It was inevitable, I think, that Czech President Vaclav Klaus would take his last stand against the European Union’s Lisbon treaty on the Sudeten German issue. This has been one of the most highly charged themes of Czech politics since the former Czechoslovakia threw off communism in 1989. By raising it, Klaus aims to break out of the extreme political isolation into which his hostility to Lisbon has pushed him on both the Czech and the wider European stage. But it is a step that smacks of desperation as much as of calculation.
The Sudeten German question touches a genuinely raw nerve among some Czechs. It relates to the several million ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of the second world war at the behest of the Prague authorities, who were convinced – with good reason - that large numbers of the German minority had served as a Nazi fifth column. Some Czech politicians have proved willing to play on the fears of ordinary Czechs that descendants of the Sudeten Germans may one day succeed, through legal action, in reclaiming the property of which their forebears were stripped. Read more
Read today’s analysis in the FT of the consequences of Ireland’s vote on the Lisbon treaty. Follow this link:
EU embarks on voyage of discovery after Lisbon Read more
With Czech President Vaclav Klaus the chief remaining obstacle to final ratification of the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, there has been a fair amount of loose talk about how the Czech Republic could – or should – be punished if Klaus refuses to sign it. On the one hand, supporters of the treaty say it is intolerable that the EU’s eight-year effort at redesigning its institutions should be sabotaged at the finishing post. If Klaus carries on his delaying tactics much longer, they warn, the Czechs should be denied a seat in the next European Commission.
On the other hand, opponents of the Lisbon treaty are painting the same scenario for quite different reasons. Just you watch, they say. The EU will reveal itself as an intolerant, anti-democratic machine, whipping the Czechs merely because they have the temerity to resist the imposition of a treaty they fear undermines their sovereignty. Read more
This is a short note to let everyone know that Tuesday’s Financial Times will carry an article looking at who will be the lucky person appointed as the European Union’s first full-time president (assuming, as seems more and more likely, that the EU’s Lisbon treaty comes into effect next year).
So, readers – who do you think should be the first president?
A couple of months ago, some European Union policymakers talked despairingly of how 2009 risked turning out to be “a wasted year”. Now the EU is on a roll. The impasse over José Manuel Barroso’s reappointment as European Commission president was removed last month when the European parliament stopped playing games and renewed his term of office.
And all of a sudden, it looks as if “a decade of deadening debate over the European Union’s institutional shape” – as British foreign secretary David Miliband puts it in today’s FT – will soon come to an end, after Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon treaty produced a massive majority in favour. It may not be long before the EU has its first full-time president, a new head of foreign policy and a new Commission with a five-year mandate serving under Barroso. 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
The early results look pretty conclusive: Irish voters have approved the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, possibly by a very large margin. A poll by the opposition Fine Gael party suggests the pro-Lisbon forces may have taken between 60 and 65 per cent of the vote.
That would be a comprehensive turnaround from the 53.4 to 46.6 per cent victory for the No camp in the June 2008 referendum in Ireland. Voters in Dublin seem to have given overwhelming backing to the treaty, according to RTE, the Irish state broadcaster. Read more
Voting in Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon treaty got off to a pretty slow start at one polling station I went to in central Dublin this morning. By 8am, an hour after the polls opened, fewer than a dozen people had arrived to cast ballots. Nevertheless, it struck me as significant that two voters told me that they had switched to voting Yes from No in Ireland’s June 2008 referendum on the treaty. By contrast, no one said they had switched to No from Yes.
In the 2008 referendum, the Lisbon treaty was defeated by a margin of 53.4 to 46.6 per cent on a turn-out of 53.1 per cent. That was a decisive result. But because Ireland is a small place, with an electorate of just over 3m, the absolute difference between the Yes and No votes was not that great. Some 862,415 people voted against Lisbon and 752,451 in favour. 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
Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon treaty on Friday should in principle be about the treaty’s contents, not the state of the Irish economy. But the economy’s collapse over the past 12 months compels both pro-Lisbon and anti-Lisbon forces to confront the question of whether membership of the European Union – and, specifically, of the eurozone – has helped (even saved) Ireland, made things worse, or not made much difference one way or the other.
An interesting angle from which to approach this question is to ask whether Ireland has fared better than another island off the north-west coast of Europe that was thrown into turmoil at almost exactly the same moment last year – namely, Iceland. Iceland isn’t a EU member and doesn’t use the euro. Has this accelerated Iceland’s recovery or held it back? Read more
One day I’ll break the habit of only visiting Ireland when there’s a referendum on a European Union treaty. It can easily mislead you into thinking that the Irish people like nothing better than a passionate ”national conversation” (as the latest faddish expression puts it) about Europe. In fact, it is closer to the mark to say, as Eamon Delaney does in an article for the Irish magazine Business & Finance, that “Ireland is an island with a self-absorbed political culture which is not all that interested in overseas affairs”.
