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Crumbling of the project ?


Does the €uro have a future?Randall CalvinRandall Calvin

By Randall Calvin

Posted on 30/12/2014

Notwithstanding the recent tests and woes on the function and long-term viability of the euro currency, views of its future are as fractured as the current political reality across the whole of the EU. There are many, perhaps the majority of spectators, who argue that the political reality and integration process of the currency thus far, is simply too far embedded, too far travelled along its route to even contemplate questioning its future. This of course, as from its birth is a political view, a perspective that many economists would not agree with. The future of the euro does not look very bright for 2015.

Let me take you on a little tour of some economic indicators throughout 2014.

The Dutch Government at the start of the year, had an active plan to return to the Dutch Guilder, and this notion floated – as part of the Northern Group including Germany, from a strong European economy such is the Netherlands!

In Southern Europe the crises are now at epic levels, in countries such as Spain, Portugal, Greece, where youth unemployment is between       45-50%, in what are already fragile economies, the situation has become intolerable for millions of citizens.

All eyes are now focused on the forthcoming elections in Greece of course, but the real threat is the unsustainability of the Italian debt situation.

In France with the growing strength of Madame Le Pen’s party –Front National, so high in the polls, that it is not beyond reason that if there were an election there tomorrow, her party could well get into power, and as we know in their manifesto, withdrawing the French Republic from the euro zone is a certainty, if that were to happen, then it is all over for the young currency.

 

What is clear to us now, is that the original attempt by Mario Draghi and the ECB (European Central Bank) in trying to introduce quantitative easing, mirroring the strategies of the USA Federal Reserve and the Japanese equivalent, could not proceed, because the idea was blocked by the Germans, who would not tolerate it. 

Mario DraghiMario Draghi

However Mr Draghi continues to state his position that the ECB can not react to problems in individual member states as it is focused on the union as a whole.

Euro zone countries must "complete" their monetary union by integrating economic policies further and working towards a capital markets union, he says. 

"This means governing together, going from co-ordination to a common decisional process, from rules to institutions."

Unifying capital markets to follow this year's banking union would also make the bloc more resilient. Which decoded means further federal union.

I cannot bring myself to mention in detail the horror story of the abuse and mishandling of the Irish debt crisis, and people by the ECB post 2008. And now, with Lithuania becoming the 19th member state to join the Euro currency, at the very moment of such political uncertainty in Greece, this can only renew concern over the single currency bloc's economic prospects.

Many commentators in the small Baltic state fear that ditching its litas currency will only lead to inflation, while others say that the adoption of the Euro will help to boost its security at a time of heightened anxiety over Russian activity in the region.

I could give many other examples, micro and macro, but suffice to say for this article, you see where I am going.

I do not wish to paint a depressing picture but, as we began, the formation of the euro currency is and remains a political vision, not properly underpinned by sound economic foundations, a fact that has finally been conceded by many top politicians in recent years.

It seems sadly ironic, if not disappointing to me, that the very foundation principals of the EU, capped off with monetary union, was to bury the ghosts and echoes of extreme political groupings from the left or right as per the previous century, that now so early in this century, this is exactly the situation we have politically, thanks perhaps to that over zealous, over ambitious group of EU empire builders, if you think I exaggerate... former EC President José Manuel Durão Barroso, maybe a “slip of the tongue”, did once classify the EU project as an “empire.”

 

The arguments for or against the continuation of the euro will persist, regrettably as it is fundamentally a political question rather than sound economics, we have all been forced into declaring our stance, black or white simple reductionist politics, good Europeans vs bad Europeans.

As a European, I appreciate many of the positive developments the EU has achieved since its inception, political, social, and cultural, of bringing peoples together, not dividing countries and politics as is our current reality.

It took political will to establish the euro, and as every example in history shows, it only takes political will to dis-establish it, or release Member States who cannot afford the price of admission, otherwise it can and will threaten the EU itself as a political entity, a bridge too far, for too many, and that some people in high places are very disconnected from the public mood on the streets of Europe, or perhaps they just refuse to listen. 

 

By Randall Calvin

 


 

EU leaders discuss € 315 billion investment plan, tax issues and Russian sanctions


Randall CalvinRandall CalvinBy Randall Calvin

 

Posted on 18/12/2014

European Union leaders are attending a summit in Brussels today to discuss an investment plan to stimulate                              growth.

Jean-Claude JunckerJean-Claude Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wants to generate € 315 billion of private investment for infrastructure projects.

The European Commission said investments on the scale envisaged could create up to 1.3 million jobs across the EU.

Ireland has submitted a list of 70 projects that the Government feels are worthy of funding.

