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Monday, December 21, 2009

The top 100 most costly EU regulations

Open Europe has today published a list of the top 100 most costly EU regulations, detailing the annual cost of the laws, the cumulative cost of them by 2020, and the article base in the Lisbon Treaty for each regulation . We estimate that these laws will in total cost the UK economy a staggering £184 billion by 2020. To put that figure in context: for the same amount, the UK Government could abolish the country's entire budget deficit and still leave the Exchequer with some £6 bn. All cost estimates are based on the UK Government's own impact assessments so the figures are instructive.

The top four items on the list account for almost £97 billion - or 53% - of the total cost of the 100 regulations by 2020. Looking at these four laws clearly illustrates the enormous, and often overlooked, potential for the UK economy to save money by making a few key regulations less burdensome. Notably, cutting down the costs of these regulations could happen without any of the stated benefits being lost in the process.

1) The Working Time Directive, to cost the UK economy £32.8 bn by 2020: This Directive has been widely criticised for being overprescriptive, impractical and generally out of touch with reality - particularly as it applies to the NHS. Merely changing the on-call time and compensatory rest rules entailed in the WTD could save the UK's public sector millions - if not billions - of punds every year.

2) The EU's Climate Action and Renewable Energy Package, to cost the UK economy £28.2 bn by 2020: As we've argued before, the EU could find a much more cost-effective way to achieve carbon emission reduction by setting overall targets, and then allowing for individual member states to decide for themselves how best to reach them (as opposed to the current micromanaging approach). This would hurt the economy less and provide a more credible alternative to follow for countries outside Europe.

3) Energy Perfomance Certificates for buildings, a.k.a Home Information Packs, to cost the UK economy £20.2 bn by 2020. Again, this cannot possibly be described as the most cost-effective way to achieve reductions in carbon emissions from the residential sector.

4) The Temporary Agencey Workers Directive, to be implemented in 2011 and set to cost the UK economy £15.6 bn by 2020: When he was Business Secretary, John Hutton warned that this Directive could consign "literally thousands of people to benefit dependency" (this was in 2007, before Gordon Brown was outnegotiated in a horsetrading deal involving the UK's opt-out from the EU's 48 hour working week. The Government is now trying to defend the Directive).

Making these laws less burdensome or tailor them to better fit the UK is not easy - but it certainly isn't impossible. Neither is avoiding repeats of these laws. But this does require a far tougher and smarter approach to EU regulations/negotiations than that employed by the current government. See here for our ideas on what such an approach should entail (chapter 5).

An excellent place to start would be for an incoming UK government to opt out altogether from the articles in the EU treaties which give rise to EU's social legislation (articles 151 to 161 as amended by the Lisbon Treaty). With correspondng domestic reforms, this could instantly reduce much of the cost stemming from, for instance, the Working Time Directive and the Temporary Workers Directive.

At a time when every penny is needed to close a massive public deficit, surely cutting the cost of regulation should be a top priority for the next government?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The EU in 2010

As 2009 draws to a close, Open Europe today looks ahead to 2010 and what the EU has in store.

From 1 January 2010, Spain takes over the six-month rotating 'presidency', currently held by Sweden.

The new Lisbon Treaty rules mean that the country holding the Presidency is stripped of its power to 'represent' the EU because of the appointment of a permanent EU President and Foreign Minister. However, Spanish ministers will chair most meetings of the Council of Ministers, and as the first in the next 'trio' of presidencies, Spain gets to lay out an agenda for the EU for the first six months of the year.

In a new briefing note, Open Europe outlines the main priorities for the Spanish EU Presidency, and takes a look ahead to key events and developments in the EU in 2010.

Key things in the pipeline:

- New social legislation to bolster 'European citizenship', including turning the EU into a "factory of rights" Yikes!
- "Common economic governance", including the creation of controversial new EU financial supervisory authorities and new rules for managers of alternative investment funds
- Speedy establishment of the new EU Foreign Service - hoped to become "the biggest diplomatic service in the world"
- Efforts to turn the controversial 'Stockholm Programme' into concrete justice and home affairs legislation

What's clear is that the Spanish government wants to use its Presidency to achieve greater political, social and economic integration in Europe - to work for a more 'unified' EU. This is fundamentally at odds with British priorities for the EU in 2010. Reformist governments must resist moves towards 'building Europe' for the sake of it, and instead concentrate on promoting economic reform.

In particular, the Spanish government's determination to push for new EU social legislation over the next six months and beyond should ring alarm bells at Westminster. The UK Conservatives have said that if they win next year's election, they will fight for control over social and employment policy to be returned to the UK where it can be properly controlled closer the people it affects. This kind of legislation already represents a huge regulatory burden in the UK, and the Spanish government's talk of turning the EU into a 'factory of rights' tells us fundamental reform is more urgent than ever.

Please click here to read the briefing: The EU in 2010 - what to expect from the Spanish Presidency:


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lisbon Treaty = even more cash for MEPs

Amid all thee excitement over the EU bureaucrats' demands for an inflation-busting 3.7% payrise smack in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s, Bruno Waterfield at the Telegraph brings us news that according to an internal document seen by the paper European Parliament officials have proposed a 9 percent increase in the partliamentary assistance allowance, taking it to £203,000 in 2010. It is also understood that staff expenses will be further increased by another £16,000 in 2011, taking the total annual allowance to almost £220,000.

Why? Because EP officials reckon all the extra cash is needed as a result of the Lisbon Treaty.

Don't forget this is on top of the "general expenditure allowance" worth over £44,000 that MEPs can pocket without having to provide any receipts. While working in Brussels or Strasbourg, MEPs also trouser a £265 cash subsistence payment, worth over £40,000 tax-free every year.

And with the expected 3.7% salary rise, an MEP will earn almost £86,000 a year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Euro: rewarding bad behaviour

There has been no shortage of stories recently about the troubles looming in Eurozone countries Greece and Spain. These problems have now prompted Angela Merkel to call for direct EU intervention in the economic and social policies of highly indebted countries in the Eurozone, thereby marking a highly significant shift in German policy.

As German daily Handelsblatt notes: "until now, Germany had always defended national economic sovereignty and rejected stronger European coordination of economic policy in the Eurozone”. The German Chancellor, says the article, is conscious that any such moves “would diminish the national sovereignty of member states”. Yesterday, the EU followed Merkel as it was reported that “the EU has put its member states on a leash”, referring to how Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has called for binding “quality control” on member states’ budgets.

Only two weeks ago, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard observed that the ECB had begun to turn off the liquidity tap:

"The move to knock away emergency support for banks is likely to hit some countries harder than others, creating intra-EMU tensions between North and South. There are particular worries about Greece and Ireland, where banks have relied massively on ECB support because they cannot raise money cheaply on the open market. The ECB has let them use a wide range of low-grade mortgage debt as collateral for loans. Private markets are unlikely to be so forgiving, raising the risk of a roll-over crisis for weak lenders."

Now, he notes that "the eurozone's weakest link starts to crack", and, "Without wanting to rehearse all the pros and cons of euro membership yet again, or debate whether EMU is a ‘optimal currency area’, there is obviously a problem for countries like Greece that were let into EMU for political reasons before their economies had been reformed enough to cope with the rigours of euro life - over the long run."

However, some countries are not keen on the idea of a cross-border bail-out. Finland and Sweden oppose giving financial support to Greece. “The EU cannot help, that’s part of our rules. They were established to let member states take care of themselves”, said Finnish Finance Minister Matti Vanhanen. And Vanhanen is absolutely correct – as we’ve argued before.

Last week Edward Hugh asked, “How far is it the responsibility of richer and economically healthy states to continually come to the rescue of those who insist on doing nothing to improve their own situation?”

On the wider point about eurozone membership vis-a-vis reform he noted:

"Rather than acting as a stimulus to deep economic reform, Euro membership has rather acted to reward those countries who would get into more and more debt, with ever less sustainable economic models, by supplying them with funding at far cheaper rates of interest than the markets would otherwise make available.”

