Friday, January 22, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 22 January 2010

Barnier 'implicitly criticises' Ashton's decision not to travel to Haiti and vows to maintain constant pressure on "foreign policy issues"
The Coulisses de Bruxelles blog notes that incoming EU Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier "implicitly criticised" Cathy Ashton's decision not to travel to Haiti at a press briefing on Wednesday. After having refused to criticise her directly, the blog notes: "he let slip: 'when the tsunami hit in December 2004, I made myself immediately available'". He added that he would maintain a constant pressure on Lady Ashton within the Commission, on "questions of foreign policy and defence."
The Economist's Charlemagne blog questions why the French are being so "shrill" about the EU's 'visibility' in Haiti and suggests that "a nagging desire for global 'rayonnement' or influence lies at the neuralgic core of French Euro-enthusiasm."
The blog also notes a 2006 report on the need for an EU civil protection force called "Europe Aid", based on the response to the 2004 tsunami, written by Michel Barnier. He called for the EU to purchase four or five A400M military transport planes, and proposed "a common uniform for all staff of the European civil protection force...A single uniform for all staff acting as part of the European force would help the intervention teams to feel that they were part of the European effort. The design of the uniform could draw on the best already existing in the Member States. It would include the European flag followed by the logo 'europe aid' and the flag of the country of the wearer." French journalist Nicolas Gros-Verheyde reports on his blog that, when he saw him in the European Parliament, Michel Barnier was "seething" with frustration and "almost enraged that his report [on civil protection] has been gathering dust for four years".
Telegraph: Gardiner blog Economist: Charlemagne notebook Coulisses de Bruxelles Barnier report Bruxelles 2
EU opens 54 embassies;
Officials advising Cathy Ashton on EU diplomatic corps will "rubber stamp" Commission proposals
The Telegraph reports that 54 EU embassies have opened across the world since the Lisbon Treaty came into force, without any public announcement. Embassies in Beijing, Kabul and Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union, are to be headed by ambassadors who are empowered to speak on behalf of the EU as a whole. A decision on turning the New York delegation into an embassy has been delayed, amid disagreement over the EU's role in the United Nations Security Council. The Irish Times notes that the work of these EU missions will include the co-ordination of work carried out by member states' bilateral missions.
The Telegraph quotes Open Europe Director Mats Persson saying: "Common EU embassies mean that Britain can be overruled on crucial diplomatic matters, such as on how to respond to human rights abuses in a conflict-ridden country. In order for common embassies to work, EU member states must have shared national interests. This simply isn't the case, particularly in Africa where the EU has consistently failed to act in a unified manner in the past."
Meanwhile, EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton will present a proposal on the structure and financing of the EU's new diplomatic corps, the External Action Service (EEAS), to member states in April. The Irish Times notes that the creation of the EEAS will ultimately lead to some duplication with national missions, which could lead to pressure to close some smaller bilateral missions, due to finance constraints on member states.
EUobserver reports that a 13-strong "high-level group" has been set up by Ashton to advise her on the EEAS, filled with senior figures from the EU Council and the Commission. The group held its first two meetings in January, with initial talks dominated by which parts of the Commission budget, such as the €3 billion European Development Fund or the €285 million Instrument for Stability, the EEAS should absorb.
The article notes that the tight deadline set on creating the EEAS "has given the commission more power". Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso set up an internal working group on the EEAS last autumn, with Commission Secretary-General Catherine Day's staff "already putting forward legal documents for Ms Ashton's group to rubber stamp."
Telegraph IrishTimes EUobserver OE blog
Commission denies preparing for Greek bail-out;
Deutsche Bank Chief Economist: Eurozone faces potential break down or high inflation
The WSJ reports that the financial markets are unconvinced by the Greek government's assurances that it isn't seeking outside help from either the EU or the IMF with its public debt. Analysts said the government is moving too slowly to address Greece's fiscal problems and investors are showing their disbelief by selling down Greek stocks and bonds. A Commission spokeswoman denied yesterday's reports that the EU was preparing a loan for Greece, saying she wasn't aware of any financial bail-out packages being arranged.
In the FT, Greek Central Bank Governor George Provopoulos argues that Greece will be able to solve its economic problems from within the eurozone.
Die Welt features an interview with the Chief Economist of Deutsche Bank Thomas Mayer. When asked if he is worried about the euro, he answers "The situation is more serious than it has ever been since the introduction of the euro. The trouble in Greece plays a key role for future development." When asked what the worst case scenario could be, he answers: "If the Greece situation is handled badly, the Euro-zone could break down, or suffer major inflation".
He added that "Neither the European Central Bank nor the Commission nor any other EU body can force Greece to implement necessary reforms in exchange for help."
Meanwhile, the WSJ notes that the euro has lost value and that "persistent fears about Greece's fiscal situation have turned trade in the euro into a vote on the currency bloc's credibility." A new publication by Econ Journal Watch, entitled "It can't happen, It's a bad idea, it won't last: U.S. Economists on the European monetary union and the euro, 1989-2002" looks at the experiences with the euro and its prospects.
