250 + 1 = 2006: the year in numbers

  • 2006-01-04
  • By Ben Nimmo
50 years ago this January, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, and Europe is not about to forget it: from Dublin to Daugavpils, opera houses are gearing up for the big bash. The Latvian National Opera will be performing two Mozart classics, "Don Giovanni" (20 Jan.) and "The Magic Flute" (24 Feb.), but this pales into insignificance besides the Salzburg Opera Festival's decision to stage all 22 of his operas this summer. If you fancy a trip, don't forget to pick up your Mozart yoghurt, sausage and perfume. Kitsch? Believe it.

Six months, meanwhile, is the length of time Austria has to stamp its authority on the EU during its EU presidency. For a country which bases its identity on keeping the Turks out of Europe, it looks likely to be a painful process: Austria will have to chair the process of negotiating accession talks with Ankara, to say nothing of deciding whether Bulgaria and Romania are ready to join.

If it does give them the go-ahead, one year is the amount of time the Baltics have left to enjoy their status as "cheapest bridges to Russia." With 30 million Bulgarians and Romanians eager to join the bloc, and foreign investors keen to move east, the Baltics are about to discover the meaning of "competition." There may be a silver lining, though: with the Baltic workforce still flooding west, local employers might want to think about hiring the EU's new poor, white, Christian, non-Russian members to keep their own economic booms going.

Zero, however, is the chance for a decisive breakthrough in EU relations this year. The European Parliament is already threatening to reject the next budget 's at a mere 862.4 billion euros 's as "too small," while a bloc of tradition-minded members are threatening to torpedo the liberalizing EU services directive. The union's constitution is dead in the water, euroskepticism has reached all-time highs, and with Russia doing all it can to deepen the divisions, the only promise the EU will be able to keep this year is that it will keep on arguing.

Which brings us back to the Baltics. Despite Baltic politicians' talent for short-sightedness, corruption and sheer incompetence, they seem to be slowly realizing that the best way to survive in a messy union and a messy part of the world is to work together: witness their coordinated reactions to Russia fighters crash-landing, Russo-German oil pipelines and Belarusian oppression. As they celebrate the 15th anniversary of their independence, they may yet come to realise that three heads are better than one.