If you don’t believe him, check out what the EU President himself, Herman Van Rompuy, who was one of the key figures behind Belgium’s entrance into the Eurozone in the nineties, has to say on the issue. Looking back on Belgium's experience with the Euro, he wrote in 2007, in his book "In search of wisdom":

“The monetary pressure in Belgium has fallen away with the disappearance of the Belgian franc. This because the euro is standing far from us and is moreover very strong in recent years. The absence of that external pressure makes it extra difficult for the government to act. Without those sticks behind the door, society easily sinks away in reform fatigue. In a couple of countries around us, economic fate has however hit so hard that fundamental reforms have been carried out. But politics in a democracy needs that pressure. Sad, but it is like this.”

ETS awards millions in windfall profits to oil companies and heavy industry

As national ministers meet this week in Copenhagen to discuss a new climate change deal, Open Europe has found that under the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), oil and gas companies' operations in the UK were granted a surplus of carbon permits worth €28.6m in 2008. For example, ExxonMobil received €4.3m and Total received €5.4m.

Meanwhile, heavy industrial polluters such as Corus received €47m, while cement firms Hanson and Lafarge received €17.3m and €20.2m.

The EU is keen to be seen to take the lead at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen and has already announced ambitious targets to reduce its carbon emissions. However, the EU's principle policy for achieving those reductions, the ETS, is fundamentally flawed.

Due to the economic downturn, many heavy polluters, such as oil and gas companies and heavy industrials, have been left with a surplus of carbon permits - essentially a free asset that firms can sell on to bolster their short term profits.

The glut of surplus permits on the market has driven down the price of carbon and led to a sharp increase in the number of permits being traded via carbon exchanges. Open Europe has found that the two largest carbon trading exchanges, European Climate Exchange[1] and Bluenext[2], which includes members such as Barclays Bank, JP Morgan, Merrill Lynch and Shell, have earned a combined average of €245,000 a day from the trading of carbon permits so far in 2009, in transaction fees alone. In total, they have made over €57m between them in 2009.

Instead of producing a firm carbon price to encourage investment in greener technologies, the ETS has become a subsidy to some of the UK's biggest polluters and has simply created a new breed of carbon traders, which are cashing in on a policy that is failing to achieve its core objective.

Click here to read more.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dear Dirk

Last week, we were told by journalists that Dirk Ahner, the Commission's Director-General for regional policy, had apparently sent a letter to the members of the European Parliament's Budgetary Control committee, criticising Open Europe's 50 examples of waste involving EU funds.

Despite the fact that the letter addressed our publication, and cited extensively from it, Mr. Ahner did not send a copy to Open Europe, and has failed to send us one after repeated requests both on the phone and by email.

In the end we managed to get the letter from other sources. You can read it here.

Here's an excerpt from the letter:

As I committed to do, I have asked my services to investigate their claims on the projects in question. However, it is essential to underline to the citizens you represent that, given the shared management system, the European Commission is not responsible for the selection of the projects... Most of the claims are true, in the sense that European money has co-financed the projects mentioned. However, Open Europe seems to take the view that anything related to tourism and culture is a waste of money, regardless of whether the projects create jobs and are part of an overall development strategy. Some statements are misleading or completely incorrect: just to take an example, the Commission will not pay a cent to the mentioned Slovakian bulletin-board tender (project 49).

Well, we don't take the view that anything "related to tourism and culture is a waste of money", but, as we set out here, the structure and nature of the EU budget often facilitate poor project selection, to a greater extent than national spending schemes do. We also wanted to illustrate how having a massive redistribution scheme involving some of the richest countries in the world sending money back and forth via Brussels (at a huge admin cost) is becoming increasingly hard to justify economically. In addition, we wanted to highlight one of the wider problems with the EU budget (the co-financed part in particular, i.e. the Structural Funds and the Rural Development Programme), namely the blurred line between the spending of public money and accountability.

Predictably, Mr. Ahner passes on the responsibility for the project selection to member states, as the Commission usually does (but then goes on to defend the projects, interestingly).

It is true that the managing authorities in the member states select projects - no one is disputing that - but the Commission runs the policy and does have a thing or two to say about the project selection as well - in addition to being one of the staunchest defenders of the Structural Funds. And some of the people on the ground won't let the Commission off the hook that easily. For example, responding to one item on our list - the ‘gender equal’ wood design centre in Sweden - one of the local officials involved in the project defensively wrote, "The gender-part of that project was just a small part, put there to please the EU officials."

So as a taxpayer, if I'm not happy with the way the Structural Funds are ran and spent, who should I approach? As we've said many times before, the Commission could do itself a massive favour by encouraging member states to scrap the Structural Funds in the most well-off member states - say, those with a GDP of 85-90% of average EU GDP or more - where the value-added of the EU funds, on the whole, is negligble at best. None of these issues were addressed by Mr. Ahner. Anyway, here's our open letter to Mr. Ahner:

Open letter to Dirk Ahner, Regional Policy Director-General, European

Dear Mr. Ahner,

We write to you in regards to a letter you sent to members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control (“Subject: OPEN EUROPE 'fraud and waste' list of projects”, REGIO B1/AM D(2009)). Since the correspondence with the MEPs was addressing material published by Open Europe, we thought it appropriate to respond and also to address some of the claims you make in the letter (see attached document).

First, it is regrettable that the Commission continues to single out Open Europe for criticism, and has not given us opportunity for the right of reply. You sent the letter to MEPs, without copying to Open Europe, and failed to respond to telephone calls as we sought to find a copy of the letter. Despite repeated requests over the phone and via email, your office has still not sent us a copy of the letter. In fact, Open Europe was not even acknowledged when we tried to get hold of the letter. Instead we have acquired the letter from other sources. Your refusal seems to be in violation of the European Ombudsman’s Code of Good Administrative Behaviour.

Of the 17 Regional Development Fund projects analysed, you seem to be saying that one of them is incorrect, in that EU funds were not in the end used for the purposes mentioned: the ‘Bulletin-board tender’, which Open Europe said was indeed being investigated by the Commission. You claim that the point about Lazarote hotels having illegally received EU funds is “incorrect”, but are only able to clarify that “the Spanish authorities removed the hotels from the ERDF programme. This means that the hotels will not receive any funding from the EU budget.” No evidence is provided to show that the hotels did not receive the money – only that they “will” not receive money in the future – so we remain unconvinced by your claim that this is incorrect.

For all the other projects, you either defend the use of funds, or simply state that the example is correct, such as the fact that the Chairman of Porsche received €2,500 in EU rural development funds for a small estate in Bavaria where he goes hunting in his free time. For one or two you quibble over the amounts spent.

It is most concerning that you have spent so much time piecing together this rebuttal, and sent it to members of the European Parliament with an instruction that they “underline to the citizens you represent that, given the shared management system, the European Commission is not responsible for the selection of the projects funded.” There is no acknowledgement of Open Europe’s wider point which is that the waste is ultimately down to the structure of the EU budget (as Open Europe has set out here, for instance: http://euobserver.com/7/28979 ) - and that the budget in general and the Structural Funds in particular are in need of fundamental reform.

Open Europe maintains that all are examples of the EU wasting money, and an illustration of how the EU budget is spent, which was the objective of our report. Your comments represent a different point of view about how public money should best be spent, which Open Europe is seeking to challenge.

We look forward to a more open dialogue with the European Commission on these issues in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Open Europe

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Out there in eurospace

Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee this afternoon to discuss developments in the EU, ahead of the formal six-monthly European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday this week.

Although Foreign Ministers usually attend these meetings, the Lisbon Treaty states that it should only be EU heads of state. The Swedish EU Presidency, on the advice of the legal service for the Council, according to Miliband, had decided that Foreign Ministers will not be invited, which has put some noses out of joint. Thanks to Lisbon, EU Foreign Ministers are no longer welcome but instead EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton gets a seat.

