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EU through rose-tinted glasses?

Mark Mardell | 10:48 UK time, Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Do we see what actually happens or just what we want to see? Reporting the European Union is a delicate business, simply because so many people despise it and its works, but that doesn't mean we should see it through the opposite of rose-tinted spectacles.

Belgian EU SummitI reported on TV last night that the EU summit was "surprisingly tough" mainly because of the suspension of talks on a partnership with Russia, but also because of pretty strong robust language both in the summit conclusions and in President Sarkozy's news conference.

But the questions I kept getting from colleagues in London were along the lines of the European Union's weakness or failure. It wasn't so much what they were reading or hearing coming out of the summit but what they expected, and what they expect from EU summits.

One newspaper this morning has the headline that
"Brown fails to make EU punish Russia" and reports he struggled to find backing for the plan to suspend talks. Another newspaper calls the summit "limp" and says it "shied away from imposing sanctions".

The fact is that at the meeting of ambassadors on Thursday that prepares the basic agreement for the summit no one, including Britain's representative, raised the question of sanctions. No other organisation or country has proposed economic sanctions - maybe they should but they haven't, so the EU is not out on a limb.

This hiatus in the partnership agreement was put on the table and supporter by the leaders themselves.Now, before anyone writes that I am trying to puff up EU foreign policy or make the organisation out to be more successful than it is let me hasten to add that is not my aim. I just think, given the well known difficulties the EU has, both in coming to any agreements and the reluctance of some European countries to say "boo" to Russia this was an unexpectedly robust result. In fact had the USA been in the middle of talks with Russia and called them off the headlines would have been about a "tough Bush response" and it would probably have been a lead story. But we know the funny old EU can't get its act together don't we?

None of which is today that the EU might well not follow up its initial words or back down in the face of Russian displeasure. If it does I will report it as it is, not as some think it should be.


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