Richard North, 11/03/2005  

Try as we might, we are finding it increasingly difficult to take the European Union seriously.

With the Juncker pronouncements on the growth and stability pact, following on from Mr Yves Mersch complaining that "some member states haven't understood the reasoning behind the introduction of the euro" and then the Austrian finance minister, Karl-Heinz Grasser, complaining about progress "in the wrong direction" – all in the space of days – reporting on this construct is taking on a quite unintended surreal dimension.

Add to that the findings reported in the previous post about the lethargic state of the economies in the EU member states and what comes over is a picture of drift, compounded by images of feckless politicians rushing around without the first idea of what to do. Altogether, the impression is of decay and disorder, a construct running into the sand, bolstered by grandiose rhetoric and very little else.

But what completes the picture and drives it into the realms of the surreal is that, while the financial ministers are thrashing around, trying and failing to make sense of a crushingly dismal economic situation, the environment ministers met yesterday in their monthly Council and blithely endorsed "ambitious targets" for emissions cuts, proposed by the EU commission.

Entirely oblivious to the growing economic crisis, therefore, and the frenetic efforts of the finance ministers in trying to kick-start the Lisbon agenda, which was aimed at making Europe "the world's most competitive economy by 2010" (Do pay attention and try to stop giggling.), these fools are calling for "additional cuts in polluting greenhouse gases" beyond those mandated by the Kyoto Protocol.

So, while the finance ministers are vainly trying to press down the economic accelerator, the environment ministers are slamming on the brake. Heaven knows who is holding the steering wheel.

Furthermore, these fools are still deluding themselves with the idea that the United States can be inveigled into joining their economic suicide club, setting targets of emission cuts of between 60 to 80 percent compared to 1990 levels.

Such is their deluded state that the ministerial collective has convinced itself that this somehow represents progress, with the arch-idiot Lucien Lux, Luxembourg's environment minister, telling the world that, "Today the EU has demonstrated its ability to take a leadership role in fighting climate change". One wonders whether he has talked to Mr Juncker.

Even the EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, proffered a slight note of caution, warning that, while there were "pros and cons" for early action, "by setting ambitious targets at this moment" Europe risked leaving some countries behind and or "scaring them off".

The trouble is, we have been here before. Previously, we had had the "Lisbon agenda" and Kyoto. Now we are going to get Lisbon II and "post-Kyoto" – brake and accelerator applied together. Ever get that "groundhog day" feeling?

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