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May 052008

In our previous posting we reported on the rather gloomy outlook of Swedish researchers on the possibility of fundemental reform of the way the EU budget is financed.  The present post will review a contribution to the Budget Review from the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies where researcher Sándor Richter not only reviews the development of the infamous net financial positions as well as the various reform proposals that have been tabled but also presents a radical proposal of his own. In contrast to the attitudes displayed in the surveys undertaken by Swedish Sieps, Richter neither joins those who pretend that the problem will go away of its own nor those who, shrugging their shoulders accept the impossibility of changing the attitudes of the member states.

The study “Facing the Monster of ‘Fair Return’” starts by a review of the actual development of the “net positions” over the period 1997 - 2006. The so called major net payers (Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Austria) achieved a relief in their negative net position as of 2002 through an ad hoc decision that they only would have to pay 25 % of their share of financing the budget shortfall caused by the British Budget Rebate. Whereas this led only to minor positive adjustments for the Netherlands and Germany, Sweden and above all Austria could enjoy substantial reductions in their deficits: the net position of Sweden improved from -0.40 % of GNI in 2001 to -0.28 % in 2006 and that of Austria went from -o.21 to -0.12 % of GNI over the same period. Since the budget shortfalls created by these adjustments had to be covered by other member states, the net positions of Denmark, France, Finland and Italy deteriorated correspondingly. The British net position, which amazingly was positive in 2001 fell to -0.11 % of GNI in 2006. Continue reading »

Apr 162008

In the previous post we presented 5 recent studies by the Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies. In this posting we will have a closer look at document 2008:02 The EU Budget Review: Mapping the Positions of Member States.

The study basically consists of two parts, the first one based on a survey with responses from 167 experts, decision makers and business persons in 23 Member States, the other on country papers, reviewing more or less official positions of 8 member states.

The authors are, of course, very well aware of the lack of representativity and other statistical fallacies of the sample survey. Nevertheless, some very interesting information can be gleaned from the results.

To start with, dissatisfaction was great with present System of Own Resources (the way in which the EU budget is financed). Transparency, autonomy, fairness and efficiency were rated as poor – only “sufficiency” received a somewhat higher rating. The expenditure structure was rated even more harshly.

Interestingly enough, more than 20 % of the respondents would prefer a considerably larger EU budget than 1.5 % of the GNI (the present ceiling is 1.24 % – the actual budgets are as a rule lower than 1 %). Figures in a range of 2 to 15 (!) % Continue reading »

Apr 142008

The Swedish Institute for European Policy Studies (SIEPS) two days ago published no less than 5 different studies as a contribution to the ongoing EU budget review. It is a truly European undertaking with contributions by experts from several countries. The project leader was Mr. Jonas Eriksson, M.Sc.Econ. of SIEPS.

SIEPS has the good sense to publish their reports on-line. Titles and links are given below and we will revert in the coming days to some of the studies, in particular, “The EU Budget Review: Mapping the Position of Member States“, a report which is based on a unique enquête of experts as well as country papers.

2008:01 The Purse of the European Union: Setting Priorities for the Future.

2008:02 The EU Budget Review: Mapping the Positions of Member States

2008:03 Can Reforming Own Resources Foster Policy Quality?

2008:04 Turning the EU Budget into an Instrument to Support the Fight against Climate Change.

2008:2epa A Better Budget for Europe: Economically Efficient,
Politically Realistic

(Full disclosure: Your blogger has worked with SIEPS latest with the study From Policy Takers to Policy Makers.)

Apr 092008

A few hours ago, the Austrian Parliament, ratified the Lisbon Treaty as the 8th member state of the Union.  The 155 votes of  Social Democrats, Conservative/Liberals and Greens stood against the 28 votes of the post-fascist FPÖ and BZÖ. The leader of the non-voters ended his speech with the words “Gott schütze Österreich” (God save Austria) which was a direct quotation from Chancellor Schuschnigg’s speech in 1938 when he cancelled a referendum on the national independence of Austria and left the  doors open for the German army which marched into Austria two days later, the beginning of a 7 year Nazi rule of the country.

