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Who do you call to speak to Europe?

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- Obama on the phone

Obama on the phone

Who do you call when you want to speak to Europe? The question, long attributed to Henry Kissinger, has yet to be answered convincingly by the 27-country European Union.

Six months ago, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a news conference the person to call on foreign policy issues was Catherine Ashton, who had just been chosen as the European Union’s foreign affairs chief.  The “so-called Kissinger issue is now solved”, he said.

Ashton reinforced that view on Monday by suggesting she was the person to call if Iran wanted to discuss the latest diplomatic moves on its nuclear programme. “They have my phone number,” she said.

But Barroso was more vague at the news conference last November when asked whom U.S. President Barack Obama should call if he wanted to speak to the EU. He pointed out that the EU was not one country, like the United States, China or Russia — implying they each had one clear leader. He seemed to be saying that the person you have to call depends on circumstances or the nature of the problem a foreign leader wishes to discuss.

Managing in a crisis, EU style

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EU cube

 

Never let it be said that the European Union doesn’t get things done.

It may have a slightly maddening way of going about it — last-minute, late-night summits, hours and hours of sweaty, closed-door negotiation, multiple conflicting plans put forward by the likes of the Finns, the Italians and, who knows, the Estonians – and then, hey presto, like the proverbial rabbit out of a hat, at 2 in the morning, a $1 trillion deal to haul the world back from the debt-crisis abyss. All in the name of European unity.

As one Brussels policy analyst put it somewhat delphically : “The EU is not crisis resistant, but perhaps it is crisis proof.” 

Cometh the hour, cometh Van Rompuy?

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van rompuy2Three 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.

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