Open Europe press summary: 23 November 2009

Europe

 

Brown accused of secretive deal with Sarkozy to hand French important EU Internal Market portfolio

Over the weekend it emerged that France has secured the job of EU Internal Market Commissioner for Michel Barnier as part of the deal that saw Lady Ashton become EU Foreign Minister, following reports in French newspaper Le Monde.  The paper reported, that, according to a source at the European Commission, “The French supported the British to lead European diplomacy, with Catherine Ashton’s nomination.  In return, they obtained the guarantee that the French MEP Michel Barnier would become Vice President of the European Commission in charge of the internal market and financial services.”

 

Open Europe’s Mats Persson was quoted in Saturday’s Telegraph saying, “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.”

 

Belgian financial paper Trends notes that “the nomination of a Brit at the head of European diplomacy is good news for France and Germany, because it removes Britain from the race for one of the big economic portfolios.” It reports that “Germany might be interested in Trade, but also in Energy or Industry, in order to protect its industry from the impact of Brussels. France, meanwhile, covets the portfolio of Internal Market for its candidate Michel Barnier, on the condition that Barroso does not separate financial markets from it.” 

 

According to the weekend FT, Downing Street has fiercely denied any deal, amid claims from the Conservatives that Barnier could use his position to pursue a French agenda, stifling the single market and imposing new regulations on the City of London. 

 

William Hague has written to David Miliband demanding details of the deal.  He said: “If Gordon Brown has done a deal that would mean a French commissioner being in charge of the economic issues that affect Britain the most then that could be a serious concern. Our French partners have a different view on market issues that touch on Britain’s vital economic interests. I look forward to the Government taking this opportunity to be completely open about what has been agreed.”  

 

Saturday’s Times reported that Gordon Brown had rejected advice from Lord Mandelson to seek one of the big economic posts in the European Commission for Britain once it was clear that Tony Blair could not succeed in becoming Europe’s first president.  A ministerial source was quoted saying, “We have ended up with two garden gnomes.  It is the lowest common denominator… Gordon Brown has allowed himself to be pushed around by Barroso, who wanted Ashton in there so that he can dominate the stage himself.” 

 

The paper also noted that Geoff Hoon was Downing Street’s first choice as Britain’s next EU Commissioner.  It reported that Tony Blair knew the game was up a week ago, following a conversation with Angela Merkel, but Brown wanted to keep up the Blair campaign as cover to push for a top economic job in the next European Commission.  The Mail on Sunday reported that Lord Mandelson regards Baroness Ashton as “a lightweight” and that he is “furious” about Brown ignoring his advice to seek a key economic portfolio for Britain instead of the EU Foreign Minister job.

 

The Sunday Express quoted Peter Ludlow, President of the European Strategy Forum think tank and adviser to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, saying “It was other governments and not Brown who suggested to the British that if it’s got to be a socialist and it’s got to be a Brit then try Ashton. But Brown went on pushing Blair. Everyone was pleading with him to come to his senses and that there was a solution ready made for him, so that’s how Ashton emerged.”

 

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported that, in private, Mandelson mounted a personal campaign to persuade European allies to back him for the job of EU Foreign Minister.  According to the Mail, a ‘plan B’ if he failed to secure the job was to become Foreign Secretary in the event of David Miliband being selected for the role.  Lord Mandelson is now said to be secretly pressing Brown to hold a cabinet reshuffle so he can achieve his life-long ambition of running the Foreign Office – rumours dismissed by Downing Street as “nonsense.”

Le Monde  Telegraph Sunday Express  Sunday Times: leader Sunday Times: Ivens Sunday Times  Daily Mail Daily Express  Sunday Times 2 Trends

 

Cathy Ashton to be paid more than British Prime Minister in charge of “biggest diplomatic service in the world”

The Sunday Times reported that as EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton will receive a salary of £270,000, which is more than Gordon Brown’s, a chauffeured car, housing allowance and a staff of 20.  The Mail on Sunday noted that the allowances and perks she will receive while in the Commission will net her an estimated £4million.

 

Ashton will have control of the new European external action service, starting with 5,000 staff already engaged on “external relations”, based in delegations in 130 countries – and the service is expected to grow rapidly.  The Sunday Times noted that current EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana has said the service would become “the biggest diplomatic service in the world” and would cost taxpayers £45 billion between now and 2013.  By contrast, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has an annual budget of £2 billion — which the Treasury hopes to cut by 20% over the next two years.

 

Open Europe’s Lorraine Mullally was quoted saying: “This is the beginning of a European foreign service. It was unelected and is not open to democratic scrutiny. Our fear is this will develop a life of its own and come to undermine the foreign policies of European member states.”

 

The paper looked at the EU’s current ‘external action’ role, citing many of the exotic places where the EU has delegations.  It noted that in Kenya, for example, Eric van der Linden, the head of the EU delegation, lives in one of the most sought-after districts of Nairobi, in a complex with large grounds, its own swimming pool and six full-time staff. It quoted a Commission official who was posted to Asia who said spending member states’ money lunching and entertaining foreign dignitaries was an essential part of the job. He said: “Before you leave Brussels the message is hammered home to you that you are just as important as any embassy and you are expected to keep up a certain style.”

