Stephen Booth: EU pay dispute reveals the lacking democratic accountability of EU institutions;
Die Welt Brussels correspondent: Commission is acting in a deliberately insensitive way
Following the European Commission's decision to sue the EU's 27 member states at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for refusing to grant a 3.7% pay increase to EU officials, Open Europe's Stephen Booth writes on the Guardian's Comment is Free site that "the process by which this issue is being dealt with is profoundly wanting in democratic accountability." He notes that the 27 EU Commissioners that decided to take the matter to court will benefit from the increase and that "ECJ judges' salaries are based on the same pay scale as all other EU officials, meaning they also stand to benefit from the pay rise."
The article concludes, "In a rather sorry tale of irony, the people most enamoured with the entire EU project, its army of bureaucrats, have managed to show the EU institutions in a light they all too often appear: defiant of democratically elected member governments; unwilling to recognise the realities facing the world outside Brussels; and so ridden with vested interests that the needs of European citizens are left by the wayside."
Handelsblatt reports that the EU has calculated that the pay rise will cost taxpayers as much as €147 million, although CDU MEP Inge Gräßle has put the figure as high as €220 million. CDU leader in the Bundestag Michael Meister said: "we must think again about the appropriateness of the EU salaries".
EurActiv quotes Günther Lorenz, General Secretary of the largest trade union representing the EU officials, saying that a strike by EU civil servants is now unlikely because "Most of us think this lawsuit will probably be successful". An article in Die Welt by Brussels correspondent Hannelore Crolly argues that "it is a fatal decision for the EU Commission to argue over the increase in payment to 50,000 already well-paid employees in the face of objections from the debt ridden member states in court...In a deliberately insensitive and almost frightening way, the Commission is again sending the wrong message to the people, who it should be trying to win over for the European cause."
An article in Kölner Stadt Anzeiger argues: "The EU is fighting against the countries that support it. It is not just painful, it is infuriating."
In the WSJ, Charles Forelle looks at the EU pay formula used to arrive at the 3.7% rise and notes, "To crunch the civil servants' cost-of-living adjustment, the EU's statistical office doesn't rely on Belgian data for housing costs. Instead, each year it surveys its own staffers, asking them how much they pay. The purpose isn't lost on those surveyed. A privacy statement attached to the survey says the data will be used 'for the calculation of the annual salary adjustment.'"
He adds, "rent-survey data accounted for nearly all of the increase in the EU's bespoke cost-of-living figure...Had the EU used the Belgian consumer-price index - which fell 1.1% - to adjust the civil-servant salaries, the raise would have been a more recession-friendly 1.7%, instead of the now-vilified 3.7%."
Comment is Free: Booth WSJ: Forelle OE blog Euractiv Bild Die Welt Handelsblatt Kölner Stadt Anzeiger
EU's infamous butter and grain mountains now at 2.5 million tonnes
Swedish magazine Land reports that the EU now has 2.5 million tonnes of surplus agricultural produce stored around Europe. Commodities that farmers can't sell on the market are being bought up by the European Commission under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, and have given rise to the infamous butter and grain mountains, which in turn have become symbols of EU waste. The EU was meant to reduce the stockpiles of surplus produce as part of a series of reforms, promised to Tony Blair in return for giving up part of the British rebate from the EU budget, but the butter and grain mountains now appear to be growing again.
The stockpiles consist mainly of barley, and are stored primarily in Germany (850,000 tonnes), France (390,000 tonnes), Poland (230,000 tonnes) and Finland (216,000 tonnes).
Spanish PM calls for more EU Commission powers to enforce economic programme
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero yesterday announced the Spanish EU Presidency's plans for the new 10-year EU economic framework to replace the failed Lisbon Strategy, due to be negotiated on 11 February.
The FT quotes him saying: "The Lisbon treaty allows for more co-ordination, and for that to be truly effective, we need to equip the European Commission with new powers. If Europe wants to keep its economic strength and wants to compete and become more prosperous, Europe has to unite. Anything else is a waste of time."
