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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The WTO goes back to the future

There's talk about restarting WTO talks soon. But according to the IHT the new talks will happen on a product by product-by-product basis, rather than the across-the-board formulas which have been discussed so far.

That would take the WTO way back the way that it (or rather the GATT) used to work in 1947. Back when crucial trade talks used to take place in glamorous locations like Torquay, trade ministers got sick of endless haggling over individual tariffs and decided to start hacking right across all tariffs with "formula cuts" (say, a 10% reduction in all tariffs). That simple change turbocharged the process of globalisation.

Now, thanks to endless intransigence from the EU (and some others) we are back to square one. Hmmmph.

At least some people seem to see the problem for the EU: Jean-Claude Trichet noted that "Intra-EU trade is going fast [but] extra-EU trade is going faster."

Tough on smokers, (not so) tough on the causes of smokers

Is the EU attempting to pull off some sort of cunning triangulation strategy on smoking?

1) Yesterday EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou announced that he wanted to create a "smoke free Europe". He called for smoking in public places to be outlawed across the continent within 2 years.

2) Last week the British Government tells parliament that the EU spent nearly €1 billion on tobacco subsidies in 2006. EU subsidised farmers grew enough tobacco to produce over 7 million fags.

Perhaps - given that over half of the EU's fags were dumped on developing countries - the EU (like BAT) has moved on and is now happy poisoning non-Europeans instead.

Sherpa roundup

Jan Siefert, leader of the "Young European Federalists" has pulled together a list of the people taking part in the behind closed doors talks on the future of the EU Constitution.

If you can ignore the scary pic his blog has some interesting snippets on it.

Interesting were the comments of Tamas Szucs, head of strategy in DG Comm and just returned from Berlin. He emphasised the German’s commitment to have a Constitutional text revised already by the end of 2007.

It gives you an interesting flavour of planet Brussels.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Le Freak, C'est Chic... Freak out!

Just as Ségolène Royal's campaign appears to be tanking, rocked by a series of gaffes, her smooth rival Nicolas Sarkozy brings out the big guns.

On a new website aimed at catching the youth vote he transforms himself into a moon-walking, jive-talking Disco Sarko... he looks like a winner already.

Hat-tip the Guardian

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mad as a bag of spiders

From time to time we get some rather peculiar correspondence from pro-euro fanatics. Invariably they are banged up on a type writer/ in green ink/ both.

I just couldn't resist sharing this latest one with you, which was sent in response to our "hidden" EU jobs story...

From: Benoît Foulon [mailto:xxxxxxxx@xxxxxxx]
Sent: 29 January 2007 16:07
To: Paul Stephenson
Subject: Brussels’ Hidden Employees...

At least Brussels creates jobs contrary to the 'right' which lets people literally die in the streets.

How many people work for the EU?

An old EU joke: "How many people work in Brussels?" "About half of them."

For years groups like Britain in Europe have been saying that 'only' around 20,000 people work for the EU. We decided to check that up, and there is a piece in the Sunday Telegraph about it.

The European Commission's website says that it employs 25,000 people. The French Government says all the EU institutions put together employ about 35,000. In a recent parliamentary answer in the UK, the Government plumped for 37,000 for the EU as a whole.

However, if you can find them, the official figures from the EU's "establishment plans" for 2007 (on page 6 of the DG Admin 'statistical bulletin') show that there are 42,548 temporary and permanent EU officials. In addition, it lists 8,123 "external" Commission staff, which are staff paid on appropriations - contract agents, seconded national experts, technical and administrative assistance etc, giving a total of over 50,000.

However the Commission's table does not list any external staff employed by the other institutions and the agencies. Since the summer we've been trying to find out these numbers, which has proved a bit of a nightmare. Some agencies, such as the European Police College have refused to supply the numbers, and others have sent pretty prickly emails. One said that we had to send them a "motivated letter" (Our motive: we want to know and it's our money). However, despite all that, the information we've managed to uncover shows a significant number of 'hidden' employees.

We've found, for example, that the European Parliament has at least an extra 2,254 staff working for it not listed on the statistical bulletin (this figure is likely to have increased since it was supplied back in June, given that the official numbers of staff have gone up).

And there are lots of "off balance sheet" staff in the balooning number of EU agencies too. We're still waiting for some further figures and clarification, but based on the Commission's statistical bulletin, plus what additional figures we have for external staff, for the other institutions and agencies, the EU has around 54,000 staff.

