1. Lisbon Treaty: 82% want referendum in UK, even if all other countries ratify
A new Populus poll for the Times has found overwhelming support for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even in a situation where it has already been ratified by Ireland and the rest of the EU. 82% of people agreed with the statement, "If Ireland and other countries ratify the Lisbon Treaty on the future of the European Union, Britain should hold its own referendum on the issue", with 52% strongly agreeing and only 14% disagreeing. 92% of Conservative voters, 76% of Labour voters and 85% of Liberal Democrats voters agreed that Britain should have a referendum on the Treaty. (Times, 13 May)
The poll also showed that 58% of voters believe that the balance of powers between Britain and the EU gives too much power to the EU, including a clear majority of supporters of all the main parties. 28% say the balance is about right and 6% say too little power has been given to the EU. In response to the question, "If the Lisbon Treaty goes through and the new post of President of the EU is established, the job should go to Tony Blair", only 34% of people agreed, and 63% disagreed. 51% felt that Britain benefits from its membership of the EU.
Meanwhile, a poll in Germany found that 70% of people want the Lisbon Treaty to be re-negotiated, and a separate poll found that 73% of Germans agree that "the EU takes too many powers from Germany". (Neues Deutschland, 15 May)
Germany is one of four countries that has yet to complete ratification of the Treaty - in addition to Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland. German President Horst Köhler has said that he will not sign the Treaty into law until after the German Constitutional Court has given its opinion on whether the Treaty is compatible with the German Constitution, which it is expected to do after the European elections in June. (Focus, 5 May; European Voice, 6 May)
In Poland, President Lech Kaczynski is still to sign. Likewise, in the Czech Republic, the Treaty is awaiting the signature of President Vaclav Klaus, following the Senate's approval of the text by 54 votes to 20 on 6 May. (FT, Irish Times, 7 May) President Klaus has said that his signature is "not on the cards" until after Ireland holds a second referendum on the Treaty, expected in the autumn. The leader of the Liberals in the European Parliament, Lib Dem MEP Graham Watson, has attempted to pressure the Czech leader, saying, "Václav Klaus should now sign the document in blood - ahead of the EU summit in June." (WSJ, 7 May; Aktualne, 12 May)
Meanwhile, the Irish government is trying to fast-track work on the so-called 'guarantees' it plans to offer to Ireland in exchange for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, reportedly in an effort to stop Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who is against the Treaty, from 'wrecking' an EU leaders' summit in June. Ireland hopes to persuade the other 26 member states to agree to the wording at a foreign ministers' meeting on 15 June, so that EU leaders meeting later in the same week can merely rubber-stamp the deal, without debate. In order to sideline President Klaus, the Czech government has decided that the EU leaders' summit will be chaired by the Prime Minister instead. (Irish Times, 14 May)
Irish Europe Minister Dick Roche has promised that the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland will not be on the same text, saying "we cannot and will not put the same package to our people later this year." (Irish Times, 5 May) However, in reality, it is extremely unlikely that Ireland will be able to make any actual changes to the Treaty, since any change to the text at all will require re-ratification of the text by every EU member state - including the UK.
2. Lib Dems row back from 'in or out' referendum
Labour yesterday launched their European election campaign in Derbyshire with Gordon Brown suggesting that Britain risks becoming isolated in Europe if 'eurosceptic' parties succeed in the June elections. Brown said "I believe as we consider our future at these elections on 4 June it's also important to remember that we must work within the European Union, not be isolated in Europe." He added that "being outside Europe is a threat to jobs in this country." (El Pais, Reuters, BBC,15 May)
In response to the launch Shadow Europe Minister Mark Francois alluded to Labour's broken promise on holding a referendum on the renamed EU Constitution. He said, "What is the point of Gordon Brown launching a European election manifesto when he broke his main promise on Europe in his General Election manifesto? Labour's EU promises cannot be taken seriously while they are denying people their say on the renamed EU Constitution." (PA, 14 May)
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats launched their campaign on 12 May with the slogan "Stronger together, poorer apart." Leader Nick Clegg said: "We are stronger together and poorer apart, it's as simple as that." Asked whether the manifesto contained a commitment to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU - an idea the party has much vaunted over the past year in response to criticism that they went back on their promise to hold a referendum on the EU Treaty - Nick Clegg told a press conference, "Yes, it's in the manifesto."
