Time for EU leaders to get a grip on the crisis
by our secret columnist in Brussels
With all of Europe's key players now returned from their summer holidays, Schadenfreude looks ahead to the challenges they will face over the coming months and spies a few blazing rows on the horizon
Back from the beaches – possibly including the naturist resort on the Baltic that one former European Commissioner frequented – the European Union is getting down to autumn business. The 2013 European Union budget needs to be sorted, which is largely a task for the Cypriot presidency of the Council of the EU. The Gripes – Greece, Italy, Portugal, and España – need more attention and preferably some new ideas. The latest development is a report that Greeks will be asked to work on Saturdays. There must be more to a recovery plan than that.
Someone has to get a grip of the role the European Central Bank is to play in sovereign financing. It is the kind of problem that a European Council president without national preconceptions or inhibitions could grasp, but Herman Van Rompuy prefers to stand above the battle. Perhaps too, there will be a decision on whether the European Stability Mechanism is a bank, subject to regulation, or a joint account in another bank. Michel Barnier, the French financial services commissioner, is due to launch plans for the conduct of the investment business, marking the beginning of a long dispute with Britain in the vanguard of the opposition.
The British are working out how best and when to give effect to their pledges to attack over-regulation, as well as how to present their demand for what they may not call the repatriation of powers. Whatever they do will not be enough for their anti-European Union supporters unless it includes an in-out referendum as the final step. One of Prime Minister David Cameron's newly appointed ministerial team chose as his début press statement a denunciation of the Common Fisheries Policy. In the string of British government announcements about new policies to stimulate investment, create more jobs and increase exports there is nary a word about EU backing, moral or practical.
Meanwhile the Franco-German combination is not working, with France supporting Italy in advocating policies for growth rather than restriction. The Irish are putting together what they will try to achieve with their EU presidency, which starts in January. They have a good track record on the job. Their successors from next July are Lithuania, an unknown quantity. Elsewhere, the common foreign policy is an empty shell. Policy remains firmly under national control and there will be no change. Whence the EU has had little or nothing to say about Syria or, nearer home, the Armenia/Azerbaijan spat. Us reporters need a blazing row or two to keep us in business. We may not have too long to wait.
Van Rompuy optimistic on EU economy at G8
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