MEPs call proposals to cut some spending from 2011 budget a "slap in the face"
European Voice reports that MEPs have not responded well to national governments' attempts to cut the EU budget. National ambassadors to the EU have agreed a draft budget for 2011 of €126.58 billion, €3.6bn less than the draft budget presented by the Commission in April. The Council of Ministers wants to save €1.075bn on cohesion spending, compared to the Commission's proposal, and a further €821 million from spending on support to farmers and the fisheries sector. The Council proposal would still mean that the EU's budget would increase by 2.8% next year, compared to 2010's budget, where the Commission had proposed that it increase by 5.9%.
Sidonia Jedrzejewska, the EP's Polish centre-right rapporteur on the 2011 budget, responded to the Council proposal by telling the EP Budget Committee: "I take these cuts not only as a provocation but as an offence." Jedrzejewska also called plans to cut the budget for youth training programmes, which the Parliament has made a priority, "a slap in the face".
Negotiations on the budget are likely to be fractious from here, as seven member states - Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK - opposed the Council position last week, arguing that there should have been even deeper cuts to the Commission's proposal.
The Open Europe blog has been ranked 7th in public affairs firm Waggener Endstrom's "Brussels Blogger Study 2010: The Influence Index" of the most influential English language EU affairs blogs.
EU anti-fraud office identifies €1.8bn open to fraud and irregularities
The EU's anti-fraud office Olaf's annual 2009 report, published yesterday, has focused largely on investigating EU agencies, and notes that of the 133 investigations into cases of fraud, most concerned officials from the European Commission, the EU Parliament and EU agencies, as well as the Committee of the Regions, the Data Protection Supervisor, the EU Ombudsman and the European Investment Bank.
According to Suedwest Presse, the Olaf report identifies €1.8bn in EU funding which was open to fraud and irregularities, which is €700mn more than in the year 2008. Structural Funds are thought to be most prone to abuse.
MPs vote in favour of establishing EU diplomatic service
MPs last night voted in favour of a motion allowing the Government to offer its official support to the creation of the EU's External Action Service, or diplomatic corps. During the debate, Europe Minister David Lidington said that the intention was for the EEAS to be "budget neutral", costing no more money than the previous departments it replaced, but that set-up costs are still likely to cost the UK around £1.1 million extra this year.
Meanwhile, the Times reports that the Foreign Office's drive to cut costs by up to 40 percent will result in the paring down or closure of some embassies or consulates overseas, including in South America, West Africa and Europe. The article reports that European consular posts are expected to disappear as visa and passport facilities are merged and other work is handed to Brussels.
A leader in the Independent argues that, "If Mr Hague is serious about Britain becoming a more significant player in Europe, a coordinated EU-China policy would be a good place to start."
Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, cites on his blog a meeting Open Europe held for new MPs in the House of Commons.
Barroso: Euro was a "sleeping pill" during good economic times;
Criticism of US relationship prompts backlash against "retreating" EU
In an interview with the Times Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said that the euro acted like a "sleeping pill" in good economic times, lulling some countries into a false sense of economic confidence and the "illusion of prosperity", allowing governments to avoid difficult economic reforms. However, contradicting himself, he added: "The euro has been a great success...The euro is, in fact, being an extremely powerful driver for what Europe needs -- and what Europe needs most of all is not to live above its means and, secondly, to make the structural reforms to become more competitive in the global economies".
He also said: "Most pragmatic leaders today understand how important it is for their own countries to have a strong EU -- and I do not mean a centralised EU."
Barroso also spoke about EU-US relations, saying that "The transatlantic relationship is not living up to its potential." The article cites a senior US Administration official responding, saying that communication with Europe on a range of crucial issues is difficult because the EU still lacks "a clear foreign policy apparatus".
Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, criticised the appointments of Herman Van Rompuy as EU President and Baroness Ashton as EU Foreign Minister, saying: "Europe created these posts to speak for the collective as a whole. But from the perspective of many Americans, rather than building up someone of the stature of [the former Nato Secretary-General] Javier Solana, it looks as though Europe has retreated".
Slovakia to withdraw from Greece's bailout loan;
German Finance Minister to attend French cabinet meeting
EUobserver reports that the Slovakian government is likely to give its backing to the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) - the €440bn stabilisation mechanism for eurozone countries - but will not contribute to the bailout loan for Greece. A spokesman for Prime Minister Iveta Radicova has also clarified that Slovakia will participate in the rescue fund only under "certain conditions", not yet specified.
Meanwhile, an article in the FT notes that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble will attend a cabinet meeting in France next week, primarily in an attempt to reconcile divergences between France and Germany on a number of issues concerning the economic governance of the eurozone.
Commission considers legislation for gender quotas
EurActiv reports that the EU Fundamental Rights Commissioner Viviane Reding told an EP hearing yesterday that the Commission is considering introducing quotas to tackle gender imbalances in the decision-making bodies of private companies, where only 10% of members are women, saying: "I do not rule out the possibility of putting forward legislation in this area".
