US relations

I confess to a certain surprise at the way that Massimo D’Alema is climbing up the list of candidates for the post of European Union foreign policy chief.  At first sight the former Italian prime minister and foreign minister ticks far too few boxes to get the job.  But there are, in truth, some straightforward reasons for his ascent – none of which reflects well on the EU.

First, the unticked boxes.  1) His communist past.  This is usually condensed into: “He’s a former communist and therefore unacceptable to Poland and other EU countries, which suffered under Soviet domination while the Italian communist party was gorging itself on covert funds from Moscow.”  In fairness, D’Alema abandoned communism 20 years ago.  I spent five years in Rome covering Italian politics, and he never struck me as an extremist or a hardliner.  Quite the opposite: he was highly pragmatic, in a shifty kind of way. Read more

On Tuesday a numerically impressive delegation of Europeans will be in Washington for the first formal US-European Union summit since Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration last January.  Fredrik Reinfeldt, Sweden’s prime minister, will be there in his capacity as leader of the country that holds the EU’s rotating presidency.  So will Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister.  So will Javier Solana, the EU’s head of foreign policy.  So will Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s external affairs commissioner.  So will José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president – and from what I hear, a few other bigwigs are going along for the ride as well.

This is quite a turnout.  It would be nice to think it reflects an exceptionally warm and constructive relationship between the Obama administration and its EU allies.  But as a timely new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations points out, the real picture is less rosy.  “To Americans, these summits are all too typical of the European love of process over substance, and a European compulsion for everyone to crowd into the room regardless of efficiency,” write the authors, Nick Witney and Jeremy Shapiro. Read more

Even before he was elected as president of France in 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy made it crystal-clear that he didn’t want Turkey to join the European Union - ever.  Now concerns are growing in Brussels that Sarkozy is contemplating a formal Franco-German initiative next year to offer Turkey a “privileged partnership” instead of, as now, the long-term prospect of full EU membership.

The idea of a “privileged partnership” has been around for a good few years.  Sarkozy likes it, and so does Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic party.  It also appeals to Angela Merkel, the CDU chancellor.  However, Merkel has up to now taken a nuanced approach, recognising that Germany, along with other EU countries, recognised Turkey as an official candidate for membership in 1999.  A responsible country cannot just wriggle out of agreements made in good faith, Merkel believes. 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

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