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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Get with the programme

Just noticed this piece on LabourList by Labour Parliamentary candidate for South-East Cambridgeshire John Cowan.


He tries to argue that working long hours and the EU Working Time Directive limiting the working week to 48 hours is a health and safety issue, based on the fact that:

"The other night on my way back from yet another Labour Party meeting, I made a number of silly errors on the road - nothing major, but enough to ensure the local police stopped me on suspicion of drunk driving."


He then goes on to say, "It's amazing that despite all this evidence the Tories are opposed to the Working Time Directive opt-out being abolished."


Come again? What's amazing is that a Labour candidate doesn't seem to realise that the Government is also committed - at least in rhetoric - to keeeping the opt-out, for reasons we have outlined before. Both the Conservatives and Labour (bar the MEPs, over which Gordon Brown and co appear to have no control whatsoever) recognise that we can ill afford to lose the opt-out at a time of economic recession.


If Mr Cowan did a little research on the subject, (beginning with reading Open Europe's report), he'd see the that the loss of the opt-out threatens patient care in hospitals, as well as fire service coverage in many rural areas. Aren't these health and safety issues too?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Louis Michel can't believe his luck


Belgian Daily De Standaard has picked up our research which states that Belgian EU Commissioner Louis Michel is to take home about 1.1 million euros in pension payments and so-called 'transitional' and 'resettlement' allowances after he leaves office.

Louis Michel, the second Commissioner to react to the research, said he couldn't believe it and "if that's true, I'll retire immediately".

However, the article goes on:

After consulting an assisstant, the message seems to be accurate. This was followed by Louis Michel suddenly changing his mind, saying the compensation is completely justified. “We are being well paid, that is. But every morning getting up at 5 o' clock, lots of travelling, heavy files… This is a parachute, but not a golden one”.

We can only add that Louis Michel is European Commissioner for "Development and Humanitarian Aid". Improve the world, start with yourself...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Because I'm worth it


Following wide reports around Europe about the fact that the EU Commissioners will receive millions of taxpayers' cash in pensions and pay-offs when they leave office, EU Agriculture Commissioner Marian Fischer Boel (not pictured) has defended herself, telling Danish newspaper Politiken ... wait for it...

"I'm worth all the millions"

You couldn't make it up.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's just peanuts to some

Open Europe published some figures over the weekend which found that EU Commissioners retiring this year can expect to walk away with pension pots worth over £1 million each.


According to EUobserver Commission spokesperson Valerie Rampi said that, "Open Europe didn't discover anything new, it's all public and online... Everyone who has worked as a commissioner is entitled to pension rights, like you and me". She then denied that Commissioners received "golden one-off payments".


Well, she is absolutely right about one thing. Commissioners' entitlements are available online, which was how we knew how much they would be receiving. In those entitlements, it states that Commissioners shall be entitled to "a resettlement allowance equal to one month's basic salary on ceasing to hold office."


Perhaps this doesn't seem like much of a "golden" pay-out to well-fed Commission bureaucrats, but it is more 19,900 euros for most Commissioners, and even more for the rest. This is more than some people earn in a year, but the Commission doesn't deem it "golden"?


We might also mention that this is just a fraction of what Commissioners will receive on leaving office - as well as their hefty pensions they will entitled to "transition" payments for three years of at least 90,000 euros a year.

But this probably isn't enough to count as "golden" either.


Next time the Commission wonders why citizens feel the EU institutions are out of touch, maybe this golden little penny will finally drop...

On another planet


A pretty bizarre article in the FT today (and the EU Referendum blog) alerts us to the EU's new propaganda campaign for the European Parliament elections. Encouraging turnout is one thing - but, as usual, this is far more to do with trying to promote the whole idea of the EU. And at enormous cost to the taxpayer.

For €28 million, the European Parliament has hired ad agency Scholz and Friends European Agenda , to run

"a series of 3D installations. The larger than life sculptures will draw the public´s attention to the 2009 European Elections and illustrate different aspects of the voters’ influence on tangible political decisions that result from their participation. Interactive multimedia boxes invite the EU citizens to cast their personal wishes for Europe as a video message. Together with ten billboard motives, the 3D installations and the multimedia boxes show that Europeans have a choice and the chance to participate in the EU's decision making – emphasized by the claim "It's your choice!"
Plus some weird enormous billboards like the chickens above.

