Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
If the world thought that Europe’s finance ministers were running in to put out the blaze spreading through Athens and Rome this week, it might come as a surprise to learn they still don’t agree on the size of the fire or how to deal with it.
Any training course will tell you that if a small fire isn’t tackled quickly, it could make things a lot worse. The Greek crisis is like a small electrical fire that has grown into a dangerous inferno now threatening to gut Italy.
But ministers meeting in Brussels have clearly not been on any fire extinguisher training courses lately — they don’t know their water from their foam and their dry powder. In fact, they appear to be pouring oil on the fire.
Belgium’s Finance Minister Didier Reynders says it is best to try to smother the blaze with a small cloth soaked in a chemical called a financial transaction tax, while Sweden’s Anders Borg and Austria’s Maria Fekter say they can’t spare any of their CO2 extinguishers.
Covering a summit of European leaders is a bit like covering a soccer match with no ticket for the stadium and no live TV broadcast to watch. The only way you have an idea of the scoreline is from the groans and cheers from inside the ground.
With EU leaders meeting on Brussels on Sunday and again on Wednesday to try to resolve the region’s debt crisis, the emergency back-to-back summits look like a game of two halves.
Investors are hoping for something big from European leaders at the EU summit on Oct. 23 and of the Group of 20 on Nov. 3. But they also know the 17 nations of the euro have a habit of offering delayed, half-hearted rescues that have cost them credibility.
So there’s been a lot of “urging” and “warning” in Brussels lately — politicians and central bankers have all been demanding Europe act as international alarm grows that its sovereign debt problems may drag the world into recession. “Further delays are only aggravating the situation,” said European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet on Tuesday in his last appearance at the European Parliament, before he hands over the post to Mario Draghi on Nov. 1.
Weeks before a parliamentary election in Kosovo that could decide the course of democratic reforms there, the European Union is struggling to decide whether to offer Pristina encouragement or reproach.
The country, a former breakaway province of Serbia, is the poorest and smallest in the Balkans and riddled with problems. Unemployment rates are near 50 percent, state institutions are weak and per capita income is just $2,500 — one of the lowest in Europe. Five EU members do not even recognise it as a state. Yet it may also hold the key to stability in a region marked by decades of ethnic conflict.
The European Commission told Croatia this week that its negotiations to join the European Union have reached their “final” stage. Sounds promising, considering how reluctant many EU governments are to admit any new members at a time when the bloc is coping with financial difficulties.
But there was another, more subtle message in the text of the Commission’s annual progress report on EU hopefuls. And it read quite differently.
The European Union talks frequently about wanting to be a bigger player in the world, about making its political influence match its economic weight and the need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States.
And at least in one respect it can now say it’s America’s equal – both have a State of the Union address.
The message to Serbia from Brussels is clear: swallow your pride and start talking to Kosovo. Without strong evidence that Belgrade is mending ties with its former province, the message goes on, Serbia’s pathway to European Union entry will be rocky, if not blocked entirely.
Quietly, EU diplomats warn that Serbia must tread carefully on the issue. Since the International Court of Justice ruled last week that Kosovo’s 2008 secession was legal, the province is gone from Serbia for good, they caution.
Top European Union officials held talks this week with religious leaders, part of a policy of holding consultations with religious groups that was enshrined in the EU’s Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force last December. But not everyone supports the move.
More than two dozen Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders — joined by a representative each from the Hindu and Sikh communities — met the presidents of the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council on Monday to discuss how to fight poverty and social exclusion.
It was the the sixth such consultation since 2005, but the first to take place in the context of the Lisbon treaty, the EU’s latest collective agreement. Article 17 of the treaty commits the EU to maintaining “an open, transparent and regular dialogue with … churches and (non-confessional and philosophical) organisations”.
Times are hard in distant corners of the European Union, even when the sun is shining and the euro zone’s debt problems are thousands of miles away.
Leaders of nine regions on the edges of the EU are asking the rest of the 27-country bloc to pay more attention to their needs and shape investment policies better to their problems, exacerbated in some cases by the global economic crisis.
The European Union can rarely have been more in need of a
show of unity than now, as it tries to convince financial
markets it can handle the euro zone’s debt crisis.
Hardly a day goes by without a European leader underlining
the need to act together, but hardly a day passes without signs of
differences among them that undermine the impression of unity.