Italian judges ordered Mr Berlusconi to be detained“for the duration of International Womens‘ Day as a precaution.”|
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Ten years ago, the European Convention text was be-ginning to make many European politicians feel opti-mistic for the future, one that faced as many challen-ges as ambitions were running high. One concern andaim, was setting up a common EU foreign policy. Thedifficulty and some would say, the impetus was pro- vided by the European split over the imminent warin Iraq. Perhaps the MEPs were urged into graspingthis difficult issue because of remarks in the US aboutold and new Europe. Russia‘s President also reachedout to Europe, alongside China, and offered to selloil, should the Basra taps be turned off. They had, atleast learned the value of diversification of energy op-tions. We also warned that Poland and Hungary werein trouble, in the run up to joining the EU as politicalsystems had to change and change drastically.
n e 1 0 Y e A R S A GO
Pierre Moscovici was in a taciturn mood when he visited the Europe-an Parliament on 7 March. Taking part in the Progressive Economy Conference, organised by the centre-left, the French finance ministerreiterated calls for more growth policies. He was a little vague on thedetails, calling on a European debate, a chance to discuss a possiblenew economic direction for the EU.But, economic growth polices (as opposed to austerity restrictions)may just well happen (i.e. economic policies as imposed by the cen-tral EU powers); certainly those on the left think so. The first Euro-pean elections after the current economic crisis kicked-in (the elec-tions of May 2009), certainly provided a boost to the centre-right,as uncertainty about the possible EU intervention in member stateeconomic sovereignty fuelled move to a consolidation of ‘what wehave we hold’. The centre-right did well. But there were ominous si-gns – populist parties, those arguing from the extremes – made gainsin certain member states.In the intervening years, through by-elections, federal elections andnational elections, there has been an increase of support for centre-left candidates (France being the obvious example, but also, in a lessobvious way, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, the Czech Republic, and withpossible gains for centre-left in Bulgaria and Germany, when federalelection are held in the autumn. Recent elections in Italy however,are difficult to access at this stage, with the political landscape frac-tured and the centre-left, once in an apparently unassailable position,now in a deadlock with centre-right and populist opponents. Thepresumptive winner, Pier Luigi Bersani, of the centre-left, is contem-plating a return to the polls.Despite this, in broad terms, things seemed to have changed in thepast five years. Mosovici, whose country, France, is one of the drivers behind economic integration, and whose economy is failing in termsof right-wing pressure from the likes of the European Commission toimpose fiscal discipline on member state economies to endorse au-sterity, is attempting to play both sides of the fence; pushing for a re-newed policy on EU economic policy (all those that subscribe to thesingle currency must, by definition, agreed to a uniform economicdirection), while suggesting that governments should not be reck-less in public spending. The French government is under centralisedpower, as are other Eurozone countries, from fiscal pressure fromconservative forces, such as European Commission President, JoseManuel Barosso, as well as Economic and Monetary Affairs Com-missioner, Ollie Rehn, who continue to plug austerity, long with theGerman government, facing federal elections in the autumn, and theUK government, essentially marginalised.The French have failed in their obligations to the EU, admitting thattheir deficit will exceed the European Central Bank (ECB) and EUimposed Eurozone figures of no more than 3% of GDP; the Frenchgovernment wants to persuade the central powers to shift those obli-gations a year. Something that will, no doubt, be done.Of course, while this is being worked-out, Moscovci, or any seniorFrench government official, cannot provide the radical leadershipthat the centre-left in Europe demand. The finance minister cannot be too radical. His president, Françoise Hollande, once the apparentsaviour of the European left, has tanked in the polls. While his go- vernment is attempting to court the European Commission on thepossibility of moving their debt commitments back a year and for-mer president Nicolas Sarkozy, is already hinting at a political come- back along the lines of Silvio Berlusconi. The right may not be dead, but the left needs a radical touch to persuade citizens of a changein political direction; in Italy, for example, whose Berlusconi admi-nistration, touched by scandal, has managed to hold a respectableshare of the vote, the left should have shot to power, while Germany looks set for a return to power of the centre-right Angela Merkel, thistime in coalition with the social democrats. As citizens get less andless interested in politics, and established parties rely on a core vote(as opposed to courting new voters), the radical protest vote, whichMoscovici, warned about when addressing the Brussels parliament, will automatically, rightly or wrongly, benefit. The European left is warning against a quick return to the polls in Italy as a way of avoi-ding drawn-out coalition negotiations. But maybe it is the only way.People always fear uncertainty. It worked in Greece and Ireland forthe right.
Growth, but whatabout the details...