Italy and other Member States want any new investment to be counted against a country's budget deficit.

However, Germany and its fiscal conservative allies are opposed to being flexible with the rules.

The question of tax is in the agenda of the Summit at the request of Spain and France who wish to respond forcefully to revelations in the so-called 'Lux Leaks'.

The 'Lux Leaks' revelations, coupled with a renewed push for greater tax harmonisation within the EU, will put Ireland's corporate tax regime back in the spotlight.

However, Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny told the Irish Parliament yesterday that while Ireland will contribute constructively to the discussions, the Government was holding firm to its determination to maintain the corporation tax rate of 12.5%. Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said Ireland has been "very much upfront" on the question of its corporate tax system and will continue to play a part on EU negotiations.

Enda Kenny - Irish PMEnda Kenny - Irish PM

Speaking in Brussels for an EU Leaders Summit, the Taoiseach added "we will defend completely our 12.5% corporate tax rate. Tax is a matter of national competence."

In the recent past, the Taoiseach said there was a "certain reputational damage" being caused by what he called "perception, confusion and by mis-information."

The investment plan to stimulate growth was the focal point of today's Summit.

Donald Tusk Donald Tusk

Russia is also on the agenda of the two-day Summit, with possible further EU sanctions under discussion.

Former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is chairing, for the first time, the EU Summit since becoming European Council President.

 

He is aiming to shorten these meetings by making them more focused and efficient. On this I agree with Mr Tusk; surely that is a positive step in the right direction!

By Randall Calvin

 


 

O'Reilly re-elected as European Ombudsman


Posted on 16/12/2014

Emily O'Reilly has been re-elected as European Ombudsman following a vote by MEPs in Strasbourg.

 

Emily O'Reilly - European OmbudsmanEmily O'Reilly - European OmbudsmanMs O'Reilly, who was the only candidate declared admissible for the post, was elected after securing 569 out of the 635 valid votes cast.

Ms O’Reilly's mandate as European Ombudsman will run for five years.

Her role as Ombudsman is to investigate complaints of maladministration by EU institutions.

While those institutions are not obliged to comply with the Ombudsman's recommendations, they do so in around 80% of cases.

She was first elected to the position last year following the retirement of her predecessor, Nikiforos Diamandouros, and became the first woman and the first Irish person to hold the post.

Ms O’Reilly also said the Governments have an obligation to be honest with people about what they are doing and to remove the stress that people feel when they are not being given all the information.

She said that she had told the Government this “post crash” when she was Irish Ombudsman, that it if was making cuts as a result of political decisions, then it had to be clear about this.

 

Ms O’Reilly said that she felt this sense of frustration particularly during the medical card controversy, when the Government was removing medical cards she said that the law was not changed but the discretionary piece certainly was.

She said she could understand people's sense of frustration when TDs (Irish MPs) and Ministers would stand up in the Dail, the Irish Parliament, and say this wasn't happening, when clearly it was.

She said that Governments and politicians have an obligation to remove this stress by being honest about what they are doing even when it is going cause difficulty.

 

 


 

 

Martin BanksMartin Banks

Azerbaijani senior MP urges the European Parliament for “fresh start”


By Martin Banks

Posted on 09/12/2014

A senior Azerbaijani parliamentarian has urged the European Parliament to make a "fresh start" with the country in the coming 12 months.

Independent MP Elkhan Suleymanov hopes for a better relationship with the Parliament in 2015 after a year of what he calls “attacks, resolutions and declarations” against his country.

Suleymanov is a senior member of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, a parliamentary forum to promote political association and further economic integration between the EU and its eastern European neighbours. It includes MEPs and MPs from Azerbaijan as well as Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia and Georgia.

Azerbaijan MP Elkhan SuleymanovAzerbaijan MP Elkhan Suleymanov

Suleymanov, who heads the delegation, said throughout 2014 Azerbaijan has effectively been "punished" for its "positive" engagement with Europe through the EU´s Eastern Partnership Initiative.

While he believes Azerbaijan has been singled out for criticism, rival Armenia chooses to “abandon ties with the EU” by joining the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Unions.

For this, Suleymanov said, Armenia has been "rewarded with even more EU funding" and the "privilege" of hosting the next Euronest plenary session in Yerevan next year, a meeting Azerbaijan will boycott.

In an open letter to the European Parliament Conference of Presidents, or political group leaders, he said these factors “casts a shadow over the whole EP” throughout 2014.

Suleymanov is urging the European Parliament for a "fresh start" in 2015 and asks that it "respects" Azerbaijani legal standards in the coming year, something he believes has not been observed in 2014.

