Thursday, January 14, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 14 January 2010


EU's new Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier: "No territory can go without relevant regulation"
French Internal Market Commissioner Designate Michel Barnier faced MEPs for a hearing in the European Parliament yesterday. With Barnier's brief including financial services, the FT notes that he was challenged by some British MEPs over whether he would take an "overly zealous regulatory approach that could damage prosperity in financial centres, such as the City of London."

Under the headline "Michel Barnier pleads with the European Parliament for more regulation", Le Monde quotes Barnier saying "We have to draw a line under the era of irresponsibility and put transparency, responsibility and morality back into the heart of the financial system." Le Figaro quotes him saying, "This crisis is so serious that we can't just pretend to reform.  We will reform." He added, "No market, no actor, no product and no territory can go without relevant regulation and efficient supervision."

Barnier tried to play down the Franco-British 'spat' over his appointment saying, "I'm not going to be taking orders from Paris or London or anywhere else. I can give you a cast-iron guarantee." He added, "I have a British director-general whose name I put forward myself - but he is not there as a Briton but as a Community official. These are people who are committed to defend the general European interest," according to PA.

UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom attacked EU over-regulation and warned against harming the City. Mr Barnier responded: "It is in the interest of the European financial sector and of the British financial sector to be regulated properly and effectively. We have to learn the lessons from the crisis and we will do so." The Telegraph reports, that in a letter to UK Conservative MEP Syed Kamall, Barnier wrote "I believe in a strong City at the heart of jobs and growth - for London, the UK and Europe as a whole."

When asked by Conservative MEP Vicky Ford whether he would consider redrafting the AIFM Directive, aimed at regulating the alternative investment sector, Barnier said that he would not withdraw the current text but would work on improving it. The WSJ quotes him saying, "Those who manage hedge funds shouldn't be afraid of this legislation. It's in their interests." He added a commitment to evaluate the impacts of all the legislative texts currently tabled under his portfolio. He also said he would move to regulate derivatives and wouldn't "shy away from [difficult topics such as] sanctions and short-selling."

Euractiv notes that Barnier pledged to bring down SME expenditure as a result of the EU's administrative burden by €7 billion.

When asked how financial institutions would "pay" for the recent crisis, Barnier said he favoured a tax on transactions. He added that he believed the revenue should be used to promote development and combat climate change in the developing world.

Meanwhile, on his FT blog, Tony Barber looks at the Commissioners' confirmation hearings, noting they bear no resemblance to those in the US. He writes, "The questions asked in the European Parliament's committees are far less probing, and the nominees are able to get away with answers that are at best platitudinous, at worst utterly incoherent." Barber concludes, "The European Parliament is obviously a work in progress, rather than the finished product, so one shouldn't carp too much.  But the hearings, combined with the fact that this legislature was elected last June on the lowest turnout since direct elections to the European Parliament started in 1979, do not convince me that what is going on here is the best possible expression of European democracy."
Guardian Telegraph FT IHT WSJ EUobserver EurActiv European Voice EP press release Reuters Independent Le Monde Le Figaro FT: Brussels blog Reuters Open Europe press release OE research: AIFM Directive

Social Affairs Commissioner says Commission will revisit EU working time rules
In his hearing with MEPs, incoming EU Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Laszlo Andor said that there was a "compelling case to revisit" the EU's Working Time Directive, negotiations on which collapsed last year over MEPs' attempts to remove the UK's opt-out from the 48 hour week. When asked about various member states' opt-outs from the Directive, he said that "The opt-out itself is not an abuse. I think the opt-out is a reflection of different realities in different member states and we have to take that into consideration when the discussion next comes up."

However, he also said that "Since we have economic and monetary union, I think that opt-outs are, in general terms, never the best solution. We always have to think first about what rules can be or in principle could be applied in every country."

European Voice notes that Andor conceded that there was a "fundamental problem" with the interpretation of the directive on the posting of workers - the subject of last year's strikes over foreign labour at the Lindsey oil refinery. He promised to undertake a thorough impact assessment before revising either directive - but he also stressed that existing directives should be transposed into national law and properly implemented.
European Voice OE blog OE research: Working Time Directive OE research: Posted Workers Directive

MEPs threaten to block vote on new Commission
DPA reports that MEPs have threatened to block the overall approval of the new European Commission in a vote on 26 January, if Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso fails to provide clarity on the question of whether Bulgarian Commissioner designate Rumiana Jeleva has hidden private business interests. EUobserver reports that she was accused of lying about her financial interests during European Parliament hearings on Tuesday.

