Thursday, February 25, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 25 February 2010

EU pressure on Greece sparks Deputy PM into rant at Germany's WWII record
The Times reports that protesters and police clashed in Greece yesterday as a strike against government austerity measures turned violent amid signs that delegations from the European Commission and International Monetary Fund currently visiting Athens will demand extra cuts amounting to at least €2 billion (£1.7 billion), as early as next month.
The Guardian notes that the pressure for greater cuts, particularly from Germany, has led to heightened tensions between the two countries. Greek Deputy Prime Minister, Theodore Pangalos, said Germany had no right to judge Greek finances after wreaking havoc on the economy during the four years that the country was under Nazi occupation in the Second World War. He added that Germany had failed to make adequate compensation. "They took away the Greek gold that was at the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back. This is an issue that has to be faced sometime," he said.
Andreas Peschke, a spokesman at the German Foreign Ministry, replied, "A discussion about the past is not helpful to solve the problems...facing us in Europe today." The Telegraph quotes a banker saying, "How can they call the Germans incompetent Nazis and still expect a bail-out?"
Mr. Pangalos also hit out at Italy saying that it had done much more to mask the true extent of its public debt than Greece when it entered the euro and criticised the EU's leaders for their inability to agree a bailout package. "The quality of leadership in the union is very, very poor indeed," he said.
In an interview with the BBC World Service, Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe discussed the strikes in Greece, saying: "citizens in Greece need to understand that taxpayers in other countries don't feel like paying for the mistakes of governments they couldn't punish. However the crisis is not just due to the Greek government, but also to the concept of monetary union which led to artificially low interest rates and accompanying high public and private debt in periphery economies such as Greece, Spain and Ireland." The FT's Alphaville blog notes that a Dutch opinion poll over the weekend found that 92% of voters wanted Greece expelled from the eurozone.
In a letter to the FT, Open Europe supporter Sir Peter Marshall writes that the EU should concentrate on a practical outcome to the Greek crisis rather than using it as an excuse to move further toward 'political union', arguing "No democratic international organisation of any consequence" should allow itself to be "reduced to such a state of inflexibility."
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the Commission has said it will take Greece to the European Court of Justice to recover hundreds of millions in state aid, which it claims was granted illegally to hundreds of firms through tax exemptions.
German daily Handelsblatt quotes ECB Board Member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi saying: "The [growth] and stability pact should perhaps be tightened up...especially for countries that are experiencing a rapid rate of growth but cannot sink their deficits".
FT: Marshall Times Times: Charter City AM BBC BBC: Hewitt blog WSJ: Nixon WSJ Telegraph Scotsman EUobserver FT La Repubblica Reuters Die Welt FTD WSJ 2 Guardian ABC BBC El Mundo European Voice Le Figaro Independent Handelsblatt Presseschau Liberation IHT IHT 2 Irish Times Nouvel Obs BBC 2 WSJ: Editorial Bloomberg FT Alphaville blog Handelsblatt  
EP Budget Control Committee says lax spending "threatens EP's reputation"
The European Parliament's Budget Control Committee has criticised the European Parliament's lax spending controls, saying that they threaten the EP's reputation. Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes, who presented the report on the EP's 2008 spending, said it continued to suffer from "a disastrous atmosphere of scandalitis". He added, "I'm asking the Parliament to improve its management and transparency".
Finnish Liberal MEP Ville Itälä said that "The Parliament's reputation is ruined. Skiing trips of employees. It's something that makes us lose our reputation...We are using taxpayers' money here. It is something we sometimes forget." Véronique Mathieu, a French centre-right MEP, said that she had received numerous complaints from her constituents in Alsace over how envelopes of hundreds of euros in cash were routinely given out to visitors groups to cover their travel and food costs, without them being asked to produce receipts, admitting that it "damages our image."
European Voice
Spanish Defence Minister regrets absence of Cathy Ashton at key EU defence meeting
EUobserver reports that Spanish Defence Minister Carme Chacon said she "regretted the absence" of EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton at yesterday's meeting of EU defence ministers in Mallorca, given the "important" subjects discussed at the meeting. It is the second time this month that Ms Ashton has not attended a defence gathering, after having cancelled at the last minute her keynote speech at an event organised by the European Defence Agency (EDA), of which she is the head, on 9 February.
On his Twitter page, Dutch Defence Minister Jack de Vries wrote: "We now have an EU President and an EU High Representative, but the latter one, Ms. Ashton, is conspicuous through absence. [Javier] Solana was always there." Le Figaro reports that French Defence Minister Hervé Morin described Ashton's absence as "delicious", adding: "this morning, talking about relations between NATO and the EU, there was the Secretary General for NATO [Anders Fogh Rasmussen] and not the High Representative, for the first meeting since the Lisbon treaty came into force".
An editorial in European Voice argues that Ashton's decision to skip the meeting "reinforces the impression that she is ill at ease with the hard-security aspects of EU foreign policy...The dual role of the EU foreign policy chief who is also a member of the European Commission is still evolving. Ashton risks discrediting the concepts. Europe's security and role in the world will suffer as a consequence."
EUobserver European Voice: Editorial Twitter Les Echos LeFigaro OE blog
Danish Farm Minister embroiled in conflict of interest over EU subsidies
The CAP Reform blog notes that, in Denmark's recent cabinet reshuffle, Henrik Høegh was appointed the new Farm Minister. However, he has become embroiled in a row over a potential conflict of interest because as a farmer he has benefited from the Common Agricultural Policy, receiving subsidies to the tune of €604,787 over nine years from 2000 to 2008. The blog argues: "Mr Høegh is now responsible for signing his own subsidy cheques, but also, as a member of the EU's Council of Agriculture Ministers, deciding on the future of the CAP...It just shows the extent to which the 55 billion euro a year common agricultural policy has been captured by those with a personal financial interest."
