Ashton 'too busy' for key EU defence meeting;
US Defence Secretary: Europe's aversion to military force puts NATO at risk
AFP reports that EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton will not be attending an important meeting of EU defence ministers in Spain today - the first to discuss EU defence cooperation under the new rules of the Lisbon Treaty. Lisbon allows a group of EU nations to work together in a particular military area - a move that cannot be vetoed by one member state. The only condition for creating such a "permanent structured cooperation," is that there is a qualified majority of the 27 EU nations in favour.
Defence ministers will also discuss the EU's operations already in place or in the planning stages - in Kosovo, against Somali pirates, training for the Somali military and logistical aid for quake-hit Haiti.
The article notes that EU diplomats were hoping to hear Ashton's views on these matters, "Especially as, thanks to the treaty, the opportunity is there to reinforce Europe's defence, to give it more visibility," as one European diplomat put it. Another source said, "Her predecessor Javier Solana didn't miss a single meeting of this type with the defence ministers."
Ashton's spokesman said that she had cancelled her participation in the defence talks, in part to represent the EU at the investiture ceremony of the new Ukrainian President. On his blog, Jean Quatremer argues that Ashton's "empty-chair policy" is "all the more infuriating" because NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Ramussen will be present at the meeting. "Patently, defence is not one of the Baroness' priorities," he adds.
Meanwhile, the IHT and the Guardian report that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that public and political opposition to the military had grown so great in Europe that it was directly affecting NATO operations in Afghanistan. He added, "The demilitarisation of Europe, where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it, has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st...the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats."
Coulisses de Bruxelles Le Monde IHT Guardian
Swedish MEP: The EU presents a threat to civil liberties
At an Open Europe debate in Brussels yesterday entitled, "Is the EU a threat to civil liberties?", Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström said: "on the question of whether the EU presents a threat to civil liberties: unfortunately it is yes." When asked to clarify an issue relating to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which addresses issues surrounding internet piracy and access, he said, "I would like to answer any question on ACTA, but the thing is I can't. I'm just an elected parliamentarian. I'm not allowed to know anything about it. This will be presented to Parliament and to the citizens as a fait accompli...The Commission refuses to give out any information." German Social Democrat MEP Birgit Sippel added that the European Parliament can only say 'Yes' or 'No' in the end, and that "if you want us to say 'Yes', than we need to be informed."
When asked whether the European Arrest Warrant poses a threat to civil liberties Jonathan Faull, Director-General of the Commission's DG Justice, Freedom and Security, said: "It has been used to good effect and it has been used in controversial cases as well. I know that. Is every system for criminal justice in the EU perfect? Obviously not...The European Commission has always been very clear that if the European Arrest Warrant had to be adopted, it had to be accompanied by, and also the EP agreed with us on that, a leveling up of procedural rights for accused and defendants in criminal justice systems in other member states so that people wouldn't feel that they were being exposed to 'rubbish legal systems'". He added, "Have we been successful in that? No". The event is featured on Mary Ellen Synon's Mail blog.
Mary Ellen Synon blog OE research
MEPs ready to go "into battle" with member states over EU financial supervision
EUobserver suggests that MEPs' reports on the proposals for three new supervisory authorities to oversee EU markets in the banking, pension and securities sectors go much further than the Council's agreement, reached in December. Spanish MEP José Manuel Garcia-Mergallo y Marfil, author of report on the proposed European Banking Authority, is calling for technical banking guidelines to be "as binding as possible", in order to give them "bite", and a central fund into which banks would have to contribute in order to pay for future bailouts.
During a meeting of the European Parliament Economy Committee yesterday he said: "We are not going to surrender. We are going to go into battle to convince the council [representing member states]". The WSJ also quotes him saying: "National supervisors should act as agents of the European Supervisory Authority (Banking) and should be bound to the authority's instructions when they supervise cross-border financial institutions with an EU dimension."
