Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bread and Circuses for a Domestic Audience at Time of Economic Misery: In the Brave New EU, Old Impressions Dominate

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
intones John Vinocur.
For starters, old impressions predominate. … The first six months of a notionally re-minted E.U. risk being scrambled, rather than a demonstration of new cohesion and strength.

For one thing, the calendar hurts. In 2010, there are important elections in Britain, Germany and France. Voting involving the E.U.’s big players invariably means those countries taking a quasi leave of absence from immediate European concerns. …

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.

…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.”

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