Angela Merkel told Barack Obama that “spying on friends doesn’t work” after Der Spiegel alleged that her phone had been tapped by US intelligence agencies. It was reported that Merkel was convinced that the research was plausible and substantial enough to demand clarification from the White House, and the German foreign minister has called the US ambassador to a personal meeting to discuss the allegations. Le Monde also reported that NSA internal memos showed evidence that the US had spied on French diplomats in America and at the UN.
The scandal is threatening to overshadow this week’s European Council summit. The agenda focuses on efforts to consolidate Europe’s economic recovery, digital economy, innovation and services, jobs, and migration from Africa and the Middle East following the Lampedusa shipwreck tragedy. Earlier in the week, the European Parliament moved to secure data privacy and curb transfers with the US.
Member states agreed that negotiations with Turkey about EU accession would resume on 5 November. The discussions were originally scheduled for June, but were postponed after the violent police response to anti-government protests in Istanbul and other Turkish cities. Turkish accession has been a slow process – the country was awarded candidate status in 1999, but progress has been stalled by Member State objections, particularly from Cyprus. Turkey’s human rights record is also a regular sticking point. Continue reading
MEPs released a statement on the escalating situation in Turkey, stating their concern at the “disproportionate and excessive use of force by Turkish police to break up peaceful and legitimate protests”. A resolution was passed warning against the use of harsh measures against peaceful protesters, and said prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan must take a unifying and conciliatory position. However Erdoğan has said that he does not recognise the EP’s decision as binding over Turkey.
The European Parliament also endorsed rules that introduce common procedures and deadlines for handling asylum applications and basic rights for asylum seekers arriving in the EU, to iron out differences between national asylum procedures. Required minimum reception conditions include a defined shortlist of grounds for detaining asylum seekers, a guarantee of decent detention conditions, and an early assessment of asylum seekers’ medical needs. The rules also allow for Europol to access a database of asylum seekers’ fingerprints. Continue reading
On Monday 15 out of 27 Member States voted for a two-year ban on pesticides thought to be harmful to bees, giving the Commission the final say on whether to approve the ban. It was passed despite fierce lobbying from chemical companies and opposition from eight Member States. The ban proposes to restrict the use of three neonicotinoids on plants and cereals attractive to bees and has divided the scientific community. Although it is argued that the ban is necessary to gauge whether bee colonies recover in the absence of these pesticides and create a strategy for the bees’ survival, some observers are worried that farmers will resort to using older pesticides that are damaging to other species.
Speculation was that the ECB will cut interest rates, reducing its key interest rate to a new record low from the current 0.75%. Data released earlier in the week indicated that German manufacturing shrank in April, and the ECB will likely seek to boost growth in other troubled Eurozone economies. Continue reading
The EU’s full ban on testing cosmetics on animals came into force. As from Monday cosmetics tested on animals cannot be marketed in the EU. The Commission, having considered the impacts of the marketing ban, decided the development of cosmetics does not warrant animal testing.
Italy has been dominating European news this week. The country is in a diplomatic crisis with India after refusing to return two Italian marines who have been charged in India with the murder of two fishermen. The men had been allowed to visit their home country in order to vote in last month’s elections, but were ordered to return within four weeks to face trial. As the incident took place in international waters, Italy believes India has no jurisdiction. On Wednesday India’s Supreme Court ordered the Italian ambassador to not leave the country. Continue reading
This week the horsemeat scandal reached European proportions. German supermarkets pulled frozen lasagne off shelves after horsemeat was detected in it, which follows panic over processed meats in the UK, France and Sweden. The supply chain of the tainted meat involves 16 countries and stems from Romanian abattoirs through to Cyprus and France. The EU Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, called for member states to carry out DNA tests on processed beef for three months from March onwards. States were also urged to test for traces of the equine veterinary medicine phenylbutazone, which is thought to be harmful to humans.
