Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 28 April 2010

Nick Clegg made €362,550 profit on his Brussels home while receiving Brussels accommodation allowances
There is widespread coverage of Open Europe's findings that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg made a profit of €362,550 on the sale of his home in Brussels he bought while receiving thousands of pounds in accommodation allowances as an MEP. Open Europe's findings are cited in the Times, Express, Guardian, Sun, Mail, page 2 of the FT, and was featured on Sky News and BBC London.
The Lib Dems and Nick Clegg have criticised MPs who had profited from the sale of second homes which were subsidised by allowances funded by taxpayers, and Mr Clegg has promised to repay any profit made on the sale of his second home as an MP.
Official documents obtained by Open Europe show that Mr Clegg and his wife paid €226,450 for the house in Brussels in 2001, after having taken out a €274,542 mortgage at an interest rate of 5.55 percent. They sold the property for €589,000 in August 2005, making a profit of around €362,550.
As an MEP Mr Clegg received a daily subsistence allowance, currently €298 a day, specifically intended to cover the cost of accommodation, in addition to meals and local transport, while in Brussels or Strasbourg. No receipts needed to be provided on how the allowance was spent. During his time as an MEP and Commission official Mr Clegg could have received a total of up to €278,346 in allowances meant to cover living and housing costs in Brussels and Strasbourg - of this amount €110,000 could have been claimed in daily accommodation allowance between 2001 and 2004, specifically for the time he spent in Brussels (excluding the days he could have spent in Strasbourg) when he was an MEP and owner of the house.
Open Europe Director Mats Persson is quoted in the Sun saying: "Nick Clegg has taken the moral high ground in this campaign. But now he needs to come clean on whether he used taxpayers' money in any way to make a huge personal profit on his house in Brussels. Failure to do so would amount to extraordinary hypocrisy as he's been the most outspoken against MPs who have used public money to make personal gains in the property market." Open Europe is also quoted in the Mail saying: "It is unacceptable to simply hide behind the opaque EU allowances system, which doesn't require MEPs or officials to provide receipts for their allowances."
Comment: In response to the findings, Mr. Clegg told BBC London this morning that he and his wife had purchased their house in Brussels with "our own income" and that he had used his MEP's allowance "for the purposes for which they were intended", saying that it "was the fact that as an MEP, which I was for 5 years, you have to live and work in three different countries." Given that Mr. Clegg has said that he paid his mortgage in Brussels using his 'private income', then the question is what did Mr. Clegg spend his daily accommodation and food allowances on - €110,000 of which, between 2001 and 2004 alone, could only be claimed by 'signing in' whilst attending the Brussels-based Parliament.
Times FT Guardian Sun Sun: Leader Mail
Eurozone likely to activate Greek bailout on 10 May as contagion spreads;
German MPs demand banks and investors share costs of bailout
The WSJ reports that it looks as if the Greek debt crisis could spread to Portugal after ratings downgrades on the two countries frightened investors, prompting a sell-off of government bonds across the markets. "We have gone past the point of no return," said Jacques Cailloux, Chief Europe Economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland. "There is a complete loss of confidence. The bond markets are in disintegration and it is getting worse every day," according to the Telegraph.
Writing in the paper, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that the European Central Bank may have to resort to its "nuclear option" of intervening directly in the markets to purchase government bonds - although "any such action would inevitably be viewed in Germany as a form of printing money to bail out Club Med debtors, and the start of a slippery slope towards in an 'inflation union'".
The Telegraph notes that EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy has said eurozone leaders will meet on 10 May, a day after German regional elections. The FT notes that the IMF is looking at raising its share of Greece's financial rescue package by €10bn amid fears that the planned €45bn bail-out will fail to prevent the country's debt crisis from spiralling out of control. The eurozone has so far proposed to provide €30bn and the IMF €15bn.
A draft Bill prepared by the German Finance Ministry, seen by the FT,  says that Athens would receive the first payments on May 10 at the earliest, and signalled officially for the first time that the eurozone's €30bn package was only "for the first year" of a three-year programme. In an interview with Handelsblatt, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble says that, contrary to rumours on the market, there is no discussion of restructuring Greece's debts.
