Since February 2009 , this blog and Huib's 3 other Euroblogs are together at:

- In Europa Zu Hause [DE]
- L'Europe Chez Soi [FR]
- At Home in Europe [EN]
- In Europa Thuis [NL]

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Europe: Missile defense plan coolly received

The Financial Times relates how European representatives reacted to the US missile defense project in a NATO meeting, one of these days:

Europe cool on US missile bases plan

By Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Neil Buckley in Moscow

The US sought on Thursday to overcome scepticism among its Nato allies and hostility from Russia over its plans to locate missile defence bases in Europe – but failed to win a convincing show of support.


Thursday’s US presentation, spearheaded by Lt. Trey Obering, director of the missile defence agency, Eric Edelman, under-secretary of defence, and John Rood, head of the State Department’s non-proliferation bureau, argued that the proposed sites in Poland and the Czech Republic would allow the system to cover all but a handful of Nato allies.

The system, which is principally designed to protect the continental US, already uses bases in
California and Alaska. According to maps circulating among Nato officials, only Turkey and parts of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania would be outside the system’s protection once additional interceptor missiles were installed in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic.


But on Thursday some countries, including Turkey and Belgium, voiced worries that shooting down missiles could leave them at risk of radioactive debris, and also mentioned concerns about command and control of the new system, public opinion and the reaction of Russia.

Exactly the three points, I mentioned earlier here. But I do not think, that Europe should follow blindly Russia in its opposition. A continental protective system against space-born nuclear attacks is not wrong in itself. On the contrary: It would strengthen Europe's position in world politics and be a supplementary stimulus for European cooperation on security matters. It is a problem that only can be solved by the EU-countries themselves. Hiding behind the broadening Russian back, is a second-choice, weak, option.

Moreover, the Russians seem not to be so sure themselves, what they want exactly:

At a later stage of the meeting, Russia took approximately an hour to outline its objections – despite promises from the US to deepen co-operation through steps such as sharing radar images to help early warning.

In Moscow, Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister, said he saw ”no grounds” for co-operation between Russia and the US on creating a joint missile defence system.

”We believe this system of strategic missile defence has, to put it mildly, a somewhat chimerical nature,” he said.

Mr Ivanov’s comments represented an apparent change in Russia’s position.
The first deputy premier had told the Financial Times in an interview earlier this week that Russia had proposed creating a joint anti-missile defence system to Nato five years ago, saying it could use Russian-made S-300 or S-400 surface-to-air missiles. ”We could ward off the threat this way,” he said.

But he also told the FT he believed there was no realistic possibility of Iran or North Korea having missiles that could reach Europe or the US in the foreseeable future.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

The Dividing Shield: Putin learns from Bush

Herr Helmut Schmidt is about the last person, I imagined, to become my ally in a strategic issue. But he is. Welcome to the Club, old (89) comrade, eternally capped like a sailor!

Philip Stephens, one of my favoured commenters in my favoured European paper, the Financial Times (it has definitively overtaken Le Monde), does not agree with Helmut and me. He considers the stationing of a small number of inoffensive missiles in Poland as something that does not endanger the balance of power in Europe, nor the 1988 treaty that banned short- and middle-range missiles from European soil.

I disagree, but that is not the issue of his interesting comment. Citing Schmidt, he says:

His ire was directed at Washington’s plans to deploy its missile defence system in Europe. The plan to site interceptors and radar in Poland and the Czech Republic, he said, was irresponsible and destabilising. It would divide Europe – a strategy, he added, that George W. Bush had pursued since his reckless (in Mr Schmidt’s
judgment) decision to invade Iraq. Nato had been the place for collective discussion and judgment on strategic security. Now it was reduced to a tool of the Americans.

Strong stuff, particularly if one recalls Mr Schmidt’s staunch advocacy of Nato’s deployment of short- and medium-range missiles in Europe in the early 1980s. That
stance, defying the mood of his own Social Democrats, contributed to the then chancellor’s political demise.

The key to an eventual solution of this new US bilateral go-it-alone initiative, is, everybody agrees on that, Germany. Stephens:

German public opinion, which turned decisively against the US over the Iraq war, is overwhelmingly hostile. [...]

Ms Merkel wants to defuse the issue by passing it to Nato. [...]

Ms Merkel has invested much in rebuilding relations with Washington. She has eschewed the subservience to Moscow often shown by her SPD predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. But she will find it hard to ignore domestic opinion ahead of big regional elections in 2008.