An Italian journalist got the scoop on Pope Benedict XVI’s impending retirement as she understood Latin. Other reporters at what appeared to be a routine papal announcement on Monday had to wait for the Vatican’s official translations in Italian and English, but Giovanna Chirri understood the magnitude of a short announcement and broke the story. The Pope’s sudden resignation on health grounds surprised clergy around the world. Continue reading
The European Parliament voted for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The reforms include the end of discards – the practice of throwing unwanted dead fish back into the sea to avoid exceeding the quotas which were introduced in the 1980s in an attempt to reduce overfishing and preserve fish stocks. Suggested new measures which were rejected included a plan to introduce “catch shares” that could be traded amongst fleets. The new regime has an eco-friendly focus based on “maximum sustainable yield” and will take effect in 2014. Predictably, UK tabloids have printed scaremongering articles about the reform of the CFP, with Defra publishing a statement reassuring the public that British sovereignty of its seabed will not be the slightest bit affected. Continue reading
The Commission announced that it would be taking action against 17 Member States that have a persistently poor air quality record. There are particular concerns about levels of PM10 airborne particles, which are airborne pollutant emissions from industry, traffic and domestic heating, in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia and Slovenia. Also, the World Health Organisation published a review that found long-term exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) can trigger atherosclerosis, adverse birth outcomes and childhood respiratory diseases. A review of the EU’s air policy is currently underway, and the Commission aims to use the latest findings as a basis for new guidance.
On Monday a crucial stage was reached in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Reforms that have been passed focus on sustainable measures through soil and landscape preservation and natural resources, unlike the scheme it is replacing which was heavily geared towards production. Continue reading
Statistics for Euro area trade at the end of last year were released. In November 2012 the trade in goods balance with the the rest of the world gave a €13.7bn surplus, up on €4.9bn from November 2011. The EU27 goods balance for the same period showed a €1.7bn deficit, compared to a €9.8bn deficit in 2011. Exports to most major partners grew in 2012 – particularly exports to South Korea, Russia, Japan, the USA, and Brazil.
MEPs called for the Commission to introduce common rules relating to carry-on luggage. Speakers urged more stringent regulation of hand luggage rules in order to “protect consumers from the abusive commercial practices that airlines use to generate extra income”. However, Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht was not in favour of more regulatory action, stating that the Commission sees the variation in luggage restrictions as the “reflection of diversity in a very competitive market”.
National parliaments within the EU responded to the Commission’s proposals to introduce gender quotas on corporate boards. Under the Lisbon Treaty, parliaments are entitled to provide their opinion on whether motions adopted by the Commission are in accordance with the subsidiarity principle. Six countries (the Czech Republic, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK) have stated their objections. However, the green light from the remaining 21 countries means the EC can proceed with drafting laws that would ensure publicly-listed companies have at least 40% women among their non-executive directors.
On Monday the entire Ukraine government resigned. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov handed in his resignation following an election which raised concerns about democratic standards under the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych, and under Ukrainian law whenever the prime minister resigns, the whole government must follow suit. Azarov’s resignation has led to speculation that he will be replaced with someone more favourable to the IMF. The head of Ukraine’s central bank said:
“A new prime minister will (find it) easier to build rapport with the IMF as they will not be encumbered by previous statements about Ukraine’s lack of desire to implement the requisite measures to meet IMF conditionality.”
Later in the week Ukraine’s government bond rating was downgraded to B3, primarily due to a “downward revision of the country’s institutional strength”. Other concerns were the country’s poor record of data transparency, the economy’s weak outlook, and low foreign exchange reserves. Continue reading
The much-hyped budget talks were abandoned, after a second compromise attempt to reconcile completely opposing positions on cuts failed. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, insisted that it would still be feasible to find a compromise at the beginning of next year, and warned that the cost of no agreement would be too high for both the EU and all member states. Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt had compared the atmosphere at the budget summit to that of a “Turkish bazaar”, where everyone needed to show they fought for a good deal, even though the sum is tiny compared to what national budgets are.
Reports differed on the Catalan elections – some argue that separatists lost territory and had overestimated public support for nationalist policies, whereas others predict a possible referendum on Catalan independence through an alliance between right and left wing republican parties. Political analyst Germa Capdevila told The Independent:
“These elections haven’t solved anything.” Continue reading