La Treizième Étoile: 14/03/10 - 21/03/10 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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Lisbon treaty set to 'delay' Iceland's bid to join the European Union

Friday, 19 March 2010
Less than three weeks after the Commission said accession talks should begin to allow Iceland to join the European Union, it has emerged the start of talks are set to be delayed following a ruling by the German Federal Constitutional Court that the country's parliament must first be allowed to debate the issue before any negotiations commence.

Many had expected next week's EU summit in Brussels (25-26 March) to address whether to accept Iceland as an official candidate country, following a favourable opinion issued by the European commission but it now seems certain any decision will be put off by at least a month to give the German parliament time to examine the commission opinion.

This comes after the German court ruled that the Lisbon Treaty was compatible with the country's law and so its parliament must participate fully in adopting EU laws on matters of major importance such as enlargement.

Reacting to the news, German S&D MEP Jo Leinen, a former chairman of parliament's constitutional affairs committee, said "while I agreed in principle with the court ruling you have to say it may lead to some difficulties".

"Basically, it is all about a power game between the parliament and government in Germany. [The German] parliament, in future, wants to be involved at the start, not the end, of important EU-related issues, such as enlargement."

"This is a test case which we are following very closely. I have no idea when a decision is likely as the procedure could be slow or quick,” he said. "In this case, however, I do not think it will be more than procedural."

Iceland's possible EU membership is further complicated by the issue of whether it should reimburse the United Kingdom and the Netherlands to the sum of €3.9 billion that was lost by British and Dutch savers in the Icesave crash.

However, EU enlargement commissioner Štefan Füle said that this is a bilateral matter and should not prevent EU leaders from giving their go-ahead for the start of EU-Iceland accession negotiations.

Nick 'not in it for the money' Griffin reveals £200,000+ expenses claim

Wednesday, 17 March 2010
British National Party leader and MEP Nick Griffin could be about to become embroiled in his own expenses scandal after finally revealing just how much he is claiming for his duties out in Brussels.

BNP leader Nick Griffin MEP (Photo: Telegraph)The controversial MEP has come under fire for a lack of transparency regarding his expenses claims – a factor that has gravely damaged the public perception in Britain of its politicians. But today on his personal website, Mr Griffin has now published a very loose account of them on his website, which added up total in excess of a whopping £200,000 on top of his £85,000 salary as an MEP…

This revelation becomes of greater intrigue when you cast your mind back to his campaign for election as an MEP for the North West England last May when the BNP produced a campaign leaflet entitled ‘Punish the Pigs’ in which the text apparently explains that the BNP is “the only party that makes them squeal. We’re NOT in it for the money”. Throughout the campaign too, Mr Griffin continuously attacked previous MEPs for having their “snouts in the trough”...

Interpreting what Mr Griffin has revealed on his website, we can see that he has claimed £175,000 for “staff costs” for eight employees with titles ranging from “European researcher” to “campaigns co-ordinator”.

A further £31,000 was claimed for “office management costs” which appears to also include an office in his own home (although perhaps no house for the ducks). His “office costs” included £2,800 on “furnishings” and over £4,000 on “repair, maintenance and security”.

But one important element of any claim that Mr Griffin has NOT revealed is the costs of his travel to and from his constituency and Brussels/Strasbourg, which will make his claim even greater than he is stating…

Interestingly enough, Mr Griffin’s fellow BNP elected member of the European Parliament, Andrew Brons, has not published any details of his expenses – perhaps a further sign that instead of their election pledges of transparency and not being “in it for the money” they both too have embarked on, what they both call, the “EU gravy train”.

Football clubs can claim compensation for losing youngsters rules ECJ

Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Football clubs who feel that their developing youth players have been “snatched away” from them by other clubs will now be able to seek compensation if they go on to sign their first contract with a team in another EU country, thanks to a ruling by the European Court of Justice today.

Olivier Bernard during his first spell at Newcastle United (Photo: verdict comes to conclude the case involving the French international player Olivier Bernard, above, now 29, who in 2000 when aged 20 signed professional terms with English club Newcastle United despite having undergone a three-year youth training scheme with French team Olympique Lyonnais.

The ruling could change the way business is done in the football transfer market - perhaps he will become a modern day Jean-Marc Bosman?

As stated in the French Professional Football Charter at the time, promising players aged 16-22 (known as a "joueur espoir") were required to sign their first contract with the professional club which trained them if offered a contract at the end of their training.

If they chose not to, amazingly they were barred for three years from signing with another French club.

But Bernard, instead of signing with the former French champions Lyon, signed a deal with the English club, and challenged a subsequent French court ruling that he and Newcastle were equally liable to compensate Lyon €53,000 (£48,000) – the sum equivalent to his first-year salary if he had taken up the contract in Lyon.

European Court of Justice (Photo: EU)Both the player and Newcastle then consequently appealed against this ruling which is why the French appeal court asked the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, left, to rule whether it should be the trainee footballer that is required to pay damages if he signs with a professional club in another EU country breached EU law (which was the case in the UK).

Today in its verdict, the ECJ declared that the French rule on a “joueur espoir" was a clear restriction on the freedom of movement for workers, including footballers.

However, the restrictions could be justified under certain circumstances, such as the need to encourage recruitment and training of young professional players.

"In view of the considerable social importance of sporting activities, and in particular football in the EU, the objective of encouraging the recruitment and training of young players must be accepted as legitimate,” it read.

"In the court's view, the prospect of receiving training fees is likely to encourage football clubs to seek new talent and train young players.

As a result of the case, FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, has adopted new rules under which club the, and not the player, will pay any compensation due.

