Open Europe Bulletin: 17 April 2009
* Open Europe publishes list of MEPs signed up to controversial pension fund
* News in brief
* Open Europe in the news
* Support Open Europe
1. Open Europe publishes list of MEPs signed up to controversial pension fund
A leaked decision note from European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering has revealed that taxpayers may have to foot the bill for an estimated £105 million (€120 million) shortfall in the European Parliament's controversial Additional Voluntary Pension Scheme. The scheme is facing a gap in funding due to the collapse of the stock market and investments reportedly related to the Bernie Madoff scandal in the United States . (WAZ Der Western, 14 April; Mail, 16 April)
MEPs are entitled to a standard pension from their member states, but are also able to opt in to this additional fund if they desire, as 480 currently do. Under the scheme, MEPs pay in €1194 (£1052) a month, which is matched by publicly funded payments of €2388 a month. After a five year term of service, MEPs can expect an annual pension, from the voluntary fund alone, of over €16,000. Combined with their standard MEP pension, they can expect annual payments of over €30,000 from just five years of service. (Times, 17 April)
However, with the pension fund now facing a shortfall, the leaked note asserts that the, "parliament will assume its legal responsibility to guarantee the right of members of the Voluntary Pension Scheme to the additional pension". To meet this responsibility, the taxpayer could be asked to make up the €120 million shortfall to provide the payments for MEPs' additional pensions.
This voluntary pension scheme has been repeatedly criticised by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) over the last ten years and in its latest report from November 2008, the ECA said that the Parliament should have "clear rules to define the liabilities and responsibilities" of the Parliament and members of the scheme in the case of a deficit. As a result of the mounting criticism, the scheme will not be available to new MEPs taking up their seats from June. (European Voice Telegraph, 16 April)
The European Parliament has consistently refused to name the beneficiaries of the fund, citing the privacy of the individuals, despite criticism from the European Ombudsman.
Open Europe has today published a list of MEPs signed up to the fund, obtained by German investigative journalist Hans-Martin Tillack. It reveals that 79 percent of British MEPs and 77 percent of Irish MEPs had signed up to the fund as of December 2007.
To read the full press release, click the link below:
Meanwhile, following the European Parliament elections in June, UK MEPs are set to receive a pay rise of over £15,000. Under new rules to be introduced under the next session of Parliament, MEPs will no longer have to receive a salary equivalent to national politicians, but can opt for a salary of 38.5% of an ECJ judge's salary. This works out as €91,980 annually, which is worth over £80,000 at current exchange rates because of the collapse in the value of the pound. This is up from the £64,000 current salary, and represents a pay-rise of 22%.
The new rules have caused further controversy because it states that MEPs will now be entitled to claim compensation for business class flights, even on short-distance flights within the EU. Previously, MEPs were entitled to claim the maximum economy fare, regardless of the actual cost of their flight. (Die Welt, 8 April)
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2. News in brief
EU to spend €2.3 million on MTV campaign. EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallström has launched a new campaign targeting the 18-24 year old age group, to encourage participation in June's European elections. The campaign will be carried out by the MTV music channel and financed with a budget of up to €2.3 million. On 30 April at 3.30pm young people from different European cities will gather to cry out "Europe, can you hear me?" Artists backing the campaign include Depeche Mode and the Italian singer Tiziano Ferro. (Open Europe blog, De Morgen, Euronews, Telegraph: Waterfield blog, 9 April; Sun 10 April)
"Tardis" box visits Edinburgh for people to air their views about EP elections. Voters in Edinburgh are to be invited into a "Tardis-style box", costing £33,000 each, to send a message to Brussels ahead of the European elections on June 4. Several "Choiceboxes" - interactive video booths - are touring around Europe, with the first stop in the UK in Edinburgh. A Commission spokesman said, "It's like Big Brother - people can walk into the diary room and have their say. The idea is voters can air their views and express their concerns about any topic relevant to the European elections." (Scotsman, 6 April)
Disgraced MEP could get to keep £500,000 in "unjustified expenses". Den Dover, the disgraced Conservative MEP expelled from the party last year, could get to keep more than £500,000 in staff allowances paid to a family firm between 1999 and 2008. Despite the European Parliament writing to him, requesting the "unjustified expenses" be returned, no action has been taken to recover the money. Mr Dover will also be entitled to six months pay, allowances and a full pension when he retires later this year. (Telegraph, 10 April)