However, in fact the manifesto contains no clear commitment to a referendum, stating only that the Lib Dems "have argued" for one. It says: "Liberal Democrats have argued for a referendum on whether Britain stays in or leaves the EU. We are the only party confident enough to put the pro-European case to the British people on the big issue facing us - and let the people decide. Britain will only win the case for a flexible, democratic Europe in Brussels if we settle our arguments at home on whether we should be part of the EU or not." (Lib Dem Manifesto, 12 May)
This represents yet another U-turn for the Lib Dems on Europe . At the last election, the Lib Dems joined Labour and the Conservatives in promising a referendum on the EU's Constitutional Treaty - which was later rejected by the French and the Dutch in referendums in 2005, and eventually renamed the Lisbon Treaty. However, instead of honouring that manifesto promise when the Treaty came up for ratification in the UK , Nick Clegg instructed his MPs to abstain from a vote on whether or not there should be a national referendum. He even sacked from his frontbench the handful of Lib Dem MPs who voted with their conscience in favour of the promised referendum.
When the vote moved to the House of Lords, Lib Dem Peers changed tack yet again, choosing not to stick to the line taken in the Commons and abstain, which would have helped the motion for a referendum succeed, and instead voting against a national referendum.
Throughout this episode, in an effort to pretend they were not going back on their promise, the Lib Dems claimed - and continue to claim - that they were instead in favour of a wider referendum on Britain 's membership of the EU. Nick Clegg said: "The EU could be a lot more liberal and democratic, and the Lisbon treaty would help it to do both. So let's trust the people with the real question: in or out?" (Guardian, 25 February 2008)
However, the failure to include a clear and undisputable commitment to such a referendum in the new manifesto proves that this was just a cynical ploy by the Lib Dems to distract attention from their decision to renege on the original manifesto pledge for a referendum on the Treaty.
3. News in brief
Italian bank receives more than €180 million in EU farm subsidies. A list has been published which discloses the largest beneficiaries of EU farm subsidies. These include an Italian bank in Milan, a French chicken farming giant and an Irish producer of Weight Watchers meals and Yorkshire puddings. The largest single payment, €140 million, went to the Italian sugar company Italia Zuccheri. The Italian bank ICBPI, received more than €180 million in five payments. EU member states were required to publish the recipients of subsidies on 30 April, although Germany has so far refused to do so on the grounds of privacy. (NY Times, EUobserver, Debate Farmsubsidy.org Materials Farmsubsidy.org, EU Farm subsidy millionaires 2008, Farmsubsidy, 8 May)
EU working rules mean Ministers need two limousine chauffeurs. The Government Car Service is to double the number of official drivers who act as chauffeurs for Ministers' limousines. This is because of European regulations on working hours, which mean that Ministerial drivers cannot drop a Minister off after a late Commons vote at 11pm, and pick them up at 9am the next morning. The Working Time Directive requires professional drivers have breaks of at least 11 hours between shifts. The rules mean that approximately 80 new drivers will need to be employed and existing drivers will not be able to boost their wages by doing overtime. (Sun, 12 May)
EU civil servants under investigation for benefit fraud awarded money from EU due to mishandling of investigation. 14 EU civil servants investigated for suspected benefit fraud have each been awarded €3,000 from the EU, after it transpired the EU's fraud watchdog, OLAF, failed to tell them that they were to face criminal proceedings in Italy. In a 2002 audit, 230 officials at the Joint Research Centre in Italy - one fifth of the total number of employees there - were found to be claiming a disability benefit. €5.7m was disbursed to staff between 1996 and 2002, an average of €25,000 each.
