Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 13 October 2009


Czech government agrees to negotiate Klaus' demand for clarification on Charter of Fundamental Rights
The Telegraph reports that the Czech government has "backed down" from a confrontation with Czech President Vaclav Klaus, and Czech PM Jan Fischer has agreed to negotiate Klaus' demand for some kind of "opt-out" from the Charter of Fundamental Rights before ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. The FT reports that if such a move threatened to require re-ratification of the entire Treaty, all EU governments would instantly reject Mr Klaus' demand.

The paper reports that Mr Klaus' demand for a legally binding exemption from the Charter has sent legal experts scurrying to determine under what conditions, if any, such an exemption might be granted. A spokesman for President Klaus, Ladislav Jakl rejected any Irish style 'guarantees' on the Treaty, telling Czech newspaper Lidov Noviny: "the guarantees given to Ireland are not guarantees; they were a political declaration in a style such that the Irish wolf filled its stomach and the Lisbon goat remained whole".

The Guardian quotes an EU official saying: "A declaration can always be found. There's not a lot of goodwill towards the Czechs. But the others will go along if this gets rid of the thing."

The FT also reports that Mr Fischer said the Czech government was willing "to discuss a possible solution to this situation with its European partners" during an EU summit at the end of the month, in return for which Mr Klaus would have to guarantee that he would sign Lisbon once the Czech Constitutional Court rules on a recent challenge to the Treaty. There was no response from Mr Klaus' office on those conditions.

The Economist's Charlemagne blog questions whether EU leaders would give President Klaus the guarantees he wants without an assurance that he will then sign the Treaty, and writes: "Levels of trust are so abysmally low that some big governments would basically like something like a Cold War spy swap, with Mr Klaus and a pen poised at one end of a foggy bridge, and the council conclusions ready for approval at the other. And he would not get his declaration until the exact moment he signed the treaty."
Times Guardian FT FT 2 WSJ Irish Independent Telegraph Irish Times FT: Brussels blog Telegraph: Hannan blog Economist: Charlemagne's notebook EUobserver European Voice EurActiv Coulisses de Bruxelles ORF Idnes.cz Ceske Noviny

Bryant appointed to the 'downgraded' job of Europe Minister
Several papers report that Chris Bryant has been appointed Minister for Europe, replacing Baroness Glenys Kinnock after just four months. The Telegraph notes that Mr Bryant will remain a parliamentary under-secretary of state - the lowest ministerial rank - meaning that the job, which was formerly held by a minister of state, has been downgraded. The Times notes that holders of the post have usually attended Cabinet meetings when Europe has been discussed but Downing Street confirmed last night that Mr Bryant will not attend Cabinet meetings.

The Sun quotes Open Europe saying, "This shows scant regard for the British people. Gordon Brown might not think Europe is important, but they do." The Telegraph reports that the switch could be linked to the prospect of Tony Blair becoming the first president of the EU with Open Europe quoted saying, "After all, with Blair back ruling the country, this time from a flashy office in Brussels, what need will Labour have for a decent Europe Minister?''
Sun Times Mail Sun: Leader Mirror Independent Telegraph European Voice Open Europe blog

The EU to put caps on mortgages?
Euractiv notes that the Commission has proposed tighter EU-wide regulation on mortgage access, as part of its review of the Capital Requirements Directive. In a document sent to member states' governments, the Commission suggests putting a 40% cap on the loan-to-value indicator, which establishes what percentage of the value of a house can be lent by a bank to a buyer. This would mean that the buyer of a 100,000 flat would be able to obtain a mortgage of up to 40,000 at normal interest rates. But if he or she asked for more, the buyer would have to face higher rates, and the credit institution itself will be forced to put aside a higher amount of capital. The average loan-to-value applied by UK banks was 87% in 2004, meaning that the access to credit in the UK would be significantly reduced if the new rules come in to force.

Cost of meeting EU landfill targets to rise by 1bn
The Mail reports that the annual cost of collecting and dealing with rubbish to meet strict EU targets will rise by 1.1billion over the next four years because of rises to the landfill tax, the levy raised on all refuse buried in the ground. PA notes that local councils are facing large fines from the EU if they do not meet targets to cut the levels of waste sent to landfill by 2013.

The Economist's Charlemagne blog has a brief account of Open Europe's fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last week, at which he was a speaker.
Economist: Charlemagne's notebook Open Europe events

CEPS: Hedge funds are afraid of transparency and therefore oppose the EU's AIFM Directive
Karel Lannoo, Head of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), has an op-ed in Belgian daily De Standaard arguing that although the de Larosiere report didn't consider hedge funds to be the cause of the crisis, they should be regulated anyway. Addressing the question "why is the City afraid of Europe", he writes that "if there is something that such funds are afraid of, it is more transparency and supervision", adding that "this is what they want to avoid most: that through more regulation it will become clearer who will do what, which positions are being taken on the market, what commissions are being earned..."
Standaard: Lannoo Open Europe press release Open Europe research

Chair of EU Military Committee calls for "common funding" of military missions
In an interview with the Irish Times General Henri Bentgeat, who chairs the EU Military Committee, says there is a need to agree more flexible criteria for deploying forces and more "common funding" for European missions, although he adds that "For the time being there is no consensus among states to extend common funding". The article notes that currently, most mission costs are covered by the EU states that contribute troops and equipment to a particular mission. But moving to common funding, which would see all EU states contribute according to wealth, is unpopular among states that pay most into the EU budget. He adds: "There is no doubt from a military point of view we need a permanent HQ. But it would create serious problems and difficulties with Nato and the US as it would probably create some kind of competition between the two bodies...This is not on the political agenda."
Irish Times: Smyth

