Monday, April 20, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 20 April 2009


Three quarters of Irish MEPs refuse to publish expenses
Open Europe's findings about the number of MEPs signed up to the controversial second pension fund were reported on page 2 of Saturday's Sun, in Saturday's Mail, the Irish Sunday Times, and on Bruno Waterfield's Telegraph blog. Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally was interviewed on BBC Five Live on Friday. Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe was quoted in an article on Spanish news site, saying, "The legality of this highly controversial fund has been repeatedly questioned over the last ten years by the European Court of Auditors".

The Irish Sunday Times also reported that Irish MEPs who are re-elected in June will be given the option of a €100,191-a-year salary, based on the current rate for national MPs, or a slightly lower European salary that includes the second pension scheme. The choice is only available to serving MEPs, as part of a transition to a standardised European-wide system.

The paper noted that although Irish MEPs are among the best paid in Europe, there will still be considerable benefits for them opting for the lower salary, including the chance to avoid the new pension levy. The deal includes a "free" contribution to the second pension fund worth 3.5% of salary each year up to a maximum of 70% of their annual pay.

Meanwhile, Saturday's Irish Independent reported that almost three quarters Irish MEPs have refused to provide details on their expenses - despite the upcoming European election. Only 3 out of 13 MEPs revealed how much they claimed in expenses when asked on Friday by broadcaster RTE.
Mail Telegraph: Bruno Waterfield blog Finanzas Irish Sunday Times Irish Independent Guardian: Cronin ABhaber Open Europe press release Open Europe blog

Alice Mahon cites failure to hold referendum on Lisbon as reason for quitting Labour Party
Former Halifax MP for 18 years Alice Mahon has quit the Labour party. Speaking to BBC News 24, she said that her reasons included a failure by the Government to deliver on promises in the 2005 Labour manifesto, including a referendum on the EU constitution. Writing in the Independent, she said "That [2005] manifesto promised a referendum on the European Constitution, we renamed it the Lisbon Treaty and reneged on that promise also."
Independent: Mahon

UK private equity industry criticises draft EU legislation
The FT reports that leaders of the UK's private equity industry have strongly criticised draft EU legislation due to be published next week. It is estimated that the new legislation will affect between 500-600 companies in the UK, many of which are small companies which will find it difficult to meet the £25,000 - £30,000 cost of implementing the legislation.

The FT reports that the legislation means "any private equity group managing funds equal to more than €250m (£220m) in total would be forced to disclose more information about its structure, strategy, and investors". Furthermore, "The draft law would also force any company owned by an EU private equity group that had more than €50m of annual turnover, or an 'annual balance sheet total' of more than €43m, to publish its finances, strategy and outlook every year."

Meanwhile, El Mundo reports that on Thursday the European Parliament is due to approve new regulations for credit rating agencies. The regulations oblige agencies to register and will involve greater supervision of their activities, which includes revealing the methodology they use to calculate ratings and publishing an annual report on transparency.
El Mundo Euractiv FT

Commission proposals will allow refugees to apply for asylum in the UK from Calais "asylum support office"
The Express reports that European Commission plans to create a purpose built "asylum support office" in Calais will allow refugees to apply for sanctuary in the UK while they are in France, altering the Dublin Convention on asylum. European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot said that Britain must play its part in a "European plan for resettlement of refugees within the EU." The Home Office said that it would not agree to anything that limits the UK's ability to control its borders.
No link

47% of Swedes in favour of joining the euro;
Swedish Trade Council: Sweden gains 30 billion kronor a year from remaining outside the eurozone
An opinion poll for Swedish Television shows that 47% of Swedes would vote yes in a referendum on joining the euro, 45% would vote no and 9% are undecided. The poll was conducted between 6-8 April and included 1,000 people. This is the first time a poll has shown more people in favour of joining than against, which, according to reports, owes to the falling value of the krona against the euro. It is noted that the Swedish People's Party has called for a referendum on the euro to take place next year. However, K-G Bergstrom, a commentator for Swedish Television, notes that a re-run referendum is unlikely to be called before the general elections in 2014. Swedish voters rejected the euro in 2003 with a majority of 56%.

