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Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's not too late

EU leaders are already running into problems with the ambiguity of the Lisbon Treaty, as they battle it out over whether or not the post should be, as David Cameron put it, "all-singing, all dancing" (Tony Blair), or more low-key and more akin to the kind of role the rotating EU President currently plays (Juncker, Balkenende).

Either way, the EU President will have no democratic mandate whatsoever, so anything other than a low-key role coordinating the EU agenda and similar to the current role of the rotating EU President is essentially a power grab.

The new EU President will earn roughly the same basic salary as the democratically-elected President of the United States, who has the support of 70 million people. The EU President, meanwhile, will have been appointed by a handful of leaders meeting behind closed doors in Brussels, with no input at all from national parliaments, let alone the people.

It is absurd, and a perfect illustration of how out of touch and anti-democratic the EU has become. The President will be appointed by a qualified majority vote in the Council (potentially as few as 18 people) so no country has a veto.

The people pulling the strings in the corridors of Brussels are amazingly arrogant about this fact. A couple of weeks ago an unnamed senior French diplomat pointed out that although most people in Europe will be against the idea of Blair for EU President, because of his position on the Iraq war, that makes no difference at all, because "only public opinion is concerned about this, not the 27 Heads of State and Government that will vote him in".

The current system of rotating EU Presidencies, which Lisbon replaces, is not ideal, but at least it means that prime ministers and presidents who have a current, democratic mandate to rule get to set the agenda in Europe for six months at a time. Appointing an ex-PM or President like Tony Blair will move the EU even further away from the people, as it is likely that whoever it is will have fallen from grace in his or her own country. He is yesterday’s news.

In what other region in the world does an ex-leader get to represent millions of people on the world stage, rubbing shoulders with Barak Obama? This is a huge step backwards for democracy, and the more powerful and grandiose the role, the further the EU will move away from the people.

In some ways, it would be good if Tony Blair was appointed EU President, because it would bring home to many people exactly what the Lisbon Treaty means. It would be the first tangible consequence of the Treaty. For years, people have struggled to understand why they should care about the Treaty, and what it will mean in practice. The Lib Dems, for instance, would hate to see Tony back in power and yet they strongly pushed for this role to be created by supporting the Treaty and conspiring to deny ordinary people a say. Lib Dem delegates at this year’s conference backed a motion saying Blair should not become EU President – but they really should have thought of that much earlier.

In yesterday's Evening Standard Ann McElvoy made a good point about the paradox of giving Blair, the man who divided Europe so deeply over foreign policy, the role of trying to craft a united foreign policy. But she also questioned whether a small nation would have the clout. This dilemma, which EU leaders are now having to confront, exactly represents the problem with the Treaty and the mistaken idea that you can create consensus where none exists by attempting to shoehorn countries through the creation of new institutions.

The Lisbon Treaty is deliberately vague about what he or she will do. The job title is one of many ‘unanswered’ questions about the Treaty, which meant MPs were essentially signing a blank cheque when they agreed to the Treaty last year. It will depend to a certain extent on the job title of the EU Foreign Minister (another unanswered question), and of course the person who takes the job first. To a great extent, the furore over Blair in the media is futile, since ordinary people have absolutely no say at all in who will take this job or what it will look like. By signing the Treaty, we have already handed that power irrevocably to the European Council (unless of course the Czechs now scupper the Treaty).

However, it’s clear that right from the beginning, Tony Blair wanted this role to be a powerful, symbolic and international one. During negotiations on the original EU Constitution back in 2002-2003, Peter Hain, acting on behalf of the UK Government, tried to amend the text so that the EU President would have responsibility for the general "external representation of the Union".

Article 15 of the Lisbon Treaty says: "The President of the European Council shall, at his or her level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy."

However, Peter Hain tried to change it to simply read: "The President of the European Council shall in that capacity ensure, at his level, the external representation of the Union, without prejudice to the responsibilities of the President of the Commission and the Minister for Foreign Affairs." (See here for how Peter Hain tried to cross out the words "on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy" http://european-convention.eu.int/Docs/Treaty/pdf/41699/41699_Art%2021%20Hain%20EN.pdf )

Surely this is a good climate in which to scrap the whole idea. After all, it's not too late.

Open Europe will be supporting a demo tomorrow morning between 10am and 12pm at the Rondpont Schuman in Brussels, just outside the Council, in support of Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who is still holding out against the Treaty.

Come grab your Czech flag and join us!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hang on a sec

Our new Europe Minister Chris Bryant (the 12th Europe Minister in 12 years of Labour government, no less), has gone immediately on the attack, beginning his new job with an interview with the Sunday Telegraph in which he accused the Conservatives of lying about a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

He said:

"I think your readers will end up feeling deceived by Cameron over the question of a referendum. I would lay a very big wager that they will be very disappointed if there was a Cameron government, because they wouldn't end up having a referendum."

He said Cameron's pledge that he would "not let matters rest there" was deliberately ambiguous, and covered the fact that he would not be able to renegotiate. He said: "Either he's incompetent and he doesn't know this, or he knows and he's downright fibbing."

Now we realise the whole question of Cameron, will he, won't he, is very topical and sensitive at the moment (and here at OE we are waiting with bated breath - see here for roughly what we think they should do, which we are in the process of fleshing out further), but still, for a Labour Minister to try and grab the moral highground on this one is astounding.

