Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
Catherine Ashton has signalled her intention of giving the European Union’s relationship with the United States more prominence in her new role as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs.
How productive that relationship proves to be depends largely on how much Washington believes it needs the EU and how much it deals with the European Union as a whole, rather than with its member states one-to-one.
Ashton made her intentions clear by going to Washington for talks last week on one of her first trips since starting her new job on Dec. 1 last year.
“I am grateful to have such a strong, thoughtful, accomplished partner in the efforts that confront us. But I am
very confident that with the EU and the U.S. growing even more closely together, we are up to those challenges,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters after talks with Ashton that marked an encouraging start for the Briton.
Europe’s nominee to be climate chief surprised car manufacturers last week by saying she thought EU policymakers might have been too soft on them when carbon-capping rules were set in 2008.
Connie Hedegaard’s forceful intervention during hearings for the European Commission raised the possibility of a renewed push by Europe to legislate car emissions if the Dane is approved by the European Parliament for the post next month.
Euro zone finance ministers have failed to pick the next vice president of the European Central Bank, partly because they are not sure how to do it under the European Union’s new Lisbon treaty. The treaty, which came into force in December, gives the euro area finance ministers — the Eurogroup — legal status and is supposed to simplify decision-making in the 27-nation bloc. But the 16 euro zone ministers decided to ask lawyers how to choose a successor to ECB Vice-President Lucas Papademos, delaying the decision until February, one diplomat said. Vitor Constancio and Yves Mersch, central bank chiefs of Portugal and Luxembourg respectively, are running, as is Peter Praet of Belgium’s central bank.
The problem is uncertainty about how the Eurogroup should vote under the treaty.
In fact, the Eurogroup, which met on Monday as usual on the the eve of an Ecofin meeting of all of the EU’s 27 finance ministers, and is described in the EU treaty as an informal group, cannot take formal votes. But it can probably hold informal ones.
Formal votes are held at the Ecofins, but on issues concerning the euro zone only Eurogroup ministers vote. If they do, then what majority is needed? What if you have to choose from among three, not two candidates? In theory, the Eurogroup ministers could hold a vote on what voting rules to apply. But in that case, there is also no clarity on how to vote.
By David Brunnstrom
EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner designate Olli Rehn drew inspiration from former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a hearing in the European Parliament this week.
Each prospective commissioner has to endure a three-hour grilling to check their credentials.
Every five years, the European Parliament gets an opportunity to show its muscle as it quizzes candidates for the next European Commission, the powerful body that enforces EU laws.
But rather than a forensic examination of the 26 nominees – the sort of in-the-spotlight inquisition the U.S. Senate puts presidential appointees through — the European Parliament has a tendency just to go through the motions.
In the United States, Senate hearings to confirm presidential appointments are a Big News Story, with scores of photographers, TV cameras and journalists cramming into the committee rooms to follow the event live.
The European Union — which has 200 million more people than the United States and is a larger trading bloc — has something similar, with hearings before the European Parliament to confirm nominees to the European Commission, the 27-person body that enforces laws across the EU.
The fact that European Union leaders have not yet reached a consensus on who should become president of the 27-nation bloc, with time running out before a summit on who should be given the post, has compounded my belief that they should scrap the idea all together.
During the horse-trading of the past few weeks I have found myself asking the question: why do we need an EU president, particularly since the bloc has at least one, if not two, capable presidents already.
Germans have voted for change. A centre-right government with a clear parliamentary majority will replace the ungainly grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that ran Europe's biggest economy for the last four years.
This should mean an end to "steady as she goes" lowest common denominator policies, and at least some reform of the country's tax and welfare system. The liberal Free Democrats, who recorded their best ever result with around 14.7 percent, will try to pull the new government towards tax cuts, health care reform, a reduction in welfare spending and a loosening of job protection in small business.
In a debate this week on the six-month Czech presidency of the European Union, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said that although the first six months of 2009 would go down in EU history as a demanding period, Prague had got through “without major hiccups”.
By Tamora Vidaillet and Darren Ennis
Reporters at a long-awaited summit between the European Union and China in Prague Castle learnt more about the art of stage managing set-piece events than about the state of the EU-China relationship.
The Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency until the end of next month, pulled out all the stops to ensure security was tight for Wednesday’s fleeting visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and a handful of ministers, who were kept away from journalists by barriers.
Ushered into a stuffy holding room hours before the meeting, journalists were kept from stepping outside even for a smoke for fear of escaping into the sprawling compound of the castle.