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Friday, April 18, 2008

EU-administration, 03.2008

In this edition-referendum news, funny stories about EU and again how big companies screw normal people.

UK MPs reject referendum on EU Treaty

6 March 2008

MPs in the UK have rejected a proposal put forward by the opposition Conservatives to hold a popular referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon, paving the way for the text to be ratified via parliamentary vote.

The House of Commons last night (5 March) turned down a Conservative amendment to the EU Treaty Bill, which called for a referendum, by a narrow majority of 311 votes to 248, a margin of just 63.

29 Labour MPs defied the government by backing the bill, while three Conservatives rejected the amendment, rebelling against their leader David Cameron.

Brown has been under severe pressure from opposition parties and campaign groups to hold a popular vote on the treaty ever since he signed the text last December (see EurActiv 21/01/08). Meanwhile, parliamentary committees have already been discussing the treaty on an issue-by-issue basis for a month.

Opposition leader David Cameron said the decision means "people feel cheated and cynical because promises made are promises being broken". He was referring to commitments by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to hold a referendum on the abandoned Constitutional Treaty in their manifestos for the 2005 general election.

The Liberal Democrat party leader, Nick Clegg agrees with the government's stance on the Lisbon Treaty, but instead wants a referendum on Britain's EU membership to end ambiguities in the country's relationship with Europe. "The prime minister once said that he would build a wider pro-European movement in Britain," which would not be achieved by blocking "the in-out referendum that the British people really want," he said.

Meanwhile, a February surveyexternal by the 'I Want a Referendum' campaign claims that 88% of the UK public want to vote on the treaty.

The Treaty of Lisbon must be ratified by all 27 EU member states for it to come into force. Most will do so by via their national parliaments, with Ireland the only country committed to holding a referendum under the terms of its constitution (see EurActiv 03/03/08). Thus far, just France, Romania, Slovenia, Malta and Hungary have ratified the treaty, all five doing so by parliamentary vote (our Links Dossier gathers our related coverage). source

My comment: I don't understand why UK so utterly detest the idea of EU. Really. I'm not talking about the constitution, but about the very idea of EU. Why, I mean seriously! People tend to forget the tragedy of the two world wars and see only the little trivialities of the union.

MEPs under pressure to disclose payments to assistants

7 March 2008

Pressure on parliamentarians is mounting to publicise the payments made to their assistants, after Dutch MEP Paul van Buitenen published a summary of a confidential Committee report on detailing abuses of the current payment system.

Last December, the European Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros, requested MEPs to disclose staff wage bills and expenses claims in detail. He received a letter from the bureau of senior MEPs refusing to comply with the request last week.

MEPs receive €15,500 every month to pay their staff. This represents a total of €140 million for the 785 members, which amounts to 10% of the Parliament's annual budget.

The report, without giving any names, reveals legal loopholes when it comes to paying assistants. The MEP can basically choose under which condition he wants to employ his assistant: either through direct employment, through a service provider or through an agent.

The report, written by a Parliament auditor, called for a status for assistants under which they would be employed and paid directly by the Parliament, which was already proposed by the Commission in 1998 but was not approved by the Council.

Parliament's Conference of Presidents yesterday (6 March) decided to entrust the institution's secretary general with the mandate to develop - together with the Commission and the Council - a new set of rules for members' assistants through an amended Contract Staff regime.

However, this new statue would preserve members' freedom to recruit their assistants and independently determine their salary levels.

The van Buitenen paper, published on his website on 5 March, identifies contracts provided to assistants through a service provider as those which bear the highest risk of manipulation, because they remain vague regarding the tasks the assistants are supposed to fulfil.

For instance, no clause limits the monthly payments that can be made to a single contractor. The MEP's summary reveals a case in which a single assistant received a total salary of €15,496, provided through a service provider, which is the monthly amount every MEP receives to pay his staff.

In addition, the report lists cases in which payments were made to a service provider carrying out activities without any relation to the Parliament's activities, such as the timber trade, or where the organisation serving as a service provider in fact belonged to the MEP himself. source

My comment: Haha, welcome to the Reality! Corruption is the worst enemy of EU, I think.

