An an unlikely turnaround, some elected Europeans are keeping their beady eyes on the barmy bureaucrats of Brussels.
EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton’s new office is to overlook the Commission and Council buildings. The Commission is expected to lease 50,000 square metres of the 60,000 square metre block for at least 15 years at a cost of around €10 million a year to house Lady Ashton’s European External Action Service (EEAS). Said a middle-ranking sprout:
“It’s important for [Lady Ashton] to have her own premises, so that if she calls a meeting everybody is close to hand, but also to make the right impression when visitors come”.
But if that sounds like business as usual on the train de jus, be of good cheer: there is more than a whiff of anti-Brussels revolution in the air, and it gladdens my heart to smell it.
Widespread media interviews with Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radicová on the subject of Greek (and future) bailout packages produced some very quotable quotes about the importance of being elected.
In Die Welt, she commented on EU Commissioner Ollie Rehn’s public criticism for not taking part in the bailout thus: “The way in which [he], a non-elected official from Brussels, spoke about the freely elected members of the Slovakian parliament was insulting. I will demand an official apology for this from Brussels during my visit to Berlin”.
FAZ got her on even more of a roll:
“Europe must not be constituted by a big brother and many satellites which have to obey the larger, more powerful and wealthy. We remember very well what it means to be a satellite…I don’t want to compare, I only want to highlight that democracy also means to listen to the arguments of those who may be very small but are aware of their responsibilities. Talk that Slovakia is acting irresponsibly must stop. To say it in all clarity: when democratically elected politicians raise criticisms they have the right to do so. But European administrators do not have this right, not at any time”.
On a bigger canvas, French Budget Minister François Baroin held talks with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in Berlin yesterday, and the two ministers agreed to fight side by side to ensure that the increase in the next EU budget should be limited to 2.9% as opposed to the 5.9% proposed by the European Commission. I understand that the Osborne Treasury’s view remains firmly one of 0%.
Meanwhile, the 24/7 watch on Brussels’ somewhat bumbling attempts at stealth taxes continues. There is a fight ongoing in the EU about proposals for a financial transaction tax. Although finance ministers are planning to ‘come to an agreement’ on the issue in the Ecofin meeting on 7 September, the meeting seems likely to end in deadlock: France and Germany are in favour, but are isolated, while “the UK and Sweden are strictly opposed. According to diplomatic sources, all the other member states are silent.
And where is Herman of Rompuy these days? Well, the Belgian Beast has his hands full dealing with his elected oppo, José Manuel Barroso of Spain. Jose has set out his stall as the champion of a liberal EU – and as yet, van Rompuy has no answer to the Spaniard’s claim. He must hope that Jose will be swept away by the tidal wave heading for that country.
Do not be fooled: this is not game, set and match. But it is a mens singles 5-setter semi-final – and we are 5-2 up in the third, having squared the first two. There is still a lot to do before a People’s Champion can be hailed.