Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A dangerous vacuum of power

Comment on the coverage of the ECJ ruling of the Growth and Stability Pact

Those of us who are dedicated "EU-watchers" perforce tend to accord more priority to EU news and developments than the media at large, and are sometimes puzzled at the lack of coverage in the mainstream media.

By any measure, however, one would have thought that yesterday's ECJ ruling on the growth and stability pact was important at several levels. Firstly, it represented a stage in the age-old battle between the two institutions of the EU – the council and the commission – as to which was dominant in a key area of policy, and secondly there was the immediate issue of the economic management of the eurozone.

In reviewing the coverage of these issues by the broadsheets, therefore, one has to raise an eyebrow at the news values of The Times, which found that the BBC selling off its Tellytubbies merchandising operation worthy of front page coverage, consigning the growth and stability pact judgment to a down-page item on page 14.

But at least The Times did cover the issue in the main paper, whereas The Daily Telegraph banished the admirable Ambrose Evans-Pritchard to the business pages, with a "City Comment" on the back page.

The Guardian and Independent, however, both covered the issue in their main pages, although one needn't bother with the Guardian story apart from a comment from Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat MEP, said Brussels had won "a pyrrhic victory". That is somewhere near the truth – as long as you delete the word "victory".

The Independent puts it more succinctly: "Euro stability pact rule book in chaos after court ruling". Its view is that:

The decision marks a symbolic victory for the European Commission which took the unusual step of taking EU finance ministers to court when they failed to back its measures against Paris and Berlin last year. But the ruling in the European Court of Justice is unlikely to change the balance of power within the EU, because the court also said EU finance ministers could have used other procedures to block action against France and Germany while remaining within the law.
As for the broadcast media, I can no longer stand watching television news, so I neither know nor care what was on the box.

As for the radio, this morning, as far as I could ascertain, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme – the supposed agenda-setter – was still indulging its obsession with Iraq, looking forward to the publication of the Butler Report, which was expected to highlight failures in the Intelligence Services. All one can say of this is that the Times letters of yesterday had it, recording an observation from Dr Nick Megoran observed that he had learned as a schoolboy that "military intelligence" was an oxymoron.

Returning to the Telegraph, I hope Ambrose did not write the City Comment as it perpetuates the myth that Prodi called the growth and stability pact "stupid". In his original comments of 17 October 2002, Prodi actually made a different point – his view was that the "stupidity" was not the pact itself but that the Commission lacked the power to enforce the rules.

That much has now been confirmed by the ECJ. But putting the Council "in the frame" means that there are now no enforceable set of rules, leaving a dangerous vacuum of power at the heart of the eurozone. That really is news.

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