Irish 'yes’ to Lisbon Treaty 'not certain'

3 March 2008

Despite the Irish government's strong campaign in favour of the Lisbon Treaty, a recent poll has revealed that less than half of Irish citizens are likely to back the text in the upcoming referendum, fueling fears within the EU that Ireland could jeopardise another institutional reform project following its initial rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001.

Although the Red C poll, conducted between February 25 and 27, revealed a two-to-one margin in favour of the treaty (46% to 23%), the high number of undecided voters (31%) makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the public vote.

Ireland is the only EU country where a referendum will be held on the new treaty.

The vote was expected to take place on 29 May, but is now likely to be postponed until early June, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced on his visit to Slovenia on 1-2 March. Following repeated calls from opposition parties to clarify the matter, Ahern is expected to announce the referendum date this week.

Irish European Affairs Minister Dick Roche made it clear that there will only be one referendum held in Ireland on the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, adding that there was no plan B in case the treaty was rejected in the referendum and absolutely no possibility of renegotiating the text.

Without Irish ratification, the treaty "would be dead", which would have serious ramifications for the whole of Europe, Roche pointed out.

Politicians from the Sinn Fein party reiterated their staunch opposition to the treaty, urging Irish citizens to reject it in the referendum.

"The Lisbon Treaty gives EU institutions too much power," Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told his party in Dublin, adding that "these proposals are about reducing the political clout of the Irish people, including the right to stop EU laws that are not in the Irish national interest".

Adams also warned that the Lisbon Treaty would threaten Ireland's neutrality by tying it to a common European defence and security policy. It would also weaken the country's voice in the EU and undercut public services, he said. source

My comment: Gosh, I really can't understand all those sh*ts about EU getting too much power. I mean, seriously, what power do the Irish people have? What power do I have, or do a french person have? I mean, yeah, we have the power to vote, to go on strikes or to become politicians, but that power is still existing. What other powers do we have and how exactly EU is taking them away from us? Please, anyone tell me and I'll publish it.

Heated Parliament debate on 'one-seat' campaign

26 February 2008

Emotions ran high yesterday in the European Parliament's petition committee on 25 February when supporters of the 'one-seat' campaign presented their online petition to end the monthly traveling circus and establish Brussels as Parliament's only seat.

The petition, which is the EU's first-ever citizens' initiative and dates back to a proposal by former MEP and current Swedish Minister for European Affairs Cecilia Malmström, has gained 1.2 million signatories since 2006 (EurActiv 21/09/06).

Symbolically, the first Austrian signatory to the campaign, consultant Peter Strempel, presented the petition to the committee, criticising costs for the EU taxpayer estimated at €200 million as a result of the constant shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg, which accounts for about 13% of the total EU budget.

Strempel compared the figure with what the EU spends on its student exchange programme Erasmus (€46 million annually), declaring that "it is shocking that so much less is spent on this mechanism of European integration than on the 'travelling circus'".

Belgian Liberal MEP Frederique Ries, another signatory, highlighted the "environmental costs" of the two seats, claiming that they contradict the EU's efforts to portray itself as global leader in the fight against climate change.

Costs related to transporting thousands of deputies, staff, lobbyists and journalists between Brussels and Strasbourg and heating an additional Parliament building account for roughly 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions, equalling to the price of 13,000 return plane tickets from Brussels to New York, Ries pointed out, calling on the committee to end the "years of silence".

She was confident that her campaign would become a success, pinning her hopes on the Lisbon Treaty, which will strengthen citizens' right to actively participate in EU matters.

Opposition to the establishment of Brussels as only seat was mainly voiced by French MEPs, who strongly disagreed with any suggestion to permanently move the Parliament away from Strasbourg.

French Liberal MEP Janelly Fourtou praised the city as a symbol of post-war Franco-German reconciliation and a "symbol of peace" with a "rich community", dismissing the cost argument: "If this is all about rationalisation, should we next be rationalising the languages that we use?"

But Ries stressed that although "symbols are very important," the EU is "grown-up enough to interpret them in a dynamic and pragmatic way," adding that Strasbourg "deserves more than just four days of occupation per month".

The issue is now to be brought to the co-ordinators' meeting on 26 February, which will explore whether to move the matter forward. However, Parliament actually has no legal powers in this area as EU leaders themselves have to decide unanimously. source

My comment: Lol. I mean seriously. LOL! Personally I don't care where the parliament is, can't they just build another tax-payers black hole in Strassbourg and all be happy?! Oh, whatever. That's just funny I guess.

