Richard North, 05/01/2005  

From a purely selfish perspective, we have been almost yearning for EU politics to get back up and running, purely on the basis that running the Blog with a thin news agenda is much more difficult than when events are in full flow.

But now, after the Christmas break recedes into distant memories and the "colleagues" get back into the fray, we are beginning to wish we could put the clock back and send them all to sleep again.

Very much in that category is the current EU president, Luxembourg’s prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker. In full flow, he is now lecturing (or hectoring) us on the dangers of "Europe" getting bogged down as member states seek to play it safe ahead of looming national votes on a European constitution.

What Juncker is worried about is that politically contentious proposals are being shelved in the run up to the various referendums, for fear that they might remind the masses of quite how dire is the EU, and vote against it when their turn comes. So much for "transparency" and an open debate – the tactic is to keep doggo and bring the bad news out only after the constitution is safely in the bag.

But no so such concerns trouble Junker, the proud leader of one of the most Europhile countries in the EU – or so he says. Nevertheless even the gung ho Luxembourgian is fighting shy over dealing with the vexed question of the EU budget.

The scope for horse-trading, we are told, is limited by the two-year old agreement setting Europe's agriculture budgets – a Juncker is steering clear. "I do not intend to open this file, to even burn my fingers while trying to open it," he told le Monde.

But Juncker is also having to take on the discussions on the future of the EU's regional policy, facing down Spain, Portugal and Ireland which do not want to give up their share of the loot, while the Eastern and Central European countries want their share and Germany, to say nothing of the UK, are unwilling to pay any extra.

However, it is going to be enjoyable watching Juncker squirm as he confronts the reality of trying to reconcile the opposing interests. Some idea of what is facing him comes from his own cryptic comment that Spain and other countries such as Portugal, Greece or Ireland cannot be "the only ones to make substantial efforts". This, says Juncker, "is an idea which would be doomed to failure."

He may be right.

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