Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 13 May 2009

Ahead of the European elections and the upcoming Swedish Presidency of the EU, Open Europe is hosting a seminar at this year's Europaforum in Hässleholm, southern Sweden. Europaforum is a conference co-hosted by the upcoming Swedish Presidency, the current Czech Presidency, the EU Commission and the European Parliament.

Open Europe's seminar entitled "Reforming the EU for the 21st century" will take place on 14 May and run from 14.00 until 15.00. In the seminar, Open Europe will present ideas on how the EU can be brought closer to its citizens and reformed to meet today's challenges. The seminar will also feature a panel discussion with Bruno Waterfield, Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and Rebecca Hilton, Chief Political Advisor for the new pan-European party Libertas.
Programme Registration


New poll: 82% want referendum on Lisbon Treaty in the UK - even if it has already been ratified by the rest of the EU
In the Times Peter Riddell points to a Populus poll undertaken over the weekend, which found that 82% of people agreed with the statement "If Ireland and other countries ratify the Lisbon Treaty on the future of the European Union, Britain should hold its own referendum on the issue". 52% agreed strongly, and only 14% disagreed. The proportion of voters agreeing with the statement was 76% among Labour supporters, 85% among Lib Dem supporters, and 92% among Conservative supporters.

The poll also showed that 58% of voters believe that the balance of powers between Britain and the EU gives too much power to the EU, including a clear majority of supporters of all main parties. 28% say the balance is about right and 6% say too little power has been given to the EU.

In response to the question, "If the Lisbon Treaty goes through and the new post of President of the EU is established, the job should go to Tony Blair", only 34% of people agreed.

Asked if the European Parliament has a positive impact on the lives of ordinary people, 61% agreed. However, 58% agreed that "The European Parliament is an irrelevant talking shop and a gravy train for its Members".

51% agreed with the statement "Britain benefits from being a member of the EU". On voting intentions for the European Parliament elections, the Conservatives polled 21%, Labour polled 16%, the Lib Dems 13%, and UKIP 4%.
Times: Riddell

Irish government seeks early agreement on Lisbon Treaty 'guarantees' to avoid debate at EU leaders' summit
The Irish Times reports that the Irish government is fast-tracking work on the 'guarantees' it wants on the Lisbon Treaty to avoid the possibility that Czech President Vaclav Klaus could 'wreck' an EU summit in June. The IHT notes that the newly-appointed Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer has said that he wants to head the crucial meeting on 18-19 June in Brussels, rather than have Mr. Klaus do it, but that no decision had yet been made.

The Council of Ministers' legal service, the Irish Attorney General, Irish diplomats and Czech diplomats are understood to be putting the final touches to the wording of 'clarifications' on taxation, neutrality, social/ethical issues, the retention of an Irish Commissioner, and workers' rights.

With the help of Fisher, the Irish government hopes to persuade all 27 EU states to agree to the 'legal guarantees' at a foreign ministers' meeting on 15 June, ahead of the higher-profile summit of EU leaders later that week. An EU diplomat said that, "The Czechs also want it to go to the European Council as an 'A' point, which means it would not have to be debated by EU leaders".

The article notes that it remains unclear whether sensitive issues, such as those regarding workers' rights, can be agreed at the level of foreign minister or whether EU leaders will be called on to discuss them at the summit in June. Britain has said it wants to ensure that any new declaration does not extend existing labour rights.

The question of how and when the 'guarantees' can be attached to the existing EU treaties, and in effect become legally binding, is yet to be decided. The UK Government is trying to avoid ratifying any separate Irish protocol on Lisbon in Parliament.

In the Czech Republic, Senators allied to President Klaus plan to launch another challenge to the Lisbon Treaty in their country's constitutional court, the Irish Times reports. The article notes that Klaus and his allies in the centre-right Civic Democrat party (ODS) now appear intent on delaying Czech ratification of the Treaty until after Ireland votes on it again, and until the Constitutional Court issues a verdict on the expected challenge from ODS senators.

Euronews quotes Fischer saying that with regard to Klaus signing the Lisbon Treaty, "it is up to him and him alone to decide when he will sign it" as "the Czech Constitution does not impose a maximum delay on him".
Irish Times European Voice RTE Irish Times 2 IHT European Voice 2 EUobserver Euronews

French Assembly approves controversial "three strikes" internet law in defiance of European Parliament
Le Figaro reports that France's controversial Hadopi law was approved yesterday in the National Assembly by 296 to 233 following 53 hours of debates and two readings. The law aims to combat illegal downloading by issuing three warnings and then disconnecting users from the internet. The bill will be debated today in the Senate.

The European Parliament last week approved an amendment to EU telecoms legislation stating that internet users cannot be disconnected without a court order, but this still has to be approved by the Council of Ministers, which is unlikely.