So, no move to be expected from Germany. A situation that is exploited by Russia:

Moscow’s strategy – long evident in negotiations with European governments about the supply of Russian gas – is to divide and rule. Mr Putin sees in Russia’s energy reserves an opportunity to recover influence over his country’s near-abroad and intimidate the former communist states of eastern and central Europe. [..]

Curiously, the commenter leaves out the UK's responsability for dividing, and thus weakening, Europe on this issue. The UK sovereignly accepted a long time ago already to participate in the missile shield, stationing elements of it on its islands. If he considers in the next passage Bush and Rumsfeld 'stupid', and rightly so, when they created a "new" Europe as opposite to the "old" one, in order to win over "willing" partners in their Iraq war, what about Tony Blair then?

So what should the rest of us make of Russia’s warnings and Germany’s wobble? Well, the first thing to be said is that Washington must accept a share of the blame. If Moscow’s purpose is to drive a wedge between the former Warsaw pact states and the “Old Europe” of Germany and France, it is worth asking where the idea first came from.

Step forward Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary, who thought it a clever wheeze to depict a continent split between Old and New when Washington was assembling its coalition for Iraq. Dividing Europe may have seemed a smart tactic then. It looks a pretty stupid strategy now.

And I cannot see, why Angela Merkel's proposal to reconsider the anti-missile issue within the NATO-framework, should not be taken seriously. What the US, the UK, Poland and Chechia did wrong, was that they left out multilateral consultation. NATO could be a forum for that. More still: It should be. If the North Atlantic Treaty still means something.

If there really is a danger of an Iranian nuclear attack, European multilateral consultations, plus consultations with the US and Russia, should cover a whole range of possible defensive measures, while unilateral decisions by individual countries could be judged by their possible effects on the security of others. And do not forget NATO-members like Turkey, one of the countries which would run more risks of being attacked, if that 'shield' would be located in central Europe.

Considering all that, Merkel's proposal is the right one, the one that should have been imposed on the Americans during the Iraq debates in 2002 and 2003. It cannot be dismissed as simply a move to avoid serious discussion in Germany in relation to regional elections coming up there.

I would say, Mr. Stephens, start at home. Change the "S" in "US" in the next passage into a "K", and you get the right text:

Nor has the US administration quite grasped just how powerful a pull anti-Americanism now exerts – not just in Germany but across Europe. The uncomfortable fact is that when it comes to matters of security, public opinion is disposed to believe the worst of any new US initiative.

When US officials talk about bilateral negotiations with individual governments about issues that do affect Europe’s collective security – as they have done about missile defence – they feed all these neuroses. That does not mean Mr Schmidt is right, any
more than it means that Mr Putin has Europe’s best interests at heart.

It does mean that the US has a lot of bridges to rebuild.

Europe's unity on security matters can only come from Europe itself.

Complaining about other imperia, or would-be imperia, who use quite naturally, as always in history, "divide et impera" as their policy, is somewhat hypocrite. Although it is good that it is being said.

Putin learnt from Bush. May Europe learn from Putin.

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EP supports EU roaming charges caps!

What appears as a setback to the 'mobile phone industry' and the Financial Times, is a big step to victory for 479 mln. mobile phone owners in the EU. A binding EU cap on international mobile phone calls will be in force by next June! In time for summer holidays.

Mobile phone companies have tried every possible trick to avoid or to weaken the correction of their exploitation of the national procurement policy of mobile telephone licences. In this blog, we have closely monitored their lobbying. interesting for future market regulations.

Next steps should be:

  • A cap on internet roaming charges (GPRS)
  • EU-wide procurement of mobile telephone licences.

This is what the FT has to say about the EP-decision in favour of the EC proposal:

EU setback for mobile phone industry

By Sarah Laitner in Brussels

Published: April 12 2007 11:10 | Last updated: April 12 2007 11:10

The European mobile phone industry on Thursday suffered a setback when an
influential parliamentary committee backed plans to slash the cost of cross-border calls.

Legislators in Brussels voted to protect the EU’s 479m mobile phone users from expensive fees to make and receive calls while travelling in European countries other than their own.

The industry committee in the European parliament called for maximum charges of €0.40 per minute to make a call and €0.15 per minute to receive one.

Acknowledging that price controls were inevitable, operators had called for higher caps of €0.65 and €0.35 respectively.

Mobile phone groups such as Vodafone have fought hard against the plans to force cuts to ”roaming” rates, which are estimated to be worth €8.5bn a year to the EU’s telecoms industry.

