Zooropa shakes up Europa

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, must wish Bono would come to see him every day. He spoke of giving the European Union a "vision" but it was the vision of the rock star himself that drew the huge crowd of cheering eurocrats to the Berlaymont press room in Brussels on Thursday.

Wearing jacket and tie - but with his shirt untucked - the U2 frontman flicked a V for victory sign that Barroso replicated outside later.

Victory in Bono's campaign to "Make Poverty History" by boosting aid to Africa to prevent 30,000 child deaths a day is a long way off.

Though EU ministers have agreed to double development aid by 2015 in principle, some - such as Italy and Germany - have doubts. Bono said he was convinced Gerhard Schröder, Germany's chancellor, wanted to sign up: "The man who holds the wallet, Hans Eichel . . . needs to break some rules at home in the budgetary process in order to be part of history." Given he's already breaking the stability and growth pact, what's another one?

"Don't blow it, put down your national flags, look up from the numbers and see the future," urged Bono. Barroso must have wished he had been talking to foreign ministers thrashing out the proposed EU budget this weekend.

As for the EU, Bono said it was much like his own squabbling family, "strong in diversity and narkiness". "Given its problems, it is great you took the job, very rock'n'roll of you."

In true rock fashion Barroso sought solace in U2's lyrics from "Zooropa": "Don't worry baby. It's gonna be alright. Uncertainty can be a guiding light." That may be more true in Zooropa than Europa.


If Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, is swept away at the early general election scheduled for September 18 - assuming it does take place as planned - there will be at least one reason for his Social Democratic party to rejoice: it should leave the opposition Christian Democratic Union flirting with bankruptcy.

While its ratings are high, the CDU's coffers are empty, largely because of the massive fines it had to pay in relation to the financial improprieties perpetrated by party functionaries in the Helmut Kohl era.

Observer hears Angela Merkel, the opposition leader, is struggling to pay for the upcoming campaign and an expensive extraordinary party conference in August.

A sure winner, however, will be Elmar Brandt, Schröder's most famous impersonator.

Following up on his "tax song" smash hit of 2002, he is cashing in again with a Schröder-Merkel duo in tandem with fellow parodist Anne Onken.

Taste, in the end, could be the ultimate loser: the rip-off of a famous 1970s song, Brandt's number boils down to a succession of deprecating comments about Merkel's looks and has been roundly condemned by comics as the kind of stuff that gives German humour a bad name.

Glass houses

The European parliament on Thursday adopted a declaration on the reform of the United Nations, including some useful and provocative suggestions on how to improve it, such as having a single European Union seat on the security council. There are plenty of reasons to feel the UN could work better but it is somewhat ironic to see the Strasbourg assembly, which is still in the midst of an internal debate about members' salaries and whether they should produce receipts to claim reimbursement for travel expenses, work so hard to help better another institution.

Or was perhaps the timing of the declaration just a clever ploy to take the spotlight across the Atlantic, away from the EU's own institutional and constitutional crisis?


News finally reaches Observer about an exciting new business idea in Europe, courtesy of must-read Central Banking magazine. Six national central banks have got together to offer euro-currency reserve management services to other central banks, or public and international organisations. Form an orderly queue, please!

It may be a great way of creating work for central bankers across the continent now interest rates are set by the European Central Bank in Frankfurt (and even the ECB has not changed rates for two years).

But are the banks of the Netherlands, France, Spain, Luxembourg, Germany and Italy not being a teeny-weeny bit modest in selling their wares?

True, you can pick up a glossy brochure on "Eurosystem reserve management services". But Observer's man in the grey suit reckons Europe's central banks could diversify into far more exciting services.

Maybe not fashion tips, but preservation of grand old buildings would be one example. The Banque de France has a particularly fine example in Paris. Or maybe they could handle media for celebrities - discretion guaranteed. Any other suggestions?

Pink champagne

Many are accused of being champagne socialists in these days of business tycoons donating to leftwing parties. But there is only one who can really lay claim to the title: the late French President François Mitterrand. Mitterrand's widow is to auction off some of his wine cellar on June 16, including 300 bottles of La Rose au Poing champagne.

Named after the socialist party symbol of a rose in a fist, at €200 a magnum it's a souvenir no champagne socialist would want to be without.

Poles apart

The conflict between the Anglo-Saxon and European social model worsens by the day. While fear of the "Polish plumber" contributed to the rejection of the European constitution in France, the British embassy in Warsaw has just started advertising for 50,000 Poles to fill vacant jobs in the UK.


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