"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Sunday, 31 January 2010

What Has Europe Done For Us

A cut-and-paste job I'm afraid, gathered from Open Europe. The graphic to the left isn't part of a rorsasch test but if it were it would be a galloping horse.

Quote of the fortnight: "The European institutional public sphere is largely a public discourse for elites, it is a sphere in which citizens remain uninvolved. This has in turn contributed to the EU's democratic deficit... efforts must also be made to improving the EU's transparency - particularly its financial and accounting processes - and to reducing bureaucracy by taking subsidiarity seriously."
The Right Reverend Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford, in a report by the Church of England's House of Bishops' Europe Panel, 15 January 2010

1. MEPs vote to increase their allowances by €1,500 a month
MEPs on the European Parliament's Budget Committee voted on Wednesday in favour of increasing MEPs' allowances for hiring assistants by €1,500 a month. They are claiming that the additional cash is needed to help them deal with the new powers awarded to the European Parliament under the Lisbon Treaty. They also voted to hire an extra 150 staff to help with their increased workload.

This latest increase in MEPs' allowances will cost EU taxpayers an additional €13.3 million, and increase the European Parliament's budget to €1.6 billion this year. In total, MEPs already have around £360,000 available to them in salaries, and various allowances and expenses.

In response to the vote, European Voice Deputy Editor Tim King wrote an article arguing, "For 40 years, a near-secret agreement has governed how the three main institutions of the European Union divide up administrative spending...Forty years on, it is obvious to many outside observers that the Parliament has more money than it knows what to do with."

Separately the EP's Budgetary Control Committee published a document detailing the EP's budget in 2008/09, which reveals that the Parliament lost 54,000 sick days in 2008. It also reveals that the Parliament spent €2.3 million renovating its sports centre, €4.3million on a new visitor centre, despite the fact that it already has one, and hundreds of thousands of pounds on gas-guzzling luxury cars which emit as much as 260 CO2 g/km. It also shows that the cost of repairing the ceiling in the European Parliament's second seat in Strasbourg was €8.8 million.

2. EU opens 54 embassies across the world as Lisbon Treaty comes into force; EU desperate to set up new diplomatic service before UK election
54 EU embassies have opened across the world since the Lisbon Treaty came into force in December 2009, without any public announcement. Embassies in Beijing, Kabul and Addis Ababa, the seat of the African Union, will be headed by ambassadors who are empowered to speak on behalf of the whole EU.

The new embassies will co-ordinate member states' bilateral missions to the countries in question and have a mandate to carry out consular work, with an EU official saying that the EU embassies "are going to be a bit more political" than the European Commission delegations that they replaced.

Controversially, the Lisbon Treaty allows the EU to determine rules on diplomatic and consular protection by qualified majority vote, meaning that Britain can now be overruled on crucial diplomatic matters, such as on how to respond to human rights abuses in a conflict-ridden country.

There are fears that, with the EU embassies increasingly duplicating the work of national missions, member states may close their own embassies in order to save money.

Meanwhile, EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton has called on a group of advisors to help her with the establishment of the EU's new diplomatic service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), also brought in under the Lisbon Treaty. Some members of Ashton's team believe that negotiations will become bogged down if the Conservative Party wins the UK's General Election, likely to be held in May, and are therefore urging that the EEAS be fully established before then.

This tight deadline has given the European Commission more power over the formation of the new service, at the expense of national governments, with an internal Commission working group set up by Commission President Barroso already at work preparing documents for Ashton's group of advisors to 'rubber stamp'.

3. Greek deficit endangers eurozone
As Greece's economic difficulties continue, fears of a eurozone break-up have reached the point where the European Central Bank has issued a legal analysis of what would happen if a country tried to leave monetary union. The analysis argued that eurozone exit would also entail expulsion from the European Union.

Meanwhile, a leaked European Commission paper argued that soaring public deficits in eurozone countries such as Greece are a "matter of serious concern for the eurozone as a whole" which "can weaken confidence in the euro and endanger the cohesion of the monetary union".