Viviane Reding, EU telecoms commissioner, last year proposed regulation of international charges after claiming that consumers paid unjustifiably high roaming fees. She wants cuts of up to 70 per cent.

The vote by the industry committee in Brussels sets the stage for a binding decision on roaming rates by the full European parliament assembly next month and the suggested price caps could yet change.

EU telecoms ministers are expected to hold the final vote on the proposal in June.

And --- Oh yes! "...suggested price caps could yet change." - Should we expect a very last ditch from the industry to get higher caps, as a "transition" maybe?

The companies have had two years already to prepare for it. There is no need for a longer "transition".

An interesting move by the consumers against a transitional excuse for continued overpricing, could be this proposal: Set the price cap for June 1, 2006 and let the companies refund to their customers the difference between the capped price and the money they received from roaming charges...

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Algiers Bombings: European Solidarity Now!

Today, it was Algier's 11/4.
Not less important to us, than Madrid's 11/4 or London's 9/7.
I do not want to hear that it were the Algerians' fault, that their Salafists united with Al Qaeda.
It is ours. We left free Algeria alone. We stuck to the illusion, that the North face of Africa has almost nothing to do with us. Of course, of course: I do not agree with the Boumediene dictatorship, I did not agree with islamisation and arabisation, I loathed the methods the Algerian army applied to the countryside during the 90s.
Corruption, economic stagnation, isolation - all wrong policies.
But what did Europe do to help Algeria diversify its economy?
Why did we hesitate to join the transmediterranean accession efforts of the EU, led by France and by Spain? That the North-Africans belong to the same cultural and geographic sphere as we do, it suddenly became evident, today, when suicidal bombs ravaged the Algier government buildings and a popular neighbourhood.
I lived in Algier, in June 1963, and I experienced the joy of freedom, of self-management in the 'biens-vacants', abandoned by the fugitives from the North. I saw, what havock, what wounds the the repression during the fifties had caused. And I came to admire the human resourcefulness of so many people I met in the city and outside of it.
Algeria is no Afghanistan. It should not be left to slide into a new civil war, theatre of atrocities committed by fanatics first, by repressive local and foreign military next.
A generous move imposes itself on Europe. In its own interest. Diversification, development, open frontiers should destroy the basis of unrest and frustration that lies behind the upsurge of Al Qaeda and its methods on our doorstep.

Here is what Reuters reports about today's bombings:

Al Qaeda claims deadly Algiers bombings

By William Maclean and Lamine Chikhi
Reuters - Wednesday, April 11

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Bombs killed 30 people in Algeria's capital on Wednesday, attacks claimed by al Qaeda that raised fears the north African oil exporter was slipping back into the intense political violence of the 1990s.

One of the blasts, believed to be a suicide bombing, ripped part of the facade off the prime minister's headquarters in the centre of Algiers. A second bomb hit Bab Ezzouar on its eastern outskirts, the official APS news agency said.

The Al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the bombings in an Internet statement, which also included a claim of responsibility for attacks in neighbouring Morocco and pictures of three "martyrs".


One Algerian analyst said the operation appeared to be a reply to stepped-up attacks by the army on Islamist insurgents in the Bejaia region in mountains east of Algiers.

"This is a violent reaction to Bejaia operation where important leaders of al Qaeda in the Maghreb are surrounded," said security expert Anis Rahmani.

"I do believe though, that that group has no capability to topple the government but obviously it has the means to disturb the life of peaceful people in Algiers."

For more comments, take a look at my posts in L'Europe chez Soi and in Toto Le Psycho, both in French. In the latter, I dwell somewhat more than here on my relations to Algeria.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

EU Treaty Renewal: What will the UK do?

The British CER (Centre for European Reform) is a London Think Tank. It favours an open British attitude to Europe and produces intelligent analyses of vital European subjects like enlargement, free market regulation, European security &c. All seen, of course from an UK-centered point of view. They publish a blog that is very much worth consulting.
Below are some parts of an article by CER Director Charles Grant. He assesses the conditions under which the UK will have to react next June, 2007, to the German proposals to break the deadlock on the necessary EU reform.

  • I share his assessment on the German, French and other continental positions to be expected. I will add some of mine in the upcoming Dutch, French and German versions of this article in the other Huib's EuroBlogs.
New to me, are his elaborations on the particular situation of power-transfer between Blair and Brown that may be expected in June, 2007, and its possible consequences for the UK and for Europe as a whole.

