Friday, December 11, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 11 December 2009


Swedish Foreign Minister: Since Lisbon Treaty came into force, relations between EU countries are domestic policy not foreign policy;
Race to establish EU foreign service before UK Conservatives come to power
The Times looks at the creation of the European Union's External Action Service (EAS), established under the Lisbon Treaty. The article notes that federalist EU politicians are seeking to establish a strong EAS before a potential "obstructionist" UK Conservative government takes office. Andrew Duff, a Liberal Democrat MEP, is quoted saying, "We would like everything in place before David Cameron becomes Prime is a form of pressure that David Cameron is putting on us - but it is very good pressure because it means that we have to press on."

It also notes that once established, decisions affecting the EAS will be taken by majority vote, so a future Conservative government could be outvoted. The EAS will be headed by Catherine Ashton, who will take charge of the EU's external budget, estimated at €45 billion (£40 billion) for the period 2007-2013, as well as a network of about 130 EU "embassies" and 3,000 staff around the world.

On his Coulisses de Bruxelles blog, Jean Quatremer notes that European Foreign Ministers have discovered "with horror" that under the Lisbon Treaty they no longer get to take part in EU summits of heads of state and government, and that the EU Foreign Minister, Cathy Ashton, goes in their place. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is quoted saying, "As it happens I am persuaded it's a very good idea. But I can't say all the other Foreign Ministers share that opinion, to put it politely." French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche said that some foreign ministers have said that in their absence, "the summit cannot discuss foreign affairs." The Times quotes Bildt saying that since the Lisbon Treaty came into force, relations between member states are no longer considered "foreign policy" but are now "domestic policy". Therefore EU leaders no longer need their top diplomats beside them at EU summits.

The article notes "It was a clear example of the downgrading of member state foreign ministries in the post-Lisbon treaty system." A leader in the Times argues "Concerns about the European Union centre on three familiar criticisms: first, that it represents an assault on British sovereignty; second, that it wastes a huge amount of taxpayers' money on high-living and procedural incompetence; and finally that its opacity is a deliberate ploy obscuring a surreptitious goal of building a powerful single European state." It goes on: "The EAS looks destined to create as many questions as it answers... The new EU foreign affairs body needs to be clear about how much it costs, what it is for, and above all whom it serves."

Meanwhile, European Voice notes that the current caretaker Commission cannot take a decision to amend the EU budget to accommodate for the new expenditure created by the EAS. While the member states want the new service to be 'budget-neutral', requiring no additions to the EU budget, sections of the Commission's budget will have to be re-allocated to pay costs for the EAS's personnel and infrastructure. The new Commission is expected to vote on the EAS budget in February next year, with the Council of Ministers and MEPs expected to decide on the budget the following month.
Times Times: Leader Coulisses de Bruxelles Standaard Telegraaf

EU civil servants concerned that pay dispute could turn spotlight on generous pay and benefits
EU officials are warning that strikes are planned for Monday and Friday of next week if their pay demands are not met. 38,000 workers are due to benefit from a 3.7% increase despite opposition from member states, whose own public sector workers are seeing pay freezes. Open Europe's Sarah Gaskell is quoted in Polish daily Rzeczpospolita and Lorraine Mullally is quoted by The Parliament saying: "It is unbelievable that just as millions of public sector workers in the UK get their pay frozen, thousands of out of touch EU bureaucrats demand an inflation-busting payrise."

Euractiv notes that diplomats have indicated that some EU civil servants are concerned that the dispute could open a 'can of worms' if the spotlight is turned on their generous pay and benefits, including the permanent repatriation allowance paid to civil servants - even if they have been in Brussels for 30 years.
Rzeczpospolita The Parliament El Mundo ABC Euractiv Standard

Spanish EU Presidency wants to enter "Guinness book of summits"
On his Coulisses de Bruxelles blog, Jean Quatremer notes that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero will this evening look at Sweden's PM Fredrik Reinfeldt with envy as he chairs the EU summit, since as of next year, summits will be chaired by the EU President, Herman Van Rompuy, instead of by the head of state holding the EU's rotating presidency. According to Quatremer, Spain does not intend to make Van Rompuy's job easy - he has announced that he will sit by Van Rompuy's side during bilateral meetings between the EU and third countries, as well as during international summits. Quatremer says this "risks making the new institutions more difficult to understand", and quotes Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb complaining in an interview with AFP that "many people are still thinking in terms of the old Nice Treaty instead of Lisbon."