And there may well be more on top of this. The Commission's confusing table doesn't list second and third 'pillar' agencies such as Europol (which has a staff of 600), or the European Defence Agency (which has a staff of at least 94), or the EU Satellite Centre.

Trying to make a comparison with the size of the UK civil service isn't easy, because so many of the EU numbers are just not published. However, we found that while there are 4,640 Senior Civil Servants in the Government (earning £54K upwards), there are almost 10,000 officials in the Commission alone earning a comparable salary. We only have the salary grades for the Commission, but if one assumes that the same proportion (34%) of all EU staff (54,000 or so) were on roughly this salary scale, then there will be around 18,000 members of EU staff on Senior Civil Service pay (so it's nearly four times as big).

What's going on? Why so many new agencies?

One factor is the EU agencies' role in the development of US-style 'pork-barrel' spending in the EU: "You get the food standards agency, we get the gender institute" etc. This motive for expansion is made incredibly overt during talks on the budget.

For example, during the negotiations on the new financial perspective the EU's budget for administration (and setting up lots of lovely new agencies) was increased from 49.3 billion euros to 50.3 billion euros, between the publication of the United Kingdom Presidency Proposal on 14 December and the publication of the UK's final proposals on 19 December.

Amazingly the UK Government actually admitted in a parliamentary answer that it had agreed to the extra €1bn as a kind of sweetener:

"A number of changes, including the change to the budget for administration costs,were necessary to the UK presidency proposal of14 December in order to generate a political consensus for an agreement on the 2007-13 Financial Perspective at the European Council on 15-17 December"

The growth of EU agencies is also an example of the EU's turn towards populism: price controls on text messages, putative 'bans' on violent computer games etc. The agencies allow the EU to be seen to be "doing something" in a whole range of new areas, from food safety to human rights.

Bizarrely, the EU is now also investing in advertising its agencies - a glossy new 'EU agencies campaign' tells people "Whatever you do - we work for you", and has placed adverts in in-flight magazines on some of Europe's biggest airlines, boasting of agency staff of "more than 2,500" (actually it's more like 4,500) and "significant budgetary resources." (why doesn't the civil service just start plugging itself too?)

Of course, the real point about the EU is not the number of people who work for it. Every day literally thousands of national civil servants descend on Brussels to take part in its hundreds of expert committees, and the drawing up of regulations, directives and decisions which affect nearly half a billion people. The power of the EU doesn't just depend on employing a lot of pen pushers, but on imposing a whole supranational legal system.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Dirty bomb anyone?

A Russian man has been caught trying to sell weapons grade uranium in Georgia. Oleg Khinsagov was arrested with 100g of uranium wrapped in a plastic bag in his pocket - he boasted that he had another 4kg of the stuff back at his flat. This is easily enough to make a small bomb - the Hiroshima bomb was made from 50kg of similar grade uranium. Luckily the buyers were Georgian secret services masquerading as Muslim terrorists from "a serious organisation". The FBI - who were also involved in the sting operation - claimed that the uranium must have been smuggled out of the Soviet Union within the last decade.

Given that this is all scary stuff, it seems strange that it was pretty much ignored by the British press. Hats off then to the Indie for being the only national newspaper to print the story - even if it was on page 27 (the first three pages were dedicated to a 'splash' on "foul smelling" British litter being sent to China).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Swedish secrets uncovered

The Swedish press has been awash with rumours that Angela Merkel sent a letter to the Swedish Government which - among other things - set out how the Swedes could go about avoiding holding a referendum on the EU Constitution. The intrigue was largely created by the Swedish Government's insistence that the letter was secret and should remain confidential - running counter to the convention that all official documents are should be made public.

Swedish online news site Europaportalen has got hold of a leaked copy of the letter. Unfortunately, as with most of these things, the reality isn't quite as interesting as the rumours. Merkel is simply asking Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to appoint an adviser "who enjoys your confidence" to take part in the discussions which will draw up the Berlin Declaration and will attempt to revive the EU Constitution.

Of greater interest is the "tentative schedule" that Merkel attaches to the letter. The "focal points" (advisers/sherpas) will focus on drawing up the declaration until March. Attention will only turn to the Constitution after that - first with a gathering of heads of government "on the margins of the celebrations". The Germans are obviously hoping to ram the thing through in under three months - although much will depend on the outcome of the French Presidential elections.

