Monday, January 25, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 25 January 2010

Electricity customers pay more than £1bn a year to subsidise renewable energy to meet EU targets
The Sunday Telegraph reported that next month's annual report from Ofgem is expected to say that electricity customers are paying more than £1 billion a year to subsidise windfarms and other forms of renewable energy, as part of a Government scheme to force energy companies to fund green energy.
The companies bear the cost but pass it on to consumers in the form of higher bills. An additional burden fell on industrial users of electricity, who in turn passed on costs to their customers.
The levy on companies, known as the Renewables Obligation (RO), is divided between the main renewable energy sources, with wind receiving 40 percent, landfill gas 25 percent, biomass 20 percent, hydroelectric 12 percent and sewage gas 3 percent. The cost to consumers of the RO scheme has risen from £278 million in 2002/3 to £1.04 billion last year, the Ofgem report is expected to say. The total cost of the scheme has reached £4.4 billion over the past seven years. There are currently 270 wind farms with 2,775 turbines in operation, with plans for a further 10,000 on and around Britain's shores
The EU has set targets for 20% of its energy to come from renewables by 2020, requiring the UK to source up to 40% of its electricity from renewable power, mostly wind.
Sunday Telegraph EurActiv Open Europe research
EU Commission plans revision of Working Time Directive;
Britain's opt-out from 48-hour week to come under threat
The Telegraph reports that the European Commission is planning to revise the Working Time Directive (WTD) in its next term, due to start on 10 February, and has promised to conduct a 'social impact study' on the UK's opt-out from the 48-hour maximum working week provision contained in the WTD. Spanish Socialist MEPs, with the support of Labour MEPs, and trade unions are urging the Commission to scrap Britain's opt-out. The Spanish EU Presidency has pledged to make revising the Directive part of a European "factory of rights" during its current 6-month term.
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "We need to have the strongest possible safeguard for the NHS and our other public services by getting a permanent opt-out from EU laws in this area."
The article cites Open Europe's research, which has found that the cost of the Directive to the UK economy currently stands at between £3.4 and £3.9 billion a year, according to the Government's own figures. If the UK lost its opt-out from the 48-hour week, the total cost to the economy of the WTD would rise to up to £12 billion a year.
Open Europe Director Mats Persson is quoted saying, "Losing the opt-out would send the annual bill for this Directive through the roof...Attempts to abolish the opt-out will come back again and again until the UK has a full derogation from EU social legislation. An incoming Conservative government must make a manifesto commitment to seek a full opt-out from European employment law. Riding the fence simply won't do."
Telegraph OE research: Spanish EU Presidency OE research: Working Time OE briefing: Social policy
British businessmen could face two year spell in jail without charge under European Arrest Warrant
The Observer reported on two British businessmen accused of defrauding 134 customers out of £18,000 who were jailed in Hungary under the controversial European Arrest Warrant (EAW). The two men were jailed in November 2009, awaiting trail, under laws designed to fast-track suspects of serious crime and terrorism. The EAW has come under criticism for being used for comparatively minor cases, bypassing traditional safeguards, and leaving citizens of one country at the mercy of criminal procedures in another. Under the penal code, the two could be held for up to two years without being charged.
Lawyers for the two say the Hungarian authorities misled Westminster magistrates' court into granting extradition by giving the impression that the ­case was ready to be heard, when the prosecution was actually still gathering evidence.
Observer Open Europe research
Pieter Cleppe: "Fanatic European nationalism is unhealthy"
In an opinion piece for the Czech Centre for Economics and Politics think-tank, Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe looks at the new EU President Herman Van Rompuy. He notes: "Van Rompuy doesn't want to let countries decide their own economic model. The Anglosaxon, Swedish or Eastern-European models should all disappear. In 1998, he wrote in a book: 'The Rhineland model is limited to the Benelux countries and Germany. It needs to become the model of the whole of the Union.'" Regarding Van Rompuy's ideas that "apart from the euro, other national symbols also need to be replaced by European symbols", such as licence plates and identity cards, Pieter notes: "Being critical of some forms of nationalism is probably a healthy thing, but that shouldn't mean one becomes a fanatic European nationalist."
