Saturday 1 November 2014

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When people in Brussels look out to the 27 EU countries, they tend to forget that hardly anyone looks back. Polls and election turnouts confirm that for vast parts of the EU population, the national perspective prevails a long time before the European one. What lessons for the European Union to be learnt?

 

How to save Cameron from himself

Posted by on 28/10/14

There are some who are tempted to let David Cameron enjoy the consequences of his latest tantrum at the European Council. But for the sake of the long-term relationship of Britain and Europe it is probably worth rescuing him. Here are the elements of the deal.

The European Commission apologises for the clumsy way in which news of the latest technical budgetary adjustments was handled last week: its excuse is the handover from Barroso II to Juncker I. The Commission also agrees to write into its rules of procedure a mechanism for raising to the political level of the college the handling of future budgetary adjustments that are unexpected or substantial.

The UK’s Office of National Statistics comes up with some marginally adjusted numbers. The Ecofin meeting on Friday 31st verifies the Commission’s figures and tweaks them if appropriate for any member state (on a proposal of the Commission).

The British government asks to pay the agreed total sum in three tranches before July. The interest charges in case of non-payment – 2% in December rising by 0.5% every month – are deferred. This is accepted.

The Sixth Draft Amending Budget including all the adjustments, the reduction in overall expenditure and the rise of the UK rebate, is then passed before 15 November by the Council and Parliament.

The European Council in December agrees a statement committing the member states, at the next revision of the financial system, to reduce the proportion of own resources paid by direct GNI contributions from national treasuries. The Monti high-level task force on the mid-term review of the MFF is directed to reach a commensurately high level of ambition.

It is worth recalling that if the 6th DAB is not agreed the UK will have to pay €3.6bn and not €2.1bn. Even the House of Commons should be able to understand that.

Cameron’s ‘EU budget’ mess: the UK political tectonic plates are on the move

Posted by on 28/10/14
by Graham Bishop, financial policy expert, founder of www.grahambishop.com and member of the European Movement’s National Council. /// Ever since it emerged that the the UK’s contribution to the EU has to increase the issue has assumed a life of its own. The initial “why are we being punished for our success” spin is giving [...]

Why is the UK being asked to pay in more to the EU budget and what can it do about it?

Posted by on 24/10/14
By Open Europe There are a number of headlines today around the EU’s request for a further €2.1bn from the UK in terms of its contribution to the EU’s budget. We breakdown exactly how and why this has happened and what options the UK has now.

Zagreb Mayor arrested – and not before time

Posted by on 20/10/14

Something quite amazing happened yesterday evening in Zagreb. The Croatian police and the State Prosecutor announced that several people had been arrested on suspicion of a number of criminal corruption offences, abuse of office and peddling influence. Among the arrested were Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, Head of Zagreb Holding municipal company Slobodan Ljubicic, the head of the ZET public transport company Ivan Tolic, head and part-owner of the CIOS metal recycling company Petar Pripuza and around 15 more un-named people.

by Pippa Gallop, cross-posted from the Bankwatch blog

I say ‘amazing’, because it seemed like it would never happen. Ever since Milan Bandic came to power for a third term as Zagreb Mayor in 2005, NGOs including our member group Zelena akcija/Friends of the Earth Croatia and the Croatian media have been drawing attention to deals which excessively benefitted private companies at the expense of the public, raising questions about possible corruption. Some media reports suggested that the State Prosecutor had as many as 200 requests for investigations against Bandic waiting to be dealt with, but they never seemed to result in any action being taken.

Now, finally, of the deals questioned by Zelena akcija are now reportedly under scrutiny by police in connection with the arrests made, although this has not been officially confirmed.

Right at the beginning of Bandic’s first mandate he signed the contract for Zagreb’s EBRD-financed oversized and overpriced wastewater treatment plant public-private partnership.

Among the numerous problems with this plant is that it churns out waste sludge which is not sufficiently treated to be used for land reclamation or other purposes. This then gave Bandic and others an excuse to push the construction of a huge waste incinerator in Zagreb, which would burn the sludge along with household waste.

This omission in the wastewater plant’s technology at the very least plays into the hands of those pushing for an incinerator, and seeing as the incinerator was promoted by Novum, later part of EVN, which is one of the concessionaires for the wastewater plant, it seems likely it was done on purpose.

Nevertheless, although both the EBRD and EIB were both considering financing Zagreb’s incinerator, both of them wisely declined to proceed with the project, partly as a result of Zelena akcija’s arguments on the need to concentrate on waste prevention and recycling before constructing such a massive, expensive and inflexible facility.