There are widespread reports that France and Germany are drawing up plans for bailing out Greece. This has been denied by the French and the German governments, with Germany's Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle saying that there would be "no bail-outs" for struggling debtors.

However other EU leaders have indicated that Greece would in fact receive financial support if it faced the risk of a default, with high-level EU officials saying Greece would, in the last resort, receive emergency support in one form or another.

The EU treaties prohibit national governments from taking on the financial commitments of other member states (such as assisting in closing another member state's budget deficit). However, given the political prestige that is associated with the euro, EU leaders will probably find a way to bail out Greece rather than allowing the country default on its debts - a default that would have devastating consequences for the eurozone as a whole.

Should a bail-out take place, the EU will take a massive step towards a common economic policy, since taxpayers in one country would then effectively be liable for the failures and mistakes of a government in another country (over which they have no democratic control). Such a step is likely to further frustrate European citizens already fed up with the pace of EU integration - particularly in Germany, whose taxpayers are likely to shoulder most of the burden. A June 2009 poll commissioned by Open Europe showed that 71% of Germans are against using taxpayers' money to bail out another EU country.

But, as we've been reminded again and again, the EU is very good at both breaking its own rules and ignoring public opinion.

4. News in brief
Councils spend £5 million a year to maintain offices in Brussels. Almost all councils and development agencies in England and Wales, as well as the Local Government Associations, now have offices and permanent staff representing them in Brussels. Their operations, which have run for two decades, cost taxpayers at least £5million a year in staff and office costs alone, excluding trips to Brussels for meetings each year. The biggest spender is the Welsh Assembly, which employs 10 staff in Brussels at a cost of £880,000 a year.

Commission floats ideas for EU-wide driving laws. The European Commission has proposed ideas for drawing up EU-wide driving laws in a new "green" campaign on motorists, as part of its Action Plan on Urban Mobility. Measures being considered include a barrage of new maximum speed limits in towns and cities. British motorists could also be forced to undertake exams in "environmentally-friendly" road skills as part of an EU-wide overhaul of driving tests. Many heavy polluting vehicles could also face restricted access to newly-declared "green zones" in urban centres.

Commission plans to end UK opt-out from 48-hour week could cost £12bn a year. The new European Commission, due to take office on 10 February, is planning to revise the EU's Working Time Directive, which could lead to the UK losing its ability to opt-out of the 48-hour maximum working week. Open Europe research has found that the cost of the Directive to the UK economy currently stands at between £3.4 and £3.9 billion a year, and would rise to up to £12 billion a year if the opt-out were lost.

Labour and Lib Dems thwart attempt to introduce "referendum lock" on future EU treaties. The Conservatives unsuccessfully tried to make an amendment to the Government's Constitutional Reform Bill on 19 January, which would have meant that any future Treaty transferring power to the EU be subject to a referendum. The amendment was defeated by 303 votes to 183.

5,000 Britons face eviction from homes after Court upholds ECJ ruling. The UK Court of Appeal has upheld a European Court of Justice ruling saying that a British couple in Northern Cyprus must surrender their land to its original owner Meletios Apostolides, a displaced Greek Cypriot who fled the North during the Turkish invasion. The decision has implications for around 5,000 Britons with homes on the island.

2 comments:

  1. Except the 'referendum lock' would mean 'squat diddly'. If such a referendum took place, which under Cameron's 'idea' it would have to, and the result was no then Cameron would be faced with leaving.

    The fact the EU will 'assume' more power is a given, so why the 'f' don't we just leave now?

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  2. Hi Mr W - I blogged live on the debate and outcome. I still think it would have been a useful touchstone - despite the fact that Lisbon is self-amending and ratcheting. Any referendum lock in place would be shown to be ineffective and be further proof to people who don't normally concern themselves with EU affairs that it's high time they did :-)

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