EUobserver quotes French Socialist MEP Guy Bono arguing that the vote "shows utter contempt for Europe and its citizens three weeks ahead of the European elections." He added that "If a French constitutional judge does not react, I will ask the European Commission to request the European Court of Justice to launch infringement proceedings against the French government for not respecting community law."
Le Figaro Le Monde El País EUobserver IHT Guardian BBC

International Food Policy Research Institute: EU's biofuel subsidies threaten local communities in developing countries
In a new report, the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has warned that European firms are buying up so-called idle or marginal lands in developing countries on which to grow biofuels. EUobserver notes that "Stung by the criticism of scientists last year that using farmland for such crops can actually boost carbon emissions and increase food prices, biofuels firms have been scouting about for cheap 'wasteland'." The report from IFPRI warns that the buying up of land is threatening local communities in poorer countries whose traditional use of such lands is being undermined by the EU's insistence on subsidising biofuels.

"EU policy is certainly contributing to Western biofuels investment," Ruth Meinzen-Dick, one of the report's two authors, told EUobserver. "When you hear the word 'wasteland' or 'unused', it usually does have some use, just not uses that are officially recognised," she added, "whether as a village common or as pastureland, gathering nuts, honey, or for rattan." Although the report states that "Additional investments in agriculture in developing countries ... should be welcome in principle," it argues that "the scale, the terms, and the speed of land acquisition have provoked opposition in some target countries" as local people lose access to and control over land on which they depend.

According to the report, UK-based Sun Biofuels has secured land in Ethiopia and Mozambique for the cultivation of biofuels produced from jatropha, as well as some 5,500 hectares in Tanzania for the same purpose. Britain's CAMS Group has also purchased 45,000 hectares for jatropha biofuels in Tanzania.
EUobserver Open Europe research Open Europe research 2 Open Europe research 3

Conservatives to pledge to curb cost of new regulation
The Conservatives will today pledge that a Conservative government would cull redundant regulation and curb the cost of new regulation, according to the FT, in response to a report they commissioned from Sir David Arculus, former Chairman of the Government's Better Regulation Task Force. Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke is also expected to promise to adopt regulatory budgets limiting the amount of red tape each Government department can produce. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson axed the planned regulatory budgets last month.

The Arculus report also suggests that Conservative leader David Cameron should demonstrate a "personal commitment" to controlling EU regulation, suggesting that a senior minister be based in Brussels to allow earlier challenges to European laws.

In a comment piece for the FT, Sir David Arculus argues that the "total cost of regulation to the UK economy is of the order of 10-12 percent of GDP, well over £100bn a year." He also describes Europe as "currently the source of more than half of our new laws and regulations." He argues that there is a need to "improve the way we deal with European law and engage better with Europe. To base a senior minister in Brussels, or to have regular cabinet meetings devoted to European business as the French do, might be interesting approaches."
FT FT: Arculus Open Europe research

Swedish MEP: Office expenses too generous
MEPs will receive a fixed salary as of the new Parliament in July, which in most cases exceeds the former, national salary of each MEP. "What this means it that MEPs will get three times higher pay than a regular, Swedish worker. That is terrible", Jens Holm MEP of the Swedish Left Party said on Sveriges Radio. On top of a higher fixed salary, MEPs also receive up to €4,000 in office grants on a monthly basis - money for which no receipts are needed. "We should remember that there are well functioning office equipment and personnel in both Brussels and Strasbourg. MEPs do not need that much money for office expenses".
SR Open Europe research

Christine Lagarde touted as next EU Competition Commissioner
Die Welt reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, agreed at the end of April that French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde will become the next EU Competition Commissioner. The article points out that Sarkozy achieved an early diplomatic coup this way with France playing a large role in European economic policy in the next five years. Reportedly, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to decide on the Commissioner only after the national elections in September. However, a senior Brussels diplomat is quoted in Die Welt: "That might possibly be too late to get an important portfolio."

According to Le Figaro, a source close to the Finance Minister has said that the rumours surrounding a move to Brussels "cannot be confirmed or denied". Le Figaro has also previously suggested that Lagarde is one of the favourites to become Internal Market Commissioner.
Die Welt Le Figaro

EU to stress test banking system but will withhold publication of results
The International Monetary Fund has urged Europe to follow the US in conducting individual stress tests on European banks, according to the FT. The IMF called on the London-based Committee of European Banking Supervisors to set common parameters for national regulators in Europe. The IMF described crisis measures implemented in Europe such as the bank deposit insurance schemes as "unhelpfully diverse."

