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⁂ French Europe Minister – We want a single EU military HQ; plus – gravy train, directive costs, lack of confidence

French Europe Minister: We want a single EU military HQ

French Europe Minister Bruno Le Maire has announced in an interview with French radio that France wants the EU to have its own single defence headquarters, autonomous of NATO. He said: “While it may be a difficult objective, in time we will need to have a single military command for the European Union, a European staff headquarters which could be installed for example in Brussels, and which would allow us to command European operations wherever European security interests are at stake. Today there are three staff headquarters which do that: one in England, one in France, one in Germany. I think it would be more logical, more reasonable and also more economic for public money to have a single operational headquarters.”

He admitted it would be “very difficult” to convince Britain of the need for a single headquarters, which has for years blocked the creation of a proper permanent EU military headquarters, because of the risk of duplicating NATO structures. But, Mr. Le Maire said, with the return of France into the integrated military structures of NATO, “we can no longer be accused (…) of doing it against NATO because we are now fully in NATO.”

Meanwhile, Le Figaro reports that Le Maire has said that he wants a “politically strong Europe, with an autonomous defence force, which is responsible and advocates financial regulation”. Le Maire also said that Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidency of the EU has changed Europe for the better and he hopes that Sarkozy will become involved in the election campaign. He argued that the French Socialist Party is “neither honest nor responsible” and wants to transform European issues into national issues.

AFP Le Figaro Open Europe blog

MEPs create new scheme allowing them to claim £257 for each journey to work;
Taxpayers to fund £100m hole in MEP pension fund created by financial crisis

The Mail reports that from June MEPs will be able to claim up to £257 per journey under a ‘duration allowance’ which reimburses them for the time spent travelling between their homes and European Parliament buildings. The article notes that this comes on top of free business class travel to anywhere in the EU and a ‘distance allowance’ – which is supposed to cover the cost of meals, taxis and any other expenses incurred while travelling.

There is also further coverage of the revelations on Tuesday that the European Parliament has guaranteed that all MEPs who are members of the institution’s voluntary supplementary pension scheme will receive their full entitlements even though the fund currently has a deficit of ¤120 million because of the financial market crash. According to the Mail, between £35 and £50 million was allegedly lost in the Bernie Madoff debacle. According to the Telegraph, the European Parliament’s authorities are expected to bypass a decision by its budget control committee not to bail out the scheme in order to “honour legal requirements”, meaning that additional taxpayers’ money could be used in future to cover the deficit.

The Telegraph notes that two thirds of the optional extra pension is paid for in supplementary payments by the taxpayer. MEPs pay £1,052 (€1,194) a month into the scheme. That cash is added to by a publicly funded payment of £2,104 (€2,388). MEPs, on reaching retirement age, can expect an extra pension benefit, on top of generous national schemes, worth an annual £14,736 for every five year term of office. An MEP benefiting from the perk can net a combined pension of over £35,000 after just 10 years in office.
The management of the supplementary pension fund has repeatedly been criticised since 1999 by the European Court of Auditors, which questioned the legality of the scheme.

Telegraph: Waterfield blog

Costs of EU directive on biofuel to be passed on to motorists

The Times reports that the EU’s directive on biofuels, recently passed as part of the EU’s climate and energy package, will raise the cost of motoring for drivers. The EU rules state that 13 per cent of petrol and diesel fuels need to be derived from biofuel by 2020. Oil companies have had to spend more than £100 million in the past year on adapting refineries and storage facilities to cope with biofuels. The paper notes that the costs of complying with the EU directive will increase sharply over the next five years and most of the cost will be passed on to drivers.
A Friends of the Earth report this week said that biofuels could increase emissions because forests were being cut down to clear land for crops.


Confidence in EU institutions at an all time low ahead of European elections

El País reports that public confidence in EU institutions has plummeted with the economic crisis and that record levels of abstention predicted for the European elections threaten Europe’s future. According to the Eurobaromoter survey, in Spain only 27% of the electorate are likely to vote, and yet in 1987, the year after Spain joined the EU, turnout was at 69%.
Le Figaro has published an article by Jean-Dominique Giuliani from the Fondation Robert-Schuman analysing the European elections. Entitled “A Parliament in search of credibility”, the article highlights voter apathy and explains that while the electorate demands more transparency and proximity to EU issues, the majority of French citizens prefer national politics. He argues that the candidates chosen by political parties and the size of the constituencies contribute to the nationalisation of European elections. However he also emphasises how the Parliament has become increasingly powerful and influential.
In article in the Independent looking at the European elections, Adrian Hamilton writes that the expected low voter turnout “is an indication of just how little the great European experiment has impressed itself upon the consciousness of the ordinary citizen.”
He writes that, with a resurgence of the Franco-German axis, evident at the G20 summit, and with the recession testing the EU’s ability to co-operate, “All of a sudden Europe has become an interesting place, although you won’t have any reflection of that when voters come to choose their European candidate in June.”

El País Independent: Hamilton Le Figaro


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