However, Miliband added that the Treaty still allows for heads of state to bring along a minister when the agenda requires it, and that EU leaders will have a discussion over dinner about "whether the Treaty means what it says", with regards to whether or not foreign ministers may be allowed to attend these meetings in future. What a bizarre thing to say - what do we do if they find the Treaty does not "mean what it says"? That goes down as another admission from the Government that the text is indeed highly ambiguous and that, as we argued, MPs were effectively signing a blank cheque when they agreed it.

Miliband also revealed that, although the final outline and recruitment policy of the new European External Action Service, EEAS, is still to be decided (another of Lisbon's 'unanswered questions), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office anticipates that it will be contributing 18-25 staff to the new EU institution.

You may remember back in October, a document from the Swedish EU Presidency on the outline of the EEAS. This stated that staff from Member States should represent at least one third of staff at the senior level, including diplomatics in delegations - with people keen to keep in mind a geographic balance for those working in the new institution. The rest of the staff would be taken from the Commission and the General Secretariat of the Council.

Since it has been suggested that the size of the EEAS could reach anything between 6,000 and 8,000, it is not quite clear how those two ideas tally. Unless the UK will be sending a bloc of staff way below the number which other member states are sending, it may turn out that long-time eurocrats (the same ones striking for a payrise next week) may make up the bulk of the staff in the EEAS after all.

There were also some Select Committee questions regarding the appointment of Cathy Ashton, and the role of the new EU Foreign Minister, specifically in relation to the EEAS. One MP pointed out that it was a rather strange message to send, for Ashton to have her office in the Commission building, when the nature of the job was supposed to be 'intergovernmental', i.e. to represent the foreign policy of all 27 member states.

Asked this very question recently, Ashton said she was staying in her office in the Commission simply because she knows where the coffee is. Hmm.

Conservative MP for Wells David Heathcoat-Amory pointed out that as a sui generis institution, without precedent, it is extremely unclear where the lines of responsibility for the EEAS are, and it sits in some kind of limbo-like "euro-space" between the Council and Commission.

Indeed. The problem with this brand new institution, which the EU has made clear will become a seperate institution in its own right, with its own budget (£45 billion over 3 years, according to Javier Solana), is that for the very first time it is an institution which seems to straddle both the Commission and the Council - blurring the lines between the intergovernmental and the supranational if you like. In this sense it will be a real "EU foreign office" - with EU diplomats for the first time, instead of mere European Commission 'delegates' and representatives abroad. They will supposedly speak on behalf of the EU as a whole, as opposed to representing just the Commission.

How will that work in practice? It seems Miliband and even Ashton aren't too sure about that. We left the Select Committee hearing none the wiser.

On another planet Part 585

In his PBR today Alistair Darling has announced a public sector pay freeze for 4 million UK workers, including vital frontline staff such as nurses, police and teachers.

Meanwhile, over in la-la land, the Dutch, French and Spanish press report that EU civil servants in Brussels are planning a strike for Monday against attempts by 15 member state governments (including the UK) to stop 38,000 EU civil servants (including Commissioners) getting an inflation-busting 3.7% payrise. (Standaard Standaard 2 Le Monde)

The member states are resisting because the wages of national civil servants are being frozen or cut. The national governments claim that because of the economic crisis, an exceptional clause in the civil servants' statute should enter into force. The clause states that "in times of serious and sudden deterioration of the economic and social situation" in the EU, the Commission can impose a new wage proposal.

However, according to some reports, it looks likely that national governments will have to agree to the pay rise, because they are contractually bound to the agreement and are likely to lose the case if it goes to the European Court of Justice. Trade unions are demanding that member states "respect the rules".

Not only that, but a Trade Union President with 38 years experience working in the Commission told Spanish paper El Mundo today that the payrise should go ahead because the money "has already been put aside", and would otherwise "end up being lost in the EU budget and will go on milk quotas."

Great. So either we grant the unjustified payrise, or we waste the money on milk quotas. What a choice.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Campaign against EU ban on herbal medicine

Today, a campaign to 'save herbal medicine' was launched. Campaigners are calling on the Government to prevent herbal medicines disappearing from the high street when an EU ban comes into place in April 2011.

Save Herbal Medicine fears that much of the herbal medicine trade will be lost if EU legislation comes in, which states that only "statutorily regulated" professionals, such as doctors, would be able to prescribe the alternative remedies.

The EU Directive will restrict herbal medicines that can be supplied over-the-counter to licensed "traditional" medicines used to treat "mild and self-limiting" conditions.

Save Herbal Medicine is calling on the Department of Health to produce a statutory register for herbalists who meet certain standards, so that they would fall within the EU law.

It wants all herbalists who meet agreed standards of education and training, adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards and who are properly insured, to be recognised.

The website notes:

"Please be clear, this issue is NOT about whether herbs work or not, the evidence is out there for all to determine this for themselves (we have links to resources on this web site), this is about YOUR FUNDAMENTAL BASIC HUMAN RIGHT to have a CHOICE. As things stand right now, your right to choose from a range of choices DISAPPEARS in April 2011."

See here for more: http://www.saveherbalmedicine.com/

Friday, December 04, 2009

Saying it like it is

Yesterday saw the last debate on European Affairs in the House of Commons before the next General Election, and by the look of it it was, as usual, very poorly attended and only by the usual suspects - many of whom happen to be extremely well-informed, we might add.

Labour MP Gisela Stuart gave a particularly good speech which touched on many important things, including David Cameron's proposed 'Sovereignty Bill' and the so-called 'referendum lock', which she points out is pretty meaningless given that there will in future be no treaties to have referendums on.

The whole debate is worth a read but here are some of the more thought-provoking extracts of Gisela's speech:

The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby talked about what has happened to the word "subsidiarity". My argument is that rather than argue about reclaiming powers, we should have a different presumption.

Subsidiarity has disappeared from the scene because it does not work. In the past 10 years, the Commission has only ever had one proposal rejected because it was deemed to breach subsidiarity-the zoo directive, which we tried to bring in during our presidency. That is hardly a great record. Every EU directive that comes forward ought to contain in the preamble proof that the measure cannot be implemented in nation states, and therefore has to be handled at EU level. That would change the whole argument and would mean that rather than people always having to defend what is done at EU level, the EU would make the case that the nation state cannot do certain things.

That point brings me to an issue that we never mention here. The debate is about European affairs, and we ought at some stage to talk about the nature of the nation state. I want to do that briefly today. What is our relationship? We say that Europe is great because we are all in favour of co-operation, but co-operation and political integration are two very different things. We saw this earlier when we talked about fiscal stimulus. That was not about political integration: it was about co-operation, and member states doing something at the same time.

The reason why I am so angry about the referendum is that with the passing of the Lisbon treaty, we have created a supranational institution. There is all the talk about rowing back, but it has gone. Forget it, folks; it has been sold. There is now a supranational institution that has never had the endorsement or consent of the 350 million people across the European Union, because referendums were either ignored or were rubbished on the basis that the issue was too complicated and people were too stupid to take part. That is an argument worth talking about. Governments should show leadership and take people to places that they do not yet know are good for them-but although political leaders have to adopt that leadership role on occasion, there is always the reality test of a general election, when a Prime Minister who takes the country in a direction that it disagrees with gets kicked out.

There is no mechanism in the EU that allows the people to be asked whether this new supranational institution is what they want. My suspicion is that they probably do not, but that is neither here nor there. I have become agnostic on this matter. I grew up in a federal state so I have no problem with federalism, but I also remember the Austro-Hungarian empire- [ Interruption. ] Not personally, of course, but I grew up with its heritage. That extremely authoritarian institution finally collapsed because it tried to replace national identity with ethnicity. It is always very bad when identity is represented through ethnicity rather than through institutions in the nation state, and we need to be extremely careful in that regard.

