"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."

Saturday, 13 March 2010

What Has Europe Done For Us?

1. 100 days with the "nightmare" Lisbon Treaty

Thursday 11 March marked 100 days since the EU's Lisbon Treaty entered into force. French daily Le Figaro celebrated the occasion with an editorial, which read, "Did the authors of the Lisbon Treaty fool themselves? A hundred days after the birth of the 'newly formulated' union, Europe is struggling to make its voice heard, and the confusion...has increased at the top."

It continued, "Coincidence or not, the disorientating climate idealism at Copenhagen, the withdrawal of Barack Obama from a planned [EU-US] summit and...the attacks against the euro coupled with the collapse of Greece, all add to the gloom."

Similarly, a leader article in German daily FT Deutschland carried the headline, "Nightmare Lisbon Treaty":

"Europe has its celebrated Lisbon Treaty, its new constitution. However the Union has not become simpler for outsiders. What an anticlimax. The Member States fought long and hard for the treaty. So many thought that it would allow Europe to reach decisions faster, become more democratic and appear more united to the rest of the world. However, three months after the agreement came into force, the euphoria has evaporated."

2. Creation of a 'European Monetary Fund' could require a new EU treaty

The German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, has called for the creation of a 'European Monetary Fund' (EMF), modelled on the Washington-based International Monetary Fund. It would be used to provide assistance to stricken eurozone countries and would be reinforced by stronger EU 'economic governance' that could impose tough conditions on countries with excessive borrowings.

Schäuble wrote in the FT that eurozone members could be "granted emergency liquidity aid from a 'European monetary fund' to reduce the risk of defaults. Strict conditions and a prohibitive price tag must be attached so that aid is only drawn in the case of emergencies that present a threat to the financial stability of the whole euro area.  Should a eurozone member ultimately find itself unable to consolidate its budgets or restore its competitiveness, this country should, as a last resort, exit the monetary union while being able to remain a member of the EU."

France has given its backing to the proposed EMF as a "medium term priority" but the plan has already received opposition from Germany's representative on the ECB's Executive Board  and from the German Bundesbank President who described it as "not helpful"

With discussions at an early stage, important questions remain unanswered, including whether the creation of an EMF would require a change to the EU treaties and whether it would include all 27 member states or just the eurozone. French officials have said there is an "open debate" on both issues.

However, Angela Merkel has said that "without treaty changes we can't form such a fund" - a view endorsed by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, since an EMF appears to violate the current "no bailout" rule in the EU treaties.

In this scenario, the creation of an EMF, with or without UK involvement, would have political ramifications in the UK, with the prospect that EU treaty change could force a Conservative government to call a referendum, as it could fall under the party's promise to put any future EU treaty to a public vote.

Meanwhile, Downing Street has said that it would oppose any new treaty. "The Government opposes further institutional change in the relationship between the EU and member states for this parliament and the next," a spokesman said. However, Europe Minister Chris Bryant said that the Government was so far "agnostic" about the idea of an EMF.

Alternatively, EU leaders and the EU institutions could come up with a legal solution involving one of the Lisbon Treaty's 'flexibility' clauses, which allow for amendment of the Treaty without it being considered an actual 'treaty change' - a move favoured by the French Finance Minister.

3. Proposed European Public Prosecutor could prosecute Britons without UK permission

The Spanish EU Presidency, backed by France and Germany, has announced that it is going to propose the creation of a European Public Prosecutor (EPP) in April, using powers under the Lisbon Treaty. Although the UK Government has consistently opposed the plans, it is powerless to stop them going through, as they can be passed as long as they have the backing of nine member states under the EU's so-called "enhanced co-operation".

When the Lisbon Treaty was being negotiated, the UK was strongly opposed to the creation of an EPP, even if the Government was granted a veto. At the time, Peter Hain wrote on behalf of the Government that, "We are firmly opposed to establishing a European Public Prosecutor. Unanimity does not mean that this article can be accepted...There is clearly no need for a separate prosecution body at EU level."

Controversially, even if the UK 'opts out' from the plans, although the European prosecutor will not be able to bring cases in this country, it will still be able to issue European Arrest Warrants to force UK citizens to face prosecution in another member state - without asking the permission of the Government or the UK's Director of Public Prosecutions. This would leave UK citizens to face prosecution by an EU prosecutor the Government has had no hand in setting up.

The Spanish EU Presidency has said that the EPP "would initially investigate fraud and speculation against the euro". However, the Presidency's website notes that "it could also investigate and initiate criminal proceedings against cross-border crimes such as people trafficking, drug trafficking or terrorism."   UPDATE: I don't know how I missed this: Giving away your rights  "Britain has backed plans to dilute the rights of its citizens when extradited or caught up in criminal proceedings in other European countries. Justice campaigners say anyone facing criminal allegations abroad under a European Arrest Warrant will be hit by the plan...Britain has also supported a loophole that would allow a suspect to give up his rights without a lawyer present and without any written evidence, a move that could easily allow police officers to ignore the translation requirements altogether."  It just gets better and better!

4. In brief

a) Baroness Ashton is the highest paid female politician in the world. EU Foreign Minister Ashton's salary package of £328,000 a year makes her the highest paid female politician in the world, ahead of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. If she survives for a five-year term, she will be entitled to a gold-plated £64,000 pension and a £464,000 'transition allowance'. Meanwhile, Baroness Ashton has complained to the press that a lack of resources, such as her own plane, is holding her back in her work.

b) European Parliament hands out cash in envelopes while MEPs vote for increased allowances. In a committee debate between MEPs, it has been revealed that the European Parliament's expenditure in 2008 included more than £70,000 spent on ski holidays for families of Parliament officials, as well as hundreds of pounds handed out in brown envelopes to visitors to cover their food and travel, with no receipts needed. Separately, MEPs have awarded themselves £12 million in extra allowances including an additional £1,300 a month each to pay staff plus money to hire another 150 aides to cope with the increased workload created by the Lisbon Treaty. The increase will come on top of the £15,447-a-month they get to pay assistants, a 'general allowance' worth over £44,000 a year, and a £265-a-day 'subsistence allowance' for each day they attend Parliament.

c) Proposed EU carbon tax would cost UK economy at least £3.2bn. EU Commissioner for Taxation Algirdas Semeta has announced that plans to propose a minimum rate of tax on carbon across the whole of the EU are seen as a "priority". Open Europe has calculated that the tax will cost the UK economy £3.2bn a year. Although the actual revenues from the levy will be collected and kept by national governments, the European Commission has long seen the introduction of EU-wide 'green taxes' as a step towards a direct EU tax, used to directly finance the EU budget. The UK Government has pledged to block the plans.

d) EU spends millions on dubious culture projects. The European Commission is spending millions of euros of taxpayers' money on cultural projects, such as the "European Joysticks Orchestra", which has been handed more than £50,872 to compose works, host concerts and train teachers in the "art" of creating music using the computer device. Another project, the "European Laboratory for Hip Hop Dance" will receive £44,931 of taxpayers' money to "improve the recognition and visibility of hip hop dance in Europe" and "encourage connectivity between hip hop artists".

e) Londoners face scramble for Olympic tickets due to EU rules. London Assembly Member Dee Doocey has announced that there will be no preference shown to the capital's residents in the race to secure tickets for the 2012 Olympics, as EU law forbids discrimination in favour of the host country.

With thanks to Open Europe, an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU.

2 comments:

  1. Good post GV, very good indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you SR - we need to keep an eye on them although I think they're already dangerously out of control. Post-Lisbon they're actually being more open which can only have more people sit up and take notice.

    ReplyDelete

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