As if we needed any more evidence of the EU institutions being completely out of touch with the real world - here we have some of the best yet. In the middle of dire economic circumstances, with jobs, pensions and savings all going down the bog the good old EP sees fit to lavish millions on what this ad agency boasts is: "for sure Europe’s most complex communication campaign ever."

Great. Will it have any impact at all on turnout? It strikes us that a far cheaper option to energise voters and get them going would be to remind them about the referendum they never got on the Lisbon Treaty - and the efforts to bully Ireland into voting again.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Every woman every man, join the (EU) caravan

Apparently, the EU is now running what it calls a "citizen caravan initiative", which basically involves an EU-themed bus doing a 25-leg tour of France that will cover 4087 kilometres with the mandate of promoting EU citizenship.

The start gun fires on May 9. This type of propaganda mission is of course not the first. CIDEM - who is running the bus - has run several similar information tours on behalf of the European Commmission since 2001, not to mention programs all the other EU Commission campaigns operating through hundreds of other European NGOs, think tanks and lobby groups.

According to CIDEM's official website and press release, both of which fail to disclose the estimated cost of the propaganda tour de France, it has the following as its primary objectives: to encourage participation in the upcoming elections; to familiarize EU citizens with "European questions" and European institutions; and to stimulate and reinforce European youths' connection with Europe as an institution.

Sounds naff.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

More threats

German Ambassador to Ireland, Christian Pauls, has added to the list of threats to the Irish people over ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Speaking as the Commission launched a €1.8m 'information' campaign to encourage a Yes vote in the second referendum, Herr Pauls warned that Ireland would "throw away its future" if it voted No a second time.

Another example of European solidarity at its finest!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Too late?

The Parliament reports that negotiations in Brussels on the opt-out from the EU's 48 hour working week have reached an impasse, with neither MEPs nor national ministers willing to back down. Formal negotiations will continue in two weeks time, on 1 April.

Glenis Willmott, Labour's new leader in the European Parliament, is quoted saying that the opt-out should be maintained, pending a review in five years. She said:

"At a time of financial crisis, workers need the flexibility to earn extra money."

Clearly we welcome Glenis' public support - but it would have been far more helpful if she had not voted to abolish the opt-out last December along with 12 other Labour MEPs.

Glad to see that Glenis has come round - we just hope that this period of clear thinking will last long enough so that she remembers to vote the right way next time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Government reveals £77m yearly admin cost of farm payments

Hat tip to Wyn Grant for this from his Common Agricultural Policy blog.

Just when we thought the Single Farm Payment couldn't get any more ridiculous, we now discover that the cost of administering the payments in tens of thousands of cases is far higher than the value of the subsidy itself.

A Parliamentary question from Lib Dem MP Tim Farron has revealed that the average administration cost for processing an individual claim in the UK under the EU's Single Farm Payment Scheme is a whopping £742.

A separate Ministerial statement from UK Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, puts the number of individual claims for 2007/08 at around 104,000. This means the total cost of administering these claims is a staggering £77 million.

What's more, 14,645 of these claims were under £400 in value, and 636 of those were under £50 in value.

The total possible payout for these 636 claims is £30,315 but, according to the average cost of processing an individual claim, these could have cost £471,912 to administer!

Madness.

The time is now

Today is the day that formal talks begin (and possibly finish) on the opt-out from the EU's 48 working week. On the Guardian's CiF, Open Europe has set out its reasons why Brussels is the wrong place (if there is such a place) to decide how many hours people should work.

Talks are due to start this evening. We will keep you posted.

Democracy for Breakfast

Tomorrow morning, the European Commission will plan how to 'persuade' the Irish people to vote yes to the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum, using €1.8 million of taxpayers' money.

Libertas, the group behind the successful 'No' campaign in the first referendum, which will fight in the European elections, will mark the occassion by mourning the death of democracy.

You can join them at the entrance of the Commission building at 8.45...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Time's up?