It is a must-read!

Britain would be unwise to thwart Merkel’s treaty plan

By Charles Grant (Director of the Centre for European Reform)

Published in the Financial Times: April 2 2007 (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007), and, April 3, on the CER Website (easier accessible, copyright CER)

ermany’s ambition to salvage large parts of the European Union constitutional treaty may provoke a serious rift between Britain and its partners.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown may be heading for a collision over what to do about the German plan. But the general view in Britain seems to be that EU treaty change is irrelevant. Indeed, something of a consensus stretches from Treasury officials to Conservative leaders to The Economist: they say the EU should forget about treaty change and focus on crucial challenges such as completing the Doha trade round, revising the EU budget, reducing carbon emissions and economic reform.
However, the EU will be incapable of tackling these important issues unless it first clinches a deal on treaty change.

But, is a 'constitutionally'-, administratively- and governmentally deadlocked EU such a big disadvantage to UK business, compared to the present situation? I doubt it. Grant puts forward three probable casualties that will occur at an isolated British "no" to the Merkel proposals:

  1. Further EU-enlargement will be stopped,
  2. Climate Change policies thwarted,
  3. Necessary budget reforms, notably on agricultural subsidies, down the drain.
Business interests in further enlargements are not impressive: Serbia? Bosnia? Kosovo? And Ukrainian and Turkish accessions are anyway not for tomorrow.
Climate change policies, as imposed by the EU, are not the kind of reinforcements of the EU, business is usually longing for.
The farm policies will be changed, with or without the UK, who are anyway dissociated from that financial burden by way of the exception that has been negotiated for Britain during the Eighties.
What remains, is a further loss of British influence and weight in Brussels.
Up to now, the UK has very intelligently compensated in Brussels for its self-marginalised position. In part because of its size (economically, financially and militarily), but also because of the competency of its representatives and civil servants who work in Brussels. That might change dramatically, if the UK sours the Merkel reform by a virtual veto. But those consequences would be felt only in the longer run.

A preview of the outlines of the Merkel Compromise
Grant assesses the German chances in June as follows:

The Germans want the EU summit in June to approve both a timetable for a conference to amend the existing treaties, and the outline of an agreement on proposed changes. The new treaty would not be “constitutional” and would lose references to an anthem and a flag, but would include the main institutional provisions of the constitutional treaty (such as the full-time president, the foreign minister and new rules on voting).
The charter of fundamental rights, which worries many business leaders, would be axed.
The Germans claim the institutional package is not negotiable, since it was a delicately crafted compromise; if one government tried to amend one bit, others would demand the same right.

With regrets about the Charter of Fundamental Citizen Rights, your blogger thinks, he may be able to live with that compromise. He expects, that continuing negotiations with countries like Turkey will force the EU to reconsider that fundamental omission. - How could you expect the Ukraine, Morocco or Tunisia or Byelorussia to reform their civil rights, if there would not be an European matrix to abide to?

But OK: It is a compromise. A skilled one.

23 out of 27 member states are expected to agree
As Grant points out, it will probably get the adhesion of virtually all continental countries (plus Ireland):
It is becoming clear that most of the 27 member states, and not only the 18 that have ratified the constitutional treaty, will back the German plan. Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated that if he wins the French presidency he will support the Germans and ratify the new treaty in parliament (of his rivals, François Bayrou would back the Germans, while Ségolène Royal’s views are unclear, but both promise referendums on any new text).
The Dutch, Czech and Polish governments have doubts about the German scheme.

The French, in spite of their negative referendum, have worked hard, to find a way out of the deadlock. I agree with Grant, that they most probably will succeed. The present Polish Government will indeed be inclined to follow a kamikaze line, but next ones will be much more flexible. I do not expect that the Czechs would risk to become isolated, even in the company of Poland and the UK.

? ? ? ?

Will the Dutch side with a British veto?
But what about the DUTCH? - The The Hague Government, unlike the French, has avoided any engagement with whatever deadlock-breaking programme, on the European level as well as on the internal level, since its June 1, 2005 referendum disaster. I wrote about that very particular situation in Dutch and in French (L'Europe Chez Soi Blog: "Les 50 Ans de l'EU: L'Autruche hollandaise s'enterre davantage" (27 March 2007). Chancellor Merkel has worked hard on her co-Christian Democrat Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende, starting early last year. The official Dutch policy, as stated by the new Balkenende Government (with Dutch Labour replacing his former liberal-conservative partner) last February, is still resumed as: "Nothing even a little bit similar to the rejected constitutional treaty." That position is remarkably similar to the view of most leading British circles. However, as far as I know, no bilateral tuning between Holland and the UK has occurred up to now. However, the Dutch, considering their relative economic weight, their geographical position and their (lack of) military power, cannot imagine to go it virtually alone, without, at least, British support.

