Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 16 December 2009


MEPs warn governments against blocking controversial 3.7% pay increase for all EU officials;
Final decision will be made by EU judges who themselves benefit from pay rise
The Telegraph looks at the controversy over the 3.7% pay rise for EU officials and MEPs. The article notes that "Eurocrats, including MEPs and their staff, will get the pay rise despite negative or near zero rates of inflation across Europe, soaring unemployment, falling wages and austerity measures in most national public sectors." The British Government, along with those in Germany and Poland, is trying to block the deal which is seen as unacceptable in the current economic climate. However, an internal European Parliament document, seen by the Telegraph, has warned national governments that they have no legal power to block the wage rise.

The document states, "The Council has no leeway to determine itself how European civil service remuneration should be adjusted since it is required to apply the law...Dealing [with] these complaints and legal action would force administrations to draw on scarce resources which can be better used on implementation of the Lisbon Treaty."

The Telegraph quotes Open Europe's Mats Persson saying, "During the worst recession for generations, EU institutions are expecting a substantial pay increase for already well-paid MEPs and bureaucrats. In contrast, many member states are proposing pay freezes for public sector workers such as doctors and nurses in order to cope with massive public deficits."

Die Presse reports that Austrian MEPs have tried to distance themselves from the payrise, with MEP Richard Seebr saying: "average people are no longer able to follow". SPÖ MEP Jörg Leichtfried called for a "moderate" increase in salaries, which was comparable to Austria, adding that both the date and amount of the increase were "completely incomprehensible for EU citizens." The Coulisses de Bruxelles blog reports that French Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit said yesterday, "there is no justification for further increasing €16,000-per-month salaries at this moment".

EU ambassadors will meet today to discuss the pay deal amid concerns that refusing to sign off the rise will be defeated by European judges, themselves beneficiaries of the wage increase. According to some sources, the only option may be to phase the increase in over two years, by using a "crisis levy" to shave 1.7 percent off the rise until 2011. The Parliament reports that European Parliament staff yesterday staged a 30-minute protest in Strasbourg for the 3.7% pay rise. The incident followed a four-hour walk-out by employees at the European Council headquarters in Brussels on Monday. Meanwhile, average pay rises in Britain have fallen to one percent, the lowest increase on record.

Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally is quoted by The Parliament saying, "EU bureaucrats in Brussels are living on another planet. Why should they get an inflation-busting pay rise while back in the real world public sector workers face pay cuts? EU officials are already very well paid. In the middle of a recession, the last thing taxpayers need is EU bureaucrats demanding bigger salaries. How out of touch can you get?"
Telegraph The Parliament Irish Times The Parliament 2 Die Presse Les Coulisses de Bruxelles El Mundo OE blog

Parliamentary Ombudsman blasts Government agency over maladministration of EU grants
PA reports that the Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham has urged the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) to apologise and pay compensation to farmers, after finding that they had suffered injustice as a result of its maladministration of EU grants under the Single Payment Scheme. PA quotes Ms Abraham saying: "These failures of the 2005 Single Payment Scheme took a direct personal and financial toll on the two farmers whose complaints I have investigated. My report shows that the RPA was unable to keep its timetable for handling the digital mapping of land or for making payments to farmers."

The Ombudsman's finding comes as a new report on the administration of the Single Farm Payment from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) describes the oversight of the £1.6 billion-a-year scheme in England as "a singular example of comprehensively poor administration on a grand scale". The report blamed "poor leadership" in the RPA and "complacent oversight" from Defra.

The National Audit Office found that claims cost an average of £1,743 to process in England, six times the £285 level in Scotland. The PAC described the cost of administration as "unacceptably high" and dismissed Defra's own estimate of £700 for the cost of each claim as an unconvincing "smokescreen".
Today programme Public Accounts Committee report OE blog

Fishermen to be given quota "bonus" if they allow CCTV on boats
The Times reports that, as part of a deal struck last night over the annual allocation of fishing quotas under the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, fishermen are to be offered extra catches next year if they agree to fit "big brother" closed-circuit television cameras on to their boats to monitor conservation measures. All fleets face reductions in catch quotas next year, but those accepting cameras -- three per vessel -- can add 5 percent to their quota share.
Times EUobserver Irish Times

MEPs' assistants face intrusive new vetting procedure
Die Welt reports on new procedures for vetting candidates wanting to be MEPs' assistants. A dossier is compiled on each candidate through a compulsory investigation, in which the candidates must answer intimate questions. It reports that there are particularly intrusive questions for women, regarding their menstruation cycle.

