Friday, 1 May 2009

Open Europe Bulletin: 1 May 2009

Open Europe

Open Europe Bulletin: 1 May 2009

* Former Labour MP laments failure to hold referendum on the Lisbon Treaty; Hague will not rule out retrospective referendum
* New EU regulation "a clear and present danger to the City"
* New Open Europe briefing: What does the European Parliament do and how does it affect your everyday life?
* News in brief
* Open Europe events
* Open Europe in the news
* Support Open Europe

1. Former Labour MP laments failure to hold referendum on the Lisbon Treaty; Hague will not rule out retrospective referendum

Veteran Labour Party member and Halifax MP for 18 years Alice Mahon has quit the party and said her reasons included a failure by the Government to deliver on promises in the 2005 Labour manifesto, including a referendum on the EU constitution. She said "That [2005] manifesto promised a referendum on the European Constitution, we renamed it the Lisbon Treaty and reneged on that promise also." (Independent: Mahon, 20 April)

Meanwhile, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague has left the door open to the possibility of the Conservatives promising a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in their general election manifesto even if the Treaty has already been ratified by the EU's 27 member states by then.

Mr Hague said that, even if the Treaty had been ratified before a Conservative victory, the party would, nevertheless, spell out in its manifesto what action it would take to reverse European integration. Pressed on whether in those circumstances a referendum could still be promised in a Conservative manifesto, he said: "We would not rule anything in or out." (Times, Spectator: Coffee House blog, 29 April)

Conservative leader David Cameron launched a campaign renewing calls for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the run up to the European elections in June. He said, "Where you stand on the referendum says a lot about your politics. It says a lot about how much you value trust between the government and the governed. I believe that if you make a promise in your manifesto, and the country votes on that manifesto, then you are honour-bound to keep that promise". (PA, 27 April; EUobserver, Open Europe blog, Irish Times, Telegraph, 28 April)

The Czech Senate has set 6-7 May as the date to hold a vote on ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. A three-fifths majority is needed to ratify the Treaty. (Javno, 29 April)

The EU is likely to postpone key decisions on the 'guarantees' offered to Ireland in return for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty until mid-July, rather than allow Czech President Vaclav Klaus to chair the negotiations. Instead, a special summit will be held under the Swedish Presidency of the EU, due to begin on 1 July. (Waterfield blog, 27 April)

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2. New EU regulation "a clear and present danger to the City"

Serious concerns have been raised over an EU proposal, tabled by the European Commission this week, for tougher regulation of hedge funds and private equity groups. Critics have warned that the proposed directive could undermine the competitiveness of the City of London , slow down economic recovery and lead to job losses. The proposed regulation - which requires fund managers to seek government authorisation for the first time, while also introducing new reporting and capital requirements - will primarily affect Britain, since over 80% of Europe's alternative investment industry is based in the UK.

The proposal has also been criticised for being mistargetted. As pointed out in reports for both the Commission and the UK Government, hedge funds and private equity groups did not cause the current financial crisis.

Andrew Shrimpton, a partner at hedge fund consultancy Kinetic Partners LLP and formerly of the FSA called the proposal "a clear and present danger to the City". Florence Lombard, Executive Director of the Alternative Investment Management Association warned: "The unintended consequences of these measures may put thousands of jobs in several major European industries under threat and slow down any economic recovery." Meanwhile, Britain 's City Minister Paul Myners said that the proposal was not "as well informed as it should be."

But in Brussels MEPs have criticised the proposal for not going far enough and have vowed to insert even more stringent conditions on hedge funds and private equity. Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, President of the Party of European Socialists, said the proposal was so "light it was fly weight", adding "we will not accept such an ineffective regulation." Since the issue is decided by so-called co-decision, MEPs have the same powers as national ministers over the final decision. Crucially, the final decision will be taken by majority voting, meaning that the UK could be outvoted. (WSJ Telegraph Bloomberg FT FT2 FT-Lombard FT-leader Guardian EUobserver Euractiv European Socialists EPP-ED Coulisses de Bruxelles Le Monde, 30 April; Coulisses de Bruxelles Independent: Warner, 1 May)

3. New Open Europe briefing: What does the European Parliament do and how does it affect your daily life?

Looking ahead to the European Parliament elections, Open Europe has published a briefing on the European Parliament, seeking to answer basic questions voters may be asking themselves when deciding how, or if, to vote this June.

