Saturday 13 February 2010

Blogging Break

The European Citizen will take a short break for the next week. The post rate had been declining lately, because real life work needed to be dealt with. For the next week, I'll be taking part in an International Criminal Court mooting (mock trial) competition, and as well as being busy, internet access isn't guaranteed.

It's been a very interesting week in European politics, with the rejection of the SWIFT agreement by the EP (a brilliant victory that Julien Frisch has summed up), the ending of the Commission hearings, the election of the Commission, and Van Rompuy's first summit.

I'll hopefully be back in about a week's time.

Monday 8 February 2010

Greater appitiate for European defence?

Lately there seems to be talk of greater co-operation on defence within the EU, perhaps due to the economic crisis putting pressure on national budgets, and the general unwillingness in Europe to spend money on defence. Greater co-operation on defence between member states could reduce costs and maintain effectiveness, if done properly.

Last week, there was news of a new defence review in the UK recommending closer ties with France in order to bolster its position. That France has been re-integrated back into NATO's command structures has probably helped the recommendation along. How far it will be acted upon is unclear; supporting defence links could help a conservative government repair damaged ties with European partners.

And on the weekend, the German foreign minister, Westerwelle, said that a European army accountable to parliament was the ultimate goal for defence policy in Europe. It's not likely to happen any time soon or to be pursued seriously for a long time, but it is interesting for Westerwelle to say this, as my impression of him was that he favoured a more assertive, separate, German foreign policy. Of course, such a vague future aspiration means that he doesn't actually have to do anything about it, but perhaps it shows a willingness to take on more defence co-operation?

France is likely to be pleased to see the British review recommend closer links, which could feed into stronger wider European links in terms of procurement, and if the opportunity arises to trumpet a new development in European defence, I'm sure Sarkozy will jump at it.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Communicating Europe

I've written a short essay (1,500 words) on the Commission's communication strategy over the last 5 years and where it should go next. You can read it here. I personally think that the parties in the EP need to take on the task of communicating themselves and their European visions more clearly - I think that a more adversarial form of politics would help communicate what different parties stand for, encourage participation and, as a result, people would become more familiar with how the EU works in a general sense (after all, the general public isn't really interested in the detail of how national legislatures work). Of course, interest and partcipation can only ever be encouraged to a certain extent as the EU's very technical, but there's still a lot of room for improvement.

So I think that the Commission is limited in what it can do, but if it becomes more political, and the Commissioners engage more in the mainstream mass media, then it will provoke some reaction and interest. Risks need to be taken by backing plans more publicly, though they may fail in Council or in the EP.

In the essay, I take a very general approach, since it's short, and since I think that the Commission can only act to encourage participation and interest, and that it remains dependent on other actors to a degree to achieve higher levels of interest.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Obama doesn't love us anymore...

Obama won't be attending the upcoming EU-US summit in Madrid. Do you feel abandoned? Alone? Unloved?

Despite the talk this will generate, there's not really that much to say. Obama is a smart man, and if there's a point to attending, he will attend. We might wring our hands over the loss in status and perceived snubs, but at the end of the day if the EU doesn't prove itself to be a valid global actor, then it won't attract a global guest list to its summits. That the summit is in Madrid doesn't really matter (as Julien Frisch highlights), but it does indicate why Obama won't bother coming: the central institutions are loosing out to the member states.

The Economist has a very good article on the need for Ashton to assert herself against a Spanish rotating presidency meddling in EU foreign policy. If Ashton can't even slap down member states for floating policy ideas as policy fact, then what does that say for the credibility of the Lisbon institutions? Would you dial a number if the person at the end of the line is too afraid to speak?

In short, there's no point wringing our hands over this latest loss in prestige. We need to get to grips with where we want to go with our foreign policy (and on who will do what both in foreign policy and domestically), and how we're going to get there. Then others will be willing to talk to us about it.