It's the most Brussels of parlour games: The Top Job Speculation Game. A kind of 'Who's Who?' of European politics, or a 'Who's That?' for anyone beyond the inner beltway.

 

There's the cyclical guesswork every five years over who gets to bag the big jobs in each new incoming EU administration. It's pretty frenetic and all-encompassing for several weeks, as eurovillage barchat (RIP) barters authoritatively the rumour that the former Lithuanian finmin is to get forestry and cutlery, against the surefire bet that France wants Council and has secured a deal with Germany to swap out the SecGen in exchange for DG Trade, who'll get the DG job in a newly-created super-directorate for Vegetable and Mineral Affairs etc etc ad inevitable erratum.

 

It is also the most Brussels of parlour games for the decision makers themselves to spend ages bickering over which once-mid-level European politician to park in a thankless position with few powers and a likely inconsequential eventual outcome.

 

And so it is with the hunt for the loftily titled President of the Conference on the Future of Europe - a kind of hand-wringing talking shop aimed at giving a semblance of democratic legitimacy to a semblance of democratic reform.

 

Governments and MEPs are at loggerheads, and speculation is rife and uninteresting.

 

It's almost as if it mattered.

 

First out the gates was perennial bridesmaid Guy Verhofstadt, a man whose name has been in every hat for every top EU job in more than a decade. I think they now make the EU sorting hats with his name already stitched onto the inside.

 

It ensures he'll always be in the running, but will never get picked out.

 

He - or his European Parliament advocates - should have known better: Anyone tipped early on as a candidate is doomed to fall by the wayside.

 

Now we are led to believe that previous top-job also-rans Thorning-Schmidt, Grybauskaite and Stubb are possibles, as well as Enrico Letta or Michel Barnier, and for a true retro feel, Emma Bonino and Joschka Fischer.

 

The last time Joschka Fischer was A Thing in The World, Crazy Frog was in the charts, and Saddam Hussein was still alive. Probably listening to Crazy Frog. Because we all were in 2005. We didn't have much choice in the matter.

 

Bonino's EU credentials, meanwhile, date back to YMCA's first chart success, and John Wayne's final days. Though it's less clear he'd have been listening to it at the time, ubiquitous as it was.

 

It's possible with a bit of squinting to see the case for arguing the toss over who gets the European Commission or Council President job. They're positions of some influence, and having Your Guy (sorry, Verhofstadt) or Gal in the chair may be of some importance - much as they're supposed to abandon their national allegiances at the doorway.

 

But why the disagreements and delays over this chairperson role?

 

What differing outcome would a Stubb presidency have over a Bonino one, given they'd be marshalling a list of pretty much pre-ordained lower-common-denominator reform options after two years of chats with unrepresentative representatives of The Citizen and the usual parade of lobbyists?

 

May as well list 'enhanced cooperation' and some de minimis tweaks to own resources on a piece of paper, stick a ribbon on it, and call it job done for this stage - a stage which, we should recall, is the first, consultative recommendation stage.

 

You'd then need to go through the whole EU sausage making process in order to get anything out the other end, which if history is anything to go by, is likely to be not a sausage.

 

The last twenty years have seen a Convention on the Future of Europe (not to be confused with a Conference on the Future of Europe), three Intergovernmental Conferences on the Future of Europe (also not to be confused with the Conference on the Future of Europe), two rounds of Citizens' Dialogues (not to be confused with the "Citizens' 'Agoras'" foreseen under the Conference on the Future of Europe... whatever they are...), and a Future of Europe Consultation, not to be confused with any of the above.

 

All of these were intended to be steps towards EU reform of some kind, with grand aims of becoming more streamlined, more fit for the modern world, more lah-di-dah and whoop-di-dooh, more whizzbang and relevant, more hip to the kidz, you get me? etc.

 

And in all that time, the only reform of any note was the Lisbon Treaty, almost a decade in the making, accounting for mishaps and setbacks, and representing the maximum the EU could get away with in terms of eroding governments’ powers (which is what much of it boils down to).

 

So assuming this talking-shop ‘conference’ leads to some largely uncontroversial soft recommendations which get mauled throughout the process between those who want MOAR EUROPE and those who like winning national elections, assuming that then results in some pre-legislative discussions on some draft ideas which then get another mauling, followed by legislative proposals – mauled again – and we emerge years later with the aforementioned further enhanced cooperation and a tweak to how the EU is funded.

 

Assuming all that - which is hardly a stretch - why the 10 months of to-and-fro over who gets to run the village-hall debates? Why not just go with tradition and jettison all the higher-profile names and settle on a relatively unknown least-worst compromise candidate who’ll muddle through under arm’s-length direction from the member states for a cushy eurocrat salary and a no-less lucrative consultancy afterlife.

 

I remain available.

 "Our special meeting on Thursday and Friday will primarily focus on Europe's place in the world and our capacity to shape our own destiny."


It was a spectacularly lofty aspiration for this week's EU summit from EU council prez Charles Michel, (or 'Chucky Mike', as I'm going to try and get him known from now on).


