From Gideon Rachman’s blog

By Gideon Rachman

If the answer is Herman Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton, what the hell was the question? Europe’s choices for its new “president” and “foreign minister” are like the result of some sort of computer-dating programme that has gone badly wrong. If you fed in all the criteria for the jobs into your computer and it spat out the names – “Van Rompuy” and “Ashton”, you would ring the systems department and tell them that there had been some sort of catastrophic breakdown.

Lady Ashton is not the best candidate in Europe for the job – she is not even close to the best candidate in Britain. If the EU leaders were determined to have a Brit there were plenty of other much better qualified people: Chris Patten, Mark Malloch Brown, Paddy Ashdown, Peter Mandelson, Geoff Hoon, Chris Huhne, Kenny Dalglish. It might be objected that none of these men are women. But that need not be an inusperable problem. Read more

David Cameron will tomorrow raise the bugle to his lips and sound the retreat on the Lisbon treaty referendum. But he’ll tell his troops that they will fight another day as he pledges to repatriate powers. One thing to look out for is when he plans to trigger a formal re-negotiation and how. We’ve had a Cameron U-turn on the referendum — watch out for a  Zagreb zigzag on repatriation.

Some European diplomats think that Cameron is a pragmatic chap who has realised he cannot spend his first six months trying to reopen Lisbon. It would overshadow his fledgling government and could waste precious political capital, particularly if other European leaders ignore his pleas. (Remember that 14 member states need to support Cameron to even start renegotiation talks, while any changes require unanimity.) Read more

The Czech constitutional court has cleared the Lisbon Treaty, as my colleague in Warsaw reports hereRead more

The business secretary discusses whether Tony Blair has a realistic chance of getting the job. Read more

David Cameron faces a horrible decision if the Lisbon treaty comes into force. A quick glance at the policy options makes it obvious why he doesn’t want to explain what he would do. Playing hardball runs the risk of wasting the first year (term?) of a Tory government in a fruitless European battle. The pragmatic route, however, will never satisfy his party. So what to do? Here’s a quick Q&A.

How can Cameron change the Lisbon treaty? Merely to start a formal renegotiation, Cameron would need to propose an Intergovernmental Conference and win the support of 14 countries – a simple majority of member states. Read more

In retrospect I chose the wrong fortnight to be on holiday. But from my Cornish vantage point I couldn’t help wondering who had inadvertently come out of the expenses saga smelling of roses.

Firstly the central London MPs. They couldn’t claim the additional cost allowance so there was never any temptation – unlike those in outer London. Thus Harriet Harman sails through unscathed. Read more

With the European elections fast approaching, eurosceptics will again be claiming that nothing good  comes out of Brussels. I’ve been leaked a document that conclusively proves them wrong. This proposed apple-pie-directive, which has been doing the diplomatic rounds, is quite special.

Some of it will mean nothing to those of you who are not immersed in the comfortingly odd habits of Brussels. But some of the insights are hilarious. My hat goes off to the Eurocrat who wrote it. Read more

It is not quite the “empty chair”, but Nicolas Sarkozy is making very clear that he is unhappy with Gordon Brown’s grand plan. Will the G20 meeting survive the Sarko huff? Read more

One more Tory MEP is throwing a hissy-fit over David Cameron’s decision to leave the European Peoples Party, the mainstream group in the European parliament.

This report quotes Caroline Jackson, who has been an MEP since 1984, as saying: Read more

David Cameron has pleased the right wing of his party by pledging to pull out of the EPP, the alliance of centre-right parties in Europe. He believes that umbrella group is too wedded to greater European integration. Read more

The Foreign Office finances are dire. Its small budget has been hit hard by the collapse in sterling. The consequences are slowly beginning to emerge. As we reported today, Britain is set to withdraw the vast majority of the police seconded to EU reconstruction missions around the world. That will put the UK’s contribution to civilian operations in hotspots like Afghanistan, Georgia, Palestine on a par with Slovakia’s. So much for being a big player in Europe.

These kind of reconstruction and conflict prevention missions were a top UK priority. Gordon Brown even pledged last year to muster a 1,000 strong standing force of civilian volunteers. That now seems like a pipedream: the UK can no longer even afford its existing deployment of 100 police. Read more

It lacks the punch of Sarko. But the French finance minister has clearly made her own bid for a Brit-bashing award. Christine Lagarde’s target for reproach is Alistair Darling, who apparently failed to warn her about Britain’s last rescue package, in spite of all his rhetoric about global co-ordination.

Unlike Darling, Tim Geithner had the manners to consult her before unvieling the US bailout, Lagarde says in an FT interview. She sounds exasperated at Darling’s failure to act on his own pleas for collaboration. Read more

The UK was supposed to generate 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020. That was the received wisdom. The prime minister himself has referred to it on several occasions*.

In fact British officials in Brussels have negotiated a slightly lower figure which equates to about 14.5 per cent. Read more

The US National Intelligence Council has a distinctly unflattering forecast of Europe’s future in its Global Trends 2025 report.

The finest US intelligence analysts conclude that, according to current trends, the European Union is in danger of being left behind as “a hobbled giant distracted by internal bickering and competing national agendas”. The title of the section says it all: “Europe: Losing Clout in 2025″. Read more

Team Cameron seemed relieved last night that they had put a lid on the Dover affair.

The party removed the whip from the MEP on Wednesday night and began the process of expelling him. This came after an official report into his use of Brussels allowances to pay his wife and daughter. Dover – former chief whip for the party in Europe – has been ordered to repay more than £500,000 of expenses and the issue has been referred to Olaf, the European anti-fraud office.

But what about the £57,65o given by Dover to the Tories in 29 separate donations since 2001? Will Cameron keep this money? Or the two donations of £1,200 and £1,700 given by “MP Holdings” (run by Mrs Dover) in 2007 and 2004?

 Read more