Barroso, left, and Verhofstadt
Fellow Brussels Blogger Josh Chaffin has a fun piece in today’s paper on MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister who has moved into a central role in the suddenly intensifying negotiations over the so-called “Six Pack” – the six legislative measures that would give the EU the power to fine member states that don’t get their fiscal houses in order.
In the story, Josh quotes a 2004 US diplomatic cable we obtained through WikiLeaks where Pat Cox, then the European parliament president, gave Rockwell Schnable, the US ambassador to the EU, a run-down on how Verhofstadt was handling losing the European Commission presidency to José Manuel Barroso. As we said in the story, Cox said Verhofstadt was “devastated”.
As we frequently do here at the Brussels Blog, we thought we’d give readers a bit more on the cable. After the jump, we’ve included the entire section where Cox talks about Verhofstadt. It’s an interesting read. Read more
In today’s paper, we have a story about the history of bad blood between Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, an account based on dozens of US diplomatic cables that we got our hands on thanks to WikiLeaks.
The two men are summiting today in Brussels, so we thought it would be worth posting the full text of a cable from the US embassy in Moscow detailing the last time the two men summited in February 2009. Although we have redacted the names of the officials who briefed US diplomats, they included a senior European Commission official and a top diplomat in Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs. Read more
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, heads off for a tour of the Middle East and North Africa today – a trip that’s expected to include both Tunisia and Egypt – after coming under quite a bit of criticism for her handling of the upheaval in the region.
But the criticism has not all been in one direction. Ahead of her trip, a senior EU official briefed the Brussels press corps and laid some of the blame for the frequently discordant European reaction to recent events in the laps of national foreign ministers.
“One of the difficulties that we have is making sure that we not only speak with one voice but act with one voice,” the official said. “I mean, how many foreign ministers are in the Middle East now? It’s a bit complicated. The high representative wants to go, but can she go the same day or the day after when three foreign minsters have been? To do what? It’s a real problem.” Read more
Monday saw the launch of Brussels Leaks, which pretty much does exactly what you would expect a website with the “-leaks” suffix to do.
Like its illustrious forebear, WikiLeaks, Brussels Leaks wants to bring extreme transparency to the decision-making process, with a focus on the European Union.
It’s a fairly rudimentary set-up by a group of moonlighting Brussels professionals working anonymously and with clearly limited resources. Read more
Among the more revealing EU-related disclosures in the WikiLeaks trove are not about Washington’s view of the European Union, but rather about how members of the EU view each other.
One of the more colourful dispatches that have come out thus far is an April 2004 account of an otherwise dull Brussels evening event in which a US official was seated at a table with the featured speaker: Chris Patten, the high-profile British diplomat who at the time was the EU’s foreign affairs commissioner.
Labeled “Dining with Chris: Random Thoughts from Relex” – relex is Euro-speak for the foreign policy, or “external relations,” portfolio – the cable offers Patten’s vivid views on everything from Romania (a “feral nation”) to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin (when discussing Chechnya, “Putin’s eyes turn to those of a killer”). Read more
One of the most high-profile dust-ups between the US and the European Union since President Barack Obama took office was a White House decision to skip out on a May summit with the EU that was to be held in Madrid during Spain’s turn at the bloc’s rotating presidency.
The decision was seen by many Europeans as a snub, and hurt feelings have persisted for months. The issue was raised anew just last month when Obama finally agreed to an EU summit, this time tacked onto a Nato gathering in Lisbon, with the US continuing to insist that the only reason the Spanish summit was scrapped was because of Obama’s already heavy European travel schedule.
But two cables made public as part of the WikiLeaks dump this week present a more complicated picture of the White House decision-making. They make clear that senior US officials believed that there simply was not enough substance to the agenda to make the meeting worthwhile.
Among the hundreds of confidential US diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks thus far, very few have dealt with Washington’s relations with the EU. But occasionally, EU leaders have popped up in summaries of other international events in which they have only tangentially been involved.
The most pointed EU-related revelation to be released thus far comes in a 2008 cable from the American embassy in Moscow following French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s heated September 8 confrontation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over the Kremlin’s invasion of Georgia.
The US account of the “at times…openly hostile” meeting, where Sarkozy “at one point grabbed FM Lavrov by the lapels and called him a liar in very strong terms,” has been reported widely. Less noticed, however, was Moscow’s reception of José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president.
In a section labeled secret and “noforn,” meaning it was not to be shown to non-American officials, an unnamed French source retells how “the Russians treated Barroso harshly and condescendingly, and tried to exclude him from many of the sessions.” Read more