Certainly, in foreign relations there was much at stake, with unrest in Belarus and Turkey's posturing in the Med pretty much requiring a response from the EU. But it was less about making a mark on the global stage, and more about avoiding making no mark at all.


If the EU is to be one of the grown-ups in the global room - a room conspicuously short of responsible adults at the moment - it can't just silently tut and roll its eyes at the unruly juveniles threatening to burn the place to the ground.


True, there's a greater danger from the unruly adults threatening to burn the place to the ground. But that requires a level of school-gate diplomacy strictly limited to smiling artificially from a distance, while keeping your opinions on 'that ghastly creature' firmly to yourself.


So in response to the Turkish and Belarussian delinquents, it was the old carrot-stick one-two the EU resorted to.


And what you get if you cross a carrot with a stick?


Apart from sticky carrots.


A stern finger-wagging for being belligerent coupled with the promise of goodies for better behaviour.


In fact it was very much along the lines of the naughty-child-discipline playbook of a classic 'shit sandwich' of stinky admonishment nestled in between fluffy slices of lovely soft doughy promises of loveliness.


For months (years) Turkey has been sat next to Greece with his finger in Greece's face, going "I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you." But in recent times Turkey has been sneaking in the occasional actual jab in the cheekbone, to Hellenic protestations. That's prompted the EU now to pull in to the hard shoulder, lean over to the back seat, and have a stern word about the prospect of ice cream if behaviour doesn't improve.


That model of discipline is a bit harder if the misbehaving child happens to have a spectacularly brutish stepdad (one of the aforementioned fractious pyromaniac grown-ups), and if the misbehaviour is particularly egregious.


For Belarus the EU prepared a similar foreign-policy sandwich, though with a considerably less favourable bread-to-turd ratio.


Pocket monies and privileges withheld - though notably not for Putin's stepson - and the vaguest of prospects of jam tomorrow.


Possibly on the carrots.


To make them sticky. 


With that compound culinary metaphor finally fully self-destructing, and Chucky Mike having reminded the world that Europe exists – albeit in the form of a rather ineffectual parent with a very confusing picnic hamper – summit turned to domestic matters.


The subtext Рsometimes barely sub at all Рwas a reflex to try and stuff the globalist genie back into the bottle. Unfortunately the globalist genie has spent the best part of two decades gorging on now embedded models of mass consumption and is rather too portly to consider a réembouteillage forcé. But Trump has altered that. He has not so much moved the Overton Window on that orthodoxy as bricked it up entirely and knocked through a gaping hole on the other side of the house.


It means that EU leaders can feel emboldened to talk euphemistically of ‘strategic autonomy’ and without standing accused of being old-world protectionists.


No.


They’re new-world protectionists now.


And it’s strategic so it’s ok. It’s about healthcare and energy. Not about preserving un-economic commodity industries like in the past. 


Although some of those might magically turn out to be strategic too.


And it’s not just about Chinese bits and bobs and Russian gas. It’s also about forrin internets.


“Digital Sovereignty” means that just as we should be using European toasters and driving European cars powered by home-grown European renewable smugness, we should also be developing self-sufficiency in European kitten videos and European porn, and somehow be trying to Make Nokia Great Again.


And how will we get there?


Why, we’ll follow the “comprehensive Digital Compass” of course – ‘compass’ being (apparently) the latest addition to the EU’s lexicon of Names for Things that aren’t a Thing. 


It’s actually quite in line with the EU’s foreign-policy image as a bumbling parent figure.


They’ll have a stern word with the bullies (probably in vain), make unfulfillable promises about growing our own produce, and when there’s a problem with the internet, they’ll reach naively for the least appropriate tool to fix it. 


Although, glancing at the alternative parenting role models around, bumbling is about as good as it gets.


BM. 


President,


Honourable Members,


And Dishonourable ones.


Let me get straight to the point.


We are in unprecedented times. The most unprecedented ever. The unprecedentedness is unprecedented, one we could not have had the prescience to predict. 


Europe is at a crossroads. And must serve as a bridge from the past to the future over these troubled waters if we are to find our lighthouse in these uncharted oceans.


What we need, and what we need to work towards, together, in a common effort that reflects the common challenges we face, is a concrete roadmap towards a better future, a more sustainable future, the most sustainable future in our shared history, a future that can last, sustainably, for the generations to come.


And that's what I'm presenting to you today. A vision to a horizon that is only now coming into view as the dust starts to settle, but a horizon that we know is there, and that we know we must strive towards.


Fine words will only get us so far. 


But in so far as they will get us so far, more fine words will get us further.


Actions will get us further still. 


Which is why I intend to harness the power of both to present an agenda for action, made out of words. Lots of words about actions. Including words about targets that will require action plans of their own. Made up of words.


And I look to you, dear colleagues, to work with us to see these bold, ambitious, far-reaching action plans adopted, so we can get on with the work of implementation. For implementation is key, and will require clear guidance and a strategy to fulfill the objectives that this house and the council are currently working on. The commission stands ready to deliver on those objectives, once adopted, and to that end is drafting the guidance and strategy necessary and plans to present those to this house towards the middle of the next bimester.