As Berlin prepares the ground for its initial €8.4bn share of loan to Athens, German MPs are demanding that the government force banks and investment funds, that hold Greek government bonds, to share the cost of the rescue by taking losses on their investments. "The government has to give ground on this," a senior aide said. "If it wants a quick vote, and if it wants the opposition on board, it has to respond to parliamentary pressure to put some of the pain on to the banks this time." Frank-Walter Steinmeier, parliamentary head of the opposition Social Democrats, said his party would vote for the rescue only if "banks are made to participate," according to the FT.
In the IHT, Tom Buhrow, the evening news anchor for German television network ARD, writes, "Margaret Thatcher once shouted during EU budget negotiations: 'I want my money back!' Imagine if Germany ever said that! At least Thatcher was talking about her own money -- British contributions to the EU. Now we hear: 'I want money!' Full Stop. Well, if Europe is only about money, then I fear Germans might soon be tempted to say: 'We want our mark back.'"
Times Independent Telegraph Express Irish Independent Telegraph: Hannan blog BBC: Flanders blog Telegraph 2 EUobserver European Voice EurActiv BBC FT FT 2 Telegraph 3 FT 3 FT 4 FT 5 Times 2 WSJ WSJ: Analysis Mail Guardian WSJ 2 WSJ 3 IHT IHT 2 Irish Times City AM City AM Les Echos City AM Le Figaro La Tribune Le Figaro Il Sole 24 Ore Le Temps El Pais El Pais 2 Expansion Expansion 2 FT: Marsh  Independent Times: King Lidovky FAZ Handelsblatt
Nick Clegg maintains support for joining euro "next week" if circumstances were "economically justified"
In an interview with the Times Nick Clegg, when asked whether he might want to see the UK join the euro over the lifetime of the next Parliament, said: "I see no circumstances in which we would do that, no, because it's not economically justified." However, he added: "If next Tuesday the world went completely upside down and inside out and we decided the only way we could secure the prosperity of the British people is to change our currency arrangements, you have to keep that option open."
When the paper suggested to him that it was not possible to have it both ways, he replied: "You can, of course you can. It's perfectly logical and rational to say no; any case for going into the euro does not exist at the moment. Can I predict at what point it may or may not be justified in the future? No, of course I can't."
Writing in the WSJ, Iain Martin argues that Nick Clegg's support for joining the euro puts him in an "interesting position" in tomorrow's final leaders' debate before the election, adding: "How ironic if his bandwagon was stopped by a resurgent Mr. Cameron pointing to the imploding euro."
Meanwhile the Express reports that Conservative analysis of Nick Clegg's voting record as an MEP shows that he supported a common EU asylum policy, giving up the UK's seat on the United Nations Security Council and a near-30 percent pay rise for MEPs.
Express Express: Leader WSJ: Martin Times Open Europe briefing OE press release
EU proposes 6 percent rise for 2011 budget; Regional spending to rise by 15 percent
EUobserver reports that the European Commission yesterday proposed its budget for 2011 at €130 billion - an increase of almost 6 percent on this year's budget. 
Regional policy spending is set to increase by 14.7 percent to €54.6 billion, while farm subsidies are to remain stable at €58.1 billion. EU foreign aid is to fall by 2.4 percent to €7.6 billion, but spending on administration will increase by 4.5 percent to €8.3 billion. The draft does not yet include the costs for the new diplomatic service to be run by EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton.
According to EUobserver, German liberal MEP Alexander Alvaro has urged the EU institutions to make more savings and suggested moving unused funds from agriculture to other parts of the budget.  However, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said: "France will not accept agriculture being used as the adjustment variable of the next EU budget", reports Le Monde.
The draft budget still has to be agreed by EU member states and approved by the European Parliament.
EUobserver Le Monde
CBI warns of threat to 14 power stations under proposed EU Directive
The Independent reports that the Confederation of British Industry is warning that Britain could be forced to close 14 power stations early if the draft EU Industrial Emissions Directive, which aims to cut the number of harmful gases emitted by Europe's power stations, becomes law. The plants, representing as much as a quarter of the country's generating capacity, would need to install new equipment to curb emissions by 2016 or face closure, ahead of planned closures in the early 2020s. The Directive is set to be voted on by MEPs next Tuesday, and will then be discussed by national governments.
