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Should he stay or should he go? Miliband ponders

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OUKTP-UK-IRAN-NUCLEAR-BRITAINShould he stay or should he go?

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband could be Europe’s first foreign minister in all but name, with one of the most influential jobs in shaping the place of the 27-nation bloc on the world stage, if he is willing to risk leaving British politics for the next five years. That’s a big if.

Miliband is half of a “ticket” concocted by French and German diplomats to fill the two new top jobs created by the Lisbon treaty. The other half is Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the preferred candidate for president of the European Council. Officially, Miliband says he is ”not available” and is backing Tony Blair’s forlorn bid for the presidency. If he turns the role down, it could well to go to former Italian Prime Minister Massimo d’Alema.

The High Representative for foreign and security policy, with a big diplomatic staff, a multi-billion-euro budget and the additional position of senior vice-president of the European Commission, will arguably be more powerful than the European Council president, whose role is largely to prepare and chair quarterly summits. Miliband would bring dynamism, an incisive intellect and inspiring oratory to the job.

At 44, he is seen as the natural next leader of the Labour Party if, as expected, Gordon Brown loses the next general election. Given the average length of Britain’s political cycle since the 1980s, the centre-left party probably faces at least two parliamentary terms in opposition – roughly eight years. So Miliband would have time to burnish his international credentials in Brussels and return home before he turns 50, and before Labour has exited the political wilderness.

Turkey’s EU bid fades with little drama

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turkarmeniaTurkey’s bid to join the European Union is fading away with surprisingly little drama because investors no longer see the prospect of accession as an essential policy anchor.

But EU leaders should keep Ankara’s entry negotiations alive on the back burner rather than trying to engage Ankara on alternatives to membership, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy would like to do.

Third person spells trouble in politicians

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nixonOUKTP-UK-ITALY-BERLUSCONIBeware of politicians who speak about themselves in the third person. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are paranoid. But it is usually an indicator of some kind of trouble.

More than a decade before he was forced out of the White House for lying, destroying evidence, bugging his political opponents and covering up a crime in the Watergate affair, Richard Nixon (right) famously told journalists at what he said was his last press conference: “You won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.”

Sarkozy looks to stash some cash under the mattress

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nainOn the face of it, France’s 2010 budget is just what the G20 doctor ordered. No early withdrawal of economic stimulus spending. Allowing the welfare system’s ”automatic stabilisers” to absorb the shock of the economic crisis. No raising of taxes or slashing of public spending until growth returns. A small shift away from tax on business towards taxation of carbon.

Of course the headline numbers are horrible and under normal circumstances would prompt disciplinary action by the European Union. The 8.5 percent forecast public deficit will be the highest in French history. Public debt will rise from 77.1 percent of GDP this year to 91 percent in 2013. The EU ceilings are a deficit of 3 percent and debt of 60 percent of GDP. But compared to Britain, Spain or Ireland, France’s deficit will look almost modest.

SPD debacle shows agony of European centre-left

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sozisIt was a black night for Germany’s Social Democrats. Their catastrophic general election score of just 23 percent was by far the worst since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949. It was more than 11 points worse than their result in 2005, and nearly 6 points worse than their poorest post-war showing in 1953.(Picture shows party activists at SPD headquarters watching first exit polls on television)

Their shattering defeat was the latest in a series of debacles for the European centre-left since the onset of the financial crisis. Just when the social democratic outlook of a strong state to regulate and curb the excesses of the markets and protect workers from the rough edges of capitalism has made a comeback around the developed world, its original proponents are in disarray.

West raises stakes over Iran nuclear programme

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big-3President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain have deliberately raised the stakes in the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programme by dramatising the disclosure that it is building a second uranium enrichment plant. Their shoulder-to-shoulder statements of resolve, less than a week before Iran opens talks with six major powers in Geneva, raised more questions than they answer.

It turns out that the United States has known for a long time (how long?) that Iran had been building the still incomplete plant near Qom. Did it share that intelligence with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, and if not, why not? Why did it wait until now, in the middle of a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, to make the announcement — after Iran had notified the International Atomic Energy Authority of the plant’s existence on Monday, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had delivered a defiant speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday and after the Security Council had adopted a unanimous resolution calling for an end to the spread of nuclear weapons on Thursday?

“Tobin tax” gaining ground in Europe

No longer just a hopeless cause for anti-capitalist activists, the idea of a global tax on financial transactions is gaining ground in Europe.

European Union leaders could not agree to put it on the agenda of this week’s G20 summit on reforming the financial system in Pittsburgh, but the leaders of France, Germany and the European Commission endorsed the concept.
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Forget about bankers’ bonuses

Bank bonuses have been a red herring of the financial crisis, repeatedly deflecting attention from deeper problems. So it is disappointing that the leaders of the G20 nations propose to squander yet more time on the subject in Pittsburgh.

While the French may have recently watered down their proposed curbs on bonuses, their voter-pleasing plans still look likely to be at the heart of the meeting. Worse, they seem to be pushing aside the United States’ sensible proposals for tougher capital rules for banks.

Gifts for all on Barroso’s Christmas tree

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danybozo-epJose Manuel Barroso’s pitch to the European Parliament for a confirmation vote on Wednesday was like a Christmas tree, with gifts for everyone.

Bidding for a second term with a wider majority than his own centre-right political family, Barroso produced last-minute peace offerings for the centrist liberals, the centre-left socialists, the environmentalist greens, women, trade unionists, the French and the scientific community.

German Opel aid tests EU rules

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opel-logosThe credibility of the European Union’s single market and state aid rules is at stake over Germany’s selective offer of taxpayers’ money to preserve Opel factories and jobs on its soil.

On the face of things, it looks like an open-and-shut breach of state aid rules. General Motors agreed last week to sell 55 percent of its European arm to a consortium of Magna and Russia’s Sberbank under massive pressure from Berlin.

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