20 member states agree to give dairy farmers an additional 300 million in EU subsides despite earlier pledges for reform
Ahead of next week's EU Council meeting of agriculture ministers, Focus reports that 20 member states have in principle agreed to give an additional 300 million to dairy farmers in response to falling milk prices. The countries also said they wanted to replace the EU's milk quota system with some other "regulation" in a bid to drive up milk prices. However, exactly what that will involve is unclear. Scrapping milk quotas and scaling back subsidies were part of the EU's 2005 reforms which were promised to the UK and some other member states in response to the Blair government giving up a portion of the rebate from the EU budget.
Focus Die Presse

Nomination of EU President and Foreign Minister in October unlikely - next EU summit in December
Berliner Zeitung reports that, according to EU diplomats, important decisions that are expected at the EU summit at the end of October will be postponed due to Czech resistance to the Lisbon Treaty, in particular, the nomination of the EU President and the EU Foreign Minister. The article notes that the next EU summit of heads of state will take place in December.

Meanwhile, Irish gambling firm Paddy Power has tipped Tony Blair to become the first EU president, with Dutch, Luxembourgish and Danish candidates also on good odds, reports EUobserver.

The Parliament reports that Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the Party of European Socialists, has declared that the Socialists have a 'natural claim' to the new EU Foreign Minister post.
Berliner Zeitung The Parliament EUobserver Independent: Dejevsky Le Figaro

Poll finds that most Yes voters in Ireland voted for Lisbon because "The EU has been good for Ireland"
The Irish Times reports that a poll conducted for the European Commission has found that the most important reason cited by 51 percent of Yes voters for backing the Lisbon Treaty was that the "EU has been good for Ireland and Ireland has got a lot of benefit from the EU". Some 44 percent of Yes voters said the Treaty was good for Ireland while one-third said a Yes vote would help the Irish economy. The article notes that only a small fraction of Yes voters cited specific improvements the Treaty would make to the Union - such as making it more democratic (2 percent) or ensuring the rights of citizens are better protected (3 percent) - as a factor. Only 17 percent said that the Treaty was good for the EU.

The poll, to be published this week, found that the highest number of No voters (38 percent) was found in those aged between 18 and 24 years.
Irish Times

Disagreement over interim arrangement for EU Commission
While the five year term of the EU Commission expires at the end of October, it is still not clear on what basis the EU Commission shall be working from November since the Lisbon Treaty is not yet in force.

Austrian newspapers Standard and Die Presse report that legal experts of the Council and the Commission disagree on the interim arrangement for the EU Commission. The Commissions' experts advocate an indefinite prolonging of the current Commission for a transition period. While this option would provide continuity, the transition Commission would not have full competences as the current Commission does. Therefore, the legal experts of the Council favour establishing a new Commission on the basis of the current Treaty of Nice in case the Lisbon Treaty shall not come into force any time soon. This would imply however that one member state has to give up a Commissioner.
Standard Die Presse

Deutsche Bank CEO: EU banking sector will fall behind US and Asia
Der Spiegel reports that Josef Ackermann yesterday gave a deeply pessimistic outlook for the European banking sector, which he said would lose competitiveness, as the US and Asia have used the economic crisis to create stronger banks. He said European banks would suffer very large credit losses, the worst of which were yet to come. Regarding plans for tougher EU bank supervision, Ackermann stated "I don't believe that the state has to play a role in dealing with good banks. It is our goal to fulfil the higher requirements without the state."
Der Spiegel

Barroso's desire to grant independence to EU's anti-fraud watchdog meets resistance
EUobserver reports that Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said that the EU's anti-fraud investigator, Olaf, "should be given full independence outside the Commission." However, the article notes that the current head of Olaf and many MEPs are opposed to the idea. Austrian MEP Herbert Bosch said that as long as there was no EU public prosecutor and judicial follow-up was still up to member states, de-coupling the institution from the Commission would weaken its powers.

Meanwhile, the article notes that Alexander Italianer, a Dutch economist who is in the frame to be the next Director General of the Commission's competition department, has suggested that his prospective new position also be granted more independence.

Austrian newspaper Der Standard reports that the German State Secretary for Agriculture Gert Lindmann (CDU) has backed the candidature of former Vice Chancellor of Austria and Finance Minister Wilhelm Molterer for the post of the EU Agriculture Commissioner.
Der Standard

Financial Times Deutschland reports that in the current coalition agreement negotiations for the new German government, the CSU party is demanding a strict No on the question of Turkey's accession to the EU.

French news website Rue89 reports that Rachida Dati MEP, France's former Justice Minister, has not declared on her financial declaration that she is the chairwoman of "La Bourdonnais Consultants". This may lead to a conflict of interests since she now sits in the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee in the European Parliament.

The European Commission is set to put forward a proposal that will extend EU import duties on shoes from China and Vietnam if agreed by EU member states.

Nobel prize winner in economics Joseph Stiglitz has said that "The crisis has brought home a couple of fundamental questions for the single market concept of Europe that have not really been adequately discussed."

An article in the IHT notes that with the ambitious new Nord Stream pipeline planned to run along the bed of the Baltic Sea, the Russian natural gas company Gazprom is "driving a political wedge between Eastern and Western Europe".

Open Europe is an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU. For information on our research, events and other activities, please visit our website: openeurope.org.uk or call us on 0207 197 2333.

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