Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 2 March 2010

Merkel warns against politicisation of EU budget oversight
Handelsblatt reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday rejected a call from Spanish PM Jose Luis Zapatero for "EU-solidarity" for Greece. She also warned that the euro would not be stable without radical cuts in the budget deficits of member states: "Only if the financial markets evaluate that Greece can handle the reforms, will the euro be able to become stable again".
FTD reports that the German Chancellor has also protested in a letter to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso about proposals for the EU 2020 growth strategy, saying: she "did not agree" to link compliance with new economic targets to the control of the stability and growth pact, as it would "needlessly politicise budget oversight". She also urged President Barroso to set goals that are achievable for all member states and emphasised that the growth strategy should not come at the expense of the stability pact.
Les Echos Handelsblatt AFP FTD Handelsblatt 2 Bloomberg
German court rules that interpretation of EU rules on data retention breach Constitution
The German Federal Constitutional Court ruled yesterday that the German law implementing the EU's Data Retention Directive breaches the German Constitution. However, the Court ruled against the implementation of the Directive, rather than the Directive itself. The Court ruled that the retention of information is permitted only under strict rules of Constitutional law, if someone's life or freedom were in danger, and therefore all data collected before yesterday's ruling under the Directive must be immediately erased.
Prior to this decision, internet providers and telecommunication companies were obliged by the Directive to store telephone numbers, emails and internet connections of all citizens for six months without needing a concrete reason. The judges ruled that the implementation of the Directive provided "neither adequate data security, nor sufficient boundaries on the application of data retention."
Chief EU budget official: We need direct financing of EU budget
At a debate in Brussels on the EU budget organised by the Madariaga Foundation, Hervé Jouanjean, Director General of the European Commission's Budget department, said that "when I look at the margins for the budget for 2011 and after, we are, very simply put, close to zero. This means that we're very close to paralysis. We will need to redefine priorities."
He added, "This is a budget which I qualify as being out of breath, because of the limits which have been imposed by the member states...We're hostage to the discussions by the net contributors." He added: "We should have a mechanism which would serve to exploit the possibility, in a progressive way, to lead to direct funding of the EU."
Belgian MEP Jean-Luc Dehaene, Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament's Budget Committee, also said that "we should open the discussion on direct funding for the EU", suggesting that instruments to combat climate change present an opportunity to do that.
Madariaga Foundation
European Commission demands more public sector wage cuts in Greece
The WSJ reports that, while visiting Athens, EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn has called on the Greek government to take extra measures to reduce the budget deficit.
Le Figaro quotes Greek politician from the radical left party Nicos Papas saying, "We will fight to the last to have our rights respected and make the government understand that it cannot become the puppet of Brussels."
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that, refusing to be drawn on whether a €25bn rescue package was being crafted by eurozone governments and banks to assist Greece, Rehn insisted the EU had the "ways and means" to ensure the financial stability of the euro area was safeguarded. "The euro area is ready to take determined and coordinated action to ensure the stability of the euro area," he said. "The Commission has put in place the framework of coordinating such action."
The WSJ notes that investors are starting to close short positions on Greek debt in expectation of an EU bailout. The Telegraph notes that plans for a Franco-German led bailout, reportedly using state-owned banks to guarantee the purchase of Greek bonds, "would bow to the letter - if not the spirit - of EU treaties prohibiting direct bailouts by member states." The article adds that "For the scheme to be credible, the EU - read essentially Germany - still has to approve the latest, toughest Greek deficit-cutting plan in mid-March".
City AM FT IHT EUobserver BBC European Voice WSJ WSJ 2 Irish Times Guardian WSJ Telegraph IHT: Vinocur Le Monde La Tribune Le Figaro
Open Europe's Sarah Gaskell appeared on Andrew Pierce's LBC radio show on Sunday discussing MEPs' vote in favour of increasing their staff allowances by €1,500 a month.
OE blog
Private Eye's Brussels Sprouts column reports on Open Europe's recent event, "Is the EU a threat to civil liberties", and notes that Jonathan Faull, head of DG Security and Justice, admitted that the European Arrest Warrant had not been very successful, because of a failure to increase the rights of suspects across the EU.
Open Europe events
German regulator launches inquiry into trades in Greek debt with eye toward greater regulation
The Times reports that Germany's top financial regulator, BaFin, has launched an investigation into the market for credit default swaps (CDS), seeking evidence that speculators have been using the instruments, which provide insurance against the default of a bond issuer, to bet against Greek government bonds. The FT notes that the UK Financial Services Authority has stepped up its efforts to monitor the CDS sector by tracking trades and price levels but has not joined calls for tougher regulation. Simon Gleeson, Partner at Clifford Chance, is quoted saying, "If we get the facts on the ground, that someone is known to have made huge profits, then it would give the French and German governments the ammunition that makes it highly likely something will happen."
