Monday, April 06, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 6 April 2009


Obama urges EU to welcome Turkey;
Sarkozy rebukes US President for interfering in EU affairs
El Pais reports that although the majority of negotiations went well at Sunday's EU-US summit in Prague, President Obama clashed with the Franco-German alliance over Turkish accession to the EU. President Obama said Turkey's entry into the EU would help to consolidate its position as a Western nation. The BBC quotes him saying, "Moving forward towards Turkish membership in the EU would be an important signal of your commitment to this agenda and ensure that we continue to anchor Turkey firmly in Europe."

However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was up to the EU itself to decide who joined the bloc. "When it comes to the European Union it's up to member states of the European Union to decide," he told French TV. The Times quotes him saying, "I have always been opposed to this entry and I remain opposed," he added.

The FT notes that Angela Merkel said she believed it was "in all our interests" that Turkey develops close ties to the EU, but suggested that this could take the form of a "privileged partnership" rather than full membership.
El País FT BBC EU Referendum blog Times El Mundo Le Figaro El País 2

Nato allies pledge 5,000 troops for Afghanistan;
Europe reluctant to send troops to combat zones
The Independent on Sunday reported that at the weekend's Nato summit, leaders pledged to send 5,000 soldiers and police to train Afghanistan's army and aid security for its coming elections. The paper noted that European leaders shied away from agreeing to a US request for permanent additional combat troops. The Observer noted that the announcement leaves open the question of the longer term sustained commitment in Afghanistan, beyond a temporary shoring up of security around the elections, which the Americans want.

The UK has pledged a further 900 troops, while Germany and Spain have pledged 600. In total, nine countries have agreed to provide additional troops. The WSJ notes that $100 million, $57 million from Germany, was committed to a new Afghan army trust fund. However, France will not be sending any more troops. Saturday's Mirror quoted French President Nicolas Sarkozy saying "There will be no extra French troops because of our decision to step up our presence taken last year."

The WSJ notes that Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel "again flexed their collective muscles, driving the Afghan debate just as they tried to shape the debate at the summit of the Group of 20 nations in London". It quotes Sarkozy saying, "The strength of the French-German axis is to be reckoned with".

Nato leaders also agreed on the next Secretary General, Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen, but only after intense and "bitter" negotiations, according to the Observer. Turkey had refused to yield on the appointment of Rasmussen because of his defence of free speech during the Danish cartoons crisis three years ago. A European Foreign Minister told the Observer that Turkey backed down when it was promised membership of the European Defence Agency, increasing Ankara's say in the EU's defence affairs.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that Obama has said that the US would continue to develop a missile defence shield in eastern Europe until Iran abandoned its nuclear ambitions. Speaking in Prague, he praised the "courageous" Czech Republic and Poland for "agreeing to host a defence against these missiles".

The WSJ reports that, in the same speech, Obama said he would convene an international summit in Washington aimed at shrinking the world's nuclear weapons arsenals.
Independent Observer Sunday Times Sunday Times: Leader Sunday Telegraph Conservative Home: Murrison European Voice FT: Rachman blog Observer 2 WSJ IHT Telegraph Telegraph 2 Telegraph 3 Guardian EurActiv EurActiv 2 Telegraph: Waterfield blog Telegraph: Waterfield blog 2 Telegraph: Waterfield blog 3

On Conservative Home, Open Europe Director Lorraine Mullally argues that Europe Minister Caroline Flint's admission that she has not ready the Lisbon Treaty in full makes a referendum all the more urgent.
Conservative Home

Wallstrom claims Open Europe's findings on Commission payouts and pensions are "twisted and exaggerated data"
In an interview with Focus Information Agency, EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom has responded to research published by Open Europe which found that Commissioners leaving office this year will earn over £1 million in pensions and payoffs, claiming the figures are "twisted and exaggerated".