However, in the absence of almost any measures to prevent, recycle and compost waste by the city authorities, the incinerator project rose from the dead again. Most recently Mayor Bandic blatantly abused his position in pushing Zagreb’s new waste management plan through a vote in the City Assembly. The plan was supposed to be voted on 25 September but seeing that he might not get enough votes due to some of his tame representatives being absent from the meeting, Bandic withdrew all the agenda points from the meeting just one day in advance, thereby forcing the head of the Assembly to re-schedule it.

Needless to say, on 9 October when the meeting was finally held, the Plan passed – although not without protests from NGOs and local residents – and both the largest political parties voting against the plan.

Yesterday’s arrests mean that the incinerator project is now standing on thinner ice than ever and any investors and financiers interested in it would be wise to keep their distance. But more broadly it also means that financing institutions like the EBRD and EIB need to take more care about who they do business with. Just a few years ago former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was widely accepted by the international community as the person leading Croatia into the EU. Now he’s in prison for corruption. It looks like it’s going to be a similar story with Milan Bandic – one minute a partner for investors, the next minute, arrested for corruption. It’s high time for international bodies to stop trusting so much the stories told by politicians and taking more seriously warnings from civil society and the media.

Le Danemark va-t-il renoncer à ses opt-outs et rejoindre la classe des bons élèves de l’UE ?

Posted by on 19/10/14

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Première ministre du Danemark (issue du parti social-démocrate danois), a annoncé mardi 7 octobre qu’un référendum serait organisé sur une plus grande intégration du pays à l’Union européenne. Il s’agirait en fait d’un référendum sur l’un des opt-outs du pays en matière de justice et affaires intérieures. « Le concept d’opting-out correspond à une dérogation, accordée à un pays ne souhaitant pas se rallier aux autres États membres dans un domaine particulier de la coopération communautaire, afin d’empêcher un blocage général » (extrait du site Europa).

Des dérogations en vigueur depuis le traité de Maastricht

Rappelons l’origine de ces opt-outs danois. Le pays intègre les Communautés européennes en 1973 mais c’est au moment du traité de Maastricht que ces opt-outs apparaissent. En effet, ce dernier est soumis au référendum le 2 juin 1992 au Danemark et il est rejeté à 50,7% des voix. Mais, pour entrer en vigueur, un traité doit être ratifié par tous les Etats membres. Il a donc fallu trouver une solution, et ce fut le cas au Conseil européen d’Edimbourg en 1992. Sur la base d’un compromis entre le gouvernement danois et les autres chefs d’Etat ou de gouvernement, quatre politiques de l’Union ont fait l’objet d’un opt-out du Danemark : la politique de défense, la troisième phase de l’Union économique et monétaire (qui devait conduire à l’adoption de l’Euro), la citoyenneté de l’Union et la justice et les affaires intérieures. Une nouvelle version du traité de Maastricht prévoyant ces opt-outs pour le Danemark a fait l’objet d’un référendum le 18 mai 1993 et, cette fois, les citoyens danois ont voté « oui » à 56,8%.

Où en sont ces différents opt-outs aujourd’hui ? Celui sur la citoyenneté prévoyait que la citoyenneté européenne (instituée par le traité de Maastricht) ne remplaçait pas la citoyenneté nationale. Le traité d’Amsterdam reprend exactement la même règle pour tous les pays de l’Union : « Il est institué une citoyenneté de l’Union. Est citoyen de l’Union toute personne ayant la nationalité d’un État membre. La citoyenneté de l’Union complète la citoyenneté nationale et ne la remplace pas ». Par conséquent, l’opt-out danois sur la citoyenneté européenne n’a plus d’intérêt. En matière de citoyenneté européenne peu de progrès ont été réalisés en matière de citoyenneté européenne depuis le Traité de Maastricht, notons cependant que le traité de Lisbonne prévoit la possibilité d’Inititives citoyennes européennes (ICE).

L’opt-out relatif à la troisième phase de l’UEM pose en fait la question de l’entrée ou non du Danemark dans la zone euro. A l’heure actuelle le Danemark n’est pas membre de la zone euro puisque cet opt-out est toujours en vigueur. Signalons tout de même qu’Helle Thorning-Schmidt s’était prononcé pour que son pays intègre la zone euro. Il n’y a cependant pas encore de référendum prévu sur ce sujet, qui avait déjà été soumis une première fois à la consultation populaire, en 2000, pour une victoire du « non » (à 53%).

