Thursday, April 23, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 23 April 2009


European Parliament votes today on whether taxpayers should foot the bill for hole in controversial second pension fund;
2007 accounts reveal further €256 million pension liability
Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that discussions about the controversial second pension scheme for MEPs continue today, as the European Parliament is due to vote in a plenary session on whether to cover the pension's deficit, estimated at around €120 million, with funds from the EU budget. The paper quotes Martin Schulz MEP saying he does not see "any legitimate claim" for a bailout. A leader in the newspaper comments: "influential MEPs try everything to hide this disaster...This Thursday MEPs will vote on the issue. Only when they distance themselves from any self serving mentality, will they be credible to stand in the European elections."

European Voice reports that Parliamentary authorities yesterday issued a statement repeating that the Parliament had decided "not to make provisions for covering any losses" that the fund incurred. However the Bureau of the Parliament, effectively the office of the President of the Parliament, confirmed that the EP would assume full legal responsibility for paying the pensions at the level promised to members, meaning it might be forced use taxpayers' money from the EU budget.

Meanwhile, European Voice reports that the European Parliament has an outstanding liability of €256 million for the pensions of French and Italian MEPs. This is separate from the additional fund and exists because French and Italian MEPs do not receive pensions from their national governments, as is the case with other MEPs. The article notes that this extra liability was entered for the first time in the Parliament's accounts for 2007.

Comment: Sources inside the Parliament have told Open Europe that this is only a symbolic vote, as the only way to change whether the pension fund is guaranteed by the EU budget, and therefore taxpayers, is through a unanimous decision by the European Council, meaning every country has a right of veto to block this.
Süddeutsche leader European Voice

Open Europe debate on the euro
In the Evening Standard, Anthony Hilton looks at the issues raised by David Marsh in his recently published book, "The Euro: the Politics of the New Global Currency". He argues that "There is a powerful case for the UK to think seriously again about joining" the euro, but says it is unlikely to happen in the next twenty years.

Open Europe is hosting a debate on the euro with David Marsh, as well as Derek Scott, former economic advisor to Tony Blair, and Ignazio Angeloni, Advisor to the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, on 28 April in Brussels. For more details and to register, please visit our homepage.
Evening Standard OE homepage

European Commission admits failure of Common Fisheries Policy
The Telegraph reports that, in a new Green Paper, EU officials have been forced to admit that, despite the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), 88 per cent of European fish stocks are over-fished, compared to 25 per cent elsewhere in the world. This is added to the fact that many EU fishermen receive subsidies to help them to stay in business. Joe Borg, the European Fisheries Commissioner, said: "We are questioning even the fundamentals of the current policy. We are not just looking for another reform - it is time to design a modern, simple and sustainable system for managing fisheries in the EU."
Telegraph EUobserver Times Times2 Times-leader

Swedish MEP 'checks out' of the Parliament, yet still receives full pay
Dagens Nyheter reports that Swedish MEP Maria Robsahm still receives full pay and hires two assistants, despite the fact that she is no longer active in the European Parliament. Resident now in Sweden, she has reportedly withdrawn from the EP as a result of family matters, and cannot fulfill her MEP tasks. Robsahm changed party in the course of her EP mandate, has not updated her website for over a year, nor published any press releases. Still, she refuses to allow for a substitute into the EP.

MEPs approve watered down energy liberalisation law
EUobserver reports that the European Parliament has approved a compromise law aimed at liberalising energy markets within the EU. Initially targeting full separation of transmission and production activities - also known as "unbundling" - the compromise approved yesterday by MEPs gives big energy players like E.ON and RWE the option of keeping the two types of activities, but under stronger supervision.

The law also provides for the creation of a new EU agency - the Agency for Co-operation of Energy Regulators (ACER) - aimed at ensuring the independence and joint work of national energy market regulators.

The Guardian notes that the package also includes a provision stipulating that EU governments will draw up national energy action plans to fight fuel poverty, and an obligation for the energy industry to put so-called smart meters into 80% of homes by 2020 and all homes by 2022.
EUobserver The Parliament Guardian EurActiv

Continued wrangling over IT 'anti-piracy' measures
There's continued coverage of France's attempts to insert an 'anti-privacy' provision in the EU's telecom package - the provision would allow for countries to suspend internet users who engage in illegal file-sharing without any trial taking place.

On Tuesday, the Parliament's Industry Committee overwhelmingly passed an amendment which stated that "no restriction may be imposed on the fundamental rights and freedoms of end users without a prior ruling by the judicial authorities". Euractiv notes that the amendment is primarily aimed at the French so-called 'Hadopi' law, expected to pass the country's lower House next week. Crucially, this law stipulates that no trial be needed to cut Internet connections of serial offenders. The telecoms package is not expected to be passed until member states and the European Parliament reach an agreement on this issue.
EurActiv European Voice

EU Commissioner tries to undermine Bundesbank Head's criticisms
FAZ reports that EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has rejected criticism of the EU's response to the economic crisis from the Head of the Bundesbank, Axel Weber, published in yesterday's FT. FAZ reports that Kroes said Weber had "not been well informed" and that his claims were based on false information, saying that one should "inform yourself beforehand and express yourself after. For the rest, Mr Weber can always use the telephone".

Greece and Ireland top EU budget deficit list
The WSJ reports that the EU economy is expected to shrink by 4 percent this year and is likely to face a deeper recession and slower recovery than the US and other parts of the world. New data from the EU's statistical office Eurostat has shown that Ireland and Greece topped the list for budget deficits for the eurozone last year, according to the Irish Independent. Ireland's deficit rose to 7.1 percent of GDP in 2008 while Greece's rose to 5 percent.