The briefing argues that the often repeated claim that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) 'lack real powers', is largely inaccurate. In fact, MEPs now effectively have a 'veto' over national governments in about 75% of all European legislation, taking decisions on everything from working time to internet use. The Parliament has grown in power with every new EU treaty. The Lisbon Treaty will be no exception. If it is ratified, the number of areas where MEPs share powers with national governments will double.

However, despite the important role of the European Parliament, voter turnout has continued to decrease since the first direct elections in 1979. The Parliament has an image of being out of touch and distant from its electorate. This has left the public asking 'why should I bother voting in the European elections?'

The briefing argues that the Parliament could improve its reputation and gain more respect from voters by adopting some very simple and common sense reforms, including a complete overhaul of the system of expenses, allowances and pensions.

To read the full briefing, please click on the link below:

4. News in brief

UK's opt-out from the EU's 48 hour week remains intact. The UK 's opt-out from the EU's 48 hour working week will remain in place after negotiations between government ministers and the European Parliament broke down. The break-down means that the opt-out remains in place until a new proposal is tabled by the Commission. However, MEPs have vowed to make a new attempt to scrap the opt-out in the autumn.

Spanish MEP Alejandro Cercas, who led the European Parliament's drive to end the opt-out said, "We have left the future open and hope to have a solution with the new Commission and the new Parliament." German MEP Mechtild Rothe warned, "The opt-out cannot be forever." (BBC Open Europe blog EP press release, 28 April; WSJ Mail Telegraph Independent EUobserver BBC, 29 April)

MEPs hold 'sham' vote on controversial second pension fund. MEPs voted against bailing out their controversial second pension fund, which is facing a shortfall of around €120 million, with taxpayer funds. However, the vote is largely symbolic because the guarantee that taxpayers make up the shortfall can only be changed by a unanimous vote by member states. (RN, 22 April; Telegraph: Waterfield blog, AP, Welt, European Voice, 23 April)

€5 million gym for MEPs could power "pro-Europe messages". The EP is reportedly building a €5 million 'aqua gym' complex which will include a 'green' sauna, powered exclusively through solar energy, but which may only reach a temperature of 14 degrees. Other facilities will include steam baths as well as exercise bikes and treadmills which could be connected to the European Parliament's power grid to generate electricity and beam "pro-Europe messages from a beacon in Place Luxembourg ", according to reports. (New Europe, 20 April; Open Europe blog, 28 April)

Controversial cross-border healthcare plans could cost NHS "hundreds of millions". MEPs voted in favour of draft legisation which would guarantee patients who seek treatment in other EU countries reimbursement of their medical costs by the health system back home. A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "There are a number of important principles that need to be got right, including ensuring that where UK patients choose to travel abroad for care, the NHS retains the ability to decide what care it will fund."

Labour MEP Arlene McCarthy said the plan "could see hundreds of millions of pounds of NHS resources diverted away from local investment to fund private health treatment in Europe". (EUobserver, European Voice, 23 April; Mail, Irish Times 24 April)

Student loses extradition battle amid concerns over misuse of European Arrest Warrant. Andrew Symeou, the 20 year old student accused of a nightclub killing in Greece , today lost an appeal in the High Court against moves to extradite him from the UK to stand trial. The European Arrest Warrant system allows deportation of a suspect once basic information about identity and the alleged offence is provided. British courts are not required to assure themselves that an adequate case has been made for the accused to answer before agreeing to extradition.