Parliament sends strong signal with Treaty vote

21 February 2008

The vast majority of MEPs have given their backing to the Lisbon Treaty, just as it emerged that some German politicians could seek to delay its entry into force by bringing the text before court.

The 'Treaty of Lisbonexternal ', which was officially signed by all EU heads of state and government on 13 December 2007 (see EurActiv 14/12/07), has to be ratified by all member states in order for it to come into force. So far five member states (Hungary, France, Slovenia, Malta and Romania) have ratified the text.

It is hoped that the ratification process will be completed by 1 January 2009.

In a vote on 20 February, 525 MEPs voted in favour of the EU's 'Reform Treaty' and 115, mainly from the far left and the far right, voted against it.

Protests were voiced mainly by British and Danish eurosceptics, who claim the treaty is essentially a reworked version of the rejected Constitution and that it should be put to a referendum.

The vote is expected to be held in May or June and Ireland's European Affairs Minister Dick Roche has admitted that securing a 'yes' vote may prove to be a "big challenge". "We can't be complacent," he said, adding that an Irish rejection of the treaty would "park Europe in a eurosceptic cul-de-sac".

Meanwhile, treaty ratification could be delayed in Germany, meaning that the EU's largest country would not sign off the treaty in time for it to come into force at the beginning of 2009 as planned. According to a report in German daily Die Welt, politicians from the Left Party, as well as Peter Gauweiler, a centre-right politician from one of governing parties - the CSU - are examining the text to see if they can bring a case before the country's constitutional court.

German MPs are widely expected to approve the treaty when it comes before parliament in May. However, the text then needs to be signed off by the country's president, Horst Köhler.

If this does happen, Köhler would have to decide whether to go ahead and sign off the treaty anyway or rather wait for the court to make its case, meaning ratification would be delayed. source

My comment: Yeah, hard days for our lovely treaty. I don't understand why people don't just sign it and then try to change it. The chance of changing it after is as much as before, but at least we'll have a working constitution meanwhile.

Brown: Britain 'at the centre of Europe'

22 February 2008

Britain's Gordon Brown used his first official visit to Brussels as prime minister to shake off his eurosceptic image and present himself as a staunch European, stressing that Britain and the EU are mutually dependent.

"The EU is essential to the success of Britain and a Britain fully engaged in Europe is essential to the success of the EU," Brown told journalists after the meeting with Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on 21 February.

"I have no doubt that in this time of global uncertainty we should not ever be throwing into question the stability of Britain's relationship with the EU," Brown pointed out, trying to charm EU officials, many of whom view him with suspicion, particularly since he turned up late for the official signing ceremony of the Lisbon Treaty last December (EurActiv 12/12/07).

The prime minister identified "four major goals" for the EU: global prosperity and an environmentally sustainable planet, as well as leading the world on stability and reconstruction and in its fight against poverty.

Brown urged EU leaders to move on from the institutional debate and address issues that "really matter to our citizens" such as security, climate change and prosperity and jobs.

"We must accelerate economic reform to enable European citizens and businesses to compete," he said.

Prime Minister Brown also called for the creation of an independent European carbon bank to improve the functioning of the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) , as well as an agreement on a World Bank multilateral fund to help developing countries to transform into low-carbon economies. source

My comment: Yep, Britain loves EU. Just they don't want to be in it. Funny again.

Commission and EP at odds over pesticide substances

19 March 2008

The Commission has rejected Parliament demands to extend an existing list of substances banned from use in the production of pesticides.

On 11 March, the Commission published a revised proposalexternal for a controversial new Regulation governing the EU's pesticides regime, wherein it rejects nearly half of the 249 amendments introduced by Parliament during its first reading in October 2007.

At the centre of the Commission and Parliament's disagreement is the question of whether or not to extend an existing list of substances banned from use during the production of pesticides in the EU.

Parliament, notably Green and Socialist MEPs, want to expand the list to include neuro-toxic, immuno-toxic and other high-risk substances.

But the Commission does not consider such a ban acceptable. Rather, it says it prefers to keep substances 'of particular concern' on the market and to make them 'candidates for substitution' with less harmful ones.