The article cites sources close to the Commissioner saying that the most likely action could be aimed at the private sector, with the introduction of gender quotas for boards of directors of top European firms. Reding also has a figure in mind of an initial 20% quota to be applied by 2015, according to people familiar with the dossier. Reportedly the Commissioner is planning to monitor companies' behaviour until the end of 2011 before taking action.
EU states propose new criminal cooperation measures
European Voice reports that eight member states have proposed legislation on a 'European investigation order' to give investigators in criminal cases access to evidence in other countries. The proposal will now be forwarded to European Parliament and would need to be approved under qualified majority voting and the EP to become law.
Gordon Brown considered EU Presidency whilst still in office
It is widely reported that Gordon Brown considered quitting his job as Prime Minister in a bid to become the first European President last year. The story comes from Lord Mandelson's memoirs, which claim that Brown said, "If I stood, they would have me." The former Prime Minister also denigrated Tony Blair's chances of winning the job, which eventually went to Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy.
Environmental ministers call for EU emission targets to be raised
In an article in the FT, UK Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne, together with the French and German environmental ministers Jean-Louis Borloo and Norbert Röttgen, calls for the EU to raise its emission target to a reduction of 30 percent by 2020. They argue that the current target of 20 percent now seems insufficient, and that "Europe's current focus on recovery from recession must not distract us from the question of what kind of economy we want to build."
Meanwhile, a separate article in the FT reports that influential European business groups oppose higher emission targets, as they believe that they could disadvantage European manufacturers by subjecting them to higher costs than their international competitors. EUobserver writes that when the European Commission tried to push for similar measures earlier this year, fierce lobbying from businesses resulted in the proposal being watered down.
EU to be given right to speak in UN General Assembly
EU countries have agreed to table a resolution in the UN General Assembly to give the EU the right to speak, EUobserver reports. If the motion is approved, the EU will be given similar rights and powers to a nation state and will be able to make proposals and submit amendments, among other things. However, the Telegraph reports that Britain blocked German and Irish proposals to give the EU the power to call a vote. EU Foreign Minister Baroness Ashton would be given a special seat alongside a new European UN Ambassador.
Talks on EU financial supervision proposals to resume in September
EU member states and the European Parliament fell short of sealing a deal on the new structure of EU financial supervision during the trilogue negotiation held yesterday in Brussels. French daily La Tribune quotes a diplomatic source revealing that "further discussions will not take place until the end of August or the beginning of September, and I think we can say that negotiations have reached a deadlock...The core of the problem is Article 6 [of the Commission's proposal], which is about the principle of direct supervision being conducted by the new [European] supervisory authorities at the EU level".
The WSJ quotes German MEP Sven Giegold - EP Rapporteur for the regulation establishing the European Securities and Markets Authorities (ESMA), one of the new EU watchdogs - arguing in a statement that "to prevent future crises, it is essential that the authorities get legally binding rights to intervene in the market". Mr. Giegold also made clear that the safeguard clause giving national governments the right to ignore decisions from the ESAs in case they have an impact on national budgets "can only be applied when there is a significant impact on the expenditure side of national budgets. Possible loss of tax revenue due to European supervisory decisions may not establish a veto for member countries".
An editorial in the WSJ, under the headline "Osborne's Pyrrhic EU victory", notes that the decision taken at the last ECOFIN meeting, that the European Banking Authority (EBA) be based in London, does not exclude the risk of serious power losses for UK financial regulators, arguing: "For the UK's financial industry, geography was never the biggest threat in the European Union's financial regulation power grab...One need not be conspiracy-minded or eurosceptic to see that more harmonisation of regulation and supervision means less room for the UK to outcompete its rivals on the Continent...This will hurt the UK, regardless of where the mail is sent for the Union's new regulators".
The BBC reports that several business leaders have said that they still think that Britain should join the euro at some point.
Writing in the FT, Gillian Tett argues that it was warnings from Asian investment groups and government officials over plans to reduce or halt future purchases of eurozone bonds that pushed EU leaders to agree to bank stress tests.
EurActiv reports that EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle told a news conference in Istanbul yesterday that "There should be a zero doubt policy about our [the EU's] commitment" to Turkish accession.
14 EU member states this week moved ahead with cross-border divorce rules under the 'enhanced cooperation' clause in the Lisbon Treaty, notes EurActiv.
The EU has authorised the transatlantic alliance of BA, Iberia, and American Airlines.
Gazeta Wyborcza reports that yesterday saw the first visit by Nato head Anders Fogh Rasmussen to the European Parliament.
Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero yesterday reiterated his commitment to cutting his country's deficit to the Spanish Parliament, following reports that local Spanish banks borrowed a record amount from the European Central Bank in June.
The Irish Times reports that EU justice ministers are to meet in Brussels today to discuss plans to deepen the reach of European asylum law and provide higher standards of protection to asylum-seekers.
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