 

The paper noted that staff in overseas EU offices typically work a 4-day week, are entitled to first-class travel to and from their posting, as well as private health insurance and an allowance of up to £1,700 a month to spend on school fees. It also looked at the EU’s task of boosting trade and distributing aid, quoting a prominent political commentator in Fiji saying: “EU money comes in for aid, but no one knows where it is going. The money is just being pumped in. Everyone contradicts each other about how the money is going to be used.”

 

Meanwhile the Independent on Sunday noted that the appointment of Baroness Ashton to EU Foreign Minister took the Commission by such a surprise that it is unclear who will temporarily take her place during the meeting among world trade minister on 30 November, a meeting described as crucial in the efforts to revive the Doha trade talks. The article quoted a “negotiator” who has dealt with Ashton as Trade Commissioner, saying, “She is just bossed around by her officials: she doesn’t seem to have any beliefs of her own.” Several weekend papers noted that in the 1970s Ashton worked for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an organisation with communist influences which campaigned for Britain’s withdrawal from NATO.

 

The FT reports that Ashton will take up her new job on 1 December, playing a leading role at the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev two days later before attending her first meeting of foreign affairs ministers on 7 December.  She is expected to appear in front of the European Parliament on 2 December, and in early February is expected to take up the post of Vice President of the Commission. Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, will take up his post on 1 January. 

 

Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports that the European Parliament could delay Ashton’s entry into office, quoting Liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff saying: “when we have to conclude that she isn’t competent as Commission Vice-President, she won’t be able to be Foreign Minister”. A top EU diplomat commented that until her clearing by the EP, she won’t be able to “fully act independently”. EUobserver adds that “if MEPs were to rally against her following her hearing, it is unclear what the legal consequences would be.”

Sueddeutsche EU Observer  Sunday Times  Financial Times  Financial Times 2 Financial Times 3 Financial Time 4 EUobserver Mail on Sunday

 

Other reaction – appointments “an insult to democracy”

There is continuing reaction to the appointment of Catherine Ashton and Herman Van Rompuy to the EU’s new posts of EU President and EU Foreign Minister.   On Friday, Open Europe’s Lorraine Mullally appeared on Channel 5 News, Belgian TV RTBF, German TV ARD, and on Tom McGurk’s show on Irish radio station 4FM.

 

Saturday’s Guardian reported that Van Rompuy “faced a furious backlash in Turkey amid reports of his country’s hostility to the country’s EU membership.”  An influential member of Turkey’s parliament said Van Rompuy had been chosen to keep Turkey out of Europe.  Saturday’s Independent reported on a new poll by Proximity Panels, which found 1 in 3 EU citizens would have favoured Tony Blair for EU President, compared to one in 20 for Mr Van Rompuy.

 

A leader in Saturday’s Times noted that through the filling of the post the EU had embarrassed itself.  In the FT Tony Barber argued that “Europe is risking irrelevance as the world moves on”.  In a piece in Saturday’s Express, Dr Paul Bellen, Editor of the Brussels Journal, argued that Herman Van Rompuy is “devoid of patriotism and contemptuous of democracy.”  FT Deutschland writes that the appointment of two inexperienced politicians means that power has shifted to Jose Barroso.

 

Mia Doornaert, an expert in the cabinet of the Belgian Foreign Minister comments in De Standaard :”the way this decision was taken was lamentable…It was without transparency, after horse trading among government leaders, without anybody knowing who was a candidate and who wasn’t.”

 

Belgian EU politics Professor Hendrik Vos argues in De Morgen that “Belgium rules”, noting that Belgium will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers in the second half of 2010, meaning Belgians will preside not just over the meetings of government leaders, but of all meetings of Ministers in the Council, whether it be Agriculture, Environment, Transport.  He notes that this is despite the fact that “Belgium has been condemned more than 10 times because we systematically don’t apply EU laws. There is some system in it. In the most recent survey of the Commission, it appears that 88 infringement procedures are being conducted by the European Court of Justice because of failure or misapplication of EU laws. We do just as badly as Greece. Only in Spain and Italy the situation is worse. In the last 3 years, the number of procedures against Belgium has increased by 50%.”

 

In the Sunday Express, Julia Hartley-Brewer noted that “This was, even by EU standards, an extraordinary stitch-up of epic proportions.” A leader in the Independent on Sunday argued, “The broader lesson of the past eight years, from the decision to draw up a ‘constitution for Europe’…is that democratic accountability at the European level must be allowed to grow from the bottom up. The idea of imposing administrative changes from above without popular consent should now be dead.”

 

In the Times, William Rees-Mogg describes the appointments as “an insult to democracy.”  He says “Lisbon has created more problems than it has solved. There will have to be another reconsideration of the way the EU is run. The Eurosceptics who asked for this are not the enemies of Europe but the real friends.”

