European Union leaders have wished Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso a ‘happy birthday’ at their gathering in Brussels. But they did not sing. The cake had a sculpture of Europa and the Bull, as depicted in Greek mythology.
The mood was not all jocular, though. In fact, the atmosphere is highly charged at the meeting under way in Brussels, with Austria host, as current EU president.
Britain held the chair last. The leaders do not want a fight, as last year was full of them. This time, they are supposed to discuss creating an energy policy with a single voice.
But there is lively disagreement over what’s been termed economic nationalism in this sector, when energy in the EU’s theoretically single internal market is meant to be opening up more to competition.
Italy is the most upset, partly because of France’s blocking of a potential cross-border energy merger.
But other countries’ practices have come in for criticism as well. There is a chance that sparks could fly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spoken out in favour of more liberalisation in Europe’s energy market. She said others felt likewise.
In spite of sympathy from Britain and other allies, Italy had to drop plans for an open letter denouncing protectionism, for want of enough support.
The move was widely seen as a prime ministerial re-election campaign gambit by Silvio Berlusconi. He has denied having broached the letter idea.