Crucial negotiations will begin in Brussels tomorrow to try to find a compromise over the EU's controversial Working Time Directive.

You may remember that MEPs - led by Labour's very own Stephen Hughes - voted against a Council deal to keep the UK's opt-out from the EU's 48-hour week, back in December.

Now, the negotiations are at what's called the 'conciliation' stage - where MEPs and the Council have to come up with a compromise.

In theory, this stage can last for up to six weeks, but rumour has it that tomorrow's negotiations are likely to be the end of the story - and if not, it's likely there will be only one other meeting, in around two weeks' time. Crucially, the UK Government - which is in favour of the keeping the opt-out - does not have a veto over whatever is decided at the 'conciliation' state.

(You may or may not find comfort from the fact that we are being represented by Lord Mandelson - who, as we were reminded this morning - needs to keep the EU sweet if he is to continue receiving his generous EU payoff.)

With more than 3 million people working more than 48 hours a week, and plenty of others no doubt in favour of keeping the option to choose to do so, this is a huge deal.

Imagine if the House of Commons was set to vote tomorrow on whether or not to bring in a 48-hour maximum working week? The press would rightly be all over it like a rash. Imagine if the Government was proposing to put something through Parliament that would cost £8 billion a year - as we've calculated the loss of the opt-out would cost the economy? Ditto.

Instead, few people even seem to realise this is happening. And little wonder - the negotiations are going on behind closed doors in Brussels, and it is typically difficult to find out what any of the positions are or even when the actual decision will be made. Could be tomorrow, could be in a fortnight - could be in six weeks. Who knows?

In conversations with the British Steelwork Association (BCSA), which is leading a campaign to keep the opt-out*, civil servants apparently said that the Government was looking for all the evidence it can get to help strengthen its hand in the negotiations with EU partners.

So, we asked 10 UK workers from across the country and across industry to write and tell us why they think the loss of the opt-out would be a terrible idea, both for them personally, and for the industry or businesses they work for. See here to read what they have to say:

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/wtdoptout2.pdf

*NB - the BSCA, after polling than 1,000 workers, taken from 30 companies all over the UK, found a staggering 90% signed a petition in favour of retaining the opt-out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is the EU 'Fit for Purpose'?


Open Europe was in attendance at a debate on Monday night entitled "An EU 'Fit for Purpose' in the Global age", where the speakers, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband, offered their thoughts on policy options for the EU post-2009.

Frans Timmermans, the Dutch Europe Minister, said that "When Eurobarometer asks people in Europe, do you support the idea of Europe, the highest response, yes responses, is in the Netherlands, but this is on an abstract level. As soon as you go to the nitty gritty, you will see that the Dutch have become quite eurosceptical in general about the instruments of Europe, about the workings of Europe, ecetera. So what happens is that when talking about Europe, you immediately talk about the institutions, travelling from Brussels to Strasbourg and all sorts of other nonsense that should have been taken off the table a long time ago."

Ending the travelling circus certainly makes sense, but it would be interesting to know what Mr. Timmersmans is referring to when he says "other nonsense"...

Sir Stephen Wall, Britain's former Permanent Representative to the EU, went on to talk about financial regulation and the report by former Bank of France Governor Jacques de Larosiere. Interestingly he said that, "If you look at the de Larosiere report on regulation, it's a rather timid document, but the Commission document on the back of it is already proposing to go further."

He went on to talk about the financial crisis and the eurozone, saying, "It seems to me that for political and economic reasons, the eurozone cannot and will not be allowed to fail. If for the first time, the eurozone countries are compelled actually to make very large financial transfers from richer to poorer...then that will have big political consequences I believe in terms of political management of the eurozone."

The Foreign Secretary also welcomed the de Larosiere report, and described it as an "important contribution to the debate and a useful basis for further discussions on improving supervision and regulation in Europe. He [de Larosiere] has proposed a new independent European early warning body...a single body to become the source of technical financial rules with a clear mandate to iron out national divergences and closer integration and consolidation of EU financial structures."

He also warned that the European project was under "massive scrutiny as a result of the economic crisis. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Europe's core values and institutions are therefore going to be tested by this economic crisis in ways that perhaps we haven't fully come to appreciate."