It was Labour, you will remember, who promised a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty, indeed, in Gordon Brown's own words, on any treaty "that is acceptable for Britain," and went back on it, denying the people say, despite a poll of more than 130,000 people showing that 88% wanted a referendum. Only a complete hypocrite could now start accusing other people of leading the British people down the garden path on this one.

But that's not all. It now looks like as well as being a hypocrite he might actually be a bit of a fibber himself.

Last night on Newsnight, Bryant pompously corrected presenter Kirsty Wark for suggesting that the issue of candidates for the post of EU President will come up for discussion at the EU summit at the end of this week, as the Guardian (and countless others) have suggested.

Bryant said:

“I hate to correct Newsnight - I know politicians aren’t allowed to do that, but it’s quite possible that there won’t be any discussion at this week’s meeting because the job doesn’t yet exist. We haven’t had the final ratification from the Czech Republic.”

But with Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker telling Le Monde newspaper today that "If the call went out to me. I would have no reason to refuse to listen," it seems pretty hard to believe that this won't feature strongly on the agenda.

In fact, the good old French Foreign Office have today confirmed in no uncertain terms that the topic will be discussed this week. According to a press release this afternoon, asked if the French government is in favour of Juncker becoming EU President, the reply came:

"These questions will be discussed at the European Council at the end of the week."

Clear, simple and honest.

To be fair though, maybe it's because, as the Evening Standard reported yesterday, as a lowly parliamentary under-secretary of state, the lowest ministerial ranking there is, Bryant isn't going along to the European summit this week, and therefore isn't au fait on what's happening on his own patch.

Who knows.

Monday, October 26, 2009

EU're (sorry - couldn't resist) being watched

We've published a new briefing today, called "How the EU is watching you: the rise of Europe's surveillance state", looking at the growing impact the EU is having on civil liberties. Click here to read the press release.

There are lots of juicy proposals in the pipeline including: a target to train a third of all police officers across the EU in a “common culture” of policing; the mass collection and sharing of personal data including DNA records into an EU-wide database; controversial surveillance techniques including ‘cyber patrols’; the creation of a fledgling ‘EU Home Office’ with powers to decide on cooperation on police, border, immigration and criminal justice issues; an EU “master plan” on information exchange; the transfer of criminal proceedings among EU member states; a three-fold increase in the number of controversial EU arrest warrants; access to other member states’ national tax databases; and EU laws on citizens’ right to internet access.

The Lisbon Treaty's ratification, which is looking increasingly imminent, will see the amount and scope of EU justice and home affairs legislation increase further. National governments will lose their veto, while the European Court of Justice will be given the power to overrule national courts in this area for the first time.

It is however also important to understand the role the UK Government has played in the growth of the EU's policies in this field. It was the UK, for instance, that pushed the EU's Data Retention Directive, which requires telecoms companies to store information regarding every phone call we make, or text message and email we send.

I guess the EU and the Government could argue they are finally "listening to" their citizens, but this isn't quite what we had in mind.

EU Foreign Office takes shape

Today EUObserver reports on an ambassadors' document from the Swedish EU Presidency on plans underway to create the so-called EU External Action Service. We've managed to get hold of a copy of the report, which is likely to form the basis of discussions amongst EU foreign ministers today and among EU leaders at the end of the week, meeting in Brussels.

The form, structure and powers of the EU External Action Service (EEAS) pose one of many unanswered questions about the detail of the Lisbon Treaty which will only be finally decided once the Treaty is in force (very soon). As we warned in the past, the details about this new service are only now being discussed now that the Treaty has been agreed upon (albeit not yet ratified).

Previously, we've warned that this body could take on a life of its own and eventually become a single EU diplomatic service, bringing together national diplomats with the Commission's existing staff into a single surpnational service, and creating pressure to avoid 'duplication' of diplomatic postings.

But looking at the suggestions in this report, it seems plans for the EEAS are even more ambitious than we imagined. Proposing to turn the EEAS into an EU institution in its own right, with its own budget and "a leading role in strategic decision-making", the report shows that the plan is incorporate the EU's various military bodies and make this a real EU Foreign Ministry.

The European Parliament’s External Relations Committee once warned that if the diplomatic service was set up as an independent institution it would "take on an uncontrollable life of its own" and would result in an "independent super administration".

And as Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in reference to the EEAS back in 2005:

“We will undoubtedly see European embassies in the world, not ones from eachcountry, with European diplomats and a European foreign service. We will see Europe with a single voice in security matters. We will have a single Europeanvoice within NATO. We want more European unity.”

In a nutshell, here is what will be discussed by EU leaders this week:

- The EEAS should become an EU institution in its own right, with its own section of the EU budget, alongside the European Commission, the EP and the Council.

- EU Foreign Minister (appointed by a qualified majority vote in the Council) will take charge of the institution and propose how much money he or she needs, authorise spending, appoint his own staff, and take charge of the European Commission's existing delegations across the world.

- EEAS would manage general foreign relations as well as EU security and defence projects, such as the police missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Georgia and Afghanistan or any future peacekeeping operations in, for example, Africa.

- EEAS would have what EUobserver calls "internal cells" dealing with developing countries and enlargement candidates which will "play a leading role in the strategic decision-making" on Commission programmes such as the European Development Fund.

