Monday, January 04, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 4 January 2010

EU President to cost taxpayers over £20m a year
The News of the World reported that the EU's new full-time President Herman Van Rompuy is to cost taxpayers nearly £300 million, earning more than US President Barack Obama. The total annual cost for Van Rompuy will be a £22.5 million, including £2.1 million for security, £2.3 million for equipment, £6.2 million for summits and £5.2 million for 22 staff. His salary is £273,814 a year - the US President gets £250,000. In addition, the EU is spending another £252 million building a new facility to house the President's office. Open Europe's Stephen Booth was quoted saying, "It's outrageous".
News of the World
Lorraine Mullally: "2009 has been a disappointing year for anyone who cares about democracy in the EU"
In a piece for Conservative Home on 31 December, Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally argued that "2009 has been a disappointing year for anyone who cares about democracy in Europe.  It will go down in history as the year the political elite finally won the battle against the people to enforce the undemocratic EU Constitutional Treaty without their consent, or, in the case of Ireland, by bulldozing their original decision to reject it."
She went on, "It is now more important than ever that the next British government prioritises radical reform.  EU social policy is going to cost the UK £71 billion over the next decade as it is, even without the additional new laws Zapatero has up his sleeve.  Debt-ridden Britain simply can't afford it... the only way to stop these laws from affecting Britain is to negotiate a comprehensive opt-out from all the Treaty articles giving rise to social and employment legislation.  David Cameron must make a clear manifesto pledge with these very words."
Conservative Home 
Commission to take member states to court over EU staff pay rise
On 24 December, FAZ reported that the European Commission will take member states to the European Court of Justice on 6 January, over their opposition to a 3.7% pay rise for EU officials. Member states have instead proposed a 1.85% pay increase. The Commission argues that the pay rise has to be introduced according to the terms of a standing agreement on calculating EU officials' wages.
On 1 January the Mail reported that 45,000 EU civil servants have refused to accept the compromise pay deal and threatened five days of strikes to disrupt confirmation hearings for new EU Commissioners in the middle of January. Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally was quoted saying, "These people are completely out of touch. They are already paid very generously - why should they get even more when public sector workers all over Europe face a pay freeze?" Trade unions have said they will suspend any strike threat if the Commission launches the legal action, and await the outcome of proceedings in the ECJ.
EUobserver Mail Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Open Europe's Sarah Gaskell appeared on CNBC on 30 December, discussing Open Europe's research on the top 100 most costly EU regulations, and arguing that powers over social and employment policy should be repatriated to the UK.
Open Europe press release OE blog
Taxpayers fund skiing holidays for MEPs and EU officials on £108,000 salary
The Telegraph on 31 December and the Express on 1 December reported that taxpayers will heavily subsidise a February skiing holiday in the Italian Alps for the children of MEPs and European Parliament officials. Most EU officials already pay reduced "community" rates of taxation and the Telegraph reported that the latest perk will fuel controversy over the subsidised lifestyle enjoyed by many EU civil servants.
The holiday costs €920 and is subsidised by the Parliament's budget. Households receive different levels of subsidy depending on their monthly income but even those on an income of over £108,000 get a discount. An MEP, earning £86,000, is eligible for a subsidy of 45 percent. Open Europe Director Mats Persson was quoted saying, "It is ridiculous that, at a time when most families across Europe have to tighten their belts, the European Parliament thinks it is appropriate to subsidise holidays for the families of even its most well-paid staff. How can MEPs claim subsidised holidays for their children when many of their constituents' families are struggling through the recession?"
Express Telegraph
EU bans use of children's pushchairs on escalators

Stuttgarter Nachrichten reports that the EU has introduced a ban on the use of children's pushchairs on automatic escalators, which came into effect on 1 January. Bild notes that the regulation will not lead to fines for users of the escalators but that it applies to the companies which oversee them. The head of the Munich Transport Company Herbert King, is quoted saying: "we think this regulation is complete madness and are with good reason very angry about it."
SN Bild RP

