Open Europe press summary: 20 November 2009


 EU leaders appoint Belgian PM as first EU President;

UK Trade Commissioner appointed as EU Foreign Minister

EU leaders last night selected Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy to serve as the EU’s first permanent President, and the UK’s EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton as EU Foreign Minister.

 A headline on the front page of the Guardian reads: “The great EU stitch-up”, and reports that, despite two weeks of dispute among EU governments over how to share out the posts, a consensus was quickly reached last night during a dinner at a special summit. Gordon Brown abandoned his support for Tony Blair as EU President following a pre-dinner meeting with other European socialists, and switched his support to Baroness Ashton for EU Foreign Minister.

 PA quotes Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague saying: “I am very pleased that those of us across Europe who said that the President should be a chairman, not a chief, have won the argument.” The FT reports that “The decision over a short dinner healed internal disagreements within the EU but left a question mark over whether the best candidates were chosen for the posts”.

 Open Europe’s Lorraine Mullally is quoted in the Telegraph saying “Most people in Europe have never even heard of Herman Van Rompuy or Catherine Ashton, yet here they are to represent us in the global arena. Surely Europe can do better than this?”

 She is also quoted in the Mirror, Sun, Express, Mail, Northern Echo and several international papers saying: “This is an outrageous stitch-up by Europe’s elite. Meeting behind closed doors, 27 people in Brussels decide on the two biggest jobs in Europe while the 500 million citizens they are supposed to represent hang on for the outcome. This is a blow to democracy – the EU should be ashamed of itself.”

 The Express reports that leaked EU documents, obtained by Open Europe, reveal that Mr Van Rompuy will earn £320,000, making him the highest paid leader in the western world, earning more than US President Barack Obama, and will pay just 25 percent income tax. He will have a staff of 22 press officers, assistants and administrators and a further 10 security agents. And he will have access to a £5million reserve fund to dip into as his job “develops”.

 Lorraine also appeared on BBC News last night, pointing out that Catherine Ashton neatly fits the unaccountable role of EU Foreign Minister, given that she has never been elected in her life, and said that the new appointments will increase, not reduce confusion around the rest of the world about who is supposed to speak for Europe.

 The Guardian reports that analysts said the happiest man in Brussels was probably Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, since the appointment of two relatively obscure figures represented a minimal threat to his authority.

FT 2 Irish Times Irish Times 2 Times Times 2 City AM WSJ EUobserver EurActiv European Voice BBC Guardian Guardian2 Guardian3 IHT Independent Mirror Northern Echo Hurriyet Sun Mail Express FT Telegraph EUobserver Conservative Home Times Mail 2 Open Europe press release

 New EU President Herman Van Rompuy a “committed EU federalist”

The Irish Times reports that the EU’s new President Herman Van Rompuy is a Flemish speaking member of the centre-right Christian Democrat party who secured a reputation in the 1990s as the Finance Minister who secured Belgium’s entry into the eurozone. He took over as Prime Minister of Belgium in December last year and replaced Yves Leterme, who resigned amid a financial scandal last after just nine months in the job.

 In an interview with Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe explains some of the criticism against Herman Van Rompuy saying that “he believes in a European bureaucratic superstate, where money is being thrown over the counter and voters don’t have a say any more.” He adds: “Van Rompuy is being strongly underestimated. I have no doubt that he will succeed in secretly increasing the powers of his position.” Pieter added: “I think a lot of ordinary Belgians think that Europe has gone in the wrong way during recent years.” 

 Le Figaro quotes Van Rompuy saying “All human beings must choose between the absurd and the mysterious.  Me, I choose mystery.”

 In the Irish Independent, Bruno Waterfield notes that Mr Van Rompuy has been described by Chris Bryant, Europe Minister, as having “a more federalist agenda than other prime ministers in Europe”. The Guardian also notes that, “Van Rompuy is a committed European federalist, a position that suits the core and oldest EU member states, but raises many eyebrows among east Europeans, Scandinavians, and, of course, the British.”

