Are they just teething problems? Or is something more serious at stake? One way or another, the first signs are emerging that the European Union’s new foreign policy structures, established under the Lisbon treaty that came into force last month, are capable of producing just as much discord and disharmony as the old arrangements.
Let’s take the EU’s response to the Haiti earthquake. Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign affairs supremo, convened an emergency meeting on January 18 at which the 27-nation bloc quickly and efficiently agreed a generous aid package for Haiti worth over 400 million euros. At a news conference after the meeting, she was asked if she would be visiting Haiti and, if not, why not. She replied that she wouldn’t be going, because the United Nations had requested her and other foreign dignitaries to stay away in order not to disrupt the emergency aid effort. However, Karel De Gucht, the EU’s outgoing humanitarian aid commissioner, would travel to Haiti. A perfectly sensible response. Read more
Is it Islamophobia, ignorance, a crisis of European identity, a problem of a poorly integrated minority community, or something of all of these?
According to an opinion poll published in today’s Le Soir , one of Belgium’s leading newspapers, some 59.3 per cent of Belgians support a ban on the construction of new minarets in their country. This is about 2 per cent more than the proportion of Swiss who voted in a referendum last month to halt the building of new minarets. Read more
The inimitable Nicolas Sarkozy couldn’t resist the temptation to term last week’s allocation of jobs in the new European Commission as a victory for France and a defeat for Britain. In particular, the French president crowed, he had outmanoeuvred the Brits by securing the internal market portfolio, which is responsible for financial regulation, for Michel Barnier, the new French commissioner.
It was certainly a little undiplomatic for Sarkozy to uncork the metaphorical Champagne bottles so soon after the announcement of the new jobs. There are many raw nerves in the British government and in the City of London about how various EU measures in the pipeline may damage the UK’s financial sector. Sarkozy touched every one of those nerves with a rod of fire. Read more
So it looks as if it is to be Herman Van Rompuy, Belgium’s prime minister, as the full-time president, and Catherine Ashton, Britain’s EU trade commissioner, as the foreign policy supremo. This is the culmination of eight years of efforts, starting with the EU’s Laeken Declaration of 2001, to reform the bloc’s institutions and give the EU a more dynamic world profile.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, thinks the EU had a historic opportunity in its grasp and flunked it – at least as far as the full-time presidency is concerned. The British government itself was saying more or less the same thing until tonight. It was adamant that the EU needed a big-hitter as president to convince the rest of the world that the EU was going places. Now it has participated in a classic EU trade-off that has produced exactly the result it said would be no use to anyone. Read more
The sun is shining in Brussels and the sky has an unseasonably blue, cloudless, late-November-in-Rome quality as European Union leaders make their way here for the summit of summits - the event where they will choose the EU’s first full-time president and new foreign policy chief. I wonder if the weather will be so fine when the leaders finally drag themselves away from the negotiating table after what is shaping up to be a night of relentless hard bargaining.
By general consent, the frontrunner is Herman Van Rompuy, the amiable, haiku-writing Belgian prime minister. Even a speech he gave in 2004 that reveals him to be an implacable opponent of Turkey’s entry into the EU (Turkey has been an official candidate for the past four years) doesn’t seem to be doing Van Rompuy any harm. Well, why should it? It fits in perfectly with the views of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Read more
The winner of this year’s FT ranking of European finance ministers, France’s Christine Lagarde, talks about tackling the economic crisis. Read more
There are all sorts of threats to the European Union’s unity, but something tells me that the biggest threat isn’t the Visegrad group. This appears to be a view not shared by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.
Speaking after the October 29-30 EU summit in Brussels, Sarkozy criticised the fact that the leaders of the four Visegrad countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – had held a pre-summit meeting to co-ordinate their positions. “If they were to meet regularly before each Council, that would raise some questions,” Sarkozy said. Read more
The distance separating Britain’s perceptions of the European Union from those of its Continental partners is so vast that the English Channel might as well be the Pacific Ocean. This was my first thought when I read not just David Cameron’s speech on what steps a future Conservative government would take to limit EU involvement in British affairs, but also the way the speech was reported and the reactions on each side of the Channel.
The Financial Times story, for instance, said Cameron’s speech set out “a very limited programme for European reform” – an interpretation which would raise howls of laughter across much of Europe, where the Conservative leader’s proposals are not viewed as “very limited” and are most definitely not seen as an effort at “reform”. Read more
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