18 March 2016

EU leaders agree to submit watered-down offer to Turkey

EU leaders have agreed on the terms of the draft migrant deal that will be presented to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Brussels today. The latest draft reportedly includes clearer assurances that asylum claims lodged on the Greek islands will be assessed individually – a move aimed at addressing concerns that mass deportations could be carried out under the agreement. Under the proposed deal, the EU would only consider an additional €3bn in funding for Turkey after the first €3bn tranche is fully spent and provided that “the desired results” are achieved. Furthermore, no specific date is mentioned for the re-opening of Turkey’s EU membership talks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters yesterday that the negotiations with the Turkish Prime Minister “will certainly not be easy.” French President François Hollande said, “We are on the right track but we are not there yet. I cannot guarantee a happy ending.” Upon his arrival in Brussels this morning, Davutoğlu said, “All these events show how Turkey-EU relations and Turkish membership of the EU are important not only for Turkey and the EU but also for all international issues…For us, refugees are not a bargaining issue. It’s an issue of values – humanitarian values as well as European values. Turkey has received 2.7 million refugees without any significant assistance from anywhere.”

Meanwhile, according to a survey conducted by the Objective Research Centre,a Turkish pollster, nearly 65% of Turks do not care whether Turkey becomes a member of the EU or not. 15% of respondents said they have no particular opinion on the issue, while only 20% were interested in Turkey’s full EU membership. Separately, The Guardian reports that UK Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday pressed his counterparts for more international patrol ships to start turning back boats of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya. According to a UK Government source, Cameron told other EU leaders that “now we have a Libyan Prime Minister and government we can engage with, we should be starting [such] discussions.”

Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta appeared on Bloomberg Radio this morning, discussing the legal and political challenges posed by the migrant deal the EU is negotiating with Turkey.

Source: Politico The Daily Telegraph The Guardian The Times The Daily Sabah

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EU leaders welcome forthcoming Commission plan on VAT flexibility which paves the way for scrapping of ‘tampon tax’

The European Commission is to put forward proposals next Wednesday that will allow member states greater flexibility in setting VAT rates. The move paves the way for the UK to abolish the 5% VAT charge on women’s sanitary products, known as the ‘tampon tax’. EU leaders welcomed the decision at the European Council summit yesterday although the proposals will still have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers.


European Court of Auditors: EU spending on managing external migration “struggling to demonstrate its effectiveness”

In a new report released yesterday, the European Court of Auditors, the EU’s spending watchdog, criticised the effectiveness of EU spending on external migration policy in neighbouring countries. The report found “a number of spending weaknesses which need to be addressed to improve financial management: complexity of policy objectives and governance, impossibility of measuring policy results, limited success in returning migrants to their countries of origin and coordination problems between different EU bodies and between the European Commission and the Member States.”


Bank of England warns EU referendum uncertainty could delay investment decisions

In a statement published on yesterday following its decision to hold interest rates at the historic low of 0.5%, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee said “there appears to be increased uncertainty surrounding the forthcoming referendum on UK membership of the European Union. That uncertainty is likely to have been a significant driver of the decline in sterling.  It may also delay some spending decisions and depress growth of aggregate demand in the near term.”

Peter Hargreaves, co-founder of stockbroker Hargreaves Lansdown, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning that “I’m firmly convinced, that day – hopefully – we decide to leave, that little bit of insecurity, that little bit of unknown, will be an absolute fillip to everyone.” He added, “When Singapore became independent from Malaysia, that little insecurity that they were no longer part of Malaysia, it was an inspiration. I honestly think that would be good for us too.”

Meanwhile, The Irish Times quoted Open Europe’s blog post on how the effect of a Brexit could be managed in Ireland and Northern Ireland, which noted that the split between Unionist and Nationalist voters in Northern Ireland on Brexit could become an “incredibly divisive issue”.


Alan Johnson: Remain campaign struggling to articulate simple messages

Speaking to Parliament’s ‘House’ magazine, Alan Johnson, the head of Labour’s Remain campaign, said he was “worried” about the outcome of the EU referendum. He claimed that while his side had the stronger arguments, it “can’t find the simple phrases” to get them across to voters. However, he added that “I have faith in the British people that they’re going to be looking for more than soundbites and a bit of patriotic posturing.” He also said that former Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown  was poised to make a “powerful intervention” in the campaign, arguing that “Gordon’s the man who kept us out of the single currency more than anyone else, so we want to deploy him somewhere in the UK rather than just in Scotland.”

In a speech at Liverpool University yesterday, shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham accused Leave campaigners of “peddling a fraudulent form of British patriotism”. He cautioned that Brexit would result in Britain being “instantly diminished as a nation. We would lose influence on the world stage and in the eyes of other countries. Britain would be a lesser force.”


Britain to help Ukraine with military training and intelligence

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain is to sign a new defence pact with Ukraine pledging to help the country with more military training and intelligence amid its confrontation with Russia. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said, “The UK will stand firm with Ukraine as they defend their territorial integrity. This new defence agreement sets out that commitment as we enhance our training of Ukrainian armed forces.”

Meanwhile, US Senator John McCain, the Republican Presidential candidate in 2008, yesterday put out a statement after meeting MPs on the House of Commons Defence Select Committee arguing that “British membership in the EU is a vital contributor to the security and prosperity of Europe and the United States… This is a decision for the British people, but one with profound implications for our common security and our shared values.”

Separately, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe was interviewed by Deutsche Welle, discussing the prospects of visa liberalisation for Ukrainians, arguing that “Even if Ukraine complies with all criteria, I would expect some EU countries to try to prevent it, given the current political climate.”


Catalan President: UK-EU negotiations show EU could adapt itself to independent Catalonia

In an interview with the Financial Times and other European dailies, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont argues, “What does [the discussion around] Brexit show? It shows that the EU has a healthy capacity to adapt and solve conflicts on the basis of Realpolitik. I think it also shows what will be the attitude of the EU to unforeseen situations [like a new Catalan state]. It adapts.” He added, “If Madrid does not want an accord and the majority of Catalans want an independent state, how can you avoid that? In a mature democracy, what is legal is decided by parliament…Our process is legitimised by [the Catalan] parliament and by the ballot box.”

Puigdemont also dismisses the reform of the Spanish Constitution that is being proposed by the Spanish Socialist Party, saying, “This ability to put forward proposals from Madrid that nobody is asking for is peculiar. We don’t want federalism, but the possibility to vote on independence. Then we will accept any outcome [of the referendum].”


CDU set to strike historic deal with Greens in Baden-Württemberg

The Financial Times reports that the Greens and the CDU in Baden-Württemberg are on the verge of agreeing a historic coalition in which the latter will serve as the junior partner, a deal which could set an important precedent for other regions and future national governments. The Greens won Sunday’s regional elections in Baden-Württemberg with 30.3% of the vote ahead of the CDU on 27%, the populist AfD on 15.1% and the SPD on 12.7%.