28 January 2015

New Greek government rebukes EU leaders over statement threatening further sanctions on Russia

European leaders yesterday issued a statement noting the “evidence of continued and growing support given to the [Ukrainian] separatists by Russia” and said they would “consider” applying “further restrictive measures”. However, Dimitrios Tzanakopolous, a senior aide to new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, said the statement “was circulated without having followed the correct procedure for ensuring the consent of member states and, in particular, without ensuring Greece’s consent.” A spokesman for European Council President Donald Tusk hit back saying, “It was our understanding that the statement had been agreed by all [on Monday] evening.”

Separately, Spiegel Online reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama agreed in a phone call to provide further aid to Ukraine – a topic which EU finance ministers also discussed at their meeting yesterday. However, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said any further aid to Ukraine would be “linked to Ukraine also making efforts to talk to its creditors about an extension of maturities, so a kind of debt restructuring.”

Source: European Council statement The Wall Street Journal Spiegel Online Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Süddeutsche Zeitung

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Ministers and MEPs set to clash over anti-terrorism plan to collect flight data

The Guardian reports that the European Commission will today present plans to collect and store for up to five years personal data records of all passengers flying in and out of the EU. The Commission describes the proposal as a “workable compromise” between national interior ministers and the European Parliament, which blocked the plan nearly two years ago. In the wake of the Charlie Hébdo attack in Paris, national ministers recently issued a statement saying that there was a “crucial and urgent need” for the system. However, Jan Philipp Albrecht, vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, said, “It is an open breach of fundamental rights to blanketly retain all passenger data.”

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New Greek cabinet readies for debt showdown with Eurozone partners

New Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras yesterday unveiled his new cabinet with a number of academics taking senior ministerial positions. The number of ministers has been cut to 10, from 22, although the overall size of the cabinet is 41 compared to 47 previously. Meanwhile, Greece’s new Economy Minister George Stathakis told Italian magazine East Online, “Under the existing agreements, the primary surplus target to meet our commitments on [public] debt reduction is fixed at 4.5% of GDP. We will request that it be put at 2% [of GDP]. This would allow us to use the remaining 2.5% to create new investment.” The government has also confirmed that it will halt the privatisation of state utility company PPC. Separately, Greece’s four largest banks have seen their market value fall by over a fifth since the election.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that he does not only exclude a Greek debt haircut, but also a further credit line extension or interest rate reduction, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. At a CDU/CSU group meeting yesterday German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly described the discussion over Greek debt relief as “incredible” pointing out that the Eurozone has already granted Greece low interest rates and delayed the repayment of loans until after 2020. Their position was broadly backed by Thomas Oppermann, Chairman of the SPD group in the Bundestag. “It’s totally clear that we’re not going to come up with a special assistance program to finance expensive campaign gifts”, he said.

The Guardian Live Blog quoted extensively from Open Europe’s blog analysis of the new Greek cabinet. The Daily Mail quotes Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta as saying that, for the academics holding key posts in the new Greek government, “proving that their theories can be applied to the current political and economic reality will be a tough test.” Portuguese business daily Diário Económico quotes Open Europe’s Raoul Ruparel as saying that “any significant write-down [of Greek debt] will be hard to achieve.” The BBC and The Times reproduced Open Europe’s infographic breaking down who holds Greek debt. Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe writes on Dutch news site FTM.nl, “European politicians have now received the bill for kicking the can down the road since 2010.”

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AfD Vice-chairman: No more immigration from the Middle East

Alexander Gauland, Vice-chairman of Germany’s anti-euro party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), has told Tagesspiegel that immigration from the Middle East should be stopped, arguing, “We should not encourage the immigration of people who are completely foreign to our cultural tradition…I don’t want any more immigration from this culture.” Separately, research by German politics show Report Mainz has found that violence against migrants and asylum-seekers has more than doubled in three months since the first Pegida ‘anti-Islamisation’ march took place in Germany last October.

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Vince Cable: UK has secured EU guarantee that TTIP will not threaten NHS

The Financial Times reports that UK Business Secretary Vince Cable has told the Cabinet that TTIP, the EU-US free trade deal currently under negotiation, would not lead to the privatisation of the NHS – as he had secured a guarantee from the EU’s chief negotiator Ignacio García Bercero to protect publicly-funded health services in Europe from any potential challenges.

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Dutch central banker may be called before parliament to explain opposition to ECB QE

The Dutch governing parties – the VVD and the PvDA – have suggested that they could support a demand by the opposition CDA party for Dutch Central Bank Governor Klaas Knot to appear at a hearing of the Dutch Lower House of Parliament to explain his opposition to ECB Quantitative Easing.

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EU Commissioner: France must implement reforms, not only “pay lip service to them”

European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen told Stuttgarter Zeitung that France will only get “postponement of deficit reduction, while implementing structural reforms. The French government must demonstrate that it will get all its nice plans through the national assembly – and not only pay lip service to them.” Meanwhile, according to new data released yesterday, the number of jobseekers without any work in France went up by 8,100 in December and reached nearly 3.5 million at the end of 2014 – a new record high.

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Tensions within Renzi’s party as Italian Senate approves new electoral law

The Italian Senate, the upper house of the Italian parliament, yesterday approved a new electoral law by 184 to 66 votes. The bill will now return to the lower house for final approval, but will only enter into force in 2016. The new law is designed to ensure that the most voted party in an election holds a strong majority in parliament.

24 senators from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s party did not take part in the vote in protest against the new law, meaning that support from Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party was decisive. Separately, Renzi and Berlusconi will meet today to try and reach an agreement on the name of the new Italian President. The first round of voting will take place tomorrow, but the new President is not expected to be elected until Saturday.

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France asked to pay back €1.1bn of EU farm subsidies

The European Commission has requested that France pay back €1.1bn of EU farm subsidies that were wrongly handed out between 2008 and 2012.

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Open Europe's evening reception to mark guest publication by Janan Ganesh of the Financial Times

Open Europe will host an evening drinks reception to mark the guest publication of ‘From a reluctant European: A memo to the Prime Minister,’ by Janan Ganesh, political columnist at The Financial Times, on Monday 2 February. Find out more here, or email amy@openeurope.org.uk to register to attend.

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