This WEEK in the European Union
By Honor Mahony
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will be in the spotlight mid-week as he stands before parliament to give a state of the union address. The speech comes at one of the most testing times in the EU's history as the eurozone struggles to find a solution to its worsening debt crisis.
Barroso has repeatedly called for more EU integration as a way out of the crisis, but leaders have so far baulked at taking such steps even as force of the markets demand they consider it.
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In a rare piece of good news and a highly-needed symbol that the EU is getting things done, MEPs are this week set to pass a six-pack of legislation designed to tighten economic governance in the eurozone. Among the new rules, to be voted on Wednesday, is a more automatic process to sanction misbehaving states as well as a direct fine for those fiddling the statistics books to boost economic credentials. However critics of the legislation say the eurozone crisis has in the meantime become so acute that the laws are already out of date.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will appear before MEPs on Tuesday to discuss rising tensions between Turkey and EU member Cyprus. The debate comes after Ankara last week signed a deal with Turkey-recognised northern Cyprus to pave the way for offshore gas exploration. The deal was in retaliation for drilling in the southeastern Mediterranean by Cyprus and Israel, recently described by Prime Minister Erdogan as "madness". Israel and Turkey's relations have soured since Israel's refusal to apologise for killing Turkish activists on a ship carrying aid to Gaza last year.
On the same day, eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker will also face MEPs for questioning on how the 17-nation single currency is tackling the crisis. Once in the top echelon of EU politicians, Juncker has moved somewhat out of the limelight, with French president Nicolas Sarkozy said to have been displeased by his actions in the eurozone crisis. Paris and Berlin in August suggested that EU council president Herman Van Rompuy should be Mr Euro, but there is little clarity for the moment on how all the euro actors should interact.
Tuesday will also see MEPs vote on a trade agreement allowing direct exports of farm and fisheries products from the Palestinian Territories to the EU from early 2012. Deputies unanimously backed the move in the parliament's trade committee earlier this month. Trade between the bloc and the Palestinian territories is tiny - around €6.1 million from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 2009 - but MEPs hope the trade agreement will act to boost exports. Palestine and the Middle East Process will Tuesday also be the subject of a debate between deputies and Ashton, who was unable to forge a common EU line on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' bid for full UN membership.
At the end of the week many EU leaders will head to Warsaw for the Eastern Partnership summit. The event, long prepared for by the Polish EU presidency, is overshadowed by the fact that there is little political appetite among member states for enlargement-friendly overtures to any of the six eastern states, including Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Belarus, led by political pariah Aleksander Lukaschenko. Meanwhile, the reform momentum among the states themselves has slackened off. The lethargy of both sides is reflected in a weak draft conclusions, signed off last week.