15 December 2015

Italy backs UK on need for different levels of integration within the EU

In a joint op-ed published by The Daily Telegraph and La Repubblica, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond write, “Italy and the UK both believe we can work together on an EU reform package that deals with specific issues such as the role of national parliaments, competitiveness, economic governance and welfare, in order to make the EU simpler, more efficient and less bureaucratic. This renegotiation, prompted by the UK reform agenda, is an opportunity to create a more competitive, democratically accountable and flexible EU.”

They go on to argue, “Italy and the UK believe that the way to reconcile different visions of the EU among the member states is to embrace a new model of its functioning, based on the flexibility to manage greater or lesser integration. This is an approach that – de facto – has already been put in practice since the creation of the euro… A successful EU will be one which can combine these different visions of Europe and embrace that diversity. We need a flexible, reformed EU in which different paths of integration can coexist successfully to build a Europe fit for the future. This is what we are working together to achieve.”

Source: The Daily Telegraph: Hammond and Gentiloni

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House of Commons’ EU scrutiny committee warns Government over EU treaty changes

The House of Commons’ European Scrutiny Committee has warned that the “binding and irreversible” reform of the EU being sought by Prime Minister David Cameron would require EU treaty changes, and that such changes would not be ratified by other member states before the UK’s referendum. No 10 agreed that some of the “legally binding, irreversible” changes being demanded will need treaty changes. However, a spokesman said this did not need to happen before a referendum, which must be held by the end of 2017.

The Committee’s report also criticised the lack of transparency in the renegotiation process. “We consider the approach adopted by the Government to be reactive and opaque. It places the onus on parliament to guess when to request information and evidence, without information about the progress of the negotiations”, the report said.

Source: The Financial Times The Daily Telegraph BBC News The Times Reuters HoC Scrutiny Committee

New EU referendum polls put ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ neck-and-neck

A new Survation poll published by The Daily Express found that 42% of respondents want to leave the EU, while 40% want to stay in and 18% are undecided. Once undecided voters are discounted, 51% back the UK leaving the EU and 49% are in favour of remaining. According to a separate ICM poll published by The Daily Telegraph, 42% of respondents would vote to stay in the EU – with 41% voting to leave. Once undecided voters are taken out of the total, the poll shows a 50/50 split between the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ camps.

Meanwhile, writing on Conservative Home, Isabel Oakeshott reports that talks between the two rival Leave campaigns – Leave.EU and Vote Leave – have collapsed, meaning that they will compete with one another to be recognised as the official Leave campaign by the Electoral Commission. Key points of contention reportedly included the roles played by Leave.EU founder Arron Banks and UKIP leader Nigel Farage as well as the prominence given to the immigration question in the campaign.

Source: The Daily Express The Daily Mail The Daily Telegraph Conservative Home: Oakeshott

Lords back down on votes at 16 in the EU referendum

A second attempt by Labour peers to amend the Government’s EU Referendum Bill in order to grant 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU failed yesterday, as the House of Lords rejected the proposed amendment by 263 votes to 246. The vote clears the way for the Bill to become law within days, meaning that David Cameron would be able to hold the referendum in June 2016 if he manages to finalise his EU renegotiation at the February European Council summit.

Source: BBC News The Daily Mail The Independent

Poland criticises European Commission’s plan for beefed-up border agency

Poland has criticised the European Commission’s plan to establish a new border agency with greater powers to patrol the borders of countries within the border-free Schengen area – of which the UK is not a member. Under the proposal, the Commission would have the final say over whether to deploy border guards when countries are unable to police their borders properly. Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said, “Strengthening Frontex, creating a kind of border guard would by all means be needed, beneficial. But the way the Commission has proposed it – for it to be a structure independent from nation states – is astounding. There would be an undemocratic structure reporting to no one knows who.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Merkel receives strong backing for her refugee policy at CDU party conference

German Chancellor Angela Merkel received overwhelming support for her refugee policy at the annual conference of her conservative CDU party yesterday. A key resolution outlining the party’s strategy on how to handle the refugee flow into Germany has been passed nearly unanimously by all delegates, despite strong internal party criticism voiced in the previous weeks. In her keynote speech, Merkel said, “We want to and will considerably reduce the number of refugees” – but rejected calls that Germany take more aggressive unilateral action, such as setting an ‘upper limit’ on the number of refugees allowed to enter the country.

Source: Süddeutsche Zeitung Süddeutsche Zeitung: Denkler Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Kohler Die Welt

Poland demands apology from European Parliament President over ‘coup’ remarks

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło yesterday demanded that European Parliament President Martin Schulz apologise after the latter told German public radio Deutschlandfunk that the recent political developments in Poland – relating to the appointment of judges to the country’s Constitutional Court – had “the character of a coup.” Szydło dismissed the remarks as “unjustified”, and added, “Something is wrong when the European Parliament President expresses his opinion in this way about a member state.”

Source: Bloomberg

Greece confirms €1.2bn privatisation of 14 regional airports

Greece yesterday confirmed the €1.2bn privatisation of 14 regional airports. Infrastructure Minister Christos Spirtzis said he “continues to disagree” with the deal, despite signing it. The Greek parliament is expected to pass another package of reforms this evening that should pave the way for the disbursement of the next €1bn tranche of Greece’s third EU/IMF bailout loan. However, controversial pension increases and tax changes have once again been delayed.

Source: Kathimerini The International New York Times The Financial Times