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

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, attacked EU member states for failing to implement growth measures that could balance the short term negative impact of harsh austerity policies imposed due to the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis.

“Very frankly I am not happy with the progress made so far,” said Mr Barroso ahead of the EU summit. “Unfortunately we see little willingness on some of our governments to ensure appropriate funding for key instruments to help to offset the negative social impact of the crisis.”

Mr Barroso’s comments were followed by harsh criticism from the head of the EU’s largest trade union, who accused European governments of destroying the continent’s social welfare system. Read more

One of the odder pre-summit party gatherings is going on at the Stanhope Hotel, not far from the FT’s bureau in Brussels. There, a group called European Conservatives and Reformists is meeting, a rarity for them in the normal summit run-up.

The group is basically made up of centre-right EU parties that are too eurosceptic to join up with the main centre-right political grouping, the European People’s Party of Germany’s Angela Merkel and Spain’s Mariano Rajoy. Read more

Hollande arrives at the Party of European Socialists gathering ahead of the EU summit.

François Hollande, the French president, has just arrived at the socialist confab at The Square meeting centre in Brussels. Read more

Van Rompuy sent the note to national delegations yesterday, ahead of today's summit start.

The issue of a collective budget for the 17 eurozone members has come roaring out of nowhere to become one of the most contentious issues heading into today’s EU summit. It’s included both in the draft conclusions sent around by Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, and in his report on the future of the European Monetary Union.

The proposal is so contentious – the French see it as a nascent supranational budget that would spend on things such as unemployment insurance; the Germans a small, targeted fund to help start short-term programmes such as job training schemes – that Van Rompuy yesterday sent around a “background note” to national delegations to flesh out the idea.

The note, seen by Brussels Blog, contains eight separate questions about the eurozone budget and other parts of his EMU report that have drawn controversy, in an apparent attempt to steer tonight’s discussion around the summit table. We’ve posted a copy after the jump. Read more

Legal opinions from the top lawyer to EU ministers are not intended for mass circulation. They are usually virtually unquotable, often studiously ambiguous and always highly political. But the Council legal service’s take on the European Commission plan for a single bank supervisor is a classic.

The headline is that the Commission’s supervision blueprint — as announced in September — is illegal in key parts. More important, though, is the detail of the argument and the challenges it poses to finding a diplomatic solution before the end of the year.

Before diving into the argument and quoting key sections, it is worth sumarising and explaining some of the implications. Read more

Yves Mersch’s long, slow ascent to a place on the six-member executive board of the European Central Bank has just hit another potentially serious roadblock.

The governor of the Bank of Luxembourg is male, like all his central bank peers in the eurozone, and the economic and monetary affairs committee of the European Parliament has decided it is time to draw a line in the sand.

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IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, during this morning's news conference in Tokyo.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde’s declaration this morning that Greece should be given two more years to hit tough budget targets embedded in its €174bn bailout programme – coming fast on the heels of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s highly symbolic trip to Athens – are the clearest public signs yet of what EU officials have been acknowledging privately for weeks: Greece is going to get the extra time it wants.

But what is equally clear after this week’s pre-Tokyo meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg is there is no agreement on how to pay for those two additional years, and eurozone leaders are beginning to worry that the politics of the Greek bailout are once again about to get very ugly.

The mantra from eurozone ministers has been that Greece will get more time but not more money. Privately, officials acknowledge this is impossible. Extending the bailout programme two years, when added to the policy stasis in Athens during two rounds of elections and a stomach-churning drop in economic growth, means eurozone lenders are going to have to find more money for Athens from somewhere. Read more

Britain's David Cameron meets EU's Herman Van Rompuy at Downing Street last year.

Aides to Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, have circulated an updated draft of conclusions for next week’s EU summit and, according to a copy obtained by Brussels Blog, they have retained controversial proposals for a single eurozone budget and “contracts” between eurozone countries and Brussels on economic reform programmes.

Unlike the previous proposal by Van Rompuy’s staff, which was labeled “guidelines” and intended only to generate discussion, the current text (a copy of which we’ve posted here) comes in formal “draft conclusions” form – a technical yet significant difference, meaning there was widespread support for the ideas in talks with eurozone member states.

As we reported ahead of this week’s Conservative party conference in the UK, the idea of a eurozone budget has even gained support from the British government, which views it as a way for the 17 eurozone countries to increase their spending on a European level even as the UK freezes its commitment to the EU-wide budget for all 27 members.

However, in a tweak of the Van Rompuy language that appears aimed at Britain, the communiqué makes clear that any plans for a eurozone budget – or “fiscal capacity” in eurospeak – would be separate from negotiations over the EU-wide budget, which is known as the multiannual financial framework: Read more

IMF's Blanchard unveils report at Tokyo gathering of finance ministers and central bankers.

[UPDATE] After a meeting of EU finance ministers in Luxembourg, Olli Rehn, the European Commission’s economic chief, said he would read the IMF’s analysis on the way back to Brussels. But he cautioned that while the impact of austerity on growth was important to consider, it was also essential to take into account the “confidence effect” budget consolidation has. He pointed to Belgium, which has gone from market laggard to nearly a safe haven after implementing tough austerity measures earlier this year.

Although the headlines generated by last night’s release of the IMF’s annual World Economic Outlook focused on the downgrading of global growth prospects, for the eurozone crisis the most important item in the 250-page report may just be a three-page box on how austerity measures affect struggling economies.

The box – co-authored by IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard and staff economist Daniel Leigh – argues in stark language that the IMF as well as other major international institutions, including the European Commission, have consistently underestimated the impact austerity has on growth.

For a eurozone crisis response that has piled harsh austerity medicine on not only bailout countries but “core” members with high debt levels –Italy, France and Belgium, for instance – the IMF finding could shake up the debate on how tough Brussels should continue to be on eurozone debtors. As French economist Jean Pisani-Ferry, director of the influential Brussels think tank Bruegel, tweeted yesterday:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/BruegelPisani/status/255520457976061952"] Read more

Greek protesters prepare for Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit this morning in central Athens.

Since coming a surprise second in June’s Greek elections, Syriza, the radical left-wing coalition, can point to at least one (admittedly modest) success in addressing the country’s monstrous unemployment problem: It has found a job for Aphrodite Babassi.

Babassi, a Syriza supporter who appeared in the FT’s pages in May, had been jobless for three years before she took a post in July on the staff of one of the party’s new members of parliament, Afrodite Stapouli, researching science policy.

We bumped into Babassi, 27, at Syntagma Square on Monday night, where – as she prepared to protest against the pending visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – she recalled the joy of receiving her first pay check. Read more