Needless to say both the leaders of the Social Democrats and the Conservatives were very upset by this allusion. The most forceful rebuttal, however, came from the leader of the Green Party. This Party without hesitation endorsed the Treaty but at the same time made it very clear what kind of changes in Europe they were going to work for.

Even the extra-parliamentarian  and activist group “Attack”  presented an alternative policy for Europe but did in no way demand that Austria should leave the Union.

All this throws a sharp light on the policy of the Swedish Green  Party. As we have reported before, the two spokespersons (they are “chairmen” really) are advocating a change in the EU-policy of the party in order to be able to use the EU cooperation and institutions as a platform for their policy. They are not likely, however, to get the support of the upcoming Party Congress (the official name is more “grass-root” like, but for the moment we have forgotten what it is).  The Steadfast Tin Soldier of this blog (SW) still represents the silent majority of the party. It’s a pity since Sweden would need a modern European friendly party, basically endorsing free markets and in particular small enterprise but with a strong social engagement and, of course, an emphasis on environment and climate change. There would be a great voter potential for such a party, like for instance for the Austrian Greens, whereas the sectarian tendencies of the Swedish party only will marginalize them even further.

(Also, it is an irony, that those who want Sweden to leave the EU, would vote against a Treaty that for the first time would include a procedure for exit.)

Mar 022008

Swedish MEP,  Åsa Westlund, PSE, makes an interesting reflection in a blog posting under the heading “Förlamande vetorätt.” Her starting point is a meeting with the Deputy Chairman of the Swedish delegation to the Council of Europe. The Chairman tells her about the paralyzing impact that the right of veto of each of the 47 member states has on the work of the Council.  The main task of the Council is to safeguard human rights but even countries which are severely lacking in this respect can block the work of the Council on specific issues.

Ms. Westlund or her colleague from the COE do not mention any names. But it may not be coincidental that Le Monde simultaneously carries an article called Malaise au Conseil de l’Europe where the problematic position of Russia is highlighted. Among other things Russia has blocked a change of statutes for the European Court of Human Rights that would have simplified its handling of around 40000 complaints annually, the majority of which concerns Russia. Continue reading »

Feb 202008

Mr. Blair’s apparent candidacy for the not yet created post as the first 2.5 year President of the Council continues to create commotions. The Guardian publishes today an article on the growing anti-Blair movements under the heading “Stop Blair: ambition to lead Europe hits fierce opposition”. However, the scepticism seems to be mainly pronounced among civil servants and perhaps the general public, whereas Blair could count on a “massive support” from Eastern Europe, Italy (under Berlusconi) and, of course, France. The opposition would come from Benelux and, speculates the Guardian, from Germany which obviously would be a formidable obstacle. We have earlier on this blog expressed the view that the Nordic countries are not very likely to put any spokes in the Blair wheel with Denmark likely to give enthusiastic support.

The Parliament Press Review this morning quotes the IHT:

UK prime minister Gordon Brown is seeking to boost his European credentials by paying a symbolic first visit to EU headquarters, more than seven months after taking office, says the IHT.

The paper says that chancellor Angela Merkel and president Nicolas Sarkozy made the trip within days of taking office.

The Guardian mentions the “Stop Blair Petition” but does not link: you can find it here.

Feb 032008

The Former British Premier, Mr. Toni Blair, is being touted as candidate for the first three-year Presidency of the European Council. He has at least one very strong proponent in the French President, Mr. Sarkozy. An article in the Guardian suggests that Mr. Blair is seriously considering a candidacy.

If Mr. Blair would be chosen the Council of Ministers would be headed for at last 3 years by the former leader of a country which is neither a member of the Schengen area, nor of the EMU. Mr. Blair himself is personally responsible for Britain’s opting out of important parts of the Reform Treaty (through which the Presidency post was created!), notably the European Charter on Fundamental Rights and the cooperation in the judiciary areas. (The Foreign Minister of the successor government, Mr. Milliband, strikes a belligerent tone in his defence of “the red lines” intended to protect Britain from European influence.)

The Irish statesman and previous Director General of the WTO, Mr. Peter Sutherland, har recently published an essay Continue reading »