Sunday Telegraph: Hannan Tony Barber  Telegraph leader  Independent  Independent 2 Sunday Telegraph Sunday Express-Hamilton Independent on Sunday-leader Times Leo McKinstry EUobserver blog Eurointelligence Standaard: Doornaert De Morgen: Vos Elsevier: de Winter 

 

Incoming Swedish Commissioner: our salaries and perks are “unreasonably” high

In an interview with Swedish Radio, Swedish Europe Minister and incoming Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, has said that the salaries and perks given to European Commissioners are unreasonably high. As a Commissioner, Malmstrom will recieve 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. “It is an unreasonable amount of money, but I’m not the one deciding the conditions,” Malmstrom is quoted as saying.

Svenska Dagbladet

 

EU Agriculture Commissioner strongly defends the EU’s CAP

In an interview with Euractiv, EU Agriculture Commissioner Marianne Fischer Boel strongly defends the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, arguing that renationalisation of EU farm policy is the “totally wrong decision”. According to Fischer Boel, the CAP is needed to maintain a level playing field and allow equal competition between all EU farmers. At the same time she said that failing to get a new global trade deal in the Doha negotiations – in which the EU has been accused of blocking progress due to its farm policy – is “one of the regrets that I have before leaving [the Commission].”

Euractiv

 

President Van Rompuy to push for EU tax

Several papers report that President Van Rompuy has called for an EU tax, either in the form of green taxes or levies on financial transactions. Rompuy argues: “The financing of the welfare state, irrespective of the social reform we implement, will require new resources,” and that “The possibility of financial levies at European level needs to be seriously reviewed.” In the Sunday Telegraph, Christopher Booker argued “the one thing the EU has needed to make its powers complete, and which not even its Constitution could give, was the power to levy its own direct taxes. It is no accident that this is now at the top of Mr Van Rompouy’s list. William Hague condemned the tax as “totally unacceptable” and the Express called Rompuy’s proposal “a pillaging tax”.  

Sunday Telegraph Daily Express Sunday Telegraph-Booker

 

Commission criticises Germany for undermining new proposals for EU-wide financial supervision

FT Deutschland reports that the European Commission has criticised Germany for attempting to water down new proposals for more EU-wide supervision of the financial sector. The Commission tabled a proposal for more supervision in September – including the creation of three new EU authorities with binding powers over national regulators. According to FT Deutschland, a draft of the proposal, prepared by the Swedish EU Presidency, has removed the Commission’s mandate to issue binding orders for banks in the event of a crisis, while also reducing the Commission’s role in day-to-day supervision. Handelsblatt notes that the opposition to the Commission’s plans is led by the UK and Germany.

Eurointelligence Handelsblatt

 

Sugar producers to get €300 million from EU budget

The Coulisses de Bruxelles blog reports that sugar producers will gain 300 million euros from the EU budget, noting that “protected from outside competition, sugar producers have been able to produce lavishly, assured of comfortable price guarantees and help for export at dumping prices.” The article clarifies that “this was the case until the 2005 reforms, which have put an end to the excesses and have finally permitted the poorest countries to export their sugar to the Union.” It notes that the Commission proposed to let compensation payments be paid out of the EU budget, as it was sure of its victory, “thinking that member states, who don’t have any money in times of crisis, would refuse this demand. But then the surprise: almost all member states supported sugar producers.” 

Coulisses de Bruxelles

 

Evans-Pritchard: Euro membership blocks every way out of Greek debt crisis
In the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard notes that “Greece is disturbingly close to a debt compound spiral. It is the first developed country on either side of the Atlantic to push unfunded welfare largesse to the limits of market tolerance.” He adds: “Euro membership blocks every plausible way out of the crisis, other than EU beggary. This is what happens when a facile political elite signs up to a currency union for reasons of prestige or to snatch windfall gains without understanding the terms of its Faustian contract.”

Meanwhile, Moody’s, the US ratings agency, has warned that a fresh loan by the French government may push the country’s deficit above 10pc of GDP and erode the country’s safety-margin as a triple-A borrower, the Telegraph reports. The strategy risks a fresh rift with Germany, which must pursue a tighter fiscal policy under constitutional constraints. French budget minister Eric Woerth rebuffed the criticism, saying “We are not German”, according to the article.

Telegraph Telegraph: Evans-Pritchard Eurointelligence

 

According to the Independent on Sunday Conservative MEP Roger Helmer has criticised he Church of England for putting more emphasis on fighting climate change than on its traditional teachings.

Independent on Sunday

 

In an op-ed in Swedish daily, Svenska Dagbladet, Swedish PM Frederik Reinfeldt criticised the US ahead of the UN Copenhagen climate change summit next month, during which no binding agreement is going to be reached. Reinfeldt noted, “Protracted discussions of the proposed new American climate and energy legislation in Congress limit the opportunities for clear political leadership.”

Svenska Dagbladet: Reinfeldt

 

A run-off vote is expected in Romania after none of the 12 candidates won outright in the first round of Sunday’s presidential election, the BBC reports.

BBC

 

UK

 

An Ipsos poll for the Observer put the Conservatives at 37%, Labour at 31%, the Lib-Dems at 17% and other parties at 15%. Toby Helm notes in that paper that “if replicated at a general election, it would leave the Tories 35 short of an overall majority in a hung parliament.”

Observer

 

 


 

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: openeurope.org.uk or call us on 0207 197 2333.

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