Daily Archives: November 16, 2009

EU strong-armed nations into submitting to a single president over all Europe

Europe Presidential Pickle

FILE – In this Oct. 9, 2009 file photo, Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair attends a reception in London. Very soon, Europeans from Denmark to Bulgaria will wake up to the reality of having their very first president, one person world leaders can call when they want to talk to Europe. It’s taken a lot of history to get here. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson, Pool, File)

AP | Nov 15, 2009


PARIS — The European Union has battled long and hard for this moment: the imminent choice of its first president.

To get there, the EU strong-armed Irish voters, brushed aside hostile French and Dutch ballots, and pressured the Czech president into agreeing to a single leader to give Europe a strong voice on the world stage.

Yet after all that, EU leaders meeting Thursday may end up picking someone from a small country with little international power instead of a charismatic heavyweight to head this continental bloc of 27 nations, half a billion people and huge economic heft.

To pick a boss they can all live with, they must strike the right balance between big countries and small, east and west, socialists and conservatives, perhaps male and female. They must maneuver between proponents of a strong Europe and those who fear it — eurocentrics and euroskeptics, in the local parlance.

It’s a diplomatic minefield.

The decision will help define Europe’s future, the climax of a decade of agonized contortions and oft-thwarted efforts to make the EU about more than money and markets and common rules about what bananas Europeans can buy.

“The time has come to have a personality who will make an imprint … a European mark” on world affairs from Iran’s nuclear program to relations with Russia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said last week.

“We should have weight in the world; we are 500 million people,” he said. “We should participate in world events and not just finance them.”

The early favorite was Britain’s former prime minister, Tony Blair, but his candidacy has run into trouble. He cuts a big figure on the world stage — perhaps too big for the liking of other powerful figures such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Now the talk among diplomats is that the EU president won’t be that globally powerful after all and that the role will primarily be to liaise internally among EU governments. That would leave room for a low-profile president and a more eye-catching figure in the No. 2 slot of EU foreign minister, which carry the real international oomph.

There’s talk of grudges: Will Britain block Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as punishment for Belgian objections to Blair? Will Poland nix Italy’s Massimo d’Alema because of his communist past?

The path toward giving Europe a public face has been a tortured one. First, there was the EU constitution, which was meant to streamline decision-making and stipulated creating a president and a commissioner of defense and foreign affairs. But French and Dutch voters rejected the constitution in referendums in 2005, fearing a threat to their sovereignty.

Then a toned-down reform treaty was born. That made it past most governments — but then Irish voters said no.

They were talked into a second vote, said yes — and then the euroskeptic Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, resisted. Under heavy pressure, the Czechs also signed on last week.

There are no declared candidates and no public campaigns. President Barack Obama’s future European counterpart will be determined not by elections but over a closed-door dinner.

Blair’s most visible handicap is his enthusiasm for the Iraq war, which many Europeans opposed. He is especially resented among European leaders who bucked resistance at home to join the euro, the bloc’s common currency, only for Britain to stay out of it.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is often mentioned for the job of foreign minister, but he insists he’s not in the running.

Being on the left and coming from a big country, Miliband could have been nicely balanced against a conservative from a small country holding the presidency, such as Dutch Premier Jan Peter Balkenende, Belgium’s Van Rompuy or former Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel.

At the last EU summit two weeks ago, calls mounted to give the presidency to a woman. That boosted the long-shot chances of Latvian former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga.

The logic of choices is often mysterious or counterintuitive. Balkenende is vaunted as a good candidate because his country’s voters rejected the EU constitution, “which should comfort the euroskeptics,” the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad surmised.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is known internationally for his U.N. role in the Balkans, but says he’s not running. He says only that Europe’s president should be “a good person.”

The European Union that rose from the ashes of World War II has torn down its borders, adopted common standards in everything from the death penalty to the weight of cargo trucks. It has dug a tunnel to link Britain to the Continent and its haves have poured billions into its have-not member states — 10 from the former communist bloc — raising their living standards beyond recognition.

