Monday, January 04, 2010

NEW YORK TIMES's John Vinocur, merciless:
If this, theoretically, is Week One of the rest of the European Union’s new life of unity, power and global impact, then it looks pretty much like the place that has struggled so long to demonstrate its relevance and leadership.
[...] Because the new constitution retains the E.U.’s rotating six-month presidency system — its “great weakness,” according to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the Greens in the European Parliament — Spain took over this agenda-setting, pacemaking role on Jan. 1.

In spite of joblessness at an E.U.-worst of 19.3 percent, a negative rating on its sovereign debt, and a deficit close to 11 percent, Spain, no kidding, is supposed to provide impetus for a new 10-year E.U. growth strategy in time for an inaugural meeting in Valencia at the end of March.

It is a follow-up to the Lisbon Agenda of 2000, meant to make the E.U. economy “the most competitive and dynamic” in the world, but officially described since as “a synonym for missed objectives and failed promises.”

Against its record — no serious corrective action in two years of sharp economic decline and marginalization as a foreign affairs player under Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s Socialist government — how will this Spain function with its eagerly assumed lion’s share of Europe’s management?

So far, there are indications of incoherence.

On one hand, Foreign Minister Manuel Ángel Moratinos has talked about Spain acting “with modesty and discretion” while leaving space for Mr. Van Rompuy and Ms. Ashton to lead and steer.

At the same time, Madrid, as boss on its own turf, has set up a series of summits — E.U.-Balkans, E.U.-Morocco, E.U.-Latin America, a Mediterranean Union meeting, and possibly a Middle East conference — that look a lot like bread and circuses for a domestic audience at time of economic misery.

According to reports from Madrid, one of Mr. Zapatero’s biggest cheerleaders, Leire Pajin, is even talking about this semester’s routine E.U.-United States summit meeting (usually an hour’s chat, a joint declaration and lunch) as an event of “planetary” significance between “two progressive forces from both sides of the Atlantic.”

Which makes it sound as if Mr. Van Rompuy would be coming along just for the ride. And hardly clarifies what kind of foreign policy steering reverts to Ms. Ashton.

If it is left to Spain, we know this: an opportunistic Zapatero government, richer and more cocky, announced in 2005 that it was selling $1.7 billion in naval vessels and surveillance aircraft to Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela, before the deal came partly undone.

On the Middle East, Spain’s open pro-Palestinian tilt and Israel’s long-time, deep mistrust of Mr. Moratinos would cast the Zapatero government as a disadvantaged negotiator for Europe and make the prospect of a greater E.U. role in the Middle East more distant.

And why would Mr. Zapatero’s unilateral decision to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq in 2003 give it special sympathy from a Democratic administration in Washington? In fact, the withdrawal met disapproval from Senator John Kerry, then a perspective Democratic presidential candidate.

Back then, Mr. Kerry urged Mr. Zapatero to reconsider his move, and “send a message that terrorists cannot win by acts of terror.”

These days, the prime minister, his approval ratings deep in negative territory, has apparently seen some advantage in sending an additional 500 men to Afghanistan.

Through all this, it is reported that Mr. Van Rompuy has clearly noticed Spain pulling the blanket of the E.U. presidency in a self-serving direction at time when it ought to be creating a precedent by setting out fewer of its own flags.

He has scheduled an informal economic summit meeting in Brussels for the second week of February, which could serve to take Spain’s questionable trademark off the new decade’s E.U. economic agenda when it is presented in Valencia a month and a half later. And he has made known that once Spain’s presidency ends in July, all future E.U. summits with third countries are to be held at E.U. headquarters in Brussels.

That’s a determined reaction. But it’s far from a guarantee of a cohesive and convincing start for Europe’s Brave New World.