Royal College of Surgeons warns of fatalities from EU Working Time Directive. John Black, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, warned that "If the 48-hour week is introduced as planned on 1 August, patient safety is going to be reduced. People are going to die because of this...The vast majority of doctors think EWTD is dangerous." A confidential report prepared for the Department of Health revealed that around 80% of doctors, and up to half of medical directors believe patient safety will be jeopardised if NHS workers are ordered to work fewer hours. (Guardian, Telegraph: Wood, Telegraph, 11 April)
Lisbon diplomatic corps begins training. 530 European Commission staff have started training to build a "shared diplomatic culture and an esprit de corps" for the EU External Action Service created by the Lisbon Treaty - which is yet to be ratified by all member states. An EU official said, "We are trying to push the envelope as far as we can within the current environment." Secret minutes on the EEA negotiations recognise the need "to remain cautious in presenting these issues" ahead of the second Irish referendum on the Treaty. (Telegraph, EU Referendum blog, 12 April)
Slovakian criminal allowed into UK under EU Free Movement rules. Slovakian Marek Harcar was sentenced to life in prison for murder, having been allowed to enter the UK despite having 13 criminal convictions. Article 27 of the EU Free Movement Directive states that "previous criminal convictions shall not in themselves constitute grounds [to restrict entry]" and the UK law which implements the directive backs up this approach. A 2006 briefing by Open Europe warned the Directive would lead to less control over crime, borders and social security. (Mail, Herald, 9 April; Glasgow Evening Times, 14 April)
Data Retention Directive implemented without Parliamentary debate. The EU's Data Retention Directive came into force in the UK on 6 April, requiring internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies in the EU to store records of emails and internet phone calls for 12 months. The Directive was transposed into UK law by means of a Statutory Instrument, rather than primary legislation, which meant that there was no Parliamentary debate. A survey carried out by Politics Home revealed that 60 percent of Britons rejected the Directive, with only 23 percent approving of the rules. 33 percent said the laws would make them feel less secure against 22 percent who felt safer. (BBC, Guardian: Porter, Open Europe blog, 6 April; Metro, 14 April)
European Commission to investigate Italian dentist who used EU funds for Ferrari. The European Commission has announced that it is to investigate the case of an Italian dentist who allegedly used EU regional development funds intended to boost the use of solar panels, to buy a Ferrari. The case was highlighted in an Open Europe briefing last year. (Open Europe: Top 100 examples of EU fraud and waste, 9 November; Telegraph, 3 April)
Commission advises employees how to evade information requests. The European Commission's trade department has circulated detailed instructions to officials on how best to narrowly interpret requests for information. The internal memo also recommended keeping two sets of documents- a whitened version for public release and a separate private version. The guidance urges officials, "Don't refer to the great lunch you have had with an industry representative privately or add a PS asking if he/she would like to meet for a drink...Avoid recording statements which may turn out to be politically embarrassing for those who have made them." (EUobserver, Telegraph: Waterfield blog, 9 April; Telegraph, 10 April)
3. Open Europe in the news
The growing acquis and burden of red tape
17 April Conservative Home
Conservative Home referenced Open Europe's research into the acquis communautaire and its recent report on the costs of EU regulation.
Examples of fraud and waste
15 April Expressen
In an op-ed in Swedish daily Expressen, Swedish MEP Eva-Britt Svensson looked at the problems with waste and fraud involving EU funds, and cited several examples from Open Europe's top 100 list of EU fraud and waste.
Open Europe: The EU must listen to its critics
14 April Yorkshire Post
In response to an article in the Yorkshire Post by Richard Corbett MEP, Open Europe's Sarah Gaskell wrote to the paper arguing, "Despite claims to the contrary by Richard Corbett MEP ('Why EU rules can be a good thing for Britain', Yorkshire Post, April 8), Open Europe is not an 'anti-Europe campaign group', but very much in favour of the Single Market and the benefits it offers businesses and consumers, not just in Yorkshire...If we want the EU to survive and to work well for Europe's citizens, then politicians like Mr Corbett must sit up and listen to the critics - not dismiss them as 'anti-Europeans' and carry on legislating with their fingers in their ears."
