La Treizième Étoile: 03/01/10 - 10/01/10 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
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Jacques Santer returns to Parliament with hopes 2010 will see a look back to move EU forward

Thursday, 7 January 2010
Jacques Santer, a former Commission president whose administration was the first to resign en masse after allegations of corruption and a Parliamentary motion of censure (later withdrawn), was back in Parliament last week to issue a rallying call for Europe to make 2010 the year it rediscovers its driving ambition last visible back when he was walking these corridors.

Jacques Santer (centre) by ajburgess on FlickrSpeaking at an event this afternoon to relaunch the Groupe Europe, an autonomous cross-party political movement of which he is the President that comprises 20 constituent organisations dedicated to the promotion of a democratic and federal Europe, Mr Santer called for the EU to reflect on its past and reunite to push the EU forward.

"Who would have thought 25-years ago that we would have this amount of Eastern-European countries incorporated in the EU? No-one [..] Who would have thought that a Pole would become the president of the European parliament? No-one," he said.

"We have a lot to celebrate and commemorate, such as the creation of the single currency, the Euro. Who would have thought it would be so strong, even in the current financial crisis? [...] It is the second international currency at the moment but we never would have believed that at the start."

2010 will mark the 60th year since the Schuman Declaration, an event widely seen as the first official step in the foundation of the present EU. With this in mind, Mr Santer said that now is the time to ask why the idea of Europe has lost its drive and its initial momentum.

"The political confidence of our countries on the reasons why we initiated this common project, the characteristics that we can give to its improvements, its common vision, we must re-establish all of these in order to relaunch Europe into the spotlight," he said.

Mr Santer then spoke more bluntly and exclaimed how European institutions do not interest the citizens. The general public, he said, "is simply not interested in the daily workings of the European Parliament or even with their national Parliaments - it is the policies that interests them."

Referring to the public response bought by controversial decisions, he continued "our institutions must mobilise and act together to create such controversies so that Europe can throw its weight and become a real actor on the international stage."

European Parliament by ajburgess on Flickr"The people," he continued, "do not want to be European, especially the youngsters. They do not in 2010 have the same motivation for European construction as we did back in 1950s."

Santer's solution: this is where the civil servants came in. "European civil servants, as well as the unions and the interest groups," he said, "must come together to help regain the EU's public confidence."

"We have to fight, not just for our daily working lives, but for this common vision of Europe that we once had."

Lamenting the disappearance of this ambition he questioned whether Europe had in fact become a victim of its own success, with parliamentarians now devoting much of their time to addressing problems resulting from past initiatives, such as enlargement, the single market and the abolition of internal border controls.

However, while remaining optimistic about the EU’s future, he warned that that 2010 is “a pivotal year, a really important year.”

We now have personalities here that would not have been found in the EU of the past, and a new Treaty, and a Commission that I hope will start its work as soon as possible,” he said.

"Everything is in place to give Europe a new lease of life."

Galileo, the EU's Satellite Positioning Service, set for take-off in 2014

The European Union’s new, albeit long-delayed, adventure into space in the form of its navigation system Galileo will finally begin operating in 2014, with the EU confident its services will replace those currently provided to citizens by the American GPS system.

The project received an important boost this morning with the award of several key contracts to European companies worth a combined value of over €1 billion that will enable the roll-out of Galileo's services from 2014, revealed the current EU Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani.

"With this and the upcoming awards for the remaining procurement packages, we are concluding a critical phase of the Galileo programme," he explained. "We can now focus on the actual roll-out and demonstrate to European citizens that Europe's own satellite navigation system is firmly underway."

The European Commission has repeatedly stated their hope that the project will rival the US Global Positioning System (GPS) which is widely used in a wide range of navigational devices such as those used by drivers to find street directions.

But while the service provided by GPS is good, its accuracy and availability can on occasions leave a lot to be desired and it can be very difficult to get a precise fix (especially under trees) and the accuracy can drift out to 10m or more.

Galileo should offer European users greater accuracy - down to a metre and less, greater penetration in urban centres, inside buildings, and under trees, as well as faster connection times.

Politically it is also an important statement as it will assert Europe's independence and cut its reliance on other international systems for global positioning services.

Yet, the EU has been keen to stress Galileo's role in complementing rather than competing with existing satellite navigation systems. Users will benefit from the agreement between Europe and the US to make their sat-nav systems compatible and "interoperable" so that users will be able to get their location using satellites from either Galileo or the existing GPS.

"We want Galileo to be an international system," said Mr Tajani, stressing its compatibility with the US's GPS and the ongoing discussions with other countries including Russia and China.

The French-Italian company ThalesAleniaSpace was awarded the contract valued at €85 million to provide the system support services and the industrial services needed to support the European Space Agency for the integration and the validation of the Galileo system.