En matière de défense: le Danemark ne participe pas à l’élaboration et à la mise en oeuvre d’actions de l’Union qui ont des implications en matière de défense. Il y a un an, le leader de l’opposition danoise, Lars Lokke Rasmussen proposait l’organisation d’un référendum sur l’abandon des clauses d’exemption dans le domaine de la défense et de la justice en même temps que les élections européennes de mai 2014. Cela n’a pas été le cas et il n’y a pas encore de projet de référendum sur l’abandon des clauses d’exemption en matière de défense. Avant que n’éclate la crise de 2008, Helle Thorning-Schmid avait fait plusieurs déclarations engageantes, que la crise a reléguées aux oubliettes. Le moment est-il venu de les renouveler ?

L’intérêt du référendum : maintenir le Danemark au sein d’Europol

En ce qui concerne la justice et les affaires intérieures, domaine dans lequel Mme Thorning-Schmidt a annoncé le référendum, le Danemark est exempt de certains domaines. Depuis la signature du traité de Lisbonne, le Danemark (ainsi que le Royaume-Uni et l’Irlande qui sont les deux autres pays bénéficiant d’opt-outs en matière de justice et affaires intérieures) a la possibilité de passer d’une option de retrait complète à des opt-in au cas par cas (c’est-à-dire de participer uniquement à certaines politiques de l’ensemble justice et affaires intérieures par exemple) dès qu’ils le souhaitent.

Et c’est de cela qu’il s’agit. Alors que la tendance est au renforcement de la coopération policière au sein de l’UE, le Danemark ne veut pas se retrouver isolé dans la lutte contre la criminalité, voire la lutte contre le terrorisme dont l’importance saute aux yeux de tout le monde, avec évidence . Or, Mme Thorning-Schmidt craint que le pays ne soit obligé de se retirer d’Europol (dont il est membre depuis seize ans) s’il ne revient pas sur la clause d’exemption concernant la justice et les affaires intérieures dont il bénéficie. Cela serait, à ses yeux, négatif pour le Danemark en terme de sécurité. « [Europol] nous a permis d’arrêter des trafiquants de drogue et d’êtres humains, ainsi que de découvrir des réseaux d’abus d’enfants. Il semble que nous allons devoir quitter Europol à cause de cette clause d’exemption justement. Et cela dès le printemps prochain, peut-être. Ça poserait un sérieux problème pour la sécurité des Danois ». D’où sa volonté d’un référendum avec les modalités suivantes : « Le gouvernement est prêt à organiser un référendum après les prochaines élections. Nous pourrons alors choisir les volets de la JAI auxquels nous voulons adhérer et ceux qui ne nous conviennent pas. Je voudrais que le Danemark continue de faire partie de la coopération policière, sans pour autant adopter les mesures concernant les migrants », a-t-elle expliqué. En août dernier, par l’intermédiaire de son porte-parole, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, le principal parti de l’opposition (Venstre) avait apporté son soutien à la tenue d’un tel référendum.

Une avancée hésitante vers plus d’intégration

D’une manière générale, la chef du gouvernement danois (qui a été député européenne de 1999 à 2004) est favorable à une plus grande intégration de son pays au sein de l’Union mais c’est un sujet qui fait l’objet d’une certaine confusion dans son action. En effet, alors qu’elle avait d’abord annoncé la tenue de ce référendum avant la fin de son mandat actuel (qui est son premier mandat, commencé le 2 octobre 2011), puis dans son mandat mais après la présidence danoise du Conseil de 2012, Mme Thorning-Shmidt, s’est prononcée pour l’organisation dudit référendum si la coalition en place remporte les prochaines élections législatives, qui interviendront entre le printemps et la fin septembre 2015 (une législature dure au maximum quatre ans selon la constitution danoise). Autrement dit le référendum aura donc finalement lieu durant son deuxième mandat et à la condition que son parti remporte les élections (pour lesquelles les sondages placent le gouvernement actuel en mauvaise posture).

Elle s’était aussi engagée à tenir un référendum sur un autre opt-out danois au cours de son mandat, en matière de coopération en matière de défense cette fois, et ce ne sera vraisemblablement pas le cas.

Traditionnellement, le Danemark était assez réticent à pousser l’intégration européenne, mais, alors que ce gouvernement souhaite rapprocher le pays de l’Union, il y a assez peu d’avancées sur ce sujet du fait de l’euroscepticisme croissant au sein de l’opinion publique (à titre d’illustration, c’est le Parti conservateur danois qui a remporté les élections européennes dans le pays, parti affilié au groupe ECR, et le vote populiste a fait la une des commentateurs) et du caractère incertain des référendums lié à l’Europe qui en découle. On peut tout de même signaler que le 25 mai 2014, en même temps que les élections européennes, les danois se sont prononcés par référendum pour intégrer la juridiction du Tribunal unifié des brevets (33,7% pour, 20% contre, 44,2% d’abstention).

