Spanish EU Presidency takes AIFM Directive off agenda for today's finance ministers' meeting
EU finance ministers were due to meet today to discuss the EU's proposed AIFM Directive on hedge fund and private equity managers. The FT reported this morning that the Spanish EU Presidency had said it was optimistic that a deal would be reached. However, on his WSJ blog, Stephen Fidler reports that Spanish Finance Minister Elena Salgado has pulled the item from the agenda of today's meeting. If ministers do not reach agreement today, the Directive will be reviewed at their next Ecofin meeting in May or June.
In the Times, Business Editor David Wighton cites Open Europe's estimates that the hedge fund and private equity industry contribute €9.2 billion (£8.4 billion) in tax revenues to the EU economy every year - an amount under threat if the Directive is passed in a flawed form. He notes that the taxes raised in the UK alone could pay the salaries of more than 200,000 nurses. He quotes Open Europe's Director Mats Persson saying that, although ministers have come a long way since the publication of the original proposals, this is a "terrible time" to put unnecessary burdens on the industry.
City AM reports that fears persist around the protectionist implications of the "third countries" aspect of the Directive, which would put up barriers to overseas fund companies looking to sell products to customers, such as pension investors, within the EU. Mats is quoted saying, "Ministers must have the courage to resist all forms of protectionism and populism. Failure to do so will cost Europe dearly."
The FT notes that Diego Lopez Garrido, Spain's Secretary of State for the EU, said that a deal would include a provision for "some kind of European passport", allowing approved funds from outside the EU to market across the bloc rather than be subject to country-by-country rules, but he did not elaborate further. The article notes that UK officials still have concerns about the Directive's impact on EU competitiveness.
Euractiv notes that the European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (EVCA) have conducted a survey which shows that 85 percent of respondents found the third country clause "unacceptable". The article also cites Open Europe's estimates of the tax revenue from the industry. In the Independent David Prosser argues, "If the UK's Financial Services Authority is satisfied that US hedge funds based here - and then marketing their services across Europe - are safe, that should be enough for the EU."
Eurozone finance ministers agree to provide bilateral loans to Greece;
Dutch Finance Minister: Greece can't expect "a free ride"
Eurozone finance ministers meeting last night agreed "technical modalities" for assistance to Greece, by saying they would provide emergency financial support if needed, in order to deal with its debt crisis. The ministers stopped short of detailing exact sums that would be made available, but said that any bailout was likely to be based on voluntary bilateral loans from other eurozone governments.
Eurozone Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker said: "What will happen if necessary, and we're still convinced it won't be necessary, is that we'll reach an agreement in the eurozone to offer bilateral support in a co-ordinated form", according to EUobserver. The notion of providing loan guarantees has reportedly been ruled out.
The FT notes that any financial assistance would not be offered in the form of soft loans, but with an interest rate premium attached. Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said Greece could not expect "a free ride to cheap loans". A separate article in the paper quotes Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou saying that the eurozone initiative was "a good move". EU leaders will decide on the detail of the plan at a European Council meeting on the 25 and 26 March.
Meanwhile, Le Monde reports that EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia has said that the idea of a European Monetary Fund is a good one for the long term, but added: "we cannot allow ourselves to think about the long term if we don't think about the short and medium terms".
The FT reports that Germany has rejected criticism from French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, that it has increased its economic competitiveness at the expense of other eurozone countries. A leader in the paper argues: "Germany could start importing more from the rest of the currency union. Europe will not save its way to prosperity. Frugality is not a virtue if no one is willing to spend."
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ECJ rules that football clubs must be compensated for trainees that sign for other clubs
PA reports that the European Court of Justice has ruled that football clubs can legally seek compensation if young players they have trained sign their first professional contract with a club in another EU country. The verdict came in a case involving 29-year old French player Olivier Bernard, who joined Newcastle United at the end of a three-year training contract with French club Olympique Lyonnaise.
The judges ruled that, "A scheme providing for the payment of compensation for training where a young player, at the end of his training, signs a professional contract with a club other than the one which trained him can, in principle, be justified by the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players." They added, "The amount of that compensation is to be determined by taking account of the costs borne by the clubs in training both future professional players and those who will never play professionally."
As a result of the case, football's international governing body, FIFA, has adopted rules under which clubs, and not the player, pay compensation. The amount is calculated on the cost of training a player, adjusted by the ratio of trainees needed to produce one professional player.