 The Express reports that a source in Brussels has indicated that Mr Van Rompuy is “furious” over the paper’s front page yesterday, of a Belgian political poster depicting him as a clown.

Irish Independent FT Irish Times WSJ European Voice BBC BBC 2 BBC: Hewitt blog Guardian Independent Express Le Figaro

 Independent: “Cathy Ashton has the lucky habit of being in the right place at the right time”

The UK’s EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton has been appointed as EU Foreign Minister, and will serve as Vice-President of the European Commission. This means that Britain will not receive a heavyweight economic portfolio in the next Commission. Baroness Ashton of Upholland was appointed as a life peer in 1999, and went on to serve as leader of the House of Lords. She was appointed as a Commissioner following Peter Mandelson’s recall to domestic politics in October last year. The Independent argues that Cathy Ashton “has a lucky habit of being in the right place at the right time.”

 The BBC Today programme reports that, in response to a question about who from the EU would answer a phone call from Washington, and represent the EU, 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.”

 Asked if she was “hobbled” by the criticisms that she had never been elected to anything, Baroness Ashton told the programme: “I don’t think so. I’m humbled by it in that I’m very conscious of those that have been elected. It’s why I spend a lot of time with the European Parliament. It’s why when I was leader of the House of Lords I was very conscious of the role of the House of Commons: of MPs and the role of elected representatives. But while I wasn’t being elected, I spent 28 years doing negotiation in all kinds of fora…Over the next few months and years I aim to show I am the best person for this job…I think quite a few people would say I am the best person for the job.”

 PA quotes Conservative MEP Dan Hannan saying that Baroness Ashton was, “a lifelong quangocrat who has never once been elected to anything…She steered the Lisbon Treaty through the House of Lords, cancelling the referendum on it that all three parties had promised. She was then appointed to the European Commission because Gordon Brown wanted to avoid a by-election. Now, she gets the top job as a kind of compensation to Labour over the rejection of Tony Blair. Every chapter in the story is a denial of the democratic principle.”

 The Times reports that Baroness Ashton will have a staff of 7,000 diplomats and will receive a salary of €216,000, an annual entertainment allowance of €11,000 and an annual accommodation allowance of €32,500. It also reports that, once it became clear that the EU was likely to choose a President from small country on the centre-right, a large country on the centre-left was needed “to balance the ticket.” Britain and Spain were the only large left-of-centre countries available to provide a candidate, but Spain did not want to give up on a top financial portfolio in the next Commission.

FT FT 2 Times WSJ FT: Westminster blog European Voice BBC: Newslog Guardian Independent BBC OE blog

 EU Council comment round-up

On his blog, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt says that a “minimalist” solution to the appointment of the EU presidency post represents “a historic missed opportunity”. A headline in El Pais reads: “Two unknowns at the head of Europe” and a leader in Swedish paper Aftonbladet writes: “The European Union has struggled to get the new Constitution in place for ten years – only for [the President post] to be filled by an unknown Belgian in the end.”

 A leader in the Sun argues, “For British voters – denied a referendum then sold down the river by Labour – last night’s farce is the final slap in the face.” A leader in the Mail notes, “the entire exercise – from the jobs themselves to the way they have been filled to the people who have filled them – is a slap in the face for the fundamental principles of British democracy…although there might be those who take heart that the two jobs have been filled by non-entities – one of them British – that would be a profound mistake.”

 The Economist’s Charlemagne blog notes that yesterday’s appointments show that EU leaders “want to live in an inward-looking fortress, not an outward looking global power”. Meanwhile in the FT, Quentin Peel argues that the division between a centre-right and centre-left candidate, “shows what a powerful role the European parliament has come to play in EU politics.”

 A leader in the Guardian notes, “Who do you call when you want to call Europe? After five years of wrangling designed to deal with the Henry Kissinger question, the EU last night failed to provide a satisfactory answer.”