The new ten year economic plan is likely to be adopted in March and would include "corrective measures" for member states that do not comply, which could include penalties for member states that fail to reach agreed economic targets. Público quotes him saying: "It's absolutely necessary for the 2020 Strategy...to assume a new nature, a binding nature." The BBC notes that "Pressed repeatedly for detail, Mr Zapatero remained vague about what sort of areas might merit sanctions". The Economist's Charlemagne column notes that: "Editorials across the EU have mocked the idea of Mr Zapatero advising Europe on economic recovery".
Charlemagne Economist FT EUobserver BBC EurActiv EurActiv Europa Press Público
Socialist MEPs call for end to travelling circus
The Parliament reports that Socialist MEPs have called on the Spanish EU Presidency to axe the "travelling circus" which sees the European Parliament travel to Strasbourg for one week a month. New research by the University of York estimates a carbon footprint of an extra 20,268 tonnes of additional carbon dioxide is caused by having sites in Brussels and Strasbourg. The article quotes Glenis Willmott, leader of UK Labour MEPs, saying: "Let's finally get the EU properly streamlined once and for all". A Treaty change and unanimous consent among member state governments would be required to abandon the arrangement.
A European Parliament petition, which would have seen the goal of abandoning the travelling circus adopted as an official position, failed to gain the minimum number of signatures in January 2009, although all Labour MEPs signed the declaration.
The Parliament OE blog
International pressure increases on Iceland in Icesave dispute
The Mail reports that Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said that the decision by Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson to send the Icesave bill, allowing the repayment of £3.6bn to British and Dutch savers, to a referendum will not affect its bid to join the EU. Iceland's Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson is quoted saying: "I have spoken to Foreign Secretary Miliband and I have his permission to state officially that this will not affect the EU application."
Latvia has sided with Iceland in the dispute with the UK and the Netherlands, according to EUobserver which quotes Latvia's Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins asking: "Is this reaction due to the fact that Iceland is a small country? It is difficult to imagine that similar comments would be heard if, for example, such a step had been taken by the French president".
However, Finland has warned that crucial financial aid could be held up by the dispute. Finland's finance ministry said the next round of loans from the €1.8bn (£1.6bn) pledged by Nordic countries under the IMF rescue programme was likely to be put on hold while consultations took place over the standoff. Norway and Denmark said they were watching the situation closely. Sweden said the matter needed to be considered with the IMF board. The FT reports that Finland's admission was the first concrete sign of international pressure after the Icelandic President this week blocked the legislation.
The paper also reports that a Gallup survey on Wednesday found that 53 percent of people would support the bill in a referendum, in which a simple majority is required, marking a turnround from the 70 percent opposition found in some previous polls. The Guardian reports that a sale of assets owned by Landsbanki bank could pay off most of the money owed to Britain and the Netherlands.
Mail Times: Hattersley FT City AM EUobserver Independent Guardian Economist El País Telegraph: Corrigan Yle OE blog
German Foreign Minister pledges not to block Turkey's EU bid
The BBC reports that Germany has pledged not to block Turkey's bid to join the EU, and urged it to press on with reforms. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has travelled to Ankara for talks with Turkish ministers and is quoted calling Turkey's negotiations "open-ended". FAZ reports that the German government has had to warn Mr Westerwelle not to give too many concessions to Turkey over its possible membership of the EU. Mr Westerwelle's liberal Free Democrats, part of the coalition government, are seen as more open to Ankara's ambitions than Mrs Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, reports the BBC.
Die Welt BBC FAZ
The Telegraph reports that a British company has won part of the €566m contract to build 14 satellites for the Galileo programme, the EU's version of GPS. About 40 percent of the contract will go to Surrey Satellite Technology, with the rest being built by its German bidding partner. Although the original cost estimate for Galileo was €1.8bn, it will now probably cost around €5bn.
