Posts filed under ‘European Commission’

It’s air quality, stupid.

November 13, 2012 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

Budget chickens come home to roost

The European Commission is struggling to justify an increase of nearly 7 per cent in the EU payments budget for 2013.  The timing could hardly be worse, with national budgets feeling the full force of austerity, governments facing fierce opposition to spending cuts at home, and the Dutch being forced into new elections as coalition consensus crumbles. No surprise, then, that presentation was a major preoccupation at this week’s Commission meeting.

As you might expect, member states which are net contributors were quick to express their indignation at the Commission’s draft budget, which would rise to €151 billion for commitments (up 2 per cent) and to €138 billion for payments (up 6.8 per cent).

But of course everyone is to blame: governments, Parliament and the Commission. Yesterday’s chickens are coming home to roost. Long-term spending programmes from past budgets must be paid for, and a backlog of liabilities has accumulated which must either be cleared, or pushed further into the future.

The roll-over of unpaid bills from 2011 to 2012 amounted to €11 billion out of a total payments allocation of €129 billion for the year. It would hardly be good housekeeping to allow these liabilities to increase further, quite apart from the pressure on member states which have made investments under EU programmes and are then denied reimbursement to which they are entitled.

In presenting the Commission proposals President Barroso stressed that the funds to be committed for 2013 programmes would only increase by the rate of inflation, and I could only find one budget line, “Intermodality between Transport Means” where the proposed commitment has actually been cut. Another cut would be a 5 per cent reduction in Commission staff numbers over five years, but total administrative costs would still rise by 2.8 per cent.

Agricultural spending, including direct payments to producers, continues to take a third of the total budget, but the proposed increase would be less than the rate of inflation.

The budget proposals are of course founded, first on the belief that spending on European programmes will deliver more sustainable growth than spending at the national level, and secondly that they play a vital role in redistribution from wealthier to poorer regions.

On this basis, research, innovation and the structural funds would receive the lion’s share of new commitments. The allocation for the EU’s external relations would go up by 5 per cent. This includes additional resources for Europe’s diplomatic service, a proposal which has not been well received by Baroness Ashton’s home country.
The 2013 draft budget is an attempt to put greater emphasis on growth and to encourage European integration. But with a European population which is much more sceptical about the virtues of greater integration the argument does not have the traction which it once did.

This year’s budget discussions promise to be more bruising than ever, because long-term budget ceilings must be agreed for the years 2014 to 2018 (or 2020), together with the means of funding them. A financial transaction tax will no doubt be pushed as a supplement to the EU budget, combining with the UK rebate issue to ensure a fractious negotiation.

Just as a footnote it is worth recalling that the EU budget constitutes just over 1 per cent of gross national income of the 27. Figures for per capita payments or receipts in 2010, helpfully compiled by Laissez Faire, give some insight  into how EU citizens are impacted by the EU budget and how this may reflect national negotiating positions.  No wonder the Dutch are sensitive!

Michael

April 26, 2012 at 9:50 pm Leave a comment

Hungary poses a stern test for Europe

The European institutions have rarely faced a sterner test than in their dealings with Hungary. As defender of the European treaties the Commission must do all in its power to protect the fundamental principles that underpin liberal democracy in the EU, yet any decision to block an EU-IMF aid package until Hungary’s authoritarian measures have been scrapped risks further serious damage to an already fragile European banking sector.

A collapse of the Hungarian currency and subsequent default would hit Austrian banks particularly hard. They have €40 billion in liabilities in Hungary. Italian banks would also suffer with liabilities of €20 billion. The damage would not end there, as contagion spread. No doubt Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party hope to rely on the threat of such collateral damage to secure “precautionary” support from the IMF without having to make too many other concessions.

Hungarian negotiators may say that everything is negotiable and that there are “no preconditions” in talks with the IMF taking place in Washington this week. There may even be a move to restore some independence to the Hungarian National Bank, but there are so many wider issues to be resolved in Hungary-EU relations such as press control, dismantling of the Constitutional Court, weakening of the judiciary, changes to the electoral system, grant of nationality and voting rights to Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries, limited recognition for religious groups and the arrest of the Socialist party leader – to name but a few. Here is a recent analysis.

