O: Olli Rehn
The Finnish Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro is another believer in full transparency. He holds regular briefings for select Brussels-based journalists in the sauna of the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters. This may be because it’s the only place that isn’t bugged and where there aren’t angry mobs protesting at the EU’s austerity measures. Plus after five minutes, hacks get too lightheaded to remember their questions.
P: Parliament, The European
The EU’s only directly elected body has been gaining powers in inverse proportion to voters since the first poll was held in 1979 — turnout is now down to U.S. midterm levels of around 40 percent. The EU assembly meets mainly in Brussels but decamps to Strasbourg every month and has several thousand staff marooned in Luxembourg – hence its “traveling circus” moniker. Headed by pugnacious president Martin Schulz, a vocal critic of U.S. snooping.
Gone are the days when member states wielded vetoes – apart from when protecting the glory of French cinema, of course. Now, almost all decisions in the Council of the EU are made by qualified majority voting (QMV.) This system divvies up votes roughly according to population size. Or, to paraphrase Orwell: “all EU states are equal but some — notably Germany — are more equal than others.”
When EU treaties are changed, some states have to ask voters to ratify them in referenda. If the answer is “no,” the EU’s tried and trusted method is to keep asking the people to vote until they come up with the right answer. This worked for Denmark once and Ireland twice.
S: Single Currency
The euro, which is used by 17 of the EU’s 28 member states, was devised as a way of keeping down Germans and uniting Europeans. It has failed to do the former and succeeded at the latter: Now, most Europeans in most big countries believe EU integration has weakened their economies.
The United States has a constitution, which has served it pretty well for 226 years. The EU has treaties, which it changes roughly once a decade. The latest is the Lisbon Treaty, which was supposed to make the EU leaner and simpler to understand. It has done nothing of the sort. For example, the new rulebook was meant to scrap the rotating six-month presidency of the Council in favor of a longer-term president. But when the measure came to be implemented, no state wanted to give up its once-in-every-14-years stint in the spotlight. So, now the Council has both a “president” (Herman Van Rompuy) and a “presidency” (Lithuania since July 1).
Although America’s 51st state – which is how many Europeans view Britain – is still in the EU, it may not be for much longer. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged a referendum on British membership in the Union if he wins the next election; polls now show a slim majority in favor of leaving. A “Brexit” may spark street parties in France, but not in the United States – which is so chummy with London it has signed a formal “no-spy” deal with it.
V: Van Rompuy, Herman
Back in 2009, Europeans finally answered the Kissinger question and created the post of EU president — or European Council president, to be exact. Your leading candidates for the post were Tony Blair or a Haiku-writing politician so mousy he had to be coaxed into becoming prime minister of Belgium and only lasted in the job for a year. You go for Blair right? Wrong.
W: Washington, D.C.
The United States has gone from being the European Union’s new BFF since Obama came to office to reverting to its traditional role as the over-protective big brother Europeans love to kvetch about since the NSA PRISM story broke. When the Guardian headlined an article “How the US is bugging European allies” recently, most European readers probably chuckled at the unintentional play on words.
What you jot down in the surveillance log every time you hear someone say something in Brussels that is actually likely to change anything. So you can safely ignore EU politicians’ calls for lower labor costs and higher defense spending and most finger-wagging at rogue regimes.
Y: Youth unemployment
In the EU, almost a quarter of young people are jobless, with the figure rising to over 50 percent in countries like Greece and Spain. The problem has now reached such epic proportions that the EU . . . wait for it . . . held a summit about it in June. At the meeting, leaders earmarked 6 billion euros to help the Union’s 26 million unemployed people find work – roughly one-tenth of the cash doled out in subsidies to farmers and fishermen every year.
The likely results of the NSA’s Brussels surveillance efforts.
Gareth Harding is director of the Missouri School of Journalism’s Brussels Program.