Wallstrom said, "I'd like to thank for the possibility to respond to the series of 'clever' press releases by 'Open Europe' - a British NGO, advertising itself as a think-tank - which has been regularly publishing articles against the club of 27, containing deliberately twisted and exaggerated data. Stepping in office within the European Commission (EC) does not include talks about salaries, allowances and retirement payments. It's the Council of the European Union that decided in the matter and therefore all changes are up to it. The current rules have been around since 1967 and are open to the public. Actually, all international organisations are governed by similar rules. EU Commissioners are entitled to receive pensions but only when they turn 65. Besides, they get temporary 3-year payments once they leave the EC. And they pay taxes on both the 3-year payments and the pensions."

Comment: Commissioner Wallstrom's claims contradict the Commission's official response to the findings so far. Previously, Commission spokesperson Valerie Rampi and others have justified the payouts saying, "Open Europe didn't discover anything new, it's all public and online... Everyone who has worked as a commissioner is entitled to pension rights, like you and me". She said the money was to help Commissioners with their "re-entry" into the non-EU world.

Likewise, after initially saying he didn't believe the figures and adding "if that's true, I'll retire immediately", Belgian Commissioner Louis Michel was forced to justify the findings after he discovered they were accurate. Belgian newspaper De Standaard reported: "After consulting an assistant, the report seems to be accurate. This was followed by Louis Michel suddenly changing his tune, saying the compensation is completely justified. 'We are being well paid, that is. But every morning getting up at 5 o'clock, lots of travelling, heavy files... This is a parachute, but not a golden one'". Similarly, Danish Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel told newspaper Politiken, "I'm worth all the millions".
Focus Open Europe press release Open Europe blog OE Bulletin

IMF urges eastern Europe to adopt euro
The front page of the FT reports that a confidential report from the International Monetary Fund, prepared about a month ago, recommends that crisis-hit EU states in central and eastern Europe should consider adopting the Euro, even without formally joining the eurozone. The report says, "For countries in the EU, euroisation offers the largest benefits in terms of resolving the foreign currency debt overhang [accumulation], removing uncertainty and restoring confidence." It recommends that the eurozone relaxes its entry rules so countries could join as quasi-members, without ECB board seats.

However, a leader in the FT warns that adopting the euro without joining the eurozone is "fraught with political and economic difficulties".
FT FT 2 FT: Leader Independent: O'Grady

Irish PM calls for help in promoting Lisbon Treaty
Saturday's Irish Independent reported that Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has attacked farmers and business leaders over their failure to support the Lisbon Treaty. The paper wrote that, clearly preparing the way for an imminent re-run of the Treaty, the Taoiseach pledged to oversee a "much better" campaign and insisted Irish voters needed to "enthusiastically confirm" they want to be part of a union that will be more effective. Next time round, everyone would have to pull together and "start articulating what's good for this country", Cowen added. The paper reported that the PM said that voters cannot decide to opt in or out on issues like the Lisbon Treaty and pick and choose in an "a la carte way" the positions they want to take and still expect assistance from the EU.
Irish Independent

Saturday's Belfast Telegraph reported that MEP Jim Nicholson has been criticised for his globe-hopping trips and wrote, "Information published by Open Europe, an independent think-tank, says that on a recent trip to Australia, Mr Nicholson enjoyed La Traviata at the Sydney Opera House followed by a cruise around Sydney Bay on a luxury catamaran to watch the sun go down over dinner."
Belfast Telegraph Open Europe press release

New EU Directive could see disclosure requirement extended to 'alternative' funds
The Weekend FT reported that a draft of a proposed EU directive would see all hedge fund and private equity managers in Europe required to detail their activities to financial regulators and meet minimum capital requirements. The paper reported that the new rules are being drawn up to extend the regulatory net to all those working in the financial markets. But the paper quoted Javier Echarri, Secretary-General of the European Private Equity & Venture Capital Association, saying "In sharp contrast with the hedge fund industry, private equity does not represent any systemic risk. We are very unhappy."

