On blustering and finger-wagging
24.01.14 @ 09:14
BRUSSELS - It has all the feeling of one of those long-running musicals. The audience is dwindling, the actors are jaded, but the show must go on.
Yet another ‘corruption-remains’ report on Bulgaria and Romania was published this week.
The commission did some finger-wagging from a podium in Brussels. Bucharest and Sofia made more-or-less contrite noises – enough to show that the reports hadn’t gone entirely unnoticed but not enough to cover the fact that this is a purely political exercise.
There appears to be two (small) leverage sticks.
The fact that one could emerge from the process before the other (the two countries – with little in common beyond geographical proximity and the fact they both joined the EU in 2007 – are locked in an eternal comparative waltz.)
The other is the Bulgarian EU presidency in 2018.
It’s one thing to have a broke EU country running the day-to-day business of the EU. It’s quite another to have one that has to be monitored for judicial reform, anti-corruption measures and organized crime.
So the show will continue but perhaps there is an end in sight…?
Talking about Ukraine
Is it better to say nothing on Ukraine at all or say something and not be able to back it up with anything?
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt raised the possibility of sanctions even as Germany binned the idea.
EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has delivered several bustling statements promising un-spelled-out "consequences" if Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovich continues on his violent path.
But what exactly can Barroso do, amid so much member state disarray, except cheapen the word "consequences?"
On being in the euro
They may have gone to the same university and the same elite club within that university but Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski is not going to make the UK EU debate any easier for PM David Cameron.
He went right out there and said out aloud what many have suspected for a long time: that the Eurozone is the political, economic and ideological heart of the EU.
London’s EU future is likely to come down to whether other member states are prepared to reform the bloc while still giving political room for a large Eurosceptic country that does not want to join the single currency. Or, will the UK be forced into a choice of joining the euro or leaving the EU?
The UK does not want to be put in this position or have this particular debate. But the Polish view illustrates that joining the eurozone is as much a political question as an economic one.
And the political question is on the horizon.
Being told off by the commissioner
The EU’s climate package was Brussels’ other piece of political theatre this week.
It was trailed, leaked, and releaked so that everybody knew that the essentials - no regulation of fracking; no national renewable energy targets and an energy price report to justify it all - before the official unveiling.
The only person to really depart from the consensus on “how these things are done” was climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard.
In no uncertain terms, she told Green groups (who reacted with collective outrage to the proposals) to stop bellyaching about the target and concentrate their efforts on China and the US, without whom the EU’s green path becomes a rather lonely and expensive principle.
And speaking of the US, this week also brought news that president Barack Obama is coming to Brussels in March for his first ever visit to the EU institutions.
The jostling has already begun.
"President @euHvR and I have invited President @BarackObama to #Brussels for the next EU-US summit on Wednesday 26 March 2014," Barroso tweeted.
Obama has in the past managed to dodge EU-US summits, on the quite reasonable grounds that it was a bit of a waste of time.
For the not-very-good-at-schmoozing Obama, it's probably still a waste of time. However, good manners dictate that you must actually see the people who represent the citizens you plan to continue to spy on at least every once in a while.
So where are we with the commission president race?
Of the three main parties, two now have candidates for the post. (Both chosen in a rather opaque manner).
The centre-right EPP has not got a candidate yet and remains to be convinced by this whole automaticity business which threatens to upset the balance - by injecting a bit of transparency - when it comes to divvying up posts.
It is perhaps best put by Sikorski who is angling to take over from Catherine Ashton as EU foreign policy chief.
“So far as I know there is a lively debate over how it (the treaty) should be interpreted. I think we’ll find a good old-fashioned European consensus between the parliament and the council,” he remarked at the beginning of the week.
So far, so very EU politics.