The amount is calculated on the cost of training a player, adjusted by the ratio of trainees needed to produce one professional player.

Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson told the BBC: "The Premier League has always supported the principle of proportionate compensation for young players and is pleased to see the judge has recognised that a regulated environment for the transfer of young players is desirable."

The Premier League has, of course, been faced with this matter a couple of times in recent months as both Chelsea and Manchester United have both found themselves in dispute with French clubs over young players that moved to the Premier League clubs.

Chelsea were hit with a transfer ban covering two windows after being adjudged guilty of inducing Gael Kakuta to break his contract with RC Lens in 2007 – although this was subsequently lifted on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. (But even after the transfer ban was lifted, Chelsea paid £113,000 in compensation to Lens towards the costs of developing the French winger.)

Paul Pogba (Photo: Manchester United)FIFA themselves were called in to deal with Manchester United’s case, deciding to rule in the Red Devil’s favour green-flagging the signing of 16-year-old Paul Pogba after French club Le Havre had claimed that they had agreed a contract with the midfielder for the current season before he went to Old Trafford.

Back then, FIFA ruled that because of the player’s age, Le Havre could not have got an agreement for the teenager to sign a professional contract.

As for Olivier Bernard: well he stayed with Newcastle until 2005, when he left after a dispute over contract negotiations. He rejoined a year later, but left again in May 2007. He currently trains with Toronto FC over the pond in Canada…

Tories continue uncharacteristic EU charm offensive as leaked report condemns Labour over deficit

We do indeed live in strange times – even more so since this week on two separate occasions (in public) the eurosceptic Conservative party have courted the European Union and voiced their support for it… Their election slogan is "Ready for Change" but are they actually "ready for change" vis-à-vis Europe?

David Cameron - Ready for Change?In a speech last Thursday (11th) the Conservative's shadow foreign secretary William Hague, said that the Tories would play a "leading role in the EU" if they arrived back in power.

If that wasn’t surprising enough, he then called the EU “an institution of enormous importance to the United Kingdom and its foreign policy,” and that it was the Conservatives’ intention to be active in Brussels, “energetically engaging with our partners.” (Finished choking on your snack/meal/coffee/tea yet?)

This is obviously rather a different tone than what we’ve previously heard and seen from the Tories vis-à-vis Europe - remember that this is the party headed by the anti-EU David Cameron who instructed his MEPs to leave the majority EPP grouping within the European Parliament to form their own group on the sidelines pledging to take back power from Europe if elected Prime Minister… Strange...

Anyway, the latest Tory campaign praising and in support of the EU has arrived in light of a leaked document from the European Commission due for release tomorrow (Wednesday 17th) which is set to condemn the British government for not tackling its huge public deficit incurred through fiscal stimulus’ introduced to reinvigorate the economy and that it needs to be cut faster than anticipated.

Peter Brooke's cartoon in today's Times (Photo: The Times)The Tories have consequently leapt these excerpts with George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, leading the offensive proclaiming it as “a heavy blow for Gordon Brown's credibility”.

The draft report, leaked to the news agency Reuters, warned that "a credible timeframe for restoring public finances to a sustainable position requires additional fiscal tightening measures beyond those currently planned,” and that “the overall conclusion is that the fiscal strategy in the convergence programme is not sufficiently ambitious and needs to be significantly reinforced."

"The Conservatives have been arguing that we need to reduce our record budget deficit more quickly in order to support the recovery," Mr Osborne said. "Our argument is backed by credit rating agencies, business leaders, international investors and now the European Commission."

Fellow Tory, Charles Clarke, who was also a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and one of the (very very extremely) rare pro-EU party members, said that the statement from Brussels was a "statement of the obvious" and insisted that the government should put in place immediate plans to reduce the national debt. "What has to be done now is to get this debt rapidly under control and get rid of the bulk of the structural deficit during the next parliament,” he said.

The Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who has long been a supporter of Europe (and the Euro although not as much as his predecessor Tony Blair) and spoken in favour of it many times, however, has changed tact in a press conference in Downing Street today hitting back at the EU. He said “we have the most ambitious plan of any of the advanced countries for reducing our deficit… but what we will not do is put the recovery at risk.

The European Commission,” he said, “has made clear that we should not have the fiscal stimulus removed until the recovery is assured.

He then launched into his final and most telling attack stating “we will therefore make the best decisions for Britain, for British growth and for British jobs”.

Now that sounds like something you would expect to hear from the Conservative Party…

Chris Bryant, the Labour government’s Minister for Europe, said last week in an interview that “the Conservatives' willingness to isolate Britain on the world stage would make achieving crucial foreign policy goals much more difficult” and that “the Conservatives continue to obsessively put their Eurosceptic agenda ahead of the interests of British businesses and are also prepared to threaten the vital work we do with our European allies on defence issues."

Strong words, but at least they are not ambiguous…

Contrast Mr Hague’s words in the speech which seem to contradict what he said in an interview with the Financial Times in which he said the Conservatives had made “a strategic decision” not to pick a fight with Europe if they won the election, that a Tory government "would try to repatriate powers in employment and social law and fundamental civil rights from Brussels, if other EU member states insisted on a treaty change" and warned that there were limits to his tolerance of EU integration and suggested that future battles lie ahead over defence and any proposals to create a European Monetary Fund (editor's note - more on that later).

It would appear therefore that the Tories are starting to admit publicly that they recognise the importance of Britain’s role in the European Union, but yet still have nothing more than words to express it. The danger is that once (and if) they do get into power, these words will just become political manifesto material and forgotten and buried once elected.

If that is indeed the case, perhaps we are not living is such strange times…

Last election:

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