Thursday, January 21, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 21 January 2010

EU to give 54 of its delegations embassy status
EUobserver reports that 54 of the European Commission's 136 foreign delegations have been turned into "super-delegations" under new EU powers brought in by the Lisbon Treaty. The article notes that the super-delegations have taken on the role previously carried out by the national embassies and will have a mandate to carry out consular work and to act and speak on behalf of the whole EU. An EU official is quoted in the article saying that the EU embassies "are going to be a bit more political" than their predecessors.
The choice of the 54 delegations that were chosen was designed not to undermine the prestige of the Spanish EU Presidency. None of the new placements are in former Spanish colonies in Latin America or in countries due to hold EU summits on Spain's watch, such as the US and Russia. There is no deadline for the conversion of the rest. 33 of the new embassies will be opened in Africa.
The Lisbon Treaty allows the EU to determine rules on diplomatic and consular protection by qualified majority vote, meaning that any one member state can be outvoted when the Council of Ministers decide which position the new EU embassies should take on a diplomatic matter. 
EUobserver OE guide to the Lisbon Treaty
EU considers loan to Greece to avoid seeking IMF help for eurozone;
Commission wants greater auditing powers over national governments
European Voice reports that EU officials are exploring the possibility of providing a heavily-conditioned loan to Greece instead of seeing it turn to the International Monetary Fund in order to avoid the stigma of a eurozone country seeking IMF assistance. The EU has a European Commission-administered programme for €50 billion of emergency assistance to member states with balance of payments problems, which has been used in the past year to help Hungary, Latvia and Romania. But the programme is designed specifically for non-eurozone countries and has previously been deployed alongside support from the IMF. Bloomberg notes that Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou has denied the reports.
EUobserver reports that, following Greece's public finance problems and concerns over its government's statistics, the European Commission has indicated it will seek new audit powers over national government accounts. Outgoing EU Economy Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the Commission will propose "a new regulation in order to obtain powers, which we've already requested, to give Eurostat the possibility of carrying out audits." The Commission made a similar request in 2005 but was rebuffed by member states, who were reluctant to hand over power to Eurostat.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that the pound closed at a five-month high against the euro on Wednesday after fresh worries about Greece's finances and better-than-expected UK unemployment data.
European Voice EUobserver WSJ EUobserver 2 Le Soir Telegraph Bloomberg
Commission floats ideas for EU-wide driving tests and speeding limits
The Express reports that the European Commission has been floating ideas for drawing up EU-wide driving laws in a new "green" campaign on motorists as part of its Action Plan on Urban Mobility. Measures being considered include a barrage of new maximum speed limits in town and city areas. British motorists could also be forced to undertake exams in "environmentally-friendly" road skills as part of an EU-wide overhaul of driving tests. And many heavy polluting vehicles could face restrited access to newly-declared "green zones" in urban centres. Open Europe's Mats Persson was quoted saying, "This illustrates that the EU simply can't stop interfering in every aspect of people's lives."
The article notes that the Lisbon Treaty extended the power of the EU to influence the transport policies of member nations. A Commission spokesman said the Action Plan "aims at supporting, encouraging, and incentivising local authorities to find good solutions in the area of urban mobility". He added that the Commission would discuss with member states "if and how energy-efficient driving could be included in driving tests for private drivers."
EU share of world GDP will be neck and neck with China by 2020
In City AM, Alistair Heath notes that the latest forecasts from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) highlight the scale of the shift in economic power due to occur in the coming years. He notes that in 2000 the US accounted for 23 percent of world GDP, the EU 25 percent, China 7 percent and India 3 percent but by 2020 the US, EU and China will be neck and neck at 17-18 per cent each; and by 2030 China will be at 19 per cent, the US on 16, the EU on 15 and India on nine.
City AM: Heath Open Europe research
European Parliament threatens to veto member states' data sharing deal with US
ORF reports that that the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, has written to the European Council regarding its failure to share with MEPs a draft agreement on the SWIFT agreement between the US and the EU. The agreement allows US authorities access to European citizens' bank details and has been heavily contested by some member states, with Germany, Austria, Hungary and Greece having blocked the interim agreement for as long as possible. The agreement was controversially pushed through a day before the Lisbon Treaty came into force, which would have allowed MEPs the right to scrutinise the deal. In the letter, Mr.Buzek wrote that ''The Treaty of Lisbon has given Parliament veto rights in such situations, and it is therefore unwise to finalise...this inherently controversial agreement without the agreement of Parliament". 
Handelsblatt ORF 
Van Rompuy tells EP to butt out of negotiations on Lisbon Treaty's 18 'ghost MEPs'
EUobserver reports that EU President Herman Van Rompuy has formally requested that the European Parliament do not call for an EU Convention on how to legally establish the 18 extra MEPs elected under the Lisbon Treaty not yet fully instated in the Brussels assembly. Spain, currently heading the EU Presidency, is pressing for a quick amendment to allow the new MEPs entry into the Parliament for the 2009-2014 mandate. Mr Van Rompuy asked MEPs to let member states call an intergovernmental conference (IGC) to amend the EU Treaty rather than calling a Convention, which would include MEPs, national parliaments and the Commission, because member states fear that could lead to a host of other issues being re-opened.
Brown wants tougher SME test for EU laws
Euractiv reports that the UK wants to see European Commissioners "named and shamed" if they add to the regulatory burden on small businesses, as part of a more focused approach to reducing unemployment in Europe.
Annika Strom Melin: EU's response to Haiti has been "embarrassing"
Following the Haiti crisis, a comment piece in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter by columnist Annika Strom Melin argues: "After all the grand talk about the EU as a global actor it has been embarrassing so far to see how weak and quiet the Union has acted. Everyone and no one speak in the EU's name... No wonder that the EU's message - if there is any - doesn't come across...But one thing is for sure, all the grand speeches about the EU being a soft and good global power, which comes to the rescue when the world needs it, must be rewritten."  
Meanwhile, Catherine Ashton has come under widespread criticism for her role in the EU's response. Le Figaro writes: "The absence on the ground of Catherine Ashton has been seen as the embodiment of the incompetence of the Barroso team, and even of European stasis".
Dagens Nyheter
ECJ decision prompts full-scale review of German employment law;
Suddeutsche Zeitung: ECJ's decision encroaches on national competences
Die Zeit, Tagesschau, Reuters Deutschland, Die Welt, Suddeutsche Zeit and Der Spiegel report that the German government will undertake an investigation into all German employment law following the European Court of Justice decision that the German law, allowing employers to discriminate against workers aged under 25, is incompatible with EU law. Der Spiegel notes that some opposition MPs have criticised the move believing that it is time for Germany to stop tolerating EU interference with German domestic issues. A commentary article in Suddeutsche Zeitung complains that: "This decision provides for confusion in the law and encroaches into German competence".
Die Zeit Tagesschau Reuters Deutschland Die Welt Suddeutsche Zeit Der Spiegel
David Prosser: EU rules will hit UK pension savers
In an article in the Independent, David Prosser argues that new EU rules on capital adequacy "introduced with, ultimately, the security of savers in mind, will actually result in many people being less well-off in old age." The introduction of "Solvency 2" requires insurers to "set aside considerably more capital against their annuity liabilities," which has already led to French insurance company, Axa, ceasing to sell "enhanced annuities" in the UK.
Le Taurillion argues that now that the Lisbon Treaty has entered into force, this poses an opportunity for the EU to become party to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Le Taurillon 14th ECHR Protocol