EU taxpayers fund "slapstick acting workshops" to help people "feel European"
The Mail on Sunday reported that British taxpayers are helping to fund basket-weaving and slapstick acting workshops for young people across Europe, as part of an £800 million EU programme to help people aged 13-30 'feel European'. Because the UK Government provides ten percent of the EU's budget, it is likely around £80 million of the cash used to run the Youth In Action programme will have come from British taxpayers, the article reports. One project in Finland received thousands to support a coffee house which offered 'everyone the chance to have a sleep for free'. It aimed to encourage afternoon naps to reduce stress.
Mail on Sunday OE research
Spanish EU Presidency to press for new social legislation to create "factory of rights"
On 1 January Spain took over the EU's rotating Presidency from Sweden. Open Europe has published a briefing outlining the main priorities for the Spanish EU Presidency, which looks ahead to key events and developments in the EU in 2010. Spanish daily El Pais quoted Open Europe saying that a key Spanish priority is to introduce new social legislation to bolster 'European citizenship', including turning the EU into a "factory of rights". The briefing was also cited on Euractiv.
Spain is the first country to hold the reins under the EU's Lisbon Treaty, which provides for a full-time President of the Council - the Belgian Herman Van Rompuy - downgrading the role of the rotating Presidency. On his BBC blog, Gavin Hewitt notes, "Under the Lisbon Treaty...summits will be chaired not by Mr Zapatero, but by Herman Van Rompuy, the permanent President of the European Council. Mr Zapatero can't guarantee a seat at the final press conference. Back home he could be judged an empty suit."
In an article on the Guardian's Comment is Free, Zapatero and Van Rompuy argued that implementing the Lisbon Treaty was a key priority for 2010. They added that, "We have achieved monetary union, and we have a single market, but we remain far from creating an economic union, the pressing need for which has been highlighted by the present crisis."
Euractiv reports that Zapatero has invited a number of personalities who are considered as Europe's 'wise men' to his Madrid office tomorrow, with a view to regularly consulting them. They include former Commission President Jacques Delors and former Spanish PM Felipe González.
Kleine Zeitung reports that Spain wants more centralised EU anti-terrorism policies, proposing to establish an EU anti-terrorism committee. A spokesman is quoted saying that the committee would have a rotating command centre every 6 months.
Weekend FT Times FT: Brussels blog European Voice EUobserver BBC BBC: Hewitt blog Guardian: Van Rompuy and Zapatero FT FT: Barber EurActiv Le Figaro El Pais EurActiv Open Europe press release Open Europe briefing Kleine Zeitung
German Parliament research service: "Insolvent EU country could be temporarily stripped of its voting rights in the European Council"
Der Spiegel reports that "a growing roster of central bankers and politicians are opposed to the idea of an IMF bailout for Greece. They argue it would violate European Union law and that the bloc is big enough to solve the problem on its own." Bundesbank President Axel Weber is quoted saying: "we don't need the IMF".
The article also reports that the German Parliament's research service has concluded "that a member state cannot be kicked out of the EU if it becomes insolvent. Nevertheless, if a euro zone member violates monetary union rules, certain rights that come with EU membership can be suspended. For example, a country could be temporarily stripped of its vote in the European Council, the EU institution comprised of the heads of government or state of the 27 member nations."
Meanwhile, the Weekend FT noted that Greece will today send a draft plan to the European Commission spelling out how the country plans to reduce its huge public deficit. Analysts say the programme must win the blessing of the EU if Greece is to be able to borrow some €54bn (£48bn) in international markets in 2010.
Weekend FT AFP Spiegel
Common tax base for businesses "virtually certain" to come onto agenda in 2010

The Sunday Business Post reported that the introduction of a common tax base for businesses in the EU is likely to be proposed early this year when the new European Commission takes office. Moves to establish a common tax base were suspended after the No vote in the first Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland. However, high-level sources in Brussels say the common tax base is "virtually certain" to be put back on the agenda this year. Although it is not clear where incoming EU Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta stands on the issue, the article notes that one source has said the civil servants of the Commission's taxation directorate are likely to push for the measure's inclusion on Semeta's agenda.
Sunday Business Post