He said the Parliament's resolution calling for the release of accused fraudster and Sakharov Prize nominee Leyla Yunus “disrespects judgments of the (Azerbaijani) courts” given she is midway through a serious treason and corruption case.

He believes such calls for her release would not be made if she was embroiled in a similar criminal case in an EU nation.

Could any prominent public and political figure demand to release a person, who is (being) investigated in the European zone?” he asked. “Certainly, the reaction would be negative. Then why do you apply this model to Azerbaijan?

Likewise, he said, there have been "manifest contradictions" by the Parliament over what constitutes “international legal standards”.

While there has been concern – and resolutions – in support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity in the face of Russian-sponsored "aggression," there has been no discussion of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity with regards to Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding territories.

 

Population 2013 census – 9.4 million –Population 2013 census – 9.4 million –

 

Despite the fact that the Armenian invasion more than two decades ago, and the continued occupation has been deemed unlawful by a number of international organisations, including the United Nations Security Council and the European Parliament, such bodies are still reluctant to call to account the "aggressor state."

The Azerbaijani people demand from the European Union to show the same level of support for Azerbaijan, the 20% territory which is under occupation for over 23 years, as it has for Ukraine today,” Suleymanov said in his open letter.

But despite these concerns, Suleymanov and his delegation remain positive about 2015. He hopes that Azerbaijan’s relationship with the Parliament can grow in 2015 and that it will “present an objective face towards Azerbaijan” throughout the coming year.

By Martin Banks for EU Spectator

 

 


 

Towards the recognition of a Palestinian State


By Guadalupe del Olmo

Posted on 07/12/2014

The UN General Assembly upgraded the status of Palestine as a “non-member observer state” at the end of last month, meanwhile; the European Parliament is still to decide on the acknowledgment of Palestine Statehood, a decision delayed until the 18th of December.

 

Under the objective to breath new life into the peace process between Israel and Palestine, the UN voted by an overwhelming majority — 138 in favour to 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Panama, Palau, United States), with 41 abstentions (including Germany) — the General Assembly accorded Palestine non-Member Observer State status in the United Nations.

In Europe, the UK, France, the Republic of Ireland, Spain and Sweden, amongst a group of nine countries, have already passed in their respective Parliaments the decision that urges their governments to recognise Palestine as a state, although this decision is non-biding. The Danish and Belgian Parliaments are also preparing to vote soon on the issue.

 

However, the European Parliament which initially planned to vote on the matter last November, delayed a vote on the issue until the next Parliament plenary session in December. European sources say that such a delay was due to the failure of lawmakers to reach a consensus on the exact wording of the motion, partly due to concerns raised by the European People’s Party group.

The initiative, proposed by the left GUE/NGL and S&D groups, is divisive amongst MEPs. While the acceptance of a Palestinian state may provide an impetus for meaningful talks towards an Israel-Palestine solution, some MEPs think that the EU's efforts should be aimed at encouraging dialogue avoiding hasty decisions and anti-moderate positions.

Irish MEP Martina Anderson, Chair of Parliament's Delegation for Relations with the Palestine Legislative Council, said: "135 countries already recognise Palestinian statehood; this includes nine EU member states. The Israeli onslaught in Gaza this summer has shown that the status quo is not acceptable to the millions we represent and who protested. And it shouldn't be acceptable to anyone who genuinely supports a peaceful and just resolution.”

Within this debate, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, insisted that the best way to support Israel is the existence of a Palestine State, being likewise the best way to ensure the security of Israel. She claimed that the EU has the obligation of ensuring dialogue between the two and has “historic responsibility” on the subject.

Nevertheless, she underlined that recognising states is not within EU’s functions and its role shouldn’t be to interfere, however, she qualified her remarks by further stating that Mediterranean neighbourhood issues are very much within the EU’s portfolio.

The decision of the European Parliament on the recognition of Palestinian statehood on the pre-1967 ceasefire lines has largely symbolic value and there is already wide international acceptance that they should form the basis of a permanent peace settlement. The problem for the Palestinians is that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, rejects these territorial lines as a basis for negotiations.

Thus, more than enabling the talks, the EP decision risks slamming the door on further dialogue between the two countries, especially as Israel will refuse to recognise old border lines affected by new Israeli settlements.

One might say that the EP decision, in spite of broad European public opinion to the contrary, the conflict is no nearer to a magic solution to this perennial, if not annual, dispute - that erupts time and time again.

By Guadalupe del Olmo for EU Spectator

 

 


 

Randall CalvinRandall Calvin

Donald Tusk succeeds Herman Van Rompuy as European Council President


By Randall Calvin

Posted on 01/12/2014

Donald Tusk is taking over from Herman Van Rompuy as European Council president today. Mr Tusk is the first EU President from a "new member state.”