And that’s where it should stop, say the euroskeptics, before national governments lose their sovereignty to a faceless superstate.

A face, say the europhiles, is exactly what Europe needs in order to take its proper place on the world stage. They have a stock phrase: When America needs to talk to Europe, it doesn’t know whom to call.

Now, said France’s Kouchner, “Europe will have a telephone number.”

EU presidential candidate proposed “Green Tax” to fund “Welfare State” at secret Bilderberg meeting

Europe Presidential Pickle
In this Oct. 29 2009 file photo, Belgium’s Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy participates in a meeting prior to an EU summit in Brussels. Very soon, Europeans from Denmark to Bulgaria will wake up to the reality of having their very first president, one person world leaders can call when they want to talk to Europe. AP Photo

“New resources will be necessary for the financing of the welfare state. Green tax instruments are a possibility.”

Top candidate debates EU tax at elite dinner

EU Observer | Nov 16, 2009


Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, a top candidate for the new European Union president job, laid out his views on future EU financing at a dinner of the secretive Bilderberg group last week.

The event took place at Val Duchesse, a former priory on the outskirts of Brussels, on Thursday (12 November), with guests including Belgian industrialist and Bilderberg chairman Etienne Davignon, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and luminaries from the worlds of international politics and business, according to Belgian broadsheet De Tijd.

The Belgian leader is reported to have said in a speech that: “New resources will be necessary for the financing of the welfare state. Green tax instruments are a possibility, but they are ambiguous: This type of tax will eventually be extinguished. But the possibilities of financial levies at European level must be seriously examined and for the first time the large countries in the union are open to that.”

Mr Van Rompuy’s official spokesman later told the Belga news agency that: “The Prime Minister … indicated that it is necessary to carry on thinking about structural financing at the European level.”

The leak to De Tijd, coming just days before the EU aims to choose its first permanent president, could damage Mr Van Rompuy’s chances.

Proposals about imposing fees on environmentally-damaging behaviour or skimming small levies off financial transactions have been mooted before. But the suggestion that the new EU president might interfere in national taxation policy is anathema to anti-federalists in EU countries such as the UK or Denmark.

Mr Van Rompuy’s participation at the Bilderberg dinner will also give ammunition to critics of the EU top job selection process, which takes place via confidential consultations between EU leaders and informal social events.

The Bilderberg group is an elite club of aristocrats, politicians and businessmen dating back to 1954, which likes to meet away from the public eye and which is widely disliked by pro-transparency campaigners.

EU parliament chief shows his cards

Meanwhile in a related development, European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek over the weekend backed former Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar to take the EU president post.

“As far as I know, Aznar is not currently interested in this kind of position. But I think it would be good for the EU if he changed his mind and submitted his candidature,” Mr Buzek told Spanish daily ABC in an interview published on Saturday.

Mr Buzek met Mr Aznar along with the current Spanish government on a trip to Madrid ahead of Spain taking up the rotating EU presidency in January.

The conservative Spanish politician is from the correct political family according to the prevailing wisdom that the centre-right will take the EU president job while the centre-left will take the EU foreign minister position. But he was a firm advocate of the Iraq war, which remains a highly-divisive topic in the EU.

The speculation is set to see an end on Thursday (19 November) when EU leaders gather in Brussels to decide the top appointments. Other names in line for the presidency post include Dutch leader Jan Peter Balkenende and his Luxembourg counterpart, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Favourite to be EU president backs European national anthem


The revelation of the extent of Mr Van Rompuy’s federalist agenda will increase the pressure on Gordon Brown to try to block his elevation on Thursday  Photo: REUTERS

The new front-runner to be the first EU President is committed to a European national anthem and the replacement of a range of nationalistic symbols.