European Voice reports that the US Financial Accounting Standards Board yesterday changed their accounting rules to relax 'mark-to market' requirements, which require banks and other companies to value financial instruments at their price on the market, increasing pressure on standard setters in the EU to do the same.
European Voice FTD Eurointelligence Weekend FT

Top British judge accuses Human Rights Court of creating 'federal law of Europe'
The Times reports that Lord Hoffmann, one of Britain's most distinguished judges and the second most senior Lord of Appeal, has indicted the European Court of Human Rights (Strasbourg Court) for assuming powers beyond its jurisdiction. He said that the court believes itself to be an "equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States, laying down a federal law of Europe".

Lord Hoffman said that the court seems "unable to resist the temptation to aggrandise its jurisdiction," a case proven by its intervention on matters that included the right to silence, the use of allegedly hearsay evidence and night flights at Heathrow airport, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

The paper also notes that formally opting out of the Strasbourg Court's jurisdiction could be an option for the UK but cautions that British law would still be subject to the European Court of Justice, an equally federalist institution that the UK would find much harder to shed.
Mail Sunday Telegraph: Leader Times: Rees-Mogg Mail: Synon blog

Fishermen arrested for breaching EU fish quotas
Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph reported that two fishermen from Northern Ireland have been incarcerated in Liverpool for misidentifying catches of fish for which they had no quota under EU regulations. Instead of merely fining the fishermen, the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA) has taken the severe action of involving the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to use the Proceeds of Crime Act. This act is normally invoked for serious criminals involved in activities such as drug trafficking and money laundering.
Sunday Telegraph: Booker EU Referendum Blog

Proposed EU plan to force homes to separate food and garden waste
The Telegraph reports that a proposed EU law designed to cut carbon emissions caused by recycling food and biodegradable waste could see every household in Britain forced to separate out food and garden waste from other rubbish, creating separate collections at increased costs. The article quotes Local Government Association Chairman Margaret Eaton, saying "How can someone sitting in Brussels, or even Whitehall, decide whether a person in Birmingham needs a separate bin for their garden waste? It should be up to local councils to decide."

Former Communist party member to become new Czech PM
According to European Voice, the Czech Republic's outgoing governing parties and its largest opposition party have preliminarily agreed on the formation of a new technocratic government to lead the country until elections, to be headed by Jan Fischer. The BBC reports that Mr Fischer, who currently heads the statistical office, will be proposed as caretaker Prime Minister. The proposal will be submitted to President Klaus for approval, who has said he will respect any agreement between the main parties. Reportedly, Fischer is non-partisan but was a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party before the regime's collapse in 1989. EU Observer BBC Le Monde Telegraph The Parliament European Voice Euractiv

Saturday's Mail reported that Europe Minister Caroline Flint has indicated that every operational unit of the British Army, Royal Navy and RAF will be on offer as part of an EU "force catalogue". Questioned by MPs about Britain's commitment to the plans, Flint said: "We are prepared to provide all our forces that are suitable for operations within the EU level of action."
Mail EU Referendum blog

In an interview with Saturday's Telegraph, EU Commission President Jose Barroso argued that "Ireland would be in a situation of near bankruptcy if it had not been in the euro."
No link

Writing in the FT, Alan Beattie reports that it has been suggested to him that the EU's decision to reintroduce export subsidies for dairy products was to deliberately show other countries what they had missed by their failure to reach agreement in the Doha round of trade talks.
FT: Beattie

In the FT, Wolfgang Munchau argues that the "G20 summit has ducked the important question of bank rescue beyond a few meaningless and self-congratulatory statements."
FT: Munchau

The Independent on Sunday reported that Tony Blair is stepping up his campaign to become the first President of the EU, and has received the backing of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Independent on Sunday

Open Europe is an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU. For information on our research, events and other activities, please visit our website: or call us on 0207 197 2333.

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