 

Clément François

 

Pour en savoir plus :

- Article EurActiv : La Première ministre danoise remet aux calendes grecques le référendum sur Europol :                                                                       http://www.euractiv.fr/sections/elections/la-premiere-ministre-danoise-remet-aux-calendes-grecques-le-referendum-sur (FR)                 http://www.euractiv.com/sections/elections/danish-pm-postpones-eu-referendum-309001 (EN)

- Article EurActiv : Le Danemark pourrait organiser un référendum sur son statut dans l’UE http://www.euractiv.fr/priorites/le-danemark-pourrait-organiser-u-news-529967 (FR) http://www.euractiv.com/elections/danes-move-closer-eu-opt-outs-re-news-529956 (EN)

- Article EULogos : Le Danemark réintègre l’UE, sa politique de défense et la politique de justice et des affaires intérieures (janvier 2012) :                                                        http://www.eu-logos.org/eu-logos_nea-say.php?idr=4&idnl=2353&nea=117&lang=fra&lst=0 (FR)

- Article EULogos : Danemark: un référendum sur les opt-outs peut en cacher un autre ! le dirigeant de l’opposition danoise, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, fait monter la pression sur la première ministre, Helle Thorning-¬Schmidt (septembre 2013) :                           http://www.eu-logos.org/eu-logos_nea-say.php?idr=4&idnl=2914&nea=136&lang=fra&lst=0 (FR)

- sur la juridiction unifiée des brevets : http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/indprop/patent/index_fr.htm (FR) http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/indprop/patent/index_en.htm (EN)


Classé dans:CITOYENNETE EUROPEENNE, Questions institutionnelles

A new Belgian government: Will Brussels control Brussels?

Posted by on 13/10/14
N-VA leader Bart De Wever and new PM Charles Michel
After less than five months, a relatively short period by local standards, a new federal Belgian government has been agreed.  In the light of our analysis in May, "Scenario 2" has materialised: a federal government which includes the Flemish nationalist N-VA, which hopes their centre-right policies may drive the Francophone socialists to return to their historic demands for more decentralisation.

The new coalition is led by 38 year-old Charles Michel, a Francophone liberal and the son of former EU Development Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, and its centre-right programme has just been revealed. Interestingly, there are a few changes on EU policy in the country which probably is the most inclined to EU-federalism. This is clearly the result of the presence of the N-VA, a party which
has described itself "euro-realist" since 2011, but is part of a broader shift whereby the Francophone socialists have also dared to criticise EU policies.

Here are some excerpts from the programme which show that Belgium is now fully supporting the drive to empower national Parliaments and subscribes to the philosophy of incoming European Commissioner for 'Subsidiarity' Frans Timmermans that "the EU should do what can only be done by the EU and should leave to member states what can be better done by them":

  • "To continue European integration, more legitimacy and transparency are needed. In that respect, the Federal Parliament should play its role with regards to proportionality and subsidiarity".
  • "The government wants a smaller and more effective European Commission".
  •  It stresses that with regards to eurozone solidarity, "this should be objective, transparent and efficient and should not encroach upon the competence of member states for social security provision".
  • "The government wants the integrity of the internal market, to which all EU member states take part, to be respected" (Something the UK government can see as support for insistence that the single market shouldn't fragment as a result of Eurozone integration). 
  • "In its EU policy, the government will fight over regulation and unnecessary meddling which contribute to undermining support for European integration". 
  • "In order to boost democratic responsibility and to strengthen public support for the project of European integration, the Prime Minister is prepared to discuss with Parliament both ahead and after every European Council Summit in order to inform it about the positions of the government and the results of the European Council and to debate these topics. In order to support this debate, the government will as soon as possible contribute to the Advisory Committee for European Affairs" (This sees Belgium follows in the footsteps of amongst others Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, which have similar systems, from the duty of governments to obtain a mandate and an obligation to inform MPs).
There is even a whole chapter devoted to "Introducing the principle of subsidiarity":

  • "We believe strongly in the principle of subsidiarity whereby the EU focuses on domains and actions where it adds value. Policies should be efficient and at the level closest to the citizen. The Union should also be made aware of the sometimes heavy administrative burdens of regulation it imposes on member states, its citizens and companies. All of that is necessary to repair the credibility of Europe among citizens."
Of course, EU-federalist elements remain: the new Belgian government wants to scrap veto powers in foreign policy (while simultaneously supporting a "strong NATO alliance" as well) and wants more harmonisation of EU asylum and migration policy. Still, anyone supporting reform of the EU - and Belgium, which hosts the EU, seems to understand that this is in its interest, as we have made clear - can take heart.

