EU Foreign Ministers criticise lack of transparency in diplomatic appointment;
Carl Bildt: I've always questioned whether the EU Foreign Minister post would work
The Times reports that Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's appointment of his former Chief of Staff as EU Ambassador to the US has sparked a "jobs for the boys" controversy. The Telegraph reports that President Barroso took the decision without any consultation and that news was leaked in the US 24 hours before EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton or any national government had been informed.
The FT reports that national governments are disturbed both by Mr Barroso's failure to consult them and by the fact that Lady Ashton appears to have had little say in the appointment. The Telegraph quotes an unnamed EU diplomat saying, "The British keep telling us she has great powers of negotiation. But Barroso has pulled a fast one and Ashton does not have the authority to stand up to him".
In a strongly worded letter of complaint to Cathy Ashton, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote: "This nomination has been done without applying the very principles now under discussion where transparency, member states involvement and, above all, your roles as appointing authority are key elements". Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said, "It goes without saying that nominations like this will not be seen in the future. I would hope they will be more transparent." Mr Bildt also described the appointment as a "downgrade" for the EU's representation in Washington, according to EurActiv.
Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter quotes Mr Bildt raising doubts about the Lisbon Treaty's institutional set-up on foreign policy: "I've always questioned whether the construction would work... the post [EU foreign minister] is set up in a way that makes it virtually impossible. Catherine Ashton needs to be assisted. There needs to be deputies in different areas."
French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche is expected to send his own letter today voicing wider concerns about the appointment process at the EU's new diplomatic service, the External Action Service, according to the Times.
The IHT reports that, three months after the Lisbon Treaty came into force, "an awkward question is unavoidably being asked within the bloc: Has the Lisbon Treaty actually made things worse?" It quotes former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe Ron Asmus saying, "If it were a priority for Europe to boost its presence on the global stage, would they not choose their leaders differently and work harder to create more clarity?"
Meanwhile, former Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas, who resigned over allegations he helped cover up a secret CIA prison in Lithuania, has been appointed by Cathy Ashton as EU representative to Afghanistan. Jean Quatremer describes the choice on his blog as "hard to understand...as Usackas knows nothing about Afghanistan".
Le Figaro reports that Ashton wants a 'Marshall' plan for Haiti and has announced that she will visit Port-au-Prince next week.
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Proposed EU changes to maternity pay could cost UK £2bn a year
The FT reports that proposed changes to the Pregnant Workers Directive are set for approval by the European Parliament's Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee today, which could cost the UK £2bn a year. Although Britain offers new mothers one year's statutory leave, it is at relatively low rates of pay, and the EU proposal is to require 18 weeks at full pay. EU agreement will be taken by quality majority voting, meaning that the UK cannot veto the proposal.
British business groups told the paper they were "very worried" by the potential for the new proposals to end up in approved legislation and Employment Relations Minister Lord Young told the paper: "The Commission's proposals are only at an early stage, but we do have concerns and are lobbying hard to get the right deal for the UK...A substantial increase in maternity leave paid at full or near-full pay risks undermining this delicate balance at a time when economies across the EU can least afford it."
German Finance Ministry denies "concrete" plans for €25bn bailout package for Greece
Euractiv notes that a statement from the German Foreign Ministry has denied reports in Der Spiegel that it was readying a financial aid package to Greece worth up to €25bn, saying that speculation that there are "concrete plans" for a multi-billion eurozone bailout for Greece "are not accurate". However, the article notes that the statement did not deny the existence of plans for a Greek bailout, saying only that no decision had been taken regarding the plans and who would be footing the bill. The Irish Independent quotes European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj saying, "There has been no such request for any financial aid by the Greek authorities, so this is a speculative scenario at this point in time." He added, "It is clear that if needed, the European Union will take determined action."
Handelsblatt reports that in the German Finance Ministry a bailout consisting of bilateral aid from EU countries is the main option being discussed, while the Office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's preferred option to rescue Greece would involve wider support from the IMF.
