Friday, December 09, 2005

Brussels, Hong Kong and Baghdad

Brussels these days is a city in tense anticipation of the events during the week to come.

The meeting of the European Council on Thursday and Friday is the final show of the UK Presidency, and all depends on whether it will be able to deliver an agreement on the EU budget for 2007 - 2013 or not. Overall, the consensus seems to be that it has been a rather lackluster performance by London during the past few months.

One would be hard pressed to find much support in Brussels for what Tony Blair is trying to achieve. His latest proposal for a budget compromise was blasted by Commission President Barosso for being a budget for a mini-Europe and not the one that we are building.

It's in particular his proposal to scale back on support to the new member states - the so-called EU12 - that has aroused the anger. Blair's meeting in Tallinn and Budapest to get support for his approach seem not to have gone to well. There is widespread talk about "a lack of solidarity".

Be that as it may it is still important to get a budget agreement during next week. One can certainly continue the controversy under the Austrian and even Finnish presidency next year, but that would risk seriously diverting attention from other issues.

And the regular soap opera on the budget is certainly not something that brings Europe closer to its citizens, as is so often talked about.

The leaders of Europe will convene in Brussels only a day after the representatives of the 148 member states of the WTO have gathered in Hong Kong to see to which extent they can move forward the global agenda of trade liberalisation.

Prospects are not too encouraging. Even if there will be a tendency to blame most of European - which means French - reluctancy to go further on the issue of agricultural subsidies, that's too simplistic a picture.

There is also a considerable reluctance among emerging economies to open their markets more to non-agricultural products. These are not exactly poor countries, and it's not unreasonably that they do themselves what they ask of others.

It will be important days in Hong Kong, and the issues are certain to be touched upon during the discussions in Brussels as well.

But also Baghdad will be the object of attention. On December 15th the voters of Iraq will elect their first free and fully competent parliament, out of which the first free and fully competent government will be formed in the weeks and months ahead.

For all the problems of Iraq, it is remarkable that the voters there are now going to the polls for the third time this year. And this time it looks as if all groups will take fully part in the contest for power in the more democratic Iraq.

It will be an important week in Brussels, Hong Kong and Baghdad.

News - Press service - Flash - Statement by Conference of Presidents on the financial perspective