Thursday, June 04, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 4 June 2009


MEPs cost taxpayers five times more than UK MPs
Open Europe has today published a comparison between the cost of the European Parliament and the cost of the UK Parliament. On his Guardian blog, Michael White cites Open Europe's finding that the European Parliament costs taxpayers £1.8 million for each MEP per year. This is in contrast to the House of Commons, which costs taxpayers £364,000 for each member per year, and the House of Lords, which costs £208,000 per member per year.

In a recent article for the Guardian newspaper this week, Dermot Scott, Head of the European Parliament's UK Office, claimed that an MEP's allowances are "comparable to an MP's allowance" and accused British media reports of being "inaccurate or tendentious."

However, Open Europe's comparison, based on the respective parliaments' budget allocations, finds that while national MPs at Westminster on average claim £148,297 in allowances each year, their counterparts in Brussels can claim £363,000 per year. Furthermore, MEPs do not have to produce receipts to claim their allowances, in contrast with national MPs.

The European Parliament's UK office also misleadingly claims that MEPs' "Pension rights are the same as for a Westminster MP". In fact, under the new rules coming into force following the European elections, MEPs will be entitled to a far more generous pension scheme than MPs.

If MPs contribute the standard 10% of their salary to their pension over a ten year period (a whole year's salary of £63,291), they will have access to a pension of £15,822 per year. By contrast, under new rules to come into force after the elections, MEPs will receive an annual pension of £27,954, after paying in nothing at all from their own salaries over the same ten year period.
OE press release Guardian: White Mail: Synon blog

Open Europe's league table of MEPs provokes response
Open Europe's league table of MEPs continues to receive coverage across Europe. On last night's BBC Newsnight, in an interview with UKIP leader Nigel Farage, Presenter Emily Maitlis said that, "Of all the parties, and this is according to Open Europe, you are the least transparent of the parties." The league table, which also looked at other criteria as well as transparency, was reported in Swedish daily Sydsvenskan and Italian newspaper Corrierre della Serra, which noted that 11 Italian MEPs are in the worst performing group.

Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe is quoted in Czech daily iDNES reacting to claims from MEPs that they don't have the time to scrutinise all votes in the European Parliament.
iDNES Sydsvenskan Fejer Megyei Hirlap Corriere della Serra Newsnight Open Europe press release

UK goes to polls in European elections;
YouGov puts Labour third with 16%
The BBC reports that voters in the UK will be going to the polls today to vote in the European elections. The Netherlands will also vote today, and Ireland will vote tomorrow. The rest of the EU will vote over the weekend, with polls closing on Sunday night.

A YouGov/Telegraph poll puts the Conservatives on 26 percent; UKIP on 18 percent; Labour on 16 percent; the Lib Dems on 15 percent and the Greens on 10 percent.

The Times reports that left-wing parties in Europe may not do well in the elections and quotes LSE Professor Simon Hix saying, "The failure of the Left is really their failure in the big six countries -- voters in France are going to a more radical Left, in Germany votes are going to Die Linke [also radical left-wing] and the Spanish Government is suffering a mid-term swing, while the Left has all but disappeared in Poland and is in crisis in Italy."

While a leader in the Telegraph argues that "A vote for the Conservatives today would be good for the country", a leader in the Independent argues that a vote for the Lib Dems "would show that parts of the electorate recognise the importance of Britain playing a positive role at the heart of Europe. On that basis alone the Liberal Democrats deserve to perform well."

Meanwhile, the Independent reports that Lord Kalms, a former Conservative Party Treasurer, and major Conservative donor said last night that he would "lend" his vote to another party in the elections - which the article reports would almost certainly be UKIP.

El Mundo reports that Belgian astronaut, Frank de Winne, has sent a message from space to all Europeans encouraging them to vote in the elections, saying "from up here, Europe looks united".
Sun Mail Sun Telegraph Telegraph 2 Telegraph: Leader FT: Brussels blog BBC BBC 2 Independent Times EUobserver WSJ Independent: Leader El Mundo Telegraph: Waterfield blog

The South Wales Evening Post reports that retiring Welsh MEPs Glenys Kinnock and Eluned Morgan are set to receive hundreds of thousands of pounds in pensions and benefits as part of a £20 million pay-off for UK MEPs who retire this week, and quotes Open Europe's Mats Persson saying, "It is scandalous that MEPs are receiving this level of pay-off."
South Wales Evening Post

Hedge funds warn they will leave UK if new EU regulations come into force;
City Minister criticises plans for single EU financial regulator: "It would not be appropriate to transfer such powers to the EU"
Some of Britain's biggest hedge funds have warned the UK Treasury they will be forced to leave the country unless the draft EU Directive which imposes tougher requirements on hedge funds is radically changed, the FT notes. According to reports, some hedge funds have already begun preparations to move to Switzerland or New York. Of particular concern is the provision in the Directive which would limit borrowing - the provision is defined to include implicit borrowing built in derivatives - which in turn will restrict the strategies hedge funds can employ.

