The last time that a dispute between Madrid and Brussels seized the international spotlight was in 1568 – and boy, was it big.  That was when the Spanish rulers of the Low Countries sparked the 80-year-long Dutch Revolt by executing Counts Egmont and Horne on the Grand’ Place of what is today the Belgian capital.

This month, another quarrel between Spain and Belgium broke out.  Admittedly, it’s less serious, and for the moment it’s stayed behind closed doors.  But in the interests of transparency, and because the squabble tells you rather a lot about the way the European Union operates, I shall share the details with you. Read more

Is José Manuel Barroso’s reappointment as European Commission president in trouble?  Probably not.  But the jury is still out on whether he will secure formal approval from the European Parliament as early as mid-July.  If he does not, it will be difficult to dispel the clouds of doubt that will linger over his future for two months or more.

Such uncertainty is hardly what the European Union needs at a moment when its banking system faces hundreds of billions of euros in losses this year and next, and when Germany and France, the eurozone’s two biggest economies, appear utterly at odds over when and how to rebalance their public financesRead more

Who were the biggest winners and biggest losers of the European Parliament elections?

Top of the winners’ list are surely Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.  Merkel’s Christian Democrats destroyed her Social Democrat coalition partners at the polls, and Sarkozy’s UMP party brushed aside the opposition French socialists.  Merkel and Sarkozy will feel vindicated in their approach to the global economic crisis, particularly as regards the need to introduce tougher financial regulation (and to lecture central banks from time to time). Read more

There is a wonderful scene in “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”, the 1979 movie that satirizes religion, in which two bungling terrorist groups, the People’s Front of Judea and the Campaign for Free Galilee, conduct simultaneous raids on Pontius Pilate’s palace and end up fighting each other rather than the Romans, their common enemy. This is the scene that comes to mind when one looks at the European Union’s recent diplomatic interventions in the Middle East.

The trouble started in January with the embarrassing spectacle of two separate European missions - one led by the Czech Republic in its capacity as holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, and the other led by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France – touring the region in an attempt to calm down the Gaza conflict. One or two countries, notably the Czechs, appeared distinctly more sympathetic to the Israeli notion of justified self-defence against Hamas than did the majority of EU member-states. 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

Just as sunny weather has come to Brussels for the first time this year, so have the first signs that the European Union is weaning itself off its addiction to ever more frequent summits. True, today’s G20 event in London is the mother of all summits, and there are plenty of Europeans at it (too many, some non-Europeans might say).

But other planned summits are being downgraded or won’t be particularly grand occasions. Back in February Mirek Topolanek, the recently deposed Czech premier, announced he intended to hold two emergency anti-recession summits – one to uphold the EU’s free trade and single market principles against the threats of protectionism and economic nationalism, and the other on employment. The first meeting took place in Brussels on March 1 and didn’t get good reviews from summit critics in the European media. Read more

Who will be the next European Commission president? Until recently, José Manuel Barroso looked comfortably placed to secure reappointment for a second five-year term at a summit of EU leaders in June. Now the picture is not so clear.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy put the cat among the pigeons on Sunday when he refused to reaffirm the support for Barroso’s candidacy that he had offered during France’s spell last year in the European Union’s rotating presidency. “I like Mr Barroso a lot, I’ve enjoyed working with him, I have confidence in him,” Sarkozy said, his words sounding ever more hollow the longer his sentence stretched on. Read more

Apart from all their summits on the recession and financial crisis, European Union leaders are planning to get together in Prague on May 7 to launch something called the “Eastern Partnership”. This is an initiative designed to draw six post-Soviet states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – closer to the EU, without holding out an explicit promise of membership at some future date.

Let’s hope that fate treats the Eastern Partnership more kindly than it has done the EU’s Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), a similar initiative for the bloc’s southern neighbours. This project, the brainchild of French President NIcolas Sarkozy, was launched in Paris to great fanfare in July. Then it nose-dived in January when the Gaza war broke out. Read more

The bad feeling between France and the Czech Republic is finally out there for everyone to see. For anyone who likes their European Union united, it is not a pretty sight.

Suspicion was in the air even before the Czechs took over the EU’s rotating presidency from France on January 1. The French doubted that the Czechs would be up to the job. The Czechs sensed that President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to stay in the spotlight even after the end of France’s six-month EU presidency. “Old Europe” was in the red corner, “new Europe” was in the blue, and Round One was about to start. Read more

José Manuel Barroso’s campaign for a second term as European Commission president is coming along nicely. Last week he secured a public endorsement for the first time from Gordon Brown, the UK premier.

Of course, it’s hardly a campaign in the normal democratic sense. European voters aren’t directly involved. The vast majority probably has no idea what’s going on. The selection of the Commission president, one of Europe’s most powerful jobs, rests with the 27 leaders of the European Union’s member-states. Read more