La Treizième Étoile: 25/10/09 - 01/11/09 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
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Stop Press: Buzek declares "a woman could and should" be EU President

Friday, 30 October 2009
While the main media's converge today on yesterday's EU Summit in Brussels centred on the granting of an exception that the Czech president made a condition for signing the Lisbon Treaty and on the possible identity of the President of the European Council that would be created once it is in force, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek made his most telling remark on the role that seems not to have been picked up.

European Parliament President Jerzy BuzekBuried in a relatively long speech delivered before the Summit meeting, he made reference to the future post (of which Tony Blair is/was a forerunner) and said:

"As far as the position of the permanent European Council President is concerned, this person should be a 'chairman or chairwoman' rather than a President. At the same time it should be considered that a woman could and should occupy this position. Appointing a woman would send a positive signal".

This small paragraph is remarkable for two main reasons.

Firstly, Buzek's interpretation dispels the belief that the President will be the face and voice of Europe. Last week in an interview for Le Figaro, French President Nicolas Sarkozy (16 October) declared "there are two visions for the role of the permanent President of the European Council: the face and voice of Europe around the World or, as others have conceived, the President will ensure the smooth and efficient functioning of the European Council (...) In reality, we are looking for Mr. Right who will do both."

Buzek's words imply that he is looking just for the latter of those visions: that the President will be one to ensure the smooth and efficient continuation of the European machinery. This is not the job that Tony Blair would be interested in, and after all, his global clout would be no good if the post did not list being the face and voice of Europe in its job description (which is still largely undefined).

Secondly, Buzek's will to see a woman appointed essentially disregards all of those candidates that have already but their names (formally or informally) forward: the likes of Mr Blair, Jean-Claude Juncker, Jan-Peter Balkenende, Wolfgang Schüssel, Felipe Gonzalez, etc...

Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Photo: it would strongly suggest that the preferred candidate for Buzek would be Vaira Vike-Freiberga (left), who at 71 years of age is a former Latvian President whose candidacy is being heavily encouraged lately by the neighbouring Lithuania.

But just who is Ms Vike-Freiberga? Well, she was the first female president of Latvia, a former Soviet republic that joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

She is dubbed by many as the Iron Lady of Latvia and served as President of Latvia for eight years after being elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2003.

She was a staunch supporter of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could cause divisions of opinion from the other states towards her candidacy, like we have already seen in the case of Mr Blair.

So what chance is there of a Latvian assuming the post that is to be created once the Czech Republic ratifies the Lisbon Treaty? Well, it would certainly come as a surprise. The big powers in Europe would naturally like their country to be represented, so to give the post to a country who only joined in 2004 and not one of the founders would cause a stir.

Latvia does not use the Euro as its currency (although it would like to), and its position and relationship with Russia could become important symbolic considerations should she be chosen for the post.

Set amongst the background of the other subjects addressed at the Summit it is surprising this small section of Mr Buzek's speech was not picked up by the big media outlets. José Manuel Barroso has also recently sent a rallying cry for more women to fill the top posts in the EU urging the national leaders to see "gender balance as a common goal and a shared responsibility".

So who are the front-runners in the race for EU Council President now?

French 2008 EU Presidency cost almost €1 million a day

Tuesday, 27 October 2009
It is very noticeable that everyday in the Belgian free press there is an article or a reference to when the country takes over the rolling presidency of the European Council and its consequent projected level of spending, which the locals worry will cost too much.

The Kingdom of Belgium is set to resume the presidency on 1 July 2010 for six months after Spain who will take over from the current Sweden on 1 January.

The Eiffel Tower was illumiated with the EU flag throughout the French Presidency (Photo: Eftours)So the news emerging today from France about its spending for its six months in charge, will do little to ease these fears: The French Court of Accounts put the total cost of the July-December 2008 presidency at a whopping €171 million (approx £155m).

On average the rotating presidency of the EU costs each country approximately €70-80 million, but this works out at nearly €1 million a day!

Attempts were made in the report to try and justify the massive expense at the hands of the French taxpayer, remarking that "the scale of this summit, the irregular nature of its procedures and its massive impact on public finances together make this summit a kind of record."

The report noted that France organised 489 EU events during its presidency including nine summits, 25 ministerial meetings and 328 seminars and symposiums.

This huge sum eclipses the amounts previously spent by previous French presidencies of the EU - in 2000 (€56.9 million) and 1995 (€14.1 million), and will certainly add, rather than dispel, Belgian anxiety.

Yet if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, then under the proposed system there would not be a rotating presidency of the same scale so Belgians will not have to spend quite so much...

UPDATE (28/10, 15.00):
And if that was not already enough, the Daily Telegraph has discovered that included in this spending was a including £250,000 custom-built luxury shower that, get this, President Nicolas Sarkozy never even used...

While incorporating power and massage jet buttons as well as a surround-sound radio feature, the main bulk of the money was spent trying to get it installed in what is a listed building...

The 'Rise of the Right-wing' continues with new European alliance

Monday, 26 October 2009
The 'Rise of the Right-wing' took another visible step over the weekend as a clutch of far-right political parties have "cobbled together an alliance of convenience to represent their interests in the European Parliament", the EU Observer reports.

The article reports it was Gabor Vona, the party chairman of Hungary's extreme nationalist grouping, Jobbik, who announced in Budapest on Saturday (24 October) the founding of the Alliance of European Nationalist Movements alongside a declaration of common goals that was drafted by the British National Party's (BNP) leader, Nick Griffin.

Five parties have also initially signed the nine-point declaration: Jobbik, France's Front National, Italy's Fiamma Tricolore, Sweden's National Democrats and Belgium's Walloon extremists, the Front Nationalists.

The parties that signed the declaration have agreed to reject "any attempts at forming an EU federal state," and will call for pro-family policies and "traditional values" and demand Europe be protected from "religious, political, economic and financial imperialism."

This alliance is not an official political grouping because according to the EuroParl rules it needs to include a minimum of 25 elected deputies from at least seven member states.

Currently, only Jobbik, the French Front National, the BNP and the FPO have any representation in the European Parliament. As a result, it cannot claim office space in the parliament nor the accompanying financial grants...

That said, the Hungarian party won a whopping 14.7 percent of the vote in Hungary in the last European elections (giving it three seats in Strasbourg) and the BNP, as we know, won two seats. As for the others, most did not even garner 1 percent...

It would seem therefore that the rise [thankfully] still has a long way to go...

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.