The Economist’s Edward Lucas’s [tag]central Europe[/tag]an diary is well worth a read:
“it is odd that Poland gets so much mockery. There is a kind of snobbish disdain for Europeâ€™s east rooted very deeply in the British psyche. Before writing this diary, your correspondent was trying to do his expensesâ€”a task that represents a weekly high-water mark for a journalistâ€™s numeracy (and, it is rumoured, creativity).
“The Economistâ€™s internal expenses form allows claims in Zambian Kwachaâ€”but not Estonian kroons, or lats (Latvia) or litas (Lithuania). These countries may be members of the [tag]EU[/tag] and NATO, but for all that they are just not important enough. To say nothing of pipsqueak countries such as Ukraine.”
Heading a bit further east, La Russophobe reounds up the ever-growing story of [tag]Russia[/tag]’s apparent continued use of murder as a political weapon in the post-Cold War world, while Siberian Light reports on Russia’s widening investigation into Alexander [tag]Litvinenko[/tag]’s death. Oddly, they seem to be focussing their efforts on London, not Moscow, in the search for the killer…
Back in Europe proper, the French right seems to be pulling together, with overtures to [tag]de Villepin[/tag] being made, and only Jacques [tag]Chirac[/tag]’s final intentions as yet unclear (hell, even his wife doesn’t know yet – and he is on record as saying he’s “thinking about it”). If Chirac stops being a dick and the right continues to unite, [tag]Sarkozy[/tag]’s position should get far, far better – even with the disunity the polls still put him bang on 50/50 with Socialist candidate [tag]SÃ©golÃ¨ne Royal[/tag]. Now the propaganda machine is in also full swing to paint him (actually, quite fairly) as a different sort of French politician, just as (valid?) criticism of Royal starts kicking into gear, it’s entirely possible he could yet secure the presidency.
Meanwhile in [tag]Brussels[/tag], the formation of a new far Right grouping of MEPs in the [tag]European Parliament[/tag] is being blamed on the EU’s New Year expansion – which could be yet another reason for the EU to start playing a part in the [tag]French election[/tag] campaign, as both Sarkozy and Royal will need to undermine any chances for the National Front’s [tag]Jean Marie Le Pen[/tag] to build up his own far-right support. Still, despite the fascists and nutters (against whom the left is uniting, fighting fascism by trying to ban the buggers and evidently not seeing the irony), the EU has been proving itself a positive thing for the likes of [tag]Bulgaria[/tag] – although considering the shift away from national towards continent-wide identity identified in that article, the rise of the nationalistic far-right in eastern Europe starts to become rather more understandable.
While all that’s going on, in Brussels the wheels of diplomacy continue their daily grind, the EU Observer providing an intriguing insight into the niceties of [tag]European Union[/tag] protocol:
“Looking at the picture of the 27 EU leaders taken at the end of the December summit – the “family photo” – it is clear the host, the then Finnish EU presidency is in the middle. But it is less clear why Finland is flanked by France and Poland or why EU top diplomat Javier Solana is hanging around on the front row.
“The answer is an occult system of diplomatic values which assumes that: the closer you stand to the current EU presidency the more important you are; the second most important figure is the next incoming EU presidency and a national president is always more important than a prime minister.”
With all those complex relationships, it’s little wonder that current EU presidency holder [tag]Germany[/tag] is taking a rather more informal approach:
“German interior minister [tag]Wolfgang Schaeuble[/tag] told journalists in Berlin on Thursday (11 January) that he is setting his hopes on informal chats with colleagues from [tag]France[/tag], the UK, Spain, Italy and Poland to reach EU deals in this sensitive policy area – which includes illegal immigration, cross-border crime and the exchange of citizens’ personal data.
“The so-called G6 meetings, which have been taking place since 2003, are disliked by some smaller member states who feel sidelined by the secretive gatherings, which essentially pre-cook the formal EU meetings.”
Nonetheless, on the other side of the world, the EU is being immitated:
“Southeast Asian leaders gathering in the central Philippine province of Cebu for the annual summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or [tag]Asean[/tag]… They say that they are confident their dream of regional integration â€” to become the EU of this part of the world â€” may not be that difficult to attain.”
And no, by “the EU of this part of the world” they don’t mean “riven by petty factionalism, squabbling and distrust and ruled over by a sprawling, largely unaccountable bureaucracy”. They mean it in the positive sense, OK?
To wrap this up, as I’ve just about reached my news and opinion ingestion limit for the day, have a long and seemingly well-considered analysis of [tag]blogs[/tag] and [tag]blogging[/tag]. One of the most wide-ranging and intelligent I’ve seen for quite a while – albeit going a little too far down the path of academia-speak for a hung-over Saturday morning. One to return to and read later, methinks.