Tony Barber

It’s time to say “thank you” to Herman Van Rompuy.

Mr Van Rompuy, 66, is nearing the end of five years as the first full-time president of the European Council, which groups the 28-member EU’s national leaders. He has done the job shrewdly, unselfishly, professionally and without losing sight of the ideal of European peace, democracy, prosperity and unity that motivated him to enter public life. Read more

Tony Barber

Like anyone familiar with the French definition of budgetary discipline, I didn’t spill my coffee in shock on Wednesday morning when Michel Sapin, finance minister, disclosed that France wouldn’t bring its public finances in line with EU-set targets until 2017 – two years later than previously agreed.

From the day of the euro’s launch in January 1999, it’s never been any different in Paris. No grande nation worth its salt would balance its budget on the orders of some bumptious bureaucratic bean-counter in Brussels. Read more

Tony Barber

In his 2011 book ‘Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe’, the historian Norman Davies writes: “That the United Kingdom will collapse is a foregone conclusion. Sooner or later, all states do collapse… Only the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ are mysteries of the future.”

A ‘Yes’ vote in Scotland’s September 18 referendum is a distinct possibility. According to Peter Kellner, one of Britain’s foremost opinion poll experts, the pro-independence forces were, by the start of this month, gaining about four votes for every one lost, whilst the unionists were losing about two supporters for every one they were winning. Read more

Tony Barber

The view from Toompea hill over Tallinn bay and the Old Town of Estonia’s capital is justly considered one of the glories of the Baltic region. Scarcely less memorable is a plaque on the wall of Stenbock House, the 18th-century mansion on Toompea hill which is the official seat of Estonia’s government. Read more

Tony Barber

The consensus, such as it is, on the eurozone crisis was neatly summed up on Monday by Hugo Dixon, author and editor at large of Reuters News: “The euro crisis is sleeping, not dead.”

What about the crisis in Greece? Over the past four to five years Europe, supported by the International Monetary Fund, has invested more time, effort and money in Greece than in any other struggling eurozone state. The aim is to reform a country so inefficiently governed, so riddled with corruption and so burdened with debt that it seemed, for certain spells in 2011 and 2012, to pose a threat to the eurozone’s survival.

So it seems reasonable to ask: if this time, effort and money have not changed Greece for the better, what has it all been for? Read more

Tony Barber

Here are three reasons why some of Italy’s EU partners don’t want Federica Mogherini, the Italian foreign minister, to become the 28-nation bloc’s next foreign policy supremo.

Only one is to do with her. The second is about the distribution of big EU jobs among nations. The third, most important reason is about Italy and why its foreign policy may not suit the EU as a whole. Read more

Tony Barber

It’s the fashion these days for outsiders to lecture France as if it’s a talented but obstinate schoolboy failing his grades. The idea seems to be that the more you tell the French off, the faster they’ll pull their socks up. This approach is wrong. We should, instead, smother France with love.

Like anyone, the French like to hear from time to time that they are clever, beautiful, funny, kind and successful. But for the past 10 years or so, the outside world has spoken fewer nice words about France than about any developed country.

It’s reached ridiculous proportions. Anyone would think, from all these foreign sermons, that French civilisation was falling apart. This is hardly the way to get the best out of any nation, not just the French. We need to stop finding fault and start smothering France with love. Read more

Tony Barber

(Getty)

“There is a tide in the affairs of men

“Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

So said Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and the same thought was surely the cause of much rejoicing on Friday among the main political party groups in the European Parliament. Seize the moment, and victory will be yours.

The parties’ success in forcing the EU’s national governments to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president is one reason why Friday’s EU summit in Brussels will go down in history. The parties, using the European Parliament as their lever, have rebalanced the distribution of power among the EU institutions in their favour. Read more

Tony Barber

Don’t mix football with politics, goes the old saying – and Belgians are learning the lesson well.

Often depicted (wrongly, in my view) as an artificial, politically divided country doomed to disintegration, Belgium is cheering with one voice as its football team delights fans at the World Cup in Brazil. The streets of Brussels and other cities are festooned with black-yellow-red national flags – symbols of unity under which, at least during a football match, most Belgians can gather. Read more

Tony Barber

 

Croatia's economy is not so sunny

The slow, painful healing of the Greek economy after a catastrophic debt crisis raises an interesting question. Which country now holds the title of No.1 Economic Basket Case of the European Union?

The answer is surely Croatia. It is a small country (4.3m people, not even 1 per cent of the 28-nation EU’s 506m inhabitants) that did not join the EU until last July. It is not a eurozone member. It has gorgeous islands and beaches where life seems distinctly pleasant. So Croatia and its economic troubles often slip under everyone’s radar.

But Croatia is now in its sixth successive year of recession. During this time it has lost almost 13 per cent of its gross domestic product. Unemployment is about 17 per cent of the workforce, and among young people the rate is close to 50 per cent. Read more