Open Europe press summary: 1 December 2009



Michel Barnier: “The Commission is the EU’s Prime Minister”

Michel Barnier, the incoming Single Market Commissioner, yesterday said that fears in the City of London over a surge in new financial regulations once he stepped into office were “very exaggerated”. Last week French President Nicolas Sarkozy claimed that Barnier’s appointment to the key job in the European Commission was a sign that “French ideas for regulation are triumphing in Europe” and that “the English are the big losers” in Europe’s new commission, but yesterday Barnier tried to play this down, saying: “I know the importance of the City (of London)…I know the importance of this financial centre for growth in the UK and for the economy of Europe as a whole, not just the UK.” However, he also added that “we need a capitalism for entrepreneurs and investors, more than for speculators”.


The Independent reports that Barnier’s comments failed to soothe nerves in the City, and quotes David Buik of BGC Partners saying: “This country will rue the day that it has allowed the EU to regulate the UK’s banking sector. The culture and ethos of Europe’s banking sector is totally different from the UK’s. Barnier’s appointment could be catastrophic for the City.”


A headline in Le Figaro quotes Michel Barnier saying “The Commission is the EU’s Prime Minister”.  The paper notes that Barnier said the European Commission “is a bit like the Prime Minister of Europe, a collective Prime Minister bringing together 27 countries which are united in their destiny.”  Of the new EU President Herman Van Rompuy he said: “he is a man of authority, who is going to surprise you. He will be perfect for this role”.


Meanwhile, Euractiv has a round-up of reactions in Eastern Europe to the new Commission appointments.  It notes that the Romanian media widely quoted Western publications which said that Dacian Cioloş, the new EU Agriculture Commissioner, was in fact “the second French commissioner,” as he had studied and lived in France for a long time and was backed by France for the job. President Traian Basescu declared that the nomination “is an extremely important thing for Romania, as the Common Agricultural Policy is one of the pillars of the EU.”

Telegraph Independent FT Euractiv


Javier Solana: “it is a fantasy to think any EU country can do anything alone”

The Telegraph reports that the newly appointed EU President Herman Van Rompuy officially took office today, as the Lisbon Treaty came into force. Baroness Catherine Ashton at the same time became the EU’s Foreign Minister. PA notes that the occasion is being marked by celebrations in Lisbon, where European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will join the new EU President for ceremonies including music, speeches and fireworks.


The IHT and the FT look at the EU’s former foreign policy chief Javier Solana’s handover to Cathy Ashton. In an interview with the FT, Solana said that EU member states must realise it is a “fantasy” to believe they can pursue foreign and security policies separately. He said, “I hope very much that people are sensible, and realise that it is a fantasy to think any EU country can do anything alone.”


He agreed EU relations with Russia were “difficult, but not that difficult”. Adding, “I don’t think we should exaggerate. We are divided, but also united…I think the possibilities that existed [for better relations between Russia and Nato] could have been developed much further. They were not. We have some responsibility for not being sufficiently bold.”


An article in Die Welt by Alan Posener argues that: “Through the Treaty, Europe will neither become more effective nor more democratic, neither more transparent nor more open”.  The article continues: “If European citizens want a better Europe, they are going to have to force the politicians to make it better”. Handelsblatt quotes German Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer warning that with the loss of veto powers under Lisbon, “other member states can push through their national agendas and seriously harm the German economy.”


Meanwhile, UKIP has used the date to launch a national campaign for a referendum on EU membership.

BBC Guardian: Marquand Euractiv EUobserver EUobserver 2 Telegraph IHT EUobserver 3 FT Die Welt: Posener


Cameron pledges to tackle ‘national neurosis’ over health and safety laws

In a speech at Policy Exchange today, David Cameron will pledge to tackle the ‘national neurosis’ caused by a surge in health and safety rules under Labour. He will say, “For every piece of health and safety legislation, we need to ask whether it fulfils a useful purpose – and if not, it must go.” He will also say that the UK had spent £35 billion complying with EU employment, health and safety law. But Cameron will insist the biggest cause of the UK’s health and safety culture is the “perception” that “behind every accident there is someone who is personally culpable, someone who must pay”, PA reports.  He will announce that Lord Young, Margaret Thatcher’s former trade secretary who was credited with slashing back unnecessary red tape in the 1980s, is to lead a review of health and safety laws, litigation and the insurance industry.

Guardian Mail Conservative Home Express Open Europe research Open Europe research2


EU ministers agree principles for more harmonised asylum and immigration policy

EU Ministers yesterday agreed to the part of the so-called Stockholm Programme which proposes more EU harmonisation of immigration and asylum policy. The Programme doesn’t contain any detailed proposals yet. The task of working out the details of the text will fall on the EU’s new ‘Home Affairs’ Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, Svenska Dagbladet reports.

