"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, 27 March 2010

What Has Europe Done For Us?

More on "economic government" and amendment to the Lisbon Treaty.  In return for agreeing to the deal to bail out Greece, Merkel has called for the Lisbon Treaty to be amended with a mechanism for much stricter EU control over national spending in order to prevent any repetition of the current crisis and she has issued a challenge to David Cameron..

The draft version of the Council's conclusions calls EU leaders to "consider that the European Council should become the economic government of the EU" whilst proposing "to increase [the Council's] role in economic surveillance and the definition of the EU's growth strategy."

What it means is an increased role in economic surveillance leading to the EU intervening in member states' national strategies for managing their debt, or calling for more investment in policy areas that the EU prioritises. It could also mean more surveillance powers for the EU to deal with countries such as Greece.

A task force led by EU President Van Rompuy will now look at all the options that could be used to create the legal framework for an "economic government" - a framework that could potentially lead to EU Treaty changes. Following insistence from Gordon Brown and other countries, the wording of the conclusions changed from "economic government" to "economic governance" in the English version, but the wording remains "economic government" in the French translation of the conclusions. "There is no fundamental difference of view, but rather a sensitivity to certain words which has led to an asymmetrical translation  ...  We all know what is meant politically"

Brown has insisted that Britain will not have to pay for a Greek bailout. However as Britain is a contributor to the IMF & the EU, UK taxpayers' money would be used to aid Greece if the plan was put into practice. This is despite an opinion poll published by IFOP yesterday (motto: "Global strength in marketing intelligence"), showing that only 22% of UK voters are in favour of a bailout of Greece. Across Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK, 58% of voters disagreed with a bailout.

Italian PM Berlusconi has also refused to rule out the idea that non-eurozone member states may have to contribute to a Greek bailout, saying: "Since the very beginning, we have all agreed on the need for the EU to act in its entirety, not only through the Eurogroup. Otherwise, what kind of Europe would this be?... the possibility for non-Eurozone member states to offer Greece their own contribution must not be ruled out".

Figures published in Wednesday's budget show that the UK's contribution to the EU has increased from last year's estimates. The 2009 budget estimated that the UK's contribution for 2010 would be £5.6 billion. However, this figure has now increased to £6.4 billion and will rise to an estimated £7.6 billion in 2010/11. The £6.4 billion cost this year is more than twice the £3.1 billion the UK contributed last year.

EU tax revenues of €9.2bn under threat from EU's AIFM Directive.  Think-tank, Open Europe, has warned that if national ministers and the European Parliament fail to agree on a proportionate version of the EU's AIFM Directive on hedge funds and private equity firms, it will have a detrimental effect on the wider EU economy. The hedge fund and private equity industries contribute €9.2 billion in tax revenues to the EU economy every year - an amount under threat if the Directive is passed in a flawed form. The taxes raised from these industries in the UK alone are enough to pay for the salaries of over 200,000 nurses.

European finance ministers last week postponed a vote on the Directive, after "a last-minute intervention" by Brown.  Although the postponement gives UK negotiators, industry, investors and others extra time to amend the Directive, there is no guarantee that it will be straightforward. Also, the eventual vote will be taken by qualified majority voting, meaning that the UK can be outvoted. The Directive is likely to come up for discussion again at the next meeting of finance ministers in May or June, landing the Directive at the feet of the next government.

MEPs' call for work-free Sundays to be considered in Working Time Directive revision.  A third of MEPs have signed an appeal to the Commission to consider work-free Sundays in its upcoming review of EU rules on working hours, under the Working Time Directive.

Taxpayers will be faced with £2.1m bill per MEP in 2011. Draft figures for the next EP budget have revealed that each MEP will cost EU taxpayers £2.1 million next year, with the Parliament's overall budget rising by 6.5%. The increase means that the Parliament will breach a 22-year-old pledge that its budget would never exceed a fifth of the EU's overall administrative budget.

EU police agency gains extensive new surveillance powers. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's police agency Europol has gained a wide-ranging capacity to gather criminal intelligence if it suspects EU citizens are involved in any "preparatory act" which could lead to criminal activity. James Welch, Legal Director of Liberty warned: "We have huge concerns that Europol appears to have been given powers to hold very sensitive information and to investigate matters that aren't even crimes in this country.  Any extension of police powers at any level needs to be properly debated and scrutinised."

Ashton accused of allowing France to 'seize control' of new EU foreign service. Several member states, including Britain, are concerned that EU Foreign Minister Cathy Ashton's proposal to appoint a secretary-general for the EU's new diplomatic service will allow the service to be hijacked by the French eurocrat who is expected to land the job. Pierre Vimont, the current French Ambassador to Washington, is the favourite and would be in direct "day-to-day" command of the EU's intelligence, military and crisis response bodies.

€920,000 a year EU "heritage label" for historical and "obscure" sites across Europe. The European Commission has launched a new proposal for an 'EU heritage label' scheme, which would cost €920,000 a year to run. The project is aimed at encouraging awareness of 'European integration, ideals and history.'

Not only...but also:
More EU control over finance
More EU control over taxation
More EU control over transport
More EU agricultural protectionism
EU control over the film industry
More EU control over education
More excessive regulations

All in all, not a good start to the weekend!

H/t: Open Europe, EU Observer and the Bruges Group

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