She continued:

I want to make two other points, and the first is about this place. We are kidding ourselves if we think that by voting on Select Committee Chairmen, setting up better visitor centres or going online and so on, we will achieve a deepening of parliamentary democracy. We are losing power every step of the way: we have not even begun to come to terms with how we deal with legislation coming out of Brussels, because merely being told more about it is very different from actually having power and influence over it.

We have devolved power to Wales and Scotland, but we did not think about what would happen to England as a result of that process. We sit in Westminster, but we have lost power on both sides and we have lost our purpose. I suggest that that is why the expenses scandal has been so damaging. We have failed to defend ourselves, individually and collectively, because we have lost our sense of purpose as an institution. The real challenge for the next Parliament, when it comes in after the election, is to remind itself that its function is not just to talk about things but to hold the Executive to account. We have singularly, totally and completely failed to do that in respect of Europe.

We couldn't agree more.

Glad to see our MEPs are focussed on what really matters

This won't be news to most people, but Members of the European Parliament get up to a great deal of stuff that goes pretty much completely unnoticed.

Today the slightly underground French news service Agence Europe reports that the European Parliament's political families are negotiating the membership and creation of 24 to 26 so-called "intergroups" for the Parliament's new term of office. These strange groups are made up of MEPs from the different political groupings and apparently focus on single issues, such as Tibet or anti-racism. The groups are set up if they receive the backing of three or more groupings in the Parliament.

For more on the secrecy and the bearing of lobbying on these groups see here.

Agence Europe tells us that the Christian Democrat-dominated European People's Party (EPP) (the group the Tories have now left) has submitted a list of "priority issues" that in its opinion warrant the formation of an intergroup. The list includes issues such as "small and medium-sized enterprises", "The Family and Children's Rights" and the all-encompassing "Youth".

Among the list is a proposal for an intergroup on "The Santiago of Compostela Pilgrimage". The pilgrimage, also known as the Way of St James, is a collection of old routes which cover the whole of Europe, all of them ending up at Santiago de Compostela in north west Spain.

What exactlty do they want such a group to discuss? The pilgrimage has lasted for a 1,000 years so far without the help of MEPs.

It it really one of the top 25 issues or challenges EU citizens face? Also, why propose a group that so obviously focuses on one particular religion? Why not a group looking at European Muslims carrying out the Hajj?

The EPP's proposal is obviously not a big deal in itself but it's a microcosm of the the backward-looking and introspective culture that dominates EU politics. The desire for a nostalgic homogenous European culture closely based on 'Christian values'. You might argue it's this failure to embrace diversity of opinion, attitudes, and cultures that hinders the EU's ability to look outward to the rest of the world and compete with emerging nations.

Surely MEPs have more pressing things to spend our money on?

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Via the very useful Euractiv we learn that, now that the Lisbon Treaty is in force and the EU has the power to legislate on sport, the European Commission is set to launch a "wide stakeholder consultation" to prepare for the first EU sports programme, expected in 2012.

Reading through the EU Sport Commissioner's ideas for such a 'programme', we're finding it hard to keep a straight face.

In particular, he wants the programme to "Contribute to the promotion of European values (physical and moral integrity of sportspersons, fairness of competitions): projects could address issues such as doping, racism and protection of minors".

Since when were the physical and moral integrity of sportpersons and fairness of competitions European values? Bit of an arrogant insult to the rest of the world wouldn't you say? And looks pretty stupid coming hot on the heels of the Ireland/France World Cup Qualifier!

Stuck in the past

Following the revelation last week that 38,000 civil servants working for the European Commission are in line for an inflation-busting 3.7% pay rise for salaries, pensions and allowances this year, 15 EU member states have recognised that this is a step too far in this time of belt-tightening and have blocked the Commission proposal. Those countries blocking the pay rise include the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and six member states that joined in 2004.

Absurdly, the pay rise is based on a calculation of civil service salaries in 8 of the richest member states, and a cost of living allowance for Brussels. The legal service of the Council has warned member states that departing from the formula could be vulnerable to a legal challenge - and the unions have not missed their chance to urge the Commission to take the issue to the ECJ (although it would have to be the Commission, and not the unions which filed the legal challenge.)

A representative of the Union Syndicale revealed just how hopelessly out of date the formula is when he described it as an "honest bargain which has given us social peace for 20 years."

A pay rise formula which is 20 years old? How many institutional and EU Treaty changes have we seen in the last 20 years - and yet there has been no change in the way that Commission staff's pay is calculated?

Interesting, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had a bit of an expose yesterday, breaking down all the perks and allowances that EU civil servants get. It quoted one senior EU official saying that living abroad, the rationale behind such generous compensation, is "really not such a pain anymore" adding that "actually it's hard to get most bureaucrats to leave Brussels these days". No sh*t Sherlock - with working conditions so obviously insulated from the real labour market why on earth would you give up a cushy number in Brussels?

Just to put this pay rise in a bit of context, public sector pay in Latvia has been cut by up to 25% during the recession, and Ireland has planned to cut 1.3 billion euros from the public sector wage bill, not to mention the pay freeze announced by Alistair Darling for many UK senior civil servants and NHS staff, and more.

So the question here really is, should Brussels and those working in the EU institutions be protected from the economic recession, which is affecting public sector workers across member states? If so, why?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Flip-flopping Ashton

New EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has faced MEPs today for an informal grilling. It is not her official European Parliament confirmation hearing - that will come later in January.

Interestingly, Lady Ashton is described as "dodging a hail of bullets" by the Times for her failure to answer in any detail, questions on issues of foreign policy such as Turkey's EU accession bid, the Honduran Presidential election, Georgia, EU policy on the Arctic, etc.

This policy tapdancing earned a rebuke from the German Liberal MEP Alexander Lambsdorff who said: "I do have to say we want more specific answers from you when you come back to us in January."

She responded: "At my hearing there will be more considered policies...This is brand new. I do not have an office, I do not have a Cabinet, I do not have a team. I inherited a blank piece of paper and at the moment I have written one or two small things on it."

Hmm... brand new? Nothing but a blank piece of paper? That's not what you said when you were nursing the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords.

Responding to concerns about the unclear remit of the post and the general ambiguity of the Treaty, Baroness Ashton of Upholland told the Lords in April 2008, "Noble Lords have rightly indicated that the high representative brings together the current high representative introduced in Amsterdam [Treaty] and the Commissioner for External Relations. As I said it is an important move."

She added, "The proposal is that we have a high representative who becomes the vice-president of the Commission with very specific functions. That is a defined role within the treaty which is vested in one person."

So... the EU's new Foreign Minister, who once said that the job would simply bring together two existing roles, and would have very specific functions, is now admitting that her job description is so ill-defined in the Treaty that within two weeks of her appointment, she still has no real idea what her job either means or will entail and the Treaty provisions are in fact a blank cheque... which is exactly what we have said would be the consequence of so much of the vague and ill-thought out language in the Lisbon Treaty.

We also came across this other rather telling tidbit from the Noble Lady in the same Lords session from 2008: "The new title makes it absolutely clear that the high representative will represent the agreed views of member states. He will not in any sense be a Foreign Minister."

Yet less than two weeks ago, in a press conference following the announcement of Cathy Ashton's new job, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "The Secretary of State of the United States should call Cathy Ashton, because she is our Foreign Minister, if I may say so."

How quickly these people change their tune.

Surprise surprise

Now that the Lisbon Treaty is safely in force (as of yesterday) the Lib Dems have predictably abandoned their support for a referendum on Britain's EU membership.

The tactic to support such a referendum was nothing more than a pathetically transparent and feeble attempt to get them off the hook for abandoning their manifesto commitment to a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty. Pretending to favour giving people a referendum that was never on the cards, the Lib Dems shamefully teamed up with Labour to block calls for referendum on the Treaty as it went through Parliament last year.

Safely over that hurdle, Nick Clegg can now ditch the dishonesty and go back to what he really believes - which is that the British public should never be given a say on the EU of any kind.

