Thursday, January 28, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 28 January 2010

MEPs vote to give themselves more cash;
Tim King: The EP has more money than it knows what to do with
The European Parliament's budgets committee voted yesterday to increase MEPs' monthly allowances for assistants by €1,500 and to hire 150 extra staff which they claim are needed to help them deal with the new powers they have gained with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. The move will cost European taxpayers an additional €13.3 million, and increase the Parliament's budget to €1.6 billion this year. The committee could not agree on where to make compensatory savings in other areas of the Parliament's spending. The increase was opposed only by MEPs from the far-left European United Left (EUL) group, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group and the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group. Miguel Portas, a Portuguese EUL MEP, is quoted saying that increasing the allowance by €1,500 is "absurd".
In a comment piece, the Editor of the European Voice, Tim King, argues, "For 40 years, a near-secret agreement has governed how the three main institutions of the European Union divide up administrative spending...Forty years on, it is obvious to many outside observers that the Parliament has more money than it knows what to do with. Although the Parliament is very fond of climbing into its pulpit to criticise the misuse of EU money when that money is managed by national administrations or the European Commission, it is much less outspoken about the misuse of money under its own palatial (albeit occasionally collapsing) roofs."
European Voice European Voice: King
Eurozone under pressure after rumours China turned down Greek debt;
Commission to table plans for new audit powers over governments in weeks
The FT reports that market confidence in Greek government bonds suffered yesterday after speculation that Beijing wasn't interested in increasing its exposure to Greek sovereign debt. Bloomberg quotes Yu Yongding, a former adviser to the Chinese Central Bank, warning against buying up the debt. "Let European governments and the European Central Bank rescue Greece," he said. The Greek government yesterday denied reports that it was seeking to sell around €25bn of debt to China.
The WSJ reports that Portugal's report of an unexpectedly large 2009 budget deficit has reminded investors that Greece isn't the only eurozone country with fiscal problems. BNP Paribas Analyst Ian Stannard is quoted saying, "Everyone has been focusing on Greece, but now they are waking up to the fact that it's not just Greece."
The Irish Independent reports that New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini said yesterday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos that Spain poses a looming and serious threat to the future of the eurozone. He said, "If Greece goes under, that's a problem for the eurozone. If Spain goes under, it's a disaster."
Meanwhile, the FT reports that the European Commission is drafting a legislative proposal, likely to be unveiled in the next few weeks, which would allow the EU's statistical office, Eurostat, the power to audit national governments' accounts.
WSJ Guardian CIF Bloomberg WSJ 2 FT FT 2 FT: Letters City AM City AM: Choudhry European Voice FT 3 Irish Independent FT 4 FT 5 Irish Independent 2 EUobserver EurActiv OE blog
All EU institutions want a quick deal on AIFM Directive;
Germany and France want restrictions that would radically limit choice for EU investors
European Voice looks at the EU's proposed AIFM Directive, noting that both the European Parliament and Council of Ministers want a so-called first-reading agreement, for which they would need to finalise - and align - their positions by the summer. Currently, the two institutions are working with two different texts, which are conflicting on some issues. The article notes that the Commission also wants a quick deal, to clear the way for other upcoming financial regulation proposals.
The outstanding issues for the Council include the role of custodians, with which funds deposit their cash and assets, and restrictions on marketing offshore funds, with France and Germany wanting tough regulation in these two areas.  The Spanish EU Presidency - that took over from the Swedes in the New Year - is expected to publish its first compromise text on 8 February.
Bloomberg notes that the FSA has again warned that investors from the EU won't be able to access 40 percent of hedge funds and 35 percent of private equity firms if the off-shore restrictions, advocated by France and Germany, are adopted. "It would drive legitimate business models offshore," said Dan Waters, the FSA's asset-management sector leader, in a speech in London yesterday.
In Goteborgs-Posten, Swedish MEP Gunnar Hokmark criticises the Directive arguing, "If the proposal is introduced in its current form it risks undermine Sweden's private equity market, decrease the scope for investments and investment funds from countries outside the EU...we must avoid rules which prevent businesses from investing and growing."
Goteborgs-Posten Bloomberg European Voice Open Europe research
Catherine Ashton's advisors want EU diplomatic service in place before UK election
European Voice reports that EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has set up an advisory group on the establishment of the new European External Action Service (EEAS) brought in under the Lisbon Treaty. The group comprises senior officials but not MEPs. However, MEPs may use their power over the EEAS' budget in order to influence the negotiations on how it is established. The article notes that some members of Ashton's team believe that negotiations will become bogged down if the Conservative Party wins the UK's General Election, likely to be held in May, and therefore that the EEAS needs to be fully established before then.
Meanwhile, amidst ongoing criticism, Catherine Ashton has defended her actions over the Haiti crisis in an interview with Le Figaro, stating: "I am absolutely sure that I did what was necessary".  She does, however, accept that there are "lessons to be learned". Le Figaro reports that the Commission said yesterday that it wants to relaunch the idea of an EU rapid reaction force for times of humanitarian crisis. The proposals will be discussed by Commissioners on 10 February.
Le Figaro Times: Poirier European Voice Le Figaro 2
President Sarkozy: Economic crisis is "a crisis in and of globalisation"
The WSJ reports that, in his speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for coordinated efforts to regulate the global financial system. "This was not just a global crisis, but a crisis in and of globalisation," Mr. Sarkozy said. "We will only save capitalism by refounding it, by making it more moral."
Sarkozy said he supported President Obama's plans for overhaul of the financial sector, but said the G20 was the right forum to reach coordinated financial regulation. He said: "How can we conceive that in a competitive world, we can insist that European banks have three times more capital to cover the risks of their market activities, without demanding the same of American and Asian banks?"
The IHT reports that Mr. Sarkozy also called for a "revolution" in international regulation that would make labour, health and environmental standards as enforceable as trade rules, with a World Environmental Organisation as powerful as the WTO. The French President also said he backed Gordon Brown's proposed "Tobin tax" on financial transactions, reports the Independent.
WSJ Times Times: Wighton IHT FT Independent BBC
The Metro reports that a communist theme park portraying life behind the Iron Curtain is to be built in Bulgaria with a £2 million EU grant. The park, in Dimitrovgrad, will feature statues of toppled dictators, rifle ranges using Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles and "authentically grim restaurants".
No link
MEPs propose EU 'smoking inspectors'
Express Germany reports that the EU is planning drastic measures to curb smoking in public places, with a zero-tolerance policy for those who flout bans. Under the tougher regulations, public buildings will be 100% smoke free, and nightclubs will be monitored by 'smoking inspectors'. Any establishment caught repeatedly contravening the ban will have its operating license withdrawn. The regulations were outlined in a 31-page document entitled "Recommendations of the Council regarding smoke-free environments", already approved by the European Parliament.
Express Germany Bild
'Social lobby' pins hopes on Spain's EU Presidency 
Euractiv reports that the so-called "social lobby", mainly consisting of centre-left MEPs and trade unions, has declared that the Spanish EU Presidency may be their last hope of obtaining a real social commitment within the '2020 Strategy' - the EU's next ten year economic plan.
Meanwhile, Prospect and Le Monde look at the continued jostling for the limelight between Spain's EU Presidency and the newly created positions of EU President and Foreign Minister.
Prospect EurActiv Le Monde Open Europe research