"Reform of the European Union, which involves by definition critique of the European Union, should be what pro-Europeans do."

"I think that the economic crisis is a test, not just a policy test, but it is a political test for eurosceptics and for europhiles in Britain. To eurosceptics, to people who fear 'too much Europe', who argue that the European Union should be a single market or a trading bloc and no more, I would have a simple message. Instead of beating up on the straw man of the federal state, help Europe defend itself against the real threat that it faces, for example the fragmentation of the single market which would have a devestating effect on the British economy."

"...You cannot be in favour of the single market but against the very institutions that preserve the rules of the game on which we all depend. That is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the eurosceptic position that says it wants the benefits of the single market but thinks that the European Commission is too powerful. Over the next year, we need to defend the political institutions in Europe if we want to maintain our economic freedom."

Actually, this seems to be a fundamental contradiction at the heart of David Miliband's argument. To be "pro-Europe", you should be in favour of reform of the EU and, by definition, all for critique of the EU. But in no way should this desire for reform extend to critiquing the Commission or the "political institutions of Europe".

Guarding against democracy

In response to arrival of Czech President Vaclav Klaus at the EU helm the Guardian has unsurprisingly jumped onto the "we-need-a-permanent-EU-President-in-order-to-silence-critics of the EU" bandwagon - a profoundly anti-democratic argument made in the Independent just a few weeks ago by Roland Rudd.

Just one EU leader - out of 27 - expresses scepticism about the direction of the EU, and everyone gangs up to insist that he shouldn't be allowed a platform to speak. Anyone would think that less than one 27th of the population of the EU shared his views...

The piece is also an argument in favour of EU unity for the sake of EU unity and at the expense of democracy.

The reference to “the egos of Eurosceptics” in particular seems a bit rich... Don't they remember Sarko?!

Potato-go-round


Greek potato farmers have launched an advertisement campaign in Sweden aimed at luring Swedes into buying more Greek potatoes - which is extremely odd given how many potatoes are already grown in Sweden (a lot!). Lately, Swedes have received random brochures in their mailboxes describing how great potatoes are, apparently using strangely awkward language - prompting suspicions that the original text has been translated into Swedish using Babel Fish.

That the potato (boiled not fried) has been a central part of Swedish cuisine for the last 200 years seems to have escaped the campaigners.

Who could fund such a thing?

You guessed it! The EU's Common Agricultural Policy, as confirmed by Commission spokesman Michael Mann.

In response, Swedish potato farmers have launched their own tit-for-tat campaign - using money from the exact same CAP funds.

Utterly bizarre. You must admire these people for their amazing creativity in coming up with new ways to waste taxpayers' money...

Hat tip: brilliant member of the Swedish Riksdag Karl Sigfrid and Swedish blogger HAX.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Surrender for survival

There's an excellent piece in the Sunday Telegraph by Labour MP Gisela Stuart, explaining very clearly why the EU in its current structure cannot possibly continue.

Friday, March 06, 2009

First the Working Time rules, now this...

From PA:

NEW EU DIRECTIVE 'WILL FORCE RISE IN HOSPITAL RUNNING COSTS'

European plans to tighten controls on industrial pollution could impose massive extra running costs on about 70 NHS hospitals, it was claimed this afternoon.

The threat comes from the EU's Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) Directive, which is already under fire in the UK for risking higher farm prices by extending emissions restrictions to small farms.

Now it is claimed the plans extending the scope of an existing EU Directive will put a new price on running boilers.

The 12-year-old Directive currently targets heavy industries - power stations, ferrous metal production, extraction and mining, chemicals production and waste management.

But the plans are to widen the scope and establish a permit system to prevent and limit pollution from "large-scale industrial installations."

Conservative MEP Caroline Jackson said today that means hospital boilers will be caught in the scheme.

Even their reserve boilers will fall within the scope of the Directive, she claimed.

Ms Jackson said she now hoped her amendments to exclude hospitals from the rules will be approved in a first vote on the new plans in Strasbourg next week.

"Hospitals require a great deal of spare boiler capacity to cope with fluctuations in demand and this law does not take account of that," she said.

