Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Open Europe press summary: 9 December 2009


EU civil servants threaten to strike next Monday over 3.7% pay rise
De Standaard reports that civil servants in the European Council, which form part of the EU's 38,000 civil servants, have threatened to strike to demand a wage increase of 3.7%. It would potentially take place next Monday morning at the entrance of the European Council building at Place Schuman in Brussels. They have called on their colleagues from the European Commission and the European Parliament to join them.

The article notes that fifteen EU member states, including the UK, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, have blocked the planned rise in salaries, pensions and other allowances, but suggests that it looks likely that national governments will have to agree to the pay rise, because they are contractually bound to the agreement and could likely lose the case if it went to the European Court of Justice. Trade unions are demanding that member states "respect the rules".

The member states are resisting because the wages of national civil servants are being frozen or cut. The national governments claim that because of the economic crisis, an exceptional clause in the civil servants' statute should enter into force. The clause states that "in times of serious and sudden deterioration of the economic and social situation" in the EU, the Commission can impose a new wage proposal.

In an article in El Mundo, Brussels correspondent María Ramírez speaks to Franceso Lanniello, who has 38 years of experience working at the Commission and is President of the trade union, Renovation and Democracy. Mr Lanniello defends the strikes saying, "The fact that they lower our salaries will not help raise anything...this money has already been put aside, it will end up being lost in the EU budget and will go on milk quotas."
El Mundo Standaard Standaard 2 Le Monde OE blog

Spanish Europe Minister: EU now has a "real Foreign Minister"
Spain has said that the main goal during its EU Presidency - to commence on 1 January - is to get the bloc's new 10-year economic strategy agreed, EUobserver reports. The current strategy, known as the Lisbon Agenda, expires next year, and Spain wants tougher measures to ensure that member states meet their targets. "The new strategy should be based not only on targets ...but on governance," Diego Lopez Garrido, Spain's Minister for European affairs, said.

He also said Spain will push for a more ambitious social agenda in order to "close the gap between Europe and the people", including pushing through the new anti-Discrimination Directive. Mr Lopez Garrido said the Spanish Presidency is going to put together an action plan for implementing the 'Stockholm Programme' for freedom - a series of far-reaching proposal in justice and home affairs. The Stockholm Programme is due to be adopted at the 10-11 December EU summit.

The Spanish will also have as a priority to convert the EU into "a genuine global player." In particular, Spain wants to finalise the European External Action Service - which according to Garrido "could be the brightest, strongest diplomatic service in the world" - before April. He also said that for the first time, the EU now has "a real Foreign Minister".

Meanwhile, the Coulisses de Bruxelles blog notes that the Spanish EU Presidency, "wishes to resurrect the cult of secrecy that marked the beginning of Community cooperation", citing the fact that the Spanish government is pressing for more secretive Council meetings. It says the Presidency will exclude the press from 'informal' ministerial meetings, to allow European leaders to freely negotiate.

Traditionally, the 'informal' meetings were an opportunity for EU ministers to meet to get to know each other, particularly whenever a new country took up the rotating EU Presidency. However, notes Quatremer, over time they became more and more formal and ministers began to take important decisions about the agenda for the coming months, despite still being called 'informal' meetings, and the media were slowly allowed more access. However, the Spanish government has said it wants to end the press conferences and media access to the meetings, even though policy will still be decided there.
EUobserver EurActiv Coulisses de Bruxelles The Parliament Open Europe research

PA reports that Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet in Brussels ahead of tomorrow's European Council summit, after a mooted Sarkozy visit to London for talks was dropped last Friday.
No link

Cameron: EU using crisis to pursue "massive land grab in terms of regulation"
At a conference yesterday, David Cameron vowed to fight against what he called the European Union's "land grab" on Britain's "precious" financial-services industry, in the wake of a series of proposals for more EU supervision and regulation of the financial markets. "You don't have to be some wide-eyed Euro-skeptic to realize that Europe tends to use these sorts of events for the opportunity of a massive land grab in terms of regulation" and some politicians in Europe have "always had their eyes on the City of London," Cameron said.
WSJ WSJ 2 Times

Dutch Parliament calls for government to oppose EU-wide tax on SMEs
The Dutch Parliament has called on the Dutch government to oppose Commission plans for an EU-wide tax on SMEs, according to The article reports that "taxes which are being levied throughout the whole EU, should make the European Union more 'visible' to the population", but the article quotes Dutch MP Harry Van Bommel objecting to the proposed tax saying: "this will not create more support for the EU, but only less". Telecompaper

Greece debt rating falls to 10 year low
Ratings agency Fitch yesterday cut Greece's long-term debt to BBB+ from A minus. It marked the first time in 10 years that the country has seen its rating pushed below an A grade. The agency said: "The weak credibility of fiscal institutions and the policy framework ... exacerbated by uncertainty over the prospects for a balanced and sustained economic recovery." It said the medium-term outlook was negative. The Guardian reports that within minutes of the decision becoming public knowledge, the Greek stock exchange began to tumble, with shares falling by 6%.