EU-Kommissar-Kandidaten

Posted by on 13/10/14

Es ist mehrfach bewiesen worden: Wenn man die Namen auf Bewerbungen anonymisiert, wählen die Personalverantwortlichen auch diejenigen, die sie ansonsten ablehnen würden. Diese Form von Diskriminierung auf dem Arbeitsmarkt bekommen auch die EU-Kommissar-Kandidaten zu spüren. Die EU-Parlamentarier haben an manchen von ihnen kein gutes Haar gelassen. Doch wenn alle Fragen statt in Anhörungen in anonymisierter Form schriftlich beantwortet würden, gäbe es weit weniger Kritik. Oder sie würde sich gegen ganz andere Kandidaten richten.

Resultat der Anhörungen

Posted by on 13/10/14

Das Resultat der Anhörungen ist, dass die EU-Kommission von Jean-Claude Juncker besser sein wird als die ursprünglich vorgeschlagene Konstellation. Das Europaparlament hat in energischer und zugleich behutsamer Weise von seiner Macht Gebrauch gemacht. Einige EU-Staaten sollten sich daran ein Beispiel nehmen. Spanien hätte eine bessere Regierung, wenn die Minister sich einer solchen Anhörung stellen müsste. Das Verfahren hat allerdings auch seine Schattenseite. Diese besteht in dem Brauch, dass die großen politischen Lager sich gegenseitig erpressen. Die Christdemokraten drohten, den französischen Sozialisten Pierre Moscovici abzulehnen, wenn der konservative Spanier Miguel Arias Cañete zu Fall gebracht würde.

Romania’s political and economic stability: something worth looking for?

Posted by on 13/10/14

Bulgaria was put under a new test on Sunday, October 5th. It was a test of choosing a path to stability over the uncertainty that dominated our neighboring country too long.

It’s still unclear how the political class and Bulgaria will be able to reset the South-Danubian politics.

The center-right party, former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov’s GERB, obtained the best score, approximately 33.2% of the vote (85 seats in parliament), but not enough to secure a majority. GERB is followed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party with 16.5% and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (Turkish minority formation) with approximately 14.1%. The next Bulgarian Parliament might include eight political parties.

Former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was ousted from power 18 months ago due to street protests against poverty and corruption, after leading the country from 2009 to 2013. The new technocrat Prime Minister, Plamen Oresharski, had the same fate. Actually, he even didn’t have the chance to govern because new street demonstrations rose. Thus, there was a long period of political instability that endangered the entire economy and the Bulgarian state.

Boiko Borisov spoke before the election about a gloomy period for Bulgaria; he wasn’t able to assemble a parliamentary majority so he will be forced to govern through an alliance with small right parties after tough negotiations.

The new government will have to manage extremely unpopular reforms, which translates into harsh time for a population that already sees the situation as unbearable. It will also face a stagnant economy, poverty, corruption, a winter when the Russian gas dependence becomes overwhelming.

The EU also suspended the European funds worth of hundreds of million, following the detection of irregularities in the procurement procedure, and the CCB, the fourth bank in the country, send messages that bankruptcy is imminent. All these in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, which generates more political instability, and the Middle East tensions that caused an influx of Syrian refugees via Turkey.

After two years of political instability, Sunday did not bring the best results. Many people share the idea that Bulgaria will be facing a long period of instability, thus any government will be put under extremely high pressure, not at all constructive. With so many problems, the new government will not be able to engage on a constructive path, considering the economy won’t be a support pillar because it deserves the most attention.

For Bulgarians, the aspiration for political stability is pending. Following the ill-fated political and economic evolution of Bulgaria we can understand why political stability is so important.

North of Danube, Romania finds itself in a stable environment, but it’s not so well entrenched for allowing us to be relaxed. The benefits of political and economic stability are obvious and desirable.

Due to this stability ​​it was possible to reduce the country risk, 3 times lower now than in 2011, according to a recent report published by Standard & Poors – “S&P Capital IQ Sovereign Dept Report Q2 2014″.

With 9.3% risk of default, Romania is more credible in international markets than Greece (34.2%), Cyprus (29.6%), Croatia (16.4%), Portugal (13.8%), Hungary (11.2%) and Bulgaria (9.9%).

But this is not the first time I underline the importance of political stability. A year ago, still in the beginning of autumn, I wrote that: “Political stability is as necessary for the economy as a body recovery after surgery.

The exaggerated dynamics of the political factor, meaning effervescence, has in its evolution a natural instability.

