Friday, April 17, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 17 April 2009


Open Europe publishes list of MEPs opting into controversial second pension fund
Open Europe has today published a closely guarded secret list of those MEPs who have opted into the voluntary second pension fund. The list, which dates from December 2007, reveals that 79 percent of British and 77 percent of Irish MEPs had signed up to the fund. Despite criticism from the European Ombudsman, the European Parliament has consistently refused to name the MEPs benefitting from the fund, which has for years been questioned by the Court of Auditors over its legal base.

The Times reports on the ongoing story that the fund is likely to be bailed out by the taxpayer after falling stock markets left it with a deficit of €120 million (£105 million). The European Parliament has guaranteed their full entitlements under the scheme -- which for someone with ten years' service pays out nearly £30,000 a year on top of their first pension of £15,000.

The article explains that British MEPs already receive a main pension, which is the same as that for MPs at Westminster. Under the voluntary second pension, introduced in 1989, the taxpayer contributes €2 for every €1 paid by an MEP. MEPs can put in €1,194 a month, which is supplemented by €2,388 from the European Parliament budget, giving them €1,393 a month for life for every five-year term they have served, up to a maximum of four terms (€5,572 a month).

The additional voluntary scheme has already come in for criticism because MEPs' contributions are taken automatically from their office expense allowance of €4,202 (£3,700) a month rather than their salary. The paper notes that MEPs are supposed to reimburse this account but there are no checks and it is widely accepted that many do not repay the money, "potentially making the pension an entirely taxpayer-funded perk."

A leaked note from the Bureau of Senior MEPs, which runs the Parliament's administration, has made it clear that "Parliament will assume its legal responsibility to guarantee the right of members of the voluntary pension scheme to the additional pension", after disclosure of the €120 million deficit, which was up from €30 million the previous year.
Open Europe Press Release Times

French fishermen's blockade of the Channel could restart in ten days if EU quotas are not increased
The IHT reports that French fishermen partially suspended a blockade of northern French ports yesterday to discuss government offers of aid, according to union officials, who said they remained dissatisfied with EU quotas on catches of cod and sole. The Express reports that the fisherman warned they would stop cross-Channel traffic again in 10 days time if the French government did not meet their demands for improved quotas. The IHT notes that French Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Michel Barnier, said that France was unable to change the EU quotas on its own, but promised to seek improvements in 2010.

The Independent reports that the fishermen have warned that they might turn to other protests "on land", including barring road access to the Channel Tunnel.
Express Telegraph: Leader IHT Independent

European Parliament to vote on extending maternity leave to 20 weeks
El Mundo reports that the European Parliament's Women's Rights Committee has put forward a proposal to extend the minimum maternity leave to twenty weeks with 100% salary for six weeks, at least 85% for the rest of the period and the introduction of a minimum of two weeks paternity leave. The legislation must have the support of the 27 member states, but the paper reports that an October 2008 draft by the EU Commission extending maternity leave to 18 weeks was rejected because some member states considered this excessive.

Meanwhile, The Parliament reports the proposal has already gained support from Socialists, Greens and Liberals. Mary Honeyball, the UK representative on the Committee said the bill was "urgently needed to level out the current imbalance in European women's maternity entitlements". The Parliament is due to vote on the proposal on 5 and 6 May.
El Mundo EP Press Release The Parliament Standaard AFP

Cohn-Bendit: "The only thing saving Ireland is European protection"
The Irish Times reports that German Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit has criticised Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy over the first Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, saying "Monsieur McGreevy [sic] lands in Lisbon and declares to the Irish media, 'You know, the Lisbon Treaty, I haven't read it. It's too complicated. But it's very good for Ireland'." The result of McCreevy's admission, Cohn-Bendit said, was the slogan, "If you don't know, vote No."

Cohn-Bendit went on to say: "Well today, the Irish know. They know how much they depend on the European Central Bank; that their policy of low corporate tax didn't save them; that the only thing saving them from the mess they're in is European protection. That's why they'll say Yes, because they have a strong sense of their national interest."
Irish Times

Sarkozy caught criticising other world leaders
There is widespread coverage of French President Nicolas Sarkozy's comments regarding other world leaders at a lunch at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday, which first appeared in French paper Libération. Sarkozy said of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, "Once she realised the state of her banks and her car industry, she had no choice but to come round to my position" during the financial crisis, according to the Guardian.

The Times reports that Sarkozy said of US President Barack Obama, "There are a certain number of things on which he has no position. And he is not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency." Sarkozy also said that Obama had underperformed on climate change: "I told him, 'I don't think that you have quite understood what we are doing on carbon dioxide'." He also described EU Commission President Jose Barroso as "totally absent" from the G20 summit. The Elysée has denied that he made the comments.

Meanwhile, the Economist reports that Sarkozy's domestic popularity ratings slipped by another two points to 36% in April, according to TNS-Sofres' monthly poll.
FT Irish Independent Telegraph IHT Economist: Charlemagne blog Mail Times Guardian EUobserver Economist Le Monde El País Liberation

The Hungarian version of EurActiv cites Open Europe's recent research on EU communication policy.
EurActiv Open Europe research

EU environment ministers call on US to help reach new climate change deal
AFP reports that EU environment ministers called on the United States on Wednesday to help the bloc lead and finance the battle against climate change. "The EU has been the leader of the international debate. We want to keep on and to offer a co-leadership to the US," said Czech Environment Minister Martin Bursik, whose country holds the EU Presidency.