OLAF said that this "could appear, at first sight, suspect, and should be the object of an in depth review". However, on referring the case to the Italian judiciary to conduct an investigation, OLAF neglected to inform the civil servants. The EU's court for civil service employment disputes then ruled that this was in breach of their rights of defence, and awarded the 14 who brought a complaint €3,000 each in damages. (England Expects, Berlaymonster, 6 May)
French Finance Minister touted as new Commissioner. Speculation has been mounting over who could fill the available posts in the new Commission, due to installed in the autumn. There are rumours suggesting that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Commission President José Manuel Barroso agreed at the end of April that French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde could become the next EU Competition Commissioner. Some reports also suggest that Lagarde could also be in line for Internal Markets Commissioner, as well as French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier. Spanish PM José Luis Zapatero reportedly agreed to support Barroso for another term as Commission President, in exchange for an important economic portfolio for the Spanish Commissioner, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also insisting that Barroso give Germany a top Commission portfolio. (Die Welt, Le Figaro, 13 May; Le Monde, FTD 14 May)
British family arrested over £1m EU regional funds scam. Five members of a Durham family have been charged with offences relating to a scam involving nearly £1m of European grants. Money paid from the European Social Fund (ESF) and the European Regional Development Fund through the UK Government to companies based in County Durham, was supposed to be passed on to help people find work through various initiatives and training courses. It is alleged that the money was used by the family to buy land, houses, a vehicle and to finance building work, while large amounts of cash were also transferred abroad. (Newcastle Journal, Open Europe research, 11 May)
EP approves proposals for 'burden sharing' of asylum seekers in EU. The proposals introduced a 'solidarity clause' in order to assist member states that claim to be overburdened by asylum seeker demands. This provision foresees member states accepting a percentage of asylum applicants - possibly in accordance with their population size. (European Parliament, CDU/CSU, SPD, Die Presse, EUobserver, 8 May)
Proposed EU hedge fund regulations may lead to mass migration from the City. Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey has threatened to move his business out of Britain because of the EU's proposed directive to regulate hedge funds and the Government's new tax rate on high earners. Charles Price, founder of hedge fund business Palmer Capital, also admitted that he was weighing up his options, saying "firms have no choice but to consider moving given the lack of clarity about the regulatory environment." Kinetic Partners, which helps relocate hedge funds to Switzerland, have said they are advising 15 hedge funds that are actively considering leaving. (Sunday Times, 11 May)
4. Open Europe Brussels office
Open Europe has recently opened an office in Brussels, near the seat of the EU institutions, at 115 Rue du Trone, Brussels 1000. Journalists can contact Pieter Cleppe, Head of the Brussels office, on 0032 2 540 86 25 or 00 32 477 68 46 08.
5. Open Europe Events
Westminster or Brussels: Who rules Britain?
On 11 May, Open Europe held a debate in London, looking at the impact of EU legislation in the UK and how scrutiny of EU legislation works in Westminster.
The panelists included Gisela Stuart MP; Lord Trimble; Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP; and David Heathcoat-Amory MP.
To read a summary of the event, please visit our events page:
6. Open Europe in the news
Allegations raise concern over Eurojust's impartiality
14 May EUobserver 15 May Diario de Noticias
EUobserver reported on allegations that the head of the EU's judicial co-operation body Eurojust, Jose da Mota, put pressure on prosecutors in Portugal in order to stop a corruption investigation involving Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates. EUobserver quoted Open Europe's Stephen Booth saying, "These allegations are incredibly serious and, if proved, call into question the political independence and credibility of Eurojust".
Stephen was also quoted by Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias saying "If it is proven that Eurojust is not politically independent, then what is the system for...it is a bad sign for citizens, which diminishes their faith in justice".
Lisbon Treaty being forced through Europe
11 May American Spectator: Bandow
Open Europe's Mats Persson was quoted in the American Spectator in an article looking at the future of the Lisbon Treaty. He said, "Ever since the Irish voted No to the Lisbon Treaty in June, politicians in Ireland and across Europe have tried to find ways to force this unwanted document through - against the clear will of the people."
Enough bureaucrats to fill a town
11 May De Pers
Following EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes' claim that the EU has no more bureaucrats than an "average town in the Netherlands", Dutch Socialist Party MEP candidate Dennis de Jong refuted the claim, and cited Open Europe's research, which found that the EU employs 170,000 people.
The cost of EU regulation to the UK
8 May Solihull News
The Solihull News cited Open Europe's research on the cost of EU regulation.
MEPs pass amendment to telecoms package
7 May WSJ
Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe was quoted in the WSJ following the European Parliament's vote to pass an amendment to the telecoms package, which would make it illegal for countries to disconnect people from the internet without a judicial decision. Pieter said that several members of Parliament "wanted to make a statement on upholding these rights" ahead of the European elections.
The cost of the EU's climate package
7 May Salon24
Open Europe's research on the cost of the EU's climate package was covered by Polish news site Salon24.
Coca Cola and EU propaganda
7 May Dagbladet Arbeideren
Denmark's Dagbladet Arbeideren cited Open Europe's research on EU communication policy, which showed that the EU was spending more on propaganda than Coca Cola spends on advertising each year.
Centralising tendency of the European Parliament
5 May BBC Today in Parliament
Open Europe Research Director Mats Persson appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today in Parliament discussing the centralising tendency of the European Parliament. Mats said, "It's very hard to find examples, and I can't think of any right now, where [MEPs] say, 'well, this is not for us, this is probably better decided on the national level'. You just hope that that will happen more often in the future because there are a lot of things that they decide on that, quite frankly, are better decided locally, regionally or nationally."
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Always look on the bright side
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