 A leader in the Independent argues, “Stitch up? Well of course it was a stitch up. How else, in the present state of things, can such jobs be decided? A proper selection process – let alone an election – would have endowed the posts with real influence and real power.”

 The Spectator Coffee House blog notes “The first EU president is a Belgium Prime Minister who is obscure even by Belgium standards and its first foreign minister is a Brit who would be treated as a joke if they had been made Foreign Secretary.” On his FT blog, Tony Barber argues that the Rompuy-Ashton combination signals EU disunity over Turkish membership of the Union.

Aftonbladet: leader Conservative Home Sun: Leader Mail: Leader FT: Peel Economist: Charlemagne’s notebook Guido Fawkes blog Guardian: Kettle Guardian: leader Independent: Lichfield Spectator-blog FT: Brussels blog Carl Bildt’s blog Yahoo Actualités Aftonbladet: leader

 France expected to get Financial Services portfolio in next EU Commission

EUobserver reports that France is expecting to get the Internal Market and Financial Services portfolio in the next European Commission following its support for a Briton winning the post of EU Foreign Minister. French candidate Michel Barnier, a former agriculture minister who has already served as EU commissioner, would likely get the job, which has never been held by France. However, this portfolio is likely to be split into two in the next Commission.


 Economist: What is the justification for EU caps on hedge fund managers’ pay?

A leader in the Economist looks at the pay caps on hedge fund and private equity managers, inserted into the Council of Ministers’ version of the EU’s proposed AIFM Directive, asking  “What is the justification for this interference in private contracts? The politicians who dreamed up the directive talk about systemic risk, a concern for financial stability. But hedge funds have much less leverage than the big banks and the industry is much less concentrated. Hundreds of funds went out of business this year and last, without a single one being rescued by the government.” It also notes, “Hedge-fund or private-equity managers do not operate, or get paid, in the same way as banks.”

Economist: leader Economist Open Europe research

 “We have nothing to lose from cutting down on the EU budget”

In Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, columnist Malin Siwe criticises the EU’s budget following last week’s report by the European Court of Auditors, in which the auditors refused to sign off the EU’s budget for the 15th year in a row. Siwe notes, “The biggest problem with [the EU’s] regional funds is not the outright fraud, it is the share of the money that is being used just as intended”. She argues that EU funds often go to “fluffy projects…which is damaging since the money could be put to better use”, concluding that “EU citizens don’t like the Union any more just because they receive subsidies…we have nothing to lose from cutting down on the funding streams.” 

Dagens Nyheter: Siwe Open Europe’s 50 examples of EU waste

 FT Deutschland reports that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy have agreed a deal that Uwe Corsepius will succeed Pierre de Boissieu as Secretary General of the EU Council. It also reports that it appears as though Ms Merkel has positioned herself well for the top job she wants most of all – to have Axel Weber as President of the ECB in two years time.


 NRC reports that the Dutch EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes is very likely to be officially reappointed by Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende. 

NRC Handelsblad

 The Economist’s Charlemagne column looks at EU-Russia relations, noting that “Europe is entering a new phase in its security. Some illusions need to be shed: starting with the idea that Europe, America and Russia are friends with shared values.”


 The FT reports that Scottish fishermen are offering to change the way they fish to persuade the EU to relax rules that require them to throw large amounts of high-quality fish back in the sea if their catch includes species not allowed under quotas.


 The WSJ reports that German Economics Minister Rainer Brüderle suggested this week that Opel may no longer qualify for state aid, regardless of what restructuring plan GM presents for its European operations.


 The European Union’s Economic Commissioner, Joaquín Almunia, singled out Greece’s “serious problems” last week as “a question of common concern for the whole euro area.” His office has ordered Athens to present regular budgetary progress reports. Eventually, Greece could be fined if it does not take adequate action.



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


One Response to “Open Europe press summary: 20 November 2009”

  1. euandus2 Says:

    interesting on the deals made.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: