Catherine Ashton accused of surrendering member states' control of EU foreign policy and allowing the Commission to "empire build"
There is widespread coverage of EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton's confirmation hearing in front of the European Parliament yesterday, with the Telegraph reporting that MEPs and diplomats have warned that Baroness Ashton's political inexperience has allowed the European Commission to seize control of Europe's foreign policy from national governments.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Foreign Minister is charged with establishing the European External Action Service (EEAS) to carry out EU foreign policy. Although the EEAS will be made up of officials from member states and the European Commission, final policy decisions are a matter for national governments. However, the article notes that, since her appointment, Lady Ashton has been criticised for failing to assert her own authority, for basing her office in the Commission's headquarters and for using Commission officials as her key advisers. In addition, many larger EU member states, including Britain and Germany, are concerned that José Manuel Barroso, the Commission President, is plotting to keep national diplomats out of senior European diplomatic corps jobs.
Geoffrey Van Orden, a Conservative MEP on the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "Her whole thrust is in the direction of the Commission. Her office is in the Commission. It is providing the resources. Her power base is there. I would say to national governments - beware your foreign policy is at risk."
An unnamed diplomat is quoted saying, "Ashton is not a strong figure politically and her weakness is allowing the commission to empire build - which was not the idea behind her post."
The Mail reports that when asked what she thought of calls for the EU to replace the UK and France in the United Nations Security Council, she replied: "I don't know." The issue had "not even crossed over into my thinking," she said, adding: "You've caught me out."
The Economist's Charlemagne blog notes that, "She secured her post in a political stitch-up...the European socialists are so excited about securing the foreign policy post of High Representative that they were never going to give her a hard time. And the other big groups knew that if they messed with Lady Ashton, the whole cross-party stitch-up might come unstuck. So she was safe as houses, before we even began."
The Independent quotes German Christian Democrat MEP Elmar Brok saying, "There's certainly no enthusiasm about her though we can probably find a way of working with her. She clearly still has a lot of learning to do; there are many gaping holes that will have to be filled very quickly." The Guardian notes that one MEP told Ashton that the Parliament did not want her to be "an ambassador for 27 foreign ministers. What are your criteria? What are your ambitions? That's what we're still waiting for."
Le Figaro suggests that EU member states may be unwilling to give Baroness Ashton "any room to manoeuvre" in foreign policy, adding: "Europe has put a female face to its diplomacy, and now all that is left to do is to stop her from carrying out any foreign policy".
FT Telegraph Irish Times IHT Economist: Charlemagne notebook The Parliament BBC BBC: Hewitt blog EUobserver EurActiv EUobserver blogs European Voice Times Mail Guardian Independent El Pais La Razon El Mundo Euronews La Stampa EP press release Aston's hearing: video Le Figaro
50% of nurses say EU's Working Time Directive puts patients in danger
A survey of nurses carried out by the Nursing Times on the impact of the EU's Working Time Directive has revealed that nurses are being required to take on greater responsibilities as a result of the Directive's restrictions on junior doctors' hours. The WTD restricted junior doctors' hours to 48 hours a week from 1 August last year.
Half of the nurses surveyed said patients were being put in danger due to the Directive, compared with 39 percent who said they were not. 71 percent said the additional work had left them with less time to carry out basic nursing duties, while 70 percent said it had led to gaps in medical cover. Nearly two thirds (64 percent) said it had led to greater pressure and expectations on nurses to make clinical decisions. A third (34 percent) of nurses said they had not had sufficient training for tasks they were carrying out as a result of the Directive, while 41 percent said they were uncomfortable with the level of responsibility they had taken on.
Meanwhile, the Irish Medical News reports that the Irish Health and Safety Executive has received support from other member states at a recent European hospital association meeting, to raise concerns about the implications of an ECJ ruling in January 2009, and seek further clarification from the Commission in relation to the difficulties of implementing the judgment. The ruling said that employees on long-term sick leave are entitled to annual leave they have been unable to take, basing its decision on a clause in the WTD.
Nursing Times Irish Medical News OE press summary OE research OE blog
EU workers travel to UK in bid to boost pension payments
The front page of the Express reports that thousands of EU workers are coming to Britain as "national insurance tourists" to gain access to pensions and other benefits. Polish-owned companies with UK offices are reportedly encouraging self-employed people who live and work in Poland to switch their NI payments to Britain. To do so, they have to visit London for one day, obtain a NI number at a job centre and open a UK bank account. A basic state pension in the UK is £412.75 a month, compared with £130 in Poland.
Polish workers can legitimately claim to be employed by the UK-based company, performing five hours "consultancy" work per month, which can be done remotely. The UK-registered firm, which is paid up to £100 a month by each "tourist", issues them with payslips and pays their British NI, often as little as £10 per month. The article further reports that the Polish Parliament is so concerned by the drop in contributions that Polish Labour Minister Jolanta Fedak has asked for Britain's help. It is estimated as many as 5,000 self-employed Poles have taken advantage of such schemes in the past 12 months.
Express Express: Leader
Incoming EU Economic Commissioner comes out in favour of single EU representative for G20
Speaking at his European Parliament confirmation hearing, incoming Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said he was in favour of the creation of a single EU representative to participate in international economic fora like the G20, reports EurActiv. Rehn said he would be issuing a recommendation for a single representative in the coming months. One MEP referred to it as a "high rep for economic affairs". The article notes that the idea has been "floating around" for some time, but France and Germany are opposed to the notion. Rehn also urged MEPs to approve the European Systemic Risk board (ESRB) and the three European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) as soon as possible so they can become operational before the autumn of 2010.
Mr Rehn also said he would revisit the idea of eurobonds and other forms of project financing in the context of the powers of the European Investment Bank, adding: "I said I would be willing to look at this with an open mind and with a fresh look."
Irish Times EUobserver EurActiv European Voice
EU Budget Commissioner nominee in favour of EU tax
The front page of the FAZ reports that "a designated EU Commissioner is in favour of an EU tax", noting that the Polish nominee for EU Budget Commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski, is in favour of the EU raising revenue in the form of a tax or income from the auction of EU carbon emissions rights. EUobserver quotes him saying that "Europe is probably not ready yet for a European tax. It could prove detrimental for our links with the citizens." He added: "If we introduce this, it has to be in line with simplicity, fiscal neutrality and the cost of collecting. There are different ways of taxing with an aim of increasing own resources. I am not against the idea."
FAZ EUobserver European Voice EP Lewandowsk hearing summary Euractiv
Dutch pension funds warn that AIFM Directive could cost €1.5bn a year
Global Pensions magazine reports that Dutch pension funds and investors have said that the implementation of the EU's Alternative Investment Fund Managers (AIFM) Directive in its current form could result in an annual loss of around €1.5bn for Dutch pension funds. In a letter to the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, a group of the country's major pension funds and asset managers said the proposal could "lead to a switch in investment of all positions in alternative non-UCITS non-EU assets to more traditional asset classes like equities and fixed income". They also suggested some amendments for the Directive, including "a clear exemption for dedicated pension fund asset managers/service administration companies or for pension fund asset pooling".
Global Pensions Open Europe research
French PM urges delay in decision on 'ghost MEPs'
The Coulisses De Bruxelles blog reports on the 'ghost' MEPs created by the Lisbon Treaty, which allocates two additional MEPs for France who will only have the right to observe the European Parliament, and not take part in votes until 2012. Prime Minister François Fillon said last year that one MEP should be selected from the ruling UMP party, and one from the opposition. However, Fillon yesterday wrote to Bernard Accoyer, the French Assembly President, to ask for a delay, as a legal process needs to be worked through at European-level before the MEPs can be seated, and there are indications that another method may be used for the selection, following heavy criticism.
Les Coulisses De Bruxelles Liberation
Under German pressure, Spain backtracks on proposed EU sanctions for bad economic behaviour
The FT reports that the Spanish EU Presidency has backed away from controversial proposals it announced only four days ago for rigorously enforcing joint economic policies in the EU. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain's Prime Minister, announced last week that the EU should consider applying "corrective measures" against countries that failed to meet their obligations under a proposed 10-year plan to improve the EU's competitiveness - the so-called "EU-2020 Strategy".
The article notes that the Spanish EU Presidency has signalled a retreat from the proposal, following criticism from Rainer Brüderle, the German Economy Minister, and comments from EU President Herman Van Rompuy that the proposals were "very ambitious". El Pais quotes Spanish Deputy Prime Minister, Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, saying yesterday that "we [the Spanish Government] have never spoken of sanctions against unfulfilling countries."
FAZ comments: "Such a proposal can probably only come from a country whose citizens consider 'intervention' from Brussels not as a nuisance, but as a blessing." Meanwhile, a leader in FTDeutschland notes: "Spain believes in 'more Europe'. Whether that's the case for Germany as well one cannot be so sure any more."
DPA El Pais FT EurActiv Eurointelligence El Pais El Mundo Expansion ABC FTD Leader FAZ Leader
On his New York Times blog Paul Krugman asks "Was the euro a mistake? There were benefits -- but the costs are proving much higher than the optimists claimed. On balance, I still consider it the wrong move, but in a way that's irrelevant: it happened, it's not reversible, so Europe now has to find a way to make it work."
Academics warn that tobacco lobby is hampering EU health laws
A study published today by the Public Library of Science Medicine, states that "BAT (British American Tobacco) and its corporate allies have fundamentally altered the way in which all EU policy is made," according to an article in the Guardian. The study says that this "increases the likelihood that the EU will produce policies that advance the interests of major corporations".
Three Britons charged over €3m carbon-trading 'carousel fraud'
Belgian prosecutors warned of the "massive losses faced by EU governments from VAT fraud" after 3 Britons and a Dutchman were charged for their involvement in a multi-million pound scam involving EU carbon emission permits. EU authorities believe the "EU has lost at least €5bn to carbon-trading VAT fraud in the last 18 months".
The FT reports that the IMF has announced that it will send a technical mission to Greece later this week to advise the government on tax reform and budgetary controls, although it will have no role in vetting Greece's fiscal consolidation plan.
FT Irish Independent
The WSJ reports that Bulgaria is expected to be the only EU member state to balance its budget in 2010, with a deficit of 0.8% GDP, and suggests that "in the race to the Euro, Bulgaria could outpace Poland".
Dutch daily De Tijd notes that EU finance ministers will be gathering on 19 January in order to enlarge the scope of the EU Savings Directive, which makes it possible to tax savings of EU citizens in other member states, and to limit the use of banking secrecy when a request for information is made by foreign fiscal authorities.
Tijd 6 minutes
An ECB legal working paper looks at the possibilities of member states leaving the Euro and notes: "Dissatisfaction with the single monetary policy could start to grow in the peripherals by the end of next year, making the prospect of exiting monetary [union] more tempting."
FT Alphaville ME Synon Blog ECB Working Paper
EUobserver reports that Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has sent a letter to MEPs, telling them that any accusations against the Bulgarian EU Commissioner-nominee Rumiana Jeleva must be backed up by proof. Some press allegations have suggested that her husband has connections with organised crime.
Writing in the FT, Tony Barber notes that EU President Herman Van Rompuy has been "keeping himself as visible and busy as possible" in his first week on the job, and argues that his "honesty" about the need to increase economic growth to maintain the European social model may suggest he is up to the job of President after all.
The nominee to be the EU's Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, has told MEPs that he would name and shame any countries that use the economic crisis as an excuse to renege on pledges of aid to the developing world.
The Telegraph reports that Europe Minister Chris Bryant let slip yesterday that the General Election will be held on 6 May, although a Foreign Office spokesman said that the Minister did not actually know when the election would be called.
Labour's support has dropped to its lowest level since September, following last week's failed coup, a new Populus poll for the Times has found. Labour has lost ground, falling to 28%, while the Conservatives have increased their lead by 3 points to 41%.
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