Britain

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

If it were not funny, it would be tragic.  The UK Conservative party’s decision to quit the European People’s Party (EPP), the main centre-right political group in the European Parliament, is backfiring on the Tories in spectacular fashion.  The decision was always daft – a bit like the right wing of the US Republican Party splitting off and forming a minority group in Congress – but it now looks more short-sighted than ever.

On Tuesday the Tories relinquished the leadership of their new “anti-federalist” faction, the so-called European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, to Michal Tomasz Kaminski, a Polish politician.  They felt obliged to do so after Edward McMillan-Scott, a Tory MEP, refused to respect a deal in which Kaminski had been promised one of the parliament’s prestigious vice-presidency posts. Read more

It seems light years ago now, but I once had a delightful Swedish friend whose father, reflecting on his distinguished career in public service, told her that the proudest moment of his life was when Sweden switched from driving on the left side of the road to the right and there were no serious traffic accidents.

That was in 1967, and there’s no denying it – it’s damned impressive.  Imagine if they tried to introduce a change like that today in Britain, or in other countries that still drive on the left such as India, Japan, Pakistan or South Africa.  It would make the chaos on the opening day of Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5 look like a spot of trouble with the signalling on a model train set. Read more

José Manuel Barroso is all but certain to be reappointed as European Commission president.  But who will get the other plum European Union jobs that will soon be up for grabs?

The most startling suggestion I have heard in recent days – and it came from a high-ranking EU diplomat – is that the EU’s first ever full-time president could be none other than Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK.  The thinking here is that, because the job will require its holder to represent the EU on the world stage, it would suit Brown well.  He has oodles of experience and excellent connections at the highest level, starting with President Barack Obama. Read more

It’s election day in Europe, but in certain respects the most important events are taking place outside the voting booths.

According to a RTE/Sunday Independent opinion poll in Ireland, supporters of the European Union’s Lisbon treaty will defeat opponents by a margin of 54 per cent to 28 per cent (with 18 per cent undecided) when the treaty is submitted to a second referendum, probably in October.  Such a thumping victory would not only reverse but for all practical purposes bury the memory of Irish voters’ rejection of the treaty in June 2008Read more

German chancellor Angela Merkel is usually a model of diplomatic politeness when she talks in public about Germany’s allies.  Not last Tuesday, however.

Towards the end of a speech in Berlin, she criticised the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and to a lesser extent the European Central Bank for responding to the global economic crisis with an unorthodox and irresponsible splurge of money creation.  Unless the central banks reversed these policies, she warned, the western world would find itself in the same kind of mess 10 years from now that it’s in today. Read more

The closer the European Parliament elections, the sneakier the stratagems of British centre-right politicians and activists in Brussels.

As David Cameron made clear on May 18 when he launched the election campaign of his opposition Conservative party, the Tories are poised to leave the mainstream European People’s Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) group soon after the vote.  They plan to set up a new centre-right group in the EU legislature that would be strongly opposed to more EU political and economic integration. Read more

The Czech hosts of Thursday’s European Union summit with six ex-Soviet states are not happy bunnies. The list of the EU leaders who couldn’t be bothered to show up for the Eastern Partnership event in Prague, a highlight of the Czechs’ six-month EU presidency, was embarrassingly long.

Let’s take them one by one. Read more

They say newspapers are the first draft of history. Here I’m on a mission to prove that blogs are the second draft.

The piece of history I have in mind is the European Union summit of March 19-20, when the bloc’s 27 leaders issued a statement pledging €75bn in new EU contributions to the International Monetary Fund to help fight the global economic crisis. This commitment was duly reported in the Financial Times and other newspapers and was the “first version of history”. Read more