CEP: Cleppe
Irish to call for reform of EU residency laws
The Irish Times reports that Irish Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern has told EU partners that residency laws must be reviewed to combat the growing number of 'sham marriages' between EU citizens and third country nationals.
The article notes that the Irish government has been lobbying its European partners for reform of the EU directive on free movement since it lost the Metock case at the European Court of Justice in 2008.
Irish Times
Leaked Commission paper says Greek deficit endangers eurozone
EUobserver reports that a leaked European Commission paper argues that soaring public deficits in eurozone countries such as Greece weaken the credibility and cohesion of the common currency. Growing imbalances between countries within the common currency are a "matter of serious concern for the eurozone as a whole", and these imbalances "can weaken confidence in the euro and endanger the cohesion of the monetary union" the paper warns.
Meanwhile ECB Chief Jean-Claude Trichet told Focus magazine, in reference to Greece's flawed statistics on its public finances, "Never again shall we accept deficit data which doesn't correspond to reality. "Those who don't stick to the rules, act irresponsibly and without solidarity, damaging the euro," ECB Chief Economist Jurgen Stark said, according to Welt am Sonntag.
EUobserver also quotes ECB official Jose Manuel Gonzalez-Paramo, calling rumours that the bloc could fund a credit-line for Greece "absurd". The Coulisses de Bruxelles blog quotes a French bank Economist saying: "No one is going to let Greece fall... because then all the Eurozone bonds, including French and German debt, would immediately turn into a dead stock. In fact, nowadays the markets are used to taking the eurozone as a whole into consideration, rather than looking at every single national reality".

Meanwhile, the WSJ reports that Greece's debt problems have boosted interest in Portugal's 2010 budget plan, due tomorrow, which international investors will study for signs of similar fiscal problems.
Der Spiegel
Die Welt 1 Die Welt 2 Die Welt 3 Focus Coulisses de Bruxelles  Le Monde City AM FT: Goodhart and Tsomocos FT Munchau Eurointelligence Financial Times Deutschland WSJ  FAZ FAZ Ruffer interview EUobserver OE blog

Haiti relief operation continues to divide Europe
The FT Brussels blog reports that "Strains are showing in the EU's new foreign policy structures", regarding the relief operation in Haiti. It notes comments from incoming EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier, who last week implicitly criticised EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton for failing to travel to Haiti, who said he had meant no disrespect for Ashton but Europe's foreign and defence policy was "an area of work I have always been interested in". 
EurActiv notes that EU foreign ministers are gathering in Brussels today for a two-day meeting, and quotes an unnamed ambassador from one of the large EU member states saying: "seriously, we are not going [to Haiti] simply for the pleasure of making ourselves seen when the emergency is to land humanitarian aid planes. Let's keep a little decency. The priority is still not that Mister X or Missus Y goes making themselves seen at Port-au-Prince, damn it".
FT: Brussels blog Euractiv Mail Telegraph Telegraph2 OE blog
Government accused of giving unclear guarantees on Equality Bill to religious groups
The Guardian reports that the Government is facing accusations of duplicity over changes to the controversial Equality Bill, after a leaked document showed that conflicting statements have been made about the position of churches and other religious organisations in the Bill. Churches say the Government has assured them the Bill will preserve their "special status", which allows them to turn down candidates for jobs as ministers or priests if they are actively homosexual, transsexual or, in the Catholic church, if they are women.
However, the paper argues that the Government told the European Commission it would toughen the law on religious organisations, making it harder for them to avoid equal treatment laws. A 'reasoned opinion', kept secret by the Government, threatened the UK with legal action unless the grounds on which religious groups could discriminate were narrowed.
A leader in the FT Deutschland argues that the European Parliament has a chance to stand up for its citizens rights on Wednesday, and vote against the 'SWIFT' agreement on bank data transfers with the US.