Meanwhile, Honor Mahony, Editor of EUobserver, writes on her blog that Spain's Secretary of State for EU Affairs, Diego Lopez Garrido, has said there will be up to ten summits during the country's EU Presidency, to begin on 1 January. He added, "We are going to enter the 'Guinness book of summits' with nine or ten summits. We will be a very, very external presidency".
EU Observer blog Coulisses de Bruxelles

French Agriculture Minister: We say loud and clear we are in favour of a strong CAP
Le Figaro reports on the meeting in Paris of 22 EU member states on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). EU agriculture ministers signed a statement saying: "We are convinced that agriculture is the central and crucial pillar of our society: food supplies, preserving natural resources and creating jobs". Countries in favour of reform of the CAP including the UK were not invited, however the Times reports that British diplomats insisted that Enviroment Secretary Hilary Benn received a last-minute invitation but was unable to attend and a British official went instead. DPA reports that the Swedish EU Presidency, who were not invited, criticised the meeting, saying "that's not how we work in this Union".

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said the meeting was necessary because: "We have started off on the wrong foot in the EU, we have reduced CAP spending by 30% to 40%, without determining what the aims of the reformed CAP are". However, he noted that there had been difficulties in reaching an agreement between the 22 countries.

In an interview with Le Monde, Le Maire said: "Giving up the CAP would be a major risk for Europeans...The meeting is about confirming in a loud and strong voice that we are in favour of a strong CAP". He added that while he was against outright abolition, he was open to discussions about reform: "This doesn't mean that France is against the evolution of the CAP. We are open to all discussions about reforming the CAP" adding, "As for the flaws in the CAP, we know them well".
Le Monde Le Monde 2 DPA

UK contributions to EU to rise by £1.2 billion next year
The Express reports on the news that the UK's Pre-Budget Report has revealed that contributions to the EU are set to rise £1.2 billion, from £4.8 billion this year to £6 billion next year. The article quotes Open Europe Director Mats Persson saying, "The increase could hardly come at a worse time. The EU budget represents exceptionally poor value for taxpayers' money. It is wasteful, irrational and hopelessly out of date."

Meanwhile, reporting on Britain's Pre-Budget report, German paper Der Spiegel contains a headline: "Britain shrinks to a mini-power", writing that the "public finances are disastrous".
Express Conservative Home Irish Independent Spiegel

An article in the New American magazine cites Open Europe's research on EU social, employment, and health and safety laws, which will cost the British economy more than £71 billion between 2010 and 2020.
New American Open Europe briefing

France to follow UK in taxing bankers' bonuses;
EU leaders could call for 'Tobin' tax on financial transactions
There is widespread coverage of the news that France is to follow Alistair Darling's decision to impose a one-off windfall tax on bankers' bonuses. Following a meeting between Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy before the European Council meeting in Brussels yesterday, a spokesman for Mr Brown described the leaders as "completely aligned" on the issue.

Germany has also expressed support for the idea, with Chancellor Angela Merkel calling it "very charming", but announced no immediate plans to follow suit, reports the Mail. City AM notes that Chancellor Merkel is thought to prefer a so-called 'Tobin tax' on global financial transactions.

The Mail reports that, following yesterday's meeting, Gordon Brown wrote an open letter, calling on other European leaders to back calls for a controversial 'Tobin tax' on financial transactions. The BBC reports that the draft Council conclusions urge the International Monetary Fund to consider implementing a global Tobin tax, and to look at a range of options to ensure that banks do not take excessive risks that could lead to another financial crisis. However, at a meeting of G20 finance ministers last month, IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn described a tax on financial transactions as "a very old idea that is not really possible today".
Mail WSJ City AM Times: Kaletsky Times IHT Irish Times Economist: Charlemagne notebook European Voice Le Monde El País BBC Independent EUobserver La Razón

Guardian: Any future Government must fight to ensure EU regulation on hedge funds and private equity does not undermine jobs
EurActiv argues that the draft European Council conclusions indicate that EU leaders are largely happy with draft laws regulating financial supervision, alternative investment funds (AIFM), capital requirements at banks, bonuses and derivatives. A leader in the Guardian argues, "Any future British government will have to fight hard to make sure that necessary EU regulation on private equity and hedge fund sectors - neither of which were the principal players in the banking crisis - does not further undermine British jobs. If EU regulation becomes a cover behind which France or Germany attempts to alter the scenery of financial services in Europe, and if the City becomes the EU's whipping boy, then all three countries will lose out."