OHB System AG of Germany was awarded the €566m contract to produce the first 14 operational satellites, and subsequent satellite orders will go either to OHB or to pan-Euro space goliath EADS-Astrium, the owner of British satellite firm SSTL, under a "double-sourcing" agreement that has already been signed.

Finally, the contract worth €397m was awarded to Arianespace for launching of the first ten satellites, which will happen in pairs aboard Soyuz rockets that are to be provided by Russia.

The first launch is scheduled to take place in October 2012 and will be followed by four to five launches per year until all 32 envisioned satellites are in orbit around the Earth.

The remaining three procurement contracts, for the ground mission infrastructure, the ground control infrastructure and the operations should be awarded by mid-2010.

The project of course gets its name from Galileo Galilei, dubbed the "father of modern observational astronomy", who born in Italy naturally making him European...

EU Staff pay rise dispute goes to the European Court of Justice

Wednesday, 6 January 2010
This afternoon the European Commission has announced that it would be taking member states to court for blocking the standard pay rise due to EU civil servants.

The legal move, which the Commission is obliged in its nature to make, came after member states in late December voted (quite sensibly in my view) to halve the planned annual inflation-busting 3.7% increase in pay to 1.85% due to the current financial climate in which millions of EU citizens are having to tighten their belts in the face of the worst economic crisis in several decades.

Greve"The commission has confirmed its decision to take action before the court to ask for the annulment of the council decision," said a spokeswoman quoted by EUObserver. The Commission will naturally hope now for a quick decision by the court.

The annual pay adjustment for EU staff, which was agreed by governments in 2004, is an automatic mechanism (known here as 'The Method') that is based on the average pay in the previous year for civil servants in eight other member states, including France, Germany, the UK and Italy.

Gross monthly salaries for EU commission staff currently run from €2,550 for a secretary to almost €18,000 for a head of department, so are not the worst paid jobs in Europe by any stretch of the imagination...

Hundreds of EU employees staged a three-hour strike in the lobby of the European Council building in December (Photo: ATP)Nonetheless, unsatisfied about any cut (although still a rise let us not forget) the staff unions have been rallying support in favour of strike action - which to date have not been too numerous nor too disruptive, and yet may not be over, as staff of the Parliament could get in on the act next week.

After initially indicating (via about a dozen emails I received each day) that the trade unions would organise widespread full-scale strikes, this threat appears to have been scaled down in response to the Commission's statement, although rumours are flying that there are still plans to hinder the MEP hearings of EU commissioner nominees which is due to begin on Monday.

Any disruption to the hearings timetable (which is already quite packed) could delay the investiture of the next European Commission, which has been in caretaker status since 1st November following the delays in gaining the complete ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr. Bean made Spanish Prime Minister on new EU presidency site by hacker

Tuesday, 5 January 2010
2010 already? As the clocks struck midnight on 31st December 2009 and Big Ben in London bong bong-ed in the New Year, it was Spain that took over the reigns from Sweden as the holder of the rotating presidency of the EU.

And as is customary for each six-month rotating presidency, the website of the new presidency suddenly became available online at midnight, and on first glance it seems that the Spanish have opted for a more functional, more user-friendly approach and layout - with a distinct lack of colour in comparison to the outgoing site of the Swedish Presidency (

While the expansive white background does make the site appear incredibly boring (and quite amateurish if I may be so bold to say so), for the layman sat at his computer, it has however clearly been designed to be very easily navigated, with the section headings clearly visible and sub-sections decorated with splashes of blue, bright red and lemon yellow.

It seems therefore that the Spanish have gone 'back to basics' and opted for the short, sweet and simple approach - perhaps reflecting their desire for a rather less austere and bold plan to the current financial recovery?

And yet, the launch has not passed without some embarrassment, and so has certainly not been the start that the Spanish Presidency - keen to impress and assert itself whilst adapting to the new operation required since the arrival into office of the President of the European Council Mr Herman Van Rompuy - had wanted.

Screenshot courtesy of El PaisI allude to, of course, the cameo appearance on the website of a comic character familiar to those of us from the UK - Mr Bean - who, thanks to an as yet unidentified hacker, briefly hijacked the site on Monday (4th), replacing Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's photo meant to welcome visitors to the website (see above).

The presidency site - - was taken offline briefly to remove this hacked image from the site, and was quickly back online and back to full operation.

In Spain, the similarity between Mr Zapatero (far left?) and Mr Bean (played by Rowan Atkinson, right in image) is a long-standing joke since the Spanish daily newspaper El Pais depicted the Spanish Premier as Mr Bean in a cartoon above an article that was highly critical of his handling of the economy in Spain, where unemployment has reached almost 20%.

While it remains unclear whether the hacker acted through political motives or whether they were just trying to have a laugh at Zapatero's expense, it certainly has served to undermine the Spanish presidency even before it has begun proper with Parliament still in recess until next Monday.

One thing for sure, Mr Zapatero and his team will want to remedy this quick, although I have a feeling this won't be the last time Mr Bean will be make further cameos during these next six months...

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