- Member states' own embassies will apparently continue to provide diplomatic and consular protection for EU citizens abroad - but how long for? The report says that "EU delegations should play a supporting role as regards diplomatic and consular protection of Union citizens in third countries."

- In terms of staffing, the diplomatic corps is to suck in people from the commission's foreign affairs department, relevant experts from the Council and diplomats from member states' foreign ministries. As predicted, one third of senior or "AD level" staff is to come from member states. People are to be hired keeping in mind the need to maintain "geographic balance" across the EU and "gender balance."

- Controversially, staff will be rotated into the EEAS and then back out into their old jobs, with diplomats from EU states temporarily becoming EU officials on equal pay and perks to colleagues from Brussels. And staff would be provided with "common training".

- Member states would be expected to "share information" with the EEAS

- Again, controversially, the paper envisages incorporating the various EU military bodies into the EEAS "In order to enable the High Representative to conduct the European Security and Defence Policy". These bodies are the Civilian-Military Planning Directorate, the Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability, and the EU Military Staff.

- It would also take charge of the Situation Centre, the EU member states' intelligence-sharing hub in Brussels (see here for a bit more on this)

And there will be no real parliamentary control of all of this. The report makes clear that the EU Foreign Minister will "regularly consult the European Parliament on the main aspects and the basic choices of the CFSP/CSDP", but that's about it. It will have "autonomy in terms of administrative budget and management of staff."

According to EUobserver, the new foreign minister will make his final proposal on the shape of the EEAS by April 2010, and the new institution should reach "full cruising speed" by 2012 and undergo a thorough review in 2014.

All of this is important - but of course none of these details were discussed properly in parliament when the Treaty was being ratified, since the text of the Treaty was left so ambiguous.

As the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said:

"the Lisbon Treaty gives only a bare outline of the role of the new External Action Service, leaving most of the details of its functioning to be determined. This could well be a case of "the devil is in the detail". We conclude that the establishment of the European External Action Service will be a highly complex and challenging exercise."

Meanwhile, in an article in the Times today David Miliband disingenously claims that that all countries will retain their veto in foreign policy under the Lisbon Treaty. But this is simply not true. There are 12 areas of foreign policy where majority voting will be introduced for the first time, despite Peter Hain's assertion back when the original Constitution was being negotiated that "QMV is a no-go area in foreign policy." Jack Straw added that QMV in foreign policy was "simply unacceptable", and then later accepted it.

For a start, decisions relating to the creation of the controversial External Action Service will be taken by QMV on a proposal from the new EU Foreign Minister.

For the record - here are the other areas of foreign policy where majority voting will apply under Lisbon:

1. Proposals from the EU Foreign Minister
2. Setting up an inner core in defence
3. Terrorism and mutual defence
4. Urgent financial aid
5. Humanitarian aid
6. The election of the EU Foreign Minister
7. Civil protection
8. Terrorist financing controls
9. The new EU Foreign Policy Fund
10. Consular issues
11. The role and mandate of the European Defence Agency

Friday, October 23, 2009

Intruiguing, but much too late

Just days ahead of the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday next week, David Miliband will on Monday deliver a speech at the IISS in London, entitled "EU Foreign Policy After Lisbon".

Will he make a subtle candidacy bid for the EU Foreign Minister role to be created under Lisbon?

Who knows - but one thing is for sure - this speech should have come not in October 2009, just weeks before the Treaty is due to come into force, but in Spring 2008 when Parliament was voting on whether or not to ratify it, and nobody had the foggiest what EU foreign policy would look like under Lisbon. Or better still even earlier, when the Treaty was still being written and negotiated, so that citizens could actually take an interest and find out what was being decided in their name. Instead, Miliband will next week present us with a fait accompli.

Making sense of the insensible

A paper floated by the Commission proposes to give the EU budget a more sensible focus - away from the current Byzantine arrangement in which subsidies are dished out to farmers and non-farmers alike and a range of ludicrous projects in richer member states, with no positive impact whatsoever on jobs and growth. EUobserver tells us that the Commission paper proposes to spend money "only on projects which really have an impact on research and technology, on greening the economy or on creating jobs." This, of course, sounds sensible.

The EU's regional spending programme (structural funds) is painfully inefficient at the moment. EUobserver gives an illustrative example of what kind of perverse incentives the EU's structural funds create: one Spanish official has apparently admitted that some regions in the older member states keep their economies below or just around 75 percent of the GDP average (the threshold for areas considered particularly deprived, and therefore eligible for additional funding) in order to qualify for the extra EU funds. Compare this with the aim of the structural funds, which is to have poorer regions catch up with richer ones.

In its papers, the Commission actually gives two decent proposals for making the funds better targetted:

First suggestion is to put in place a "sunset clause" to reduce support for member states which have failed to make good use of the money, or failed to move up the convergence latter.

A second suggestion is to link the regional aid to the length of EU membership, which could end the ridicoulos system whereby the EU's richest member states send money to Brussels, only to get some of it back (minus the huge adminsitrative cost involved in this recycling operation).

The most sensible way forward, of course, is to limit the structural funds to the newer member states, where they really can make a difference (if propoerly targetted and distributed) - as we long have argued.

