Open Europe spells out the choices voters face on Europe
Open Europe yesterday published a new briefing detailing the UK's main parties' positions on the European Union, ahead of tonight's leaders' debate on foreign policy. The WSJ's Brussels blog describes the briefing as a "tip sheet that could prove useful". Open Europe's Mats Persson appeared on Bloomberg Television this morning, discussing tonight's debate.
An article in the FT suggests that both Nick Clegg and David Cameron will face their toughest scrutiny over their policy on Europe, and that Gordon Brown "will need to explain again why the government failed to offer Britain a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Mr Cameron will press home the argument that this showed Mr Brown cannot be trusted." A leader in the paper argues, "...promising the British electorate a vote on the constitutional treaty and then not following through was a blunder. It has increased public mistrust towards Europe."
The BBC's Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt features interviews with all of the main parties' foreign affairs spokesmen on Europe and concludes: "Just down the road important decisions will be made on immigration, policing and justice. The question is how much power should the European institutions have in these areas and which party do the voters trust to handle the negotiations?"
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Times, David Cameron has indicated that any changes to the EU treaties this summer, to increase the number of MEPs created under the Lisbon Treaty, would not trigger a referendum under a 'referendum lock' promised by the Conservatives. The article quotes him saying, "The test for a referendum is whether it transfers powers from Westminster to Brussels...We don't want to have some immediate Euro bust-up."
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Clegg the 'political outsider' received £2.5m in taxpayers' money over ten years in Brussels
The Sun, Times and the Telegraph cite Open Europe's calculations that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg received an estimated £2.5 million in salaries and allowances over ten years working in the EU institutions. His gross salary over five years working for the Commission was calculated as €282,518 while his salary as an MEP from 1999-2004 was €484,883, based on average exchange rates at the time. Mr Clegg was also entitled to up to €52,444 in allowances as a Commission official, €1.05 million as an MEP for his travel, office and subsistence, and an additional €1 million available for his office staff at the European Parliament.
While the figures for Mr Clegg's past salaries are known, the lack of records kept and requirements for receipts mean there is no way of knowing the exact expenditure of the allowances.
Open Europe's Mats Persson is quoted in the Sun saying, "He's been part of the privileged political class for years." The Times quotes Mats saying, "By no definition can he be considered a political outsider and his claims to being one are simply not credible. For ten years he was on the EU's generous payroll, so it is no surprise that he is out of step with the British public on Europe, including on his insistence that the UK should still join the euro, which is a ludicrous idea in light of recent events."
Meanwhile, the Telegraph notes that, while a partner at Brussels-based lobbying firm GPlus, Mr Clegg was involved in a successful lobbying effort by the Royal Bank of Scotland to weaken EU financial regulations.
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Open Europe's Director Mats Persson appeared on the Italian television channel RAI Tre, discussing controversial aspects of the EU budget, including the ineffectiveness of the EU's re-distribution of regional funds among member states and wasteful spending campaigns recently endorsed by the EU institutions.
IMF warns of contagion from Greek crisis;
German MPs challenge Finance Minister over bailout
The Telegraph reports that the IMF has warned in its World Economic Outlook that the Greek debt crisis "could turn into a full-blown and contagious sovereign debt crisis". Bundesbank chief Axel Weber echoed the concerns, saying the financial system was still very fragile and subject to a "significant risk of contagion effects. A possible default by Greece would most likely be a severe economic blow for other countries in monetary union".
The FT quotes Thomas Mayer, Chief Economist at Deutsche Bank, saying: "I hope that I am wrong but I fear that by the end of the year, they will find out that Greece needs a lot more money for 2011 and 2012 and that we will have serious problems getting another package through".
FT Deutschland reports that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is becoming increasingly isolated, with many MPs from his CDU party criticising his willingness to use German taxpayers' money to bailout Greece. The article notes that MPs have blocked Schäuble's attempts to pass the bailout through the German Parliament by including it with a budget law and have instead insisted that it is passed as its own bill. Reuters reports that the opposition may delay German aid to Greece by weeks.