Meanwhile, the City Minister Lord Myners yesterday told a Commons Scrutiny Committee that the UK Government is unhappy with plans for EU-level supervision of entities, such as credit ratings agencies and central clearing houses through which traders' deals would pass. He also expressed opposition to plans for three new EU agencies which would have the power to overrule decisions taken by national supervisors through a binding system of mediation.

According to the Telegraph, Lord Myners said, "We oppose a European single supervisor, because national governments are the only bodies capable of providing any fiscal support to firms. It would not be appropriate to transfer such powers to the EU while leaving national governments accountable." Lord Myners also objected to a proposal that the Chairman of the European Central Bank be permanent chairman of the proposed European Systemic Risk Council (ESRC) for assessing financial stability threats and to whom national regulators will be accountable.

Finance ministers will try on 9 June to reach agreement on the proposals for financial supervision, European Voice notes. The discussion is intended to pave the way for an agreement between EU leaders, at their summit on 18-19 June, to press ahead with reform.

The FT reports that Germany has come out in favour of the proposal for a two-tier EU system of financial supervision, although Jörg Asmussen, Deputy Finance Minister, said his government had "questions" on how the proposals would work in practice, such as who should chair the ESRC. FT Deutschland said that with Germany's support there is now a qualified majority in the Council, as the reforms are opposed only by the UK, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Meanwhile, Neelie Kroes, the European Union's Competition Commissioner, has said that the German banking system is "obsolete" and in need of restructuring.
FT FT Telegraph FT European Voice FT 2 Eurointelligence

Brownen Maddox: The UK is the most capable of derailing the Lisbon Treaty;
Majority of Guardian readers aged 16-24 favour holding a referendum and, if the vote is negative, demanding renegotiation
In the Times, under the headline "Dramatic 'No' from Britain in the European elections could derail Lisbon treaty", Brownen Maddox writes "It's the British drama that now looks most capable of derailing the [Lisbon] treaty". She notes that "If there is a snap election in Britain before the Irish vote and the Conservatives win the victory that the polls project, then, according to William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, they will hold a referendum. That would yield a "no", polls firmly suggest."

Meanwhile, in a survey looking at political reform, the Guardian asked its readers, "Some people say Europe now has too much power over Britain's government, but others say it is only by working together with Europe that the UK can influence the issues that matter most. Bearing this in mind please select which of the following two approaches you would prefer the UK to take towards the Lisbon Treaty (which aims to streamline European decision making)".

46.1 percent answered "Signing the Treaty as it stands", while 40.1 percent answered "Holding a referendum on the treaty - and then, if the vote is negative, demanding that the rest of Europe renegotiate it". However, among 16-24 year olds 46.4 percent opted for the latter answer, with only 39.9 percent opting for "Signing the Treaty as it stands". A majority in every age group up to the age of 44 opted for "Holding a referendum on the treaty - and then, if the vote is negative, demanding that the rest of Europe renegotiate it".
Times: Maddox Guardian Guardian 2

Several member states concerned over Irish 'guarantees' on Lisbon
European Voice reports that some member states have expressed concern about the contents of the 'declaration' to reassure Irish voters about the implications of the Lisbon Treaty before the government holds a second referendum this autumn. The declaration is being prepared for the 18-19 June European Council that is expected to finalise the text. However, the UK, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have asked for the declaration not to emphasise workers' rights over the free market, according to EU diplomats.
European Voice

Anatole Kaletsky: "Germany is at the heart of a huge plan to prop up crippled EU economies - not that the German people would ever know"
Writing in the Times, Anatole Kaletsky notes that if the economic crisis expands from Latvia to the likes of Ireland, Greece and Portugal, "EU governments - and especially Germany's - will face an existential question. Do they commit hundreds of billions of euros to guarantee the debts of fellow EU countries? Or do they allow government defaults and devaluations that may ultimately break up the single currency and further cripple German industry."