These are some ideas that could make the EU budget a bit less irrational. Don't hold your breath though - any such ideas are likely to run into massive opposition from the likes of Spain and Greece. And today, MEPs voted in favour of a 10% increase in the budget, including setting aside more trade-distorting subsidies for dairy farmers.

In other words, an incoming Conservative government has some work to do.

Tough luck Sarko

Interesting to note that, according to German daily Sueddeutsche today, France is apparently unhappy with the fact that the new EU Foreign Minister will also be a Vice-President of the European Commission, fearing 'indirect' Commission control over European Security and Defence Policy.

No doubt this is not disconnected from the news that Britain's David Miliband is apparently now in the frame to take this impressive new title, to be created under the Lisbon Treaty (though his chances seem pretty slim).

This is the second time in as many weeks that strong proponents of the Treaty, most of whom weren't remotely interested in letting the public have a proper debate on the content while it was still being negotiated, have raised objections now that it is all but implemented.

Last week it was Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies complaining that the post of EU President to be created under Lisbon is undemocratic (correct). And now France is suddenly raising objections about the dangers of letting the supranational Commission get its hands on security and defence policy, which has always in the past been the sole remit of the 'intergovernmental' side of things in the European Council.

This is one of the more controversial things about the Treaty - as we have been arguing for a long time, the UK has been against giving the Commission a role in foreign policy since 1992 and initially opposed this 'double-hatting' of the EU Foreign Minister with the Commission.

Thing is, it's a bit late for the French government and indeed anyone else who was desperate to push this Treaty through to start complaining now about its implications. The EU Foreign Minister will, like the EU President, be appointed by a qualified majority vote in the European Council, probably before the year is out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Margot Wallstrom: a failure?

A new book, to be published in Sweden today, paints a rather bleak picture of Margot Wallstrom's stint as EU Communications Commissioner. The book, written by Swedish journalist Emily von Sydow, blatantly labels Wallstrom's time in office a failure. The theme of the book reminded us of the Economist's description of Wallstrom a couple of weeks ago as "a Swede whose 'kum-bay-yah' approach grated with colleagues."

The book catalogues Wallstrom's failures, including:

One of her main responsibilities was to "sell" the EU Constitution. However, the Constitution was voted down in three seperate referendums - in France, the Netherlands and Ireland. (The scope of this failure - and Wallstrom's incapacity to respect the will of the Irish people - were conspicuously illustrated in an infamous interview with the Swede on Newsnight.)

Wallstrom was supposed to boost turn-out in the European elections. However, despite a flamboyant promotion campaign, costing taxpayers around €10 million, turnout dropped in 16 of 27 countries, as did the overall average - to an all-time low.

Her campaign to put more women in top jobs in the EU has not been "particularly succesful", according to the book.

Her proposal for more access to information and EU documents for citizens ended in failure (in fact, the proposal she came up with in the end was widely regarded as a step backwards, making it harder for citizens to access official EU documents).

Neither has Wallstrom's blog been the success story she likes to portray it as, bagging about 50,000-80,000 visitors a month, compared with the 140,000 visitors Swedish blogger HAX gets some months - blogging only in Swedish.

All in all the book goes pretty hard on Wallstrom, but also acknowledges that she hasn't had the easiest job in the world.

Still, at the end of the day Wallstrom has failed spectacuarly in her main duty: to bring the EU closer to its citizens. Altough her intentions have no doubt been good, she has ignored three referenda results and pushed through an agenda of more centralisation of powers at the EU level, against the will of most Europeans. On her watch, DG Communication has acted more and more like a political lobby group for more integration, than an objective provider of information about the EU, wading into national politcal debates and even seeking to control what is written in the media. And the fruits of her labour, the bitter taste they have left, speak for themselves.

Given that she will receive almost £1.8 million when she leaves the Commission this year, she cannot possibly be described as good value for money.

Let's hope that the next Communications Commissioner will be a lot more willing to actually listen to people. Or better still, maybe they will scrap the role altogether in the upcoming shakeup which is likely to see the more pointless posts like EU Commissioner for Multilingualism consigned to the history bin.

Monday, October 19, 2009

For a life without tobacco; for an EU full of tobacco producers

This is a theme we've looked at in the past, but just to remind readers of the absurdity of the situation we shall return to it. The European Commission has just launched "a new and innovative animated web series called Helpisodes" as part of its €72 million 'HELP - For a life without tobacco' campaign.

The Commission's press release explains that, "A total of 12 Helpisodes have been created. Each episode is one and half minutes long with the exception of the `pilot' which introduces the main characters (Helpers) and how they came to be together and were transformed into anti- smoking super heroes...The aim of these absurd and, above all, humorous Helpisodes is to communicate with young people in a language they understand and appreciate".

This is all a bit weird and over-the-top - like so many other Commission initiatives aimed at the younger generation (see the previous post for another example). But we're in no position to pass judgement on whether or not it works (it's no doubt a worthy cause). But is this really a job for the European Commission?

Remember, this is the same institution that - with the help of the farming lobby, the European Parliament and several member states - spent €293 million in 2008 to subsidise tobacco producers in the EU.