The article adds that the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) has strongly defended Ms Jeleva, a former MEP of the group. The EPP has launched a "counter-attack" on the Socialist Commissioner designate Maros Sefcovic, who is alleged to have said that ethnic Roma were "exploiters of the Slovak welfare system" in 2005. The Economist's Charlemagne blog notes that "EPP types let it be known that if Mrs Jeleva was for the high jump, they would require a Socialist nominee to be taken out, for balance".

Centre-right MEPs are also reportedly threatening to delay the vote on the Commission if a six-point list of demands is not met. It notes that EPP MEPs have said they want Barroso to commit to certain promises regarding the Parliament and Commission's 'inter-institutional agreement' - a five-year plan governing relations between the two bodies. Among the most controversial concessions they are looking for are hearings on some of the special envoys and ambassadors appointed by EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton to the EU's External Action Service. Member states, and Catherine Ashton at her Monday hearing, strongly opposed this idea. MEPs are also calling to be actively involved in negotiations on international agreements, rather than just being asked for approval, and for the Commission to be obliged to come forward with a proposal within a year, following a legislative initiative report by the Parliament.
EUobserver EUobserver 2 EurActiv BBC European Voice European Voice 2 DPA RP DPA FTD Spiegel Welt Leader Stern FT Economist Charlemagne Blog Le Figaro Sueddeutsche BBC

Spain calls for single EU voice in UN
Diego López Garrido, Spanish Europe Minister, announced yesterday: "the central objective [is] to make the EU a powerful global actor in the world, with a single voice on political and economic issues, in the international forums, in the United Nations and in the G20." ABC reports that Lopez "considers it necessary to create common spaces of interest, like the area of justice, so that a citizen feels that if they go to another country, their civil rights will go with them."

Meanwhile, at a meeting with the European Round Table of Industrialists, Spanish PM Jose Luis Zapatero guaranteed leaders that a central objective of the Spanish Presidency for the industrial sector will be to put into action a common strategy to develop an electric car, reports El Pais.
El País La Razón ABC EFE AFP Open Europe briefing: Spanish EU Presidency

EU auditors criticise Commission for insufficient monitoring of development assistance projects
A report published on Tuesday by the European Court of Auditors accuses the United Nations of obstructing investigations, and criticises the European Commission for insufficient monitoring, in regards to aid and development projects. The report "expressed concern at the lack of transparency and visibility concerning Commission funding through the UN and has requested assurance on the adequacy of the management of these funds". In 2008 more than €1 billion was channelled through such funding, not including programme funding and mandatory contributions by individual member states. European Voice reports that, when asked if "the UN is the most efficient and the most effective way of spending money", ECA member Karel answered "no".
European Voice EUBusiness European Court of Auditors Report ECA Press Release

European Commission financial aid to Turkey criticised for lack of direction
The Court of Auditors has criticised pre-accession financial assistance to Turkey, writing: "On the evidence of its audit, the Court concludes that there was insufficient direction and a lack of specific criteria to determine the priorities to which the EU assistance should be allocated."
ABC Volkskrant ECA Press Release European Court of Auditors Report Handelsblatt

Dutch citizens are highest net contributors to EU
Het Financieele Dagblad reports that Dutch MEP Daniël van der Stoep has revealed that Dutch citizens were the highest net contributors to the EU in 2008, contributing €266.70 per head. They are followed by citizens from Sweden, who each paid €194, Denmark who each paid €135 and Germany who each paid €133.
FD Elsevier Dutch News

Le Temps notes that the Swiss financial services authority is worried that Swiss alternative investment firms will be penalised when making transactions with EU countries under the EU's proposed AIFM directive.
Le Temps Open Europe research

The Irish Times reports that Maire Geoghegan-Quinn was "unshakeable in her self-confidence yesterday as she presented an ambitious work programme to MEPs for her term as incoming EU innovation and research Commissioner, a portfolio that commands a multi-year budget of more than €50 billion."
Irish Independent Irish Times EP press release

The IHT looks to Commissioner Designate for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes' hearing with MEPs today, noting that she will be questioned on issues of copyright protection, expanding the availability of broadband, the use of EU broadcast spectrum for the mobile Internet and price limits on voice and data roaming charges for mobile phones.

