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The EU hopes its new diplomatic service will enhance its global role. Brussels accedes to a controversial US-backed money transfer deal. Belgium takes over the EU’s rotating presidency without a fully functioning government. Bankers faces new EU levies and bonus limits. And a psychic octopus is a World Cup winner.
Top News:The European Union gave itself a foreign ministry and diplomatic service this month. In the latest development stemming from the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty last year, the European Parliament approved plans on July 8 for the EU to have its own foreign service. It’s expected to total around 2,500 officials when officially launched at the end of the year.
The new European External Action Service is a key part of plans to boost the EU’s role in the world. It will support Lady Catherine Ashton who was appointed in December as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy – the bloc’s de facto foreign minister.
Details of the how to set up the European External Action Service have beenbogged down in a dispute between the European Parliament, EU headquarters and the bloc’s 27 member governments over the structure, financing and accountability of the EU diplomats.
Agreement was finally reached after some late night negotiating in Madrid and the Parliament voted on July 8 to set up the service . More details still need to be worked out, but EU foreign policy chiefs are hoping the foreign service will become operational on Dec. 1.
Until now EU diplomacy, has been handled by a complex combination of delegations representing the Union’s executive office, the European Commission — which largely limited itself to aid, trade and other economic issues — and the embassy of whichever member nation is holding the EU’s six-month rotating presidency.
Brussels officials are confident that the new arrangements will give Europe a stronger, more coordinated and more effective voice in world affairs. The EU will still have to work out how the new European missions will work with the embassies of the bloc’s member states. Meanwhile competition is heating up among governments to get their nationals appointed to top positions within the EU foreign service.
Buoyed by the parliament’s vote, Lady Ashton spelled out her plans for EU diplomacy in a New York Times interview. Meanwhile the EU was already flexing its foreign policy muscles by agreeing at a June 17 summit on a range of new sanctions to persuade Iran to bring its nuclear program into line. The threat of sanctions was followed up by a letter exchange between Ashton and the Iranian foreign minister on possible new talks on Tehran’s atomic plans.
There was some relief that Lisbon Treaty had diminished the responsibilities of the EU’s rotating presidency before July 1, which marked the beginning of Belgium’s six-months at the helm. Belgium has been operating under a caretaker government since the inconclusive June 13 national elections.
In a busy week at the European Parliament, the EU’s lawmakers reached a compromise deal on the system for exchanging information with the United States on European citizens’ bank details. The US says the system is vital for tracking the finances of suspected terrorists, but the European Parliament had voted it down in February citing privacy concerns. After a compromise which gives the Europeans more oversight on the transfers and allows for court challenges when cases of misuse are alleged, the legislators approved the plan on July 8.
Money: European Union leaders meeting on June 17 focused on the financial crisis. They agreed on a number of measures designed to reduce the risk that the mistakes of the past few years are repeated.
The summit called for the G20 to consider a global banking levy and transaction taxes to ensure financial institutions, rather than the taxpayer, will have to shoulder the costs if major bank bailouts are needed again. In another new development, the leaders agreed to publish the results of “stress-tests” on their banks – examining their ability to survive in extreme economic conditions.
Bankers also attracted the attention of the European Parliament which voted for new restrictions on their bonuses.
Still mindful of the fragile finances of Greece, Spain and other euro-zone nations, the European Commission turned its attention from the banks to government finances. EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn proposed fines and cuts in EU funding to punish nations that allow their budget deficits to spin out of control.
Elsewhere: Like the rest of the planet, Europe spent most of the month with its eyes focused on events in South Africa. The early and ignominious departures from the World Cup of the likes of France, Italy and England, had some commentators convinced that Europe’s soccer stank worse than its public finances. Then the fleet-footed stars of Spain, German and the Netherlands brushed aside the best of Africa, Asia and the America’s to ensure the old world ruled the soccer roost – much to the satisfaction of the EU’s Commission President José Manuel Barroso (even though his native Portugal was dumped by Spain in the second round.)
Europe was transfixed by the exploits of Pulpo Paul, an octopus with an uncanny knack of predicting the results of the games from flag-decorated food boxes. Unfortunately for the clairvoyant cephalopod, his correct pick of Spain to beat Germany in the semi-final made poor Paul less than popular at home in Germany. After the eight-legged oracle received death threats from German fans clamoring for deep-fried calamari, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero offered to send a team of body guards from Madrid and a number of Spanish supporters have offered to buy the beast if he’s no long wanted in his aquarium in Oberhausen.