Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
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.
Commissioners serve for five years and, depending on their portfolio, can have a huge impact on the EU’s 500 million citizens, which means parliament has a critical role to play in examining their credentials.
Hearings for the new Commission began this week, with the first up Britain’s Catherine Ashton (above), the nominee to be EU foreign affairs chief. Ashton arrived at the hearing in a smart grey suit and to a barrage of flashing camera bulbs, giving the event some of the cachet of a U.S.-style hearing, not unlike Hillary Clinton’s hearing a year ago to be approved as secretary of state.
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.
Europe has become increasingly selfish and materialistic in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the heads of the Roman Catholic bishops' conferences across Europe said at the end of their three-day annual meeting at the weekend. "The crisis sweeping Europe today is serious," they said in a statement after the session in Paris. They cited materialism, individualism and relativism as major challenges facing European society.
The bishops' sober assessment contrasted with the upbeat mood that the overwhelming "Yes" vote in Ireland's Lisbon Treaty referendum created. It must be noted they drew up their statement before they'd heard the news from Dublin on Saturday. And their statement ended with a note of Christian hopefulness. Still, their diagnosis is so fundamental it's hard to imagine they would have changed much in the text.
The EU show is back on the road. Sixteen months after Irish voters brought the European Union's tortured process of institutional reform to a juddering halt by voting "No" to the Lisbon treaty, the same electorate has turned out in larger numbers to say "Yes" by a two-thirds majority.
This is an immense relief for the EU's leadership. After three lost referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland, and a record low turnout in this year's European Parliament elections, the democratic legitimacy of the European integration process was increasingly open to question. The Irish vote will not completely silence those doubts. Opponents are already accusing the EU of have bullied the Irish into voting again on the same text, and of blackmailing them with economic disaster if they did not vote the right way this time.
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”.
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.
After his Social Democrats scored their worst-ever result in European elections on Sunday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier might have thought things couldn’t get much worse. But then the man who hopes to beat German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s federal election sat down for a late night television talk show. During the one-hour broadcast, a tense-looking Steinmeier tried to answer the growing number of critics who say he lacks the charisma for the top job — but to many, he only ended up confirming that view.
Breaking from his normally polite, soft-spoken manner, Steinmeier frequently interrupted presenter Anne Will. When Will presented him with a video clip of SPD activists questioning his ability to energise the party, Steinmeier tried to sell his ”seriousness” as a vote-winning virtue. Perhaps the oddest moment came at the very end, when an unemployed man from eastern Germany complained about his struggles to find work. After quizzing the gas fitter about his search, Steinmeier announced that he had “two or three ideas” about jobs in the man’s region and promised to personally take charge of finding him a job. To derisive chuckles, his spokesman was asked at a regular government news conference on Monday whether Germany’s other 3.5 million jobless could count on the SPD candidate to personally sort out their work woes. No, the spokesman said, shifting uneasily in his chair: “The situation yesterday was very special.”
The gloves are off in the run-up to this week’s European Parliament election.
The Party of European Socialists (PES) has published a list of 11 rival candidates it describes as terrible and invites readers to complete the list by adding a 12th candidate of his or her choice. The PES’ centre-right rivals, the European People’s Party (EPP), has hit back by calling it ”cheap populism”.
“No more empty promises to Turkey,” a snickering Sarkozy says. The cartoon in daily Milliyet darkly panders to what most Turks feel these days are the European Union’s true intentions towards Turkey’s EU quest — no matter how many obstacles thrown at its wheels Turkey surmounts on the long and winding road to Brussels, it will ultimately be denied entry at the gates of the promised land .