Independent Mail Business Week
British football fan extradited under European Arrest Warrant
The Guardian reports that British football fan Garry Mann could be extradited to Portugal today, to serve a 2-year jail sentence due to his alleged involvement in a riot during the Euro 2004 championship. Mann was arrested at the time of the incident and convicted within 24 hours under a special fast-track process brought in by the Portuguese government for the championships. According to the Independent, a British police officer who was present at Mann's trial in Portugal described the proceedings as a "farce".
Mann later agreed to be transferred to the UK, however was arrested again by British police in October 2008, following the issuance of a European Arrest Warrant by Portugal. The Guardian quotes Rebecca Shaeffer, Mann's case worker at Fair Trials International, saying: "This case is an example of why the European arrest system needs to be reformed. It is a case where the UK is not protecting its citizens." 
Guardian Independent
Platini to try and convince Commission to introduce new EU "police for sport" rules on sport
In an interview with the Times UEFA President Michel Platini discusses recent problems with match-fixing in football saying he would "speak to the European Commission and I would like to have the support of all the countries to help us protect the game. It's difficult to have a European Police, but if we could have a European Police for Sport, it would be very good." Under the Lisbon Treaty, sport is an EU competence for the first time.
Platini also said that he wants to raise the minimum age for international transfers from 16 to 18, adding: "That means that in English clubs I want to have young English players. And if you need other good players, they can come after 18 or 19... I have to prove to the European Commission that, for sport, 18 is a better age than 16. We have to fight on that -- for education, for social reasons. Perhaps I won't succeed with this, but I'm very proud to be trying to do this. It's important."
Times OE blog
Commission turns its attention to regulation of accountancy firms
The Telegraph reports that the European Commission is to launch an investigation into the dominance of the big four accountancy firms - Ernst & Young (E&Y), PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and KPMG. Internal Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier said they would launch a Green Paper in the autumn to debate the role and governance of auditors, adding that audit firms should be supervised at a European, rather than a national level, to ensure consistent regulation.
Mr Barnier is quoted saying: "While the role of the main economic and financial actors (banks, hedge funds, credit rating agencies etc) were immediately called into question following the financial crisis, the role of the auditors has not really been questioned until now".
Lagarde and Schäuble urge swift agreement on AIFM Directive
In the WSJ, Christine Lagarde, Finance Minister of France and Wolfgang Schäuble, Finance Minister of Germany, argue that a first reading agreement on the EU's proposed Directive on alternative investment fund managers (AIFM) "would be a strong signal of the EU's commitment" to a "fundamental overhaul of financial regulation and supervision to rebuild trust in our financial system." They argue that a 'passport' for marketing offshore funds within the EU "would be in the European general interest, provided we ensure that funds that benefit from the newly created passport align with the highest standards in terms of investor protection." They conclude by arguing that a review of the EU's existing financial services directives "should be conducted swiftly."
WSJ: Lagarde and Schäuble Open Europe research Open Europe press release
The FT reports that EU Commissioner Michel Barnier has told US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner that EU regulators will need "unfettered access" to data on credit default swaps trading held in "trade repositories" as they tighten scrutiny of the over-the-counter derivatives market.
Brussels is examining whether former EU commissioner Charlie McCreevy's move to join the board of Irish airline Ryanair is in breach of ethical rules, governing the professional activities of ex-commissioners for up to a year after they leave office.
EUobserver Irish Times
The European Commission claims that the recession has lowered the cost of meeting the European Union's greenhouse gas emissions targets by almost a third. 
EUobserver reports that closing the European airspace as a result of the Icelandic volcanic eruption is predicted by the European Commission to have cost up to €2.5 billion. In a meeting next Tuesday, EU transport ministers will discuss the possible creation of a single air network manager in the EU.
NouvelObs L'Express Il Sole 24 Ore EUobserver
The Nouvel Observateur quotes a spokeswoman for the European Commission saying "we [the Commission] are absolutely confident on the effectiveness of the upcoming Belgian EU Presidency", in spite of the political crisis which has recently forced PM Yves Leterme to resign.
Nouvel Obs Wall Street Italia
A new Populus poll for the Times puts the Conservatives on 36, the Lib Dems on 28 and Labour on 27, with eight days until the election, while a ComRes poll for the Independent and ITN puts the Conservatives on 32, Lib Dems on 31 and Labour on 28.
Times ComRes

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