The Germans are reported to be pulling out the diplomatic stops - they have already identified the Poles, Czechs and the Brits as the problem countries and are threatening them with "isolation" unless they fall into line. It should be an interesting few months...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

EU Constitution deal - the UK position?

More nuggets from the Fabian conference, this time from Charles Grant, who has played an influential role in developing New Labour's EU policy.

Grant suggested that the Government is looking to give up control of Britain's borders once it has introduced ID cards:

"I have heard British officials say that when we in Britain have ID cards then Britain would benefit greatly from joining Schengen and abolishing passport controls."

He was then asked what he would propose as a compromise package on the Constitution. He said:

"I would propose being practical and sign up to something that Gordon Brown could be persuaded to agree to. Basically the key for me is not to transfer new powers to the EU. I think that Britain will not accept more QMV unless they can opt-out of it."

He also said that the UK Foreign Office is very keen to see the introduction of an EU Foreign Minister, EU Diplomatic Service and EU President. He stressed that "they won't accept the Charter of Fundamental Rights, that is an absolute no... the British government will never sign up to that. It's got to be a pretty mini-IGC [Inter-Governmental Conference] to get the British on board."

Once Byrned, twice shy

Just got back from a Fabian Society conference on "making EU enlargement work." The event turned into a bit of a love-in for good old Geoff Hoon. The acting head of the Romanian Embassy Raduta Matache declared "If only there were more ministers like Geoff Hoon". Well, he does need all the loving he can get at the moment.

But Hoon wasn't generous enough to share the love with his own governmental colleagues. When asked about the new system for "managing" migration from Bulgaria and Romania he mumbled something about the "transitional problems" of the last accession and likened them to the experiences of provincial towns which have been flooded with students in recent years.

Tellingly, he refused to publicly support the limits that have been placed on Bulgarian and Romanian workers instead saying, "I see [Immigration Minister] Liam Byrne is speaking this afternoon - perhaps you should ask him about that." According to one insider Geoff and Liam had "stand-up rows" over the issue... Hoon is obviously still feeling a wee bit sensitive about it.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Operation Red Dragon

Oh no - another appalling EU cartoon.

The Liberal Democrats' group in the European Parliament - ALDE - have produced an online comic strip about the life of an MEP.

It aims to "illustrate the activities and processes of the European Parliament in a more accessible and enjoyable format than studying text books about the EU." It describes what all frustrated MEPs wish they were doing - getting involved in exciting issues of global importance.

"Set in the European Parliament and the fictitious country Fang Dong, “Operation Red Dragon” is the fictional story of Elisa Correr, an MEP who gets embroiled in a risky and fascinating adventure whilst in pursuit of her parliamentary activities."

We recommend that you read the whole thing, but if you're just in it for the laughs you only need to check out the last page.

Basic plot spoiler: heroic MEP takes nasty national governments to task over their dodgy deals with the completely fabricated and evil far-Eastern dictatorship "Fang Dong". A threat is made on her life but she prevails and the story ends with our heroine uttering the immortal line:

"I request that the vote be Deferred and that my report be sent to the Parliamentary Committee until further details of the Council’s proposal are known!" [Cue general rejoicing]

Fun in Berlin

The so-called sherpas (EU leaders' envoys to behind-closed-doors talks on reviving the Constituiton) are meeting together tomorrow in Berlin.

As well as the big picture stuff, they are supposed to be discussing what to put in the Berlin Declaration on 25 March. But that rather turns on what is going to happen in May in the French elections.

Brussels opinion seems divided between two schools of thought. "Camp A" say it will be a load of bland flannel, probably rather along the lines of the "five points" suggested by Barroso the other day. "Camp B" also expect the flannel count to be pretty high, but expect at least a few bigger points to be dealt with - the logic being that the more that the declaration can be seen to have "responded" to voters concerns the easier it will be to push through a snap deal in June on the "purely technical and institutional" (of course) points that EU leaders are obsessed with: making it easier to pass legislation, an EU foreign minister etc.

If they are going to come back to the big questions later anyway (the Royal route), the Berlin declaration can be a load of piffle. But if you are going for a quick and dirty deal (the Sarko option) they may feel the need to do rather more with the declaration.