"Unless our amendment is passed, hospitals will be faced with the tough choice of paying the huge costs associated with this law, or shutting down boilers, which could have grave consequences for patient care. The commission should have spotted this problem when they drew up the new law: we are not the only country affected.

"The NHS has said that up to 70 hospitals across the UK could be affected, so it is crucial that we recognise their special circumstances."

Earlier this week Farming and Environment Minister Jane Kennedy held talks with MEPs urging them not to back parts of the proposals which would hit small farms and push up the price of chicken, turkey, tomatoes and cucumbers.

In agriculture, the Directive applies to pig and poultry producers who have 40,000 poultry, or 2,000 pigs or more than 750 sows.

But if the rules are extended, the National Farmers' Union says the changes would affect many seasonal and small family farms, triggering price rises for household staples such as chicken, turkey, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The impact on hospitals could be more serious: NHS hospitals keep substantial spare boiler capacity to cope with emergencies and in case of technical failures. The changes to the EU Directive would include assessing their boilers on the basis of their potential emissions, rather than their actual emissions, adding to the costs of obtaining the necessary permit.

The European Parliament vote next week is not the end of the issue: EU ministers will have a say, and MEPs are expected to vote again later in the year before a final agreement is hammered out by the end of 2010.

National parliaments & the Lisbon Treaty: the myth

BBC Online is running a series of 'Viewpoints' on EU issues. This week it looks at the Lisbon Treaty, with arguments from us here at OE and from the Robert Schuman Foundation in Paris.

We argue that the provisions in the Treaty, which people always point to, that purport to give national parliaments more powers in the EU decision-making process, are pretty useless - as confirmed by both the President of the German Constitutional Court and the House of Common's cross-party EU scrutiny committee.

The President of the Robert Schuman Foundation, Jean-Dominique Giuliani, on the other hand, argues that "National parliaments will be able to challenge decisions that are the prerogative of member states. Under Lisbon, if one-third of the national parliaments agree on something, they can act together to oblige the Commission to cancel and review a wrong decision. They will also be able to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice."

This is plain wrong. National parliaments will be given no power whatsoever to "oblige" the Commission to "cancel" a proposal.

The Treaty says that, in the very unlikely event that a third of national parliaments - that's 9 - get together to oppose their governments on a piece of legislation, on the specific grounds of 'subsidiarity', and within an 8-week window, then the legislation would have to be reviewed, following which, it would be open to the institution which originated the proposal to choose whether to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal.

So absolutely no obligation to cancel the proposal at all.

The Treaty also states that where the Commission originated a proposal and the proposal was subject to qualified majority voting and co-decision by the Council and the European Parliament (so most of them), in the supremely unlikely event that a majority of national parliaments (so 14!) object to it, again on the narrow grounds of subsidiarity, then again, it would be open to the Commission to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal. The legislation would only have to fall if the Commission decided to maintain the proposal and then either 55% of the members of the Council, or a majority of the European Parliament agreed with the parliaments that it didn't comply with the principle of subsidiarity.

As the EU Scrutiny Committee has pointed out: "the decision on whether a proposal is compatible with subsidiarity will continue to rest with the EU institutions."

Which is why MEP Andrew Duff, who was involved in the drafting of the Treaty, admitted to the Scrutiny Committee that "It was understood by those of us involved in its drafting and, then, re-drafting that the mechanism, although a necessary addition to the system of governance of the Union, was not really intended to be used. It is, in Bagehot’s terms, more a dignified part of the European constitutional settlement than an efficient one.”

It may all sound pretty boring and complicated, but the bottom line is that, under Lisbon, Commission proposals can only be "cancelled" in the extremely unlikely event that 14 national parliaments all object to it, in a short 8-week window, and are then backed up by the majority of the Council or the European Parliament. Which is nothing like the argument put forward by our friend at the Robert Schuman Foundation.

Mr. Guiliani also believes "there is no particular need for national referendums on European issues. Those who ask for referendums want to vote against the EU and their own government." Not a particularly positive argument in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, is it?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

EU communication policy changes tactic

Just noticed this very amusing post on Mark Mardell's blog about a new project proposed in the European Parliament.

