The Great Debate UK
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.
Try this for size from a British Euro-sceptic, Lorraine Mullally of the Open Europe think-tank:
This is a sad day for democracy in Europe. The Lisbon Treaty transfers huge new powers to the EU and away from ordinary people and national parliaments. EU elites will be popping the champagne and slapping each other on the back for managing to bully Ireland in to reversing its first verdict on this undemocratic Treaty. But most ordinary people around Europe will not welcome this news, as they were never given a chance to have their say on the Treaty. We should all be deeply worried about the way in which EU leaders have gone about forcing this Treaty on us. Polls show that the majority of people across Europe want to be consulted on major transfers of power such as this - but politicians in Brussels aren't interested in what the people want.
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.
Jose Manuel Barroso promised the European Parliament that as re-elected president of the European Commission he will have more authority to fight for Europe and defend its single market against economic nationalism.
But after five years of toadying to the big member states, he will need to show more spine to enforce state aid and competition rules on Germany, Britain and France in the teeth of strong national financial or commercial interests.
An intriguing story in Le Monde reports that French Prime Minister Francois Fillon (pictured left with Barroso and President Nicolas Sarkozy) is considering offering his services as head of the European Union executive if Barroso fails to win majority support from the European Parliament this month. Le Monde quotes an unidentified French minister and an anonymous senior diplomat, with a comment from Fillon's office declining to speculate on a Barroso failure and saying that of course, the prime minister is interested in Europe but he hasn't put himself forward as a candidate.
Could the European Union be among the big losers of the global financial crisis?
Despite signs that recession in Europe may be bottoming out, the 27-nation bloc risks emerging from the turmoil with its economic growth potential stunted, its public finances shackled by mountains of debt, and its international influence weakened.
That is the backdrop to Jose Manuel Barroso's campaign for a second term as president of the executive European Commission. In a manifesto sent to EU lawmakers last week, he warns that unless Europeans shape up to the challenge together, "Europe will become irrelevant".
- Danny Sriskandarajah is Director of the Royal Commonwealth Society. The opinions expressed are his own -
In recent years the Commonwealth has become an easily derided organisation. From its inception as a clever way of easing de-colonisation to the heady 1970s and 1980s when the association showed a radical dynamism on issues like Apartheid, the international association has shown itself to be unique and useful.
Lawrence Sheets is Caucasus Project Director of the International Crisis Group. The opinions expressed are his own.
The truce that ended last summer’s war between Russia and Georgia may be more or less holding for now, but the structures keeping the peace are crumbling due to Russian pressure and Western acquiescence.
- Brigitte Triems is president of the European Women’s Lobby, the largest non-governmental women’s organisation in the European Union, representing approximately 2000 organisations in 30 European Countries. Working with its members at national and European levels, the EWL’s main objective is to fight for gender equality and to ensure the integration of a gender perspective in all EU policy areas. The opinions expressed are her own. -
Some Europeans like to claim that we have achieved equality between women and men in Europe, and that the struggle for equality belongs to another, preferably faraway, region. Unfortunately there is little reality behind these claims.