Paris puts pressure on Renault's Turkey move
The WSJ reports that the French government "went on the offensive" yesterday over fears that Renault may choose to manufacture its new Clio car in lower-cost Turkey. Following a meeting with Renault's Chief Operating Officer, French Industry Minister Christian Estrosi is quoted in the FT saying it was "the will of the state that should be respected in Renault's future choices". The paper also reports that concerns may over whether "Paris is intent on favouring French plants over the trading bloc, putting it in potential breach of the single market rules."

CDS swaps on Greek debt see biggest ever one day rise
The WSJ reports that the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has said there is "no chance" that Greece would exit the euro zone, as the country's reform plans came under renewed criticism from the European Central Bank. The ECB warned Greece that a proposed law to restructure private-sector debt could do more harm than good, saying bluntly that key parts of the law were "not consistent with the principle of an open market economy" and might squeeze off the flow of credit.

Credit default swaps on Greek debt rose 49 base points to 328 yesterday, the biggest one day rise ever, after credit rating agency Moody's warned that the Greek economy faces a "slow death" from deteriorating finances, Bloomberg reports.

Writing in the Spectator Matthew Lynn argues: "The Greeks don't deserve a bailout. They fiddled their way into a currency union for which their economy was unready. Once they'd wrangled their way into the club, they ran up a massive tab at the bar without any way of paying for it...The only way to save the euro might be to let Greece go bankrupt - the sooner the better."

Meanwhile, Brendan Keenan writes in the Irish Independent that, ten years on from its introduction, it is time to discuss the implications of the euro for Ireland. He argues, "The unpalatable fact is that membership of the euro was the mechanism for our extraordinary bubble, and made the inevitable burst even more damaging...Could better policies -- devised specifically for euro membership -- have averted catastrophe? Until we have decided the answer to that, we cannot make rational decisions about the country's long-term strategy."
Spectator WSJ WSJ: Editorial BBC FTD Bloomberg Irish Independent: Keenan

ECR group calls for return of €6bn in antitrust fines to member states
A press release from the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament states that the European Commission is currently holding €6bn in antitrust fines that it has collected from companies including Intel and Microsoft. In his European Parliament hearing, EU Economic Commissioner Designate Joaquin Almunia said the monies would be held as part of the EU budget, but Conservative MEP Ashley Fox argues the money should be returned to member states, noting that if the UK was to receive a share of around 10%, it would amount to around £500m.
No link

New EU guidelines require Berlin officials to carry out terror checks
Following new Commission guidelines, government officials in Berlin now have to carry out terrorist checks on anyone applying for a local government position. The Berliner Morgenpost writes that experts have expressed doubts over the mandatory checks, which are carried out by referencing "a terror file that officials are able to access from an EU website".
Berliner Morgenpost  Die Welt

Writing on the Guardian's Comment is Free website, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt argues that "To be a model for the future, Europe's governments and peoples must remain committed to an open Europe in an open world... that means continuing to honour Article 49 of the treaty of Rome, which keeps the door to membership open to any European country willing and able to share the EU's values, interests, and policies."
Guardian: Bildt 

A leader in the FT argues, "Brussels is rightly committed to ensure Zagreb deals with its [corruption] demons before accession rather than afterwards...If this means Croatia must wait beyond its planned 2012 entry date, so be it. History shows Brussels has real leverage over national capitals only before accession."
FT: Leader

Writing on Conservative Home, Roger Helmer MEP argues that in practice, despite what its proponents say, the Lisbon Treaty does not offer national parliaments the chance for greater scrutiny of EU legislation.
Conservative Home: Helmer

In an interview with the New Statesman Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, when asked what benefits EU membership would bring, answered: "We would gain a voice within EU institutions, prices of certain consumer goods should fall, and the EU's regional policy would be beneficial to the remote regions of Iceland. Membership would allow for adoption of the euro, which would reduce the cost we pay to maintain the world's smallest currency."
No link

An article in the Times education supplement notes that British lecturers in Italian universities battling to end "30 years of discrimination" over pay and jobs, despite a series of ECJ rulings in their favour, have won support from Europe Minister Chris Bryant, and the Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The BBC reports that the European Commission has pledged €3m in fast-track funding for Haiti in the wake of Wednesday's earthquake.
ABC Europa Press RTVE BBC Le Soir

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