He says he didn't know whether to laugh or cry...but we feel fairly comfortable with laughing.

Isn't it lovely

Alex James, Blur basist-turned-columnist today kindly shares with us in his 'Rural Notebook' column in the Independent the news that he has spent his entire EU single farm payment on fences, "utterly transforming" his farm.

"The farm looks immaculate: post and rail, barbed wire, stock netting, the works. Everywhere I look, all the unsightly rusty wire and rotten stakes removed, hedges trimmed. Big old haircut. Feel like a new man. Invincible. The best bit of fence is the bright orange electric one around the rose garden. I've had to replant that completely and the fence is an extra precaution. Everything that went in there last year died or was eaten. I've had the man round with his ferrets, re-dug the drainage and re-fenced the entire farm. I will not be beaten. Rose garden! Battle of the Somme, more like."

Sounds delightful.

But we thought he had a cheese farm... So why the taxpayer subsidies for a pretty rose garden?

Paying celebrities/journalists to renovate their rose gardens strikes us as a fairly good illustration of how ridiculous the CAP has now become.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Don't want Tony? Tough

According to the Evening Standard's 'Commons Whispers' Number 10 has rejected an application for an e-petition which called on Gordon Brown to "undertake to do whatever is necessary to prevent Tony Blair ever becoming President of the EU." The reason given by officials was that the request was "outside the remit or powers of the Prime Minister and Government."

Indeed. The Lisbon Treaty, which creates the post of EU President, states that he or she is to be appointed by the European Council acting by qualified majority. So no veto for Gordon over Tony, even if he wanted one.

When a real crisis hits...

People who thought that the EU went through a crisis this summer when the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty must have experienced some serious reality checks lately. Or at least recieved a lesson in semantics.

At yesterday's EU 'emergency' summit tensions were running high, and the use of the word "crisis" actually seemed justified for a change.

EU leaders seemed unusually desperate to put on a show of unity. Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said, "In the media it looked as if we had very different views, but in the discussions we very much agreed." (while adding: "This is the greatest crisis in the history of European integration.")

However, few doubt that the financial crisis-turned-recession is rapidly turning into a full-blown policy crisis, with some serious cracks emerging within the EU.

Mark Mardell notes on his blog. "Make no mistake, the world's economic crisis is putting this unique institution, the European Union, under very serious strain. The jeopardy is financial, political and philosophical."

It appears that competing interests, fuelled by the recession, have created - or perhaps re-created or reinforced - at least three default lines within Europe:

East vs. west: At the summit, EU leaders rejected the idea, put forth by Hungary, for a regional aid package of up to €190 bn to help underwrite the bad loans currently plaguing many of the eastern and central European economies. Instead, they agreed that aid should in principle be extended to the new member states on a case-by-case basis.

Some of the newer member states fear that they will be left hanging, lacking the ability of the bigger economies to inject cash into the their ailing economies and insure the toxic loans they're stuck with. As Poland's Europe minister Mikolaj Dowgielewicz put it, "We fear there will be two plans to save the European economy, one for the west and the eurozone and another for the rest. That's an idea that would be very dangerous for the EU." Hungary's PM Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany went a step further warning that "We should not allow a new iron curtain to set up and divide Europe into two parts."

Protectionists vs. free-traders: And speaking of east-west divides, Nicolas Sarkozy appear to have taken a step back from his plans to condition state aid to the French auto sector on all parts of being "made in France". In early February, Sarkozy infuriated the Czechs by making specific reference to a Peugeot-Citroen plant in the Czech Republic as an example of where such provisions should apply.

According to a statement from the Commission, Sarkozy agreed over the weekend that any aid to carmakers will come without the "requirement to prioritise France-based suppliers"- although the details are still unclear.

However, the old free trade-protectionism default lines remain - with perceptions of what "protectionism" actually means diverging sharply. All over Europe, policy-makers are faced with the dilemma of how to formulate pragmatic policies that will satisfy voters at home, while avoiding sinking deeper into protectionism.

