Even before the European Court of Auditors released its annual review of EU spending on Tuesday, negotiations over the bloc’s next long-term budget had already turned tense.
A group of wealthy nations, led by theUK, are demanding more budgetary discipline and tighter controls on EU spending. Facing off against them are the poorer member states, led byPoland, which tend to benefit disproportionately from EU funding and are determined to keep the money flowing.
The auditors report is likely to give fresh ammunition to the first camp, while putting the second on the defensive. It found that there were “material errors” in 3.9 per cent of the bloc’s €129.4bn in spending last year – meaning more than €5bn was paid to those who should not have received it. The error rate was up from 3.7 per cent in 2010 and 3.3 per cent in 2009.
The worst offenders were the agriculture payments for rural development, where the error rate was 7.7 per cent, and the cohesion funds used for energy and transport projects, where the rate was 6 per cent, according to the report. 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
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
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
Who will succeed José Manuel Barroso as president of the European commission?
That question has long been debated around the corridors and coffee bars ofBrussels. But it gained special urgency after Barroso’s state-of-the-union speech in Strasbourg last week. In it, Barroso suggested that each political party nominate their own choice for commission president and place that person atop their list for the 2014 European elections.
The idea is to generate some much-needed excitement for EU elections that tend to suffer from paltry voter turnout.
“This would be a decisive step to make the possibility of a European choice offered by these elections even clearer. I call on the political parties to commit to this step and thus to further Europeanise these elections,” Barroso said.
So that begs the question: who is generating the most buzz as the next commission president? Who has the right stuff? As a service to our readers, Brussels Blog has decided to present a list of early contenders from each of the major political families. Read more
China’s solar panel manufacturers are facing an uphill battle in their legal fight against the EU, which last week targeted them as it launched the bloc’s biggest-ever an anti-dumping investigation. The case involves Chinese exports of solar panels, wafers and other products that totalled some €21bn last year.
More than half of such anti-dumping investigations result in tariffs being imposed, according to EU officials. Yet there are at least two technical factors at work in the solar dispute that could make the odds even worse for the Chinese. Read more
Over at the socialist gathering held in a conference centre overlooking an ornate garden in the centre of Brussels, a gaggle of reporters – and a few bemused tourists – clustered around Jean-Marc Ayrault, the new French prime minister, as he arrived for the meeting.
Jean-Marc Ayrault arrives at the meeting of the Party of European Socialists (PES). Reuters
The European commission, the European Union’s executive arm, has been one of the staunchest supporters of the proposed Nabucco pipeline, a 3,900-kilometer behemoth that would carry natural gas from the Caspian region to Austria.
For the commission, Nabucco represents the backbone of a new southern corridor that would break Europe’s dependence on imported Russian gas. It has touted the project repeatedly over the years, and has also opened its wallet, committing up to €200m in funding.
But in a recent conversation with Brussels Blog, Gunther Oettinger, the energy commissioner, made a departure from the usual script and gave support to the growing suspicion that the full Nabucco may be a lost cause. Read more
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of the tidal wave that unleashed a disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility and forced a profound shift in Europe’s nuclear debate.
Within weeks of the disaster, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, decided to switch course and phase out the country’s nuclear plants – a move that was subsequently copied by Switzerland and Belgium.
Talk of a nuclear revival that once filled the air in Italy and other member states – encouraged by the industry and supportive governments – has been dashed. Even in France, Europe’s nuclear champion, public opinion has turned increasingly negative.
But in spite of Fukushima, one European Union member state has lost none of its nuclear ardour: Lithuania. Read more