Telegraph | Nov 16, 2009

By Andrew Pierce and Holly Watt

Herman Van Rompuy, 62, the Prime Minister of Belgium for 11 months, is expected to be installed as President of the European Council at a dinner in Brussels on Thursday of the 27 EU leaders.

The Daily Telegraph can disclose that the Flemish Christian Democrat was an architect of his party’s federalist manifesto which calls for a massive extension of the presence of the EU in town halls, schools and sporting events.

The manifesto says: “Apart from the euro, also other national symbols need to be replaced by European symbols (licence plates, identity cards, presence of more EU flags, one time EU sports events, …).”

Mr Van Rompuy suggested a compromise to placate any anger at the perceived dilution of national pride. The manifesto continued: “In order to preserve unity in diversity a national reference can be preserved (as on the national side of euro coins).”

The revelation of the extent of Mr Van Rompuy’s federalist agenda will increase the pressure on Gordon Brown to try to block his elevation on Thursday.

The government had claimed victory after references to Beethoven’s Ode To Joy adopted as the EU’s anthem in 1985 were removed from the revised European ‘constitution’ which was voted down in the Dutch and Irish referendums in 2005.

Mr Van Rompuy, in a speech to the Belgian Parliament after the No votes, said: “We go on with the ratification of the European Constitution in all our parliaments, but we need to admit that for the moment the project is over. However, this doesn’t mean that we cannot continue to work in a creative way in the direction which the Constitution points in.

“I don’t object if we break up the Constitution into smaller parts, as long as we continue to work in the same direction: in the direction of more Europe.“

Mr Van Rompuy, barely known outside Belgium, is the favoured candidate of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

They want a figure who will not overshadow them on the world stage who will act a chairman rather than a Presidential figure with the stature of a world leader which was why Tony Blair’s chances faded.

He also backs proposals for the EU to be directly funded from a ring-fenced swathe of green taxes such as fuel duty or aviation levies. It could mean all shopping and petrol station receipts in Britain could in future include the amount of VAT or fuel duty that goes directly to Brussels as an “EU tax”. The idea, championed by the federalists, is fiercely resisted by Britain.

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “Any attempt to move the EU further towards a federal state would be unacceptable. The British people never had a chance to give their view on whether the job of president of the Council should exist at all.”

Pieter Van Clippe, of Open Europe think tank, said: “Van Rompuy is your typical EU federalist – he isn’t going to step on anyone’s toes or try to dominate the world like Tony Blair or President Sarkozy might have – but he can be relied upon to quietly make sure that the EU gets more and more powers, with less and less say for voters.”

The Taxpayers Alliance is setting up the “Great EU debate” at http://www.greateudebate.com/ where people are invited to register and express their view of Britain’s EU membership. The TPA is funding cinema adverts and publishing a book “Ten Years On: Britain without the European Union”, which paints a positive picture of Britain in 2020 outside the EU.

British stealth robot jet-copter to fire ray guns in “urban canyons”

UK UAV ray gun

The UK MoD’s ‘Novel Air Concept’ robot stealth jet/copter notion. Credit: Defence Science

You have to wonder just what urban areas in “defended air space” the MoD has in mind for its stealthy robot jet/chopper to penetrate.

Bids for droid tail-sitter with pop-out chopper

Register | Nov 10, 2009

UK to build robot stealth raygun jet/copter

By Lewis Page

Aerospace firms are competing for a “classified” UK MoD contract to build a robotic military stealth aircraft which would be able to hover like a helicopter or fold its rotors and fly as an aeroplane. The “novel air concept” would be able to operate “within urban canyons” and deploy radical new weapons such as microwave or laser rayguns.

News of the commercial bids comes from Aviation Week & Space Technology, which names UK-headquartered arms globocorp BAE Systems, Euro missile alliance MBDA (partly owned by BAE) and British uni spinout Cranfield Aerospace as competitors to build the Novel Air Concept prototype.