And instability generates disorder, lack of calculated measures, prudent and well grounded arbitrary measures, emotional and pathos, often uninspired repositioning, policy makers statements who remain and influence the economic environment and society.

All these actions are harmful to economic life and not only. They block it, cripple it, take its will and dynamics.”

Either for Romania or Bulgaria, the same principles can be applied anytime. Romania entered a constructive, difficult path, but it must maintain an essential ingredient to achieve success, the one which can generate economic growth: the political stability.

Bulgaria will face a bleak period, and recovery will be more painful and more difficult in the absence of political stability. It will get very little support, it won’t know how to negotiate it, the voices will be multiple and contradictory, there will be gaps between and within generations. Anything agreeded today will be ruined tommorrow. All these paint a cold picture, but it’s just a reflection of human choices, never perfect.

Are we interested in? Of course, the Bulgarians are our neighbors. Such as Ukrainians.

I do not want to suggest that the situation in Bulgaria will get as worse as the one in Ukraine. But our neighbors’ stability will count.

Let’s not forget that in every crisis we can find seeds of opportunity. There was a time when we faced an exodus of Romanian companies towards a more relaxed fiscal environment in Bulgaria. And we lost a lot in that time. Now may be the time of bringing them back.

It depends on how we manage this opportunity!

 

Showdown between France and Commission set to test EU’s budget rules

Posted by on 06/10/14
It has been widely reported over the weekend that the European Commission (EC) is seriously considering rejecting France’s new budget proposal which will see it run a deficit of 4.3% next year rather than the EC target of 3%.

















As the graph above shows, France has strayed significantly from the path originally agreed with the EC, even after it requested and was granted additional time to meet its deficit targets just last year.

Importantly, this is the first time a country has flagrantly flouted the budget rules. Other countries have missed their targets or asked for extensions, but with the presumption of good faith and serious efforts being made to meet said targets. However, with its latest budget France has rejected the previously agreed cuts (worth 0.8% of GDP) and offered just 0.2% of GDP in savings. In other words it has flat out chosen to ignore the rules.

This may seem like semantics but it puts the EC and the EU more broadly in a tough position. With much of peripheral Europe failing to meet the fiscal rules agreed under the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), the Fiscal compact and the European Semester, many have already been questioning the effectiveness of these tools. Ultimately, the EC risks replaying one of the key features of the previous crisis – letting a big country break the SGP and then being unable to effectively enforce it for other countries, helping to facilitate the large build-up of sovereign debt.

This is therefore a key test of the viability of the new rules and whether this time will really be any different. Combined with the renewed bank stress tests and bail-in rules, the coming months are an important testing ground for the new financial architecture which the Eurozone has put in place.

Sadly, as Reuters highlights, another fudge looks to be on the cards. While the EC will probably reprimand France to the fullest extent before getting to outright fines, it will also work up a new looser programme which gives it more time. This helps all sides save face and avoids the risk of further weakening French President Francois Hollande to the benefit of the Front Nationale (something which the EU wants to avoid).

As for what happens now, the EC will provide a verdict on the budget by the end of the month in what will be one of the last acts of the Barroso Commission. This is of course all complicated by the hand-over of the EC and the wrangling over who will actually be in charge of enforcing the budget agreements. When all is said and done another muddle through is likely, but with the Eurozone facing economic stagnation investors may be less than convinced by such moves.

Germany is not less keen on debt than others

Posted by on 06/10/14

As the rethoric goes, Germany has always been careful in taking out debt financing. In German culture debt is considered a sin, from which the literal translation of “die Schulden” is “fault” or “guilt”.

Every day Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, remembers all other European peers that debt is the problem, not a solution.

So the story goes and that would explain the relatively low current levels of government debt over GDP ratio, at 74.55% in 2014. In that respect Germany outdistances most European partners, that are struggling to stay below 90%.

Is this performance due to a trend of low debt or simply good growth performance compared to other EU states? To check, let’s assume that France, Germany, Italy and UK would have all grown at Italy’s GDP growth rate from 1991 until today. The result is shown in the graph, where data are taken from the IMF website.

Now Germany is not performing so well. France and UK are looking even worse than Italy.

So, it might be the case that the problem of the Maastricht debt/GDP rule is not the “debt” but the “GDP”. Asking for more relaxed conditions in public spending to boost GDP does not look like a stupid idea afterall.

