Friday, March 13, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 13 March 2009


EU Foreign Policy Chief refuses European Parliament inspection of accounts
Spiegel: If Lisbon Treaty is passed, "billions" could be spent on EU Foreign Minister without scrutiny
Spiegel reports that the European Parliament's budgetary committee has indicated that it will not approve the budget of the EU's 'High Representative' for foreign policy, Javier Solana. The paper reports on inconsistencies in the budget of the European Council, and notes that, after turning a blind eye for the past 30 years, the European Parliament has now for the first time demanded an inspection of Solana's accounts.

According to the paper, a "Gentlemen's Agreement" dating from 1970 means that the European Parliament has traditionally not scrutinised the Council's budget.

However, Spiegel reports "that this could now be over. Next Monday, the Budgetary Control Committee will disapprove." The Committee's Chairman, Herbert Bösch is quoted saying, "For now, we do not want to formally approve the budget of the Council". Referring to the 'Gentlemen's Agreement', he said: "We have looked for it but did not find an agreement", with the only reference to it written in the protocol of a Council Meeting on 22 April 1970. Danish MEP Søren Bo Søndergaard is quoted saying, "You normally need two sides for a 'Gentlement's Agreement'." According to Spiegel "But the Parliament never agreed on that."

Spiegel reports that "a lot of money is involved. Solana and his Council administration could spend about 650 million Euros... And if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, and Solana, or his follower, built up their own diplomatic service, these millions could well soon turn into billions - and without parliamentary control."

ORF reports that Solana has refused to let the Committee scrutinise his accounts.
Spiegel, ORF

Government says it will fight costly new EU law to extend maternity leave
The FT reports that the Government yesterday vowed to block a new EU Directive which will extend full paid maternity leave to 18 weeks. At present, UK law entitles mothers to 90 percent of salary for six weeks, then £117 a week for 33 weeks. UK Employment Minister Pat McFadden told a Lords Select Committee that the Government saw any move to impose a full pay requirement for mothers on maternity leave as a "red warning light". He said, "We want legal clarity that we are not being directed to pay full pay."

It is reported that some of the newer EU member states also have raised concerns over the proposal and will seek to delay it. However, the UK does not have a veto in the negotiations and could therefore be outvoted. The extension of paid maternity could cost business another £600 million, according to the Institute of Directors.
FT Mail

Open Europe: Lisbon Treaty does Europe no good
In a letter to the Independent Open Europe Director Lorraine Mullally, argues that "The Irish people - just like the French and the Dutch before them - democratically said 'No' to this treaty in a referendum last June, and yet are now supposed to be grateful for a fudged deal which will see them voting again on exactly the same text, while EU leaders pretend it is different. Quite how this can be considered a positive example of President Sarkozy's stint at the EU helm should be beyond anyone who has even the slightest respect for democracy."

She goes on to write, "If Europe really does want to be relevant, it must abandon its never-ending obsession with internal institutional detail, which baffles its own citizens, let alone the rest of the world, and wake up to the real, and far more pressing problems we face."

Meanwhile the Irish Times reports that Ireland will not receive any 'guarantees' on the Lisbon Treaty at the G20 summit, which will make an early referendum highly unlikely.
Independent: Letters Irish Times

UK Chancellor to propose new powers for financial regulators;
France and Germany unite in favour of tougher regulation
The FT reports that France and Germany have united their positions in favour of tougher financial regulation ahead of the G20 summit in April. G20 finance ministers will meet for talks starting today in advance of the summit.

A separate article in the paper also reports that US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will attempt to persuade European finance ministers to increase their financial stimulus plans in exchange for increased funding and reforms to the International Monetary Fund, with more money to bail out eastern European countries. However, the IHT quotes French President Sarkozy saying, "We do not want to spend more money," a view that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately supported.

An editorial in the WSJ states that the US will lobby for a global stimulus but argues that, "the last thing Europe should do is follow Larry Summers and the out-of-date Keynesians down the spending road to nowhere."

The Times reports that Chancellor Alistair Darling will today propose new powers for financial regulators, suggesting that the Financial Services Authority and its counterparts elsewhere should monitor the overall financial positions of banks and other institutions to preempt irresponsible behaviour, to be discussed at the G20 finance ministers' meeting.

Mr Darling's plan differs from the EU's current Basel 2 rules in that banks' overall position would be monitored, in contrast to the present situation where different parts of a bank, such as mortgage lending and loans to companies, are assessed separately by regulators, according to the paper. It also reports that the plan is believed to be contained in a report from the FSA Chairman, Lord Turner, on regulatory reform to be published next week.

In an article in the WSJ, Alistair Darling outlines his argument for reforms of financial regulation, including "introducing a backstop power to stop banks from overstretching themselves, by adding a cap on banks' leverage ratios".
WSJ WSJ: Editorial FT FT 2 FT: Leader IHT EUobserver Deutsche Welle FT 3 Times Independent WSJ: Darling

UK Secret Service helps the EU to fight 'espionage'
Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports that Her Majesty's Secret Service helps the EU in the fight against espionage. Reportedly, after the bugging scandal in the EU Council's 'Justus Lipius' building, espionage is a growing priority in Brussels. According to the article, a high-ranking EU diplomat said that a woman from the British Secret Service, MI5, frequently came from London to teach all employees of the Council about the tricks of "illegal information acquisition." The article notes that the Commission regularly trains officials in their contact with journalists. One civil servant is quoted saying that a standard question in this training is: "What can you say to journalists? - Nothing!"
No link

Reaction to the Conservatives' decision to leave EPP
Several commentators look at yesterday's announcement by the Conservatives that they will break away from the EPP in the European Parliament following the elections in June. Michael White argues in the Guardian that the decision is unwise when considering "practical politics." Also in the Guardian, Toby Helm notes that the move "will be a real test for the party's pro-European wing."

