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Sunday, January 4, 2009

European institutions in the end of 2008

Today:
  1. MEP: EU anti-fraud office 'is a mess'
  2. Ministers give green light to Small Business Act
  3. Finance ministers get cold feet over EU stimulus plan
  4. Monitoring your MEP: Mission impossible?
Ok, these articles are kind of random, but I found them important and amusing. You can guess that by the volume of my comments. What do you think about the site that allows you to monitor MEPs? I think it's a great idea. Especially if that can applied to all the Parliaments in the EU. And if it gives information not only about how often the MEP visit the Parliament, but also, how often s/he makes speeches and their topic and probably a recording of what they said. I love the idea!

MEP: EU anti-fraud office 'is a mess'

11 December 2008

The EU’s anti-fraud watchdog (OLAF) is too close to the institutions it investigates and appointments to top positions there are too political, according to a prominent Green MEP. But centre-right colleagues dismissed the allegations as "nothing new".

"OLAF is a mess," Dutch Green MEP Paul van Buitenen, a member of the Greens/European Free Alliance Group, told journalists at a press conference yesterday, alleging that its "rigged" staff selection procedures are plagued by "political interference" and accusing it of making "misleading statements to the outside world".

The whistle-blowing MEP also accused the European Anti-fraud Office of "inertia on crucial files". Many dossiers sit untouched for years, making them ineligible for use in criminal investigations, he explained.

OLAF was established in April 1999 and has been led by German Franz-Hermann Brüner since 2000. Its "special independent status" allows it to conduct administrative investigations into the actions of the EU institutions, despite being technically part of the European Commission under the responsibility of Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas.

Van Buitenen's allegations, many of which date back years, were detailed in a 45-page letter addressed to top EU officials on 25 November. The MEP gives a whole series of examples of "possible serious malfunctioning" by OLAF since its creation. He calls on the anti-fraud office to sever its ties to the Commission and become a completely separate body instead.

German centre-right MEP Ingeborg Grässle, Parliament's rapporteur on reform of OLAF, dismissedexternal Van Buitenen's dossier as "a mere remake of old and unfounded allegations on facts which have been repeatedly clarified and rectified", criticising him for refusing to cooperate with the budgetary control committee's own investigations into the office.

Van Buitenen, who by his own admission ran for election to the Parliament on an anti-corruption ticket, caused a storm earlier this year by publishing a report detailing abuses of the current payment system for MEPs’ assistants on his website.

The assistants scandal led the Parliament's bureau to reform the system in July, but EU Ombudsman P. Nikiforos Diamandouros still ruled later that month that the insitution's continued failure to disclose details of its members' allowances constituted "maladministration". source

My comment: Ok, I have personal observations on OLAF in relation with the allegations it made on Bulgaria (even if they are generally correct, they were particularly wrong, because they put the blame on people based on media releases, this is outrageous. In which member state a judge will accept an journal's article like an evidence?!). I think that theis MEP is right much more than he thinks. OLAF should really be independent of the Commission, it should have a jurisdiction and not only to investigate, but to gather evidences that could be used in the court. This will lead to 2 things, first, they will be in charge of what they say, meaning, if the judge doesn't accept their evidences, they won't accepted by the Commission neither, and second, that will make them responsible for their actions, just like any other institution on the world and will prevent them from making political announcements. I think this is how OLAF should function if it should serve European society and not European parties.

Ministers give green light to Small Business Act

2 December 2008

The bloc's industry ministers yesterday (1 December) approved the Small Business Act (SBA), accompanied by an action plan to alleviate the immediate effects of the current economic crisis.

The SBA should make it easier for SMEs to access funding and reduce their administrative burdens, while enabling them to fully benefit from the opportunities offered by European and international markets.

As already outlined in the Commission's economic recovery plan presented last month (EurActiv 27/11/08), the European Investment Bank (EIB) will increase its lending to SMEs to €30 billion by 2011, of which €15 billion shall be made available in 2009.

Ministers also stressed the need to further reduce red tape, while Germany and others also suggested temporarily raising the state aid threshold, said French State Secretary for SME Policy Hervé Novelli.

  • Discussions continue on European Private Company

No agreement could be reached on the proposal for the European Private Company Statute, which should facilitate SMEs to set up and run business across EU borders.

