Europe

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.” Read more

Gideon Rachman

Leaked tapes of expletive-filled conversations involving senior Polish ministers are extremely embarrassing to the government in Warsaw and to some of its leading figures, such as Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister (above). And that, presumably, is exactly the intention.

Amidst all the uproar, relatively few people seem to be asking who would have the resources and expertise to expertly bug several Warsaw restaurants – over the course of a year – and then the motivation to release the tapes. The obvious answer, based entirely on circumstantial evidence, would be Russia’s intelligence service. Read more

Gideon Rachman

By Gideon Rachman
Discussing Britain’s Europe policy earlier this year, a senior adviser to the prime minister shrugged: “I know we’re accused of putting all our eggs in the Merkel basket. But, frankly, we don’t have another basket.”

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

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. Read more

Gideon Rachman

In recent days there has been heavy briefing that Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, would be the perfect candidate to head the European Commission. The idea of a Lagarde candidacy is particularly popular in Britain, where the government is desperate to stop the job going to Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg. Headlines such as “Angela Merkel wants Christine Lagarde as EC president” have fuelled the frenzy. But while the German chancellor may or may not want Lagarde for the job, nobody seems to have paused to ask whether Lagarde herself is interested. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
The idea that Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next head of the European Commission evokes a strange, irrational rage in the British. I know because I share that rage. There is something about Mr Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg – his smugness, his federalism, his unfunny jokes – that provokes the British.

Gideon Rachman

Jean-Claude Juncker (Getty)

The fact that the leaders of the 28 EU nations are not rushing to appoint Jean-Claude Juncker as the next head of the European Commission is being denounced in the European Parliament – and elsewhere – as an affront to democracy. After all, say the parliamentarians, the main pan-European parties in the European elections all nominated leading candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) – who were their standard-bearers and nominees to be head of the European Commission. The poor-old voters were told that, if the centre-right EPP came out ahead, then Mr Juncker of Luxembourg was the chosen one. The EPP have now duly emerged as the biggest bloc and yet European political leaders are not leaping to appoint Juncker. No wonder the voters are bitterly disillusioned, and Euroscepticism is on the march!

Well, that’s the argument, anyway. But it needs to be pointed out that the idea that the European electorate has just risen up – en masse – and demanded that Jean-Claude Juncker should be their leader is laughable nonsense. Read more

The fallout from the European elections
The recent European Parliament elections have transformed the continent’s political landscape. Anti-establishment parties have scored remarkable victories in countries such as France, Greece and the UK while mainstream forces have done less well. But good results for Angela Merkel’s CDU in Germany and Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party in Italy show voters have not completely turned their backs on the EU. In this week’s podcast, Ferdinando Giugliano is joined by Tony Barber, Europe editor, Hugh Carnegy, Paris bureau chief, and Guy Dinmore, Rome correspondent, to discuss the fallout from the elections

David Gardner

The focus in last week’s European elections was on the seismic waves of the distinct currents of Euro-populism and reaction that “earthquaked” to the top of the polls in France, Britain (or at least England), Denmark and Greece. But arguably the most intriguing insurgency was Podemos (We Can) in Spain, a phenomenon worth examining outside the swish and swirl of populism.

Much of what I have seen written about Podemos has them “coming out of nowhere” – a cliché employed by politicians and analysts that means “we didn’t see them coming”. Yet a three-month-old party with a budget of barely €100,000 shot into fourth place with one and a quarter million votes and five seats in the European Parliament – similar to Syriza, the Greek left-wing party they plan to hitch up with.

The eruption of Podemos and its compellingly outspoken leader, Pablo Iglesias, has already triggered the fall of Alfredo Perez Rubalcalba, the Socialist secretary general who has presided over the party’s worst electoral performance since democracy was restored in 1977-78. But while obviously a rising current of a new left, Podemos could be a broader catalyst for political change in Spain and beyond. Read more