"Member states should regularly re-examine whether plant protection products containing such active substances can be replaced by plant protection products containing active substances which require less risk mitigation," according to the Commission’s revised proposal.

The debate between Commission and Parliament mirrors a debate that is raging between industry and environmentalists.

The European Crop Protection Association (ECPA) argues that banning too many substances would be detrimental both for farmers and EU crop yields, bringing higher food prices and increasing the bloc’s dependence on food imports (EurActiv 06/02/08).

But green groups and a number of MEPs say certain substances are simply too dangerous to be placed on the market.

National capitals are reportedly divided on the issue, and it thus appears unlikely that member states will support the Parliament's position. And, under EU voting rules, a unanimous agreement in Council is required to over-ride Commission opposition to an amendment by the Parliament.

A second reading by the Parliament is expected after the summer. source

My comment: Yeah, industries, industries everyone! People are always after industries in the big game obviously. Unfortunately...

EU states reject farm subsidy cuts

19 March 2008

The Commission has been sent back to the drawing board after agricultural ministers from the EU’s 27 member states rejected its proposal to cap the levels of subsidies received by large farms and instead shift this money to support for rural development.

Opposition to the Commission’s plans to cut payouts to farmers receiving €100,000 or more by 10-45% was led by Germany and the UK, whose landowners would have been particularly affected by the move. But they were strongly supported by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia.

Many also argued that capping the level of payments would only lead to landowners artificially splitting their parcels into smaller farms in order to be eligible for additional subsidies.

The Commission proposals, presented last November, were non-legislative, but were to set the stage for discussion and deliberation in advance of formal legislative proposals in May 2008.

Ministers also agreed to a 2% increase in national milk quotas as of 2015, although a number of member states voted against. Small farmers have been resisting any change in the way milk production is organised across the bloc, arguing that it will lead to a drop in prices and increased volatility (EurActiv 7/02/08).

In the end though, ministers agreed that the 2% increase represented a "soft landing" approach, capable of ensuring a smooth transition and predictability for producers.

Lastly, the Council called on the Commission to look into new tools to help the agricultural sector adapt to new challenges, such as climate change and water scarcity, saying that "new risks require a wider response", including new financing options. source

My comment: One thing I don't understand is how come EU heavily pour money in agriculture and the food price is still that high. Anyone? On the matter-I don't think that could have passed. At least the increase of the milk quota is good.

Parliament wants more flexibility on CAP reform

13 March 2008

A Parliament own-initiative report on Commission proposals to reform the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) says member states need more flexibility to decide upon direct aid to provide a safety net in the event of a major crisis.

"Agricultural structures in Europe are very diverse. Not all problems can be solved using one tool," said Parliament's rapporteur on the report, German MEP Lutz Goepel (EPP-ED). Therefore, Parliament would like to introduce a new flexible instrument to the CAP "to promote local sectors and to establish basic safeguards and risk management in the event of a crisis," he added.

The report, adopted by an overwhelming majority (510 votes to 88, with 80 abstentions) insists on upholding the concept of a "sustainable, competitive and multifunctional agriculture". The basic objective of this will be to supply consumers with healthy and safe food products "in sufficient quantities and at reasonable prices".

MEPs also urged the Commission to give more consideration to the benefits of the CAP, calling on it to carry out a cost-benefit analysis regarding security and self-sufficiency of food supply and the preservation of rural communities. In addition, they ask the EU executive to compare the potential costs for the consumer of higher food prices arising from increased global demand vis-à-vis current public expenditure on agricultural policy.

Though the report broadly supports the Commission's proposals, the Parliament rejects any reduction in the total budget of the first pillar (market support) of the CAP for the period up to 2013. The Commission is proposing a reduction of the budget for the first pillar in favour of increased support for the second pillar on rural development.

Regarding milk quotas, MEPs acknowledge that the current system is unlikely to be continued after 2015. Therefore, it asks the Commission to present a convincing plan for the milk sector for the period after 2015 to guarantee the continuation of milk production in Europe in all regions.

The EU executive is set to present more detailed legislative proposals for the CAP health check in May 2008. The Parliament will have to be consulted on these. The proposals could be adopted by EU agriculture ministers as early as the end of 2008, after which the reforms would take effect immediately. source

My comment: My comment is upstairs :) But obviously things are not going very well in that direction, so there definitely is a need of new way of dealing with the situation.

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