Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 12 October 2010


Commission prepares pan-European smoking ban
EUobserver reports that the European Commission is preparing to introduce new rules in 2011 to ban smoking in public places across the EU. In an interview with German daily Die Welt, EU Health Commissioner John Dalli has argued: "We need a complete ban on smoking in all public spaces, transport and the workplace [...] It is not only about the health of visitors, but also the employees". Dalli also said that the Commission will propose that tobacco products be no longer visible to customers and that packaging be made as unattractive as possible.

Commission suggests audit firms could be regulated by new EU supervisor
The WSJ reports that the European Commission will tomorrow launch consultations on proposals to regulate audit firms that could lead to their oversight by one of the three new pan-European financial supervisors, the European Securities and Markets Authority. The article notes that the Big Four "Anglo-American" audit firms fear that hostility from France and other member states to their grip on the market may influence some of the proposals that emerge from the consultation.

EU Presidency fails to seal a deal with MEPs on hedge funds;
French Economy Minister: Passport for non-EU funds must be "truly European"
The Guardian reports that yesterday the European Parliament had to call off a press conference after MEPs and the Belgian EU Presidency - which negotiates on behalf of member states - failed once again to agree on a draft for the AIFM Directive.

Meanwhile, French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde defended France's negotiating stance on hedge funds in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "We believe that awarding a passport to offshore funds is not satisfactory as they would not be subject to the same regulatory provisions as EU funds on many issues", Lagarde argued. However, she went on to say that "if a passport for offshore funds was to be adopted, France believes that such a passport should be truly European", meaning that it should be issued by the new European Securities and Markets Authority.   

New survey reveals that EU's working time rules are damaging doctor training
The Times reports that almost half the newly-qualified doctors in the NHS are being asked to work beyond their abilities, treating patients who should be seen by a more experienced doctor, according to a poll of more than 64,000 NHS junior doctors and their supervisors by the General Medical Council (GMC). The problems could be attributed, in part, to the impact of the European Working Time Directive, which has reduced the maximum number of hours that junior doctors can work from 56 to 48 a week.

One surgical trainee is quoted claiming that the Directive is "destroying surgical training in the UK". Another says that the 48-hour week "has reduced my training opportunities...and reduced my income, necessitating locum work -- increasing my working week." Niall Dickson, the head of the GMC, warns that a shortage of experienced staff could lead to trainees "being asked to do things that someone more senior, who isn't there, should be doing".

Philip Johnston: MPs can't block the EU budget tomorrow but they could at least register a protest
Writing in the Telegraph, Philip Johnston notes that MPs will tomorrow be asked to approve an EU budget increase for 2011 at a time when "George Osborne will announce a package of public spending cuts more draconian than anything since the Geddes Axe of the 1920s." He argues, "The Commission should abide by the same financial disciplines imposed on the rest of us. Needless to say, our Parliament can't stop the budget; but when MPs are asked for their approval on Wednesday, it would be nice to hear them say, on behalf of us all: 'You must be joking'".

In the WSJ, Patience Wheatcroft writes, "If Sir Philip [Green] were to spend a few weeks in Brussels, repeating his Whitehall exercise, he would probably not find many staff treating EU cash with the care they apply to their own finances".

French Europe Minister: An increase in France's contribution to the EU budget "is not feasible"
Euractiv France reports that during a hearing at the French Parliament's Committee on European Affairs, French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche said that an increase in his country's contribution to the EU budget for the period 2014-2020 "is not feasible". Lellouche insisted that the UK rebate needs to be renegotiated, as it "would weigh a bit too much on France's contribution [to the EU budget]". He noted that France currently pays for 27% of the rebate - around €1.4 billion per year. Lellouche also said that it would be "a big mistake" to reduce funding levels for the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.   

John Lichfield: Europe needs sceptics
In the Independent, columnist John Lichfield argues that "Europe needs sceptics", and questions if the British idea of a looser alliance of states could be Europe's future. The article quotes former French Foreign Minister and famed europhile Hubert Védrine saying: "If we can bury the federal myth, we can create a leaner, meaner European project, driven largely by nation states and not by Brussels. We can create a much stronger, more practical European power".

Greek Finance Minister: Repayments of the €110 billion bailout could be extended
Greece's Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told Greek Skai television yesterday that discussions are underway over the possibility of prolonging Greece's repayments of the €110 billion (£96billion) EU/IMF bailout deal, reports City AM. However, Portuguese daily Jornal de Negocios reports that the German Finance Ministry has announced its opposition to extending Greece's repayments.

Part two of the FT's three part feature on the euro notes that in the period preceding Greece's adoption of the euro, "former Commissioners say the data were widely known at the time to be unreliable". The article quotes Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the WTO, saying "The Greek numbers may not have been totally straight, and there had also been rumours before about the Italian numbers. But this was about politics, not just numbers". Handelsblatt reports that experts from the European Commission's statistics office Eurostat are in Greece to check the country's public accounts for 2009, after claims that the real figures on Greek public deficit for that year could be higher than expected.  

Meanwhile, Ireland is coming under increasing pressure from the EU to bring its tax policies in line with other member states by increasing corporate tax rates, currently set at 12.5%, against an EU average of 23%. The WSJ notes that "EU officials can't compel Ireland to raise taxes, but some observers say [EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli] Rehn was signalling that should Ireland need an EU bailout, higher corporate taxes would be part of the deal".

Deutsche Welle reports that several experts have argued that giving the EU speaking rights within the United Nations General Assembly would do little to enhance the bloc's ability to influence policy at a UN level.

Euractiv reports that Arnaldo Abruzzini, President of Eurochambres, the European association of chambers of commerce, has warned that the Commission's failure to address flaws in its impact assessments, as revealed by the European Court of Auditors, shows that its 'Smart Regulation' agenda is losing momentum.

El Pais reports that the European Banking Federation (EBF) yesterday criticised the EU's proposed bank taxes, which "increase obligations on the financial sector without adequate coordination". The EBF also complained that European banks contribute around 20% of taxes, despite only accounting for 3% of GDP.

TAZ reports that anti-lobbying campaign group ALTER-EU is arguing that former EU Commissioners should not be allowed to accept private sector jobs in an area close to their previous post in the Commission for at least three years.

On his Straneuropa blog, Marco Zatterin notes that the European Commission has opened an investigation into controversial tax breaks granted by the Italian government to the Vatican on real estate properties, backing down from its previous intention to launch an infringement procedure against Italy.  

European Voice reports that the 190 member countries of the International Civil Aviation Organisation have agreed that the EU can extend its emissions trading scheme to all airlines without the agreement of non-EU states.

Writing in the Irish Times, Latvian journalist Aleksandra Jolkina calls for changes to be made to Irish and EU law which allow "sham marriage" to be used in an effort to gain EU citizenship.

AFP reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains wary of Bulgaria's accession to the border-free Schengen area. "I can't tell today what Germany's assessment will be. I can only guarantee that it will be honest and objective", she declared yesterday after talks with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boïko Borissov.

Les Echos reports that an open-ended strike by transport and energy workers will today start in France against the French government's proposals for a two-year rise in retirement age.  

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