Be that as it may, I’m back in Dublin and the contrast with the political atmosphere of June 2008, when Irish voters rejected the EU’s Lisbon treaty on institutional reform, is pretty startling. Fifteen months ago, businessmen and economists I talked with were in no doubt that Ireland was heading into a recession, but none predicted the whirlwind that has wrought unmatched havoc on the economy and come close to destroying the national banking system. Read more
I’m in Hamburg today wondering what would happen if next Sunday’s German election were to produce not some messy, inconclusive result, but a clear-cut victory for one party or the other in the ruling Christian Democrat-Social Democrat grand coalition. What might this mean for the allocation of top jobs in the European Union?
Of course, unless the opinion polls are wildly wrong, it is inconceivable that the Social Democrats will emerge as the largest party in the Bundestag. The post-reunification fissures of the German left seem to have doomed the SPD to second place in perpetuity behind the Christian Democrats. But if the inconceivable were to happen, then Angela Merkel would no longer be chancellor and would presumably be looking for a new challenge and a new job. 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
In the end, it was all so easy. A few minutes ago, José Manuel Barroso won approval for a second term as European Commission president, after a vote in the European Parliament that went 382 in his favour and 219 against, with 117 abstentions.
Barroso thus comfortably cleared the threshold of 369 votes – that is, more than half of the 736-seat parliament – that he needed in order to remove any doubts about his political authority over the next five years. No wonder he was wreathed in smiles as he accepted a congratulatory bouquet of flowers from Cecilia Malmström, Sweden’s European affairs minister. Read more
When does No mean Yes – or maybe? I’m not venturing here into the treacherous territory of date rape law, but rather thinking of what politicians say when they’re asked if they want to be the European Union’s first permanent president.
Take Felipe González, Spain’s socialist prime minister from 1982 to 1996. Rumours have swirled around Brussels for months that González is interested in the job and that President Nicolas Sarkozy of France would be pleased to see him get it. González’s fellow Spaniard, Javier Solana, who is the EU’s foreign policy high representative, is on record as saying last June that he believes the ex-premier “has the energy and the capacity for the job”. Read more
What should be the top five priorities of the next European Commission?
1) Top of my list is the defence, and if possible the strengthening, of the single European market. This is the European Union’s bedrock achievement. It secures prosperity for its citizens, and it underpins the EU’s collective weight in the world. Without the single market, the EU would lose not merely its cohesion but its very reason for existence. The single market is under strain at present because of the emergency measures taken over the past year to prop up Europe’s banking system. These have, in effect, suspended the EU’s state aid rules in this sector. The Commission will need to be tough in making sure that EU governments do not manipulate the rules as the emergency measures are gradually withdrawn. Meanwhile, it should continue to press the case for integrating and liberalising the EU’s service sector, which accounts for two-thirds of all EU economic activity. Read more
The great thing about blogging is that you learn something new almost every day. This morning, while preparing a blog on the European Union’s foreign policy, I have learnt the French expression avaler des couleuvres, which translates literally as “to swallow grass snakes” and means “to believe anything you’re told”.
What a magnificent idiom! I came across it in the widely followed Coulisses de Bruxelles blog of Jean Quatremer, the Brussels correspondent of the French daily Libération. Quatremer was writing about Javier Solana’s decision to give up his job as the EU’s foreign policy high representative, a post he has held since 1999. Read more
I was in Stockholm this morning when the happy news arrived that Germany’s constitutional court had given the green light in principle to the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. I call the news “happy” not because I am biased in favour of Lisbon, but because it meant that for once the task of writing about the treaty fell to someone else at the Financial Times (on this occasion, my Berlin-based colleague Bertrand Benoit).
The EU’s masochistic efforts at institutional reform, encapsulated in the Lisbon treaty, were one of the first things I wrote about when I arrived in Brussels in 2007. Two years later, I find that the subject refuses to go away, seeping into my daily work like a sewage leak in a cellar (a domestic problem familiar to house-dwellers in low-lying Brussels). All the more maddening is the knowledge that almost no one in the outside world cares one stale fig about the treaty. Read more
Hello, hello, hello, what’s this, then? Another attempt by Czech President Vaclav Klaus to derail the European Union’s Lisbon treaty? Surely not! Let’s take a closer look. Oh, my God, yes, it’s true. And how could we ever have doubted it? Because the thing about Klaus is that if it looks like pork and dumplings, and it smells like pork and dumplings, and it tastes like pork and dumplings, then you can bet your life that it definitely is pork and dumplings.
The Czech Republic’s six-month EU presidency comes to an end on June 30. This date once looked likely to mark Klaus’s departure from the EU stage. Instead, it now appears certain that Klaus – who delights in being one of the least liked EU leaders of all time - will press on with his campaign to sabotage the Lisbon treaty. 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