21st Mar 2018


Beloved Ashton

It looked like it would be another humdrum year for Catherine Ashton. Full of: Where is she? What is she doing? Why does she never talk to press?

Then she pulled the Kosovo-Serbia deal out of the hat. It passed under the general radar, though. One country in the Balkans heading towards normalised - but still thoroughly complex - relations with its break-away statelet was not feel-good enough.

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So the foreign policy chief continued in obscurity.

Until this week and that hug from US Secretary of State John Kerry.

It turns out Ashton - chosen due to tick-box criteria for the job in 2009 - had played no small part in the deal on Iran's nuclear programme.

Suddenly it was all about her diligence, graft and emotional intelligence. Several ceilings were shattered. 1) French diplomats - whose main bugbear when she got the job appeared to be that she wasn't French - were said to be praising her. 2) The Daily Telegraph, denigrator par excellence of "Lady Ashton," was also unable to deny that the hour was hers. 3) No one mentioned what she was wearing.

In our world of black or white, brilliant or dud, she is clearly on the up.

It won't last long though.

What about Russia? Just look at what happened while she was focused on all that other stuff.

(And she is still dodging the press).


Normally something is free. Or it is not free. So the title of UK Prime Minister David Cameron's FT piece "Free movement within Europe needs to be less free" was a fuzzy start at best. And fuzzy it remained.

Cameron penned a piece that managed to make it sound like there will be a Bulgarian and Romanian stampede to the Cliffs of Dover on 1 January.

Who knows what "impact" lifting the restriction will have. Not Cameron in any case. The government has no idea how many EU migrants currently claim benefits.

But, still, you’re right to be worried.

All in all, it stirred up the UK immigration debate without managing to inject a solitary fact into the whole discussion. A remarkable achievement.

After that it was a free-for-all. Even mild-mannered Laszlo Andor got caught up in the fray. Turns out he has merely been masquerading as a left-wing EU commissioner. He is, in fact, a member of an extreme right-wing party. And ordering Roma out of his country to boot.

Still, what's a little inaccuracy here and there. All’s fair in love and immigration.

Fail once. Try again and fail better. Yes, Guy Verhofstadt, erstwhile Belgian PM, is throwing his hat into the ring for the post of commission president.

Who wouldn't want the job, he asked. Presumably rhetorically. As he ought to know better than most that whether you want the job is immaterial. It's whether others want you to have the job. And they did not in 2004. Plus it's a moot point whether Verhofstadt's no-holds-barred federalism fits any better in the rather grumpy, clawing-back-powers Europe of today. Political masochism?


Ah Scotland. Your aspirations for independence and the brazen pretence that the question of future EU membership is simply a legal issue. Brussels is wrapping itself up in ever greater knots trying to say nothing at all. While still putting words out there of course.

Your independence from the rest of the UK would "not be neutral as regards the EU treaties." But there is to be no more clarity on the putative terms of your membership until somebody else - not you though - asks (properly).

"We would only express such an opinion on the legal consequences of such a development under EU law on a request from a member state, detailing a precise scenario," says European Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde.

Clear as mud. So stop asking.


Meanwhile, all that waiting for Germany.

Before the rhombus lady was voted back queen of Europe, and then afterwards as she and others coalitioned.

Everything on hold. And what do we get for our pains? The same. Germany's eurozone course will continue as before. Muddle on through. Don't act before it's completely necessary. Remain non-committal on banking union.

When will we learn not to seek clarity?


When Barroso dared to take on Berlin

Barroso gave up any hope for a third term as EU commission chief this week, while daring to challenge Berlin on economic policy.


Self-determined MEPs

This EU week shall be remembered for bringing us closer to imagining a day where the phrase ‘travelling circus’ can be consigned to a bin.


On blustering and finger-wagging

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.


On being 'Obama-ed'

Well, he finally made it to the EU capital. There was much anticipation. And quite considerable upheaval.

US yet to push on Nord Stream 2 sanctions

Washington would still like to block a planned gas pipeline between Russia and Germany but is not yet considering hitting companies involved in the project.

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