EU free movement regulations enable convicted criminals to enter the UK
9 April Herald 14 April Glasgow Evening Times
Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe was quoted in the Herald warning that the lack of clarity over EU free movement rules means that the Government lacks power over the entry of convicted criminals into the UK. Pieter argued "European laws are not clear, as they say that convicted criminals have to present a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat in order to be refused access. This leaves room for European judges to transfer power away from the UK so that these issues are decided at EU level. This is dangerous because there are no sufficient guarantees."
EU Commissioners receive lucrative pensions and pay-offs
14 April Malta Independent 6 April Euronews 3 April Pardon Politique
Open Europe's findings on European Commissioners' pay-off packages continued to receive coverage on French and Polish news sites Politique and Pardon, and in the Malta Independent. Euronews cited Open Europe in a discussion piece on excessive pensions for EU Commissioners.
Construction industry awaits outcome of EU negotiations on working time
9 April Construction News
Construction News reported on the ongoing negotiations in Brussels on the UK's opt-out from the EU's 48-hour week, noting that a decision could be reached at the end of the month. Open Europe Director Lorraine Mullally was quoted saying: "It's really hard to call. On the one hand, the Council has the upper hand as the Parliament wants a deal rather than for the talks to fail. But on the other hand, some members will be willing to trade-off the opt-out in order to sort out issues with on-call time."
MEP Jim Nicholson criticised for luxurious travels at taxpayer expense
6 April Belfast Telegraph
The Belfast Telegraph reported that MEP Jim Nicholson has been criticised for his globe-hopping trips and wrote, "Information published by Open Europe, an independent think-tank, says that on a recent trip to Australia, Mr Nicholson enjoyed La Traviata at the Sydney Opera House followed by a cruise around Sydney Bay on a luxury catamaran to watch the sun go down over dinner."
Wallstrom claims Open Europe's findings on Commission payouts and pensions are "twisted and exaggerated data"
6 April Focus
In an interview with Focus Information Agency, EU Communications Commissioner Margot Wallstrom responded to research published by Open Europe which found that Commissioners leaving office this year will earn over £1 million in pensions and payoffs, claiming the figures were "twisted and exaggerated".
Open Europe Director responds to Caroline Flint's admission that she has not read the Lisbon Treaty
6 April Conservative Home
On Conservative Home, Open Europe Director Lorraine Mullally argued that Europe Minister Caroline Flint's recent admission that she had not ready the Lisbon Treaty in full made a referendum all the more urgent.
Lorraine said, "For a Minister paid to discuss EU issues, it's unbelievable and unacceptable that she hasn't read - let alone tried to understand - the most important document to come out of the EU in years, and one which will have profound consequences for Europe and the UK's place in it."
"Flint's admission betrays an alarming complacency. Having so far got away with forcing the Treaty through Parliament, despite polls suggesting that as many as 88% of people wanted a referendum, and wanted to vote no, the Government wants to quietly bury the issue and move on."
4. Open Europe round-up of EU news
Every morning Open Europe produces a round-up of news from all around Europe, looking at the French, Spanish, Belgian, German and Scandinavian press as well as UK coverage of EU issues. If you would like to receive the press summary by email, please sign up on the home page of our website - http://www.openeurope.org.uk/
Open Europe also runs a blog on all EU-related issues which is updated regularly, and where you can post your comments. To read our blog, click here: http://openeuropeblog.blogspot.com/
5. Support Open Europe
Open Europe is a small, lean operation which relies entirely on individual donations. We produce cutting-edge research on all aspects of EU policy, targeting both politicians and the media to campaign for radical reform of the EU. We unearth high-impact stories and hold high-profile events, and, uniquely for such a small team, we are quoted and interviewed several times a week in the media.
We believe there is a better way forward for Europe, and we need your help in trying to make our vision a reality.
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: openeurope.org.uk or call us on 0207 197 2333.
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