He notes that, "Last October a previously unused regulation was discovered, allowing the creation of a €25 billion 'balance of payments facility' and authorising the EU to borrow substantial sums under its own 'legal personality' for the first time. This facility was doubled again to €50 billion in March."

The article notes that this EU borrowing is legally an 'off-budget' arrangement, "which allows Germany to maintain the legal fiction that it is not guaranteeing the debts of Latvia et al". However he adds that "The EU's bond prospectus to investors...makes quite clear where the financial burden truly lies: 'From an investor's point of view the bond is fully guaranteed by the EU budget and, ultimately, by the EU Member States.'"

Kaletsky concludes that any policy of "fiscal federalism", in terms of its potential costs, "makes the agricultural policy and budget rebates seem like a vicarage tombola" and asks how the German government can "pervert democracy by telling their electorates that they are doing one thing, while advocating the exact opposite within the EU?"
Times: Kaletsky

FT: Germany needs to come to terms with ECB allowing higher inflationA leader in the FT looks at German Chancellor Angela Merkel's attack on the 'loose monetary policies' of the ECB, and remarks that "this outburst breaks the first rule of the German political club: leave the central bank alone", adding that "If the ECB is to run monetary policy for the whole euro area, not just for its largest member, it will need to get comfortable with German inflation running yet higher than inflation in the rest of the monetary area. This will be unpopular in the Bundesrepublik. But Germany will need to come to terms with this for the collective good of the eurozone".

EU health ministers want to amend draft cross-border healthcare law
European Voice reports that more than half of European health ministers want to reduce the scope of the draft cross-border healthcare directive, which enables patients to seek healthcare in another EU member state and have the cost reimbursed by their government. The ministers are particularly concerned about limiting the law to public healthcare providers, so that patients can not claim for private healthcare.
European Voice

Upcoming Swedish EU Presidency admits Lisbon Agenda failure
EurActiv reports that Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said that the EU has failed in its efforts in becoming the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy under the so-called Lisbon Agenda.

Meanwhile, L'Express reports that, ahead of the European elections, Commission President Barroso says the "main concern of the EU is unemployment", which has risen to 9.2 percent across the EU. The Commission has said it wants to invest €19 billion into professional training and improvement of national employment agencies, with an additional €100 million allocated to helping unemployed workers to start their own businesses.
L'Express Euractiv

On his Telegraph blog, Conservative MEP Dan Hannan responds to claims about the Conservatives' potential new allies in the European Parliament, and argues that similar claims are not made about parties in the Socialist grouping in the EP, because "Support for the Brussels system serves as a charmed amulet, warding off any possible accusation of extremism."
Telegraph: Hannan blog

Albert Esplugas Boter's blog on Liberta Digital cites Open Europe's research into the cost of EU regulation, demonstrating that between 1998 and 2018 EU regulation will have cost each British family €16,500.
Liberta Digital

Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad reports on Open Europe's figure that the EU employs 170,000 bureaucrats.NRC Handelsblad Open Europe press release

The Irish Times reports that the EU has been strongly criticised by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) for how it has treated asylum seekers.
Irish Times

Writing for the Guardian's Comment is Free website, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne argues in favour of the European Arrest Warrant, and suggests that a "consequence of Tory hostility to the warrant is that they would have us spend £25m a year warehousing criminals in our overcrowded prisons rather than sending them swiftly to face trial in another European country."
Comment is Free: Huhne OE blog

The FT has compiled a list of the 30 most important influencers of policy in Brussels, which includes British MEP Malcolm Harbour, Deputy-Director of the Centre for European Reform Katinka Barysch and French Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit.


Europe Minister described as "pivotal" in any move to oust PM
Local Government and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears resigned yesterday ahead of an expected Cabinet reshuffle over the next week. Europe Minister Caroline Flint was last night weighing up whether to resign from the Government, reports the Mail, which also writes, "Miss Flint was seen by rebels and loyalists alike as the pivotal figure in any move to oust the Prime Minister, whose actions could decide his fate...The Labour source told the Mail: 'The key to everything is Caroline Flint. She is the third link in this chain.'" Miss Flint is reportedly holding out for the position of Health Secretary.

Meanwhile the Times reports on an email plot, to be circulated to Labour MPs, calling on Gordon Brown to resign.
Times Times: Leader Guardian Independent Mail Telegraph

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