FTD Comment
Spain champions Turkish membership of EU;
New survey shows most Europeans would oppose Turkish accession
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has strongly advocated Turkey's accession to the EU in an interview with German daily Die Welt, saying that "Turkey is part of the European family of nations. It's better to have it inside the EU than to leave it standing before the door." Mr. Moratinos also re-iterated Spain's promise to try and open four more negotiating chapters in the accession talks during the 6 month Spanish EU Presidency. So far, only 12 out of 35 chapters have been opened in Turkey's accession bid.
Meanwhile, a new survey by Bogazici University in Istanbul, Granada University and the Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain has shown that most Europeans oppose Turkish accession, with 62% percent of Germans and 64% of French saying that they would vote ''No'' to Turkey if a referendum were held. Le Figaro reports that when asked about the arguments against Turkish accession, 38.9% of all respondents agreed with the statement that Turkey is "a Muslim country... incompatible with the common Christian roots" of Europe. The 'No' vote was weaker in the UK, with only 46% saying they would vote against Turkish membership. In Poland and Spain, 54% and 53% respectively said they would vote 'Yes'.
EUobserver Die Welt  LeMonde LeFigaro
EU businesses criticise Commission consultation procedure for 2020 strategy
EUobserver reports that European business organisations have voiced strong criticism over the recent consultation period for the EU's 2020 Strategy, a process designed to give business a say in the bloc's new 10-year economic plan. Eurochambres, a Brussels-based organisation representing 200 EU chambers of commerce and industry, criticised the process, saying the consultation process was too short and poorly organised.
Obama's plans for financial sector overhaul meet lukewarm EU response
The Weekend FT reported that US President Barack Obama's plans for a far-reaching overhaul of the banking system failed to forge an immediate political consensus in Europe, although French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde described the proposals as "a very, very good step forward". An unnamed source 'close to financial policymaking in the EU' told Reuters on Friday that "the Obama plan is not fit for the purpose in the EU." The source said the EU would instead focus on raising banks' capital requirements and tightening financial regulation, pursuing initiatives already underway in the European Parliament.
Meanwhile UK City Minister Lord Myners will today host a meeting with representatives from the G7 nations, the IMF, the FSA and the Bank of England, to discuss ways to address the problem of "too big to fail" banks.
Weekend FT BBC Reuters Telegraph City AM Guardian Guardian: Leader Spiegel
Belgian Professor: Opel case shows EU failure to preserve fair competition
In a comment in Belgian daily De Standaard, Professor Marc De Vos of the Belgian think-tank Itinera comments on the announced closure of the Antwerp Opel plant, noting that subsidies by President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have made the difference for General Motors in deciding which plant should be closed. He writes: "there is something like the European Union, which has been set up to guarantee fair competition within Europe. It is high time that Belgium and other small countries pull the alarm bells there. We didn't start with Europe in order to become an appendix of the big member states".
Standaard: De Vos
Iceland has approached several governments about the possibility of mediating talks on the more than $5bn (£3.2bn) it owes Britain and the Netherlands after the island's banking crisis, Icelandic media reported yesterday.
A leader in the Guardian argues: "Britain is a very important country. The sixth-largest economy in the world. The fifth-largest military power. Its claim to what the former prime minister Lord Home used to call a seat at the top table is beyond dispute, though it would be a still more influential one if we sometimes ceded it to the European Union."
Guardian: Leader
EUobserver reports that Israel blocked the Belgian Development Minister Charles Michel, son of former EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel, from entering the Gaza Strip on the weekend, arguing that the visit would give symbolic support to Hamas.
Saturday's Mail and Express reported that Government claims that half of the estimated 1.5 million Polish immigrants who arrived in Britain since 2004 have gone home, are "not true" according to Polish immigration expert, Professor Krystyna Iglicka.
Mail Express BBC
The Weekend FT reported that talks between Airbus and the seven European governments who signed up for the now over-budget and behind-schedule A400M military transport aircraft project, will go right up until a self-imposed 31 January deadline.
Weekend FT

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