13 February 2007

Beckham to captain the Europe XI against Manchester United

The Times reports that the EU is going to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome by staging a football match on 13 March: the Europe XI led by David Beckham is going to take on Manchester United, who are currently sitting at the top of the English Premiership table. The match is to be played at the famous Reds' stadium, the Old Trafford. Marcello Lippi, the coach of the last year's Italian World Cup winners, has been entrusted with managing the Europe team by Michel Platini, the French football legend and the newly elected president of the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations). In my opinion, an ad-hoc Europe team is a very good way of cementing European identity, especially in Britain.

The article also states that "Mr Lippi and Mr Roxburgh [assistant coach] have been given permission by UEFA to approach players from the 52 nations affiliated to the organisation." The problem is that out of those 52 national football associations, some are not in Europe - Israel, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkey. Yet they are still affiliated to the Union of European Football Associations. That allows their clubs to compete in the European cups, and their national teams to play against more attractive opponents. The UEFA is happy to maintain this state of affairs, because the more national associations it has under its wings, the bigger its clout inside the FIFA, the global body governing football. However, there are serious implications of the UEFA's opportunistic policy: it gives an argument to those who would like the EU to enlarge forever, beyond Europe: "they play football with us, they are in the same cultural sphere." (For an explanation of the concept of the European Public Sphere, read an excellent article by Matteo Garavoglia on Le Taurillon.)

Let us hope that Lippi will only choose players from the current EU states, and other European nations. Indeed, should he include non-EU European players in his squad, it would boost the idea of European unification, which I described in this article for Le Taurillon.

No doubt that Chelsea's Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine and Arsenal's Alexander Hleb of Belarus will get the nomination. Shevchenko's inclusion in the EU team would confirm the new pro-EU course of the Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukhovich. Yanukhovich was famously ousted by the "Orange Revolution" in 2004. Shevchenko stood up for him in the media, while Yanukhovich's archrival Yuschenko was supported by Ruslana, the winner of the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest. Hleb's inclusion would give a signal to the people of Belarus that there is a European future for them, shall the Lukashenka's regime crumble.

10 February 2007

The Battle of Strasbourg

The Battle of Strasbourg has long been raging, escalating once in while. Recently the One Seat campaign collected one million signatures in support of its proposal that Brussels becomes the sole seat of the European Parliament.

Yet the French government threatens to use the veto power in the European Council should the matter be raised there. That epitomizes the current French approach to Europe; but France should realise that unlike in de Gaulle's era, exercising the veto power comes with a price today. By stubbornly refusing to give up Strasbourg, France loses the potential to build consensus on more important issues. France gets the bad image, France appears to be holding everyone back. And not just in this case - France's objections are cited as one of the primary causes for the continuous failure of the WTO Doha Round talks.

Richard Corbett MEP (Party of the European Socialists) came up with a very good solution to the stalemate in his article for the EUobserver: Strasbourg should host the quarterly European Council summits. France would lose no prestige and the end would be put to a ludicrous travelling circus which costs the taxpayer 200 million euros every year. The Eurosceptics would lose an easy target, too. EuropaWorld's Peter Sain ley Berry, also writing for the EUobserver, made an interesting comment on Corbett's idea, which I shall quote in full:
As to its seat, Parliament has the remedy in its own hands. Treaty or no treaty, all parliaments are sovereign. They can meet wherever they want. If 785 members, or even a large body of them, refuse to make the journey to Strasbourg, then that is it. Finis! Parliaments have set up shop in tennis courts before now, and to mighty outrage. But the truth is parliaments always win.
Bearing in mind that an increasing number of parliamentarians do not bother to turn up to the sessions anyway, and that the political groups in the Parliament are closely connected to the national governments which have to observe the terms of the Treaty, such a revolt seems unlikely ever to take place. It is hard to imagine an act of collective political heroism happening today.

Good luck to Kosovo

David Frum from the National Review links to a hilarious music video made by 4 US soldiers serving in Kosovo. The parody of the Beach Boys also criticises the US foreign policy in the region.

We'll kick some ass - then we'll see how it goes
And then we really don't know ...
Good luck to Kosovo!

Everytime we go to to little places like Kosovo
We never really know, what happens after we go
Tough luck for Kosovo!

02 February 2007

Europe in 2007: think tanks' predictions

The European think tanks have published some interesting analyses on the big issues facing the German European Council Presidency in next half a year. Let' s have a brief look at what they have come up with.

The London-based Open Europe, which advocated the British withdrawal from the European Union, has produced The EU in 2007 report. It analyses how the French presidential election will influence the talks on the resuscitation of the European Constitution. It also focuses on the handover of power from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown, timing of which may be crucial for the Treaty's fortunes in the UK. The authors also spent a couple of pages on condemning the euro, a daily exercise for the institute's researchers. Open Europe and other Tory-leaning British think tanks are the subject of a leader in The Times today: the newspaper applauds them for uniting the conservative movement in a manner not dissimilar to the US right-wing think tanks, but criticises their research as beyond the general consensus.

Another British institution, the Europhile Centre for European Reform (CER), presented a policy brief named What to Expect from German Presidency. It was written by rather good-looking Katinka Barysch, whom I had a pleasure to meet at the Turkish Embassy last year. She says that the expectations for the German Presidency are unrealistically high, not least because Germany was preceded by two small states in the function - Austria and Finland. Angela Merkel cannot even count on full support for her European agenda from her grand-coalition cabinet, especially on the environment issues. Jan Seifert dealt with the domestic issues prone to hinder Merkel's European performance here.

Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE) from Madrid came up with a working paper entitled New Governments, New Directions in European Foreign Policies? It examines the prospects for change in the foreign policy direction in Italy, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. I hope to add an analysis on the new course of the Czech foreign policy as soon as possible.