Ken Clarke happy with "settlement" of Lisbon Treaty for Conservatives
The Sunday Telegraph had an interview with Conservative Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke, in which Clarke said he was happy with the "settlement" announced by David Cameron after the Lisbon Treaty became law - ruling out a UK referendum on the Treaty but continuing the Conservatives' alliance outside of the main centre-right group, the EPP.  He said, "The key thing now is for a Conservative government to engage in Europe with the things we all agree on...That is what we are in the EU for - to seek to demonstrate that we can protect our interests best in co-operation with the other members of the EU."
Writing on the Guardian's Comment is Free website, Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope argued that creating the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament was the right move and the "group is not just pivotal given the current balance of the European parliament, it is also extremely strong in its own right."
Guardian CIF-Kirkhope Sunday Telegraph-Clarke
Lorraine Mullally: "Failure to give British people a referendum on Lisbon Treaty is a key reason people are disillusioned with politics"
An article in the Yorkshire Post looked at the Labour Party's failure to give voters a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and quoted Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally saying: "The Labour Government's refusal to give the British people their promised say on the Lisbon Treaty is up there with the Westminster expenses scandal as one of the key reasons people are so angry and disillusioned with British politics. The Labour and Liberal Democrat pretence that the treaty was significantly different from the EU Constitution in order to avoid holding the referendum was one of the biggest cons in recent political history, and people are unlikely to forget it in a hurry."
Yorkshire Post
Labour MEP behind report calling for common EU taxation
The Express reported on 30 December that a document drawn up by the Socialist group in the European Parliament, which includes Britain's 13 Labour MEPs, calls for a bigger EU budget, common EU taxes and VAT harmonisation across the bloc. Glenis Willmott, leader of Lab­our MEPs said the document "does not have support of the Labour MEPs." However, the paper notes that Stephen Hughes, Labour MEP for the North-East, was a leading figure in drawing up the ­document, entitled "The EU's 2020 Vision."
Mandelson: Staying outside the eurozone 'has aided UK in recession'
Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, has acknowledged for the first time that Britain's freedom of action outside the eurozone has allowed the country to limit the damage from the economic crisis, yesterday's Sunday Telegraph reported. "Sterling flexibility has provided an additional support to demand," he said, referring to the 25pc devaluation of the pound over the last two years which he said had served as a shock-absorber for the economy. According to the article, Lord Mandelson praised the Bank of England for using quantitative easing (QE) - a policy which isn't possible for countries such as Ireland, Spain and Greece, which face debt-deflation strains within the eurozone.
Meanwhile, in yesterday's Observer Peter Oborne looked at the viability of the eurozone, arguing that "the architects of European monetary union have put a single currency ahead of political unity and the long-term consequences for the euro are likely to be fatal." He warned that "In the medium term, economies like Greece and Spain are certain to break away from the euro."
Observer-Oborne Sunday Telegraph
Martin Howe: The UK needs a bill to safeguard its sovereignty under the Lisbon Treaty
In the WSJ, Martin Howe QC argues that with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty "the UK now needs a bill which will write formally into law the rule that Parliament is sovereign and that it can, if it so chooses, over-ride any laws of external origin including those originating from the EU." Howe has been working on explaining how such a Bill would work in practice following David Cameron's announcement that a Conservative government would seek safeguards on the further transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the EU.
Howe argues that "The Lisbon Treaty expands the EU's law-making powers and correspondingly restricts the power of the UK Parliament to make law. So the UK Parliament, while under the transient majority control of one party, has apparently permanently restricted the law-making power of future Parliaments, by ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. This restriction on the future law-making power of Parliament has no political legitimacy because it was never put to the British people for their approval."
He concludes: "The [sovereignty] bill would put the UK in a similar position to other countries which already have written constitutions defining the powers of the state. Most notably, the German Federal Constitutional Court has twice emphatically ruled that the powers of the EU within Germany are ultimately limited by the terms of the German constitution (basic law) as interpreted by Germany's own constitutional court."
WSJ: Howe
The Times reports that British companies that supply services to Europe face hundreds of thousands of pounds in costs because of VAT rules effective from January 1. The EU VAT package requires businesses to submit quarterly sales lists, detailing the value of services supplied to each VAT-registered EU customer. Previously, only companies supplying goods to EU customers had to supply sales lists, but the requirement has been extended to providers of services.
Frankfurter Rundschau reports that it is likely that the EU will make an announcement within the next six months, inviting Estonia to adopt the euro. If this takes place, Estonia will be the first 'new' member state to have joined the EU since 2004 to enter the eurozone.
Frankfurter Rundschau
The Express reported on 26 December that campaigners have made a fresh attempt to reverse a £250 EU tax which puts mobility scooters in the same class as Formula One racing cars. Equipment for the ­disabled is normally exempt from tax. Professor Stephen Hawking said that taxing society's most disadvantaged people was a "disgrace".
The FT reports that the Treasury may have to set aside far more than the £5bn it has earmarked to deal with claims for VAT refunds, as it emerged that one retailer alone, Littlewoods, could claim back £1bn. The refunds stem from a Governmental breach of EU law more than a decade ago