CAP Reform blog
Eurostat uses Greek crisis to call for increased powers over government's accounts
The WSJ reports that Eurostat, the EU's statistical authority based in the Commission, yesterday cited "incomplete" information provided by the Greek government regarding a derivatives transaction in 2001, as evidence that it needs greater auditing powers to "directly examine public accounts." The article notes that the European Commission formally proposed last week to give Eurostat the power to access "the accounts of government entities at central, state, local and social security levels". The Commission launched a similar initiative in 2005 but was rejected by European finance ministers. Cinzia Alcidi, of the Centre for European Policy Studies, comments that the proposals "give to the EU reasons to interfere in matters that are usually the competence of sovereign governments."
72% of Conservative MP candidates think it is a priority for Britain to renegotiate EU relationship
A ComRes poll for the New Statesman of 101 Conservative Parliamentary candidates has found that 72% agreed with the statement, "As a matter of priority, Britain needs a fundamental renegotiation of its relationship with the European Union". 23% disagreed.
No link
EU Justice Commissioner to push for controversial Consumer Rights Directive
The FT reports that Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner, is committed to pushing ahead with the controversial Consumer Rights Directive. The Directive, which has stalled in the European Parliament, has been criticised by consumer groups because it would impose maximum standards on all member states, thereby undercutting existing consumer rights in countries, such as the UK, which have more generous laws.
Commission indicates Iceland's EU accession bid could take only 14 months
The European Commission gave its formal backing yesterday for Iceland to open accession talks with the EU. Negotiations are expected to be concluded within 14 months as Iceland already applies much EU law and regulation. One of the main negotiation points will be fisheries, with former Icelandic Foreign Minister Jon Baldvin, telling EUobserver: "Iceland will never join if we have to allow access to our fishing stock. Icelanders will view this as nothing less than the arrival of the Spanish Armada." Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bilt also suggested that Iceland's accession could help the EU make claim to strategic resource reserves in the Arctic, saying: "Iceland will bring us more into arctic issues that will be big."
Guardian Telegraph EUobserver BBC European Voice WSJ FT Le Figaro Le Point IHT Irish Times Le Moci Le Figaro Les Echos La Stampa ANSA Euronews Le Figaro
In the Telegraph, Benedict Brogan argues that a Conservative government must rescue Britain's energy policy after years of neglect. He notes that "As so often, Europe is playing its part, in the shape of the EU Large Combustion Plant directive...The Government admits that by 2020 the lost capacity will be vast - 22.5 gigawatts, or almost a third of our total requirements".
Telegraph: Brogan
Speaking in the European Parliament yesterday, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, told EU President Herman Van Rompuy that he had the "charisma of a damp rag" and the "appearance of a low grade bank clerk". In response, Joseph Daul, head of the EPP grouping, suggested the UK should leave the EU, as it is apparently not pleased to be in the union, reports EUobserver.
Express BBC EUobserver Today programme UKIP Zita
La Stampa notes that the European Commission yesterday launched a set of proposals aimed at strengthening the role of its border control agency Frontex. However, the budget will remain unchanged at €80 million a year.
La Stampa Times of Malta EUobserver
The Telegraph reports that the European Commission will start a series of preliminary investigations, in response to complaints, to examine if Google has violated the Lisbon Treaty's clause of "abuse of dominant position". Google has been accused of altering search options and links to reduce traffic to selected websites.
Guardian El Pais BBC Telegraph Le Figaro
AFP reports that the Danish government has announced it will stick to its plan to hold a referendum on Euro entry.
The Mail reports on the European Parliament's Women's Rights Committee's vote in favour of increasing maternity pay to a minimum of 20 weeks on full salary, and notes that Labour's only MEP on the Committee, Mary Honeyball, has refused to say which way she voted - despite previously speaking up in favour of the measure.
Europolitics reports that EU President Herman Van Rompuy has told MEPs that, although under the Lisbon Treaty he has to appear before the EP four times a year, it will be more like "five or six times, or even ten times a year".
Europolitics RTL Info Ouest France Le JDD Le Figaro Le Point Les Echos Irish times Reuters RTL info LeFigaro
An agreement on how to finance the cost of overruns on the A400M military transport aircraft has finally been reached 'in principle', according to Spain's Defence Minister Carme Chacon.  The cost overruns are close to €5 billion. 
Le Figaro Investir Nouvel Obs L'Express Le Parisien
In a comment piece in the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash writes: "The agonies of the eurozone reflect a far more significant hidden deficit...The spirit that once led Europeans into union has vanished, just as we now face the euro's widely predicted flaws. Joking apart, we need to recognise that this is not just the first great test of the eurozone but also a defining moment for the whole project of a European Union. Since this is Europe, not Apollo 13, failure is definitely an option."
Guardian: Timothy Garton Ash
The Irish Independent reports that the Commission is expected to give the go-ahead to the NAMA 'bad bank' scheme by tomorrow evening, but it is not yet clear what conditions they will attach to it.
Irish Independent
The Sun reports that Spanish MEPs are trying to reintroduce the ban on "irregular shaped" fruit, which was scrapped last July.
No link
The EU's economic development plan, known as Strategy 2020, will be released on 3 March.
Europa Press Release European Voice EUobserver 
The Times reports that three Google executives were convicted in Italy yesterday of violating a boy's privacy by allowing a film featuring a bullying incident to be posted online, in a ruling that could profoundly change the way in which video clips are put on the internet.

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