Green MEP Sven Giegold, author of the report on the European Securities and Markets Authority, said that the member states' agreement, which includes an appeals mechanism in case national capitals do not agree with the Authority's decisions, Mr Giegold said the quasi veto "really is taking European legislation to the ridiculous." He also said the Markets Authority should have the power to restrict certain financial practices such as short-selling.
EUobserver Reuters OE press release WSJ
EU visit to Athens could result in further austerity measures;
Greek debt crisis spreading to banks
Finance officials from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF arrived in Greece today at the start of a three-day trip to check on the effort to cut the budget deficit, coinciding with a general strike against the current austerity measures. Reuters reports that Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou has warned that the government may be forced to introduce further budget-tightening measures following the visit. The WSJ quotes an unnamed source saying, "The delegation will strongly urge the government to adopt additional measures worth €2 billion to €2.5 billion."
"This time, the officials from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF are not just getting an update on our figures. They have their own estimates and they are doing cross-checks," a senior Greek Finance Ministry official said.
The article notes that the Speaker of the Greek Parliament, Filippos Petsalnikos, summoned Germany's Ambassador to Athens yesterday to complain about German press reports, including the cover of Focus magazine, which shows an ancient Greek statue making a gesture of disrespect under the headline "Cheats in the euro family."
Meanwhile, the WSJ reports that Greece's financial instability is spreading to its private-sector banks. Fitch Ratings has downgraded the country's four major banks, illustrating the worry that Greece's efforts to lower its deficit through austerity measures will quickly spread into the Greek economy.
The Telegraph reports that Professor Kenneth Rogoff, former Chief Economist at the IMF, has predicted that he expects the IMF - not the EU - to eventually bailout Greece. He said: "I don't think Europe's going to succeed."
WSJ WSJ 2 Reuters Les Echos Le Figaro Le Figaro 2 Le Parisien Les Echos 2 Telegraph
EU ministers aiming to reach agreement on AIFM Directive on 16 March
The FT reports that the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee has begun meeting to discuss the proposed amendments to the EU's Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive, nearly 1,700 in total, with the Directive's rapporteur Jean-Paul Gauzes saying that, in spite of the huge volume of amendments, he is "quite optimistic" that it will be possible to draw up a "pragmatic, efficient text" ahead of the scheduled Committee vote on 12th April.
On the issue of whether non-EU fund managers should be allowed to market within the EU, Mr Gauzes said he favoured a transitional period - the length to be determined - in which the Commission would decide which regimes had equivalent standards and thereafter, managers from those countries would have full access to the EU market.
Speaking to the House of Commons EU Committee yesterday, Treasury Minister Sarah McCarthy-Fry said that EU finance ministers are aiming to reach agreement on the Directive on 16 March but several key issues are being disputed by Britain, adding that the UK is "not prepared to accept unjust barriers or costs to third country managers". She also said: "UK interests have been and will continue to be promoted...[although] with the EU, an element of flexibility and compromise are always necessary", reports Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that a survey published yesterday by the Financial Services Authority has found no evidence that hedge funds present a systemic threat to the financial system, and the Times' Business Editor David Wighton comments: "the FSA work should help to calm the fears expressed by some other European regulators. If, of course, the fears are real."
Hedge Fund Review Times Telegraph FSA report City AM FT Open Europe research Reuters
US pushes for a "three strikes" policy in ACTA negotiations
A working agreement obtained by IDG News Service reveals that US negotiators are pushing for the introduction of a "three strikes" policy within the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which is being currently negotiated with the EU. The policy would mean that after the third violation of intellectual property rights, through for instance illegal downloading, a person would be banned from accessing the Internet. In an official opinion released on Monday, European Data Protection Supervisor Peter Hustinx said that "a three strikes Internet disconnection policy as currently known...constitutes a disproportionate measure and can therefore not be considered as a necessary measure".