Avoiding the issue

Within the next year, the UK Government (whoever it will be) will find itself in crucial negotiations over the next EU 'financial framework', which will decide who pays what into the EU budget over the period 2014 to 2020.

You will remember that Tony Blair sealed the deal on the current financial framework (2007 to 2013) back in December 2005, giving up £7 billion of our rebate in return for what turned out to be an empty promise about reform of the CAP. Cheers Tony.

In order that we don't make the same mistake again, politicians of all colours need to be thinking carefully about a new way of negotiating, and what exactly we want from the talks.

So it was good to see the Tories trying to raise the subject with the Government in Parliament yesterday. Unfortunately, Europe Minister Chris Bryant wasn't remotely interested in discussing the issue. This is despite the fact that the huge problems with the EU budget go right to the heart of many people's criticism of the EU. We desperately need to start talking sensibly about what it is the Government and also the Opposition intend to do about the budget.

But instead we get:

Philip Davies (Con): Given that the accounts of the EU have not been signed off by the auditors for 15 years running, why do the Government keep giving more and more money to the EU? Surely if the Government are serious about reform of the EU budget, they should say that the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if we were to follow his policy, which is to get out of the EU, it would significantly harm British interests. He knows perfectly well, too, that, as the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, David Frost said only a few weeks ago: "Business", by which he meant British business, "wants a pragmatic approach to the EU, not an ideological one" such as the hon. Gentleman's.

Great - thanks for that.

This follows the Government's refusal to publish forecasts for how much the UK will pay into and get out of the EU budget beyond 2010-2011, following a request by David Heathcoat-Amory MP. How can we possibly formulate a strategy for negotiating a better deal for British (and indeed European) taxpayers if the Government won't acknowledge there's a problem, won't engage in the debate, and won't even let us know how the land will lie in a year's time?

It's going to get a whole lot worse

In a speech yesterday David Cameron cited Open Europe's recent report which showed that the UK has spent more than £35 billion complying with EU employment, health and safety law in the last decade.

What he didn't mention, is the report's even more important findings that if the problem of EU regulation isn't tackled, EU social and employment laws will cost a further £71 billion over the next decade, even in the highly unlikely event that no more regulations are added to the rulebook in this time.

In our view, the Conservatives should negotiate a blanket opt-out from all the social and employment related articles in the EU treaties, and bring control over these laws back to the UK, where we can scrap, amend or fine tune them to the needs of our own economy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Scant compensation

Further to Friday's piece on the new EU Commission posts (described by Nicolas Sarkozy as a "victory" for France, who said the British were the 'big losers') it emerges that Jonathan Faull has been appointed as Michel Barnier's right-hand man as Director General of the Internal Market portfolio.

According to PA, Faull will ensure that "the interests of the City of London are understood at the highest levels of the Brussels bureaucracy."

We're not so sure. The man is a career eurocrat – he’s been working in the Commission bureaucracy since 1978, including a stint running the EU’s propaganda department, “DG Press and Communication”, between 1999 and 2003. Judging by his CV Faull has never worked in the City or similar in his life. How can he possibly have the interests of the City of London at heart, when his whole career has been about European integration?

This is scant compensation for the loss of the influential trade portfolio and the appointment of the protectionist French Europhile Michel Barnier to regulate Europe's financial markets.

EU Commissioners' golden parachutes

The Sunday Times reported on the huge payoffs the 13 EU Commissioners stepping down this week will walk away with, on top of the pretty hefty salaries they netted while in office.

Open Europe has calculated that the 13 outgoing EU Commissioners have cost taxpayer €2.7 million each.

Each one will walk away with an average of €1.3 million in ‘golden goodbyes’ alone. The total bill in ‘golden goodbyes’, including pensions, for those leaving is more than €16.6 million.

Through earnings and pay-offs, the 13 Commissioners will walk away with a total of more than €35.6 million, or €2.7 million each. Their pensions alone are expected to be worth a combined total of more than €11.6 million over their lifetimes (Assuming an average life expectancy of 16.7 years from the age of 65.)

Each Commissioner stepping down is entitled to a ‘resettlement allowance’ of a month’s salary (€19,910 or €22,122 for Vice Presidents), irrespective of how long they have served; a ‘transition allowance’ paid for 3 years worth between 40 and 65 percent of their final salary (this is a minimum of €286,703 but can rise to as much as €438,017 for a long-serving Vice-President); as well as a generous pension worth at least €51,069 a year from the age of 65, for those serving for five years. (For a breakdown see http://ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/entitlements/entitlements.pdf )

This is in addition to the €238,919 a Commissioner earns per year, or €1,194,595 over the full five-year term. Vice-Presidents earn €265,465 or €1,327,325 over five years. This does not include other perks such as housing allowances and entertainment allowances, worth between €43,122 and €50,757 every year.

One of the biggest winners is Polish Commissioner Pawel Samecki, who has only been in the job six months, but will walk away with a ‘golden goodbye’ of €391,898. This is in addition to the €141,020 he has made in earnings alone. Samecki replaced Danuta Hubner in July this year but has not been re-nominated for the next Commission team.

The last Commission mandate, which ran from 2004 to 2009, saw a total of 34 Commissioners in the 27 posts, who collectively earned more than €40.7 million in salaries, housing allowances and entertainment allowances alone – that’s more than €1.5 million for each of the 27 Commission jobs.

The highest earners were Margot Wallstrom and Gunter Verhuegen who each pocketed €2,991,313 for their ten years in Brussels. They will each receive annual pensions of €113,486 for the rest of their lives. The newly-appointed EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton, who took over as EU Trade Commissioner from Lord Mandelson last year, took home €282,040 in earnings for just over a year in office.

In addition to the 13 Commissioners leaving next week, 7 Commissioners have left their posts during the 2004-2009 term. As of next week, taxpayers will have contributed more than €24.3 million in ‘golden goodbyes’ for the 20 outgoing Commissioners – including €988,894 for Lord Mandelson.

All this comes on top of news last week that all EU Commissioners and the 38,000 people working in the European Commission bureaucracy are set to receive an inflation-busting 3.7% payrise - in spite of public sector pay freezes in many places around Europe.

Some other interesting background to this:

In an interview with Swedish Radio on 21 November, Swedish Europe Minister and incoming Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, conceded that the salaries and perks given to European Commissioners are “unreasonably” high. The Swedish press reported that, as a Commissioner, Malmstrom will receive a basic monthly salary of over €20,000, a transition payment of €41,000 as she takes office, and an additional €3,100 a month for living abroad. In addition, every month Malmstrom will receive €574 in family allowances, €681 in child allowances and €486 in school allowances for her two children, according to Swedish Radio. She will also qualify for the pensions and pay-offs described above when she leaves office. Malstrom said: “It is an unreasonable amount of money, but I’m not the one deciding the conditions.”

Open Europe unveiled the extent of Commissioners’ remuneration in March 2009, prompting several telling responses.

Asked by the Belgian press about Open Europe’s figures, EU Development Commissioner Louis Michel exclaimed: "if that's true, I'll retire immediately." Belgian daily De Standaard went on to report that, "after consulting an assistant, the message however appeared to be accurate. This was followed by Louis Michel suddenly changing his mind, saying the compensation is completely justified: 'We are being well paid. But every morning getting up at 5 o'clock, lots of travelling, heavy files...This is a parachute but not a golden one.'"[5]

Danish Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel responded to the figures saying "I'm worth all the millions."

Commission spokesperson Valerie Rampi said: "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".[6]

Despite this implicit confirmation that the figures were correct, EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom later said in an interview that the figures were “deliberately twisted and exaggerated data.” She went on: "Stepping in office within the European Commission (EC) does not include talks about salaries, allowances and retirement payments. It's the Council of the European Union that decided in the matter and therefore all changes are up to it. The current rules have been around since 1967 and are open to the public."

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Commission posts

The Commission has just published the new list of EU Commissioners and their responsibilities for the next five years.

It looks like the paper obtained by Jean Quatremer which we reported on yesterday got it quite wrong.