Polish President: "EU is aristocratic republic and should be democratised"
Ceskenoviny reports that Polish President Lech Kaczynski has criticised the democratic deficit of the EU noting: "The aristocratic republic which the European Union is should be democratised." He continues: "we need to fight so the Lisbon Treaty won't be considered as a Constitution, because a Constitution is linked to a state, and the EU isn't a state".

58% of Austrians say our interests are "not respected" by the EU
Der Standard reports that an opinion poll conducted by Eurobarometer regarding Austrian attitudes towards the EU shows that: 44% think there is more bureaucracy and 43% believe there is more fraud. Whilst Die Presse reports that 58% of Austrians think that their interests are "not respected" by the EU.
Die Presse Kurier Der Standard
Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, has given his support for the 'European Extremely Large Telescope' (EELT) project which has a budget of €950 million.
The European Commission has approved thirteen programmes in eleven member states to promote milk and dairy produce in the EU. The total budget of the programmes over a three year period is €35.8 million of which the EU will contribute €17.9 million
Europa Press Release EU Monitor Euro Alert
Le Monde notes that a French cross-party parliamentary study has called for France and the EU to develop anti-missile capabilities over the next ten years, concluding that "it would be irresponsible, despite the financial costs, to ignore the proliferation of ballistic missiles across the globe".
Le Monde
The FT reports that the Financial Services Authority is working on a database to house publicly disclosed data of UK listed companies in response to pressure across Europe to make information more accessible to investors under the EU's transparency directive.
The BBC reports that Spanish PM Jose Luis Zapatero has pledged to promote sexual equality in Europe and fight gender-based violence during Spain's six-month EU Presidency.
BBC El Pais El Pais
An editorial in the WSJ argues that French President Nicolas Sarkozy's recent intervention to keep Renault car manufacture in France was prompted by forthcoming regional elections.
WSJ: Editorial
With the upcoming confirmation vote in the European Parliament on 9 February, Euractiv reports that EU commissioners have been asked by their President, Jose Manuel Barroso, to make their cabinets "more multinational and gender-balanced."
Le Monde reports that a proposal to impose a US-style tax on European banks will be discussed during an informal meeting of European finance ministers in April.
ABC La Vanguardia Le Monde
Die Welt reports that according to experts, the EU will not be able to meet its self-set targets for the reduction of fishing by 2015.
Die Welt

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