The MoD’s Defence Science organisation had already released some details on the Concept. Specifically, the military boffins would like to see:

A more cost-effective means of achieving the effects currently provided by manned aircraft and cruise missiles by using new concepts in unmanned air vehicles (UAVs)/unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs). The specific effects under consideration are the delivery of novel payloads over remote hostile territory and, specifically, within the urban environment.

Pop-chopper: Good for hovering in urban canyons as well as VTOL

This is seen as being delivered as “a flying demonstrator within 3 years” (that is by 2012), which is to have the following abilities:

A reusable uninhabited air system with a radius of action of 1000km and able to survive defended air space. Capable of being launched and recovered from land, sea and air with the emphasis on ship based operations. The vehicle is to be able to operate within the urban canyons inherent in the major city landscape.

The MoD’s graphic seems to indicate a sort of mini stealth jet able to deploy rotors from its nose and hang vertically from them, setting down perhaps on its back end like the “tail-sitter” VTOL prototypes of yesteryear. The concept of large rotors, rather than a small propellor or even narrower jetpipe, makes sense in the context of the “urban canyon” requirement. A large heli-style vertical-thrust disc is required for an aircraft which is going to hover for any length of time without burning up all its fuel and probably melting its engines to boot.

As to the “novel payloads”, again the graphic offers a clue. The mysterious green cabinets between the conventional missiles have something of the look of phased-array antennae, perhaps capable of emitting focused, directable beams of microwaves – most probably for “soft” electronic-warfare purposes, but conceivably as active weapons able to permanently fry enemy circuitry.

It’s all very shiny, but you have to wonder just what urban areas in “defended air space” the MoD has in mind for its stealthy robot jet/chopper to penetrate. And you definitely have to wonder whether it would really be more cost-effective than comparatively simple one-shot cruise missiles, whose price is now falling through the few-hundred-k$ range: and which on their own can eliminate most air-defence networks possessed by non-nuclear powers.

There’s a definite air of seed-money about this, rather than of something that will actually be much use. We’ll be hoping that Cranfield gets the pork in this case – BAE and MBDA have already had more than their share.

We asked for comment from the MoD – after all, they weren’t shy about unveiling the concept to begin with – but hadn’t heard back as of publication. If we hear any more we’ll let you know.

Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton look forward to “coffee summit”


Palin Finds One Bond With Clinton

NY Times | Nov 16, 2009


Could there be a “coffee summit” in the future between Hillary Rodham Clinton — the secretary of state, runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination, former senator and author — and Sarah Palin, author, former Republican vice-presidential candidate and former governor?

Clinton 2008In her memoir, “Going Rogue,” Ms. Palin offers a political olive branch to Mrs. Clinton, saying it was only after her own experience on the national campaign trail that she came to agree with the former presidential contender’s complaints about biased news coverage.

In an appearance Sunday morning on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” the host read Mrs. Clinton a passage from the Palin book:

“Should Secretary Clinton and I ever sit down over a cup of coffee, I know that we will fundamentally disagree on many issues. But my hat is off to her hard work on the 2008 campaign trail. A lot of her supporters think she proved what Margaret Thatcher proclaimed: ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’ ”

Mrs. Clinton smiled and replied, “Well, you know, I’ve never met her.”

“And look,” she continued, “I’d look forward to sit down and talk with her. Obviously, we’re going to hear a lot more from her in the upcoming weeks with her book coming out, and I would look forward to having a chance to actually get to meet her.”

Within hours of that appearance, the blogosphere had already christened a potential tête-à-tête as the “coffee summit.”

Ms. Palin resigned as governor of Alaska in July, before the end of her first term, citing a desire to pursue goals outside of elected office.

Mrs. Clinton, asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos on Sunday if she was contemplating a run for the governor’s office in New York, promptly used the question to dismiss the suggestion.

“That rumor is dead,” she said. “And if you can please, you know, put it in a little box and send it off somewhere, I’d appreciate it.”