German government advisors slam CAP
Sonnenseite reports that the German government's Council for Sustainable Development is arguing that the present form of agriculture in many EU regions is having bad consequences on the environment and threatens biodiversity. One of its experts Professor
Dr. Karin Holm-Muller has said that the €59bn spent on agricultural support in the EU budget is not justified, largely goes to large agricultural holdings, and is not a good use of public money.
SRU Press Release

Following an agreement yesterday between Commission President José Manuel Barroso and the European Parliament, Commissioners will have to respond to requests for legislation within three months, if legislation is not to be produced, and within a year if a draft proposal is to be produced. German centre-right MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne told German daily Handelsblatt: "Parliament has won an indirect right of legislative initiative."
Handelsblatt European Voice
German MEP: "Technology has become the new religion in counterterrorism"
DPA reports that MEPs have said that new EU security measures, such as the introduction of full body scanners in airports and intrusive data-sharing deals with the United States, are not necessarily the right answer to terrorist threats. It quotes German MEP Alexander Alvaro saying, "I have the impression that technology has become the new religion in counterterrorism. That's not the way." The comments were made in hearings with Jonathan Faull, head of the European Commission's justice department, and Gilles de Kerkhove, the EU's anti-terrorism chief.
DPA The Parliament Open Europe research
Appointment of 'ghost' MEPs will require ratification by all 27 member states
European Voice reports that the European Parliament has not yet issued an opinion on how to select the 18 additional 'ghost' MEPs introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. MEPs on the Constitutional Affairs Committee will choose an MEP to draft an opinion on 8 February. The increase in the number of MEPs can only be made by convening an inter-governmental conference of all 27 EU governments, as it entails changing the Lisbon Treaty. But MEPs are threatening to call a new European Convention, a forum that could open up other areas of the Treaty for negotiation, if France goes ahead with its plan to appoint its two new MEPs from the National Assembly. UK Liberal MEP Andrew Duff has warned that such a move fails to respect the principle that MEPs are directly elected from lists for the Parliament, rather than being appointed by governments.
If an inter-governmental conference is called, rather than a full convention, a decision to increase the number of MEPs will still require ratification by all 27 governments, which the article reports would put pressure on a potential Conservative government to hold a referendum on the Treaty change.
European Voice
Algemeen Dagblad reports that the Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament has proposed a plan to extend pregnancy leave from 14 to 18 weeks.
EUobserver reports that European diplomats yesterday decided to stick with their conditional offer announced at Copenhagen of a 30% cut in greenhouse gas on 1990 levels by 2020, but only if other countries follow their lead.
Reuters Germany reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has admitted the European police operation in Afghanistan, Eupol, needs improvement. The article notes that Eupol has suffered heavily from the yearlong reluctance of some European partners to deploy more troops.
The Irish Times reports that new analysis published by the Dublin-based Institute for International and European Affairs yesterday advised the European Commission to bring forward plans  for a "carbon tariff" on imports from countries like India and China, who are failing to take firm action against climate change.
Irish Times
The European Commission announced yesterday that European farmers will be allowed to export an additional 500,000 tonnes of sugar before the end of July.
FT France Agricole
An editorial in the WSJ questions whether Germany will "get tough on Iran" now that German engineering group Siemens has announced it is severing business ties with the country.
No link
Defra to miss 25% admin burden reduction target
The Western Morning News reports that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said it will miss its target to cut administrative burdens by 25% by May 2010. Records suggest just 16% net reductions have been achieved, and officials have been told to aim for 20% in the next four months. When the target was set in 2005, Defra's administrative burdens stood at £460 million. However, Shadow Farming Minister Jim Paice said that Government calculations did not take into account the significant costs of complying with new regulations, including those from the EU.
Western Morning News Open Europe research

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