Meanwhile, EUobserver reports that Greece has missed the deadline imposed by the European Commission to hand in details of the financial transactions overseen by Goldman Sachs that were used to mask its debt. Athens attributed the delay in part to disruptions caused by a four-day strike at the Finance Ministry. The FT notes that Gerald Corrigan, Chairman of Goldman Sachs, conceded that the complex currency swaps used to reduce Greece's budget deficit "could have and should have" been more transparent, but that they complied with EU accounting principles in effect at the time.
Writing in the FT, Gideon Rachman argues, "The Greek crisis is about the very basis on which European unity has been built for the last 60 years. It threatens not just the euro but the entire edifice of the European Union." He adds that the kind of political integration required to make the euro work "affects ordinary citizens at a very basic level - since it involves big choices about taxation and spending. As a result, it exposes a truth that ardent pro-Europeans are very reluctant to acknowledge. Most citizens of the EU still feel far more attached to their own nation than to the Union."
A leader in Die Zeit comments "either the EU sacrifices the euro, or it gives up national sovereignty over economic policy".
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BMA warns patient care suffering under EU Working Time Directive
The Telegraph reports that the British Medical Association has warned that patient care is suffering as a result of the EU's Working Time Directive. Under the Directive, junior doctors' hours were reduced from 56 to a maximum of 48 hours a week in August 2009, and a BMA survey of 1,500 junior doctors has found that four in ten are working on teams that do not have enough people, rising to six in ten in accident and emergency departments.
Dr Shree Datta, Chairman of the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee is quoted saying: "It is hugely alarming to that find so many doctors are working in teams short of experienced doctors. In settings like A&E, which is experiencing the highest levels of understaffing, it is especially critical that experienced specialists are on hand to make the decisions that can mean the difference between life and death. Clearly many hospitals are struggling to cope with the introduction of the 48-hour week."
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Commission slammed over secret negotiations on anti-piracy talks
EUobserver reports that the European Data Protection Supervisor issued a formal opinion yesterday concluding that the European Commission was endangering EU data protection rules and even internet users' fundamental rights by engaging in talks with the US, Canada, Japan and others on a new multilateral agreement to combat counterfeiting and piracy - the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta). The opinion said it viewed "with concern the fact that little information is publicly made available about current negotiations."
Hungarian newspaper Nepszabadsag cites Open Europe's findings on the pensions and pay-offs of retiring EU Commissioners.
Nepszabadsag OE press release
The Guardian reports that widespread strikes are set for Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia tomorrow, sparked by Spanish PM Jose Luis Zapatero's proposal to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67. Unions have also raised the threat of general strikes.
Writing in the Times Bronwen Maddox argues that the collapse of the Dutch coalition government over a dispute about Afghanistan "points to a profound change of mood in one of the bellwethers of Europe." She adds, "Budget cuts and unemployment are turning the famously tolerant Dutch away from helping weaker members of the EU and cooling enthusiasm for enlargement".
Writing in the WSJ, Bret Stephens argues that Europeans' worship of the state and corresponding suspicion of free markets doom their countries to economic stagnation.
Le Figaro reports that more than 60% of Icelanders are now opposed to joining the EU.
The Spanish EU Presidency has called for a fresh round of negotiations on Turkish membership of the EU. PM José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said that Spain is "firmly supportive of the entry of Turkey into the European Union", according to Le Figaro.
EU foreign ministers yesterday condemned the "fraudulent" use of Irish and other EU passports in the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
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City AM reports that Ireland will miss a late February deadline to transfer its first loan into the 'bad bank' NAMA scheme, as it awaits Commission approval - expected in late March.
PA reports that the Conservatives pledged today they would seek "fundamental" reform of farming subsidy payments and pledged a review of all farming regulations within three months, if elected, in a bid to reduce the burden of red tape.
EU Commission announced yesterday that there is "no choice but to act now and propose a ban on international trade" in bluefish tuna; a move opposed by Japan, who account for 80% of the worldwide consumption of the fish.
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A new ICM poll for the Guardian has put the Conservatives on 37 percent, Labour on 30 percent, and the Lib Dems on 20 percent.
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