Hungary’s new constitution which came into effect on January 1 2012 seems indeed to have many of the trappings of an authoritarian state. The European Commission and the other EU institutions must do all they can to reverse this situation. In the background is always the threat of Hungary’s suspension or expulsion from the EU. A paradoxical outcome in pursuit of democratic principles!

It is a sad irony that the death of Vaclav Havel, standard bearer of freedom for all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, should occur at a time when another country of Eastern Europe is donning the apparel of a one-party state. It’s a further irony that Hungary’s governing party, with a clear parliamentary majority, is apparently intent on entrenching a single party in government. It has some of the hallmarks of Putin’s Russia, including party control of administrative, judicial and constitutional appointments – in other words a “nomenclatura” without the checks and balances vital to a democratic society.

Michael

January 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm Leave a comment

Breaking news from UK PM – Commission supports completing internal market

I have to admit to being a little bit of a pro-European (no? never! you say), so it is with some fidgeting discomfort that I read overnight the happenings in my native land on the EU. Our London office have done a quick round up of the rebellion on their blog (sounds like something Darth Vadar would want to crush).

I think it’s worthwhile reading the Prime Minister’s full statement to the House of Commons from last night in case you missed it. As Jon Worth notes (hat tip for making the front of the Guardian’s online edition yesterday) being in office has driven probably the most Eurosceptic of Prime Ministers closer rather than farther from Europe. As I read through his speech I noted many of the arguments that pro-Europeans make for why the EU is a good thing and in our national interest. Pity it’s taken a financial crisis and frightful backbench rebellion to get Mr. Cameron to say these things out loud and in public.  I do have to laugh however that he’s only just noticed that the Commission are actually for completing the internal market and a friend of the UK’s agenda generally…One has to wonder where’s he’s been since the Single European Act, oh, the UK (well that explains it).

As for the future, I’m of the opinion this debate is not going away, especially in light of the further integration needed as a result of what’s happening in the Euro-zone and the PM’s desire to fundamentally renegotiate our relationship with the EU as expressed in the same speech. As the Americans would say, “Good luck with that”. Well, so be it. It’s time the UK had this discussion and that those who are generally have an aversion to “Europe” acknowledge the good things that the EU does deliver for UK business and citizens. As someone who takes delight in seeking to convert London cabbies to the European cause I’m up for it.

James

(note – see top right, all views expressed on this blog are personal)

 

October 25, 2011 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

The Power of Reding

I’m a big fan of the FT Brussels Blog. Today’s headline in particular caught my eye: “Women take over the Berlaymont.”

It outlines the growing attention around European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding’s latest crusade: increasing quotas for the percentage of women in the executive boardroom.

The European Parliament advised EU businesses last week to increase numbers of women in their boardrooms by next year or face a mandatory quota of 40% by 2020. While their recommendation is still non-binding at the moment, should voluntary efforts to increase female representation at the highest levels of EU businesses fail by next year, they encourage the European Commission to table legislation to make it binding. And here is where Commissioner Reding steps in.

As the FT points out, she has a tough job ahead. While some countries such as France, the Netherlands and Spain support binding quotas – Norway already has them – some expect the UK and others to resist. Social legislation has always been an uphill battle in Europe and this will be no exception. Yet if anyone can do it (I’m agreeing with the FT here), Viviane Reding can. You can keep track of the pledges she is collecting here.

As a colleague and I just discussed, were we policymakers, we’d be more eager for the social benefits that enable women in the workplace to come through (wide spread access to good childcare, proper maternity & paternity leave, etc). But obviously this isn’t enough.

Bottom line is, I have a general mistrust of quotas – but I more or less support any initiatives that try to even out the playing field…

But let’s open it up: what do you think?

Jess

PS – Looking forward to following what groups that regularly talk about such issues in Brussels think about the initiative, including the European Women’s Lobby and WIIS Brussels.

July 12, 2011 at 7:20 pm 1 comment

How the European Citizens’ Initiative will shake up the Brussels bubble

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a new instrument whereby the European Commission has to put forward legislative proposals to respond to a petition that has gathered one million signatures within a year coming from at least 7 EU Member States. Although some organisations such as eBay or Greenpeace have already started ECI-like petitions, the first “official” ECIs are expected as of February 2012 in order to allow Member States to take the necessary measures to implement the new scheme.