In other words: the European Commission spends €365 million on various tobacco programmes. €72 million of this sum is aimed at fighting tobacco while €293 million of it goes to promoting tobacco. To add to the mix, the EU has introduced tough regulations on cigarette advertising, including the “smoking kills” warning labels on cigarette packets. And in the latest twist, the Commission is now calling for an EU-wide ban on smoking in public places by 2012.

No wonder people are confused as to what the EU is all about...


This clip is so painful (and funded by taxpayers): European Commissioner Viviane Reding rapping away in an attempt to encourage people to make more use of various IT inventions. The target group is not entirely clear, but it's not hard to guess.

Hat tip: HAX

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A popular Europe, or a politician's Europe?

Open Europe organised an event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last week, entitled "What priorities for a Conservative government in Europe?" You can read a summary of the event here or, for the really keen, listen to a recording.

A couple of days later, on Friday last week, the Centre for European Reform organised a conference entitled, "What future for the EU?" Keynote speeches came from Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and Giuliano Amato, the former Italian Prime Minister and Vice President of the Convention on the future of Europe (which drew up the EU Constitution).

The various speakers largely addressed their comments based on the (increasingly likely) scenario that the Lisbon Treaty is done and dusted, and likely to be in force before long.

In particular, there was a great deal of discussion about what shape the new Lisbon Treaty institutions of Foreign Minister and permanent President might look like - perhaps worth summarising here.

The conference reinforced the fact that there are two different visions of what the permanent President should actually look like. One of those is the consensus builder, devoting their time to creating harmony within the European Council and speeding up progress toward ever-closer union, and the other being a figure for the global stage, a big name to represent the EU externally. No prizes for guessing which category a Tony Blair presidency would come under.

Giuliano Amato favoured an EU President more in line with the first description, saying that when they (delegates at the Convention on the Future of Europe) were drawing up the Treaty, "we thought of the President of the Council not as a world leader, but as a consensus builder in the Council", later adding "We did not want a European Obama."

Lord Kerr, a member of the House of Lords' EU Select Committee and a former diplomat and Ambassador, agreed , saying that for the President, "the first task is cohesion and coherence", rather than external representation.

However, the Economist's Europe Editor John Peet said that whatever the language of the Treaty, the rest of the world would look to the President as a "symbol and spokesman of the EU," adding: "this choice is going to say something about how seriously the EU sees itself as a world power".

Lord Kerr said, "I think the European Council next week should do nothing about the President, because they don't have a Treaty base", but added that a new EU High Representative for Foreign Policy (currently Javier Solana), should be appointed immediately, taking on the EU Foreign Minister role as soon as the Treaty comes into force.

It was argued that they could get around the pesky provisions in the Nice Treaty to reduce the size of the Commission by telling whichever country takes the Foreign Minister job they would be without a Commissioner until a new one was formed under Lisbon.

Lord Kerr summed up the mood in the room, saying, "most people here reflect the general European boredom with institutional fatigue."

However, David Heathcoat-Amory, MP for Wells, and also a former member of the European Convention which drew up the Lisbon Treaty, pointed out that "the public don't want to move on from institutional questions", because they still want to be consulted about the Treaty, on which they were promised a referendum. He said that despite this, "the EU will try to leave these institutional questions behind... I think they will rely on the self-amending parts of the Treaty, such as the passarelle clause, so you won't have to ask the people again [in a referendum]".

Indeed David was the only speaker at the conference who recognised that there is still a strong public appetite for some kind of overdue consultation on the Treaty, saying "we're trying to make a popular Europe, not a politician's Europe".

Well said.

Irony alert

In the corridors of the European Parliament today Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies climbed onto a chair and announced his bid to apply for the prestigious new role of EU President, should the Lisbon Treaty come into force.

Challenging the idea that the role should go to an ex-Prime Minister or President, as outlined in a recent paper circulated to EU capitals by the Benelux countries, Davies said: "This is a job that should be open to anyone to apply for. And if that means there are millions of applicants to sift through, then it will be worth it in the interests of democracy."

According to PA:

Mr Davies has written to all EU leaders insisting his qualifications for the job are as good as the other candidates suggested so far - including Tony Blair and former Irish president Mary Robinson.

In a dig at Mr Blair, Mr Davies points out that he has never deceived a parliament or been responsible for the illegal invasion of another country. Mr Davies said the "circle of individuals" who could be considered was too small, adding: "The backroom manoeuvrings now taking place are a very poor substitute for an open selection process. We have millions of talented people in Europe, and more than half of them are women, so why is the recruitment net not being cast wider?

"European citizens should be told whether this is just a beauty contest for middle aged males or a professional recruitment exercise intended to select the best person for the job, someone with ideas about how to shape Europe's future."

Mr Davies' letter to EU leaders says: "I am a man in my 50s, with a Cambridge University education and 30 years of political experience, I believe I possess qualifications similar to those of other potential candidates named in the media.

"To my credit I can claim that, unlike some of my rivals, I have never deceived either of the two parliaments to which I have belonged, and I bear no responsibility for the illegal invasion of another country that led to the death of many thousands of innocent people. I hope these facts will not prejudice my application."

The letter adds: "Although the position has not yet been advertised, and the criteria for selection has not been determined, I have no doubt that the Council (of EU leaders) will want to follow good employment practice and to select the best person for the job."

Now, here at Open Europe we rather like Chris Davies - he is a dedicated transparency campaigner and did well on these issues in our ranking of all MEPs earlier in the year.