The new European Council president is expected to be more visible than his predecessor and to “bring the EU back to life,” as he embodies the rise of countries of the former soviet bloc and the fact that the differences between the old and new members of the EU are now in the past.

"What Europe needs the most is energy and optimism", he said, spurred by his country's impressive growth rate while Europe is suffering from the crisis. According to some newspapers, Mr Tusk said after his appointment that “Europe loses when it is divided,” therefore his mission is above all to keep member states in agreement.

Mr Tusk, age 57, presents himself as a pragmatist who “hates ideology and strategic 20-years long plans” and who addresses the most urgent and current issues. This quality may win him the favour of the German media that see a similarity between him and Angela Merkel.

One of his first challenges will be the crisis in Ukraine and the EU’s relationship with Russia, with NATO foreign ministers set to discuss the issue in Brussels tomorrow. To this issue a list of three further central tasks is added: defusing tension surrounding a possible British exit; pushing forward an ambitious and coherent climate-energy policy; and finding his place as he is coming from a country (currently) outside the euro area. Moreover, Mr Tusk will have to learn to deal with the unexpected as recent years have shown that nothing really happens as planned.

On Mr Van Rompuy’s mandate some media praised his serenity, reticence and "stoic calmness,” noting that he remained unknown to many EU citizens but successfully coped with the heads of government and state during several crises. Many likewise praise him for being a “conciliatory figure.” 

As over the space of five years Van Rompuy grew from a “grey mouse” into a highly authoritative person.

While Van Rompuy feels he has become a reference for others and that even though not all problems have been solved, he did manage to save the euro area, and he gave his successor, Donald Tusk, three pieces of advice: tell the truth, give people hope, and restore trust.

 

EU Commission President survives no confidence vote by MEPs


Posted on 27/11/2014

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sitting in Strasbourg today have overwhelmingly rejected a vote of no confidence in the European Commission put forward by the UK Independence party (UKIP) and France's National Front, voted 461 against and 101 in favour of the censure motion.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European CommissionJean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission

As foreseen, the Commission's new president, Jean-Claude Juncker, survived the no confidence vote in Strasbourg. It comes as the latest political storm in Juncker's term, which began only weeks after he assumed his position.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who proposed the motion along with MEPs from Marine Le Pen's Front National, was criticised for not being present in the chamber for the vote.

Mr Juncker, the long-time Luxembourg premier took office less than a month ago but has already weathered several political storms, most recently involving his time as the head of the Luxembourg's government and as its finance minister. Investigative journalists alleged that Luxembourg had granted tax break worth billions of euros to hundreds of top companies, including Apple, IKEA and Pepsi while in office.

"It is intolerable that a person who has been responsible for aggressive tax avoidance policies should serve as President of the European Commission," the motion signatories said.

UK Liberal Democrat MEP, Catherine BearderUK Liberal Democrat MEP, Catherine Bearder

Reaction to the outcome of the vote and, in particular the failure of Farage to turnout, was swift with 

UK Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder saying, "We all know UKIP MEPs are notorious for doing very little work, but this time Nigel Farage has failed to turn up and vote on his own motion.

She also said: "This shows that this proposal was never anything more than a shameless media stunt. While UKIP clown around, hard-working MEPs are determined to hold Juncker and the Commission to account by holding an in-depth and independent inquiry."

This was a reference to the European Parliament inquiry that will be set up to look into allegations that Juncker was complicit in tax evasion during his time as Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

 

 

 


 

Jean-Claude Juncker will have to face a motion of censure from European Parliament 


Posted on 20/11/2014

Several MEPs decided last Tuesday to sign a motion of censure against the European Commission’s President, following the disclosure of secret tax deals in Luxembourg, affair that has been baptized as LuxLeaks.

The motion of censure against the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker has been signed by 76 MEPs from Nigel Farage’s UKIP, Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement. His future as EC President will therefore be put to a vote at an EP plenary in Strasbourg next week, most likely on the 27th November.

In a record time Jean-Claude Juncker faces a vote of no confidence since occupying the European office. Although Juncker’s resignation is very unlikely, there is no doubt that the Commission leadership’s public esteem will fall as a result.

After the last European Parliament’s elections, Eurosceptics and right wing populist have gained enough influence to challenge the European Institutions, and now UKIP leader Nigel Farage calls for the overthrow of the European Commission’s President.

The initiative is expected to be smothered quickly by the European Parliament's large coalition; however, Mr Juncker will struggle to regain Europeans' trust.