In an interview with FAZ, German professor Joachim Starbatty, who will contest the bailout at the German Constitutional Court, said, "It was thought that the euro would trigger (...) a wave of modernisation in the weaker countries. That hasn't happened...Now the monetary union is becoming an inflation union."
Meanwhile, interest rates on Greek bonds rose above 8 percent yesterday, the highest since Greece joined the euro in 2000, as talks begin in Athens with EU, IMF and ECB officials over a potential bailout package.
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Commission: Volcano crisis shows need for single air traffic control agency with "binding" control over member states' airspace
The IHT reports that the European Commission has said that the disjointed national responses to the threat posed by the volcanic ash cloud has created a new impetus to "fast track" its plan to create a so-called European Network Manager, which would create a single authority with the power to override member states' control over their airspace. Helen Kearns, a spokeswoman for Siim Kallas, the EU's Transport Commissioner said that it was "the view of the European Commission" that the decisions and recommendations of the new body "should be binding."
Meanwhile, PA reports that Ryanair has given up its battle against EU rules that are requiring airlines to help stranded travellers pay for bed and board during the volcano crisis.
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MEPs criticise budgets of Council of Ministers and EU police agency but censure report highlighting EP waste
EUobserver reports that both the budgets of Council of Ministers and the European Police College were harshly criticised by MEPs debating the EU's 2008 budget in Strasbourg. Conservative MEP Ryszard Czarnecki is quoted arguing that "the Council [whose budget in 2008 was €743 million] leaves a lot to be desired when we talk about budgetary matters." The UK-based European Police College, whose budget in 2008 was €8.7 million, was also under attack. "The audit carried out shows there are irregularities, blatant ones, in terms of administration and finance", explained Véronique Mathieu MEP.
Meanwhile, De Standaard reports that a critical report on the European Parliament's budget by Green MEP Bart Staes faced heavy criticism by other groups in the EP yesterday, who have threatened to water it down. Staes is quoted saying, "we make very critical reports on other institutions but on our own that's apparently not admissible. I'm called a spoiler". Staes' report criticised various aspects of the EP's spending, including the €121 million deficit run up by the controversial second pension fund.
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Flawed EU lobbyist register allows wealthiest firms to avoid transparency
EUobserver notes that the EU's fifty largest companies continue to avoid fully registering their lobbying activities in Brussels, according to a report issued by Friends of the Earth. As a result of the way firms have reported their lobbying expenditure on the EU - the European Commission's lobby register operates on a voluntary basis - some NGOs seem to be spending more than oil companies in their Brussels-based lobbying activities.
When comparing what firms say they spend in Brussels and what they say they spend in Washington, where the figures registered are checked for accuracy, the researchers found a counterintuitive situation whereby, for example, British Petroleum has declared that its lobby expenditure is 17 times higher in the US than in the EU and ING, the Dutch bank, says that its expenditure is eight times greater in the US.
MEPs threaten to veto the new EU diplomatic corps
EurActiv reports that the leaders of the European Parliament's three largest groups warned in a joint statement that the assembly is ready to veto the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS). According to the document, the EEAS "does not reflect the Community interest or promote a genuine European added value [...] Unless and until the Council and the Commission are prepared to initiate real negotiations with the Parliament, no progress can be made on this important issue. And to achieve this, Parliament is prepared to fully use its powers of co-decision".
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France seeks Germany as ally on CAP
Handelsblatt reports that France is seeking Germany as an ally on Common Agricultural Policy talks. "Both countries wish to have a strong agricultural policy", French Agricultural Minister Bruno Le Maire is quoted saying. "Both President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressed support for that." The article reports that Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats will fight for maintaining agricultural subsidies but coalition partners, the FDP, are opposed to this.
EUobserver notes that the European Commission announced yesterday a 12-point-plan to get the 27 member States to live up to their aid commitments.
The Irish Times reports that the Irish government paid €15.5 million in jobseekers' benefits to people transferring their welfare claims abroad. Under EU rules, a person who is getting benefits in Ireland can transfer their claim to another member state for up to 13 weeks.
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.