La Treizième Étoile: 19/06/11 - 26/06/11 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
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Reviewed: ‘50 Days that Changed Europe’

Saturday, 25 June 2011
50 Days that Changed Europe by Hanneke Siebelink (Photo:“There was consternation in the room. Journalists, scribbling away madly, looked perplexed. Here and there, applause broke out. A supranational institution that could take binding decisions on behalf of France, Germany and other states? They were curious to see what Konrad Adenauer, the newly-elected Chancellor of West Germany, would make of it all. It quickly became clear that Adenauer was fully behind the proposal […] even the United States had encouraged such a step […] ‘We are not binding states,’ he [Jean Monnet] said, ‘we are uniting people’” (from '9th May 1950: Schuman launches an ambitious plan', p.13).

Whatever your opinion on the European project, the tale of how the European Union has grown from an dream-like post-war recovery plan to a recognised actor on the international scene in just 60 years makes for remarkable reading.

From that atmospheric Salon de l’Horloge inside the French foreign ministry where Robert Schuman made his historic declaration on 9th May 1950 to the charged streets of Greece where citizens are protesting against large austerity measures and the Brussels meeting rooms where EU leaders attempt to revive confidence in the Eurozone, it has been a intriguing tale of complex negotiations, intra-European conflicts of words, and dramatic 13th-hour compromises.

Hanneke Siebelink, a Brussels-born Dutch author who for ten years served as an economic advisor to the US mission to the European Union, has therefore had quite a task to identify just 50 'days' that have “changed Europe” to compile into her latest book.

In sum, she’s done a good job with all the usual suspects included: the Treaty of Rome (#5), the Treaty of Maastricht founding the single currency (#28), MEPs elected by the voters for the first time (#15), the fall of the Berlin Wall (#24) for example, as well as a few less folklore-ish but significant events such as when MEPs showed their teeth and voted down the SWIFT agreement (#49) , Tony Blair vetoed Guy Verhofstadt’s Commission Presidency bid (#39) and the European Commission took on the mighty Microsoft and won - twice (#44).

In the book that details ‘50 Days that Changed Europe’ across 123 pages, each event is covered briefly but in an editorial style that makes it easy to read, and even if you think you know all about the EU you’re sure to learn something new. The Iron Lady, the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has undoubtedly played her part in its colourful history, and suggesting an admiration on the part of the author, appears throughout including one amusing reference when comparing the “blow” the French public delivered in rejecting the EU Constitution in the May 2005 referendum as “far more severe than any blow Mrs Thatcher dealt with her famous handbag” (#41).

While the toppling of the Santer Commission by the Parliament in 1999 is for me a surprising omission, the problem with a book such as this is that it is out of date almost as soon as it is published. Indeed, since the 50th entry from May 2010, we’ve seen the first steps towards the re-establishment of internal borders, the EU secure speaking rights within the UN Assembly, Irish barrister Ciaran Toland winning a landmark case at the ECJ to force the Parliament to release an audit report he was denied access to, MEPs voting to reduce the number of plenary sessions in Strasbourg and the French government consequently taking the decision before the court, the opening up of European institutions to bloggers, and more recently the confirmation that Croatia will become the 28th Member State from 2013.

Had the European Union not opted to ditch the EU knowledge test as part of its application process for new EU civil servants then this book would have served as a quick, handy, bitesize revision guide. Nonetheless it still serves as a very good introduction to the story of the European Union’s creation and is worthy of a read even if you think you know it all. But as the EU embarks upon another chapter of its history in a tough political and economic climate, we will probably not have to wait 60 years to identify another 50 days that changed Europe.

'50 Days that Changed Europe' by Hanneke Siebelink, is released on 30th June 2011. Translated into English from Dutch by Derek Blyth. Published by Luster. RRP £16.95.

Croatia gets EU green light to conclude negotiations and become its 28th member

Friday, 24 June 2011
Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka KOSOR (left) is welcomed by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels, 11th June 2010 (Photo: europeancouncil/flickr)After six long years of tense negotiations, Croatia has today finally received the green light from European leaders to conclude membership talks and look set to become the bloc’s 28th member state from 1st July 2013.

Subject to ratification by all current member states, Croatia, which will mark its 20th anniversary of their independence from Yugoslavia tomorrow (25th), will be the first new admission to the European Union since Bulgaria and Romania joined in 2007.

Speaking at the conclusion of the European Council meeting today in Brussels, Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council remarkedCroatia's achievement serves as an inspiring example for the other countries of the Western Balkans [and] demonstrates that with political will, a strong national consensus and dedicated work, it is possible to overcome the shadows of the past and to move towards membership of the European Union.

Speaking ahead of the meeting yesterday at the EPP leader’s Summit held at the Academie Royale de Belgique, the country’s incumbent Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said Croatia becoming the 28th member would “be a breathe of fresh air” and affirmed the country’s commitment to the European project and the single currency.

We are committed to the European project,” she said, and asked if Croatia would seek to adopt the single currency replied “we would work hard on that once we become a member. We believe this will help the Croatian economy.”

We have experience of being alone which is why we appreciate being part of a family. [In joining the EU] we are going back home,” she said.

Croatia is expected to sign its accession treaty in the autumn as well as hold a public referendum on acceding to the EU. The treaty would then require ratification by all current member states and that ratification process is expected to take around two years, thus setting an entry date of July 2013.

Euroblogging the EPP Summit – part three and featuring yours truly

Tuesday, 21 June 2011
EPP Summit March 2011 by europeanpeoplesparty, on FlickrWhile entries on this blog normally address European Union developments with a focus on the beautiful South West region of the United Kingdom and the six MEPs that serve it, this week shall see something rather different.

Following eagerly (and humbly) in the footsteps of Julien Frisch in June 2010 and Joe Litobarski in March this year, on Thursday (23rd) I shall become the third Euroblogger to witness first-hand what goes on behind-the-scenes at the summit of EPP leaders.

The June 2011 EPP Summit, to be held in the Académie Royale de Belgique in Brussels, will reunite the 17 of the EU’s 27 heads of state and government including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, Belgium’s caretaker Prime Minister Yves Leterme, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán whose country currently holds the rotating six-month presidency, and Poland's Donald Tusk whose country will assume it on July 1st.

All have assembled in Brussels ahead of the meeting of the European Council scheduled for Thursday evening and all-day Friday. In light of the Eurozone's troubles, the finalisation of another bailout for Greece, the backward steps towards the reinstatement of national borders, and Europe scampering to respond to the ‘Arab Spring’, this will arguably be one of the most important meetings of the European Council which is not scheduled to be reconvened until October. On the agenda: Economic Policy, migration, the accession of Croatia, the inclusion of Roma people, and the endorsement of the launch of the Danube strategy.

The European People’s Party (EPP) is the largest and the most influential European-level political party, and its leaders are meeting ahead of the European Council to prepare their respective positions.

Comprising 75 centre-right member-parties from 39 countries, it is also the largest European political party and boasts amongst its membership 13 European Commissioners (including the President José Manuel Barroso), the President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy, and the largest number of members in the European Parliament with 264 of the 736 MEPs (36%).

Thanks to the EPP for their invitation and for granting me greater access than will be enjoyed by journalists covering the event, this represents a fantastic opportunity for a European citizen and blogger to witness and present to you my dear readers a different side of events than what appears in traditional media outlets.

I shall be tweeting titbits from the summit at @andrewjburgess, but I look forward to hearing your comments, suggestions, and reactions to the latest instalment of this experiment.

Image credit: 'EPP Summit March 2011' by europeanpeoplesparty, on Flickr.

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.