Clegg backs down on euro manifesto pledge
A ComRes survey for ITV declared David Cameron the winner of last night's final leaders' debate on 35, with Nick Clegg on 33 and Gordon Brown on 26. A YouGov poll for the Sun also declared Cameron the winner on 41, with Clegg on 32 and Brown on 25. A Populus poll for the Times gave joint victory to Clegg and Cameron with 38 each, leaving Gordon Brown on 25.
During the debate David Cameron said: "people need to know that the Liberal Democrats, in their manifesto, are still in favour of joining the euro...if we were in the euro now, your taxes, your national insurance would not be going on hospitals and schools and police officers, they would be going to Greece, and possibly other countries as well, and that's why I say one of the lessons to learn is let's stay out of the euro, let's keep our own currency and let's recognise what a massive strategic error the Liberal Democrats would have made."
In response Nick Clegg said, "No I'm not advocating entry into the euro, I would only ever advocate it by the way, if ever, if the economic conditions were right. If it was good for your jobs, good for pensions, good for savings, and of course it always has to be only decided, if we were ever to do that as a country, on a referendum where you can vote on it." The Lib Dems' manifesto states: "We believe that it is in Britain's long-term interest to be part of the euro."
Speaking on the BBC Today programme this morning Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said: "We've never argued in recent years that this would be a good time to join the euro...we're certainly not pursuing entry into the euro in the Parliament we're talking about now".
When asked whether Britain would have joined the euro by now if there had been a referendum 10 years ago and the Lib Dems had been in control, Vince Cable replied: "It depends entirely how the circumstances would have evolved over the last ten years."
The Economist has today endorsed the Conservatives to win the election, and in its leader it argues that the Lib Dems' "policies seem less appealing. In the event of another European treaty, they would hold a referendum not on that treaty but on whether to stay in or leave the EU; odd given that they also (wrongly) want to take Britain into the euro."
Following the debate, Nick Clegg was also accused of getting his statistics wrong on the number of immigrants in the UK who come from the EU, suggesting it was 80%, although official figures suggest the figure is less than 40%.
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German MP: Bundestag will be approving bailout against the "very, very great majority" of the German population;
Bailout plan could be presented tonight
Jean-Pierre Jouyet, former French Europe Minister and Chairman of French regulator AFM, has told RMC Radio, "What the markets are looking for is the plan, which will be presented tonight or over the weekend. It will be done, it is almost completed. I have no doubt about that." The eurozone/IMF bailout package will be in the area of €100-€120 billion, according to most reports in the European media. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is quoted in Focus saying, "We can count on a result in the next few days. Then we'll be able to put a legislative process in action in Germany. But all in the right order."
According to an Emnid Poll, 76% of Germans fear that Greece will not be able to pay back the loans it will be given, reports Stern. The Guardian notes that polls show that between 66% and 86% of Germans are against a Greek bailout, while the IHT quotes Frank Schäffler, an FDP member of the Finance Committee in the German Parliament, saying, "The population in Germany is with a very, very great majority against, and the Parliament will probably approve it with a very great majority."
In an interview with Die Welt, Frank Walter Steinmeir, leader of the SPD opposition, said, "The Chancellor has wasted precious time, letting herself be celebrated as 'Madame No' for days on end. Publicly, she made out as if she were against European help for Greece, while at the same time signaling to the EU that she supported a European aid package. That was two faced." He also accused Merkel of stalling for time ahead of the forthcoming regional elections on 9 May.
The FT reports that Greece has agreed the outline of a €24bn austerity package, including a three-year wage freeze for public sector workers.
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Greek bail-out: comment round-up
In the Guardian, Larry Elliott looks at whether Greece could and should leave the eurozone, noting "The short answer to the question of how a country would leave the euro is: with extreme difficulty, at considerable cost and only as a last resort. It would first have to consider the three Ds - devaluation, debt and default." He also notes that "There are no contingencies for a country that wants to leave." Open Europe's Mats Persson is quoted saying, "There is no mechanism on the table [for leaving the euro] at all. They haven't thought about it." Mats is also quoted saying that in the long-term, "an alternative would be for the eurozone to split into a German-led inner core and an outer core made of a weaker group of countries, which would not include Greece." Mats also appeared on BBC Oxford radio this morning, arguing that the case for the UK joining the euro is "getting weaker by the day".
German tabloid Bild argues "If [Greece] reintroduced the drachma, that's the best possible thing that could happen to our euro".
A leader in the Economist argues that the eurozone debt crisis looks "dangerously close" to spreading to Spain, Portugal and Italy. It argues: "The priority for European policymakers is to do the same as governments eventually did with the banks: to get ahead of the crisis and to convince investors that they will spend whatever is necessary."
In the Times, Bill Emmott argues that Northern Europeans will "have to grit their teeth and accept the need to exclude Greece from the euro, at least until such time as it is able to meet the single currency's rules."
A leader in the FT argues that "the EU's shambolic response to the crisis" has rattled investors, while the WSJ quotes Alessandro Leipold, a former acting director of the International Monetary Fund's European Department, saying, "The Greek crisis has been so severely mishandled by European policy makers that the markets legitimately fear that matters are now beyond repair."
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Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad reports on Open Europe's findings that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg owned a house in Brussels which he later sold for a profit of about €350,000, while receiving thousands of pounds in accomodation allowances as an MEP.
EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton described as "on the verge of resignation"
The Telegraph reports that EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton could stand down within months, according to colleagues, who say she is "on the verge of resignation" following criticism of her performance over recent months. It quotes an unnamed Commission official saying: "Every day is an uphill struggle. No one predicts she can stay five years, not even she."
The article also reports that following one recent row, she allegedly threatened to walk out of her job and had to be talked out of resigning on the spot by diplomats and officials. "She has been heard voicing her frustration and has expressed her desire to walk away," said an EU source. "She obviously finds some of the personal criticism to be almost unbearable." Close aides to Lady Ashton have dismissed the rumours and described her as a "stayer".
French Europe Minister: "Euroscepticism is on the rise in France"
A comment piece in Le Monde notes that euroscepticism and 'euro-worry' are gaining ground in France. The article argues that the Greek crisis has fed scepticism and quotes French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche saying, "the crisis and the inability of [the EU] institutions to respond is accelerating the alienation of the people [from the EU]".
Michel Barnier: Considering idea for European credit rating agency
In an interview with French financial paper Les Echos, Michel Barnier, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, said that he is "reflecting...on the idea, the feasibility" of a European credit ratings agency, believing that currently "the agencies, given their importance, are concentrated in too few hands".
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The European Court of Justice yesterday ruled that the wives of terrorist suspects are entitled to claim benefits in the UK, overturning previous restrictions introduced by the Treasury, because basic social aid was unlikely to be used to fund terrorist activity.
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned his European partners that he will not accept reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), saying, "I will not let French agriculture be destroyed. It is my mission".
EUobserver reports that plans to recast the European Charter of Fundamental Rights as an 80-minute long epic poem have been scrapped, after being described as a "frivolous waste of time and money" by Justice Commissioner Vivian Reding.
In-house lawyers are not protected by the same legal privilege rules as independent lawyers, a senior legal advisor at the European Court of Justice said yesterday. An article in European Voice argues that this has serious implications for firms accused of taking part in cartels and their in-house lawyers.
FTDeutschland reports that the European Parliament wants the EU regulate the maximum speed of commercial vehicles, limiting it to 75 miles per hour by 2015.
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