Commission proposes single EU regulator for credit rating agencies;
New body would be given powers to carry out on-site inspections and expel CRAs from the EU
The Commission yesterday unveiled its proposal for a single European regulator for credit rating agencies (CRAs). Under the proposal, the soon-to-be created European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) will take on oversight of the existing rating agencies in January 2011, when it is due to start work. ESMA would be given substantial powers, including the right to require credit ratings agencies to reveal the models they use when they upgrade or downgrade sovereign debt, and be able to impose fines of up to 20 percent of the annual revenue of an agency which is found breaking the rules. ESMA would also be able to perform on-site inspections, interview staff, copy documents and even seal the premises, and would be able to withdraw registration, effectively expelling a credit rating agency from the EU.
Financial institutions that issue instruments like collateralised debt would have to provide the same information to rival rating agencies, so they could provide a second opinion. Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier said, "The changes to rules on credit rating agencies will mean better supervision and increased transparency in this crucial sector. But they are only a first step. We are looking at this market in more detail. We are rapidly providing standardisation, harmonisation and co-ordination measures that will be ready by the end of the summer. Nothing is taboo."
The proposal was tabled only weeks after European leaders attacked CRAs for exacerbating Greece's problems with downgrades. Kay Swinburne, a Conservative MEP, warned against making credit rating agencies into scapegoats for the EU's sovereign debt crisis. "The problems in the eurozone are predominantly as a result of poor fiscal policies of some EU governments, not because of the decisions of ratings agencies to downgrade them," she said.
A leader in FTD argues that "it is unlikely that this proposal will improve competition - and even more unlikely that it will solve the fundamental problems with the rating agencies."
In a separate discussion paper issued yesterday, the Commission said it wanted to introduce rules for membership of the boards of banks, including a prohibition on any individual holding more than three seats on the boards of different financial institutions, and measures to give chief risk officers equal status with chief financial officers.
EU Budget Commissioner sets sights on British rebate;
In favour of EU having "autonomous budgetary measures"
In an interview with Le Monde, EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski has said he will opt for an "ambitious" approach during the negotiations over the next EU financial framework (2014-2020). He also said that he "shares" suggestions coming from the European Parliament about the need to provide the EU with "autonomous budgetary resources" - effectively an EU tax. Mr. Lewandowski describes the Common Agricultural Policy as "the most criticised policy", but said that "the general atmosphere among member States leans towards its safeguard", especially when "23 out of 27 Agriculture Ministers accept an invitation to Paris or Warsaw in order to reaffirm that CAP is the policy of the future".
With regard to member states' contributions to the EU budget, Lewandowski argued that "we must simplify the system of national contributions. There are too many corrections for political reasons", adding: "this will lead us directly to the issue of the British rebate". "Negotiations will therefore have to strike the right balance between CAP payments and the British rebate", he concluded.
Commission ready to make proposals on EU diplomatic corps in next two weeks
EU Commissioners will propose changes to staff regulations on 9 June to pave the way for the creation of the External Action Service (EEAS), and the Commission will adopt a proposal for the EEAS' initial budget on 15 June. EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton's senior advisor Poul Skytte Christoffersen said yesterday that 1 October was a realistic date for the budget to take effect and the EEAS to be launched.
Officials believe that the launch decision could be taken by member states' ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 14 June, with a meeting between MEPs negotiating on the EEAS and officials from the Commission and Council of Ministers scheduled for 6 June.
Meanwhile, European Voice reports that wrangling over the external representation of the EU could see it left with no formal negotiating position at next week's UN environment meeting. The Commission claims that the Lisbon Treaty gives it the authority to speak for the EU in international negotiations, but member states insist that they still have a role to lead on some negotiations.
Former Spanish PM: "Spanish bankruptcy would probably provoke the collapse of the EU";
Bailout of Greece was a mistake
In an interview with Le Figaro, former Spanish Prime Minister José Maria Aznar says that: "it has been a mistake to rule out the restructuring of Greek debt under IMF control. We might have used part of the enormous capital made available by the EU to recapitalise banks. Yet, we have preferred conveying the message that we will not let any Eurozone member go bankrupt, without realising that there are huge differences among countries. It has been a very bad mistake. A bailout for Greece was feasible, but it would be impossible for a country like Spain. Spain's bankruptcy would provoke the collapse of the euro, and probably of the EU".
Vince Cable to spearhead deregulation efforts as head of 'Star Chamber'
Business Secretary Vince Cable is to head a new 'Star Chamber' which will review all regulation inherited from the last Government, due to take effect from this month onwards, as part of wider plans to cut red tape. The review will also be complemented by the plans for a 'one-in one-out' approach to regulation, barring new regulations from being introduced unless they are matched by scrapping at least an equivalent saving from another regulation.
The FT reports that much of the regulation under review stems from the EU and cannot be blocked. But the Department said ministers would overhaul the way the EU law was being implemented to avoid unduly prescriptive "gold plating".
MEPs and national governments at loggerheads over the AIFM Directive
MEPs and national governments are still at odds over the market access rules for non-EU funds and managers, entailed in the EU's proposed AIFM Directive. According to European Voice, officials said that Jean-Paul Gauzès, a French centre-right MEP and the Parliament's lead negotiator, told the Spanish EU Presidency that it would be better to have no directive, than accept the governments' position, which leaves discretion to individual national governments in deciding who will gain market access, as it ran counter to the principle of a single market. A decision could now be postponed until after the European Parliament's summer recess.
MEPs and national governments are also in disagreement over how much power the proposed pan-EU financial supervisors should be given, with the European Parliament wanting to give the supervisors far-reaching powers over day-to-day activities. The Parliament planned to vote on the supervisory reforms on 16 June, although it is likely that the vote will have to be moved to July.