There are about 1,500 positions for MEPs' assistants and the 'standard compulsory investigation' can take several months to complete, and applies to all candidates, even those who are only seeking a one year contract. Candidates are asked whether they have ever seen a psychiatrist and if they have, they must give the reason for the visit as well as the psychiatrist's name and contact details. Cornelia Ernst, an MEP from the German party Die Linke, said the investigation was: "neither necessary nor justifiable", warning that it "opens the door for discrimination".
Die Welt

EPP leader Joseph Daul: It's good to become an MEP and "work at the ground level"
There is continued coverage of French MEP, and ex-Justice Minister, Rachida Dati's complaints over her new job as an MEP. She was overhead saying, "I can't stand this. I really can't stand this. I think there's going to be bloodshed before the end of my term". She added, "I'm forced to stay here messing around because there's media with me and there's the re-election of [Commission President] Barroso...The thing is, when you're in Strasbourg they can see if you vote or not. If not, it means you weren't there." EPP leader Joseph Daul said: "It is a good thing that from time to time, and especially at her age, one can become an MEP and re-learn humility and work at the ground level."
Times Telegraph EUobserver Welt FAZ France Soir Guardian

Incoming Commissioners to face grilling on EU-wide taxes and EU bonds
EUobserver reports that groupings in the European Parliament yesterday called for transparency and information about the nominees for EU Commissioners, ahead of the hearings to begin on 11 January, with the Bulgarian nominee emerging as the most controversial. EurActiv reports that Rumiana Jeleva, Commissioner-designate for Humanitarian Aid, has come under scrutiny from Bulgarian media as her husband Krassimir Jelev is branch manager of the Central Cooperative Bank, reportedly part of the secretive 'TIM' business group, believed to be linked to 'shady' Russian funds.

Meanwhile, ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt tabled a 30-page long document which includes guidelines for each Commissioner-candidate to successfully come through the hearings, saying: "They have to know in advance what the priorities are for the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats (ALDE)". The guidelines reportedly focus on economic recovery, the introduction of EU taxes and the creation of EU bonds.
EUobserver EurActiv

Van Rompuy to chair EU meetings and bilateral summits during Spanish EU Presidency
El Pais, El Mundo and Standaard report on Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero's meeting with EU President Herman Van Rompuy yesterday. The meeting comes amid reported disagreements between the two 'Presidents': Spain will take over the EU Presidency on 1 January. Yesterday, Zapatero clarified that Spain would be in "loyal service" from 1 January and that "the Spanish Presidency will work fully coordinating and uniting efforts with the President of the European Council...[Van Rompuy] has at his service the rotating presidency, all of our organisational capabilities and previous experience to push ahead with the leadership role."

El Pais reports that "according to Spanish government sources, Van Rompuy will preside over all meetings of heads of state and government, during the Spanish presidency. This is to say, not only the European Council meetings held in Brussels (ordinary sessions in March and June, special session in February), but also at many of the bilateral summits planned to take place in Spain (with Latin America, Central America, Mercosur, the Caribbean, the Andean Community, Morocco, Mexico, Chile and the United States)." The article remarks that "Zapatero will sit at his [Van Rompuy's] right hand side." A total of fourteen summits will occur during the Spanish Presidency term, however they have yet to announce who will be attending many of these, with EU representation at the G20 unknown, and an indication from Zapatero that Van Rompuy is currently not interested in attending the Japanese and Russian summits.
La Moncloa El Pais El Mundo Standaard El Pais 2

German Constitutional Court to rule on implementation of EU Data Retention Directive

AFP reports that the German Federal Government is being forced to defend the EU's controversial Data Retention Directive before the country's Constitutional Court. The German government has argued that the Directive, which requires service providers to store all phone and Internet connections, is necessary for the prosecution of criminal offenses. However, FDP politician Burkhard Hirsch, described the law as a "fundamental breach of the right to communicate without surveillance, as long as one is not under concrete suspicion". The Court's verdict is expected in the spring. In the UK, the Directive was passed without debate in Parliament.
AFP Open Europe research

US refuses to budge on emissions targets;
Brown to pledge more money to developing nations in hope of deal
The Times reports that Gordon Brown last night raised the possibility of the Copenhagen summit failing to reach a deal as the US said that it would not improve its offer on cutting emissions. The FT notes that Todd Stern, the chief US negotiator, has ruled out any increase in the US target of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. "I do not think there's going to be any change in that commitment," he said.

President Obama is expected to make a significant financial commitment to a global climate protection fund when he joins the conference on Friday rather than improve on his provisional offer of cutting emissions. Brown has already committed the UK to providing £1.5bn to the EU's climate change fund to help developing countries combat climate change, making the UK the biggest contributor. However, the Mail and the Telegraph note that he is preparing to offer to make another payment into a $100bn international fund in a "final push" to reach a global agreement.