Telegraph EUobserver European Voice Irish Independent
Cathy Ashton to face EP grilling over EU diplomatic service
With European Parliament hearings for incoming EU Commissioners due to take place next week, EurActiv reports that EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton may be asked to explain her written answer to MEPs that her "first priority will be to build the European External Action Service" (EEAS). The article suggests that, according to the Lisbon Treaty, the Foreign Minister must conduct the Union's common foreign and security policy, not build the External Action Service, which is seen as the duty of member states. However, Lib Dem MEP Andrew Duff has said that Ashton's approach was "absolutely correct" as the majority of MEPs had agreed that the EEAS would be put in place "before Mr [David] Cameron becomes [UK] prime minister".
Meanwhile, the Guardian's Diary column suggests that "opposition parties in Brussels - Tories, Lib Dems and especially the wild ones in Ukip - have been busy this week plotting what lines of attack they can use to discomfort Gordon's sidekick, Cathy Ashton. There will be more about her time at CND and probably fiery accusations - already denied - about shadowy donations from the Soviets."
Guardian Irish Times EurActiv
EU President issues pessimistic economic outlook
The EU's permanent President Herman Van Rompuy has warned in his first major public address, to a meeting of Germany's Christian Social Union party, that the EU's long-term economic outlook "is not bright", and the Union will have to double its average growth rate to 2 percent "if we want to keep up with the rest of the world, and with our self-image", reports the Irish Times.
Meanwhile, EUobserver has a headline reading: "Van Rompuy makes debut at Turkey-sceptic gathering", and notes that the CSU is a long-standing opponent of Turkey's full membership of the EU, with a position paper confirming its stance leaked ahead of Mr Van Rompuy's visit.
Irish Times EUobserver European Voice
EUobserver reports that France is considering taxing search engines such as Google and internet service providers, providing around €30 million a year, as a way to support the production of music, films and journalism, and would like to see the measures implemented in Europe as well as France.
Telegraph City AM EUobserver Irish Independent
The Spanish EU Presidency yesterday said that there were "limits" to the amount of support Greece can expect from the EU in its fight to contain its ballooning budget deficit.
An article in the Economist looks at the dangers of applying broad labels to some EU member states, such as 'eastern Europe', which "suggests not only a common fate under totalitarian rule, but a host of ills that go with it: a troubled history then; bad government and economic misery now."
The FT reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has complained that monetary "disorder" has become unacceptable in a speech to the New World, New Capitalism conference, adding: "We can't increase the competitiveness of our businesses in Europe and have the dollar lose 50 per cent of its value against the euro."
The Irish Times reports that the European Commission has asked Slovakia for an explanation over a botched security test which saw a man fly from Slovakia to Dublin with explosives in his luggage.
AFP reports that EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton will meet with the Democratic Republic of Congo's EU Ambassador at the beginning of next week, in order to ask him for clarifications with regard to the quarrel between the DRC government and the EU Development Commissioner Karel de Gucht.
RTBF BBC Afrique AFP
The WSJ reports that Eurostat figures show that retail spending in the eurozone unexpectedly plunged in November, raising fresh doubts about Europe's economic recovery.
UK lacks the infrastructure and engineers for ambitious offshore wind projects required to hit EU targets
The WSJ notes that the Government is to award contracts today for the right to develop offshore wind farms, projects the Government says are required to meet the EU target of increasing the share of renewables in the UK's energy mix to 15% by 2020. The Telegraph reports that Gordon Brown is expected to say that the £100bn programme could generate more than 25GW of energy by 2020 and create up to 70,000 new jobs.
However, the article notes that energy experts questioned whether such an ambitious project is possible because the National Grid may not be able to cope with the peaks and troughs in energy caused by reliance on wind. Paul Willson, of PB Power, said there was a shortage in mechanical and civil engineers with the specialised skills to manufacture and install large number of turbines offshore. He also said there are not enough electrical engineers able to upgrade the grid so that the electricity can be transmitted from offshore to land. A source at a major energy company added that investors are nervous about putting money into the project as the Government has not signalled how much subsidies it will give to wind power up until 2020.
Meanwhile, the paper notes that the Carbon Disclosure Project, which audits company emissions, has found that the key energy, utilities and materials sectors will need to double their efforts to cut greenhouse gases if the UK is to meet its EU emissions targets for 2020.
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