New poll: 51% of voters say EU membership has been bad for UK
In a new opinion poll, Angus Reid has found that 51 percent of respondents say EU membership has been negative for the UK. 38 percent say it has been positive.
If a referendum on EU membership was called, 42 percent would vote in favour of leaving, while 35 percent would vote to stay, and 20 percent said they were unsure. In a referendum on joining the euro, 79 percent said they would vote against joining, and nine percent said they would vote in favour.
Spain to push cross-border healthcare rules under EU Presidency
European Voice reports that Spain has drawn up a compromise text on a controversial cross-border healthcare directive, clarifying patients' rights to treatment in other EU countries. The text of the directive says that, usually a country of residence would pay for the healthcare costs, but for pensioners if they return to their home state for medical treatment it is that country, rather than their resident state, which must pay the cost.
Another compromise included by Spain is that patients will be required to seek 'prior authorisation' from healthcare authorities if their treatment involves a hospital stay of more than one night, or "highly specialised" equipment - a term left €.
Ministers will discuss the text at a meeting in Luxembourg on 8 June - and if they reach agreement the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament will begin negotiations on a final version of the law in the autumn.
Van Rompuy backs Sarkozy's plans for 'economic government'
Die Welt reports that, according to EU diplomats, European Council President Herman van Rompuy is in favour of an 'economic government' for the eurozone, made up of eurozone state leaders. "It is more than just a forum. It concerns a government for the Eurozone, when there is also still a grey zone between the dimension of the 16 and 27", one of the diplomats is quoted saying.
De Standaard quotes French Finance Minister Lagarde saying that the idea to let Van Rompuy preside over the eurozone government is "just one of [several] tracks. It's not an official French proposal".
Meanwhile, European Voice reports that eurozone finance ministers will meet in Luxembourg on Monday evening to finalise details of the €440 billion eurozone bailout package. The details to be settled include the procedure for activating the mechanism, notably whether the approval of national parliaments is needed before any money can be released.
Germany backs ban on 'naked' short-selling
The German cabinet yesterday approved a block on the speculative "naked" short-selling of German stocks and eurozone sovereign bonds, and gave market regulator Bafin the power to introduce a legal ban on speculative trading in euro currency derivatives in cases of market turbulence. In an interview with Le Figaro, Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier said of Germany's decision: "Today, such things are made with absolute independence. Tomorrow, we will need to coordinate. The EU is not a federal State. It is united, not uniform".
Meanwhile, the FT reports that eurozone banks are parking record sums overnight at the ECB using its "deposit facility".
Greece yesterday announced plans for a big sale of state-owned assets - including water utilities, the post office and rail companies.
French Military Chief of Staff calls for further EU defence integration
Le Figaro reports that French Military Chief of Staff Admiral Édouard Guillaud has said that the EU needs to boost integration in the defence sector in order to avoid a "voluntary resignation" from the international scene. "Can 27 EU member States be considered as reliable partners by the US when they reject the burden sharing in Afghanistan?" he argued, adding that "since the end of 1980s no European country has the [military] means to go it alone". Admiral Guillaud concluded that, in order for the EU to achieve further integration in the security and defence domain, three separate wills have to be put together: "The will of the armed forces - which can be already taken for granted - the will of politicians and the will of [public] opinions".
UK echoes US calls for stress testing European banks
UK Treasury Minister Mark Hoban yesterday gave a speech to the Bruegel Institute, in which he called for "A genuine, rigorous stress testing exercise" for European banks, amid concerns over the solvency of some of them. He also said, "Some decisions must be taken at home. The British Government will never shirk the difficult choices needed to reform banking and financial regulation and, if we have to, we are prepared to go further and be tougher than our international partners to safeguard our economy." Hoban reaffirmed Britain's commitment to introducing a bank levy but said he was still "concerned" about using the proceeds to create so-called "national resolution funds".
Dutch newspaper Het Financeele Dagblad reports that the leader of the Dutch liberals, which are currently leading in the opinion polls, has said that the Netherlands should be a lot more critical towards the EU. Speaking at the presentation of ECR MEP Derk-Jan Eppink's new book, Mark Rutte said: "I want to resists a lot more firmly the expansion of Europe".
EU on course to meet 2020 emissions target, report claims
The FT notes that a new report from the European Environment Agency has found that EU member states are already more than halfway to meeting the EU target of reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020, on 1990 levels. By the end of 2008, emissions had been cut by 11.3 per cent.
The EU is still far from an agreement on how to revise the Posting of Workers Directive, following a series of court cases from the ECJ.
Le Point reports that French Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche has rejected complaints from the Commission over the state guarantees French national railway SNCF receives, saying he wished "the Commission showed an equivalent zeal when it comes to the competition Europe has to face in the world".
The Independent reports that sources close to Angela Merkel have identified German Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen as her favourite to be the next German President.
Writing in the FT former EU Commissioner Chris Patten looks at the stability he says Europe has encouraged on its borders through enlargement and argues: "The task is not yet completed. We still have much to do in the Balkans. Above all, we should understand that the really existential issue for Europe is how we handle Turkey's membership application."
The German government is over the weekend to outline an extra €10 billion in savings and extra revenue for next year. Several papers report that this will likely include suspending its programme of national service in order to save money.
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has announced a reshuffle of senior Commission officials. Various moves mean there are no UK officials left in DG Competition at Director level or above, reports European Voice.
Assessment house Fitch has warned that insurers may struggle to keep their credit ratings under the EU's Solvency II Directive, which will require insurance companies to increase the amount of capital they hold against their liabilities.
The BBC reports that Jean-Jacques Dordain, head of the European Space Agency, will likely continue in his position for a second term, when the first expires at the end of this year.
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