Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Open Europe press summary: 5 October 2010


Reuters reports that the European Commission's statistics body Eurostat may revise upwards Greece's budget deficit for 2009, according to a senior official at the Greek Finance Ministry.

UK Europe Minister: There will be obvious changes in the direction of EU policy under the Coalition Government
Open Europe this morning held a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference, entitled "Change in direction or more of the same? EU policy under the new Government".

UK Europe Minister David Lidington said "there will be obvious changes" in the Coalition's EU policy compared to its predecessor, highlighting the promise to give the public a referendum on further transfer of powers to the EU.

Dominic Raab MP noted that dilution of the Conservatives' EU policy "was a fact of the life of the Coalition", but criticised the Coalition's decision to opt in to the European Investigation Order arguing that this measure would impose a burden on British police and could threaten civil liberties. He went on to argue that the UK should opt out of future justice and affairs measures, as "once the UK opts in to a measure, it tends to lose a lot of its negotiation leverage."

Bronwen Maddox, Chief Foreign Affairs commentator for the Times argued that with the eurozone crisis "what has changed is Europe" with crisis likely to come back to haunt the coalition in future, with increased pressure on the UK to contribute to future bailouts of weaker eurozone economies. She argued that the "transfer of money, rather than powers" will be the main point of contention in the EU moving forward.

Fraser Nelson, Editor of the Spectator, said that "this government doesn't particularly want to talk about Europe", but noted that between 30% and 50% of the British population is now in favour of leaving the EU altogether. This, he noted, makes this one of the areas where London has lost touch with the rest of the country. He argued that the UK could begin applying EU laws more loosely like other member states do, calling this the "third way".

There was consensus on the panel that "the lack of money" for governments across Europe is an opportunity for the UK to link up with other member states, for example Germany, to push for EU reform, starting with the budget.
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On his BBC blog, Gavin Hewitt writes, "Wherever I go in Europe I am asked what happened to the Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party?" noting that the Government "has not stood in the way of an expansion of powers in the field of justice and home affairs".

Sharon Bowles: FSA split would leave the UK "essentially unrepresented on substantial issues" within new EU supervisor
The FT reports that Lib Dem MEP Sharon Bowles - who chairs the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs - has warned that the Government's proposal to split the Financial Services Authority risks undermining Britain's influence in the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), one of the new pan-EU financial supervisors. "The proposal in the UK consultation on supervisory architecture fragments the UK markets supervision into three parts. This would leave the UK's responsible authority on ESMA only actually being responsible for about half ESMA's remit, leaving the UK views on substantial and relevant issues essentially unrepresented", Bowles has written in a letter addressed to Business Secretary Vince Cable.

"Within European circles [...] the ability of the UK to shoot itself in the foot by postulating such a mis-matching supervisory structure, whilst simultaneously making huge efforts to restrict the powers of ESMA in the negotiation of the supervisory architecture package, is being met with both amazement and derision", she added.

Member states gearing up for EU budget negotiations
The WSJ looks at the forthcoming EU budget negotiations and quotes Open Europe Director Mats Persson saying the negotiations will be tough. "There is no low-hanging fruit in the EU budget," he said. "Everything is politically complicated." However, Mats argued that member states should scrap regional spending for the EU's richer member states as the current system simply circulates too much money around better off countries. "It's Paris, London and Stockholm sending money to each other," he said. He also suggested cutting the EU institutions' budget, including scrapping the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee, which together cost about €200 million a year.

Meanwhile, Euractiv reports that the Commission has said that, under provisional figures, the salaries of EU officials will decrease by 0.4% in 2011. Open Europe is quoted welcoming the measure saying that they reflect the "austerity measures in member states". However, EU judges will decide this year on granting a EU staff a disputed 1.85% pay rise. Open Europe added that this also needed to be scrapped "if the Commission is going to properly reflect member states' austerity drives."

In an interview with the FT, EU Commissioner for competition Joaquin Almunia has said that EU governments will be allowed to provide financial support to banks and businesses for another year in the light of the current economic situation.

Ofgem says £32bn needed to update energy networks to hit EU renewable targets
The Guardian reports that according to energy regulator Ofgem has said that the cost of renewing Britain's energy networks to hit renewable energy targets will cost every household at least £60 over the next decade. Under EU directives the UK is committed to sourcing 15% of its energy from renewable sources.

Chief Executive Alistair Buchanan admitted that the £6 a year extra on consumer bills did not cover the £8bn it will cost to build huge new offshore grids for wind farms out to sea. Energy bills will rise even more if Ofgem's calculations about the cost of investment falling over time are inaccurate. In its worst case scenario in the event of an energy supply crunch, it estimates that bills will rise by 60% by 2016.

The Guardian reports that Artur Runge-Metzger, director of the climate policy division in the European Commission, has said international climate talks are at risk of becoming "irrelevant" if countries fail to substantially narrow their differences before the end of this year.

Bloomberg reports that the European Central Bank stepped up its purchases of eurozone government bonds last week, buying the most in more than three months to calm bond markets.

Reuters Deutschland reports that Germany will oppose the EU's new regulation for bank deposit insurance.

Euractiv reports that EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn has said that he believes that regional policy needs to keep its current funding levels - worth around one third of the EU budget - in the next EU budget period due to start in 2014.  

Euractiv France reports that, in the light of the recent controversy over deportations of Roma people, France is opposed to lifting visa requirements for Bosnian and Albanian citizens travelling to EU countries - as proposed by the European Commission.

EUobserver reports that negotiations between Flemish and Walloon politicians on the creation of a new coalition government in Belgium collapsed once again yesterday.

AFP reports that Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa has renewed calls for the EU to pay Libya €5 billion per year to curb the flow of illegal migrants towards Europe.

EUobserver reports that EU Foreign Minister Baroness Catherine Ashton has decided to postpone the hearings of the new EU ambassadors. The decision comes after MEPs in the Foreign Affairs Committee have announced that they want the hearings to take place in public and not behind closed doors - as previously agreed.

Euractiv reports that yesterday former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez told the European Parliament that the EU should honour commitments made to Turkey on its accession to the bloc. "Once we decided that Turkey is a candidate country, we cannot cheat on this commitment. We need to be coherent", he argued.

Open Europe is an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU. For information on our research, events and other activities, please visit our website: openeurope.org.uk or call us on 0207 197 2333.