The Irish Independent reports that interest rates on the national debts of Ireland, Britain, Spain, Italy and Portugal all rose yesterday following the news. EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said: "A difficult situation in one euro-area member state is a matter of common concern for the euro area as a whole. It is clear that Greece faces very substantial economic and fiscal challenges ... but more measures are required".
Guardian Irish Times Irish Independent EUobserver BBC AFP FT Alphaville Le Figaro Handelsblatt

Michel Barnier to face EP grilling to test ability to set aside national interest
The FT reports that, at European Parliament hearings next month to confirm incoming EU Commissioners, new Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier will be grilled over how he intends to resolve the accounting dispute between the EU and the US. Continental banks, for example, are hostile to "fair value" - or mark-to-marketing accounting. He will also be questioned on plans to bring down the costs of securities market trading in Europe and increase transparency through improvements on the clearing and settlement side. Both issues have divided Europe's financial services sector and will test Mr Barnier's willingness to set aside national interests as an EU Commissioner, according to the article.

Spain's Joaquin Almunia, who becomes Competition Commissioner, will also be grilled over how he plans to better separate the Commission's legislative, executive and investigative powers in the antitrust area - and whether he will consider a new, independent "European Cartel Office" to handle the implementation of competition rules.
Irish Independent Times FT

Iain Martin: Europe could end up making a significant difference in an election
In the WSJ, Iain Martin argues: "It might suit the Conservative leadership to pretend the EU is a subject of marginal interest. It could be anything but by polling day. Even if Europe ends up not impacting on the outcome of the election, the related question of party management afterward has the potential to upend a Cameron government with a nonexistent or small majority."

Meanwhile writing in the Times Daniel Finkelstein suggests that the notion that the Conservative poll lead is being undermined by its core vote turning to UK is mistaken: "The Tory vote dipped slightly in The Times Populus poll published yesterday, but UKIP stayed steady...UKIP is the reddest of red herrings."
WSJ WSJ 2 Times

Leaked draft agreement throws Copenhagen summit into "disarray"
The Guardian reports that the Copenhagen climate change talks are in "disarray" following the leak of draft documents, the so-called 'Danish text', that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN's role in all future climate change negotiations. The text is a draft proposal for the final political agreement that should be signed by national leaders next week.

The agreement was worked on by a group of individuals known as "the circle of commitment" but understood to include the UK, US and Denmark. The agreement would hand effective control of climate change finance to the World Bank and depart from the Kyoto protocol's principle that rich nations should take on firm and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, while poorer nations were not compelled to act. Instead, developing countries would commit to curbing emissions by 2020 in return for as yet unspecified amounts of financial assistance from the developed world.
Guardian Guardian 2 EUobserver EUobserver 2 EurActiv FT FT 2

The Irish Times reports that Romania's biggest opposition party is demanding a re-run of Sunday's presidential election, after filing allegations of widespread vote fraud with the country's constitutional court.
Irish Times Le Monde

Three Irish women are to bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, saying that the ban on abortion in Ireland violates the European Convention on Human Rights. After today's hearing, the final ruling is expected next year.

In an interview with El País, Jacques Delors, former President of the European Commission says, "The crisis would have buried Europe if it wasn't for the welfare state: it forms the basis for the EU and the EU reinforces it. Social democracy has a problem with globalisation...Today it is more difficult to find new mechanisms to balance the state and market. They can only be supranational, and thus social democracy is European."
El País

The WSJ reports on the EU's rules on protection for regional products, such as Parma ham, and notes that it is illegal to make Stilton cheese in Stilton, because the protected name cheese can only be made at six creameries in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

European Voice reports that talks between the EU and Norway over fishing quotas for 2010 broke down yesterday, with disagreement over the rights of Norwegian vessels to catch mackerel in EU waters the main reason for failing to reach an agreement, according to Norwegian officials.
European Voice

The BBC reports that EU ministers have called for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state as part of a negotiated peace, but dropped an earlier reference stating explicitly that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state.
BBC Al Jazeera El Mundo

The FT reports that the Greek Cypriot-led government of Cyprus yesterday placed new obstacles in the way of Turkey's EU accession bid, declaring that it would not permit the start of accession talks in five policy areas unless Turkey changed its stance on the Cyprus dispute.

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