The UK Government are purpoting to be surpremely uninterested in all this, hoping that it will remain someone else's political problem. The Commission, meanwhile, are looking to get back control of the initiative, with their "review of the internal market" now scheduled for publication around March. (Do you think they might find that they "need more power to complete the single market"? - we're just guessing here...)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Czechmate

After seven and a half months the Czech Republic finally has a new government. The ODS have managed to convince two social democrats to join with them, the Christian Democrats and the Greens in a coalition which is likely to be tricky to steer at best. Indeed, the two new recruits are not necessarily the most reliable people in the world, with one involved in a regional corruption scandal.

However, the country finally has a government (Czechs had joked that their country had become the biggest Non-Governmental Organisation in the world), and while the coalition doesn't seem set to be amazingly long lived, the ODS have at least now got themselves into office (which is important for credibility in the same sense that control of Downing Street was in the 1974 elections in Britain), and the polls show that if there are further elections in the near future the ODS are likely to gain, at the expense of the Social Democrats.

Like the other 'big' countries in central and eastern Europe, the Czechs are now putting off joining the euro until some indefinite point in the future. With even the Governor of the Czech central bank popping up in the FT the other week to denounce the rules of the euro (and more significantly, the inflexibility of the EU more generally), it feels like a consensus against joining is being formed.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Consider yourself slapped

Jack Straw today in Parliament - when asked about Mandelson's piece in the Guardian this morning:
"I read his article this morning in The Guardian with interest but I'm afraid I didn't regard myself as any better informed about the case he was making by the time I finished it than when I started."

Mandelson to launch new pro-euro campaign

From the "pro-European declaration":

If Labour is to provide answers for Britain to the new challenges of social justice and globalisation, the present Euro-hostile, or ‘Euro-indifferent’ mood needs to be challenged and turned round.

Pro-Europeans need to rally a broad swathe of British civil society for a more constructive approach to Europe: environmentalists and Green campaigners; trade unionists, fighters for equal pay and against all forms of discrimination; consumer activists and health campaigners; the women’s movement; church and development NGOs and campaigners to promote trade justice, combat AIDS and end world poverty.

We intend over the coming months to work with these groups to establish a new Civil Society Forum for Europe that will determine how a positive approach to British membership of the
European Union can be planned and articulated. It will be a genuinely bottom up campaign involving grassroots activists throughout Britain. We believe a powerful new case can be made on the basis of these new arguments for a stronger Europe to meet the challenges of globalisation.

[we love the idea that a load of cabinet ministers and European Commissioners think they are in a position to start a "genuinely bottom up campaign". More fantasy politics...]

Pathetic

Which is more pathetic: the EU or the UK government's approach to it?

Angela Merkel's rambling and turgid speech yesterday seems to have "officially" relaunched the discussions on the Constitution. The speech listed a whole bunch of different challenges - relations with Africa, the US, Russia, all of which inevitably led her making to the clunking argument that:

"We can only tackle these challenges by joining forces. We must act as one. That is precisely why, for a European foreign policy, we need a European Union Minister for Foreign Affairs – so that we can practise what we preach. That is another reason for the constitutional treaty."

Uuuunnghh.

In fairness. Merkel did say two sensible things ( it's hard not to in a speech of nearly 4,000 words).

One was about scrapping legislation which was not completed at the end of a European Parliamentary term, as in most member states. Obviously, having a cull of stalled regulation once every five years wouldn't make any meaningful impact in terms of reducinging over-regulation. But it would at least end the ludicrous situation where newly elected MEPs simply plod on with the legislation their predecissors were working on (so why bother with elections at all?) She also called for single market style measures between the US and EU - which would be nice but is rather unlikely to be agreed by certain ameriphobic member states.

The reopening of the Constitution as an issue has prompted rather different reactions around Europe - and indeed different bits of the UK Government.

Segolene Royal immediately said that she would promise a referendum on whatever emerged from the process. “I want the French people to be consulted once again in a referendum in 2009.” The FT reports that her comments were "greeted with dismay" in London. We'll bet.

The UK Government's official response was rather more tortuous. For example Geoff Hoon aid on Newsnight that:

“We’ve always made it clear that if there are important constitutional principles we will hold a referendum. We said the same about the Constitutional Treaty – it contained significant constitutional change, we believe it should require the consent of the British people through a referendum. On the other hand no previous Government – no Conservative Government – has ever held a referendum on some far reaching changes in the European treaties: the Maastricht treaty, the Single European Act which massively expanded the scope of qualified majority voting and affected our relationship with the European Union arguably even more than the Constitutional Treaty. The Conservatives did not hold a referendum at that stage. So there is no constitutional requirement for every single change in the treaty to have a referendum in the United Kingdom.”