Here's our initial reaction:

1) It looks as though France’s Michel Barnier gets the financial services portfolio as well as internal market after all. Right up to today (Times) reports said that Barroso would remove responsibility from the internal market portfolio and either make a whole new Financial Services post, or put it in with the Competition or Economic & Monetary Affairs briefs. Clearly this is not now going to happen and controversially, the protectionist Europhile Michel Barnier will gain control over financial services regulation. This is a major blow to the UK, in particular the City, which is currently fighting against misguided protectionist proposals for new EU rules over financial services, such as the proposed AIFM Directive (on alternative investment funds). British diplomats have been lobbying behind the scenes to stop this from happening – but they have obviously failed.

2) Also very interesting that they now have a brand new “Home Affairs” portfolio – previously this job was called Freedom, Security & Justice. With all the new powers given to the EU in this area by the Lisbon Treaty, this signals a clear intention to basically create an EU Home Office.

3) Interesting that they’ve got rid of the EU Commissioner for Communications post – it looks like DG Communication will still exist, but there will no longer be a Commissioner dedicated purely to that. Instead it comes under Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. That’s a bit embarrassing for the outgoing Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom who has spent the last five years trying to sell the EU to people with this post – and failing. However, no doubt the EU propaganda machine will continue under these other portfolios.

By swapping our influential trade portfolio for External Affairs (Cathy Ashton), the UK’s influence in the EU has arguably taken a step backwards. We’ve missed out on all the important economic portfolios, and handed responsibility for the internal market and financial services to a French protectionist – which is the worst case scenario.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Barroso II

Brussels is awash with rumour about who will get what in the newly appointed European Commission, due to be unveiled by President Barroso next week.

Having ruled itself out of any of the important economic portfolios with the appointment of Cathy Ashton as EU Foreign Minister and Vice President of the Commission with responsibility for External Relations, the UK is now out of the equation. According to the Times yesterday, however, British diplomats have been lobbying behind the scenes to make sure that France's Michel Barnier doesn't bag the influential Internal Market job, including responsibility for financial services.

A report in the Telegraph suggests they might actually be getting somewhere. It is now thought that Jose Barroso, will, after all, revert to the original plan and remove financial services from the internal market portfolio, creating a brand new Financial Services post.

Problem is, Paris is thought now to be campaigning for the competition job instead - which is only marginally less alarming than the idea of the French protectionist taking over internal market and financial services.

And there is more alarming news. Over on his brilliant Coulisses de Bruxelles blog, French journalist Jean Quatremer shares with us a list he has obtained of who is likely to get what. He says financial services will go to Hungary's Laszlo Andor, a former economic adviser to the Socialist party and to the socialist-liberal government.

Quatremer says the appointment of the Hungarian to this post would be “a real slap in the face for France”, but notes that a small consolation for France will be the appointment of Romania’s Dacian Ciolos to the agriculture portfolio.

As well as the prospect of France at Competition, Romania in Agriculture (!!) and Hungarian socialists in charge of financial affairs, among the other counter-intuitive and faintly worrying suggestions is that the hugely important justice and home affairs portfolio, whose powers are set to skyrocket under the Lisbon Treaty, could go to a Bulgarian (Bulgaria is currently working on getting its own justice system in order...)

Meanwhile, having been in charge of DG Communications for the past 5 years, Sweden has ended up with yet another kum-by-ah post in Human Rights.

This is starting to remind us of that joke about the hypothetical European heaven and hell already alluded to by Wolfgang Munchau:

The police are British
The cooks are French
The engineers are German
The administrators are Swiss
The lovers are Italian

The police are German
The cooks are British
The engineers are Italian
The administrators are French
The lovers are Swiss

There's definitely scope for a couple of new versions of this joke involving Team Barroso II.

Intruiguingly, there is someone missing from Quatremer's list. What will Malta get? The non-job of Commissioner for Multilingualism? Maybe sport? Or perhaps it will take charge of the €2.4 billion propaganda Communication and citizenship budget?

With only one job left to fill, going on Quatremer's list of all the other 26 posts (including Barroso as President and Ashton as Vice President), several of the current portfolios must be heading for the axe, or will be amalgamated into one.

Currently, as noted above, Communication is a portfolio in its own right, under Sweden's Margot Wallstrom, while Culture and Citizenship is seperate but, as we've argued before, all very much interlinked with the campaign for hearts and minds piloted by Wallstrom. According to Quatremer, culture will be merged with 'digital economy' under Luxembourg's Viviane Reding.

For the past year, we have argued that the Communication post should be scrapped outright, since it has proven unable to provide badly-needed neutral information about the EU and its policies, reverting instead to promoting the EU and European integration at every opportunity.

Margot Wallstrom did her best, but it's starting to look as though our wish may be granted and the days of the world's most ineffective PR department may finally be numbered. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not to be underestimated

In a letter in the Evening Standard yesterday we argued that the EU's new President, Herman Van Rompuy, should not be underestimated.

Just looking through Nicolas Sarkozy's press conference in Brussels last week, this is reinforced.

Sarko describes Van Rompuy as “an extremely determined man who knows exactly where he's going, he's a perfect connoisseur of European politics.”

He says:

“I genuinely find that Herman's views reflect mine: he's a man who knows very precisely where he's going. And if people are criticizing him for not being determined and being too flexible, they risk having some rude surprises, some rude surprises. Don't confuse things, thinking that a tolerant man who's a bit reserved, perhaps a bit modest, can't have firm beliefs. So talk to those who know him well about them and you'll see. I'm going to tell you something: I think he's one of the strongest personalities around the Council table. Don't see that as in any way belittling the others.”

There are a couple of other telling quotes in there too.

Asked why Cathy Ashton got the job of EU Foreign Minister, Sarkozy is clear that this was about rewarding her for pushing the Lisbon Treaty through Parliament and seeing off calls for a referendum:

“Listen, really, this is important, she played an essential role in getting the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords, which wasn't nothing, you will agree. She is one of the British political figures – though it's in no way up to me to judge – who most strongly promoted the Lisbon Treaty issue. I've also had occasion to express my gratitude to Gordon Brown for the responsibilities he shouldered, but right the way through the Lisbon process – and you know how fiercely it was discussed in the United Kingdom, it isn't a secret for anyone – she was constantly in favour of it, she supported him courageously. And, after all, we were very happy to find British political women and men to get it through when a section of the British political class was asking for a referendum, as you know as well as I do.”

Lastly, check out his tone here:

“remember Nice and look where we've got to now, the Irish had to be consulted twice, we had to have the presidential election in France to overcome the 'no', same thing in Holland. Then, in the space of a few weeks we had to choose a team; it's been done, without drama, without scandal, without fuss. It's done.”

Tsk - those pesky Irish getting it wrong eh - they "had to be" consulted twice.... !

Yeah, Sarko, just like last week's seamlessly smooth EU summit - what a success that was - not a total embarassment at all... not a monumental contradiction of everything you've been saying about making the EU more democratic, nooo...! A great success, no scandal or fuss at all, we're quite sure the citizens of Europe are all perfectly happy with the whole thing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A fox looking after the chickens

Number 10 is facing growing accusations that Gordon Brown had 'sold Britain down the river' once again by giving up the influential EU trade portfolio currently held by the UK's Cathy Ashton in return for the arguably less important external relations role.

Not only that, but according to French diplomats and a Commission source speaking to Le Monde newspaper, the whole sorry stitch-up was a deal brokered with Nicolas Sarkozy who in return for backing Ashton for Foreign Minister, secured GB's support for French MEP Michel Barnier to bag one of the most important Commission posts of all - Internal Market.

As Open Europe's Mats Persson told the Telegraph:

“This appointment is part of a very deliberate French strategy to challenge the anglo-saxon model in general and the prominence of the City of London in particular."

Because let's be clear: with Barnier in charge of the heaviest economic portfolio in the Commission we’re guaranteed to get two things: more 'Europe' and more regulations.

