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Stefan Wagstyl

Stefan Wagstyl was the FT's emerging markets editor and first beyondbrics editor. He is heading to Berlin as the FT's bureau chief. He has been covering emerging markets for over 20 years, and was previously central and east Europe editor, New Delhi bureau chief, and Tokyo bureau chief for the FT.

After all the UK press has written about him over the past few weeks, it is good to see Jean-Claude Juncker still has a sense of humour.

The former Luxembourg prime minister has largely kept his head down since he emerged as the front-runner for the European Commission presidency – and came under fire from UK prime minister David Cameron and the pro-Conservative battalions of the British media.

On Tuesday Mr Juncker broke cover to deliver a speech at a Berlin security conference – he had, he said, accepted the invitation before becoming embroiled in the latest battle of Brussels.

Explaining that he was between jobs – having handed over the reins in Luxembourg in December and yet to be installed in a new post – he added with a smile: “I am a transgender person, in the political sense.” 

Just when it seemed that European politics could get no harder for Angela Merkel, a new complication has emerged in the tangled world of the EU.

The German chancellor is already involved in a head-splitting row over the probable appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president. This week while Ms Merkel was in Brazil watching Germany’s opening victory of the World Cup, the first big split emerged in her ruling coalition.

Sigmar Gabriel, her deputy, pounced on Ms Merkel’s absence to challenge her eurozone economic policy, in an intervention that has the potential to sour relations long after the original dispute is forgotten. 

Martin Schulz has made a career of presenting himself as the ultimate European.

But when it comes to the crunch, the German president of the European Parliament is not afraid of clothing himself in the national flag in his campaign to become European Commission president. 

Germany’s allies may think that Berlin is slow to engage with the rest of the world – and show some political muscle commensurate with its economic weight.

But the German public has the opposite view: in an opinion poll published on Tuesday, only 37 per cent support a more active German foreign policy with 60 per cent against. 

Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker, the two leading candidates in the European Parliamentary election, did their best to put some life into their latest pre-election television debate.

Speaking in German, on German television, the centre-left and the centre-right runners for the president of the European Commission, argued over what they could – even their ages. 

Vladimir Putin speaking at a session of the Russian security services board April 7 (Getty)

At one level, what is happening this week in the cities of eastern Ukraine is thoroughly confusing. Ukrainian security forces are trying to recapture government buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk that were seized earlier this week by unidentified pro-Russia demonstrators. Who exactly is fighting whom? Who is really in charge in the region?

But at another level, what is going on is very clear. Vladimir Putin is providing an object lesson in how to destroy a state. 

Imagine you are the boss of a multinational company with a long-planned meeting with an authoritarian leader of a vital trading partner. Then just before the scheduled get-together, he decides to invade one of his neighbours. What do you do?

That, roughly, was the position of Joe Kaeser, chief executive of Germany’s Siemens, as he decided to go through with a meeting with Vladimir Putin this week at the Russian president’s nineteenth century country residence on the outskirts of Moscow.