Much has been said and written on the European Citizens’ Initiative. Discussions however have mainly focused on whether it would be a success or a failure, the potential risks of the instrument – more than the opportunities – and what its impact could be on the EU decision-making equilibrium. Few commentators wondered whether there had already been pan-European petitions that reached one million signatures, and if there had been, how they managed to do so. We had already raised this point in the panel we organised in October at the Personal Democracy Forum with MEP Marietje Schaake, Julius van de Laar from Avaaz, and Euroblogger Jon Worth.

As we like the ECI so much, we have pursued our analysis in our brand new FH paper, looking specifically at how pan-European petitions have managed to gather one million signatures in the past, how the Internet has helped them do so –our favourite topic- and what the first European Citizens’ Initiatives might be about.

[10 April, 2012: In light of unintended perceptions of our services around the ECI, we are revising our paper to clarify our offering. We stress that our support on the ECI would not extend to organising citizens’ initiatives as this is not in line with the Commission’s rules on the ECI. We apologise if the paper appeared to state otherwise. We shall be uploading the updated paper asap but please bear with us, it’s Easter.. As ever we would appreciate any input from readers.]

Yes we are making predictions! Let’s see in two years from now if we got them right. I’m personally very curious to see how the European Citizens’ Initiative will evolve. Will it be overexploited or hardly used at all? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure: it has the potential to change the well-established dynamics of the Brussels bubble and take us out of our comfort zone.

Laurence

March 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm 1 comment

A Social Media Butterfly: an event for your calendars

Dear readers,

Before you head home for Christmas take a moment to put this date in your diaries. On 12th January at 1530 in the European Parliament the pleasantly named Butterfly Europe is holding an event. The Italian web magazine turned ‘social think-tank’, Lo Spazio Della Politica and GliEuros are joining together to invite EU decision makers, functionaires and consultants for a roundtable discussion on social networks and social media.

What distinguishes this event is the calibre of speakers: not only do they have some of the most digitally savvy MEPs around; Alexander Alvaro, Gianni Pittella, Maritje Schaake and Marie-Christine Vergiat, they also have the people involved in getting the institutions online and active in the social media sphere on board. For the European Parliament this is Stephen Clark and from the Commission Antonia Mochan. The consultancy world is also given a voice, with representatives from multiple agencies; not least FH Brussels’ own Steffen Thejll-Moller .

There will be two main roundtables followed by open debate. The first roundtable will centre on social networks; and the second on online media. It should be an interesting look at the characteristics of ‘a new journalism style’ that is, online and participative, something which you will be hearing more from us in the future. As the final session is on EU public opinion it is appropriately going to be open debate.

In preparation for the event, Butterfly Europe has interviewed Steffen on ‘Making digital tools your comms strategy’. He addresses the reasoning behind our blog, becoming an online resource for decision makers and journalists, as well as our upcoming study on EP digital trends which will be released at the event.

So that’s it for now and remember: 12th January. Register here.

Rosalyn

December 20, 2010 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Posts I’ve enjoyed on this blog

After nearly eight years in our Brussels office and coming up to three years posting on this blog I’m off to our Washington D.C. office for a couple of years at the end of the month.

Before I leave I thought it not a bad idea to indulge myself just a tad, forgive me folks, and point to some of the blog posts I’ve enjoyed writing or reading on this blog. I say enjoyed because, as my wife (sorry, my luv) will testify, relaxation of an evening has become me on the laptop tinkering with this blog, the twitter feed or various other websites that are in some way work related.

Which MEPs use Twitter?

Part of our hypothesis when we started the blog was that digital communications was changing how policy-makers were interacting with voters and stakeholders. To support our view we created a long list of MEPs, the good folks at Europatweets aggregated them a couple of months later on their nice website, Digimahti had another go at listing them and finally we’ve now created our own Twitter lists to categorise them by Committee on our twitterfeed in recent weeks.

65% of MEPs use Wikipedia at  least twice a week

Spotting MEPs that tweet was one thing, but we wanted to go a little deeper in understanding how they use the internet and how we may be able to use it to communicate to them. Our EP Digital Trends study sought to do this in 2009. The results led to three conclusions on how our results influence our thinking on public affairs here. It also turned out that MEPs aren’t the only ones who rely on Wikipedia – seemingly the Commission services have a penchant for it too

Grayling’s EU office starts it’s own blog

We are known to say that to be a thoughtleader one has to have thoughts and they have to be leading ones. Well one measure of thoughtleadership may well be that others follow where you have gone. Grayling’s team has a super blog. We wish more agencies in town would join them (and us).