Looks like GB has been outmanoeuvred in Europe yet again. Don't get us wrong - the Foreign Minister role is a definitely a biggy. In charge of up to 7,000 staff and a £45 billion 3-year budget for the "biggest diplomatic service in the world", in the words of current foreign policy bod Javier Solana, Cathy Ashton is being described as the face of Europe on the world stage.

But as high-profile as that may be, the key thing to remember in all this is that the UK has now been completely ruled out of every single one of the important economic portfolios in the Commission - Internal Market, Competition, Trade, Economic & Social Affairs, even the rumoured new Financial Services post. In fact, France has made crystal clear that it doesn't want Jose Barroso to separate the financial services side of things from the Internal Market portfolio - meaning Barnier will be in charge of the lot.

Former Minister Michael Fallon sensibly asked David Miliband in Parliament today:

"Why did the Prime Minister allow himself to be outwitted by the French into conceding the key internal market and financial services job with a result that we will have a French commissioner regulating the City of London whilst Baroness Ashton is handing out the Ferrero Rocher?"

All of this is hugely important for the UK because the Commission is now so active in the area of financial and economic regulation - and it is vital the UK has a strong influence. Unless you've just arrived home from Mars, you will know the EU's current proposed rules for alternative investment funds, for instance, could be hugely damaging to the City unless they are substantially amended along the lines being pushed by the UK government and others.

Parachuting Michel Barnier into this role could be far more disastrous for the UK than any prestigious appointment to the world stage can hope to compensate for.

Why? Because Barnier is a backward-looking protectionist.

In the run-up to the EP elections he kept saying he wanted “to build a Europe that acts and protects.”

He appears to have also described himself as: “The only government minister whose politics is totally European”, and said, “Do we want Europe to be a simple regional actor and a free trade area or do we want to make Europe a global actor and a political power? My decision was made long ago.”

Most worrying of all, he said: “All problems are local and yet all the solutions are found in Brussels!”.

Even left-leaning newspaper Le Monde warned earlier this year that the "europhile" Barnier would be a poor choice for Internal Market Commissioner.

It said: “without a doubt the post is currently the most important at the heart of the European executive, after the presidency”. It pointed out that the City of London would view the appointment of a French politician to the Internal Market post as comparable “to entrusting the surveillance of a chicken coop to a fox”.

It wisely noted that “the issue of new financial regulation is too serious to become a simple stake in negotiations on the composition of the future commission”.

And don't forget, Sarkozy has said that Paris' La Défense district, which according to the FT recently is undergoing a radical makeoever, "intends to take over" the City.

Score: Brown 1, Sarkozy 2.

More on your new President

Suddenly the illusive Belgian Prime Minister’s various books have taken on a new appeal and we’ve been down the library in an effort to learn more about our unelected new President, Herman Van Rompuy and what kind of thinking he will bring to Europe. (These days in EU politics, you have to do your own research about who is appointed to the important positions – and after the event, given there’s obviously no attempt to inform or convince you before they are wheeled out.)

In addition to the stuff we uncovered last week, here’s a few snippets from his books:

In his book “Vernieuwing in hoofd en hart : een tegendraadse visie” (Renovation in Head and Heart: a contrary vision, 1998), for instance, Van Rompuy celebrates the fact that the euro was imposed in Germany even though the majority of people were against it.

He says:

“Luckily monetary union has arrived. In a couple of years it would have been too late… In Germany the majority of the population is against the replacement of the German Mark by the Euro, but Chancellor Kohl has stood firm. Monetary union has arrived, despite a large part of the population. That's possible in a parliamentary democracy, a lot less so in a direct democracy. Later it will become clear what kind of a revolution the euro was and how this project has brought us out of the ‘age of mediocrity’". (p 61)

He also talks about harmonisation of EU taxes as a tool to keeping them high:

“If we don’t want to let the global level of taxation sink away, we will have to consciously levy certain new taxes at the European level or harmonise some of these, for example in the field of environment, mobility, income from capital... Every time it will be a movement upwards."

In what can only be interpreted as a desire to scrap the EU unanimity rule on taxation, he says: “This movement won't be easy because with regards to taxation the rule of unanimity prevails in Europe. In other words, every country possesses a veto right." (p 57)

Unsurprisingly Van Rompuy is in favour of obligatory voting. He says:

“Personally I am in favour of the duty to vote, precisely because the citizen has rights and duties. Without an obligation, the weakest won't participate in the democratic process and their rights - just like in the United States - will not be given enough exposure.” (p 35)

On Turkey, he wrote in his book “Op zoek naar wijsheid” (In search of wisdom, 2007) :

“Modern man should not only be a traveller or a seeker. He should also have a nest, a pillar of certainty and security. That we are experiencing now. One has to deal carefully with the sense of loss of identity. Therefore the proponents of Turkish accession are playing with fire. Turkey is neither culturally nor geographically considered to be a European country even though for decades it has belonged to NATO and other European institutions. It ‘alienates’ the Union even more from the European citizen. Three hundred years ago Turkey was the enemy of the big European countries, by the way. The geopolitical argument is that a European Turkey can be an example of tolerance for the whole of the Middle East. But Turkey has for 80 years been a secularised state - thanks to repeated military coup d'états - but that hasn't had any influence on the bordering countries which are more and more getting into the grip of islamic extremism. However, there needs to be a ‘link’ with the Union.” (p69)

And in his book, "De binnenkant op een kier : avonden zonder politiek" (A glimpse into the inside: evenings without politics, 2000), Von Rompuy mused:

“Americans are more religious than Europeans. Would that be because life in the United States entails more risks than life here? Are Americans seeking more shelter with God? In a sermon of a preacher I only heard a prayer for consolation and compensation for setbacks. Without this spiritual power America would have never proceeded so strongly on the material field. A real paradox. Europe doesn't have a God any more. It could be our problem of the future." (p 147)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Unprecedented low turnout

Some light relief for Friday evening from Swedish blogger Johan Norberg:


See here for Open Europe's reaction to the outcome of yesterday's EU summit.

According to the Telegraph the UK's Cathy Ashton was told at 5pm yesterday that she had been put forward for the job. Two hours later she had bagged the job and was celebrating with the other EU leaders, with Jose Barroso handing a Rubiks cube to Sweden's Fredrik Reinfeldt to congratulate him for engineering the whole stitch-up.

Can anyone remember the Laeken Declaration, the original impetus behind the original EU Constitution, which later became the Lisbon Treaty? It talked about bringing the EU decision-making process closer to its citizens. What a terrible joke that has turned out to be.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Rumours are swirling thick and fast from the EU summit in Brussels...

Apparently Herman Van Rompuy is still leading the pack as the frontrunner for the EU President job - especially now that Merkel and Sarkozy are doing their best to stitch it up for him.

However, the sticking point is who would partner him as Foreign Minister to make up a 'dream ticket' that ticks all of the boxes of the horse trading behind the scenes to ensure the process favours no single bloc too heavily (regional balance, political balance, gender balance, big/small balance etc.)

The surprise is that the UK's EU Trade Commissioner, Baroness Catherine Ashton, could be creeping up as a wild card for a late burst onto the summit scene in the role of EU Foreign Minister. With an Ashton/Rompuy ticket, it would mean that the newer member states would miss out - so that could still prove to be a sticky wicket over dinner tonight.

The EU Foreign Minister could well turn out to be even more influential than the EU President, with a budget of up to £45bn and a diplomatic staff of 7,000 to wield at their disposal. And this is a candidate who has never run for office in her political career, nor for so much as the President of the PTA (as far as we know): an EU Foreign Minister who has never had to face the electorate nor had experience representing the interests of a single constituent.

So in a funny way she is just the person for an unelected and unaccountable job like this. But hang on, why are we surprised at all? Maybe this is her reward for pushing the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords when she was leader of the House last Spring. In fact, maybe she had her eye on the cushy new job all along?? Who knows.

