority) rules.
To translate: at German behest, the rules for pooling banking union rescue funds are laid out in a side-deal between governments, rather than under legislation agreed between EU member states and European parliament. Such intergovernmental pacts are allowed; remember the fiscal compact? But they are not supposed to change or impact the EU’s common rulebook, outlined in the EU treaties. Read more
Juncker delivers his acceptance speech Friday at the EPP's party congress in Dublin
By Vincent Boland in Dublin
It is one of the biggest events in the European political calendar. The pre-European parliament election congress of the centre-right European People’s party, which concluded Friday in Dublin, was notable for several things. But three in particular stand out.
The first is that the congress – well organised, held at the new(ish) Dublin Convention Centre, and hosted by Fine Gael, the leading party in Ireland’s coalition government – was a triumph for Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach (prime minister). He managed to both look and sound statesmanlike.
Moreover, Kenny’s rebuttal of José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, will have done his domestic poll ratings no harm at all. Barroso, an EPP member who attended the congress, lashed out at critics of his handling of the eurozone crisis, blaming “panic in the financial markets” and too much self-imposed austerity for the pain being felt across the eurozone economy. Read more
Yulia Tymoshenko speaking at the EPP conference in Dublin on Thursday night
By Vincent Boland in Dublin
There is something about being a European centre-right politician that appears to attract its own kind of celebrity. The gathering of the European People’s party in Dublin is a good example of this rather eclectic mix of high-profile luminaries.
On Thursday evening, it was the turn of the Ukrainians to wow the audience. Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and front-runner to be Ukraine’s president in a post-revolution election in May, and Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and prison inmate, both got standing ovations as they arrived on stage to address the congress. Read more
Ukraine's prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and France's François Hollande at summit's start
Today’s emergency summit of EU leaders has just gotten underway and the Brussels blog has got its hands on an early draft of the official three-page concluding statement on Ukraine.
As if it weren’t clear enough already, the draft reveals deep fault lines among member states over the appropriate response to Russia’s actions in Crimea, since there is very little substance in the text thus far. Indeed, the moderates – led by Germany and including countries with strong economic ties to Russia, like Italy and the Netherlands– appear to have succeeded in keeping any specific threats against Russia out of the declaration.
Although the statement endorses the conclusions of EU foreign ministers on Monday – which demanded that Russia return its troops in Crimea back to barracks or face “targeted measures” – the leaders’ statement oddly leaves this specific demand out. There is no language reiterating the foreign ministers’ view on this, which included the demand to “withdraw [Russian] armed forces to the areas of their permanent stationing.” Instead, the draft simply states a commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Read more
The USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier
With the Russian buildup of forces in Crimea continuing unabated, the internet has been filled with reported sightings of US naval vessels heading into the Black Sea, most recently the USS George HW Bush aircraft carrier which, in reality, was merely heading to the Greek port of Piraeus for a long-scheduled port call.
The latest addition to this internet buzz was reports that Turkey had given the US navy permission for a warship to sail through the Bosphorus, the narrow straight that connects the Eastern Mediterranean with the Black Sea. Read more
José Manuel Barroso announces the Ukrainian aid programme on Wednesday
The EU’s announcement on Wednesday of a new €11bn aid package for Ukraine is both more and less than it first appears.
The “more” part of the package comes in the €1.6bn of so-called “macro-financial” assistance, which is the traditional kind of direct budget aid that we’ve come to recognise in eurozone bailouts. Up until the fall of Victor Yanukovich’s Russia-backed regime in Kiev, the EU had only signed up to €610m in such loans, so the extra €1bn is a significant increase.
The “less” part of the package is the estimated €8bn to come from Europe’s two development banks, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. That aid is contingent on finding infrastructure projects to fund in Ukraine, which may prove a fraught exercise. In any case, it’s likely to be long-term assistance of only marginal use to the struggling technical government in Kiev right now. Read more
Sweden's Carl Bildt, Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski and EU's Catherine Ashton consult on Ukraine
As is frequently the case with high-level EU documents, the draft communiqué distributed to national capitals ahead of today’s emergency meeting of foreign ministers is more interesting for what has not been agreed going into the session than what is already set in stone.
And according to a draft obtained by the Brussels Blog, quite a bit is left to be decided, including just how aggressive the ministers will be in threatening sanctions – or “targeted measures” in Eurospeak – against Russia. Our main story on the leaked communiqué gives the outline of the dispute, but as is our practice at the Blog, we decided to post a bit more information here. Read more
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato's secretary general, before a meeting Sunday on Ukraine
Even though Ukraine is not a member of Nato – and therefore is not covered by the alliance’s mutual defence treaty – the west has signed a series of bilateral agreements with Kiev over the last 20 years in which it has agreed to help protect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
Given the rapidly escalating events inside Ukraine, such international agreements may seem a mere legal nicety. But many in Ukraine believed the pacts provided the country with a measure of security, and they will still help guide the west’s response to Russian activities.
Perhaps just as importantly, leaders in other capitals in the region who either have or are contemplating similar agreements with the west – be they association agreements with the EU or partnership action plans with Nato – are surely watching to see if these pacts are worth the paper they’re written on.
In the White House’s statement after President Barack Obama’s phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Washington referred to several of those agreements, starting with the so-called “Budapest Memorandum”. Here’s a quick primer on the international texts that govern the west’s – and, in many cases, Russia’s – relations with Ukraine.
A slide from a January 2014 investor presentation by the Ukrainian finance ministry
First of all, just how much financial trouble is Ukraine in?
Almost all major economic powers were out on Monday saying that any aid package would have to wait for a full International Monetary Fund programme. But such “stand-by arrangements” can take months to negotiate – and IMF officials have made clear they want a new government firmly in place before those negotiations can begin, so that may mean we’re waiting until after May’s presidential elections.
So will Ukraine make it until then? Analysts are dubious, and the Ukrainian finance ministry’s declaration on Monday that they are seeking bilateral loans from the US and Poland in the next week or two certainly implies that they’re not sure they can make it that long either.
One key metric to watch is Ukraine’s foreign currency reserves, which for those not seeped in international finance is about as close to a national bank account for emerging market economies as you can get. If Ukraine runs out of reserves of dollars, it can’t pay any of its bills to foreign creditors – such as bondholders or gas providers – and essentially goes broke. Read more
Barroso, right, meets with UK prime minister David Cameron at Downing Street last year.
José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, caused quite a kerfuffle in London at the weekend when he said on one of Britain’s most-watched political chat shows that Scotland would find it “extremely difficult, if not impossible” to rejoin the EU if it were to secede from the UK.
But for those who have been following the debate closely, Barroso’s position had been telegraphed long before – in fact, it has been the stated European Commission view for nearly a decade.
In 2004, then-Commission president Romano Prodi, in a statement published in the Official Journal of the European Union – where all laws and decisions must be published before they can take legal effect – made clear that any region that decided to declare independence must reapply for EU membership and face the same kind of unanimous agreement as any other applicant: Read more