This Sounds A Bit Pie In The Sky

I have just read this (don’t miss the photo):

Constitution, enlargement and budget: Austria hopes to revive Europe with these themes and infuse it with “energy and confidence” when it takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1

Am I reading this aright, he says, scratching the dust from his sleep-ridden eyes. Aren’t the constitution, enlargement and the budget three themes which are absolutely guaranteed not to inspire enthusiasm just at the moment (unfortunately)?

As usual the FT takes me back to the hard world of reality:

Austria intends to make the fight against fraud in value added tax a cornerstone of its European Union presidency, in an effort to end billions of euros of losses in annual revenues at a time of stretched national budgets.

Ah, yes, this sounds much more like it.

Very Difficult Negotiations Lie Ahead

This was Tony Blairs view, that ‘very difficult negotiations lie ahead’ on the EU budget. You bet they do. Just look at the list of proposals:

– a cut in the seven-year EU budget to roughly €850bn, or 1.03 per cent of the union’s GDP;
– Britain would give up part of its rebate: €6bn-€9bn is the working figure used by officials;
– cuts of “no more than 10 per cent” to the €160bn of EU aid earmarked for new members in eastern Europe;
– cuts of about €5bn to rural development aid;
– a review of all EU spending in 2009, including farm support.

Orange Market Status

The European Union has agreed to accord Ukraine market economy status, a move that recognises Ukraine’s reform programme and will obviously mprove the trade relations with the 25 EU member nations.:

The agreement, which will help Ukraine’s steel producers gain access to European markets without being subjected to anti-dumping measures, was announced at a meeting in Kiev between Tony Blair, the British prime minister, Jose Manuel Barroso the European commission president, Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine, and other EU and Ukrainian leaders.

Kurdish TV in Denmark

One of the many reasons I continue to support the Turkish EU accession process is because I think it will be good for human rights and democracy in Turkey, and good for the Kurds. This latest spat between Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and his Danish hosts, is simply another good example of this at work. The pressure is constantly on Turkey.

Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan boycotted a joint press conference with the Danish leader in protest at the presence of a Kurdish TV station on Tuesday (15 November), highlighting European values on free speech.

“There is a fundamental difference between Turkey and Denmark in matters of freedom of expression,” the Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the press conference his Turkish counterpart avoided.

The Turkish prime minister was visiting the Danish capital Copenhagen as the first stop in a tour around EU capitals to discuss the prospects of Turkey’s EU membership. Mr Erdogan stayed away from the press conference in protest at the presence of a journalist from the Danish-based TV channel Roj TV.

Turkey has repeatedly urged Denmark to close the channel, which sends news, entertainment, debate and children’s’ programs to Kurds in Denmark, arguing it is financed by the Kurdish rebel party, the PKK, which is on the EU’s list of terrorist organisations. Danish police are investigating the station, but have not found evidence of links to forbidden organisations so far.

Source: EU Observer

Are They Really Sure About This?

According to the EU Observer this morning:

“The new German government plans to use its 2007 presidency of the EU to revive the ratification of the EU constitution, according to a coalition deal struck on Friday (11 November).”

“We pledge to continue the ratification of the European constitutional treaty after the first half of 2006 and to give new impulses to [the ratification] under the German presidency in the first half of 2007,” the deal reads.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but the unreality of all this really dopes make one want to ask questions about the viability of what’s in the rest of the agreement.

The Choke Point

Well following my speculation yesterday that the suggested de-coupling of the UK rebate issue from agricultural reform might be connected to the implications of the Doha round, news is in today that France last night called for an emergency meeting of European Union ministers to discuss “growing concerns in Paris that Europe will concede too much ground in the Doha round of trade talks“. The FT quotes Mandelson as saying:

We are rapidly approaching the choke point where the different pieces either fall together or fall apart

UK Rebate ‘On The Table’?

EU Politix is reporting UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott as telling a plenary session of the EU’s Committee of the Regions that London is “strongly committed” to finding agreement on the EU budget before the end of 2005. He is quoted as saying “We can not change agriculture in the short term.” and “We have put our abatement on the table. It is not the best way to spend European money”. If confirmed at the actual summit this would be news. This is also being linked to the establishment of some kind of fund to offset the industrial impact of globalisation and offshoring.

However I remain sceptical both on whether there is this dis-connect between the budget and agricultural reform in reality (remember opening talks with Croatia was not – *definitely not* – linked with the agreement to start negotiations with Turkey) and about the advisability of the UK taking this approach. Still, maybe this has something to do with it.

EU Common Circus Policy?

MEPs are soon scheduled to debate a new ‘Common Circus Policy’. This is following the publication of a report: “new challenges for the circus as part of European culture”. Apparently MEPs agree that circuses should be referred to as part of Europe’s cultural heritage, but tend to disagree on whether they should include presentation of animals or not:
At the moment, Austria does not allow circuses to use any wild animals (even in the parliament?), while the Scandinavian countries ban some kinds of animals, such as lions and tigers (hence the more touchy-feely approach to politics there I imagine).

UK and German Retirement Policies Compared

As we all know raising the participation rates of older workers is both essential and a core component of the Lisbon Agenda, so here’s a timely report from the Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society comparing policies directed towards older workers in the UK and Germany. More salacious material to stimulate all you policy wonkers out there. (Hat Tip to David from North Sea Diaries). Looking at the table on page 3 the UK seems to have been a good deal more successful in acieving these objectives over the last decade. In both coutries male participation rates in the 55-64 age group has actually gone down since 1990, with the increase for the group as a whole being a matter of increasing female participation. On the other hand the UK has managed to reverse the 1990 – 2000 downward male trend and between 2000 and 2004 55-64 male participation went up, something which it noticably didn’t do in Germany.

The report concludes that the primary deficit concerning active labour market policies for older unemployed in Germany is the lack of specific targeting of this group both in active job placement and training. In the UK, the scope of active measures is rather limited both with regard to the kind of measures � New Deal 50 plus/New Deal 25 plus � and the level and duration of funding………In the UK � despite a more socially inclusive stance recently � funding of job creation and a broad application of training measures has not taken place so far, given the low intervention character of labour market policies. In Germany, in the wake of recent labour market reforms, a shift in paradigm towards a more activating approach to job placement has been implemented.

In No Hurry

The EU Observer reports today on how some states are decidedly tardy in producing their Lisbon Agenda action plans:

Embassies are due to hand in their national plans, consisting of 30-40 page dossiers with statistical annexes, by the weekend, with EU experts flying back and forth to member states in the past few weeks to help finalise the texts.

France, Sweden and Denmark told EUobserver that they will not make the Saturday deadline however, while question marks hang over Germany and Poland as well.

Paris hopes to send in its document by the end of this month, Stockholm is aiming for 21 October and Denmark for the “next few weeks”, citing delays over the late sitting of parliament and translation back home….

The UK, the Netherlands, Greece, the Czech republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia confirmed that they will get their plans in by the weekend however, with the Czech republic claiming to have had its text finished months ago.

Mind you, we should put all this in some kind of context, according to another EU Observer article the OECD (see this post) is at pains to convince some member states that they really do need to seriously address their early retirement culture!

Europe needs to stop subsidising the early retirement of its citizens, despite social protests caused by pension reforms, according to a new OECD report…….According to the paper, several European countries have been striving to sustain their early retirement culture, introduced in the past as a way to tackle high unemployment among young people