"There are so many pressing issues on EU agenda, internal working, constitution issues, the economic issues, research, education, plus the pressure put on EU by globalization."
That's Jan Techau of the German Council on Foreign Relations. He says the EU has high expectations for the German presidency, since for some time now, the bloc has been basically spinning its wheels.
"There's so much to be done and for past 12 months basically what we've been doing is discussing the constitution and naval gazing."
"It's probably the most difficult political problem on the internal EU frontier really. It is certainly the issue against which the success of the German presidency will be judged.
Merkel will also have to look at new agreements with Russia, including on topics as sensitive as energy. Tackling climate change will he on the list, even though Germany has had dispute with Brussels over its own emissions targets. Then there is foreign policy, and the task of presenting a unified front, even as the EU expands even further. Romania and Bulgaria are coming on board in January. And there's the economy, which Merkel addressed in a speech before the German parliament.
Because if we aren't strong economically and can't give people hope for the future, the European Union won't be a strong player internationally. Success in Brussels means that the member states have to be strong as well. The two things belong together."
Germany has also said it wants to kick-start the Middle East peace process. It wants the EU to be part of a quartet of mediators that also includes the US, the UN the Russia. But so far its efforts in that arena, such as engaging Syria, have fallen flat and even been criticized by allies. And despite the best-laid plans, everything could change if some unexpected crisis comes up. That's what happened to the Finnish presidency, says Jan Techau. It was hit in the face by the Lebanon crisis, which occupied it for a good portion of its own short time at the helm.
And German has been working hard to play down those expectations--perhaps not wanting to disappoint. But Techau says despite the high bar, the EU presidency, and Germany's 2007 presidency of the G8 nations, could be a chance for the country to make a strong mark internationally.
Germany is still growing up foreign policy wise. It has only regained it full sovereignty 16 years ago, and for 40 years, used to playing second fiddle internationally. It is my hope that the two presidencies will help Germany find its proper role in the international community. It's fantastic national endeavour.
If not a difficult one. Germany's time could also be made more difficult due to the fact that several other EU countries have weak or transitional governments. Major player France has presidential elections coming up. There, the focus will be on national politics and EU issues relegated firmly to the back burner. Still, EU Commission President Jose Borroso seems to think if anyone can pull it off, Angela Merkel can. He told a German newspaper she might even be the Jürgen Klinsmann of EU politics. He's referring of course to the coach of the German national soccer team, who took what was considered a mediocre team and led them all the way to third place in last summer's World Cup.Listen to the report:
Come what may in 2007 Britain will have a new Prime Minister and France a new president. The EU will celebrate its 50th Birthday and Germany will raise taxes and finally catch up on anti-smoking laws. Daniel Franklin executive editor of the Economist takes a closer look at what else might lay ahead in 2007.
This New Year's Day will be a historic one for Bulgarians and Romanians whose countries will finally join the European Union and enlarge the bloc to 27 member states. Romania's road to membership has been a bumpy one, but last September, the European Commission finally ruled that the country had met all the criteria required to join the block. The problem is that Romania is not joining the club at an ideal time. Enlargement is no longer popular in Western Europe, and many Europeans fear the competition of cheaper Romanian workers. There are also doubts as to whether Romania is really fit to join the EU. Romania's EU integration Minister, Anca Daniela Boagiu discussed these issues with Network Europe.
For the people of Slovenia, January 1 means swapping their tolar for the euro. This tiny alpine country becomes the first of the EU newcomers to join the eurozone. The government has hailed it as Slovenia's biggest achievement since the former Yugoslav country joined the EU in 2004. Although Slovenia was never in serious danger of not meeting the requirements to adopt the Euro, there were still plenty of adventures along the way.
The New Year is always a time to reflect on the past 12 months - and to look ahead reflecting on the changes we want - or sometimes actually need.... Maybe your New Year's resolution is to quit smoking and get fit or perhaps to spend more time with your family. But what about the bigger picture? What New Year's resolution would you want for your country? Here's a sample of what Europeans think.
We asked you to tell us in which European country naughty children get rotten potatoes in the run-up to Christmas? The correct answer is: Iceland. Congratulations to: Henk Poortvliet from Zeist in the Netherlands, Djamal Hamouda from Algiers, Algeria, Sunil Singh from Muzaffappur, India, Uchechukwu Nwosu from Owerri, Niger, Sabiha Mubeen, from Muscat, Oman, Xiu-Ping Qian, from Xian in China, Riaz Hussein Malik, from Jhang Sadar, Pakistan.
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