Friday, February 17, 2006

Back and Forth to Brussels

A day back and forth to Brussels. Off from small Bromma airport near the Stockholm city centre early in the morning with Malmö Aviation - back to the same place early evening on a crowded Friday flight.

And a rainy and wet day in Brussels.

The Members of the European Parliament have left Strasbourg and gone home after the session where they endorsed the big compromise on the service directive. It will be a session talked about for a long time to come.

Within the EPP-ED group, most of the Central Europeans voted against the big compromise and issued a statement accusing the others for being interested in competition in principle but more of protectionism in practice. But many others are trying to put as good a face as possible on it, saying that at the least it was a step forward.

Perhaps. Now we'll see what the Council of Ministers have to say. Perhaps the Central European and Baltic states can move things slightly in a better direction. There would be less gloating on the American side - the vote on the service directive confirmed all their views about the Europeans.

Others have also left Brussels.

Commission President Barroso and Commissioner Rehn are touring the Balkan states on an important visit. I don't expect it to change too much, but it's still an important expression of the importance the Union attaches to the region. It comes in the run-up to the meeting in Salzburg in early March that will discuss, among other thing, a regional free trade area.

The challenges ahead are certainly substantial.

The danger of a mess in Montenegro is still there. For all that I understand, talks at the moment are going nowhere.

And next week will see the formal beginning of Kosovo talks in Vienna. Here the potential for things going wrong are even larger. If worst, we will end with a deeply frustrated and destabilized Serbia and a mono-ethnic and failing Kosovo. At best, it will be better...and the European Union is the one force that can really make a difference.

Meanwhile Javier Solana is continuing his tour of the countries of the Middle East in the wake of the Hamas election victory in Palestine and the enduring cartoon controversy - but also the latest batch of horrible pictures coming out of the Abu Greib prison in Baghdad.

Things are not looking good. The cartoons become the spark that ignited a fire. It's certainly been used by the regimes in places like Damascus and Teheran, but there is no denying the general indignation that is there throughout the Muslim world. It remains to be seen which long-lasting political consequences this might have.

Israel is discussing all sorts of punitive measures against a Hamas-lead government in Palestine, but Javier Solana is evidently trying to put at the least some brakes on the process.

An economic and social collapse there is not likely to be in Israel's interest. And now the Israelis themselves are saying that there are signs that Hamas is turning to Iran for help with funding - which was an easily predictable development if there was a cut-off of money from Western sources.

For me, it was back to Stockholm after the board meeting of the European Policy Center. Posted by Picasa