Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
“What’s in a name?” asked love-struck Juliet by way of justifying her love for Romeo, whose Montague family was so loathed by the Capulets.
For Macedonia, rather a lot.
The name has been fought over by Greece and “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” for nearly two decades. Now European Union diplomats are telling them to ask for mediation help from the bloc. It may be the only chance, they say, for the two countries to solve a dispute that is preventing Macedonia from joining NATO and starting accession negotiations with the EU.
After a decade of talks facilitated by the United Nations to try to get the two to agree a new name for the former Yugoslav state, there is little sign of progress. EU diplomats argue that closer involvement in the talks by, say, the EU’s executive Commission or representatives of its new diplomatic service, might help the two come to an agreement.
The lack of progress frustrates some officials in Brussels, who say it sends the wrong signal to the rest of the EU-bound Balkans. It tells them that bilateral disputes can effectively block the Commission as it steers the bloc’s enlargement policy. Having officials from Brussels directly involved in talks would make it easier to use EU policies as ‘carrot and stick’ to coax the two capitals towards agreement, they say. “The EU is the missing link,” one EU official said recently.
Credit rating agencies cannot win.
They were blamed for carelessness before the crisis, handing out over-generous ratings on the packets of mortgage-backed securities that subsequently unravelled, sending the global economy into a spin and leading to Lehman Brothers collapse. Now they are being criticised again, this time for being too cautious, by dishing out rating downgrades to countries in Europe being sucked into Greece’s debt crisis.
Standard & Poor’s recently downgraded Spain’s rating one notch to AA, warning that the outlook was bleak for the euro zone’s fourth biggest economy. Struggling Greece has also been marked down — to junk status — and now hovers close to Pakistan and Venezuela in the credit stakes. Portugal is another country to be singled out for downgrades from the leading ratings companies.
The surge in the spread of Greek bond yields over German ones since European leaders issued a promise of emergency loans to Greece last month indicates financial markets do not believe the pledge of euro zone support is anything more than a bluff.
And they are itching to call it.
Euro zone leaders have been betting that a promise of loans to Greece and strong words of political support will be enough to calm markets and allow Athens to borrow at more reasonable rates, therefore rendering any real aid — the dreaded bailout — unnecessary.
If this morning’s flight from Brussels to Dublin is an indication of how Irish people will vote in Friday’s referendum on the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty, then the result will be an emphatic Yes on Saturday afternoon when the final results are expected to be known.
The majority of the Aer Lingus flight packed with Irish diaspora from Brussels – some of who hold office in the EU capital – seemed set to vote Yes to the Lisbon treaty, which aims to give the 27-nation bloc greater sway in world affairs and streamline its decision-making.
Pat Cox, Joseph Borrell, Hans-Gert Poettering and now Jerzy Buzek. What do they have in common ? For those outside the EU bubble in Brussels, Polish conservative Buzek was elected on Tuesday as the new president of the European Parliament, following in the footsteps of the others mentioned above.
But does anyone really care ?
I asked on Facebook if anyone could name the previous two presidents and from those of my friends who do not work in any of the European Union institutions, I received numerous responses ranging from Barack Obama to Seamus & Sheila McSpud.
In his first media interview after taking over as the head of the EU’s directly elected assembly in 2007, Poettering told me he was going to make the European Parliament one of the best-known legislatures in the world.
Diplomats say there is mild panic in the EU capital at the thought that the regular June summit — where the bloc is due to discuss the Lisbon treaty reforming the EU — could be chaired by Eurosceptic Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
Barely noticed, the United States sent a top diplomat to Europe this week to seek help on an important commitment by President Barack Obama — to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The trip by veteran envoy Dan Fried to Brussels and Prague is part of efforts to persuade European states to take in some of the 241 remaining detainees at the prison, synonomous for many with rights abuses in the “war on terror” under U.S. President George W. Bush.
Europe has long called for the jail to be shut down, but only a few countries — such as France, Portugal and Albania — have volunteered to resettle any inmates from third countries such as Afghanistan or China.
Time is steadily running out if Obama is to achieve his goal of clearing and closing the prison by next January. A perceived lack of European help could sour the much-vaunted new start in transatlantic ties which both sides say they want.
But many European officials are asking why they should help the United States out of a hole it dug itself into.
The main problem does not involve the small number of so-called high-value terror suspects in the camp — they will remain in detention and Washington does not seriously expect anyone to come forward and take them off its hands.
Nor does it involve the 17 detainees who have already been cleared for release. The really hot issue is the fate of the remaining detainees who are not high risk but have not been given the full all-clear.
European officials fear the affair could turn into a legal and political nightmare. Who will take which detainees? Given that much of Europe is now border-free, how will one country reassure its neighbours if it agrees to resettle inmates? And doesn’t the fact that European states have different national policies on surveillance and detention pose extra problems?
Worse still, the political fall-out could be devastating. If , for example, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner carried out an attack in Germany just before an election this year, how would Chancellor Angela Merkel explain it to voters?
Washington knows it won’t be easy to get the Europeans on board. But it says it would be hypocritical for Europe now not to help after all its criticism of Guantanamo.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a clear “I told you so!” to the United States and Britain at the weekend, criticising them in unusually frank terms for resisting measures that might have contained the current financial crisis. The conservative leader of Europe’s largest economy reminded her partners that she had pushed for steps to boost the transparency of hedge funds during Germany’s presidency of the Group of Eight last year. ”We got things moving, but we didn’t get enough support, especially in the United States and Britain,” she told the Muenchner Merkur newspaper. Merkel expanded on her point in a speech in Austria, suggesting that both Washington and London were only now coming around to her view.
“It was said for a long time ‘Let the markets take care of themselves’ and that there is ‘no need for more transparency’…Today we are a step further because even America and Britain are saying ‘Yes, we need more transparency, we need better standards for the ratings agencies’.
Imagine driving a car with 27 people on the back seat trying to steer. That’s the image Peter Mandelson painted of his role negotiating at the World Trade Organisation on behalf of all European Union countries – some of which are not entirely supportive of the way he is taking things.
Although the EU gave the trade commissioner a negotiating mandate for the crunch talks under way in Geneva, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, hardly Mandelson’s greatest fan, said he would not sign up to the deal on the table.