Translation: "I have part weasel DNA, and plan to sneak through anything we can possibly get away with."

Meanwhile "unnamed" UK sources are busy saying all kinds of things in the papers. The FT reports that:

A senior British official said referenda were “not in Europe’s interest”, and suggested London would not be unhappy if the constitutional impasse continued. “Europe is not broken,” the official said. “We are taking decisions. You can push through something major like climate change and energy reform with the existing structure.”

Question: So why haven't you got the guts to say so in public?

Meanwhile Peter Mandelson is holding a massive third-way wonkathon over in the City (at which Blair is due to speak). His thinktank Policy Network have launched an absurd "pro-European declaration" for people to sign up to.

He has a piece in the Guardian and popped up on the today programme too with the amzing claim that he never wanted the EU Constitution in the first place:

I don’t think we ever needed such a new grand constitution for Europe in the first place. We needed a set of efficiency changes and we frankly paid the price of appearing to overbid in what we put forward.

Ah - no need to worry then. Just some "efficiency changes" on the way.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Slowly but surely...

... the EU is expanding its control over member states' criminal justice systems.

Two good examples from the agenda of today's meeting of EU interior ministers :

1) EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini is proposing to create an EU-wide criminal offence of selling computer games to children. Back in November Frattini publicly criticised a computer game Rule of Rose in which a girl is bullied. Originally he spoke of creating a voluntary code for computer games companies. But now it seems as though he's been emboldened by some favourable publicity in unfamiliar places (such as the Daily Mail) and is being much more ambitious. This is another obvious example of the Commission's current tendency to champion populist causes (price caps on text messages and footballers' salaries etc) - as part of its "Europe of results" agenda.

2) The German Government is keen to reach agreement on a proposal for an EU-wide criminal sanction for racism and xenophobia. In particular the Germans want to impose prison sentences for holocaust denial and ban the use of the swastika across Europe. This proposal is unlikely to be approved as it would require unanimity. Several governments -including the UK - are unsure. The British Government is unlikely to want to have to repeat the rows over the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill which was passed last year. The amendments which were secured by campaigners and the opposition to that Bill could well be overturned if the EU's proposals go through.

We hate to be boring, but what about the idea of subsidiarity? What exactly is the case for these political decisions being made at an EU level? Anyone?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday round up

The FT reveals that Joseph Daul - the man just sworn in as head of the EPP - is under investigation for fraud. The investigation centres on the alleged diversion of €16m in government farming funds to finance the French farmers’ union FNSEA in the 1990s.

The EU tells off Russia for turning off its oil supplies to Belarus. EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said "We have told them that the disruptions to oil supplies we have seen in the last few days must never, never happen again". Reminding one team member of the film Team America and Hans Blix's threat to write Kim Jong-Il a "very angry letter" if he keeps refusing to have a weapons inspection.

EU proposes new law to limit carbon emissions from vehicles, which would add £1,600 to the price of every new car in the UK.

France rules out the EU making any concessions on farm tariffs in the WTO talks - a position which would all but kill off the Doha round.

And EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini announces he wants to begin setting national immigration quotas for EU members.

Football crazy

March 2007 will be a month of carnivals, concerts and parties across much of Brussels . The EU hopes to win over the affection of its citizens by showing "it can dance" (Uh-oh: cue dad-on-the-dancefloor style embarrassment).

The celebrations are to mark the Union's 50th birthday and all EU countries are taking part. Italy is holding a youth summit, 27 clubs in Berlin are holding a mass all-night rave and the French and Belgians are hosting big concerts.

Until today we wondered how the occasion would be marked in the UK. Let's face it, it was always going to be unlikely that the EU would be able to attract hordes of "prommers" to wave starred flags and bounce around the Albert Hall to Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Still, we were a bit surprised to find out that it plans to celebrate it with a football match - the EU vs Man United. After all - football is hardly famous for "uniting" Europeans - particularly in England. Jose Barroso tells us that:

"The best of European football will be on show at the “Theatre of Dreams” in Manchester next March, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the European Union. There is no better way to showcase the European Union at 50 than through Europe’s favourite sport that unites Europeans in a unique way, through a passion we all share and a language we all speak."

Perhaps they are hoping that by playing arguably the most hated team in Britain the EU will actually get some British support - even if it's only for an evening...