Meanwhile, the Chief Economist at the Swedish Trade Council, Mauro Gozzo, has said that Sweden is gaining 30 billion kronor (£2.4 billion) in exports each year from keeping the krona. He's quoted saying, "If the krona had been significantly stronger, then the economic downturn would have been greater and employment levels would have dropped faster."
Swedish Television Swedish Television2 Dagens Nyheter

Academics predict Labour will gain three MEPs, Conservatives will be unchanged;
Immigration Minister: BNP threat is "very real indeed"
The Times' Red Box blog notes that a website aiming to predict the outcome of June's European elections, which employs the services of Michael Marsh of Trinity College Dublin, Simon Hix and Nick Vivyan, both of the London School of Economics, is suggesting that Labour will gain three seats. The Conservatives will remain on the same number, and the Lib Dems will gain one seat, leaving the Conservatives with the most MEPs. The UK Independence Party is predicted to be the biggest loser in the election, falling by eight seats from 2004.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas warned that the threat of a BNP candidate being elected in the European elections "is very real indeed". He wrote, "although I disagree passionately with the policies of my Conservative and Lib-Dem opponents, I would far sooner see them in the Euro Parliament than the BNP."

In Saturday's Irish Independent Bruce Arnold wrote that "There is the feeling that a vote in the European elections will not change anything. There is a lack of knowledge about the European Parliament. It is not seen as dealing with the problems that concern people." He added, "A year ago, MEPs campaigning, not for re-election but for the Lisbon Treaty, promised that a 'Yes' vote would deliver jobs. Posters promised it. It was a piece of electioneering nonsense, and a year later, this will become evident."

El Mundo reports that on Friday the Vice President of the European Parliament, Miguel Angel Martínez launched a 'Roadshow' aimed at increasing turnout in the forthcoming elections. The mobile campaign will travel to 16 cities across Spain demonstrating how Europe could change for the better in 30 years time if people vote in the 2009 elections.
Times: Red Box blog Predict 09 EU Referendum blog Mail: Woolas Irish Independent El Mundo

Archbishop of Dublin: The future of European integration will not be the result of a Treaty
The Catholic Archibishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin has urged Irish Christians who oppose the Lisbon Treaty to work for a "better Europe". He said, "The future of European integration will not in the first place be the result of a treaty or of new political structures...Europe must become a Europe of peoples; a Europe of peoples which are different yet capable of living together in unity and solidarity."
Irish Independent

Irish fisheries group: EU fishery policy is a Napoleonic aberration
West Cork Sustainable Fisheries Group, an Irish organisation set up to promote sustainable development in the fishing industry, has called the EU's Common Fisheries Policy a "Napoleonic aberration" based on "command and control". The founder of the group, Joe Aston, said the EU management system has supported "capital-intensive, high-technology" vessels which are "utterly out of proportion to the techniques employed by traditional fishing communities."

In the Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Booker looked at last week's protests by French fishermen over EU fishing quotas. He noted, "What particularly irks the fishermen is that, contrary to the controversial findings of the scientists on whom Brussels relies for its data on fish stocks, cod are still so abundant in the eastern Channel that it is almost impossible to avoid catching them."
Sunday Telegraph: Booker Irish Times

Kallas: EU lobbyist register "will never" be mandatory
EurActiv reports that Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas has said that the EU's register of lobbyists will never be mandatory. He said that 1317 bodies had signed up, describing it as "quite a number", and adding that he would have considered 1000 signed up by June as a success. Asked what changes should be expected when the Commission reviews the success of the register's first year in June, Kallas said: "I will never go to mandatory. That's my answer."

Meanwhile, Kallas has criticised think-tanks based in Brussels for failing to sign up to the voluntary lobbyist register. Marco Incerti of the Centre for European Policy Studies is quoted saying "Our side of the story is really very simple, we objected to the inclusion of think-tanks in the same basket with lobbyists, that's the main problem we have with the register. If you ask a think-tank to sign up as a registered lobbyist, you are providing more ammunition for those who claim think-tanks are lobbyists."
EUobserver EurActiv

Czech Presidency concerned that France may be trying to take control
Volkskrant reports that the Czech Republic is collaborating more closely with Germany, and keeping France at a distance, amid fears that France may be trying to take control and undermine the Czech EU Presidency. The Czechs are reportedly worried that French President Sarkozy will take over important negotiations in Russia through his 'parachute diplomacy'.

