Richard North, 10/01/2005  

"I think we have to show public opinion we can effectively manage the affairs of Europe," says Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg, now nominal president of the EU for six months.

He was speaking following a meeting with José Manuel Barroso's EU commission, after telling the "colleagues" that the most immediate priority was preparing a crucial EU economic summit in March, which will attempt to reinvigorate Europe's creaking economic reform programme.

"Attempt" is probably the operative word and, after the debacle over the tsunami crisis, the EU would have a job showing public opinion that it could manage a sweet shop outside an obesity clinic.

If any demonstration were needed, just read the press release from the "emergency" General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting held last Friday to discuss the tsunami aid programme.

From this we find that the only substantive decision taken by the Council was that on 31 January, the Foreign Ministers will review the current status of planned measures with a view to formulating an “operational EU action plan." I wonder how many calories that will have.

Meanwhile, the "European Development Commissioner" – who is not responsible for developing "Europe" but other parts of the world – our egregious Belgian, Louis Michel, has told all the EU member states that they should cough up 0.7 percent of their GDP to development aid.

Of course, with many cash-strapped EU member states having difficulty staying within the 3 percent limit for budget deficit required by the Growth and Stability Pact – and some failing completely – the commission is considering whether it can exclude payments of aid to the tsunami affected countries from the deficit calculations.

A commission spokeswoman said: "All spending by members goes towards calculating their public deficit, but the Stability and Growth Pact has a clause saying members can plead exceptional circumstances."

Members have the opportunity to claim their aid to Asia after the recent disaster is just such an exception and "the Commission will verify whether it can be counted" as such, she added.

However, there is possibly a better solution in the offing. Thailand has just declined an offer from Japan of US$20 million (€15.1 million) in emergency relief, saying the aid should be directed to countries more in need. Perhaps the money should go to France and Germany to help them balance their budgets.

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