Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
As experiments in political unity go, Europe’s External Action Service takes some beating.
The budding diplomatic corps of the European Union, with a name that sounds like an off-shoot of Britain’s SAS, is supposed to represent the unified interests of the EU’s 27 member states to the rest of the world.
With a staff expected to number 6,000, including 3,000 diplomats in more than 120 missions, setting up the EAS is akin to creating a high-powered, multi-lingual, global PR, trade and aid organisation almost overnight. It doesn’t happen very often. And perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not very easy to do.
The person responsible for overseeing it is Britain’s Catherine Ashton, a former hospital administrator and EU trade commissioner who is now the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
In the space of a few weeks, the idea of creating a European Monetary Fund to rescue financially troubled EU member states has gone from being a high-level brainwave from a pair of economists to a major policy initiative backed by powerbroker Germany. In EU terms, that’s Formula One fast.
Yet while German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be behind the concept, even if she has concerns about a possible need to change the EU’s treaty, no one has put much flesh on the bones of the idea apart from the original proponents — Daniel Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies and Thomas Mayer, the chief economist of Deutsche Bank.
By Sangeeta Shastry
Men are still paid more than women in Europe but the European Union is promising to narrow the gap.
The executive European Commission set out its plans to address the pay gap between men and women at a news conference to coincide with International Women’s Day, saying women were on average earning only 82 percent of male rates in the EU.
In 2000, the European Union set its sights on becoming the world’s most dynamic, knowledge-based economy by 2010. It failed. Economic recession hardly helped, but EU officials acknowledge its goals may have been a little too ambitious.
On Wednesday the European Commission, the EU executive, unveiled a new 10-year plan to boost economic growth and create jobs. The Europe 2020 strategy is intended to create a greener and more prosperous economy and will be the centrepiece of the EU’s efforts to emerge from financial crisis.
Three months ago, Herman van Rompuy might have struggled to be recognised on the streets of his native Belgium, let alone Paris or London. The bookish former prime minister, a fan of camping holidays and Haiku poetry, was nothing if not low-key; a studious consensus builder in the world of Belgian politics.
Three months on and Van Rompuy, 62, may not outwardly have changed much, but his title and the expectations surrounding him certainly have. In November he was chosen to be the first permanent president of the European Council, the body that represents the EU’s 27 leaders, and on Thursday he will host those heads of state and government at an economic summit in Brussels — the first such gathering he has chaired.
As the new European Union executive prepares to debate fresh policy proposals which might unblock the stalemate over approving genetically modified crops for feed, processing or cultivation, there are few signs that Europe’s fears over what some have termed “Frankenstein foods” are easing.
On Friday Bulgaria’s ruling GERB party proposed a five-year moratorium on the production of genetically modified (GM) crops for scientific and commercial reasons following public outcry over a new legislation.
Every new year brings resolutions, and the European Parliament is no exception.
Often derided as a multi-lingual talking shop, the institution is feeling newly invigorated by some fresh faces and by the European Union’s Lisbon reform treaty, which came into force late last year and gives the 736-member parliament more say in drafting laws and acting as a check on legislation.
Almost immediately, parliamentarians were letting their voice be heard, forcing Bulgaria to withdraw its nominee for the European Commission last month because she wasn’t seen to be up to the job. They also look ready to block an agreement between the EU and the United States on sharing data on bank transfers, and are really beginning to show their teeth when it comes to financial sector reform.
So there’s no question Greece has work to do to improve its bookkeeping.
Not only must it get spending in check, but it needs to be a bit more honest about where its finances stand in the first place. After all, it’s not often an EU country says one month that its budget deficit is a little over three percent of GDP and admits a few weeks later that, oh dear, it’s actually nearer 13 percent.
Yet it’s hard not to have a little sympathy for Greece at the same time.
Its government bonds have been hammered and the price it has to pay to finance its debt has soared as financial markets have relentlessly taken it to task over the past six weeks for its profligacy.
Silvio Berlusconi is seldom shy about making headlines, and he’s also known to turn on the charm when he meets foreign leaders.
So it was hardly surprising the Italian prime minister kicked off a three-day visit to Israel on Monday by declaring his hope that Israel might one day become a member of the European Union.
Try as it might, the European Union’s efforts to act like a bigger player in world affairs keep running into obstacles.
The latest setback is a report that President Barack Obama won’t be able to make it to the annual EU-U.S. summit this year, pencilled in for Madrid in May. A hectic domestic agenda and the fact the U.S. president made 10 foreign trips last year — more than any other president in his first year in office — means staying at home is the priority and the Europe Union will have to wait.