No point of view, only paralysis
This paralytic position can only be explained when we take into account, that the leading Dutch politicians and businessmen (and, indeed the majority of the citizens) are not against the EU and its development into an economic space, a guardian for security, a comfortable scapegoat for impopular measures like the ones in climate protection, nor are they unhappy with a military shield as it used to be provided by NATO. Only, they do not dare to say so. They act as if NATO still exists and did not learn much from "go-it-alone"-disasters like Srebrenica (1995). The real Dutch position is, consequently, very different from the British one, as well as from the Czech- and Polish oppositions. The British are well-advised, if they do not count on the Dutch to keep them company in an eventual isolated position within the EU.

It is my feeling, that my Dutch are simply hoping for further delay of the fatal moment they will be obliged to make a choice. They count on the British, the Poles or whomever, to cause that delay, remaining in the shadows themselves, so as not to have to deal with problems from the German (most important trade partner) side.

Risks of British isolation
Grant does not deal explicitly with this potentially important Dutch part of the problem, but he is right when he states:

However, the British would be unwise to count on others joining them to thwart the plans of the German chancellor Angela Merkel. She is emerging as a powerful and effective leader and has dominated recent EU summits. Other leaders will think twice before vetoing the deal with which she wants to crown the German presidency.

And now the UK side of the problem:

Britain lacks a clear policy on treaty change. Mr Blair will probably represent Britain at the June summit, but Mr Brown will almost certainly become prime minister only days later. [Follow some interesting conjectures on Blairite "kill Brown" tactics, HR] They [the Brownites, HR] worry that Mr Blair may sign up to the plan and then try to bounce Mr Brown into swallowing it. Mr Brown’s allies say he would not do so.

Suppose that Britain alone, or with one or two allies, vetoed the deal that most others want. Being blamed for the ensuing rancour, Britain would lose influence across a swath of policy areas. [Follow the enlargement issue, and the farm and climate change points, HR]

In an EU stricken by institutional paralysis, with Britain marginalised, many member states would expect France and Germany to provide leadership. Ms Merkel and the new French president would dominate the EU’s agenda. They and others would probably create new groupings that excluded awkward members such as Britain. [The Nice Treaty, which would continue to govern EU relations, permits the creation of "vanguard groups" within the EU, HR].

None of this would be good for Britain. It should therefore strive to find a compromise with its partners, and be willing to accept much of Merkel’s package

And here comes the compromise-within-the-compromise that Grant proposes for the UK:

But she should remove the provisions that transfer new powers to the EU, since they would oblige Britain to hold a referendum. Thus the more sensitive extensions of majority voting should be dropped, except where it is practicable to give Britain an “opt out” from the area concerned.

Is this viable? I doubt it. Like Grant says it himself: If Germany and the other countries accept that kind of exceptions for the UK, a whole series of countries will start to put forward a conflicting mass of amendments.

My view: Between national governments, neither majority-, nor consensus-voting is ever going to work
In my view, majority- (or conditional majority-voting) among governments of member-states is indeed risky and may lead to unacceptable outcomes.
It should be abandoned in favour of

  • majority voting in the European Parliament (with its population-size related composition), and,
  • as soon as possible, in an European Senate, where national representatives who are uncommitted to narrow member-state interests, will be guardians for their territorial voters within an all-EU framework.
I am very well aware, that this kind of great structural reforms cannot be included into the present compromise. It will be, inevitably, I think, for some later occasion.
But thinking of it, may help, to be less insistent about majority voting issues between governments in the EU at this moment: Maintaining veto-rights and opt-out-rights will become its own foe. Besides: A small bit of extra majority voting will not help the EU much forward.
The other institutional issues, however, if adopted in Berlin, will.

Grant concludes:

"Germany and many others will be reluctant to make such concessions, given that Britain has already signed the constitutional treaty and declared its negotiation a triumph. But unless Britain and its partners can find a way of meeting in the middle, bitter institutional arguments will dominate the EU and prevent it from tackling the issues that matter."

Indeed. A disaster is looming. An ostrich's behaviour is probably the worst possible approach.

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