In this scenario, it is perhaps unsurprising that the line between protectionism and pragmatism is becoming increasigly blurred. But some seem less keen than others to keep the distinction. On Thursday the French Industry Minister, Luc Chatel, said of his government's aid package to French car plants,

"There is nothing protectionist about this plan. It is aimed at companies which
make cars on French territory, whatever their nationality. It comes with
conditions which have always existed at the heart of the European Union."
And following the summit yesterday, a far from repentant Sarkozy said,
"Take my friend Gordon Brown - and you know how much I trust him - who owns
70% of a bank. Seventy per cent! It's nationalisation. So explain where is
the logic in saying there's no problem when a state takes 70% of a bank but
helping manufacturers to get credit, that is a problem. Who says
Gordon Brown is a protectionist ? Who would say such nonsense? Nobody
is a protectionist in Europe, nobody!"

Eurozone vs. the rest: As the crisis puts serious strains on the eurozone, even German leaders - traditionally opposed to grand rescue schemes - have signalled that they're willing to bail out fellow eurozone members if one of them (such as Ireland) were faced with bankruptcy. The Merkel/Steinbrueck U-turn has been subject to some serious criticism from ECB heavyweights (highlighting the "moral jeopardy" involved and the "no bail out" clause in the Maastricht Treaty) while sparking fears in the eastern and central parts that future aid from Europe's bigs will be skewed towards eurozone members.

The stakes are certainly high: the east-west divide - percieved or real - could land a blow to the post-communist European integration of recent decades, while protectionist measures could seriously undermine the Single Market, effectively hampering a European economic come-back. And in the background is the looming threat of a cracking eurozone.

Amid these tensions, EU politics is clouded in unusual uncertainty. On his blog, Bruno Waterfield asks the critical questions:

If Hungary or other countries cannot raise cash to buy debt, what does the EU
do?

If a government, either in the Union or the euro, defaults on debts
what happens?

If the EU lets one of its own go to the wall what is its political
future?

Sensibly, the European leaders yesterday committed themselves to “getting the real economy back on track by making the maximum possible use of the single market, which is the engine for recovery.”

But can they deliver? As unemployment reaches record levels, credits are downgraded, more industries shut down and voters grow impatient (think Lincolnshire), will Europe's leaders be able to 'sell' the idea of free trade as the path to recovery? The answer is probably that they will have to - but it will be a tough sell indeed. In times of recession, 'open borders' is not the most popular policy in town.

And do EU leaders have a mandate from their citizens to engage in large cross-border rescue operations, involving taxpayers' money?

Alas, the EU has spent much of its political capital in recent years on institutional navel gazing, vain projects, and attempts to push through a treaty that would have done nothing to help Europe through the recession - ignoring three referenda results in the process. Now, when faced with a real crisis, that capital would've come in handy.

EU moves into centre stage

Just taking a look at last week's YouGov poll, which showed that people believe reducing immigration, closely followed by reducing the powers of the EU, should be a Conservative government's top priorities.

The results are perhaps less surprising on closer examination of the options given to respondants (where is a more specific "Take tougher measures to reduce crime", for example) , but nevertheless are interesting for several reasons - in particular that, among Labour voters, reducing the EU's powers comes third, after helping families, and above tougher climate change measures and reducing taxes.

It's interesting to see evidence that as the recession bites, people's concerns about the EU become more pronounced - and arguably - according to this poll, not just in connection with their clear concerns about immigration in the wake of the 'British jobs for British workers' fiasco.

Reduce immigration 52 (62 Con, 42 Lab, 37 Lib Dem)
Reduce the powers of the European Union and increase the powers of
Britain’s Parliament 39 (52 29 26)
Do more to help families and restore traditional family values 34 (39 32 28)
Scrap Labour’s plans to introduce identity cards 26 (29 21 37)
Build more prisons so that criminals can serve longer prison sentences 25 (25 23 19)
Reduce taxes 24 (23 23 28)
Take tougher measures to help the environment and avert climate change 20 (13 26 35)
Give local voters the right in referendums to keep down increases in council
tax 17 (15 17 19)
Bring back state-funded grammar schools and the 11+ exam 10 (14 7 11)
Reduce spending on public services 7 (11 6 9)
None of these 3 (1 7 1)
Don’t know 4 (1 3 1)