Update: PA reports that Gordon Brown has ditched Tony Blair for EU President in order to back Catherine Ashton for Foreign Minister

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wie is die jeugdige Belgische lobbyist?

Open Europe's man in Brussels, Pieter Cleppe, has stirred up quite a storm over in Belgium with his revelations about the frontrunner for the EU Presidency, Herman Van Rompuy.

Pieter, a Flemish-speaking Belgian lawyer (who also happens to be the nephew of former Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt) was behind information about Van Rompuy's EU federalist credentials uncovered by the Telegraph on Monday and pursued further by many other papers over the last couple of days.

As a result, Ter Zake, Belgium's most-watched Flemish news programme, last night featured a whole piece on Pieter and Open Europe.

You can catch the clips here:


And for those of you who can actually understand Dutch, Pieter also has an op-ed in Belgian daily De Morgan today.

The EU summit: not a complete mess, honest

The final countdown is on to the summit tomorrow that will decide who will be Europe's first permanent President and Foreign Minster, and the media is awash with speculation on the various candidates.

Looking at all the hoo-ha it is entirely possible that the decision making could drag on until Friday, or even the weekend if the Swedish EU Presidency fails to hammer out a consensus. The Times quotes Cecilia Malmström, Sweden's Europe Minister, saying, "I would not say it is a complete mess, but there is no agreement still."

Presumably the revelation that the front-runner for the job, Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy, is a groaning EU federalist and champion of direct EU taxation might have gone some way to dampening his star - (although we won't hold our breath).

With so much secrecy surrounding the process (who's a candidate, who isn't?) and the inevitable horse-trading that goes with any move to hand out plum EU jobs like these, it's really difficult to predict what we're going to end up with. As Martin Winter from Sueddeutsche Zeitung said on the Today programme this morning: "It's the first time in ten years that I have no idea what's going to come out of this summit."

All this is an absurd illustration of how out of touch and anti-democratic the EU now is. The EU President will simply be wheeled out at some point over the weekend, with the 500 million citizens he or she is meant to represent expected just to hang on and wait for the outcome.

To fill the time (and get some sense of what the hell is going on) you could do worse than a trip to the bookies for a flutter. We reckon Latvia's Vaira Vike-Freiberga is worth a pop at 25/1...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Soon to be your President?

There's some interesting background on the frontrunner for the Presidency of the European Union, Belgian PM Herman Van Rompuy.

Last week, he laid out his views on how the EU’s budget should be financed in the future at a dinner of the secretive Bilderberg group, pleading for direct EU taxes.

And as noted by the Telegraph yesterday, he was an architect of the Flemish Christian Democrats’ federalist manifesto, which calls for more EU symbols in town halls, schools and sporting events. The story is also picked up in Belgian daily De Standaard today.

The manifesto says: “Apart from the euro, also other national symbols need to be replaced by European symbols (licence plates, identity cards, presence of more EU flags, one time EU sports events”.

On the EU Constitution, under the headline "EU Constitution. The sooner, the better", the manifesto reads:

"Of course CD&V - Christian Democrat Party - would have wished for a bit more with regards to making decisionmaking procedures in the Council easier, in the field of social and fiscal policy and in the field of foreign policy. But because politics is the art of the possible, we think the text of the Convention is a great success."

It notes: “we plead for the preservation of EU structural funds”, (note that the EU Court of Auditors has now for the 15th time in a row refused to sign off the EU books, due in no small part to the mismanagement of these funds.)

Furthermore, Van Rompuy's manifesto pleaded for a social Europe - wanting Europe to "formulate social minimum norms”, and calling for the things that ended up in the Lisbon Treaty: the removal of veto powers for Justice and Home Affairs legislation, an EU Prosecutor, and a harmonised asylum policy.

On EU defence, the manifesto states that a “credible European defence policy requires the EU to receive the necessary competences, structures and means", including:

- easier decision making procedures in the Council
- a workable procedure for enhanced cooperation
- a credible input of means by the member states and a better coordination among national contributions
- a common defence structure
- EU representation in NATO

Last but not least the manifesto notes that "taking decisions by majority needs to become to rule, also in domains which are traditionally very closely connected with national sovereignty, such as justice, internal affairs, fiscal matters, social policy and foreign policy."

Van Rompuy himself was an avid supporter of the European Constitution, and is reported to have been very relieved that there was no referendum in Belgium. He reportedly hated the debates in France and the Netherlands, in which he discovered a sort of demagogy to which “even the calculating citizen lends a willing ear”.

Following the No votes to the European Constitution in 2005, Van Rompuy gave a speech to the Belgian Parliament, in which he said: “We go on with the ratification of the European Constitution in all our parliaments, but we need to admit that for the moment the project is over. However, this doesn’t mean that we cannot continue to work in a creative way in the direction which the Constitution points. I don’t mind if we break up the Constitution into smaller parts, as long as we continue to work in the same direction: in the direction of more Europe.” And so it was.

He has also blamed the financial crisis on the “Anglosaxon model”, saying: “The Anglosaxon model of full economic freedom was celebrated. But it was there that the crisis originated, not with us”. In one of his books, he added that: “The logic of the market is often stronger than any deontological code. There is barely a stronger force in the world than the force of money. Today it mops up societies all over the world. Only Islam is resisting, although it is doing so often because of complete intolerance." (Vernieuwing in hoofd in hart: een tegendraadse visie, 1998)

Van Rompuy is an avid supporter of an EU superstate. In 1998 he said: “European harmonisation, which is being imposed through a unified currency, is running smoothly. Only fiscal harmonisation will still demand a lot of effort” (De Morgen, 28 maart 1998).

And back in 1989, as President of the Flemish Christian Democrat Party, he was calling for monetary and political union in a new set of treaties. He said: “Once EMU has been realised, the realisation of political union will get an extra boost as a logical and indispensable complement of EMU”. He said: “Council, Parliament and Commission would have to speak out first in favour of the attempt to achieve a monetary and political union, if necessary in one Treaty or in two separate treaties”. (De Tijd, 5 December 1989)

As well as being a classic EU federalist, Von Rompuy's democratic credentials are also fit for the EU. On publication of the de Larosiere report, which called for greater financial regulation in Europe, he commented: “Let’s not discuss it too much, let’s implement it as soon as possible.”

(As Speaker of the Belgian Parliament, Van Rompuy once cancelled a session of the Belgian Parliament, on the instigation of the PM. It sparked much commotion, especially as the locks of the plenary session room had been replaced, leading furious opposition MPs unable to get in to claim this was a 'coup d’Etat' and “this is Belgicistan!"(De Morgen, 3 May 2008)).

Interestingly, he criticised former Belgian PM Jean-Luc Dehaene for wanting to leave Belgium in 1994 to become EU Commission President, saying: "I was furious at Dehaene when he wanted to go to the European Commission. I have sent him a letter twice, hopefully for him he has thrown it away. I did not want it and I found it a shame that he would leave us in the lurch." (De Morgen, 11 February 2006).

Is he about to leave Belgium in the lurch too, and fulfill a wish to become EU President?

Van Rompuy seems pretty good at doing the opposite of what he has pledged. In 2007 he warned: “I know that some are contemplating having a Belgian Federal government backed only by a minority of Flemish MPs in the Belgian Parliament. A government which only has a majority in Wallonia is playing with fire. I am now speaking in the interest of the country: this is dangerous for the sake of the State” (De Morgen, 27 januari 2007). One year later he was and still is the leader of such a government.

In fact, van Rompuy is an avid supporter of the credo: “Don’t remind politicians of earlier statements”. Last summer, he said:

“Everybody has a history, but nobody is as often reminded about it as us. (…) You said this, but you used to say that. That’s a vicious circle, very perverse. In order to be noticed, you have to be controversial, but if you’re being noticed enough and thus get elected, you have to make compromises. And then journalists start reminding about your controversial statements in the past: you’re suffering a loss of face and you get a credibility problem.” (Humo, 3 June 2009)