EU summits

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, listens to a question during Thursday's interview

After spending much of the six-month standoff between Greece and its eurozone creditors on the sidelines, Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who is now European Council president, became the central actor in the Greek drama over the weekend when a summit he chaired became the scene of 17-hour marathon talks that finally led to a deal on Monday morning.

In a 90 minute interview with the Financial Times and six European newspapers, Tusk gave a behind-the-scenes account of how the deal was brokered – but he also gave voice to fears that the standoff has given new energy to radical political forces in Europe that has made 2015 resemble 1968. Our full write-up of the interview, focusing on his concerns about renewed radicalisation can be read here.

But as is our practice at the Brussels Blog, we’re providing a transcript of the interview below. It is slightly edited to eliminate occasionally long-winded questions and topics not directly related to the Greek crisis.

The interview started with a question on Germany and whether Tusk agreed with some commentators that Berlin’s standing in Europe has been hurt by perceptions Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, bullied Greece and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, into a deal on her terms.

I think the position in Germany today, after this negotiation, is maybe not weaker, but for sure not more powerful. It was one of my main aims in these negotiations, to avoid this risk that someone is a loser and someone is a winner, especially because as you noticed, for sure, the discussion during this economic negotiation was also about things like dignity, humiliation, trust. From history, we know very well that we can’t ignore such values, or such feelings or emotions like dignity, humiliation and trust, especially when we go back to German history. The discussion about dignity and humiliation could recall the most dangerous time in Europe, and this is why I think it’s very important to avoid this dimension in discussions and in negotiation because for sure what we needed was to have no losers and no winners in this context.

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Van Rompuy at last month's EU summit. Will December's summit agree to the contracts?

When is a eurozone bailout not a eurozone bailout?

It’s a question that sherpas to the EU’s presidents and prime ministers will be grappling with on Tuesday when they are scheduled to debate a new proposal from Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, intended to further centralise economic decision-making in Brussels.

Under the 9-page plan (first uncovered by our friends and rivals at Reuters; we’ve posted the copy we got our hands on here), a country that is struggling economically could agree to a “contractual agreement” with Brussels that legally codifies its economic reform programme.

In return, that country could avail itself of a low-cost loan that would only be disbursed in tranches to insure compliance with the “contractual arrangement”. Oh, and one other thing: the European Commission would monitor the country to make sure its complying with the “contractual arrangement”.

Legally-binding economic reform agreement. Low-cost eurozone loans. European Commission monitoring missions. Sounds a bit like a bailout, no? Well, because it would be available to all eurozone countries, Van Rompuy doesn’t call it a bailout. In eurocrat-ese, it’s a “solidarity mechanism”. And if sherpas give it the signoff Tuesday, it will be debated by EU leaders at their December summitRead more

Herman Van Rompuy during a public appearance at the European Council building on Wednesday

EU leaders are gearing up for their first summit in four months tomorrow – the longest hiatus since the outbreak of the eurozone crisis three years ago.

It is a measure of how calm the financial markets have been that no major decisions are to be taken at the two-day get-together, which is supposed to focus on telecommunications and digital policy issues. “It’s not a summit for decisions,” said one top EU diplomat. “The objective is decisions at the December summit.”

Still, for the cognoscenti there is much to comb over, including the simmering spat between France and Britain over José Manuel Barroso’s effort to streamline EU regulations.

On Wednesday afternoon, the office of Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council and chair of all summits, circulated a final draft of the summit communiqué, which Brussels Blog got its hands on and posted here. A few things worth noting: Read more

Brussels bloggers Peter Spiegel and Joshua Chaffin discuss the unexpected Anglo-French push to lift the arms embargo for Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime.

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Nicos Anastadiades, Cyprus' president, talks to reporters in Brussels ahead of the EU summit.

One of the first leaders to arrive at the pre-summit gatherings of centre-right leaders was Nicos Anastadiades. In brief remarks to reporters in English, he said he hoped a Cypriot bailout deal could be reached at a meeting of finance ministers Friday night.

“We’re doing our best to reach a fair solution and agreement,” he said. “I hope everyone is going to be fair.” Read more

Finland’s prime minister Jyrki Katainen is standing firm. As he arrived in Brussels on Thursday the 41-year-old centre-right leader made it clear Europe had to maintain the tough austerity course if it wanted to survive.

