10th Dec 2019


Staving off an EU army

Why does the EU torture Britain so? Ten pages of EU Council conclusions on defence! Prime Minister David Cameron was forced into a preemptive strike to defuse a potentially mighty tabloid attack.

He personally scratched out a reference to “Europe’s armed forces” from the text. He spoke to press about co-operation between nation states.

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His brother in arms on this matter - Anders Fogh Rasmussen from Nato - gave him some backing. In a little pep talk to leaders, he noted that military assets should be “owned by individual nations.”

However, the Dane - widely thought to be eyeing an EU post next year - craftily managed to straddle both sides of the debate. The EU needs to be militarily strong all the same, he noted.

So what did others think of the noise made by Cameron? French President Francois Hollande thought his fears about an EU army were a “false concern.” And EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy noted that he had achieved little, managing "no substantial changes" to the conclusions.

But it depends who is doing the telling.

"Relaunching Europe's Defence, one of the (rare) promises on external policy of Hollande torpedoed tonight by Cameron" tweeted French MEP Arnaud Danjean.

And the truth falls somewhere between. The lengthy conclusions, mostly praising efficiencies and damning duplication, will be what member states make of them. And, so far on defence, that has not been an awful lot.

One of the main lessons of the summit would be for Hollande. And it would amount to this: don't surprise your peers with sudden requests for common pots of money. And if you do choose this route - think a bit more about the detail.

On the back of his military intervention in the Central African Republic, the French president called for an EU fund for military operations. His colleagues more or less politely thanked him for the diversion. And foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has been tasked with a report on the matter.

Irish woes and Dutch recycling

The Irish have not being having a very good week of it. They crept modestly into post-bailout status on Sunday, only to wake up on Monday to find that things remained just the same. Just with a bit more unvarnished truth.

European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi at the beginning of the week said he was worried about the state of Irish banks, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso finished off the week by telling Ireland to stop blaming Europe for its debt problems.

Still, while we're all being so candid: European partners have not always been helpful.

Irish finance minister Michael Noonan noted earlier in the week that former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet had prevented him from taking money from bondholders in early 2011.

“Jean [-Claude] Trichet is a very subtle, refined, cultivated Frenchman ... but he would not allow me to burn the senior bondholders," Noonan said.

And now it’s "Bye Bye" to Lithuania and "Hello" to Greece to take over the EU presidency.

Everybody is being very careful about what they are spending. The Greeks plan to be Spartan-ish, particularly as the dreaded troika will still be kicking around Athens in January.

However, the Dutch, not taking over the EU presidency until 2016, have gone one better than even the tap-water-drinking Danes.

They are simply recycling their 2004 presidency logo.

Worst kept secret

And things are heating up still further in the EU commission presidency race.

Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed the worst kept secret in Brussels: Yes he wants the post. Political etiquette dictated that he formulates it so: "I am ready if I am asked."

And even Germany's Angela Merkel is begrudgingly falling into line with this "top candidate" business. Particularly, as she admitted Thursday, her political family seemed to have agreed to it at a congress in 2012.

Meanwhile, there was another minor set-back for Merkel on a different front.

Her contractual arrangements idea will not be agreed on until at least October next year.

Several of her peers around the table pointed out that while the bit about binding reforms was written out quite fulsomely. The bit about solidarity was rather less so.


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