WSJ WSJ 2 FT: Provopoulos WSJ: Analysis Die Welt Die Welt 2 Bild Econjwatch Complete January Issue Econjwatch
EU may introduce US-style 'air marshals' on passenger flights
EUobserver reports on yesterday's meeting between EU and US interior ministers where agreements were made to tighten air safety, increase passenger screening, a possible implementation of controversial airport body scanners and heightened security measures onboard aircraft. Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot said: "We are looking at the possibility of posting people on board [passenger flights] to maintain security." Data sharing systems may also be extended so that EU countries would share passenger data among themselves and not only just with the US.
IHT EUobserver NouvelObs AFP LeFigaro El Pais
Polish news channel TVN24 looks at the Indect project, a new surveillance technology funded by the EU that is designed to recognise "abnormal behaviour" in public places and on the internet, and quotes Open Europe's Stephen Booth describing the project as "Orwellian".
TVN24 Open Europe research
In a debate in the House of Commons yesterday, Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire Alistair Burt cited Open Europe's research into the cost of ten years of EU regulation, which found that the cost of regulation has tripled for the farming industry since DEFRA was formed in 2001.
Hansard Open Europe research  
According to the American Conference Board, labour productivity in the US increased by 2.5% in 2009, in spite of the economic crisis, while labour productivity in the EU fell by 1%. As a result, in absolute terms, EU overall productivity only reached 71% of US productivity in 2009, reports Le Monde.
Le Monde 
Banks consider using EU law to challenge UK's bonus tax
City AM reports that a group of banks including Royal Bank of Scotland has hired City law firm Clifford Chance to explore a legal challenge to the Government's 50 percent windfall tax on bonuses, using EU competition law as the basis for the challenge.
City AM
Employers groups warn UK implementation of EU's Agency Workers Directive will hamper job creation
The FT reports that the Government has begun a push to get the controversial EU Agency Workers Directive into law before the General Election with business groups, including the CBI, warning that the new rights for 1.3m temporary workers threaten to hinder new employment in an economic recovery. The legislation will come into force in October next year.
The changes will give agency workers the same pay, holidays and other basic working conditions as permanent employees after 12 weeks in a job. Details of how to implement the Directive have been fiercely contested, in spite of an outline agreement two years ago by the CBI and the Trades Union Congress. Business groups have said certain rules go further than the EU Directive requires - notably the inclusion of some bonuses in the definition of pay. Kevin Green, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, is quoted by PA saying, "There are real concerns that these EU regulations are ill-suited to the UK labour market and could limit job opportunities at a time when flexible working options are providing a crucial route into employment."
FT Open Europe research: AWD Open Europe research: EU regulation
Le Figaro reports that French Secretary for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, is in Berlin to celebrate the anniversary of the Élysée Treaty between France and Germany. The article quotes him saying, "If there is no agreement between France and Germany, not much can be passed in the EU."
Le Figaro
Die Welt reports that, "in the midst of the financial crisis, small islands of happiness still remain, for example the European Parliament in Brussels". It notes that staffers in the European Parliament are not only getting a pay rise, but in February about 80 children of EP staffers will go to Northern Italy on a skiing holiday, subsidised by EU taxpayers.
Welt Telegraph OE blog
Klaus and Kaczynski say Lisbon should not enhance EU centralisation
During a State visit by Polish President Lech Kaczyński to Prague, he and Czech President Vaclav Klaus stressed that the Lisbon Treaty should not open the path to radical centralisation of the EU. President Klaus said: "We mainly have to try hard for the Lisbon Treaty not to be a mere opening of the door to further radical unification and centralisation of Europe". President Kaczynski added, "We both speak in favour of [the EU as] an association of states. This does not stem from any rebellion on our part, but from a calm analysis of the situation in Europe where the national states each has their vision of what should be done".
České Noviny
MEPs clear 25 out of 26 commission nominees
EUobserver reports that the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, has confirmed that 25 out of the 26 nominees for the next EU Commission have been formally approved by MEPs. MEPs have decided to hold a hearing for the outstanding Commission candidate, Bulgaria's Kristalina Georgieva, on 3 February, with the plenary vote to approve the full Commission team on 9 February.
EUobserver EurActiv Tagesschau  
European Voice reports that the European Parliament agreed yesterday to press the EU's member states to delay the implementation of the SWIFT agreement on sharing citizens' banking data between the US and the EU until 15 February.
EurActiv European Voice
In the WSJ, Stephen Fidler looks at the EU's attempts to inject greater investor transparency into financial markets and notes that "The problem for regulators is to distinguish between these exceptional circumstances where greater price transparency sometimes hurts the customer, and those when hiding pricing information helps nobody but the banker selling a product."
WSJ: Fidler
A leader in the Economist argues that the prospect of EU membership should be used to encourage Ukraine onto the path to liberal democracy and a free market economy.
Economist: Leader Economist
Euractiv reports that critics have condemned the "dangerous" trend towards hegemony of the English language within the EU institutions, following the news that 11 out of the 26 spokespersons already designated for the new Commissioners are 'Anglo-Saxons'.
The WSJ reports that the European Commission has cleared Oracle's $7.4 billion takeover of Sun Microsystems after a six month competition investigation. Oracle criticised the fact that the EU investigation had cost them $100 million a month, reports FT Deutschland.
WSJ FT Deutschland ARD

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