But that’s not all we have planned as concrete priorities for the coming year.


Europe has a place in the world. An ever more globalised world and an ever more digitalised world in which you can like a tikchat or swap a myface in a matter of minutes with someone literally in another country, almost on the other side of the world.


Our citizens are ever more plugged in and outward looking, and they expect the same of us. The NetizenEU2025 initiative intends to ensure every citizen can have internets and to have those internets safeguarded in line with a common set of fundamental principles designed to help build a Europe of Internets and an Internets of Europe. Making Europe less reliant on Russian, American or Chinese internets remains a long-term target, a target we will set out in an action plan roadmap, with a concrete strategy for how to meet that target.


And just as Europe has a place in the world, it also must bear its responsibility for its place in the world and its impact on the world. The EU has lead the way on policies to prepare for a greener future and the transition to a smugger economy. Through more targets and strategies we can continue to be the global standard bearers for environmental policymaking. By 2035 we intend to increase environmental and climate policy by 55 percent on 1990 levels, surpassing the policy-making targets agreed by global leaders in Paris.


Finally, ladies and gentlemen, a word on the pandemic and how the EU can harness its potential to be a driver for more Europe. Now is a time for action at EU level, a time of opportunity to seize the momentum towards a coordinated response to prepare for and safeguard against future pandemics of this kind. With the current pandemic still an immediate threat, with the lives and livelihoods of our citizens at stake, I am today calling for an urgent discussion about the outline actions we could consider, sometime next year.


I am aware this is an ambitious agenda, but if we don’t confront these challenges, these challenges will confront us. 


If we fail to act, we act to fail, as someone never put it.


I look to a future in which the EU stands up and takes action on the key issues of the moment. With concrete plans for potential actions and clear-sighted strategies setting the parameters for a response at EU level that respects national competencies while adhering to commonly agreed principles with some exceptions and carve-outs, I look forward to driving this ambitious agenda forwards.


Thank you.



BM


The Plight of the Eurosnark

Thursday, September 10, 2020 | 0 comments »

In case you hadn't noticed, Brexit's a drag isn't it?
 
Tsk.
 
It's been in our faces for the last five years like a horrendous pub bore, harrumphing, braying, and barking, and showing scant regard for our personal space, covid or no covid.
 
Frankly it's been hard to concentrate on anything else.
 
We try and knuckle down to a budget agreement, and Brexit pipes up loudly next to our earholes, telling us how it is, and is ever going to be, with fish quotas.
 
We start an earnest discussion about managing the challenges of the digital economy, and Brexit bangs down its drained glass, burps gratuitously, and somehow makes the conversation about him and his plans to walk out of the pub without paying ('him', because, in case there was any doubt in this personificatory analogy, Brexit is most certainly a man rather than a woman, and likely thinks all other gender identities are just woke nonsense propagated by a liberal media intent on a culture war against the decent majority. And probably imposed by Brussels).
 
Every time we try and occupy ourselves with anything else, anything involving the EU's own internal issues, from across the table there's some theatrical throat clearing followed an extensive incoherent trail of bombastic blurting to drown all else out.
 
And if I might clear my throat, reassure you all it's just a tickle, and make this about me for a moment, how am I meant to prick the EU's pomposities and mock it's absurdities, if the most pompous and absurd thing in it – consistently, repeatedly, and over a long period of time - is the arse who's leaving it?
 
For a brief moment there was a scandal involving a politician *gasp* doing the wrong thing. The short-lived nature of the story wasn't helped by said politician then *gasp* doing the right thing. (And hats duly tipped for that).
 
But also, how can I justify any concerted satirical focus on hashtag golfgate when hashtag BrexitManbaby is throwing his toys out of the pram and threatening to jettison the pram because he never wanted a pram in the first place and in any case who needs a pram he’ll be fine without a pram?
 
Similarly, EUHQ self-backslapping over closing the stabledoor on the long-bolted car-emissions-fraud horse could have drawn more barbs.
 
And France's bizarre hissy fit over the decision not to cram thousands of people into metal boxes to transport them over many hours to spend a week in close quarters in a glass bowl in Strasbourg at a time of coronavirus should also have attracted some vilificacious column inches.
 
But no. Not while Brexit is loudly and proudly filling his nappy, and, by the look in his eye and on recent form, is now likely to consider making hand paintings with the contents.
 
And do bear in mind, again, for your mental-imaging purposes, in this scenario Brexit is a grown-up human man. Not a baby. Lest I sit accused of mixing my metaphors and trying to have my rhetorical cake and pick the cherries to go atop it.

(You’re welcome for the mental image by the way. Of the feculent Brexit guy. Not the cake.)
 
So, congratulations, Brexit, you have yet again drawn the attention.
 
And we are yet again, reluctantly, laughing at you.
 
 
 
 
 
 
BM