Eine Gesamteuropäische Sicherheitspolitik für die EU aus Deutschland

Posted by on 05/10/14

Deutschland will mehr sicherheitspolitische Verantwortung übernehmen. Dies könnte die Überschrift über die Sicherheitspolitik der Bundesregierung 2014 sein. Als dies im Februar bei der Münchener Sicherheitskonferenz postuliert wurde, war keinem klar, wie schnell diese Aussage auf die Probe gestellt werden könnte. Die Krisen in der Ukraine und im Irak treffen aber ins Zentrum deutscher Interessen. Wie also ist das mit der Verantwortung?

Da gibt es zwei Sichtweisen. Betrachtet man das Thema aus deutscher Sicht, aus der Sicht von innen, dann liefert die Bundeswehr Waffen in den Irak, damit die Terrorarmee Islamischer Staat aufgehalten werden kann. Sie bildet an diesen Waffen Perschmerga-Kämpfer aus. Jetzt soll ein ganzes Ausbildungszentrum dort errichtet werden. Die irakische Armee könnte man auch ausbilden, im Irak oder anderswo. Die Stäbe der NATO-Partner, Stäbe, die den Einsatz dort planen, will die Bundesregierung unterstützen. Aber bei den Kampfflügen sind deutsche Jets nicht dabei. Und: Bei der Unterstützung der Stäbe ist nicht daran gedacht, dass die deutschen Offiziere bei den Planungen für die Kampfflüge mitwirken.

In der Ukraine, wo Deutschland sich intensiv für eine Lösung ohne Militär eingesetzt hat – auch das ist Übernahme von Verantwortung -, könnte sie nun auch bei der Überwachung der Pufferzone mitwirken, mit Drohnen, die sich in Afghanistan bewährt haben. Über den Schutz der Soldaten, die die Überwachungsdrohnen bedienen, redet man intensiv mit Frankreich. Also: Aus deutscher Sicht ist alles fabelhaft, Deutschland zeigt Flagge und Verantwortung.

Aus der Sicht der Bündnispartner sieht dieselbe Angelegenheit so aus: Im Irak hilft Deutschland humanitär, beim Abwurf von Lebensmitteln aus Transportflugzeugen haben sie nicht mitgemacht – gut, da haben sie Materialprobleme. Sie liefern Panzerabwehrsysteme und Gewehre. Die Panzerabwehrsysteme brauchen sie selbst nicht mehr, das ist zwar gut und wirksam, aber auch ein praktisches Entsorgungsmodell. Ja, bei der Ausbildung macht die Bundeswehr mit, das ist hilfreich und gut. Dass sie Soldaten für die Stäbe bereitstellen, hilft auch. Aber warum bitte sollen die nicht Operationen mit planen?…

Also: Deutschland beteiligt sich bei den weichen Teilen des Spektrums. Aber wenn es in die Nähe von Kampfhandlungen kommt, ziehen sie sich vornehm zurück. Das ist dann weniger fabelhaft. Es kommt also auf den Blickwinkel an. Die Bilanz der Bundesregierung ist nicht schlecht: Sie hat auch regional ferne Konflikte auf dem Schirm, die uns sehr schnell sehr nahe kommen, sie leistet in der NATO einen wesentlichen Beitrag zur Stabilisierung der Partner und zur Abschreckung von denkbaren Angriffen auf NATO-Staaten.

Es fehlt immer der letzte Schritt für eine Beteiligung in Augenhöhe zu den Ländern, mit denen sich Deutschland leicht vergleicht: Frankreich, Großbritannien, vielleicht noch Polen. Zur ganzen Verantwortung gehört das ganze Spektrum – nicht überall, aber immer mal wieder. Und da fehlt der Bundeswehr nicht nur hier und da das einsatzbereite Material, sondern – zumindest noch – der politische Wille. Das Glas ist nur halb voll.

Parliament Single Seat(s)? Europe’s peace in Strasbourg, EU democracy in Brussels

Posted by on 28/09/14
The journalist Richard Hill asked me for a contribution on the ‘single seat’, for the upcoming magazine of BECI, the Brussels business organisation. Here is the full version of my view, taking a broader view than just costs and time.   ” The European Parliament’s Single Seat campaign has been going on for years, mainly [...]

Constant dying in the Mediterranean

Posted by on 22/09/14
By Bernhard Schinwald Two tragedies in which hundreds of boat refugees died on their way to European shores, caught the headlines of international media outlets. What has less attracted their attention are fatalities of comparably minor incidents. Between the beginning of 2014 and the end of August 2’000 people did not survive the passage to Europe.