Campaigns Coordinator for Liberty , Sabina Frediani said, "This alarming case highlights the dangers of summary extradition. No one should be sent anywhere, be it Europe, the US or elsewhere, without a case being made in a local court - British justice should not be circumvented in this way." (PA, 1 May)

ECJ ruling threatens property of thousands of Britons in Cyprus . The European Court of Justice has ruled that British Courts must enforce judicial decisions made in Cyprus , which uphold the property rights of Greek Cypriots who abandoned their property when they were forced out of the northern half of the island when Turkish troops invaded in 1974. The ruling means that thousands of Britons with property in Northern Cyprus could be forced to return their properties, or pay compensation to the original Cypriot landholders. The ECJ ruled that it did not matter that EU law did not apply to the area controlled by Turkish Cypriots. (Mail, WSJ, 29 April)

EU agricultural policy causes rainforest destruction. A new report from Friends of the Earth, entitled "Feeding the Beast", details how the EU's Common Agricultural Policy has fueled demand for imported animal feed, encouraging South American ranchers to clear rainforests for plantations of soy crops. Friends of the Earth's Executive Director Andy Atkins said, "Cash-strapped families have no idea that millions of pounds of their money is being spent on an industry that contributes more to climate change than all the planes, cars and lorries on the planet." (PA, 27 April)

5. Open Europe events

"Reforming the EU for the 21st century" - 14 May

Ahead of the European elections and the upcoming Swedish Presidency of the EU, Open Europe is hosting a seminar at this year's Europaforum in Hässleholm, southern Sweden . Europaforum is a conference co-hosted by the upcoming Swedish Presidency, the current Czech Presidency, the EU Commission and the European Parliament.

Open Europe 's seminar entitled "Reforming the EU for the 21st century" will take place on 14 May and run from 14.00 until 15.00. In the seminar, Open Europe will present ideas on how the EU can be brought closer to its citizens and reformed to meet today's challenges. The seminar will also feature Bruno Waterfield, Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

Programme Registration

European Monetary Union : Second honeymoon or pending divorce?

On 28 April, Open Europe held a panel debate in Brussels in conjunction with The Centre looking at European Monetary Union and the challenges it faces in the future.

The panellists included Ignazio Angeloni, Advisor to the Executive Board of the European Central Bank; David Marsh, author of "The Euro: The politics of the new global currency"; and Derek Scott, vice-Chairman of Open Europe and former Economic Advisor to Tony Blair.

To read a summary of the event, please visit our events page:

6. Open Europe in the news

MEPs' lucrative second pensions

1 May Southern Star

Irish regional weekly, the Southern Star looked at the issue of MEPs' expenses and quoted Open Europe 's Pieter Cleppe on the issue of the controversial second pension scheme.

Deconstructing the EU budget

30 April Ekonom Parkiet

Open Europe 's research on the EU's budget was cited on Czech website Ekonom and Polish website Parkiet.

The EU needs reform

29 April BBC Northern Ireland

Open Europe's Mats Persson appeared on BBC Northern Ireland 's Talk Back show, discussing the need for reform of the EU.

The cost of EU regulation to the UK

28 April 2009 Mail: Synon blog

Mary Ellen Synon's Mail blog looked at the cost of EU membership to Britain and cited figures from Open Europe 's recent research on the cost of regulation.

The never ending Acquis Communautaire

22 April Derby Evening Telegraph

The Derby Evening Telegraph cited Open Europe 's research into the size of the Acquis Communautaire.

Three quarters of Irish MEPs refuse to publish expenses

20 April Mail Telegraph: Bruno Waterfield blog Finanzas ABhaber Sunday Times

Open Europe's findings about the number of MEPs signed up to the controversial second pension fund were reported on page two of the Sun, in the Mail, the Irish Sunday Times, and on Bruno Waterfield's Telegraph blog. Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally was interviewed on BBC Five Live. Open Europe 's Pieter Cleppe was quoted in an article on Spanish news site, saying, "The legality of this highly controversial fund has been repeatedly questioned over the last ten years by the European Court of Auditors".

7. 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.

If you support our work and would like to help us continue to do it, please click the link below to find out how you can donate. Anything you can give will go directly to helping us counter the spin from EU officials and EU-funded lobby groups, and allow us to make our case for a fresh approach to Europe .

Thank you for your support.

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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