Helen Dunnett explains the value of blogging for trade associations

Helen’s views on how ECPA was using its blog in Brussels was enlightening and uplifting. It underlined that there are organisations out there who do recognise the value of using digital tools in Brussels.

Scoop: European Parliament talks about European Parliament

Wordle is a great tool. Never more so than when reminding us of the fact that the Bubble likes to talk about the Bubble. The outgoing EP President’s speech was a classic.

Parallels between a Mel Gibson film and the President of the European Council

Sometimes it’s just been fun writing. No more so than one Sunday morning over coffee when I delighted in the fact that the nomination of the President of the European Council was like a seen from a 1980s US action film.

James

April 9, 2010 at 1:06 pm 3 comments

Zero growth offers no relief in euro crisis

Zero GDP growth in the eurozone for the last quarter of 2009 and a feeble recovery in the first quarter of 2010 is not what Europe’s finance ministers might wish to hear, but that’s the latest message from the OECD.  It just shows what a challenge Europe faces in restoring the strength of public finances, most especially in Greece and other eurozone countries facing massive budget deficits.

There is certainly no sign of growth in the Greek economy. Yet without economic revival there is no way that Greece’s euro crisis can be settled.

It seems clear that the package of “support” announced by Europe’s leaders on March 25-26 will do little to resolve the crisis. The package was so hedged about with conditions that the markets have given it little credence. The spread between Greek and German interest rates on ten year bonds has continued to widen, from three to four percentage points since the summit – not a sign of market confidence.

The summit statement is more of a threat than a promise. Bringing in the IMF as the first potential source of funding echoes the family threat – “just you wait till your father comes home” – the disciplinarian who can put on the pressure which European institutions cannot. And if bilateral support is required from fellow members of the eurozone it will be offered at quite explicitly penal rates of interest, despite the fact that the high cost of borrowing is a significant element in the Greek crisis.

Many commentators have identified the summit as evidence that Germany has turned its back on European integration. Indeed, it was quite a shock to see that even Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform, a staunch supporter of European integration, could say that “not until this year’s euro crisis did I think the EU could go backwards”. He saw the summit outcome as symptomatic of deep divisions between Germany and France, of the isolationism of Germany, and of Europe’s introspection.

The summit did confirm beyond a peradventure that there will be no economic government for Europe. Any ambitions France might have in that direction are clearly thwarted despite a commitment in the summit communiqué to strengthen economic governance. President Sarkozy presented the outcome as a triumph for Franco-German co-operation; in fact it was largely Chancellor Angela Merkel’s work.

Germany’s dominance in European affairs is evident. Berlin is now more important to Paris than Paris is to Berlin. The economic challenge of German reunification has been met and relations with Russia have become a new priority. The German constitutional court has put the brake on any federalist tendencies. People may criticise Germany for its failure to boost domestic spending, but there is little sign of any response in Berlin.

Today’s OECD report has made one politician very happy: UK prime minister Gordon Brown. He can rejoice at the news that the British economy is predicted to grow at an annual 2 per cent rate in the first quarter of 2010 and by 3.1 per cent between April and June. Not bad timing for him, just one day after calling a general election. He can also take comfort from the fact that at least Europe is not likely to pose any problems for him on May 6 election day. After all, it was he that resisted Tony Blair’s wish for the pound sterling to join the euro in 1997!

Michael

April 8, 2010 at 10:17 am Leave a comment

Who said what last week on energy?

We’ve flagged our conference last week on financing Europe’s energy needs shamelessly on this blog in recent days and weeks. You’ll be happy to know, no more. This is the last reference to it we shall make. Just to note for the 150 souls that didn’t make it off the waiting list to gain entrance, many of the principal speakers agreed kindly to repeat some of their main points to camera post their conference interventions.

You can find everyone from Sharon Bowles MEP to Philip Lowe of DG Energy speaking on energy, climate and Europe here.

A highlight was hearing Dr. Fatih Birol from the IEA contrast the good that could come from Europe reasserting its leadership role on climate while warning Europe about the impact such leadership could have on European competitiveness. Jos Delbeke from the Commission perhaps unsurprisingly argued for a renewal of EU leadership in the field. Today’s Commission work programme suggests he may well win out.

James

March 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

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A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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