Monthly Archives: October 2012

Britain's Cameron, left, talks with EU Commission president José Manuel Barroso at May's summit.

With last night’s release of new numbers by Cypriot negotiators, the debate over the EU’s seven-year budget is beginning to heat up, with battle lines hardening over whether – and how much – funding should be cut from the European Commission’s original €1,033bn proposal.

In today’s dead tree edition of the FT, Josh Chaffin points to the growing debate over rebates – one that could have a direct impact on the country EU officials say has been the most difficult negotiator in recent rounds, the UK. Whether the issue is being raised now in an attempt to threaten Britain into softening its hard-line insistence on a budget freeze is unclear.

What is clear, however, is that the European Commission is going for the jugular. In an 8-page paper circulated by the Cypriot presidency last week, and cited in Josh’s story, the European Commission makes a direct attack on Britain’s sacrosanct rebate, saying Britain’s “unique treatment….seems no longer warranted”. We’ve posted a copy of the document hereRead more >>

A fresh draft of the EU’s long-term budget (a copy can be seen here) has shaved €50bn from the original proposal from the European Commission (which is here), in a partial concession to the UK and other member states determined to contain the bloc’s spending.

The draft, circulated late on Monday night, marked the first time that member states have specified hard figures in their EU budget proposal after more than a year of discussion. As such, it is a highly anticipated moment in the lead-up to a November 22 summit in Brussels when the EU’s 27 heads of government will try to reach a deal on one of their most contentious items of business.

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This issue has always been a potential dealbreaker: how will Germany’s politically powerful network of small public banks — or Sparkassen — sit under the bailiwick of a single bank supervisor? Until now we’ve mainly seen diplomatic shadow-boxing on the matter. But that fight is beginning in earnest.

As is the custom in Brussels, some ambiguous and unclear summit conclusions are helping spur things along. Chancellor Angela Merkel last week hailed a one particular sentence as a breakthrough for Germany: that the European Central Bank would “be able, in a differentiated way, to carry out direct supervision” over eurozone banks.

To her, that vague language was recognition that the Sparkassen would be treated differently — the ECB would concentrate on big banks and those that are facing troubles, and leave the rest to national authorities. Read more >>

A woman walks by Greek anti-bailout graffiti in central Athens earlier this week.

For those who really want to get into the nitty gritty of the revised Greek bailout, we’re also posting two other documents we got our hands on and used for today’s story on the nearly-completed deal in order to provide more detail on what the new rescue programme will look like.

The first document is an October 14 draft of the official “Memorandum of Understanding on Specific Economic Policy Conditionality”; the second is the “Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies”.

Both are chock full of austerity and reform commitments Athens is making to get the bailout extension. But the second memorandum has far more detail on what kind of budget demands Athens is agreeing to. Although there are gaps where specific budget targets are to be included, page two and page nine give strong hints of where they are headed. Read more >>

Germany's Angela Merkel, left, with Greece's Antonis Samaras during her Athens visit.

With Athens and the so-called “troika” of international lenders close to a deal on an overhauled bailout that would extend the programme by two years, the focus today shifts to Brussels, where talks begin on round two of the revised Greek rescue: how to pay for it.

As we reported in today’s dead-tree edition of the FT, those talks will focus on how to fill a new financing gap of between €16bn-€18bn through 2016.

Although officials have toyed with a bond buyback programme – which would have reduced Greek financing needs by purchasing debt at current distressed prices and retiring the bonds – it now looks like they’re going to focus instead on what they’ve done in the past: lowering rates on bailout loans even further to scrape together extra money. Currently, Greece borrows at 1.5 per cent more than the cost of the cash to lenders. So there’s room to cut. Read more >>

The EU’s former health commissioner has vowed to sue the European Commission in connection with his resignation over an alleged tobacco bribery scandal, escalating a messy dispute between the Maltese politician and his former boss, José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president.

John Dalli’s legal threat was issued during a one-hour press conference he staged in Brussels, the Commission’s home base, a little more than a week after his surprise resignation stunned the EU capital. Read more >>

By Paul de Grauwe, London School of Economics

The European Central Bank’s recent decision to be a lender of last resort in government bond markets is a turning point in the governance of the eurozone. By committing itself to unlimited government bond purchases, the ECB prevented a panic that would have pushed governments into liquidity and solvency crises, destroying the eurozone. Read more >>

Tomorrow will mark another milestone in the long meandering path towards a international financial transaction tax, otherwise known as the Tobin tax.

What exactly will happen? Well the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will approve a proposal that paves the way for an avande-garde of member states to agree their own Tobin regime. In EU jargon, it’s a proposal authorising “enhanced cooperation”.

Ironically the step forward will come in the shape of a legal admission of defeat, a formal acceptance that there is at present no consensus for a pan-EU levy, let alone enough for a global one.

It is largely a formality. But it means the 11 EU countries that want the levy will be one procedure closer to setting up their own Tobin tax. Such breakaway groups are considered a last resort under EU rules, so any enhanced cooperation must clear various legal hurdles, including proof that a pan-EU deal is impossible for now. Read more >>

Germany's Angela Merkel, left, and France's François Hollande at the EU summit in Brussels.

With the eurozone crisis response slowing to a crawl, Friday’s early-morning agreement setting a timetable for a new single eurozone bank supervisor is probably best judged with textual analysis, since the deal is so incremental it’s hard to really judge without a close look at the details.

The key change between the communiqué agreed in June and the one agreed Friday is the firming up of when, exactly, the new supervisor, to be run by the European Central Bank, will start and how long it will take to be phased in. The June deal was immensely vague on this point:

We ask the Council to consider these proposals as a matter of urgency by the end of 2012.

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Olli Rehn seemed more relaxed and upbeat about the eurozone’s economy than usual at the pre-EU summit conference held by the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR).

The man in charge of the EU’s economic agenda said that the eurozone crisis could be approaching an end, as measures taken in the summer to bolster the recovery had started having an impact. Read more >>