Czech Presidency Enlargement Advisor wants end to veto on enlargement
Erhard Busek, Special Enlargement Advisor to the Czech EU Presidency has told EurActiv that the EU should abandon its veto system when it comes to enlargement, and that Western Balkan states could join the EU more easily as a bloc to avoid infighting. He said, "Personally, I'm convinced that the current voting weight repartition, as well as the lack of qualified majority vote in most of the situations, is the real background of these hesitations. It has nothing to do with region, because it's completely clear for all member states that all the Western Balkan countries should become members of the EU".
EurActiv EurActiv 2

Verhofstadt: "The EU has not provided the necessary European leadership"
Euractiv quotes former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt saying, "Confronted with the most devastating crisis in 80 years, the EU has not provided the necessary European leadership to cope with the current crisis. We don't need 27 national stimulus plans, we need a European stimulus plan as ambitious as that of President Barack Obama." He also said: "For nine years, I was a member of the European Council, but never once did I hear the words 'European interest'". Lamenting the loss of five years to institutional discussions, he says: "We could even drop the [Lisbon] Treaty if we adopted the single article to abolish the unanimity rule in the EU". Mr Verhofstadt is due to stand as the head of the Flemish List Open VLD in the European elections in June.

French Socialist politician apologises for Sarkozy's remarks about Spanish PM
Le Figaro reports that former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal has faced criticism from the government and her own party over her decision to write a letter to the Spanish Prime Minister apologising for President Sarkozy's comments about Zapatero's intelligence.
Le Figaro Le Monde Libération EUobserver

Employers' groups criticise Commission's compensation plan
European Voice reports that employers' organisations in the EU and US have said they have "grave concerns" about draft legislation being prepared by the European Commission, which concerns compensation claims against businesses that abuse their dominant market position, warning that the legislation would lead to more litigation, and would create a legal framework that is inefficient and "open to abuse".

According to European Voice, Philippe de Buck, Director-General of BusinessEurope, sent a letter to Commission President Barroso in which he wrote that "the case is not made for a legislative proposal at EU level" and that "initiatives on tort law should stay in the remits of member states."
European Voice

Government to announce emissions targets as part of next week's budget
Saturday's Independent reported that the Government will next week announce a legally-binding target to cut Britain's carbon emissions by at least 34 per cent by 2020 to combat climate change to coincide with the Budget. The article notes that Alistair Darling's forthcoming Budget could also include incentives for offshore wind farms.

In an article looking at the Government's plans to promote carbon capture storage (CCS), the Times' Carl Mortished notes that the UK had hoped that the EU's Emissions Trading System would create financial incentives to build CCS power plants, but the price of allowances to emit carbon dioxide has collapsed. He adds that, "Lack of a long-term government strategy to ensure the commercial viability of power plants that use CCS is creating anxiety in the power industry."
Times Independent

Finnish government criticises 'inflexible' EU budget
The EU budget has received criticism from the Finnish government for being inflexible, according to reports from Helsingin Sanomat. According to the government's communication, transfer of money from one budget sector to another is practically impossible because of institutional bureaucracy. The government has also raised questions as to whether the budget would be more efficient when planned for a period of five years, rather than seven years.

FT: MEPs must vote down proposal to extend copyright terms
A leader in the FT argues "The European parliament will next week consider a proposal by the European Commission to extend copyright for performers and producers of recorded music to 95 years from the current 50. Charlie McCreevy, the commissioner in charge, says the extension will help vulnerable ageing performers and promote the cultivation of new artists. It will do neither; this disgraceful proposal only grants the music industry even more power over the already distorted market. The parliament must vote it down."
FT: Leader

EUobserver reports that the Czech EU Presidency has admitted to a security blunder that saw passport numbers and travel itineraries of EU summit delegates, including those of Finnish President Tarja Halonen and Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, put on a public computer.

Defence Secretary John Hutton is in urgent talks with the Treasury to secure more than £1bn to enable the UK to pay for several Eurofighter Typhoon jets it has ordered in partnership with Germany, Spain and Italy.
Weekend FT

The FT reports that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has launched his bid to become Chancellor after this year's elections.

In an interview with Le Monde Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit says: "I used to think that European unification was irreversible - I'm less convinced now."
Le Monde

Saturday's Express reported that there could be a fresh wave of immigrants to the UK after citizens from Moldova were offered the right to travel across the EU visa-free.

Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands have announced they will join a US-led boycott against a UN conference on racism, starting today in Geneva, for fear that it might turn into an anti-semitic platform for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

John Lloyd in the FT looks at leftwing parties in Europe and argues that they are failing to gain in popularity as a result of the economic crisis.
FT: Lloyd


A Marketing Sciences survey for the Sunday Telegraph puts Labour at 26% - down from 31% compared to a similar poll three weeks ago - the Conservatives at 43% and the Lib Dems at 21%.
Sunday Telegraph

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