The FT notes that the US and China continue to be the key players in any deal. The article quotes Andreas Carlgren, Environment Minister of Sweden, holder of the rotating EU Presidency, admitting the negotiations were proving "frustrating". However, Carlgren stressed the EU would not unilaterally offer to cut its emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, rather than the 20 per cent cut already promised, to kick-start the talks.

Meanwhile, Reuters notes that EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has warned that trade in controversial carbon rights under the Kyoto Protocol after 2012 could undermine any emissions targets agreed in Copenhagen. Under the Kyoto treaty, which expires in 2012, nations that are comfortably below their greenhouse gas emissions targets can sell the difference in the form of rights called Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) to countries struggling to meet their own targets. "If we have this amount of AAUs (post-2012), no matter how ambitious we are in Copenhagen, it will not be enough because of this hot air," Dimas said. Seven eastern European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, have called for AAUs to be bankable for use post-2012.

The FT reports that almost 30 percent of projects initiated under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) have failed to come to fruition. These projects are meant to give rise to CDM credits, each representing a tonne of carbon reduced, that richer nations can buy in order to offset against their own emissions. A PointCarbon analyst said that one of the reasons for the failure was "the fact that some projects have not been able to demonstrate emission reductions appropriately."
FT FT 2 Times Telegraph EUobserver EurActiv IHTMail Irish Independent Spectator: Coffee House blog FT 3 Reuters Express Open Europe blog Irish Times

Banana prices could fall by 12% following end to EU-Latin America trade dispute
The EU yesterday reached an agreement on banana import tariffs with Latin American countries, ending the world's longest running trade dispute. The price of bananas could fall by 12%, with duty on imports cut from €176 per tonne to €148, as a result of the agreement, the BBC reports. Under the deal further cuts will be made annually, bringing the tariff down to €114 per tonne over the next seven years. In return, the Latin American bloc will drop its case against the EU at the WTO, and the US has also agreed to settle a related dispute with the EU.
EUobserver EurActiv European Voice BBC BBC 2 Irish TimesEl Mundo El Pais

Greece faces strikes over austerity measures to regain control of deficit
The FT reports that Greek trade unions have vowed to go ahead with a 24-hour strike tomorrow, further undermining the Prime Minister's efforts to push through reforms to calm market fears of a sovereign default. Measures announced on Monday - including a freeze on monthly salaries above €2,000 and a 10 percent cut in allowances - have incensed public sector trade unions, although lower-paid workers will receive above-inflation increases next year. The FT argues that "with Greece's budget deficit at record levels and the country's banks exposed to troubles both at home and abroad, doomsayers are predicting that Greek banks will go the way of Iceland's."

Meanwhile, Reuters quotes Norbert Barthle, senior budgetary spokesman from Angela Merkel's party, saying that Greece is "just the tip of the iceberg", pointing to Italy, Spain, Ireland, Latvia and Hungary as other EU countries with economic problems. He added, "It's not the job of the EU to rescue bankrupt states".

El Pais reports that EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso yesterday ruled out the possibility of creating a joint Eurozone bond market. He is quoted saying: "It does not seem to me very appropriate to think of such a measure with regard to specific situations, because it could convey a wrong idea".
Reuters Bloomberg Sun El Pais Le Monde: Ugeux WSJ Irish Times Open Europe blog FT FT 2 FT 3 AP El Pais El Pais 2

Economist blog: Catherine Ashton unlikely to be able to influence British opinion on EU security policy
The Economist's Charlemagne notebook looks at the EU's new Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton and argues that one of the reasons for her appointment was the impression that a Brit might be able to encourage further British participation in European security and defence policy. The blog asks, "Will she be able to influence opinion in Parliament, or on the British airwaves? The blunt truth is that Lady Ashton is not a well-known figure in Britain, her native country...She was never elected to the House of Commons, and her government experience at home did not include any posts at the Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence. In short, she does not have much of a constituency back in London...if anyone thought appointing a British High Rep was a quick and easy solution to one headache: how to convince the British to become more involved in ESDP, they may find they were being naïve."

Meanwhile, Cathy Ashton will travel to the Middle East next year to attempt to revive peace talks. EUobserver reports that her first speech on the Middle East in Strasbourg yesterday had a "cooler tone" towards Israel than last week's statement from EU ministers.
Irish Times EUobserver Economist: Charlemagne notebook

The Mail reports that RBS Chief Executive Stephen Hester has said the combined impact of the restructuring imposed by the EU and UK Government decision on bonuses has reduced the value of the bank by 40 percent.
Mail Mail 2 Guardian

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