In a thinly veiled jibe at Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who criticised the pro-austerity policies set by the European Commission’s economic chief and fellow Finn Olli Rehn, Katainen said that the debate around austerity versus growth might have academic value, but it has little value for common people.

“There are no shortcuts to creating new jobs and growth in a sustainable manner. Structural reforms might not bear fruit overnight, but are the best sustainable economic stimulus. Accumulating excessive debt is not,” said Katainen.

He added: “The future of our common currency can be guaranteed only if each member state keeps its fiscal house in order and takes the jointly agreed rules seriously.”

After the jump, you can find the Finnish leader’s full remarks: Read more

Germany's Angela Merkel at Thursday's cabinet meeting, where new budget targets were decided.

After last month’s tension-filled EU summit – an all-night affair to agree the EU’s €960bn seven-year budget – the two-day gathering beginning today is expected to pale by comparison to a considerable degree. “A bit boring is not a bad thing on this occasion,” said one senior diplomat involved in pre-summit negotiations.

Although Hungarian prime minister Victor Orbán is expected to address the international press today following his government’s controversial passage of constitutional amendments which critics claim may violate the rule of law, the only real issue that could potentially generate much heat inside the gathering is the ongoing austerity versus growth debate that has been swirling since last month’s Italian elections.

There has already been some shadow boxing on the issue between France’s François Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel ahead of the summit – with Hollande making the case for France to get a one-year pass on its EU deficit targets, while Merkel conspicuously announcing her own intention to get to a balanced budget a year earlier than required. Read more

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

Van Rompuy is, once again, asking summiteers to endorse the idea in draft conclusions.

When José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, unveiled his blueprint for the future of the eurozone last week, aides acknowledged it contained some blue-sky ideas that were meant to provoke debate as much as set firm policies.

But EU presidents and prime ministers may be asked to endorse some of its more controversial ideas if a leaked copy of the communiqué for next week’s EU summit is any indication – including a plan to have all eurozone countries sign “contractual” agreements with Brussels akin to the detailed reform plans currently required only of bailout countries. We’ve posted a copy of the draft, dated Monday, here.

The idea of the Brussels contracts was originally advocated by the summit’s chair, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, ahead of October’s gathering. But in the end, summiteers only agreed that such a plan should be “explored”Read more

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

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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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

In today’s dead-tree version of the FT, we have a front-page story on an eight-page “draft guidelines for the conclusions” for this month’s EU summit, a document that includes some bold new ideas, like requiring eurozone countries to sign “individual contractual arrangements” with Brussels on their economic reform plans.

We thought we’d post the document (see it here) for Brussels Blog readers to get a fuller view. The parts we found most interesting begin on page 7. Senior officials caution the draft is being used to stimulate debate so that Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, can come up with a more concrete consensus heading into the summit about what can be achieved.

Indeed, the cover sheet of the draft calls it a “state of progress regarding the various topics on the agenda”; still, since it was cobbled together after Van Rompuy’s series of meetings with eurozone leaders over the past month, it reflects the thinking of a lot of national leaders, particularly in the bloc’s largest countries. Read more

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council and chair of all EU summits

For anyone reading the tea leaves ahead of a major EU summit, early drafts of the final communiqué are always essential reading – not necessarily for what’s in them, but for what’s not.

The latest version obtained by the Brussels Blog – the second iteration ahead of next week’s increasingly high-stakes gathering in Brussels (which we’ve posted here) – has quite a few items listed as “p.m.”, an abbreviation for pour mémoire, which loosely translated means “to be added later”. It’s those items where the real debate still rages, and where all eyes will be focused.

The most important p.m. is in the very first section of the 11-page draft: the so-called “report on EMU”, which is the highly-anticipated treatise being drafted by Herman Van Rompuy, the summit chair, with input from José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission; Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank; and Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers. Read more

France's Hollande and Germany's Merkel at the Nato summit in Chicago earlier this week

Ahead of today’s informal EU summit in Brussels, senior officials have been repeatedly warning that no decisions will be taken. Indeed, no communiqué has even been circulated among national delegations, so the dinner is likely to wrap with only a press statement from Herman Van Rompuy, the evening’s host.