  • No agreement on Community Patent

The French Presidency had also hoped to reach agreement on the Community Patent that would allow individuals and companies to obtain a single patent throughout the EU but in the end there was no agreement how this should be done.

  • Support for world-class innovation clusters

Ministers also called for closer ties between industry and science in developing "world-class" innovation clusters, particularly aimed at helping innovative SMEs to promote technology transfer and support the sector's internationalisation by removing barriers to trade, mobility and free movement of knowledge. source

My comment: The update here is that they actually agreed only on the state aid increase(see here). Obviously, I find the last two points for particularly important and I simply cannot understand why they still cannot get an agreement on the patent system. This is like some ghost in the machine. It must be done, everybody know it must be done! Then why it hasn't? I have no idea. It's amazing what inertia, laziness and incompetency may do. See what this article claims:

"Under the current system, filing a patent in Europe can take twice as long (44 months) than in the US and Japan, while the cost (of a European patent) is almost five times higher than in the US (€10,330) and three times greater than in Japan (€16,450), the study shows. " (source).

So what companies do? They patent in USA. Is that right? Is this the way to get on the cutting edge of technology? No way! I think this is a very important step to make toward a supremacy of the Union and I don't get it why they don't do it! Simply do it! It will perfect with time!

Finance ministers get cold feet over EU stimulus plan

3 December 2008

EU finance ministers have half-heartedly supported the broad terms of a proposed EU plan to fight off the ongoing recession, but removed references to the 200 billion euro figure initially put forward by the European Commission.

The ministers were meeting in Brussels on 2 December to discuss a recovery plan tabled the week before by the European Commission (EurActiv 27/11/08).

In a statement, the French EU Presidency said: "The ministers adopted a European strategy in the form of a common 'toolkit' of Community instruments (resources from the EIB and the EU budget), allowing each member state to take the necessary steps, based on its particular financial and macro-economic situation."

Ministers approved an increase of the European Investment Bank's (EIB) capital from around 65 billion to 230 billion euro, in order to fund measures to help car manufacturers to make cleaner vehicles, for example. However, all references to the overall 200 billion figure were deleted from the Commission's initial proposal. source

My comment:Hm, it looks like the EIB always wins after all. I don't know exactly what EIB is meant to do, I probably should check it out, because I find something odd here. In any case, it somehow has to much power. And it's odd that from one side, Trichet announces interests cuts and from the other, it looks like the Commission is very related to EIB. Who's to blaim then for the bad response to the crisis?

Monitoring your MEP: Mission impossible?

1 December 2008

A unique website monitoring the activities of all 785 members of the European Parliament is on the verge of shutting down due to lack of funding and technical maintenance, EurActiv has learnt.

Unveiled in February 2008, the websiteexternal was developed by the Romanian Institute for Public Policies (IPP) and aims to make members of the European Parliament (MEPs) accountable for their actions. The site, launched under the banner "How MEPs work", gives interested citizens the opportunity to check how regularly each parliamentarian attended sessions as well as the number of motions for resolutions he or she has put forward or supported. It also gives details of MEPs' voting records.

"Technically, the website is perfectly designed," IPP Director Violeta Alexandru told EurActiv. Moreover, as a means of assessing the work of MEPs, "it is unique", she explained.

However, the website has not been properly updated and if no solution is found, it could soon be closed, Alexandru revealed. She explained that not only does it require additional funding, but also an IT specialist with a good understanding of how the European Parliament functions.

Until recently, the website's search facility provided detailed information concerning the most and the least active MEPs as well as whose voting records were most or least loyal to their political groups. The search functions meant that the Parliament's various political groups could be closely monitored and compared, while MEPs could be evaluated according to their countries of origin.

"You have the right to know how each MEP votes," states the site's homepage. source

My comment: A good, but doomed initiative. I mean, if you were a MEP, would you want someone to know how often you visit the Parliament or how you vote. Actually how you vote should be confidential for everyone, but that's another story. I think the idea is great, I just don't understand how a site can be perfectly-designed and still to require an IT specialist? Probably the lady didn't explain it too well. Because beside money, this site should have a way to gather info on the MEPs. I have no idea how they are doing it now.

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