EPP’s Chairman, Manfred Weber said that Mr Juncker’s team has the full support of the group. Thus there is very little chance that the censure motion will be adopted, especially as the motion requires two thirds majority and both the S&D and EPP stand foursquare behind Mr Juncker.

On the other hand, with currently some investigations taking place into companies suspected of tax avoidance, LuxLeaks may turn out to be a mobilizing project on the subject for Europe and Juncker might seek to seize the opportunity to use these cases to support potential taxation-related initiatives.

 


 

Russia rebuked by G20 leaders


Posted 16/11/2014

Russia has been rebuked by western leaders over the Ukraine crisis at the G20 Summit in Brisbane Australia.

US President, Barack Obama, said “Moscow’s aggression in Eastern Europe was a threat to the World, while the Canadian Prime Minister said “Putin has to get out of Ukraine”.

The delegates at the Summit were treated to an evening of local entertainment.

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel even posed for photos and ‘selfies’ and later popped into a local pub! But then it was down to the real business of the Summit.

While Ukraine was not officially on the agenda, it was inevitable that it would dominate proceedings.

Barrack Obama said “we are leading and dealing with ebola in West Africa and in opposing Russian aggression against Ukraine, which is a threat to the World, following the appalling shoot-down of MH17”.

The handshakes were cordial but uncomfortable. With even talk of another Cold War and more sanctions against Russia, President Putin was clearly isolated.

The Russian president insisted that Moscow was not involved in sending troops and tanks into Eastern Ukraine and he said that sanctions were not legal, but few at the Summit shared his opinion and they have promised a strong response, an issue that it will be discussed at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Herman Van Rompuy, outgoing President of European Council said “Russia must stop the inflow of weapons and troops from its territory into Ukraine and Russia must withdraw those already present in Donbass”.

Despite intense diplomatic pressure, President Putin remained defiant. It has been reported that he is preparing to leave the Summit earlier on Sunday because of meetings in Moscow.

But his premature departure has no doubt been accelerated by the frosty reception he received, the barrage of criticism over his policies in Ukraine.

EU Spectator correspondent, Brussels

G20 Members

The G20 membership comprises a mix of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, representing about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and over 75 per cent of global trade.

The members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

 G20 Member mapG20 Member map

 

Each year the G20 president invites several guest countries to participate in G20 events and contribute to the agenda. G20 members engage with guest countries and other non-member countries to ensure the G20 reflects a broad range of international opinion. In 2014 Australia welcomes Spain as a permanent invitee; Mauritania as the 2014 chair of the African Union; Myanmar as the 2014 Chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN); Senegal, representing the New Partnership for Africa's Development; New Zealand; and Singapore.

 The work of G20 members is supported by several international organisations that provide policy advice.

The G20 also regularly engages with non-government sectors. Engagement groups from business (B20), civil society (C20), labour (L20), think tanks (T20) and youth (Y20) are holding major events during the year, the outcomes of which will contribute to the deliberations of G20 leaders.

 

LUXLEAKS - Juncker faces EU Parliament


Posted on 13/11/2014

Someone once said that all political careers end in failure. Certainly, this will not be the end of Mr Juncker’s career, however after a controversial election campaign, and so soon into his tenure as President of the European Commission, the timing and optics of this controversy could not have come at a worse time for the new President just barely getting settled in office.

 

After nearly a week of deafening silence, the new president of the European Commission on Wednesday defended the charges for his alleged involvement in a network of tailored suits to reduce the tax bill of big business during his long tenure as Prime Minister of Luxembourg. "I do not apologize for what I did" he told the European Parliament. "I do not dare to describe myself as the friend of capital" he said defiantly.

 

Juncker has pulled off an ambitious reform of the EU tax, to close the many legal slits that let multinationals to allegedly avoid paying full corporate taxes in Luxembourg. The largest companies are allowed to do the same in Ireland, Holland, Malta, Cyprus and Austria, financial contortion exercises to pay the lowest tax rates of up to 1%, according to the information they have uncovered 340 opaque multinational agreements within the Grand Duchy.

Brussels will step up efforts to refloat one of the projects of the Barroso Commission, harmonization of tax bases of corporate income tax to try to prevent unfair European competition. In an era of austerity, this is one of the gaps through which billions of euros drain. The average corporate tax rate in the OECD countries has steadily decreased from 50% in 1975 to 22.9% today.

Juncker, facing the European Parliament session in Brussels, snapped "Big business has better friends in this house than me" he said to MEPs.

