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.”

By Vincent Boland in Dublin

It is tough being number one. Just ask the Irish. One of the things Ireland has had to get used to over the past decade is being ranked top (or near the top) in a range of global surveys for this, that and the other. The reaction is two-fold: a moment of pride followed by the question, “Surely they can’t mean us?”

A decade ago, Ireland was named the world’s best place to live, by the Economist. Now a new ranking has comes along declaring Ireland to be the country that contributes most “to the rest of humanity and the planet.” That sounds like the kind of award countries should be winning.

The Good Country Index, compiled by the international policy consultant Simon Anholt, is essentially an interpretation of the results of surveys carried out by international organisations such as the UN and the World Bank. The index measures the contribution of 125 countries to the world in seven categories of achievement relative to the size of their economy. Read more

Ben McLannahan

The question went unanswered all weekend: who were the male members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly who jeered a female colleague, Ayaka Shiomura, as she tried to challenge senior city figures on their plans to support working women?

The heckling of Ms Shiomura, a 35 year-old member of the minority Your Party group, has drawn condemnation from across Japan’s political spectrum. The head of one rival faction in the assembly complained of “monstrous sexual harassment,” while another lamented that the hecklers – who appeared to be sitting within the section reserved for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – had brought “shame” on the prefectural parliament.

“Why don’t you hurry up and get married?” one assembly member interrupted about eight minutes into Wednesday’s ten-minute presentation, causing Ms Shiomura to smile weakly before trying to soldier on. Another shouted: “Can’t you bear a child?” 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

Gideon Rachman

Will David Cameron go down as the prime minister who turned Great Britain into Little England? If things go wrong for him, he could end up presiding over the departure of Scotland from the UK – swiftly followed by Britain’s own departure from the EU.

Many foreign observers are bemused. The Obama administration has made it clear that it would be appalled if Britain left the EU. The US also worries that Britain’s ability to play a global role is dwindling, as military capacity shrinks. A senior German politician sniffs that Mr Cameron has a knack of “organising his own defeats”. The Japanese, key investors in Britain, are alarmed at the prospect of UK withdrawal from the EU. And a Chinese official warns that the UK is becoming the “third power” in Europe. Read more

Brazilian players listen to their national anthem before a Group A football match between Brazil and Mexico in the Castelao Stadium in Fortaleza during the 2014 FIFA World Cup

(Photograph: AFP)

By Thalita Carrico

One week after the start of the World Cup, there seems little doubt

about where Brazilians’ loyalty lies. On days when the Seleção – the national team – is playing, São Paulo comes alive with people wearing their yellow and green jerseys and the streets are filled with the noise of horns used by soccer supporters.

After Brazilians staged massive protests last year during the
Confederations Cup, the dress rehearsal event for the World Cup, the country put on hold any excitement over the 2014 tournament. As demonstrations this year against government spending on the World Cup allegedly at the expense of social services became more violent, people began to question whether Brazil was still the country of soccer. Read more

When the already opaque language of diplomacy turns to allegories, you know you are on even thornier ground than usual.

In this case, it is the UK trying desperately to convince Kenya they are after all the greatest of friends – if mistrusting, sparring ones.

Addressing a crowd in a televised speech, Christian Turner, the UK High Commissioner to Kenya, likened the pair – once former colony and colonial power – to a lion and buffalo “locked in combat”.

He went on: “On stopping to gather their strength for a final assault, they saw some vultures circling up above. They at once stopped their quarrel, saying: ‘It is better for us to work together than to become a meal for vultures.’” Read more

  • Fuel shortages and power outages are putting pressure on the Islamist insurgents who seized control of Mosul last week.
  • Their military offensive has been matched by a digital offensive of equal prowess.
  • Moderate Islamists are being eclipsed by their extremist counterparts, while jihadists are on the march, roving unchecked across broad sections of North Africa and the Middle East.
  • Hong Kong is undergoing deepening tensions over its political future as a self-governed territory under Chinese sovereignty.

 Read more