Survival in a Greek detention centre for immigrants

Posted by on 22/09/14

I had never been in a detention centre for irregularly residing migrants before trespassing, a few days ago, into Amygdaleza. Amygdaleza is in the outskirts of Athens, a few kilometres north of what is widely referred to as the cradle of democracy. Along with the members of FEANTSA migration working group, I have access to Amygdaleza thanks to a social worker hired by the Greek police and paid by the EU in order to assist around 40 unaccompanied minors, between 10 and 17 years old, who are detained in a part of the centre.

We first visit the service where unaccompanied minors are kept. After a short presentation made by a psychologist, who is also policeman and the responsible for the service, they open us the gate and let us in where the young people live. In the dark corridor we are surrounded by teenagers and we glimpse at the rooms where the young guys sleep in small beds one next to the other. They show us a room where they dispose of two computers and from a TV screen a journalist from the BBC is talking about the Scottish referendum on independence.

We talk to the young guys who look disappointed when they realise we are not there to take them away nor will we actually be of any immediate help. Some tell us they have been there for three months, some say six, other eight, other even more. They are supposed to stay in detention for a maximum of six months and then moved to tailored services. Actually, what is most painful does not seem to be the length of their detention but rather the lack of information regarding what will happen to them. They come from Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh. A guy from Guinea has been living in detention centres for about two years – he first was in Mytilene and then was moved to Amygdaleza. With his parents dead, a brother in Belgium and a sister in Germany with whom he lost contact, he wishes – to my surprise – to stay in Greece. He seems a smiley guy and now is happy he can speak French with me. He does not feel very comfortable with his English and is now asking the social worker, struggling with the few words he knows in Greek, a specific product for his dreadlocks. A young Bangladeshi was with him in Mytilene and had a similar path to Amygdaleza but, unlike the Guinean, he looks depressed and hopeless. He is afraid to be sent back to Bangladesh and he is frightened not to know for how long he will have to be detained here.

They show us where they play football. It is a 35-40 square metres pitch with bars all around its perimeter and with a concrete roof that does not allow any view of the sky. On the pitch a ping pong table – they guys tell us – was brought by two policemen right the day before our visit, probably to make the place look more entertaining. Therefore, today there is no chance to see the skills of a Syrian guy who is introduced to us as the strongest player among the young inmates. I told him he looks like Ibrahimovic. He seems flattered and amused by the comparison and laughingly points out that Ibrahimovic was born to refugees escaping from war-ravaged Bosnia.

Most of them asked for asylum but still have not received any update about their requests.   They want us to know their stories and they are aware that what has been happening to them is unfair and infringes the law. They know more than I expected, they are 15 – 16 years old but their eyes are older. One loves to draw, another makes handcraft, they want to learn Greek and some wish to play football for Olympiakos. But all their energies and hopes are wasted in an endless detention with no access to education nor to vocational training, to sport or any other kind of activity. A few of them will be moved to a shelter but most of them will just stay there until they are sent back to the country they wish to flee. Today the guard is a policeman who constantly makes jokes; he is loved by the guys who tell me that not all are that kind. Other policemen are insensible, even cruel. I hear stories about guys mistreated, beaten up in a few cases.

Later on, we move to one of the camps for adults. Overall, 4 000 irregularly residing immigrants are detained. A few days earlier a riot had to be placated. I am told the riot burst because a few policemen wanted a few inmates to stop praying and when they refused they were beaten up. We are not visiting the camp where this recently happened though we enter into another where a riot occurred one year ago. We can still spot a few containers that were burnt and are still not fixed since that happened. While we trespass into the camp, a notice reminds me that what I am about to see was funded for 75% by the European Union, through the European Return Fund. How can a place where EU legislation is so clearly infringed be funded by the EU is a mystery to me.

As soon as we are in, tens of people approach the grids that separate us from them. They all come out from containers, each of which hosts eight of them. Under the eyes of policemen, we get close to the grids and start listening to their stories. Those who can speak English voluntarily translate for their mates. Contrary to what the policemen told us about the decent conditions in which the inmates live, they say the water at their disposal is smelly, they tell us that when they have health problems only one out of five is actually examined. Some have been there for much longer than 18 months, an Afghani on his twenties tell me he has been there for almost three years, another points out that in 12 months he has been detained in this camp he has never been interviewed.

I feel useless – I should be here to answer questions rather than ask them. I was told that in Greece there are worse camps than this one. I was told that in other detention sites, people are squashed in small jail cells so much that they have to stand and struggle to get the chance to at least lean against the wall for some comfort. The fact is that it does not need to be worse than this to hurt. I was somehow prepared to witness these living conditions but that awareness does not prevent me from feeling guilty. Because Primo Levi is whispering in my ear that I, who live safe in my warm house and who find, returning in the evening, hot food and friendly faces, I must consider if this is a man.

 

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