 


 

Juncker resists calls to face MEPs over ‘Luxembourg leaks’


Posted on 11/11/2014

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) leaked a few days ago 548 private tax rulings – also known as “comfort letters” – negotiated by accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers on behalf of more than 340 multinational corporations. The documents provided a road map into how corporations saved billions of euros in taxes by routing profits through Luxembourg.

These leaks were echoed by publications around the world, expressing a phenomenon of enormous gravity and proportions, that of corporate tax avoidance.

Photo from ICIJPhoto from ICIJAs reported by ICIJ, at the centre of the “Lux Leaks” controversy is Jean-Claude Juncker, the new president of the European Commission. Mr Juncker was Luxembourg’s prime minister at the time many of the country’s tax-avoidance rules were enacted.

Other media, such as the Spanish “El País” claims that the average tax contribution of the 340 businesses affected by the Luxleaks (among those found Ikea, Volkswagen or Pepsi) is 2%, and in the most extreme cases, does not exceed 1%. It is important to note that the average corporate tax rate in the EU is 22%.

Key pieces in this massive tax avoidance industry are tax havens. Within the EU, Luxembourg, has been frequently in the eye of the tax avoidance storm, allegedly signing "preferential arrangements" and secret (tax rulings) with numerous companies to attract investment. And it has done so quite successfully. Impressively, Luxembourg, after the United States, is the second centre of global investment.

 

Understandably now that Mr Juncker occupies the chair of the European Commission, it may raise some eyebrows, in particular, leading the European single market and having to engage with accusations of unfair tax competition in a country where he was former Prime Minister.

Hopefully the ongoing reform of the international financial system, led by the G20, will help States to tax the profits of multinationals in the fairest way possible. In the meantime, the EU should also play an important role in achieving this target. However, the background of the current president of the European Commission is not encouraging.

  


 

UK to pay EU bill in two installments - George Osborne


Posted 08/11/2014

Britain will pay only half of its surprise budget bill to Brussels, the country’s finance minister said today; claiming a better deal for London – which will also see Britain receive its EU budget rebate in advance.

 

The row over the € 2.1 billion or (£ 1.7 billion) EU budget contribution has become a highly contentious issue in Britain in the run-up to a general election in May.

The British Chancellor declared “we have halved the bill, and we have delayed the bill”, following a meeting with EU peers in Brussels.

The bill, instead of £ 1.7 billion will be around £ 850m” he said.

Under a deal agreed with EU ministers and the European Commission, the EU executive, Osborne said Britain would make two interest-free payments next year, and would be paid its EU budget rebate upfront.

Because of a historic statistical review of national accounts, Britain was due to make the € 2.1 billion payment into the EU budget by December 1st or face punitive interest payments.

  

France said the deal would give Britain until September 2015 to pay, in an effort to allow Cameron save face by leaving the issue until after the election if he chooses. The UK has incredibly found sympathy from France, Italy and Germany because of the statistical review; stretching back over a decade.

Three decades ago, Britain’s then ‘Iron Lady’ Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, won a rebate on the budget contributions that means the country gets back two-thirds of its net contribution to the EU budget of the previous year. In 2014 the rebate is worth € 5.4 billion for the Union as a whole.

This latest dispute is part of the EU’s long-term: € 960 billion budget for the 2014 – 2020 period, an amount that represents a nominal decrease of approximately 3% on the previous budget.

-EU Spectator correspondent-

 

 


 

Introducing the new European Commission 2014-2019


Posted on 05/11/2014

Despite much controversy, perhaps more than on previous occasions regarding the nominations for the College of European Commissioners, including above all the President elect Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, they have passed all the hurdles.

 

Notwithstanding a strong grilling from the European Parliament with its increased powers under the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Juncker and his College of Commissioners have gotten safely over the line. Let’s hope they can fulfill their mandates, in this more eurosceptic Europe with its very sluggish post-recession economy.

This video introduces the new Commissioners and their respective portfolios. Good luck to them all from EU Spectator.

 


  

Angela’s woes on two fronts


Posted on 03/11/2014

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly said she would rather see Britain leave the EU rather than compromise on the “sacrosanct” principle of the free movement of workers across the Union.

 

The BBC's Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt said the German chancellor wanted the UK to stay in, but an article in Der Spiegel news magazine, which quoted German government sources as saying she feared the UK was near a "point of no return", signaled Berlin's view that British calls for curbs on the free movement of people was a "red line" that could not be crossed.

However UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, dismissed such comments by the German Chancellor describing them as speculation. Speaking on the BBC, he reinforced the Conservative’s party mantra saying that David Cameron and the British Government always put British interests first.

 

Nevertheless, he goes on to qualify his remark by saying that his party has had good discussions with the German government recently in Berlin and that they are conscious of British concerns on the question of EU migration to the UK.

