quinta-feira, 7 de outubro de 2010
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – A group of EU commissioners from smaller member states is growing increasingly angry with a number of their larger-state colleagues, perceiving their actions as being driven by national interests rather than the greater European good.
"We have sworn in front of the European Court not to work for our national governments back home and I am taking it seriously," a frustrated commissioner from a smaller EU country said in an off-the-record conversation last week.
"Of course it is much easier when you come from a small member state where national leaders don't really attempt to influence the course of EU history," the commissioner added.
The implication that EU legislation is subject to the whims of powerful national capitals such as Berlin, Paris or Rome is nothing new. But the financial crisis and an enlarged union with greater powers for the Brussels-based institutions are all contributing to growing pressure, say seasoned observers.
"The bigger the EU becomes the more it becomes intergovernmental and the more the commission is regarded as an executive secretariat for the council," says Belgian MEP Derk Jan Eppink, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in parliament.
Author of Life of a European Mandarin – Inside the Commission, Mr Eppink previously worked in the cabinets of former commissioner Frits Bolkestein and subsequently that of Siim Kallas.
"Commissioners from larger member states frequently feel they have to produce the goods for their governments back home, while those from smaller countries realise they don't have the capacity to do this," he said, pointing to former commissioner Gunter Verheugen's willingness to stand up for German industry.
Another official identified issues of public procurement, state aid and EU infringement cases as areas where national lobbying is frequently intense.
"Senior Italian officials within the commission are known for arguing their national case overtly," the contact said. The source added that the practice of defending a member state view is not necessarily "anti-European," as it can prevent blockages further down the EU legislative pipeline.
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - An acrimonious EU-China summit on Wednesday (6 October) ended with a cancelled press conference and a stark warning from China not to increase pressure over its currency valuation.
"I say to Europe's leaders - don't join the chorus pressing [China] to revalue the yuan," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told a business forum taking place in the margins of the political summit in Brussels.
"Many of our exporting companies would have to close down, migrant workers would have to return to their villages," Mr Wen added. "If China saw social and economic turbulence, then it would be a disaster for the world".
The unscripted comments came a day after a trio of Europe's top economic officials including Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker called on Beijing to allow the yuan to appreciate, arguing that its undervaluation threatened to derail the eurozone's economic recovery and indirectly hurt Chinese exporters.
Mr Juncker is among those warning that the world must step back from its current trajectory towards a 'currency war' where governments seek to give their exporters an upper hand through currency devaluations.
Already this year, governments from countries including Brazil, Japan, Switzerland, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand have intervened to weaken their currencies in a bid to remain competitive.
Beijing announced in June that it would break the yuan's currency peg, but since then it has risen just over two percent against the dollar, and has fallen more than nine per cent against the euro.
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU trade commissioner Karel de Gucht on Thursday (7 October) announced a series of trade concessions to help Pakistan combat the effects of its devastating August floods.
Under the preferential terms, first to be agreed by the WTO and then by member states and the EU parliament, some 75 goods would be freed of import tariffs.
Accounting for 27 percent of Pakistan's exports to the bloc, the bulk of the products are textiles reflecting Pakistan's domestic strengths. Others products that are to be tariff-free for the three year period are industrial ethanol, some footwear and some leather goods.
The measures are expected to boost EU imports from Pakistan by around €100 million a year. They come on top of the €300 million in humanitarian aid already pledged by the EU late summer.
Mr de Gucht called it a "very courageous proposal" that will be of "considerable help" to the Pakistani economy. He added that it was a "fair" outcome with Pakistan having originally indicated it wanted a wider range of products to be tariff-free.
Pakistan is still struggling to fight the effects of the heavy monsoon rains in July and August. The rising waters left around 2000 dead and, according to UN figures, made around 21 million homeless.
Despite it being considered to have been the world's greatest natural disaster, the aid response was relatively slow, a fact seen as aggravated by the remoteness of some of the areas affected as well as the slow build up to the crisis.
The EU's concessions to the country were themselves part of a carefully orchestrated compromise. European textile manufacturers, predominantly based in Italy, Spain and Portugal, argued ahead of Thursday's announcements that the reduced import tariffs for Pakistani textiles would result in large job losses in the European sector.
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - 'Nothing is certain but death and taxes' goes the saying, with a new proposal from the European Commission designed to get the European financial sector to pay more of the latter.
As cash-strapped governments cast around in search of new funding sources, Thursday's (7 October) non-legislative communication from the commission weighs up the viability and potential revenue gains to be made from a financial transactions tax (FTT) and a financial activities tax (FAT).
"We must make sure that the financial sector is making a contribution to public finances," said the EU's taxation commissioner Algirdas Semeta. "This is especially important due to its receipt of support during the financial crisis".
The financial sector in Europe and elsewhere is currently exempt from paying Value Added Tax (VAT).
In its paper, the commission advocates EU support for the FTT at the global level, but reiterates recent comments made by ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet that a unilateral European attempt to push ahead with the tax would result in firms moving their financial transactions to a different jurisdiction.
Swedish attempts to introduce a similar tax in the 1980s caused a sharp decline in the trading of certain financial products within its borders, with Stockholm now one of the leading EU opponents of the tax. Others argue that the issue of relocation is overblown.
London is also a strong opponent to the tax however, with studies showing the City would bear the brunt of a European FTT due to the huge volume of trades that take place inside the square mile. US opposition is also seen as a major stumbling block to its eventual implementation.
Conversely, France and Germany are vocal supporters of the measure, popular among many voters and NGOs as a means to raise badly needed funds to fight poverty and climate change.
Reacting to the publication, the European Trade Union Confederation said it was deeply disappointed. The plans are "unsatisfactory in that they deflect from the aim of taxing short-termist, highly speculative transactions based on high speed trading that do not serve the needs of the real economy," said general secretary, John Monks.
Commission estimates put the potential revenues from an FTT at between €20-150 billion per year in the EU. This compares with the estimated €25 billion that could be generated from a more conventional five percent financial activities tax, a measure the commission believes could be implemented at European level without running the risk of relocation.