But this will not be the EU's last adventure into the world of football. As part of its ever expanding search to "re-connect" with its citizens by championing populist causes, the EU has identified football as an area for action. It wants to bring football under EU control - making national leagues report to UEFA - and will introduce wage and transfer caps. Watch this space...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Climate change goes off the (Media) scale

According to the Press Association David Cameron has claimed today that the Conservatives are leading the way on climate change. He claimed credit for "pressurising" the Government into drafting the Climate Change Bill. "If it wasn't for our pressure the Government would not have put the Climate Change Bill in the Queen's Speech." Climate change is certainly now taking up a rainforest-destroying amount of space in the newspapers.

It chimed with a question posed to us by a journalist yesterday: "Remind me again - when exactly was it that climate change became a massive issue?". So using the power of intern slave labour we've plotted the number of times the phrase "climate change" came up on the lexis-nexis database of UK papers each month since the turn of the century. For the purposes of assessing what's occupying our national attention we have also plotted "competitiveness".



Climate change was already on the up before Cameron - starting to take off some time in 04. But the graph has certainly gone nuts since he became leader at the end of 05. Climate change now takes up about four times as much media space as competitiveness. It remains to be seen whether it will carry on though. What does this say about where we are as a country?

The EU and the environment: rhetoric and reality

The EU’s statement on climate change and energy security came out yesterday. It said several eye catching things:

First some dramatic predictions: southern Europe will become a desert, thousands will die from floods and forest fires, millions of environmental refugees will migrate northwards and decent English wine may finally be a possibility. Then the Commission also touted (out of pretty thin air) the possibility of 30% cut in EU emissions relative to 1990. The BBC's coverage led on the Commission's headline grabbing call for a second "industrial revolution" in clean technologies.

All that was enough to get the attention of the media. But to what end?

The report itself suggests that the authors spent a lot longer thinking about how to enlarge the power and role of the EU than they did thinking about energy security or climate change. There are pages and pages on setting up a single energy regulator for Europe, a "European Energy Observatory", getting member states to sign up to "solidarity agreements" and spending more on trans-EU interconnections (all longstanding pet projects of the Commission). There is also a suggestion (unlikely to be accepted by Germany and France) that they should break up their monopolistic public energy companies.

But even if all this happened, it won't solve the problem. Creating a free market in energy (some chance) would be good in its own right, but wouldn't decrease the EU's overall dependence on Russia or reduce emissions (in fact if it led to marginally lower prices it might mean marginally higher emissions).

Other suggestions would be meaningful but misguided. The Commisison suggests EU wide targets for biofuels and renewables. But that isn't the best way to go - in some countries biofuels and renewables might be the most cost effective way to cut emissions, in others not. Why impose a one-size-fits-all strategy?

Hugo from Open Europe debated the report with Will Hutton yesterday. Hutton conceded that the EU’s flagship Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) “hasn’t worked well” in its first phase, branding it a “pointless, fruitless exercise”. However, he then went on to claim that “the mood has changed over the past two years…all the continental countries that have got any high ground have noticed there being lack of snow this year. I was in Rome at Christmas and café life was conducted as if it was June."

This is a nice example of the europhile style in two respects: (a) the admission there were problems in the past but they have now been solved - a perennial europhile claim - and (b) a certain kind fuzzy logic, as part of which demonstrating "concern" is more important than focussing on effectivness.

On the upside, the Commission suggests spending more of its research budget on energy (although that sort of policy pledge often leads to all kinds of existing projects simply being 'relabeled'). There is also a screaming u-turn on nuclear energy, which the Commission now seems to be a big fan of.

But overall the document is a lot like the Lisbon agenda: the Commission proposes all kinds of targets which are outside the control of the EU, but doesn't look at the effects of its own policies: For example, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme is very expensive to run, costing the UK 1.5 billion in its first phase, but it has failed to reduce emissions. The EU’s waste policy creates pressure for more and more burning of rubbish. The huge CAP budget is still being used to encourage intensive agriculture (if you must have subsidies why not for biofuels?) and the fishing policy has caused the dumping of millions of tonnes of dead fish in the sea. Thanks a bundle.

All this is not helped by the EU's agonisingly long implementation of reforms. According to a recent paper circulated to the Council, the Commission will not even consider making changes to the failing ETS before 2013.