Meanwhile, the FT reports that incoming Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier is trying to unpick what Gordon Brown called "a triple lock" on his ability to regulate the City by so far refusing to appoint a British financial expert to Barnier's Cabinet. He will have a British Director-General and spokeswoman. In an interview with the Independent, Barnier said: "My objective in Brussels is to ensure we learn those lessons and pull together to create a stronger European model - not a French or British model, but one which will be useful for all member states and others abroad."
EurActiv Guardian: Leader Independent FT Open Europe research

German Chancellor demands direct EU intervention in economic policies of indebted member states
Handelsblatt reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for direct EU intervention in the economic and social policies of highly indebted eurozone countries, referring to a "common responsibility" towards them. She reportedly indicated that pressure could be brought on the national parliaments of countries in budgetary difficulties, noting: "If, for example, there are problems with the Stability and Growth Pact in one country and it can only be solved by having social reforms carried out in this country, then of course the question arises, what influence does Europe have on national parliaments to see to it that Europe is not stopped." She added, "This is going to be a very difficult task because of course national parliaments certainly don't wish to be told what to do. We must be aware of such problems in the next few years."

However, FT Deutschland reports that Finland and Sweden are opposed to financial support for Greece. "The EU cannot help, that's part of our rules. They were established to let member states to take care themselves about their financial stability", Finnish Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen is quoted saying. Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt said that the Greek state debt was a "domestic problem".

Meanwhile, the FT reports that, following credit rating agency Standard & Poor's outlook for Spain being revised to "negative" from "stable", Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said that Spain would cut its budget deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2013, from a predicted 10 percent this year.
EUobserver Handelsblatt FFOE Blog: Hugh FTD FT 1 FT 2 WSJ Irish Independent FD Eurointelligence Times Reuters FTD Guardian AFP FT

EU states pledge climate cash for poorer countries
EU leaders continued to work through the night yesterday on an EU climate financing package as the "east-west split" of the climate change negotiations deepened.

At least 15 member states, including Ireland, Denmark, Britain and Sweden, have agreed to contribute to a fund to support developing countries in a bid to generate €6bn by 2012, to which the BBC reports that the UK and France have said they will each contribute at least £1.5bn spread over three years. However, the EU fund will be provided on a voluntary basis and poorer EU states will not be obliged to participate. PA reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy made clear at a late-night press conference that he was ready for the EU to move to unconditionally commit to a 30% cut in carbon emissions by 2020, as a sign of European leadership.
Irish Times BBC EUobserver European Voice EurActiv Independent El País 20minutos

The FT reports that, in his first big public speech since taking up his job, EU President Herman Van Rompuy yesterday called on EU governments to double their economic growth rates to ensure the survival of "Europe's way of life" - or social market economy.

Writing in the Express Frederick Forsyth argues that, if David Cameron were to authorise "a rigorously independent but huge 10,000-strong public opinion poll with one question: do you believe the British should have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty? And then add: if the yes percentage is over 60 I will have no choice but to grant the referendum...[it] would bring up to a million UKIP votes streaming back" to the Conservative Party.
Express: Forsyth

The Telegraph reports that Aga cookers are under threat from an EU fuel directive requiring the oil used for them to have a lower sulphur content, which burns at a higher temperature and clogs fuel supply lines, causing the cookers to go out.

The Economist reports that Turkey's membership bid to join the EU would be immensely boosted by a Cyprus settlement, which is hinged on current talks. It suggests that a deal would have to be done by February, if it were to be approved before crucial elections in Northern Cyprus.

In an article in El Mundo, it is reported that Austria, Belgium, France and Luxembourg are still not complying with EU Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications which came into force in 2007.
El Mundo

Conservative Home reports on the European Parliament alliance between Labour MEPs and far-right MEPs from the Slovak National Party. There is concern, because the leader of the Party, Ján Slota, is alleged to have has made racist comments about Hungarians and Gypsies and is an admirer of the ex Yugoslavian leader, Josef Tito.
Telegraph: Hannan blog Les Coulisses De Bruxelles

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