A leader in Swedish centre-right paper Svenska Dagbladet argues, "Cameron can score points in the election campaign, but it will be unpleasant afterwards. In practice this means that the Tories minimise their influence over the powerful European Parliament. Talk about own goal. But the Tories are not the only losers when the party decides to go its own way. The EPP, including the Swedish Moderates, fares best when there are skeptics in place to cool down the feelings when the [EU] enthusiasm runs wild."
Svenska Dagbladet Guardian - White Guardian - Helm Labour List

Sarkozy defensive over move back to Nato
There is continued coverage of France's proposed reintegration into Nato's military command. The Irish Times and the BBC's Mark Mardell note that President Sarkozy's speech on Wednesday night, in which he set out his reasons for pursuing reintegration, was often laden with sarcasm. Mardell quotes Sarkozy saying, "We are willing to put troops on the ground, but it's too much to risk generals going to committees".

The paper notes that Mr Sarkozy defended himself against those who accuse him of betraying France's Gaullist heritage: "Who can claim to know today what Gen de Gaulle would do?"
Irish Times Independent: Leader BBC: Mardell blog Le Monde: Editorial Le Monde: Sarkozy

Pressure to get legislation through EU Parliament before June elections
EUobserver notes that, with just three plenary meetings left before the European Parliament finishes its current term, MEPs still have some pieces of major legislation to clear ahead of the June elections. Among the most significant legislation is the telecoms package, which aims to create an EU-level supervisor for telecoms regulators and overhauls the rules for management of radio spectrum, and the energy package, aimed at deregulating the gas and electricity sectors.

Other legislation includes the controversial opt-out of the 48-hour week, which could be voted on in May, and a proposal to make it easier for patients to receive paid medical treatment in other member states.

BusinessEurope, the EU's biggest employers group, has said that the EU could lose 4.5 million jobs this year and has asked the European Central Bank to do more to restart demand.

Gordon Brown will outline the agenda for the G20 summit in an address to the European Parliament on 24 March.
European Voice

The Irish Times reports that 10,000 children living abroad are receiving child benefit in Ireland, costing the state €20 million annually, because children who live in another EU country qualify under EU law for benefit if one of their parents is living and working in Ireland.
Irish Times

Rupert Matthews: Labour has failed to address the big picture when it comes to the EU
On Conservative Home Conservative MEP candidate Rupert Matthews examines the European policies of the Labour Party. He argues that, "Labour ministers - and prime ministers...have trumpeted their successes in the little things, but have generally remained silent - or worse made catastrophic mistakes - when it comes to the bigger picture."

He argues that Labour have failed on their 2005 manifesto commitments "to promote economic reform, bear down on regulations, make progress in the Doha development trade round, bring closer EU membership for Turkey and improve the focus and quality of EU [overseas] aid". He also criticises Gordon Brown's decision to deny the UK a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty after Labour promised a referendum on the failed European Constitution.
Conservative Home: Matthews

Charlemagne: European Commission is vital to saving the single market
The Charlemagne column in the Economist argues that the European Commission has been accused of being "adrift" in the economic crisis, and that "in Brussels the chief complaint is that the dominant ideology of the European British-style liberalism." It goes on to argue that, many EU countries, among them Germany and France, wish that the market were "not so free", but that "Saving the internal market is the EU's biggest ideological fight for a generation, and the commission is the body that matters most on this."
Economist: Charlemagne

In an interview with L'Express, Vaira Vike-Freiberg, former President of Latvia and current Vice-President of the so-called 'Reflection Group on the Future of Europe' says that within the EU "there has not been a sense of solidarity" regarding the recession.

On Conservative Home Roger Helmer MEP cites Open Europe's research when criticising the EU's carbon emissions trading scheme.
Conservative Home Roger Helmer Open Europe research Irish Times

Valdis Dombrovskis was yesterday elected Prime Minister of Latvia. Dagens Nyheter quotes him saying, "Latvia is on the brink of bankruptcy".
Dagens Nyheter

FAZ reports that the heads of General Motors and Opel, and leaders of their host member states will discuss the bail-out of Opel today. According to the FT, the German government is frustrated with GM's failure to disclose key information about its future, particularly whether GM Europe's finances could be ring-fenced from those of its parent company.
Irish Times: Leader FT European Voice

In the Irish Times EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana argues that the EU's peacekeeping mission in Chad has affirmed the credibility of the EU's military capability.
Irish Times: Solana

Thousands of farmers protested yesterday in Prague to demand higher milk prices and more subsidies from the EU.

In an article in Foreign Affairs, Constanze Stelzenmuller, Director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund, argues that Germany could be a key European partner to the US because there is a "dearth of leadership" in Europe, which remains "embroiled in a debate about institutional reform".
Foreign Affairs: Stelzenmuller

The FT reports that Liechtenstein agreed to relax its bank secrecy rules yesterday and accept OECD standards on tax co-operation. The paper also reports that Switzerland is expected to announce concessions on bank secrecy today.
FT Irish Independent Independent Le Figaro

Writing in the WSJ, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Director of Bruegel, argues that Europe must offer more help to eastern European currencies and "avoid displaying the lack of coordination it has openly demonstrated in recent times."
WSJ: Darvas and Pisani-Ferry

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