An editorial in the WSJ argues, "There's no small irony in the fact that the same governments that once took advantage of derivatives peddled by international financiers to help conceal their true financial condition are now claiming to be the victims of the same banks' dealings in the derivatives market."
Times FT WSJ: Editorial
Commission and national governments in tussle over EU diplomatic corps
EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has circulated a series of "vision papers" in Brussels on the shape of the EU's External Action Service (EAS). EUobserver, which has seen the papers, reports that the European Commission and member states are engaged in a scrap over influence in the EAS. One source close to discussions between the Commission and national governments described them as "very frosty, pretty tense". The article also reports that tensions are so high that the Commission is considering withdrawing public support for the proposals.
One major point of contention concerns development policy, with member states wanting to set the strategy themselves. The Commission is also unhappy with the idea that the EAS should have thematic units, or 'desks', which cut across geographical regions on policies such as migration and climate change, which is seen as a Commission prerogative. Baroness Ashton is due to present a full proposal on the EAS to the European Council in April.
Meanwhile, PA reports that Baroness Ashton will fly to Haiti today, in the wake of last month's earthquake. It also notes that confusion over the jobs created by the Lisbon Treaty was on display as Baroness Ashton issued a statement expressing condolences for people caught up in the Chilean earthquake, three minutes after Commission President Barroso had issued a similar statement.
EUobserver Irish Times Telegraph European Voice Economist: Charlemagne notebook E!Sharp
Belgian party claims European parties have received €60 million since 2004, unmonitored by European Parliament
A draft report by Belgian Green MEP Bart Staes on the approval of the European Parliament's 2008 budget is due to be discussed today in the EP's Budgetary Control Committee. In a press release, he says that it is not certain that the budget is going to be approved, because he "has some critical remarks". He adds, "I ask the Parliament to improve a couple a things when it comes to management and transparency...It's not by trying to head off possible errors, because one is afraid of the media and possible damage to image, that one will gain trust from citizens."
A press release by Belgian political party Vlaams Belang argues that "the report by Staes is seriously insufficient", adding that it is mainly the financing of European political parties which is a problem. It states: "European political parties have received €60 million without any control since 2004, and the annual amount has increased, up to €18 million in 2010 alone." It adds: "any serious control is lacking: mandatory reports are not being handed down, or are being handed down too late, audit reports are being executed by companies of friends selected by MEPs and annual programs aren't respected."
Bart Staes Press Release Vlaams Belang Press Release
15% of ECB employees sue over planned pension reform
Il Sole 24 Ore reports that about 170 ECB staffers are taking the ECB to the ECJ, challenging the legality of a new pension scheme which entails an average 20% cut in their pension benefits, according to the International and European Public Services Organisation (IPSO). On the basis of its independent statute, the ECB is allowed to legislate autonomously on the contractual conditions of its staffers.
Il Sole 24 Ore Le Figaro Reuters
€28 billion needed to meet EU renewable energy goals
Konstantin Staschus, Secretary-General of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), has said that €28 billion in electricity infrastructure investment will be needed to meet the EU's energy goals, including integrating renewable energies into the grid. He told EurActiv that "The emphasis on integrating renewable energies into the grid will be necessary to meet the EU's goal of producing 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020".
EU's internal security strategy could change data sharing between member states
Private Eye's Brussels Sprouts column reports that an "internal security strategy" for the EU, approved by justice ministers, contains plans to change the way data is shared between member states. It foresees "information exchange on a basis of mutual trust and culminating in the principle of information availability". The column notes that this means restrictions on shared data will become the exception, not the rule. More data will also be collected, with plans to monitor health data and information from schools and universities.
It notes that "such a significant incursion into what were nationally-sovereign areas...has been made possible by the Lisbon Treaty." Britain has said the security strategy is "certainly something we support".
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EUobserver reports that the EP's controversial private second pension scheme has its office inside the European Parliament building, with lighting and phone bills all paid for out of the legislature's administration budget, and that a number of EP officials will suggest this month that the European Parliament takes over the running of the Luxembourg-based fund.

EUobserver OE blog
The WSJ reports that the British Bankers' Association last night raised concerns with EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier that new EU regulation on capital requirements would make it harder for them to lend to businesses and consumers. "The real issue is that changes may have the effect of making it more difficult for banks to lend to businesses and individuals," said Angela Knight, CEO of the British Bankers' Association. "This, in turn, will not help the economy recover."
Improving ties with the European Union is a "key priority" for Ukraine, the country's newly elected President Viktor Yanukovych said yesterday.
Le Monde reports that the UK's reported 0.1% growth in GDP in the fourth quarter of 2009 has been revised to 0.3%.
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