9 November 2015

Cameron to formally present EU renegotiation demands tomorrow in letter to Tusk

David Cameron’s letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, setting out the UK’s key EU renegotiation demands, will be published tomorrow, and will be preceded by a speech from the Prime Minister in which he will warn that leaving the EU would be an “irreversible decision” with implications not only for “jobs and trade but the safety and security of our nation”. Cameron is expected to argue, “I am not saying for one moment that Britain couldn’t survive outside the EU. Of course we could. We are a great country… The question is whether we would be more successful in than out?” He will also argue that “I will campaign to keep Britain inside a reformed EU – campaign for it with all my heart and all my soul, because that will be unambiguously in our national interest”, but that he will also warn that he would “think again” if his reform demands were to be ignored. Meanwhile, The Times reports that according to Whitehall officials, if substantial progress on EU reform is made at next month’s summit, the referendum could be held as early as June 2016.

Appearing on the BCC’s Andrew Marr show, Foreign Minister Philp Hammond argued that “The British people will not be fobbed off with a set of cosmetic alterations to the way the EU works.” He also argued that “In many cases, there will be more than one way of delivering the change that Britain wants to see… combinations of use of domestic legislation and European legislation, changes to [EU] treaties or other ways of delivering legislative change. We don’t want to be excessively prescriptive at the beginning of a discussion.”

Writing in his weekly column in The Daily Telegraph, London Mayor Boris Johnson argues that “Our friends and partners cannot imagine why we would be quite so mad as to want to cut off our nose to spite our face and actually leave the EU… That is why today the Prime Minister is so right to flash some steel – to unsheathe a section of the blade that might soon be used to cut the rope and set Britain free.”

Source: The Financial Times The Times The Sun BBC: Andrew Marr show The Daily Telegraph: Johnson

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Irish Taoiseach: We regard Brexit as “major strategic risk” for Ireland

In a speech to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) this morning, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, “It is perhaps not surprising that Ireland regards the prospect of the UK leaving the EU as a major strategic risk. The Irish government’s strong view…is that a Brexit is not in Ireland’s economic interest.” He added, “I have always been clear that Ireland will be open and pragmatic when it comes to sensible proposals to improve the EU said. In general, where the UK seeks reasonable and achievable adjustments, we will be sympathetic and supportive.”

Source: Open Europe Intelligence

FAZ: Germany happy to abide by most of the British EU reform proposals

The foreign affairs editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, writes that “Germany is happy to abide by most of the [British EU reform] proposals. Because it is also in the German interest to see an EU that functions, resists the storms of the 21st century, and enjoys the trust of the citizens. And one that sticks together. It is against Germany’s interest if the UK left the EU, just as it cannot actually be in the interest of Britain to go its own way. The wonderful life some envision of a solo existence is a fairy tale world.”

Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Frankenberger

Sunday Times: Government plans to replace Human Rights Act with British bill of rights

The Sunday Times reported on draft plans by the British government to replace the Human Rights Act with a British bill of rights. Under the proposals seen by the paper, British judges will not have to follow rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, instead relying  on the common law, or rulings in courts in Commonwealth countries when making their rulings.

Source: The Sunday Times

German government in new crisis over Syrian refugee status

The German government is embroiled in a new controversy over the refugee crisis, following reports that the Interior Ministry will henceforth classify Syrians as in need of ‘subsidiary protection’ rather than full refugee status, only granting them one year residency permits and enforcing a strict freeze on family reunification. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière justified the step saying that “the number of refugees is so high that we simply cannot accommodate numerous family members.”

Sigmar Gabriel, German Vice Chancellor and leader of the SPD, told broadcaster ARD that his party had not been consulted. “It was never discussed,” he said, “No one can demand that the SPD responds with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to proposals within 24 hours… The left hand of the government doesn’t know what the right is doing anymore.”  Meanwhile, the latest Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag puts the anti-immigration AfD on 9%, tying with the hard-left Die Linke. The CDU/CSU Union is on 36%, the SPD on 26%, the Greens on 10% and the FDP on 4%. Separately, a new Maurice de Hond poll shows that Geert Wilders’ far right anti-immigrant party in the Netherlands is polling at 25% – its highest level ever.

The Times reports that the EU is preparing to tell Berlin that it’s “time to get tough on migrants,” with European Council President Donald Tusk saying in an interview with Die Welt, “For Germany, European leadership responsibility also means controlling Europe’s external borders if necessary.” Meanwhile, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that Pakistan has temporarily suspended an agreement to accept migrants being deported back from the EU, accusing the latter of “manifest abuse.”

Source: Open Europe Blog FR Online Handelsblatt Spiegel Online Süddeutsche Zeitung

Pension liabilities for retired EU officials and MEPs hit £42bn

The Times reports that the estimated pension and sickness insurance liabilities for retired EU officials and MEPs last year reached £42bn, an increase of £8.6bn compared with 2013. A spokesman for the European Commission said the large increase was caused by a “significant decrease in the interest rate” caused by Eurozone quantitative easing policies. The cost of servicing these pensions – paid out from the EU’s annual budget – will go up by 5.2% in 2016 taking the annual bill to £1.6bn. The average pension currently paid to retired officials is over £3,000 a month and the average age at retirement is 61.9 years. Open Europe’s Pawel Swidlicki is quoted as saying that “The spiralling bill for EU officials’ pensions is the legacy of years of inefficient management and overly generous terms and conditions. The UK and many other countries have introduced tough reforms to make public sector pensions sustainable. It is high time the EU follows suit.”

