As European Union leaders gather for their two-day summit in Brussels, the word is that the British government’s effort to have Tony Blair selected as the EU’s first full-time president is running into trouble.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just finished a round of afternoon discussions with other European socialist leaders, trying to persuade them that Blair deserves the job. The talks did not go well. Read more
The fuss over who will be the European Union’s first full-time president is obscuring the less sexy but potentially more important question of who will get the two or three most powerful jobs in the next European Commission. A good many governments would prefer to see one of their nationals in a truly influential economic policymaking role in the Commission than occupying the EU presidency, which may turn out to be a more hollow job than once foreseen.
Commission president José Manuel Barroso says he will not nominate his new team until EU leaders have chosen their new head of foreign policy, a post that entitles its holder to a Commission seat. Any country wanting a big economic portfolio at the Commission will therefore steer clear of putting forward a candidacy for the foreign policy job, because there is only one Commission seat for each nation. Read more
There can be few presidential campaigns that have kicked off with the declaration “I am not a dwarf”. But this is what Le Monde quotes Jean-Claude Juncker today as saying in the interview in which Luxembourg’s prime minister reveals he would consider being a candidate for the European Union’s presidency “if the call came”.
I have interviewed Juncker and seen him in action more than a few times over the years, and I can confirm that he is not a dwarf – though I have heard other disparaging terms applied to him that need not concern us here. What most interests me is the enormous gulf in perceptions of Juncker’s potential candidacy between the UK and certain mainland European countries. Read more
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. Read more
Every now and then, I’m asked in Brussels whether the opposition British Conservative party’s hostility to the European Union is related to the fact that so many of its top people – including David Cameron, likely to be the UK’s next prime minister – went to Eton. The theory is that they’re so snooty and cut off from the lives of ordinary Britons that they’ve lost all sense of what’s in the national interest.
Well, it’s always tempting to have a rant about privilege. But in this case, the verdict on Eton is “not proven”. Read more
Victories in referendums rarely come as big as this. With full results in from more than half Ireland’s constituencies, the pro-Lisbon treaty camp is ahead by 66.8 to 33.2 per cent. What’s more, the turnout is high – almost 59 per cent, compared with 53 per cent when Irish voters rejected the European Union’s Lisbon treaty in June 2008.
No wonder Irish premier Brian Cowen looks like the cat that’s been served the cream (when he and his party are annihilated in the next Irish parliamentary election, he can always say he did the noble thing on Lisbon before perishing). And no wonder Irish big business is pleased, too. They were very visible on the Yes side during this campaign and they needed a convincing result to justify the money and effort. Read more
According to Brian Cowen, Ireland’s premier, a No result in Friday’s referendum on the European Union’s Lisbon treaty would raise the prospect of a “two-speed Europe”, with some countries forging ahead with closer political and economic integration and others staying outside. But isn’t a two-speed Europe the dog that is hauled out of its kennel every time there’s a EU institutional crisis but which, in the end, never barks?
After Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty in June 2008, a number of politicians were quick to assert that a two-speed Europe was the only way to keep the European “project” on the road. Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister, who has lived through more EU crises than most of us have had quetsch plum tarts, mused in public that perhaps it was time for a “Club of the Few” to go ahead on their own. Read more
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. Read more
Now that José Manuel Barroso is safely re-installed as European Commission president for the next five years, it would be tempting to think that – from an institutional point of view, at least – all is well in Brussels. Tempting, but wrong.
Once again, it is our old friend the Lisbon treaty that is the problem. On October 2 Irish voters, who rejected the treaty in a referendum in June 2008, will have the chance to reverse their verdict. Opinion polls indicate that the Yes camp will win this time. But there is an unmistakeable air of nervousness at the European Union’s headquarters that the polls may not be a reliable guide to the eventual outcome. Read more
It’s less than a week since General Motors agreed to sell Opel, its European arm, to a group led by Magna International of Canada, but already a wave of anger at the implications of the deal is building up. Nowhere is this more true than in Belgium and the UK, where workers at GM plants seem far more at risk than their colleagues in Germany of losing their jobs.
This episode is, however, about much more than potential job losses. It’s about Europe’s reluctance to come to terms with huge overcapacity in its car industry. It’s about how best to preserve a broad manufacturing base in an era when the other main recent driver of European economic growth - lightly regulated financial capitalism – is discredited. Finally, it is a test of the European Commission’s ability to uphold its strict rules on competition and state aid during the worst recession in the European Union’s history. Read more