Monday 04 January 2010
The European Union is paying dearly for the crisis that resulted from the still visible misdemeanours of the financial system. We may have been saved in 2009 from a new version of the 1929 Great Depression, but in 2010 there will be no escaping an explosion of unemployment, still European citizens’ foremost concern. All EU political leaders know that the employment situation will not improve before 2011 and that, despite fragile signs of economic recovery, the worst is yet to come in the first half of this year. We could be facing a disaster if growth and consumption fail to pick up and the issuance of government bonds to finance bank rescues and recovery plans sparks speculation, resurrecting the spectre of a crash of the bond market.
This is the backdrop against which the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009, a treaty that is meant to make the Union’s member states better able to adopt necessary collective decisions. In January 2010, before taking up their duties, the 27 new commissioners will swear to place the general interest ahead of any national interests and will strive to convince the members of a renewed European Parliament, which has greater decision-making powers, of their competence. As of 1 January 2010, Europe has two presidencies, the rotating six-month presidency held by Spain before being handed over to Belgium, and the permanent presidency of two and a half years held by Belgian national Herman Van Rompuy, who is tasked with speaking on behalf of the 27 heads of state and government. Fortunately, the Spanish EU Council Presidency took pains to defuse rumours of friction over the sharing of roles. It will coordinate ministerial work in all policy areas except external relations, which will be supervised by Britain’s Baroness Ashton. She will have to flesh out the architecture of the European diplomatic service and organise a genuine common foreign policy. Madrid will be “at the disposal” of the permanent president and the high representative and will work with them in partnership.
Most European voters pay little attention to such institutional oddities. They are waiting to see whether the new Europe of 2010 is capable of tackling their problems head-on. Spain, which has been very hard hit by the crisis, is already responding to public expectations with a half-year programme that
Europolitics details in this special edition and will follow day by day. As for the new European Council president, his first initiative was to convene a special EU summit in February to discuss the economic situation and a new European strategy for growth and employment, “EU 2020”. “He has taken the bull by the horns,” welcomed Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, using Spanish imagery that has become universal and is meant as a compliment. Like a bullfight, the first double presidency under the Treaty of Lisbon will be judged on its qualities: courage and elegance, authority and effectiveness. A word of warning, though! In the
corrida, if the performance is not appreciated, the matador is hissed and booed by the public. Or even worse, silence descends over the arena.