Svenska Dagbladet


EU ministers agree to extend paternity leave

Europolitics reports that EU ministers yesterday agreed on a new ‘framework agreement’ on EU-wide rules on paternal leave.  It lays down minimum requirements on parental leave (to be taken during the first six years of a child’s life) and extends the leave from three to four months for each parent, of which at least one month would be strictly non-transferable. Other new elements clarify that fixed-term, part-time and temporary agency workers are also covered. The Coulisses de Bruxelles blog notes that the new rules will oblige Britain to extend its paternity leave.


Europolitics reports that further legislation on maternity leave is in the pipeline, with the European Parliament’s rapporteur proposing to extend maternity leave to up to 20 weeks and to include paternity leave (for the period directly after a child’s birth). The proposed revision to the EU’s existing rules says that women should receive their full salary for the 18-week maternity leave period, although member states can introduce a different ceiling on payments.  

Europolitics Coulisses de Bruxelles


Germany expresses a resounding “nein” to extending EU discrimination legislation

Dutch Daily Reformatorisch Dagblad reports that Sweden has failed to obtain agreement on the planned EU discrimination directive. Germany opposed the proposal saying that the EU does not need to legislate in such matters, a position that the new German coalition mentions in their coalition agreement. Green MEP Sargentini is quoted saying that Germany has expressed a “categorical nein”.

Reformatorisch Dagblad


EU wants to set up its own version of Google Books

De Telegraaf notes that the EU has its own plans to create a European platform for the digitalisation and archiving of books. It reports that French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand has said that a commission has been set up to create the platform. According to Mitterand, the digitalisation of books shouldn’t be left to the private sector, but should involve governments. The EU has in 2008 already started a similar platform, called Europeana, which has been plagued by many technical problems.



Patience Wheatcroft: EU should follow path of member states and tighten its budget

Writing in the WSJ, Patience Wheatcroft argues as governments across Europe are being forced to pursue austerity measures in order to rein in budget deficits, the EU must follow suit. She writes, “Ironically, it is only the government of Europe itself that determinedly eschews the new mood. The European Parliament has decided that every area of its budget needs to be increased, so it has set the draft budget for 2010 at €141 billion, against the current year’s €136.8 billion.” She adds, “There will be few hands raised against the increased spending commitments. The majority of those inside the European Parliament want the EU to be bigger and more powerful rather than less.”


She notes that “the EU will be doing its bit to combat poverty among its own armies of staff, since a salary increase of 3.7% is being proposed for them – a figure well ahead of inflation numbers in most member states.”


In conclusion, Wheatcroft writes, “The European Central Bank has been wagging its finger at member states, demanding they take a scythe to their spending and restore their economies to a semblance of health. The European Parliament might make similar demands of itself and the commission.”

WSJ: Wheatcroft


Guardian: Is Greece the new Iceland?

The Guardian reports that the likelihood of Greece becoming the next Iceland and plunging into bankruptcy looms over a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels today. It notes that after years of profligacy, hosting the costliest Olympic Games ever in 2004 and failing to rein in its spiralling public debt, the country was on the brink of defaulting on loans. Le Figaro reports that the Greek Chancellor said that the situation has become a national emergency.
Guardian Le Figaro


Slovakian paper Pluska cites Open Europe’s “50 new examples of EU waste”.

Pluska Open Europe research


EUobserver notes that EU justice ministers have approved a provisional bank data transfer deal with the United States, allowing American anti-terrorist investigators to access European financial transaction data for another nine months.

EUobserver European Voice Open Europe research


Le Figaro reports that the new team of EU Commissioners will appear in front of the European Parliament between 11 and 19 January for a 3-hour hearing each.

Le Figaro


The WSJ reports that Chinese and EU representatives appeared to make little headway on currency, climate and market access in a round of high-level talks that ended yesterday.

WSJ Le Figaro


The Times reports that EU naval force spokesman John Harbour has warned that solving the Somali piracy problem cannot be achieved by anti-piracy patrols alone. He said, “We can’t solve piracy at sea. The piracy problem will have to be solved on land by stabilising the government.”

No link


Le Figaro reports that the French and German governments have determined to reduce their levels of national debt.  At a meeting in Berlin, they agreed that by “working together …and exchanging experts”, they are aiming to reduce the level of debt to under 3% by 2013 / 2014.

Le Figaro


Citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro are now able to travel throughout the Schengen area of the EU without a visa, after a decision by justice and home affairs ministers yesterday. Euractiv EUobserver European Voice BBC




A ComRes poll conducted for the Independent suggests the UK is on course for a hung parliament, with the Conservatives on 37 percent, Labour on 27 percent, the Liberal Democrats on 20 percent and other parties on 16 percent. The figures would leave the Conservatives six seats away from an overall majority if repeated at the election.






Open Europe is an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU. For information on our research, events and other activities, please visit our website: or call us on 0207 197 2333.


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