Whether the alleged remarks by Ms Merkel are true or false, it might be said that this is just some pre-referendum negotiation sound bite.

For his part, UKIP leader Nigel Farage MEP, said that from his experience over 15 years in the European Parliament that "the Germans don’t bluff" and mean exactly what they say. And while it was put to him that Germany does not want the UK to leave, he stressed that they will never tolerate any unpicking of the established EU Treaties and so he believes that Angela Merkel may well have said that she would prefer the UK leave the EU rather than modify the said Treaties.

He further added that in his view if the Treaties were to begin to unwind for the sake of Britain’s continued membership, that the whole EU project could begin to unravel, and the German Chancellor knows that, or at least that is what Mr Farage would like to believe.

While one does not like to mix apples and oranges, meaning very different situations, but with the Chancellor at loggerheads with Vladimir Putin and the Ukrainian question to the East, and the perennial sparring with British conservative governments in the West, one could almost feel a certain sympathy with Angela’s woes!

 

 


 

 

Merkel vs Putin: Europe will not recognise vote in Eastern Ukraine


Posted on 02/11/2014

On the aftermath of the victory of pro-European parties on Sunday's Ukrainian parliamentary elections, tensions between Europe and Russia go on. A spokesman for the German government said on Friday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone that Sunday's planned elections in Eastern Ukraine were illegitimate and would not be recognized by European leaders.

The victory of the Ukrainian pro-European parties last Sunday, marked the first time since the country’s independence in 1991 has had a real chance of building a democratic future and joining the EU. These democratically-elected leaders must now work seriously to build an economy and a healthy state, and to end the system that led to the Maidan revolution. In two elections, Ukraine has chosen the path of Europe rather than Russia; therefore, the EU must help its neighbour to build stable democracy.

However, the position of Merkel and Hollande on segregated Eastern Ukraine is adding fuel to the fire, while the EU still has to define its policy on Russia in view of Ukrainian election results. European leaders were united on this issue and had agreed on this at a summit last week in Brussels. Ukraine, along with the EU, cannot turn its back on Moscow: first, too many Ukrainians have close ties with Russia; and second, Ukraine must address two conflicts with Moscow, Crimea and the Donbass.

MEP Jan Keller wrote in the Czech newspaper Právo Daily that the two parties which have won the elections in Ukraine are determined to make the country a fully-fledged EU member state. According to Mr Keller, supporters of this development are motivated by an effort to harm Russia.

In the meantime, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced that the Russian government will recognise the election results, as it fulfills an important aspect of the ceasefire agreement agreed to in Minsk..

By recognising the parliamentary and presidential elections that separatists plan to hold on the 2nd of November in the Eastern Ukraine, Mr Lavrov underlined their importance which would legitimise the Eastern region’s authorities.

Given this unstable situation it is clear that negotiations with the EU, IMF and Moscow about Ukraine’s future become more difficult, even more as Ukraine’s debt increases. Even seven rounds of gas negotiations were needed to finally yield a breakthrough:  a  4.6 billion dollar winter package, agreed by Russia and Ukraine, securing gas for Ukraine - and ultimately for Europe.

One thing is clear, even if Ukraine’s difficult economic situation could be improved by European support, however, the political crisis between Europe and Russia remains frosty. We will have to wait to see the outcome of these two “so called” elections.

 


 

EU leaders decide to cut of at least 40% in greenhouse gas emissions


Posted 26/10/2014

Last Friday during the Council meeting held in Brussels, the 28 European Member States reached an agreement over the future environmental targets that should be fulfilled by 2030, based on the "2030 climate and energy package" presented by the European Commission in January.

This 2030 package fighting against climate change has been approved by the Council. In his statement after the first day of the meeting, President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, highlighted the virtues of this package as the most ambitious in the world in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, going from a goal of 20% cut by 2020 compared to 1990 to 40% by 2030. However, climate protection organisations, insist that the climate protection regulation agreed at the summit is utterly insufficient, even the WWF went as far as calling them “pathetic”.

This agreement focuses also in EU’s energy security. By cutting emissions, increasing renewables to at least 27% and saving energy, the EU will reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuels from unstable or unreliable suppliers. Keeping these targets, and meeting Spanish and Polish demands. The EU will also need to speed up strategic energy infrastructure and interconnections, in order to meet the real demands of the internal energy market. The Council also agreed on the proposal made by the Commission on having a 15% increase by 2030 on interconnections, which will be critical for the functioning of the internal EU market.

This agreement was welcomed by the European Parliament, especially after the experience of the failure of global negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, even President Schulz said that “We cannot afford another embarrassing failure like the one we experienced in Copenhagen.”