Opinion: Hustinx Le Monde Draft working agreement Computer World El Pais US Proposal
ECJ makes landmark ruling on rights to UK benefits for non-EU citizens
The BBC reports that in a landmark ruling the European Court of Justice has said some migrant families can stay in the UK and claim benefits - even if the main eligible worker has left the country. It said that members of the family of an EU worker in a host member state have residency rights that continue if the migrant worker no longer lives or works there. A Home Office spokesman said: "We are disappointed with today's ruling. We will now consider closely the European Court judgments and their implications."
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EU Pregnant Workers Directive could "exacerbate our unemployment crisis"
The Times reports that an extension of maternity leave across Europe was last night voted for by the Women's Rights Committee of the European Parliament to make it compulsory for employers to pay mothers for a minimum of 20 weeks on full pay. The vote in the European Parliament's Women's Rights Committee exceeded the European Commission's controversial proposal for 18 weeks' maternity leave on full pay.
Current UK rules give pregnant women a full year off, with just six weeks paid at 90% of the mother's average pay, followed by 33 weeks on Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) of £123 a week - 55% higher than sick pay. The rest is unpaid. The Government could be forced to pay an extra £2 billion a year to meet the extended rules. The full European Parliament will vote on the proposal next month.
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Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe appeared on Bloomberg TV, discussing whether it is a good idea for Iceland to join the EU. He said: "Iceland is already in the European Economic Area, so at the moment it's enjoying quite a good deal: access to the internal market, but not suffering from the overregulation coming from Brussels." He added: "certainly the argument that Iceland would have to join the EU in order to profit from the Euro has now fallen apart."
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has announced that retirement schemes will need to be reformed in all 27 member states. However, such reforms are already proving unpopular as demonstrated by Spanish unions who marched on Tuesday to protest about the Spanish decision to raise the limit from 65 to 67 years.
The front page of the Independent reports that a wave of industrial and social unrest is growing in the EU, as workers resist attempts by governments and private companies to impose austerity policies, in Spain, Greece, France and Germany among others. A leader in the paper calls it "The eurozone's spring of discontent".
Independent Independent: Leader Independent: McRae FT FT 2 EUobserver BBC
An analysis piece in the FT notes that although Germany is reluctant for closer economic union following the eurozone economic difficulties, "In practice, however, the Greek crisis is indeed serving as a motor of closer economic policy co-ordination".
The Irish Times reports that Google is to face a European antitrust investigation following complaints from three companies regarding unfair competition. Writing in the Telegraph, Damian Reece argues that a Brussels inquiry must not be another "monster investigation such as the one involving Microsoft's bundling of the Internet Explorer service and its Word operating system which lasted more than 10 years."
Irish Times Telegraph: Comment Times Le Figaro WSJ
An EU spokesperson in Riga yesterday announced the agreement of a loan of €500 million to help stabilise the struggling Latvian economy. The credit, to be transferred to Latvia in mid-March, brings the sum of EU loans to the country to €2.7 billion to date.
French air traffic controllers began a five-day strike yesterday in protest at EU plans for a Single European Skyline fearing job cuts and the loss of civil servant benefits.
IHT Irish Times
Eight EU countries, including the UK, are developing plans to permanently store high level radioactive waste. Sweden is the first country to have signed up to the proposals, committing €3 billion to a geological deposit which should be operational by 2025.
Le Monde reports that French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche is insisting that EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton should name all delegation heads from now on, as mandated in the Lisbon Treaty, and member states must be consulted.
Reuters reports that a draft version of the EU's 2020 economic strategy suggests that the EU is planning to cut its oil and gas imports by €60 billion by 2020, by increasing the use of renewables and improving energy efficiency.
AP reports that the Netherlands will hold a general election on 9 June, after the collapse of the ruling coalition over the issue of Dutch troops in Afghanistan.
Open Europe is an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU. For information on our research, events and other activities, please visit our website: openeurope.org.uk or call us on 0207 197 2333.