The paper reinforces the sense that the EU and advocates of deeper integration are essentially using the climate change and energy security issues rather than taking them seriously. As David Milliband wrote: "The environment is the issue that can best reconnect Europe with its citizens and re-build trust in European institutions. The needs of the environment are coming together with the needs of the EU: one is a cause looking for a champion, the other a champion in search of a cause."

Blair out! (say Brownites)

Mild panic setting in among Brown's people about the prospect of Blair stitching up a deal on the future of the EU Constitution just before he leaves office.

According to a piece by James Blitz in the FT this morning:

“Senior ministers believe Tony Blair must give way to Gordon Brown well before a European Union summit this June, warning the UK's negotiating position [on the EU Constitution] could be undermined if the prime minister were still in office.”

A “government figure” is quoted saying, "The risk, to be blunt, is we'll be represented by a lame duck premier and that is worrying.”

An unnamed Minister is quoted saying, "You could see Merkel and Sarkozy doing a quick and dirty deal at the June summit to get parts of the constitution approved. If that happens, Britain's clout in these complex negotiations would be undermined by having a prime minister who is just days from leaving office. We'd be in the strange position of Gordon having to defend agreements in the Commons that he hadn't signed up to in Brussels. I'm not sure that's a comfortable position for a new prime minister to be in, or for his government."

As we argued in our doc on the EU in 2007 - it looks like Brown is not going to be in charge during any of the key summits (there are about half a dozen high level meetings planned) unless he can get Blair to go before the local elections. Broon doesn't really want to stir up trouble again after the previous farce (nicely described by one insider as the 'butter knife coup') but as the FT piece shows - he doesn't want to get stitched up by Blair and Hoon on their way out the door either.
In recent months, Mr Brown has refrained from putting any further pressure on Mr Blair to clarify his departure plans, reiterating that position in a television interview at the weekend. Close allies of the chancellor said last night they were confident Mr Blair would not sign any deal on the European constitution that undermined the national interest.
Is this a veiled threat we see before us?

*UPDATE* Someone is obviously stirring this up - also now being written up Ben Brogan

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The unacceptable face...

...of old Europe.

Joseph Daul celebrates his victory in the EPP leadership elections in Le Monde.
“My main rival, Swedish Gunnar Hokmark, stood for liberalism and the small countries, whereas I incarnated the social market economy and the Franco-German couple… The deputies of the founding EU countries rallied around me in the third round of the vote.” He says he will “respect the commitments made by Hans-Gert Pottering” vis-à-vis the British Conservatives, saying, “There will be no concessions…. After 2009, I hope we will be able to keep them, but it is they who will decide. That said, if they leave, where will they go? Chez Le Pen?”
He says the German EU Presidency:
“will have to find an intermediary solution between the mini-treaty proposed by Sarkozy and the Constitution… The French and Dutch rejections should not be ignored, but we should respect the numerous countries which have already adopted it.”

“France needs to go back to being ‘European’ in its thinking, and admit that she is no longer the centre of the world. Otherwise she will be forgotten.”
Le Monde writes that Daul’s election “expresses the coming together of the German Christian Democrats and the French neo-Gaullists that took effect on the European political scene following the formation of the UMP in France. The EPP, dominated by the German CDU, initially brought together mostly Christian-democrat formations, including the UDF. M. Daul’s tight victory is evidence of the mistrust brought about by this new Franco-German political axis felt by the British and the parties of the new Eastern member states.”

Whoops!

Great story in the Evening Standard Londoner's Diary about an extraordinary typo in the EU's 2007 pocket diary, which has already been sent out. The diary informs readers that the Bulgarian European Parliament Office is in Bucharest, and that the Romanian Office is in Sofia. As if the new members didn't already feel unwelcome.

Now we all miss the odd typo - but that is a real clanger. That said, it's good to see that even professionals get it wrong. The same article quotes a certain "Derek Scott" from the UK's European Parliament Office. Presumably they spoke to Dermot Scott not our Deputy Chairman..?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Rating Cameron in Bavaria

Ben Brogan has picked up on Cameron's trip to Bavaria, where he's speaking at the CSU conference.
“There is a positive agenda for the EU which I describe as the 3 P’s: people, planet and poverty. De-regulation and economic reform would give people in Europe a better chance of prosperity...
Kind of cheesy - but basically good.
...Co-operation on the environment and the Emissions Trading System to reduce carbon emissions would help improve the environment of the planet...
Er... yeah, "cooperation on the environment" might be good if it was going to be a good way to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately the EU's ETS delivers increased pollution at incredible cost.
"...And pushing for a WTO deal to reduce tariffs will help reduce poverty in the developing world."
Uh huh. The tories need to get stuck in more on this. But it needs a bit more edge than, "lets all have a WTO deal" though - everyone is in favour of that.
“But a negative agenda for the EU would be the inward looking ambition of bringing back the EU Constitution which has already been rejected. The Constitution has been both distracting and disruptive and it represents the wrong direction for the EU. The Conservative Party will not support a Constitution that is about transferring more power to the EU. Any such Constitution would have to be put to a referendum in Britain and we would vigorously campaign for a no vote.”