And he's quite right about the lack of democracy in this EU President post - he or she will be nominated by a qualified majority of 27 heads of state meeting in the EU Council, with no input from national parliaments, let alone the people. (Compare that with the 70 million-strong mandate Barack Obama has).

And the idea that it must be an ex-Prime Minister or President underlines this lack of democracy even further - it basically means we are very likely to end up with someone who has fallen from grace and/or failed to get re-elected in their own country. (Compare that to the current situation, where the democratically-elected heads of state, who have a current mandate from the people, take it in turns to be EU President for 6 months at a time).

All that said, however, it is pretty hypocritical for a Lib Dem politician, of all people, to be complaining about this now. It's a bit late, Chris. Why didn't you raise any of these objections when the Treaty was still being negotiated? Why didn't ANY of the Lib Dems' representatives in either the European Parliament, the Commons or the House of Lords want to discuss all this stuff when they had the opportunity, when the Treaty was going through the Houses of Parliament last year?

Why, instead, have the Lib Dems pushed this Treaty and argued it's the best thing since sliced bread? And when Tory MPs and peers tried in Parliament for the promised referendum to be given to the British people, did the Lib Dems go back on their word and block the motions?

Davies says he doesn't want Tony Blair to become EU President, and neither do a majority of delegates attending the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth earlier this month. But, as we've said before, it is precisely thanks to these so-called 'Liberal Democrats' that this job has been created in the first place. And even if the British government decided it didn't want Tony, that would be tough luck if the a majority of the other EU leaders did.

Welcome to the post-Lisbon Treaty reality.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Will he won't he

Czech President Vaclav Klaus is causing a real storm over in Brussels with his refusal to sign the Lisbon Treaty. Having previously suggested that his signature would follow the outcome of the new constitutional court challenge filed by a group of Senators, now even that is not guaranteed, as he seeks some kind of 'opt-out' from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It's clear the guy is not going to be pushed around by the likes of Barroso, Sarkozy and Merkel, who are all lining up to pressure him into signing the Treaty as soon as possible. He has already managed to delay the appointment of the new EU President and EU Foreign Minister - originally expected at the end of this month, but which will will now apparently take place at the following EU summit in December.

However, it is impossible to tell just how far Klaus is willing to go to scupper this Treaty by delaying long enough to let the Conservatives get elected in Britain and then hold the long overdue referendum.

On the one hand, according to the Times this morning, Klaus has told supporters he will "never" sign the Lisbon Treaty. And his spokesman has indicated that he will not be happy with a fudge on the Charter, wanting instead to re-open ratification in all the other EU countries in order to agree a legally-binding protocol. Anything short of this will after all be pretty meaningless - EU governments will be able to agree relatively easily to a written declaration much like the ones offered to Ireland in return for holding a second referendum on the Treaty.

Spokesman Ladislav Jakl told Czech newspaper Lidov Noviny: "the guarantees given to Ireland are not guarantees; they were a political declaration in a style such that the Irish wolf filled its stomach and the Lisbon goat remained whole".

On the other hand, it would be naive to believe even for a minute that the other EU leaders will allow Klaus to get anywhere close to scuppering the thing they have been obsessing over non-stop for the vast majority of the past decade. As reported in the Sunday Times, France and Germany would get Klaus ousted before they considered such defeat (cue image of Klaus-shaped figure being bungled into the back of a car with blacked out windows...)

Barroso has today made crystal clear that any re-opening of the Treaty to allow for any actual or meaningful changes is absolutely and completely out of the question - "surreal", he said. They refused to do it for Ireland, so why should the Czechs be any different? They will have to make do with a written declaration.

Whether or not this will be enough to appease President Klaus is at this moment anyone's guess. Under immense pressure not just within the EU but also from his own government and parliament, it will take a heroic effort of historic proportions to stick to his guns on this one - and he has our full support.

Monday, October 12, 2009

don't get too comfortable

Chris Bryant has today been appointed Europe Minister, replacing Baroness Glenys Kinnock who spent a whole four months warming the seat for him. Bryant will be the 12th person to occupy this position in as many years - so much for continuity. With the endless staff switchovers in this portfolio the Government is starting to resemble one of those struggling football clubs that for one reason or another can't seem to hold on to a manager for more than a few months at a time.

Clearly, having an elected member of the House of Commons like Chris Bryant on the Europe job is far preferable to locking it away in the House of Lords where the Opposition can't have a proper pop at it and voters have no chance of holding it to account.

But this new appointment is by no means a net improvement on the current situation. Just to underline his seeming disregard for 'Europe' as an issue Gordon Brown has said that Bryant will remain a parliamentary under-secretary of state - the lowest ministerial rank in the government - meaning that the job, which was formerly held by a minister of state, has been downgraded. A Downing Street spokesman described the reshuffle as "housekeeping".

Once again this government shows just how out of touch it has became. Brown might not think Europe is important but the British public do - a YouGov poll from earlier this year showed that UK voters think that if a Conservative government is elected its second top priority should be to "Reduce the powers of the European Union and increase the powers of Britain’s Parliament."