EurActiv reports that EU sources have indicated that the EU will stress test its banking system by September to determine its resilience to the economic downturn and find out if it is adequately capitalised. However, unlike the recent US tests, Europe's financial regulators will not make the outcomes of their tests public or single out banks that need more capital, according to the Irish Independent. The paper quotes an EU source saying, "It is not a stress test of individual institutions like the Americans are doing. It is more a highly aggregated stress test, which should show the degree of resilience of the overall EU banking sector".
Irish Independent WSJ FT EurActiv BBC Handelsblatt FT 2 FT 3 Le Figaro El País Le Monde

Cameron threatens Lord Tebbit with expulsion over calls to boycott main parties in EU elections
Conservative leader David Cameron has warned former party Chairman Lord Tebbit that he was "treading a very careful path...if he slips off that path he's sitting as an independent", following Lord Tebbit's call for voters to boycott the main parties in the European elections, reports the Times.

Writing in the Guardian, former Europe Minister Denis MacShane MP argues that Lord Tebbit's call for voters to boycott the parties was an attempt to force the Conservatives to the right on immigration and Europe. Writing in the Telegraph, MacShane describes Lord Tebbit's call as the "most audacious intervention in British politics since Enoch Powell's call for a vote against the Conservative government in 1974 on the issue of Europe."
Telegraph Times Conservative Home Spectator: Coffee House blog FT Sun Guardian Guardian: MacShane

Former Czech PM: Franco-Czech relations very tough
Former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek says relations between Paris and Prague have been "really tough" throughout the Czech's EU Presidency. Stemming from what he calls a 'natural clash' with Sarkozy, Topolanek added "our mutual relationship affected the entire [EU] presidency", Le Figaro reports. He listed multiple reasons for the clash, including that France has "a remarkable tendency towards regulation, subsidies and protectionism". However, Topolanek insisted that there is no ongoing bitterness over the situation.
Le Figaro

EPP President: Cameron's decision to leave party group was motivated by leadership bid
In an interview with Belgian Radio 1 European People's Party President Wilfried Martens said that, "David Cameron had pledged to leave the EPP in order to receive support from the eurosceptics in his party to become party leader". He added, "There is a big problem with the Conservative Party as such. David Cameron is against the Lisbon Treaty".Radio 1

The Express reports that Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said yesterday that the Government's policy on EU immigration had been wrong and that the Government had failed to predict the scale of new arrivals after the EU expanded in 2004.

The European Commission has declined to answer if Italy's recent move to send back African asylum seekers is in line with EU law. Italy's move has been strongly condemned by the United Nations, EUobserver reports.

Commission: EU Fisheries policy based on patchy scientific knowledge
The Irish Independent reports that the European Commission yesterday admitted that scientists are unaware of the state of nearly two-thirds of Europe's fish stocks. Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg blamed inaccurate catch reporting for the situation, but insisted the Commission was determined to ensure the long-term viability of the Common Fisheries Policy, while adapting the existing fleet to face the reality of smaller catches.
Irish Independent BBC

The Irish Times reports that sitting Czech MEP and Libertas candidate Vladimir Zelezny has been convicted of tax evasion for not paying VAT on the import of several paintings. Libertas announced that Zelezny will resign as a candidate for the forthcoming elections.
Irish Times

Zapatero outlines hopes for Spain's EU Presidency
El Mundo reports that during the State of the Nation debate, Spanish PM Jose Zapatero said he wants to achieve a "broad political consensus" on the Spanish Presidency of the EU in January 2010 and that the Presidency will focus on innovation and equality. Zapatero hopes that the Lisbon Treaty will be approved by the time Spain takes over and that Spain will therefore be responsible for its implementation and consolidating the institutions.
El Mundo Le Monde

The European Commission yesterday unblocked €115 million in aid for Bulgaria, suspended last year over Sofia's failure to properly tackle corruption.

According to Eurointelligence, a group led by former Italian PM Giuliano Amato yesterday called on MEPs to give clear indications on their positions on legislative policy and where they stand on the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, to give voters a clear choice ahead of the EU elections.
Eurointelligence ACED - Action Committee for European Democracy

In a comment piece in FAZ, Valentin Zahrnt, Researcher for the European Centre for International Political Economy (Ecipe), criticises the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and says that critical challenges to secure sustainability, competitiveness and security for Europe were neglected due the CAP's monopolisation of the EU budget.
No link


Minor parties seek to capitalise on MPs' expenses scandal
There is further coverage of the MPs' expenses scandal currently gripping Westminster. The Times notes that David Cameron has ordered senior Conservatives to pay back thousands of pounds to the taxpayer after their claims were revealed to the public this week. Another article in the paper notes that the UK's minor parties are preparing to exploit the public anger over MPs' expenses when voters go to the polls in next month's European elections.
WSJ Irish Independent Express Times Times: Leader Times 2 FT Mail Guardian Guardian 2 Sun Independent Independent: leader Telegraph: Waterfield blog BBC

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