"I absolutely agree with Edmund Stoiber when he says irrespective of the differences about the EPP issue, there should be a close co-operation of a formal nature between the CDU/ CSU Parties and the Conservative Party.”

That's fairly carefully worded - but at least they are thinking about calling for a referendum, which is a good start.

Overall they are doing quite well in terms of repositioning the way they handle Europe: basically out goes the naff digital pound clock, in come (better) arguments about the EU's appalling trade policy vis-a-vis developing countries. Still, it needs a lot more "bite" and to be made into a "campaign." There is far too much cackhanded "triangulation" - the determination to balance every criticism of the EU with a pledge to be in favour of something else. (e.g. as one tory researcher told us re the ETS: "we want to be in favour of this"). Having a positive agenda is right. Translating that into support for various doomed EU projects isn't.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Can the EU change?

There's a good piece in this week's Economist, in the Charlemagne column about the debate over resurrecting the EU Constitution. Its such a depressing debate.

The post-post-Cold-War world is full of grim problems like Iran, the west's loss of competitiveness relative to China, and the drift of Russia away from democracy.

But the EU's response to all this is... yet another round of institutional tinkering. Even more years wasted having mindnumbing rows in Brussels about how many European commissioners to have.

Falling support for integration and the prospect of further referendums means that the new "mini treaty" or "EU Constitution mark 2" - or whatever it ends up being called - is ultimately not likely to be ratified in all member states. At that point there is going to be a crunch.

Our guess is that there will either be an attempt to come up with some kind of more flexible structure for the EU as a whole, or give some member states a looser relationship with the rest of the EU. Either could potentially be a way of getting to the kind of arrangement that most voters in Britain - and several other members - want.

With that in mind, we have just updated our vision of how things are likely to pan out on the Open Europe website. We'd be interested to know your thoughts...

EPP elections

Johan Norberg has an interesting thing from a Swedish blog about the upcoming election of a new leader of the EPP next tuesday.

He says MEPs face a choice between "a French friend of the CAP, Joseph Daul, or a reliable Swedish market-liberal, Gunnar Hökmark, who would be a force against EU regulation and protectionism. "

However, he thinks some Tory MEPs might vote tactially for Daul - on the Leninist logic that "the worse, the better" - in order to strengthen the case for leaving. Not so sure. Be interesting to see who wins though. Daul holds some kind of French medal for agriculture, so we are thinking he is probably not exactly a friend of free trade. Anyone know how the Tories are (officially) voting?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Looking into the crystal ball...

A few bits and pieces:

We've just published our latest pamphlet: The EU in 2007. We attempt to assess how the French elections and the expected changes in No 10 Downing Street next year will affect EU politicians' plans to bring back the EU Constitution. We also look at the rising tensions within the eurozone and flag up some of the most controversial aspects of the incoming German Presidency's agenda.

For an interesting article on recent trends and the future of politics in Central and Eastern Europe, have a look at this piece from Marian Tupy from the CATO Institute (hat-tip the beatroot).

Another area of great uncertainty in 2007 will of course be the situation in Iran, and whether the international community will actually take any military action if Tehran continues to flout UN resolutions. An Israeli think-tank - the Institute for National Strategic Studies - has released a report which claims that the country could take out the Iranians' nuclear capability on its own.

They stress however, that military strikes should strictly be a last option. Interestingly though, they are split over whether or not to involve the US in the plan - which as the Foreign Policy blog points out would need to give assent as it controls Iraqi airspace.

INSS head Zvi Shtauber, a retired general who also served as Israel's ambassador in London and senior policy adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, said Israel was "technically" capable of striking alone and would have to do so if it takes action, because no other country would agree to work openly with Israel. Taking issue with [another INSS board member's] assessment that the U.S. must sign off on such an attack, he said, "There are certain things that it's better the U.S. not know
about."