Tony Barber

Poland has made such impressive progress since the end of communism in 1989 that its political elite like to think of their country as part of “northern Europe”, on a par with prosperous, well-governed places like Germany and Sweden, rather than “eastern Europe” (i.e., Macedonia or Romania) or “southern Europe” (Greece or Italy).

But in one respect it now turns out that Poland has more in common with, say, Italy than it might wish. Read more

Tony Barber

There is a widening gap between Germany and its two principal English-speaking allies, the US and the UK, which ought to concern everyone who believes in the enduring need for a transatlantic alliance of democracies. Read more

Tony Barber

Now that most of the results have come in from the European parliament elections, let’s take a family photograph of Europe’s presidents, chancellors and prime ministers. Who have the broadest smiles on their faces, and who are sobbing into their handkerchiefs?

Among the European Union’s six biggest states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – the happiest leader must surely be Matteo Renzi, Italy’s premier. He won, and won big. Mr Renzi (above) demolished the notion that Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement is on an unstoppable roll. He also inflicted an emphatic defeat on Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party.

Even though it was not a national election, the youthful Mr Renzi can now claim to have a mandate of sorts for the political, economic and social reforms that he knows are necessary to modernise Italy. This is not to say that he will succeed – the power of entrenched anti-reform interests in Italy is formidable. But maybe he has a better chance than he did 48 hours ago. Read more

Tony Barber

No doubt about it, Sunday’s European parliament elections have produced a political tremblement de terre – an earthquake – in France, with Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN) claiming victory in the poll. But across the 28-nation EU as a whole, the mainstream pro-European parties will breathe a sigh of relief tonight at having held their ground relatively successfully against anti-establishment insurgents from the far right, far left and anti-EU camps.

The protest vote is not nearly big enough to be labelled a comprehensive rejection of the EU, its political values and its economic crisis management over the five years since the last European elections. Eurosceptics, broadly defined, are projected to win about 130 of the EU legislature’s 751 seats. Given that the EU has just gone through the biggest financial shock and recession of its 56-year history, the damage could have been greater.

Conversely, the vote cannot be considered a ringing endorsement of the cause of closer European integration. The mainstream centre-right European People’s party looks set to be the winner, but with its representation in the EU legislature sharply down to about 211 seats from 273. Moreover, estimates of a pan-European voter turnout of just over 43 per cent – well below the levels recorded in national elections in every member-state – indicate that more than half of the 388m eligible voters simply do not think the European parliament matters much. Read more

Tony Barber

Ten minutes into moderating Friday night’s European parliament election debate in Florence, I was gripped with the unnerving sensation that someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and murmur: “Mr Barber, where is it all going wrong?”

Voting kicks off in less than two weeks, but the big event in the Palazzo Vecchio is unlikely to have any more influence on the outcome than the opinions of Lorenzo de’ Medici in his tomb. Read more

Tony Barber

As the televised brawls between Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, and Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-EU Ukip party have recently shown, the quality of political discussion in Britain is rarely so low as when the topic in question is the European Union.

All the same, sanity and thoughtfulness on the EU issue can still be found in British public life. For this we should thank, among others, the House of Lords, the much misunderstood but invaluable upper house of parliament. Read more

Tony Barber

When out of the blue a little-known millionaire businessman with no political past is elected president of his country, what does this tell you about the quality of that country’s democracy and about the trust of citizens in their established political classes?

These questions are raised by the remarkable victory on Sunday in Slovakia’s presidential election of Andrej Kiska, 51, who will serve a five-year term as head of state after trouncing Robert Fico, prime minister, by a margin of almost 60 to 40 per cent. Read more

Tony Barber

Until a week ago, it looked as if the far-right, anti-immigrant Freedom party (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, might become the largest Dutch political party in the European parliament after the May 22-25 elections to the EU assembly.

But that was before Mr Wilders offended large sections of Dutch opinion, and provoked high-level resignations from the PVV, by making incendiary, xenophobic remarks at a political rally. His party, once top of the opinion polls, is falling back as a result. Read more

Tony Barber

In Cyprus, there is good news – very good news, actually – and bad news.

The good news is that the €10bn emergency international rescue of Cyprus, arranged almost exactly 12 months ago, is working. The economic slump triggered by the collapse of the island’s inflated banking sector is less severe than first feared. The hero of the hour is Haris Georgiades, Cyprus’s finance minister. If he sticks around, he ought to be the Financial Times’s next European Finance Minister of the Year. Read more

Tony Barber

Orient Express

I was passing through eastern Croatia the other day and found myself in Vinkovci, a pleasant town not far from the Danube river border with Serbia. As any Agatha Christie enthusiast will tell you, Vinkovci is the place in Murder on the Orient Express whereSamuel Ratchett, a shady American traveller, is bumped off while the famous train is stuck in a snowdrift. Read more