Even though Van Rompuy in his letter to leaders has emphasised the informal nature of the session, Europe’s two largest party groupings – the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Party of European Socialists – will both hold pre-summit caucuses starting in the late afternoon.

In the past, the EPP gathering was the more significant affair, with almost every major EU leader (Van Rompuy, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, Eurogroup chair Jean-Claude Juncker) and leaders from the largest eurozone countries (France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi) all regular attendees.

At one point, the PES became something of a caucus of the damned, with only Greece’s George Papandreou, Portugal’s José Socrates and Spain’s José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as centre-left leaders in attendance. Like so much in Europe these days, the French presidential elections have changed all that. Read more

Belgian strikers demonstrate in Brussels earlier this month to protest new austerity measures.

Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, announced overnight (via his now customary way of communicating to the press: Twitter) that he will hold a previously-unscheduled summit of all 27 presidents and prime ministers on January 30.

The gathering is expected to deal with the new intergovernmental treaty to enshrine tough budget rules that leaders hope will be completed by the end of the month — though with a huge amount of eurozone debt coming due in January, the gathering could yet transform into another crisis summit. Diplomats say its likely to start around lunchtime.

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/#!/euHvR/status/149194091232624641"]

One slight problem with that, however. Belgian media is reporting this morning that local unions have announced an event of their own for January 30: a general strike to protest new austerity measures announced by the just-formed government of prime minister Elio Di Rupo. Their ire is focused on proposed changes in pension laws that would force delays in early retirement. Read more

Herman Van Rompuy, left, with President Barack Obama at last week's EU-US summit.

Fellow Brussels Blogger Josh Chaffin has a scoop in this morning’s paper on the five-page “interim report” on EU treaty changes for this week’s summit written by Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council president, which we were able to get our hands on yesterday.

Our story focuses on what is likely to be the central element debated about the report – the suddenly fashionable proposal to do a quick-and-dirty, limited treaty change through the hitherto obscure Protocol 12 of the EU treaties, which is described on page 3 of the Van Rompuy document, which Brussels Blog loyalists can read here.

But there’s much more to digest in the report, and as is our practice, we thought we’d give a more extended evaluation here on the Blog. Read more

Anti-austerity protesters in Athens hold up a Greek flag that says "not for sale" on Friday.

Thanks to some help from the European Commission, we have a bit more clarity on where European leaders will be spending the new €130bn in Greek bail-out aid. But the new data we received makes all the more clear that a huge amount is dependant on the still-to-be negotiated details of the 50 per cent Greek bondholder haircut deal, which may not be completed until the end of the year.

Just to remind readers where the confusion lies, of the €130bn in new funding, only €30bn was officially earmarked in last week’s summit communiqué – and that money will go for “sweeteners” to current bondholders so they’ll participate in a bond-swap programme. If they are going to take a 50 per cent cut in the face value of their bonds, they insisted on getting something else in return, and this was the price.

Of the remaining €100bn, fully €30bn will go to bank recapitalisations, not then €20bn we assumed last week. Although EU banking authorities have called for €30bn in new capital for Greek banks, officials tell us this is in addition to the €10bn provided in the first €110bn Greek bail-out.

Which leaves us with only €70bn to actually run the Greek government for the next three years. How did European authorities come to this number? That requires even more detective work, after the jump. Read more

Greek prime minister George Papandreou, right, with his counterparts at Wednesday's summit

Thursday’s early-morning deal on a new €130bn Greek bail-out is different in magnitude and in kind from the July €109bn programme it replaces, but in one respect they’re very similar – European officials have had a hard time explaining what, exactly, the money is for.

The one thing they have announced is that €30bn of it will go to so-called “sweeteners” to convince Greek bondholders to accept 50 per cent haircuts on the face value of their bonds.

How this would work has yet to be negotiated, but in the July plan, such sweeteners were used to create a collateral pool for new, gold-plated Greek bonds that could be used in a bond swap programme. In order to convince bondholders to trade in their current bonds that are about to come due for new bonds that don’t come due for 30 years, these new bonds needed to be extra safe. The collateral “sweeteners” were the means to do that.

How is the remaining €100bn in the new €130bn Greek bail-out going to be spent? A little detective work after the jump. Read more