Bursik also urged a deal on financing the battle against climate change ahead of a summit in Copenhagen in December, which is expected to produce a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said that €175 billion would be required annually until 2020 to fight climate change, and that the EU would need to have "a fair equitable contribution."

Meanwhile, European Voice reports that MEPs and the Council have reached an informal compromise on how unspent EU funds will be redirected to energy-efficiency schemes. The article notes that the Commission will be charged with overseeing how the €3.98bn of funds is spent, assessing projects every year. The deal is expected to receive formal approval in May.
AFP AFP 2 European Voice

Romanian citizenship plan could be "frightening" for regional stability
EUobserver reports that there is growing concern in EU institutions over Romanian plans to give citizenship to up to one million Moldovans. The article writes that, if the scheme goes ahead and Moldova retaliates by making dual citizenship illegal, Romania would effectively annex one quarter of its neighbour's population in a scenario described by one EU official as "frightening" in terms of regional stability. Under EU law, Romania is free to give citizenship to anybody it likes.
EUobserver El País

French plan to represent expats in UK by creating British constituency
The Telegraph reports that the French government has unveiled plans to give French expatriates representation in the French Parliament. There would be 11 directly elected MPs representing the expat population for regions including Latin America, eastern Europe, the US and Africa. The UK would have its own MP to represent the 400,000 French expatriates living in the UK. The Express quotes a French Socialist Party representative saying, "It is just a way for the government to give itself another 11 safe seats".
Telegraph Le Monde

Charlemagne: The EU finds it hard to agree over China
The Economist's Charlemagne column looks at EU disagreement over how to handle relations with China and writes, "If you wanted to design a competitor to show up European weaknesses most painfully, you would come up with something a lot like China... European governments do not even agree on what they want from China. They are fuzzily committed to EU 'values', but will readily trample on those in a scramble to secure jobs and cheap goods for their voters."
Economist: Charlemagne

EU reaches deal to tighten supervision of credit rating agencies
EurActiv reports that a deal was reached on Wednesday between representatives of the European Parliament, member states and the Commission over new rules concerning the registration and supervision of credit rating agencies. According to the deal, the Committee of European Securities Regulators (CESR) will be placed in temporary charge of registering the agencies until 2010, when it should be passed on to a new pan-European authority which will replace the CESR, along the lines of preliminary plans outlined by the Commission last month. The Parliament will vote on the new text in Strasbourg next week.

Commission to propose new rights for suspects
European Voice reports that the EU Commission is to propose a law, probably on 1 July, with the backing of the upcoming Swedish Presidency on the right to legal access to an interpreter for suspects in criminal trials. Other rights, such as access to a lawyer, consular assistance and help with understanding proceedings, will be proposed later. Some member states had opposed a more broad-ranging draft proposed in 2004 and abandoned in 2007.
European Voice

Economist: Speedy EU accession hopes for Croatia recede
The Economist reports on Croatia's accession process to the EU, and argues that the planned date of 2011 is gradually slipping away and will vanish unless Slovenia removes its objections over a long-running border dispute. However, it points out that "Even without the Slovene problem, the Croats have a lot still to do to satisfy Brussels."

On his BBC blog, Mark Mardell looks at voter indifference towards the upcoming European elections and argues that he suspects it is because "people find it difficult to see how their vote matters."
BBC: Mardell blog

On Conservative Home, Conservative MEP candidate Rupert Matthews writes about life on the campaign trail for the European elections.
Conservative Home: Matthews

Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reports that Irish opposition groups are attempting to make the European elections in June serve as a general rehearsal for the upcoming Lisbon Treaty referendum. Irish Europe Minister Dick Roche said in Helsinki that "the June election is about choosing what Europe should do and what we should do in Europe; different from the referendum".
Helsingin Sanomat

In a letter to the Independent, Andrew Duff MEP asks "Am I right to assume that Matthew Elliott ("Where exactly does the EU's development money go?", 13 April) and his Taxpayers' Alliance support the Treaty of Lisbon, which will at last give the European Parliament full budgetary powers?"

The IHT reports that Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands will join the EU's anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden in the coming months, joining ships from Spain, Germany, Italy and France.
No link

The BBC reports that German pig farmers are protesting the European Patent Office's decision to grant a patent for a genetic technique used to breed meatier pigs awarded to a US biotech firm.

Following the most recent Eurobarometer showing a lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming European elections, Swedish daily Göteborgs-Posten urges voters to go to the ballot box, saying: "the Parliament in Brussels has far more say than our Swedish parliamentarians on many issues".

The Guardian looks at the reduced working hours practice in the EU, and writes that despite the G20 rhetoric, EU countries are set to throw their budgets at joblessness through short-time working and other schemes to prevent the social unrest of the 1930s.
Guardian: Gow

A leader in the FT looks at Moldova's recent difficulties and argues that "the EU's real problem is how to deal with neighbours it does not plan to embrace as members."
FT: Leader FT: Popescu

El Mundo reports that Spanish dairy farmers yesterday protested in Madrid against EU liberalisation of the dairy sector, with farmers concerned at their inability to compete with other European countries, particularly in eastern Europe.
El Mundo

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