The Irish Times reports that the IMF has stood by its assertion that Ireland will pay a higher price to stabilise its banks than any other developed country, despite claims by PM Brian Cowen that the figures were unreliable.
Irish Independent BBC WSJ Irish Times

'EU profiler' shows which party is closest to the voter
Dutch daily Trouw looks at the 'EU Profiler' website, which assesses 304 parties in 30 countries, based on questions concerning national as well as European issues. The article points out that, "In Germany for example, no party has a eurosceptic programme, while undoubtedly a substantial part of the electorate is eurosceptic". The profiler helps to show in which countries there is a better correlation between the electorate and the political parties, and how well voters are represented in the European Parliament.
Trouw EU Profiler

Ganley optimistic about Libertas' prospects
The FT reports on the Libertas' European election campaign and the chances of them being elected. The article argues "perhaps the biggest problem facing Libertas is that, in the midst of a deep economic crisis, voters are more worried about job security than institutional reform in Brussels." Ganley assures that Libertas is about more than the Lisbon Treaty and remains defiant about the possibility of Libertas being elected "Whether or not Brussels recognises Libertas is the least of my concerns. We're coming - whether they like it or not."

European Parliament approves report on common immigration policy
El Mundo reports that yesterday the European Parliament approved an own-initiative report on developing a common immigration policy. The report emphasises the importance of legal immigration and integration and would require member states to facilitate immigrants being able to vote in local elections. According to the EP press release, the report supports immigrants from third countries being granted full mobility in the EU, "after a period of five years' legal residence in a member state".

Meanwhile, on his BBC blog, Mark Mardell highlights how immigration is a "hot topic" in the June elections. He refers to the EP report approved yesterday saying it "may not have a huge impact on the final policy, but it is an indication of the sort of ideas floating around."
El Mundo EP Press Release BBC: Mardell blog

Barber: Klaus won't be allowed to derail the Lisbon Treaty
On his FT Brussels Blog, Tony Barber writes that, "Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, sounds like a man who intends to enjoy the next two months." He notes that with the fall of the Czech government earlier this year Klaus will seek to take a leading role in June's crucial EU summit, which will address two crucial issues: the guarantees to be promised to Ireland in return for another Irish referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty, and the question of whether to reappoint José Manuel Barroso as the European Commission President for a second five-year term.

However, Barber argues that, "If there were even a hint that Klaus was planning to disrupt the June summit, other EU leaders could simply postpone the meeting until Sweden replaces the Czech Republic in the EU presidency on July 1."
FT: Brussels blog

Verhofstadt: Franco-German axis is crumbling
In a speech in Brussels on EU politics, former Belgian PM and prospective leader of the liberals in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, said that "the Franco-German motor of the EU doesn't work any more, because Germany has become a normal country. Germany was in favour of the supranationalist method and in favour of the CAP. That's gone since reunification. Now they are saying: how much does this cost?"

El Mundo reports that the European Parliament has launched a MySpace page for the European elections under the slogan 'I use my vote' and is also using Facebook, Twitter and Flickr to mobilise people. The site includes opinion polls, news, forums and visitors can download a photo to upload as their Facebook profile photo.
El Mundo

On his Coulisses de Bruxelles blog, Jean Quatremer asks whether Philippe de Villiers should give back his salary to the EU, following the report by Flavien Deltort which positions Villiers amongst the least active and engaged MEPs (910th out of 921).
Le Monde Coulisses de Bruxelles

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has included former showgirls, a Miss Italy contender and a Big Brother celebrity in his party's choice of candidates for the European Parliament elections.
Telegraph El Mundo

The FT's Tony Barber writes, "Viewed from Brussels, China's importance to the world's international security and economic systems has never been greater. Viewed from Beijing, the European Union's importance has rarely been smaller."
FT: Barber

A survey by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency claims that racism and discrimination suffered by Europe's minority and immigrant communities is far more widespread than previously thought.
Irish Times Guardian


IMF dents UK budget predictions for growth;
UK budget outlines car scrappage scheme and carbon budgets
There is widespread coverage of the delivery of the budget by the Chancellor yesterday. The Independent reports that the Chancellor's predictions for growth were undermined by a new prognosis from the International Monetary Fund yesterday, singling out the UK as one of the western European nations facing the deepest recession, saying the economy would shrink faster than Alistair Darling predicted.

Meanwhile, the FT reports that the car industry won its bid for a £2,000 car scrapping bonus, for customers to receive towards the cost of a new car, with the subsidy to be split between Government and the carmakers.

The Guardian reports that the Chancellor also committed the Government to carbon budgets, which fix binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions over five-year periods, becoming the first country in the world to set legally binding budgets for carbon emissions. The budget contained a commitment to cut greenhouse gases by 34 percent by 2020, and aimed to do this without purchasing credits from projects which have reduced emissions abroad, although the Chancellor said those "offsets" were a "fallback option".
WSJ WSJ: Nixon Irish Times Sun Telegraph Telegraph 2 Telegraph: Leader Guardian FT FT 2 Mail Guardian Independent EU Referendum blog

Conservatives and Lib Dems reject Brown's plan for MPs' expenses
The Independent reports that Gordon Brown's attempt to reform the system of parliamentary allowances ran into trouble last night after Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg flatly rejected Downing Street's proposal to introduce a daily allowance for MPs.
FT Guardian Independent BBC EU Referendum blog Independent Handelsblatt Welt WSJ

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