Commission says Britain's deficit plan is not enough
A draft report from the European Commission, seen by Reuters, says that Britain's plan to cut its budget deficit is not "ambitious" enough and will not ensure that it meets the EU's 3% of GDP target by 2014-15. The report, expected to be approved tomorrow, says: "The overall conclusion is that the fiscal strategy in the convergence programme is not sufficiently ambitious and needs to be significantly reinforced". Britain is not a member of the eurozone so cannot be fined for breaching the deficit limit.
The Times reports that sterling plunged back below $1.50, close to a nine-month low reached two weeks ago, following the news.
Former UK diplomat: EU diplomatic service is an impossible task that will "dangerously diminish Europe's voice in the world"
In an op-ed article in the Times titled the "Scandal, waste and waffle of EU diplomacy", former British diplomat George Walden warns that the planned EU diplomatic service will be unworkable and will "dangerously diminish Europe's voice in the world". He also sympathises with new EU foreign minister, Cathy Ashton, saying that: "the task with which she has been lumbered is not just daunting, it is impossible".
Meanwhile, Open Europe's Stephen Booth, is quoted on Czech website EUportal saying: "No one in the UK voted for the creation of an EU Foreign Minister and no one across the EU has ever voted for Catherine Ashton. She is a complete lightweight".
MEP's report criticises EP's expenditure on skiing strips for staff and its own TV channel
The Telegraph notes that a report by Belgian MEP Bart Staes for the European Parliament's Budget Committee, has raised questions about the assembly budget, including concerns about a £72,000 "entertainment" fund for parliament staff which was used to pay for a trip to the Italian Alps for the children of MEPs and officials. The report also attacked the annual £8 million budget for EuroparlTV, Parliament's own dedicated online TV channel. It broadcasts live Parliamentary events, including plenary and committee meetings but has been condemned by some MEPs as "glorified propaganda."
Open Europe's Director Mats Persson is quoted, arguing that "this report illustrates the complete disregard that MEPs have shown for taxpayers' money. In this tough economic climate, it is astonishing that the European Parliament continues to justify spending money on luxuries such as ski holidays for its staff and their children."
El Mundo reports that Spanish Justice Minister, Francisco Caamaño, announced yesterday his ambitions to work "towards the creation of an EU legal area," under article 81 of the Lisbon Treaty, whereby there would be "free movement of court rulings" just like the free movement of people, goods and capital.
The WSJ notes that according to Eurostat figures the number of people unemployed in the eurozone increased by 2.7 million in 2009, and was up by four million in the EU as a whole.
Following last week's news that the number of journalists accredited to the EU institutions has shrunk rapidly since 2005, the Economist's Charlemagne blog argues that "The malaise gripping Brussels has its echo in a growing sense that the EU project is just not where the action is."
Private Eye's Brussels Sprouts column reports that BAE systems has been awarded part of a £33m contract for research into surveillance technologies, including the ADABTS project (Automatic Detection of Abnormal Behaviour and Threats in crowded Spaces project) which involves teaching CCTV how to make inferences about human behaviour, as part of the EU's Stockholm Programme.
European Voice reports that several EU countries, including Germany, Italy, the UK and Poland, are arguing that the implementation date for a regulation aimed at reducing tailpipe emissions from vans should be postponed from the current date of 2014, because the industry needs more time to comply.
Handelsblatt reports that India is re-considering a planned free trade agreement with the EU because of excessive EU requirements on social criteria. "The agreement is very important for the economy", said Bernhard Steinrücke, General Manager of the German-Indian Chamber of Commerce", adding: "The EU must not allow this to fail by insisting on social clauses".
The Warsaw Business Journal reports that Poland is set to receive €11 billion in EU support this year to increase employment and training. Yet, the article notes that about €4.5 billion of this amount will likely be spent on administrative costs.
The FT reports that the Nord Stream pipeline, to ship natural gas from Siberia to the EU via the Baltic Sea, has secured €3.9bn of funding from 26 banks and loan guarantees from credit agencies in Germany and Italy, allowing it to begin construction.
The Telegraph reports that Moody's credit rating agency has warned that the world's five biggest AAA-rated countries, the US, UK, Germany, France and Spain, are at risk from soaring debt costs and austerity plans that will threaten "social cohesion".
Writing in the Express UKIP leader Lord Pearson argues that the upcoming election in the UK should be about "who governs Britain" and suggests that a central argument in the election should be the UK's relationship with the EU.
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