French Foreign Minister: A Conservative victory would maintain Anglo-Franco relations but change UK attitude to EU
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a French Parliamentary committee yesterday that he "would not want to bet" either way on a Conservative or Labour victory in the upcoming UK elections. If the Conservatives would win the election, Mr Kouchner said that, "With regard to Europe, having received and met with Mr. Cameron and Mr. Hague, who would become Foreign Minister, I think that the partnership between the two countries will be maintained, I know this, I am sure of this. But, the position vis-à-vis Europe, will not be the same".
He said, "It is quite clear, it will not be the same, and I can even tell you what Mr. Hague said to me during his visit; 'with you, we will do what you'd like, with Europe, by and large, we won't do much' and therefore if a peacekeeping operation was proposed, such as the operation we carried out in Chad, and I'd like to point out that the British didn't participate here, I asked him, would you have participated? He told me: with you, yes". However, it is understood that Mr. Kouchner was paraphrasing remarks by William Hague that related to defence cooperation only.
Meanwhile, writing in the Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash looks at the role of the EU in the election campaign and argues that the parties' differing views over Europe constitute "a big foreign policy choice in this election."
Assemblee Nationale AFP Guardian: Garton Ash
MEPs to vote to reopen Lisbon Treaty; UK Conservatives could block treaty change
European Voice reports that MEPs sitting on the EP's Constitutional Committee yesterday voted to re-open the Lisbon Treaty in order to allow an extra 18 MEPs, that were elected in the 2009 elections, to take their seats. MEPs sitting in plenary this May are expected to endorse the Constitutional Committee's decision, but any Treaty changes agreed at an Intergovernmental Conference would still need to be ratified in each of the EU's 27 member states, a process that could potentially take several years.
EUobserver notes that the reopening of the Treaty could trigger a referendum in the UK if the Conservatives were to win the General Election and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel might seek to implement her plans for an EU economic government.
EUobserver European Voice EU-Info.de
Greece increases its 2009 budget deficit to 12.9 percent
City AM reports that the Greek government has increased its 2009 budget deficit prediction to 12.9 percent of GDP, up from the 12.7 percent suggested previously. The announcement pushed the yield spread against German bonds to 7.13 percent, the highest level since October 1999.
The front page of the FT reports that Greece's four largest banks are seeking access to €14 billion in loan guarantees and €3 billion of special bonds, the remains of the €28 billion bailout fund provided by the Greek government in 2008, to help counter a liquidity shortage. Local savers transferred about €10 billion of deposits - around 4.5 percent of the total in the banking system - out of Greece in the first two months of the year.
FT City AM FT 2 Reuters Telegraph El Pais WSJ IHT Guardian Le Figaro FT: Hudson Irish Independent: Keenan Welt Handelsblatt De Standaard De Morgen
Commission to review proposal for EU tax in Autumn
European Voice reports that the Commission will present a review of the 2007-13 budgetary period in September, which will analyse spending issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy and the EU budget rebate for the UK, and address whether or not the EU should introduce its own tax. The review was due last year, but was delayed due to complications in implementing the Lisbon Treaty.
MPs say EU directive prohibiting language tests for foreign GPs needs to be changed "as a matter of extreme urgency"
The Guardian reports that the House of Commons Health Select Committee has said the next Government must "as a matter of extreme urgency" demand changes to a 2005 EU Directive governing the free movement of labour, in an effort to more closely regulate the skills of foreign doctors. The BBC notes that the European rules mean the General Medical Council is unable to carry out clinical or language checks on doctors from EU countries, as it does for those from elsewhere in the world.
The Telegraph quotes from the Committee's report, which said: "As a matter of extreme urgency, the Government should press for change to the relevant EU Directive to enable the GMC to test the clinical competence of doctors and to undertake systematic testing of language skills."
The Independent notes that Mike O'Brien, Minister for Health, told the Committee that the UK would face sanctions if it tried to amend the EU Directive, although this was disputed by the GMC. But even though the GMC's hands were tied, primary care trusts (PCTs) who accept overseas doctors on to their "performers' lists" were required to make the checks, as were the employers who hired them. "Unfortunately, some PCTs have not done their job," the report says.
Independent Mail BBC BBC: Today programme Guardian Telegraph
The Parliament magazine reports on Open Europe's recent research report on regulation which shows that regulation has cost the UK economy £176 billion since 1998, £124 billion (71 percent) of which had its origin in EU legislation. It quotes Sarah Gaskell saying: "Our research clearly shows that it's far more cost-effective to regulate domestically than is it is to legislate through the EU. This means that passing laws as close as possible to the citizen is not only more democratic, but also vastly cheaper. The next UK government must take a radical new approach to cutting down on the many, and often unnecessarily costly laws coming from the EU".
The Parliament OE report OE press release OE blog
Van Rompuy: "The EU really does have a say over social policy"
De Standaard reports that EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy told the European Parliament yesterday that "the EU really does have a say over social policy". Van Rompuy was referring to the inclusion of social objectives in the new EU 2020 economic strategy. The article notes that the UK, Germany and the Netherlands argued at last month's EU summit that social policies should remain a national competence. He said that, "Even though I understand that argument, social inclusion within the competence of the Union, as outlined in the Treaty of Lisbon, and a key tool for our economic performance."
De Morgen notes that he also said he would give "high priority" to plans for strengthening EU economic governance but noted that "a new Treaty change could become a very delicate matter."
De Morgen Knack EP video Standaard DPA
EU finance ministers to discuss better coordination on failing banks
EU finance ministers will meet next week to discuss how to improve co-operation between bank regulators so that, in future, large banks that get into financial difficulties need not be broken up along national lines, as in the case of Fortis bank in October 2008, reports European Voice. EU Internal Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier wants member states to agree on a "framework" for co-operation, including arrangements for sharing bank losses.
City AM reports that Angela Knight, head of the British Bankers' Association, has said that plans to introduce an EU-wide banking levy without international consensus could disadvantage banks in the bloc.
European Voice reports that the European Commission is in negotiations with the US over extending the controversial data sharing deal on the personal details of airline passengers travelling from the US to Europe.
European Voice Open Europe research
An analysis in the FT looks at Germany's changing attitude to the EU and quotes Ulrike Guérot, Berlin's representative of the European Council on Foreign Relations, saying: "The law community is the most important elite community in Germany. They have turned anti-European. The problem is not the general population. It's the elites who no longer carry the [European] project."
FT: Analysis European Voice: Wyles
El Pais reports that Eurostat has released a second revised version of its report on the eurozone, showing that the zone's economy stagnated in the final quarter of 2009. Meanwhile, a report from the OECD released yesterday predicts that the British economy will have a faster economic expansion than the members of the eurozone.
Times FT OECD report EurActiv.es El Pais
Speaking before the European Parliament, President Herman Van Rompuy expressed regret that the commitments made by the major industrialised countries to reduce their CO2 emissions are "not enough" to limit global warming.
Le Figaro AFP OE research
Euractiv reports that the European Commission has given a concession to the UK and Germany in its plans to establish a centralised platform for auctioning CO2 emission allowances within the emissions trading scheme from 2013, allowing national governments to opt out and organise their own auctions for the first five years.
European Voice reports that Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier will next month seek to renew efforts to establish a single EU-wide patent, by presenting a proposal for a streamlined language regime for applications.
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