The Telegraph reported on 29 December that Lithuanians are braced for a devastating increase in energy prices when the country shuts down its main nuclear power station to comply with EU demands on 31 December. The EU made de-commissioning the plant a condition of EU accession in 2004. Domestic fuel bills are projected to jump by 30 percent in 2010 as a result.


Quarter of Icelanders oppose deal to compensate British and Dutch savers
EUobserver reports that almost a quarter of Iceland's voters have signed a petition against paying back money lost by British and Dutch savers as a result of the collapse of the Icesave bank in 2008, casting fresh doubt over the country's bid to join the EU.

Telegraph Guardian City AM EUobserver
Romania's EU aid budget handed to minister amid controversy
The Sunday Times reported on 27 December that Elena Udrea, a 36-year-old MP, who is married to a controversial local businessman, has been appointed cabinet minister responsible for Romania's regional development budget from the EU, worth £3.3 billion.  A parliamentary inquiry into her work as tourism minister recommended opening a criminal investigation into her use of public funds. She rejected the claims as politically motivated and prosecutors decided the allegations were unfounded.
Sunday Times
The Mail reported on 1 January that the Government has written to other EU governments asking that a ban to stop battery farming of hens, under an EU directive, by 2012 should not be enforced. They claimed that it could lead to a shortage of eggs.
PA reported that a permanent exemption for the UK from EU rules which would have forced companies to produce separate metric and imperial measurement labels came into force on 1 January.
No link
Defra report warns EU's CAP costs British consumers £3.2 bn a year
The Sunday Telegraph reported that minutes from a European Council meeting on labelling on 31 July last year show that UK negotiators opposed mandatory country of origin labels on all non-processed food.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affair's 20-year food strategy report, Food 2030, will this week endorse the principle of "clear and unambiguous country-of-origin labelling" but will not say the rules should be legally binding. The article also reported that the food strategy plan will say that British consumers lose out by £3.2 billion every year because of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.
Sunday Telegraph IHT Telegraph Sunday Telegraph 2
Writing in the Express on 1 January, Ross Clark noted that 2010 is the first year of the target dates set under the EU Landfill Directive, which requires Britain to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill to 75% of 1995 levels.
Express: Clark
Writing in the FT on 30 December, William Hague and Paddy Ashdown argued that Europe and America must pay more attention to rebuilding Bosnia.
FT: Hague and Ashdown
Full-body scanners are to be introduced at Britain's airports, after Gordon Brown gave the go-ahead for the technology. However, the Telegraph reported on 31 December that the Department for Transport had previously claimed it could not introduce the scanners without first getting EU approval.
Guardian Telegraph
Nine EU countries, including the UK, will draw up plans this month to link their clean energy projects around the North Sea, to create a renewables 'supergrid'. The paper suggests that it will be an important step in meeting the EU's pledge to derive 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The Irish Times reports that consultation has begun on the Citizens' Initiative provision of the Lisbon Treaty, which will allow one million EU citizens to petition the Commission for a legislative proposal. The online consultation forum is to determine the practicalities of how the initiative will operate.
Irish Times
The Telegraph reported on 31 December on the 'carousel' fraud that afflicts the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme for carbon, with Europol warning that "the very nature of carbon credits makes them "an incredibly lucrative target for criminals".  
The Sunday Times reported on 27 December that a property developer in Hampshire has banned homeowners from keeping cats or dogs to protect birdlife on nearby heathland. The heathland is protected under the EU Birds Directive.
Sunday Times

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