The approved package reaffirms the EU’s position as leader in the global push to reduce the global carbon gas emissions. Meanwhile, as all efforts have to be made to decrease the energy dependence on Russia, the EU's biggest energy supplier, due to the current rift between Ukraine and Russia, the EU must also try to increase the use of renewable energy and use domestic sources more wisely.


 

Ebola High Level Co-ordination Meeting hosted in Brussels


Posted on 16/10/2014

A high-level meeting hosted by the European Commission to coordinate the next steps in the European response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was hosted today in Brussels. The European Union is concerned by the continuing spread of the disease that is not yet under control. It has continuously scaled up its response since last March and has already pledged more than EUR 149.2 million in humanitarian and development aid.

The European Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, addressed the rapidly growing concern among EU citizens about Ebola in fear of the virus spread in Europe by saying "the European Commission is fully committed to helping the affected countries in every way we can; and to supporting international efforts aimed at bringing the Ebola epidemic to an end as soon as possible".

More than twenty Ministerial level representatives attended the meeting, which was convened with just 3-day notice, to address Ebola.

Following the announcement from the United States of the introduction of additional screening measures at five International airports for travellers arriving from the affected countries, the European Commission asked the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for its scientific assessment of exit and entry screening measures, however no measures have been yet put in place at European level.

Decisions on whether to screen passengers at airports are up to member states. However the U.K. wants to see some EU-wide controls in place.


 

Conchita Wurst at European Parliament on same sex marriage


Posted 08/10/2014

Eurovision song contest winner 2014 Conchita Wurst, addressed a delegation at the European Parliament on same-sex marriage and the intolerance against the subject from some EU citizens and certain EU Member States. A short excerpt.

Thomas "Tom" Neuwirth (born 6 November 1988), better known by his drag stage persona Conchita Wurst, is an Austrian singer. Wurst came to international attention when winning the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 in Copenhagen, Denmark with the song "Rise Like a Phoenix".

Born in Gmunden, Neuwirth moved to Graz to do his Matura with a focus on fashion, before embarking on a singing career through the 2007 casting show Starmania.

He subsequently became a founding member of the short-lived boyband Jetzt Anders!. In 2011, Neuwirth began appearing as Wurst – a drag persona noted for her beard – and came second in the Austrian preselection for the Eurovision Song Contest 2012.

Wurst was successfully selected to represent Austria at the Eurovision Song Contest 2014, where she proved victorious. Wurst's entry and victory courted controversy, being condemned by some of the continent's social conservatives and right-wingers who saw her performance as a promotion of LGBT rights. Conversely, it brought her international attention and established her as a prominent LGBT icon, resulting in invites to perform at various LGBT pride parades and the European Parliament.

 

 


 

Astrid Lulling MEP & Eva Paunova MEP - changing of the guard at EPP group at EP


 

European Parliament representation by Political Group:European Parliament Representation by Political GroupEuropean Parliament Representation by Political Group

A thoughtful moment as the longest serving female EU MEP Astrid Lulling retires, she takes a moment to meet the youngest female MEP Eva Paunova from Bulgaria recently elected, thus a changing of the guard at the EPP group.

Under the leadership of Chairman Manfred Weber, MEP (CSU-DE),  and with 220 directly elected active and dedicated members, the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) represents the largest political grouping and an influential political force in the European Parliament.

 

Representation of the EPP Group at the European Parliament:

European Parliament Representation by Political GroupEuropean Parliament Representation by Political Group

 

 


 

 

Marine Le Pen - Geert Wilders EP Press conference at the European Parliament Brussels


 

The European Parliament election results never drew much attention from the public or the EU press; however the May 2014 results proved to change that indifference forever. Not only for UKIP in the UK, but all across the EU.

 

EU spectator covered this press conference and we must say from a journalistic point of view the press interest was enormous. Indeed, we have never seen such full attendance in the EP press gallery before.

Of course, Madame Le Pen who in recent years has tried to distance herself from his own father's strict and radical political positions, i.e. the French National Front and we feel she has tried to moderate his views, sought on this occasion to form a political group made up according to the current regulations, that a group must represent seven different EU Member States MEPs.

She failed to establish a group on this occasion, even with the support of Geert Wilders representing his party in the Netherlands.

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After the press conference, EU spectator was surprised at the fact that there was a large protest already

 assembled outside the European Parliament which as you will see in the video marched all the way to the entrance of the Berlaymont building, headquarters of the European Commission.

Although passions were very high within this "anti-fascist" gathering thankfully there was no violence or otherwise unsociable behaviour.