Source: The Times

Goldman Sachs: Economic case for UK staying in EU “pretty compelling”

Andrew Wilson, the CEO of Goldman Sachs’s European investment business, has said that “the economic argument for [the UK] staying in the EU is pretty compelling” – warning that a Brexit would damage the UK economy. The Financial Times notes that Mr Wilson’s views contrast with those of several senior hedge fund managers that have recently intervened in the EU referendum debate.

Source: Open Europe Intelligence The Financial Times

Greece still at odds with creditors over bad loans ahead of Eurogroup meeting

Greece has yet to reach agreement with its international lenders over the treatment of non-performing loans at Greek banks, despite a conference call of the Euro Working Group of Eurozone officials being held yesterday. The disagreement is holding up the release of part of the first tranche of Greece’s third EU/IMF bailout loan. Eurozone finance ministers will meet today. French Finance Minister Michel Sapin told reporters this morning, “Greece is…scrupulously respecting the July agreement. One thorny issue remains: the seizure of homes for households who can’t pay their debts. I want an agreement to be reached today. France wants an agreement today.”

Source: Kathimerini Reuters

UK Parliament to vote on whether UK signs up to EU-wide criminal records database

The Mail on Sunday reported that under a new Home Office plan, the UK will opt into the EU’s Prüm database giving UK police forces ability to track down foreign suspects by giving them access to millions of fingerprints, DNA databases and car registration records held across Europe, as well as the records of fingerprints taken from asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Europe. The report notes that 15% of all arrests in the UK are of foreign nationals, a proportion which rises to over 30% in London, and at the moment the UK has to follow a “poorly defined and cumbersome” process between the National Crime Agency and Interpol to get data from foreign forces with DNA results taking on average 143 days to come back. However, The Daily Telegraph reports that the Home Office report also flipside of signing up to Prüm could be a “high volume” of demands from foreign forces an increased risk of innocent Britons being accused of crimes since some EU countries use lower quality DNA matching criteria than the UK. Parliament is due to vote on whether to opt in or not by the end this year.

Source: The Times The Daily Telegraph

EU plans to extend Russian sanctions for additional six months

According to Handelsblatt, EU leaders are planning to agree on the extension of sanctions against Russia for an additional six month at the upcoming European Council  summit in December. The paper cites a German government official as saying, “There is no reason for the lifting of sanctions,” as Russia made no progress on implementing the Minsk agreement.

Source: Handelsblatt

Portuguese left-wing parties set to oust PM-designate in confidence vote tomorrow

The Portuguese Communist Party announced on Friday that it had sealed a pact with the Socialist Party to back a government led by the latter. This means Pedro Passos Coelho, the centre-right Prime Minister-designate, now looks very likely to lose a confidence vote in the Portuguese parliament tomorrow and will therefore have to resign. Portuguese Socialist leader António Costa has said “the conditions are in place” for a left-wing government to stay in office for the full four-year term. However, the details of the pact remain unclear – with Portuguese media reporting that the deal does not include an explicit commitment by either the Communist Party or the Left Bloc to approving the annual budgets tabled by the Socialist Party.

Source: The Financial Times Diário de Notícias

Catalan separatist parties set to defy Spanish government over independence process

Catalonia’s regional parliament is this morning expected to approve a motion tabled by Catalan separatist parties – which together command an absolute majority of seats – marking the official beginning of the political process towards independence. The Spanish government has already said that it will take the motion to the Spanish Constitutional Court, demanding that it be annulled.

Source: El Mundo

Open Europe’s EU reform heat-map: Where do EU countries stand on the UK’s EU reform demands?

David Cameron will tomorrow send his much-anticipated letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, laying out his EU reform and renegotiation demands. Ahead of the release, Open Europe has published a new ‘EU reform heat-map’, assessing how each EU member state might react to the key reform proposals likely to be included in the letter. Open Europe based its assessment on public statements made by politicians – where available – and on insights gathered from conversations with officials and diplomats from various EU member states. Our research suggests that Ireland, the Netherlands and the Nordics are likely to be the most supportive of the UK’s EU reform agenda. At the opposite end, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain could be among the hardest to win over for Cameron. Overall, our heat-map shows that the renegotiation is not going to be easy – but all is still to play for.

Open Europe’s briefing was trailed by The Sunday Times – which also reproduced the map. Today, it also featured in the Financial Times, The Daily Mail, City AM, a leader in The Daily Telegraph, EUObserver and Politico’s daily Brussels Playbook. Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta is quoted by the Financial Times as saying, “The vast majority of [EU] states are open-minded but remain to be convinced.” Open Europe co-Director Raoul Ruparel is quoted by City AM as saying, “Cameron has a lot of work to do to explain what he wants…While other [EU] countries might be supportive, they are not necessarily going to go out and bang the drum for him.”

To see a high-resolution version of our EU reform heat-map, click here.