In contrast, over on the other side of the benches Mark Francois, Bryant's shadow, sits in the Shadow Cabinet. Speaking at our fringe event at the party's conference last week, Francois welcomed the idea that the Minister for Europe should be a full Cabinet Minister, noting that under Labour, the role of Europe Minister had seemed to be “to tour the country, selling the EU to the British people”, rather than to fight the UK’s interests in Brussels.

Indeed the new appointment looks like a (fairly smart) political move from Brown, rather than one based on any long-term policy considerations. Replacing Kinnock in the Lords with Bryant in the Commons will give Brown a voice with which to attack the Tories over Europe and their new partners in the European Parliament - their favourite new topic. Judging by David Miliband's article in the Observer at the weekend the latter is set to be a major feature of Labour's campaign. Indeed Bryant has already written a similar article for a regional paper.

Bryant himself is a passionate EU advocate and will be an interesting addition to the debate - something which can't be said of many of his recent predecessors in this role (Flint, Murphy...)

But what does he actually stand for?

You won't get any clues from his website. The 'Policy' section is completely blank, having received far less attention than the 'photo gallery' where we get to see Bryant in his red speedos.

However, rarlier this year he told the Western Mail that, "I think the European Union has gone down some cul-de-sacs. The Common Agricultural Policy I would still like to see radically reformed, and we've got a bit obsessed with how many members of the Commission we each have."

We've heard lots about reforming the CAP from this government before and with very little to show for it, as we've argued before.

Bryant is in favour of maintaining the current system of EU regional spending, saying that "The question is whether repatriating large amounts of structural funds would open the door to a vast expansion of inappropriate state aid in the eastern bloc...we want to maintain a structural funds system that brings money not only to the poorest countries but to some of the richest countries."
This is worrying given the amount of money that is wasted funding dubious projects in some of the EU's richest countries. See here for just one example.

However, he has had some good ideas. For example he said that he is in favour of a specific parliamentary question time for EU matters, which would increase accountability and public awareness of EU decision-making. Thumbs up from us.

He has also called for the European Scrutiny Committee, which sifts through over a 1,000 EU documents a year, to meet in a more open and transparent way. And Bryant does seem to recognise the important role the EU plays in governing the UK, saying: "I do think that how we do the scrutiny of European business is absolutely essential to how we scrutinise the Government."

The question is whether he will able to take a breath from electioneering and attacking the Conservatives, or be around long enough to move beyond his recent predecessors and make any lasting mark in the job.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Wasting no time...

If you're curious about what the Lisbon Treaty will mean for Justice and Home affairs in the EU, you should look closely at the so-called Stockholm Programme - a slew of proposals for more integration in areas such as asylum policy, data sharing, policing and other sensitive policies, traditionally reserved for the national governments.

It's hard to know exactly what the Stockholm Programme will look like for two reasons: First, it's huge, with proposals ranging from a European surveillance and security system (including ID card register and Internet surveillance) to a common asylum policy. Secondly, in trade-mark EU fashion, it's being negotiated behind closed doors, making it difficult for us common folk to know what in the world is going on. Quite apart from the merits or drawbacks of these proposals (the surveillance and datasharing parts no doubt sound awfully Orwellian - as we've argued before), it's fair to say that this is contentious stuff.

And those in charge have wasted little time to take advantage of the Lisbon Treaty, which scraps national vetoes in a range of areas of justice and home affairs, and massively extends the EU's competencies in this area. Even though the Treaty has not been ratified yet, the Swedish Presidency has made it no secret that they intend to raise the ambition of the Stockholm Programme under the Treaty.

Anders Hall, key aid to Swedish Justice Minister Beatrice Ask, has said that the Commission's proposals in this area have been "too modest", given that the EU will soon operate under Lisbon Treaty rules. He said: "Given that the Stockholm Programme will now be carried out in a Lisbon-context, the level of ambition will increase to a certain extent. But exactly how this will play out is unclear as talks and negotiations are currently taking place between the member states."

These people are wasting absolutely no time in ploughing ahead with the Lisbon provisions, even in areas that strike at the very heart of national democracy. Is anyone paying attention?

Hat tip: Swedish blogger HAX

Monday, October 05, 2009

The third way

The blog is likely to go quiet for a few days as we head up to Manchester for the Conservative Party Conference. Should be an interesting few days, especially with our fringe event on what the Tories should do about Europe scheduled for Wednesday.

For our take on what they should do about the referendum/Lisbon mess, see here for the 'third way' option:

Would welcome your comments here!

Friday, October 02, 2009

BBC: Utterly unacceptable

Sophie Raworth, reading from the autocue live on the BBC One O'Clock news, has just made this quite unbelievable introduction to a piece on events in Ireland today:

"The people of Ireland return to the polls today in a referendum on whether to accept the Lisbon Treaty on enlarging the European Union."

Hat-tip to friends in Northern Ireland who alerted us to this.

This is a quite unacceptable distortion of the facts - the Treaty has nothing to do with enlargement, otherwise we might be campaigning for a 'yes' vote. This Treaty is about giving the EU more powers. What is the BBC on?

We've made a complaint - and we urge everyone else out there to do so too, and as soon as possible. The same piece reported that most people in Ireland are still to vote, many of whom may not yet have made up their minds. This kind of ridiculous and false statement might just tip the balance.


