Monthly Archives: January 2013

Van Rompuy discusses EU budget with Finnish prime minister Jyrki Katainen last week.

Sometimes draft communiqués Herman Van Rompuy sends around to national capitals ahead of an EU summit are interesting for the proposals that are in them. And sometimes they’re interesting for what the European Council president has left out.

The “draft guidelines for the conclusions” distributed earlier this week to national delegations ahead of the February 7 summit – obtained by Brussels Blog and posted here – falls very clearly into the second category.

While there is a lengthy section discussing the need to expand trade ties with the US, Japan, Canada, Russia and China, and another on the need to support “democratic gains” post-Arab Spring, the two most interesting topics are listed as “p.m.”, or pour mémoire, which loosely translated means “to be added later”.

The first pour mémoire topic is Mali, where the EU has been trying to catch up with events after Paris sent troops without much consultation with EU allies. And the second is the 7-year EU budget – known in euro-speak as the Multiannual Financial Framework, or MFF. Read more

Now here is an striking quirk in European Commission recruitment: an institution dominated by men from old member states has taken a shine to women from new ones.

For all its preaching about gender equality, the Commission is conspicuously top heavy with men, particularly when it comes to policymaking jobs (so-called administrators). According to the latest Commission stats, women are outnumbered 45 per cent to 55 per cent; three out of four senior managers are men.

The situation is worse if you look at staff by nationality, especially for longstanding EU members. A meagre 23 per cent of Dutch Commission officials are female, 26 per cent of Belgians, 29 per cent of Brits and 31 per cent of Germans. In the top three civil servant ranks of the Commission, the Dutch ratio of men to women is an extraordinary 31:1.

No doubt the Commission want to see a better gender mix. But it seems the effort to improve the situation is generating some imbalances of its own. Read more

A plan to liberalise the EU sugar market, one of the most highly subsidised aspects of European agricultural policy, has been thrown into doubt after lawmakers rejected a proposal to end production quotas by 2015.

The European Parliament’s agriculture committee voted instead on Wednesday by a margin of 32 to 11 to extend the quotas until 2020. Some observers predicted they could last well beyond that.

 Read more

Ukip leader Nigel Farage at a European Parliament session in Strasbourg last year

Following prime minister David Cameron’s address on Britain’s EU future, there may not be two politicians in Europe spoiling for a fight more than the two men who are arguably the most high-profile members of the European Parliament: Nigel Farage and Guy Verhofstadt.

There’s one thing Britain’s foremost eurosceptic and Belgium’s most prominent European federalist agreed on: Within minutes of Cameron finishing his speech in London, both had blasted out e-mail responses lambasting it.

Farage, however, prefaced his criticism by saying he viewed it as the “greatest achievement to date” of his political group, the UK Independence Party, since it put Britain’s EU exit firmly on the agenda. Read more

David Cameron is now the only leader in Europe openly advocating the revision of EU treaties by a set deadline. He asserts that this will happen by 2017 because the eurozone will have to make “massive changes” to save the single currency.

But what if that is not the case? What if Britain is the main reason for a treaty revision? How would Cameron trigger a renegotiation?

The answer lies in Article 48 — to spare you from reading the text, here’s a summary of the hurdles it places before any advocate of treaty change: Read more

Dijsselbloem, left, with his predecessor Juncker after his election as eurogroup president

Spain’s decision to abstain from Monday night’s vote on Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s ascendance to the chair of the eurogroup served to highlight the almost complete dominance of the EU’s triple-A countries in securing top economic jobs in the eurozone.

If we include France and Austria (both of which were downgraded last year by Standard & Poor’s, but retain triple-A ratings from Fitch), the six creditor countries have swept nearly every big opening save the European Central Bank presidency – which was secured by Italian Mario Draghi only after Axel Weber, then head of the German Bundesbank, unexpectedly withdrew his candidacy.

“The Dutch minister seem to us an appropriate person, but fundamentally, it’s a matter of institutional calculations,” Luis de Guindos, the Spanish finance minister, said today in explaining Madrid’s abstention. “Spain has taken a position in regards to a situation that it considers is unjust, which is the representation to the European institutions.”

Madrid has a particular reason to complain, since it has been completely shut out of the top jobs after losing a Spaniard on the ECB’s executive board last year, despite being the euroszone’s fourth largest economy. Dijsselbloem said he has invited De Guindos to The Hague to discuss the issue. The Spaniard has accepted, officials said.

After the jump, a run-down of the triple-A’s recent winning streak: Read more

During his inaugural address on Monday, US President Barack Obama committed himself to a European priority that was shoved to the background during his first term in office: Fighting climate change.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

Those words were music to the ears of many in Brussels, who had assumed – wrongly, it turns out – that the White House was poised four years ago to join the EU’s campaign to forge an ambitious global climate treaty.

The irony of Obama’s climate pivot is that it was announced on the same day when the price of carbon in the EU’s emissions trading scheme fell to an all-time low, offering a distressing reminder about the disarray in a market that is the centrepiece of Europe’s climate policy. Read more

Greek prime minister Samaras takes questions after last month's EU summit in Brussels.

When eurozone leaders finally reached agreement on an overhauled €173bn bailout of Greece last month, Antonis Samaras, the Greek prime minister, declared the prospect of his country leaving the euro to be over: “Solidarity in our union is alive; Grexit is dead.”

But late on Friday, someone decided to resurrect it: the International Monetary Fund. In its first report on the Greek bailout since last month’s deal, the IMF was unexpectedly explicit on the risks that Greece still faces, including the potential for full-scale default and euro exit.

In fact, the 260-page report includes a three-page box explicitly dedicated to examining the fallout if Greece were to be forced out of the euro, which we’ve posted here. The box, titled “Greece as a Source of Contagion”, concludes that while the eurozone has improved its defences, it still remains hugely vulnerable to shocks that would come following Grexit. Read more

Outgoing Cypriot president Demetris Christofias addresses the European Parliament Tuesday.

In this morning’s dead-tree edition of the FT, fellow Brussels Bloggger Josh Chaffin has a report on Cypriot officials launching an offensive to convince other eurozone governments that it is no longer a haven for money laundering.

The effort has included summoning EU ambassadors in Nicosia to the Cypriot finance ministry, where they were given a 23-slide presentation detailing the country’s anit-money laundering efforts. As is our practice here at the Brussels Blog, we’ve decided to post a copy of the report hereRead more

It is now become standard operating procedure: a big story breaks, and the Taiwanese news organisation NMA — which came to fame with its CGI take on Tiger Woods’s complicated love life — does its own unique interpretation of the event. Past favourites have included former British prime minster Gordon Brown’s temper tantrums and ex-US vice president Al Gore’s alleged harassment of a masseuse. Now, they’ve done Friday’s highly-anticipated speech by David Cameron on Britain’s future in the EU, complete with Bulgarians and Romanians storming Buckingham Palace and Nick Clegg in a Baby Bjorn: Read more