Speaking for Europe

If you're still making up your mind on Lisbon, see here for the dozens of pleas from pro-democracy people all over the EU, urging a 'no' vote:

Here's a handful of some of the latest comments:

Leo Beata, Sweden:

"To the Irish people, please vote "NO" .. for Europe, for a little bit of democracy, for sovereinity, for some power to the small countries...In Sweden we were promised exceptions when we were to vote for the EU-membership 14 years ago. Today they are all gone, and EU roles our lives and we just have to obey... For a peaceful future, please vote "NO" on friday."

Ninetta Donizetti, Italy:

"Europe has been bullying Ireland for too long! It's time Ireland and its people were treated with respect."

Tim Spencer, UK:

"Everyone in Europe should have the right to vote on this treaty. We are being treated with contempt. Where is the democracy in the EU?"

Gudrun Sievers, Germany:

"All european People looked for Ireland because in Germany we can not speak for yes or no to die Lisbon Treaty. The Idea of EU is fantastic, but not enough democracy - but we can not vote! Many Peoples (80%) are not for die Treaty! in Germany! Good Luck for the Vote. Please say no!"

Lave Broch, Denmark:

"Lisbon Treaty is the wrong way for Europe. The treaty does not make changes to EU's custom union towards the rest of the world and it strengthens the militarization of EU. It is also very undemocratic that only the Irish people got a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and it is even more undemocratic that the Irish no in the first referendum was not respected."

G. Kissamitakis, Greece:

"IRELAND PLEASE VOTE NO!!! Greece, the place where Democracy was born, denied our right to vote!!! I ASK YOU TO VOTE NO to the LISBON TREATY ON BEHALF OF ALL GREEKS AND EUROPEAN CITIZENS!!!"

Martha Browne, Ireland:

"An appeal to my fellow citizens, cast your vote correctly in the NO box. If not, it could be the last chance to vote for anything meaningful ever again."

Lisbon in action

As Irish voters go to the polls today for the second time on the Lisbon Treaty (welcome to Venezuela the European Union), there is growing coverage of the news that Tony Blair is in all liklihood set to become the first EU President within a matter of weeks. This news was first uncovered by Open Europe as we reported on secret meetings hosted by the Swedish EU Presidency.

Most people in Britain and indeed Europe thought they'd seen the back of Blair when he left the House of Commons in 2007, saying, "That's it - it's the end."

But no doubt partly thanks to the invaluable work of his good friend Peter Mandelson in keeping the flagging Labour government alive long enough to get Lisbon enforced, Blair could be flying around the world in Blair Force One before we've started saving up for Christmas.

Assuming that the new EU President will be paid the same as the President of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, this means he or she will receive roughly the same basic salary as Barack Obama - the democratically-elected President of the United States.

Just think about that for a moment. A man voted in after years of high-profile campaigning and public debate and with the support of 69 million people, will be rubbing shoulders on the world stage with a man who just weeks before his election has not had a public word to say about the idea, and who will be nominated by 14 people (a majority of Heads of State, as per the Lisbon Treaty) behind closed doors in a meeting in Brussels, with no public input, not even from national parliaments.

And the people pulling the strings in the corridors of Brussels are amazingly arrogant about it. This week an unnamed senior French diplomat commented that although most people in Europe will be against the idea of Blair for EU President, because of his position on the Iraq war, that makes no difference at all, because "only public opinion is concerned about this, not the 27 Heads of State and Government that will vote him in".

Who, among the 'yes' campaign can honestly say this is not a step backwards for democracy in Europe? Amont many others, Brigid Laffan of the Ireland for Europe campaign has marked her campaign with shrill and hysterical outbursts against British people calling for a 'no' vote. If she is so anti-British, how can she possibly support the idea of Blair as EU President for the next two and a half years? Because that is what Irish people will be voting for today if they approve the Lisbon Treaty.

The same goes for all those Lib Dem delegates at conference a couple of weeks ago, who supported a motion saying Blair must not become EU President. Bit late for that, Lib Dems. It's precisely thanks to your "leader" Nick Clegg that such a position can even be created in the first place, given that he controversially allowed the Lisbon Treaty to sail through Parliament without the referendum he promised in his manifesto. Even if we wanted to, Britain wouldn't actually be able to stop Blair becoming EU President, because he only needs the support of a majority of EU heads of state.

This is probably just the first of many, many concrete and all-too-real examples of why Lisbon is bad news that will, if the Treaty is passed, start to hit us one by one over the coming months and years as we face up to the full implications of what we have done by allowing this to happen.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

simple but (hopefully) effective

This one is a particular favourite...

A matter of trust

Irish PM Brian Cowen has announced there will be not be another referendum if Ireland votes 'no' to the Lisbon Treaty tomorrow.

He said: "There won't be a Lisbon Three -- that's for sure."

But hang on, that's exactly what they said last time. Click here to see Dick Roche, Irish Europe Minister, suggesting ahead of the first Irish referendum that it was 'delusional' to say there would be a second referendum.

He said:

"There is no plan B and there is absolutely no possibility of this Treaty being subject to a further renegotiation. The idea that we can reject this Treaty and have another Referendum as happened with the Nice Treaty is a dilusion. That cannot and will not happen."

And yet here we are.

The Irish government likes to pretend that no-one bullied them into voting again on the Lisbon Treaty after it initially gave the 'wrong' answer, but given Roche's unequivocal stance, clearly they did.