La Treizième Étoile: 20/06/10 - 27/06/10 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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The Diplomacy of Football: ‘Beat the stuffing out of Germany' urges UK's EU minister

Friday, 25 June 2010
In case you hadn’t noticed – the greatest event in the football calendar is taking place at the moment in South Africa as the world’s 32 best teams contest the four-yearly World Cup.

Football fever is infecting populations worldwide – and clearly also the politicians, but as the leading World leaders meet this weekend in Toronto, Canada in the latest meeting of the G8 and G20 groups football has created some interesting side stories.

On Sunday, following their poor performance in the group stages which England should have won convincingly, the Three Lions will face off against the old foe of Germany and arguably the biggest news to have emerged from the meetings in Canada is that David Cameron and Angela Merkel may watch the England-Germany clash together on Sunday.

Now, David Cameron has never claimed to know or care all that much about football (why should he as a Tory?) but it seems that at a moment such as this even he must submit to football’s presence.

With the majority of the British population more interested in the country’s showing in South Africa, it seemed somewhat shrewd of Mr Cameron’s head of communications, Andy Coulson, to have staged a photo-opportunity in Downing Street showing Mr Cameron watching the second half of the England – Slovenia match.

But that was then, this is now, and the knock-out stages of the World Cup. The last time England and Germany met in the World Cup was the 1990 semi final when England were beaten on penalties, and many (myself included) fear this could be the scenario again.

When asked by reporters what he would do in this situation on Sunday, Mr Cameron, perhaps jokingly, said “I will try not to wrestle her [Merkel] to the ground during penalties, but we will have to see.

But the message from the new Europe Minister David Lidington was far more pronounced and somewhat less diplomatic as he spoke to London’s Evening Standard:

We should be giving 100 per cent support to our own team hoping that they beat the stuffing out of the Germans on the soccer field …and then England and German fans having a few friendly beers together after the game.

Diplomats have already had a tricky time this World Cup as the ‘special-relationship’ between the USA and the UK has come under review following President Obama’s comments RE the BP oil spill coming to the fore in a group-stage contest between the two that finished 1-1. Diplomatically a very fair result (especially considering the supposed vast gap in quality between the two squads).

French president Nicolas Sarkozy is unlikely to address the subject after he summoned star-striker Thierry Henry to personally explain what went wrong, nor is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi following their nations’ dismal showing in South Africa and surprise eliminations.

However, Mr Cameron has revealed that Mr Berlusconi has shifted his allegiances and has started supporting England: "I commiserated with Prime Minister Berlusconi about the Italian team, but he is now claiming Fabio Capello as one of his own, and is going to be supporting England, so I have notched up one supporter," Mr Cameron told Sky News television.

But what will this do for German-Italian relations over the weekend?

As for the ‘big game’ on Sunday, Mr Cameron has told journalists that "I just want an England win. One goal is enough." Ms Merkel, on the other hand, has expressed her hope Germany can prevail saying "I am quite hopeful that we have a chance to win against England, but that is a big challenge of course.
Germany have surpassed England in EVERY World Cup since 1966, and EVERY time the two have met it has gone to penalties.
Diplomats from both sides as well as all those watching the game in England and Germany will be hoping the match is not decided this way again…

UPDATE (28/06):

Well the game did not pan out as England fans had hoped and Mr Lidington's rallying cry clearly was misunderstood and encouraged the German team who then 'beat the stuffing' out of the English team as they comprehensively won 4-1 in Bloemfontein.

Meanwhile in Toronto, Canada, where the English and German leaders were meeting, Ms Merkel watched the second half alongside Mr Cameron with whom the result cannot have sat comfortably - even if he has no real interest in football.

As for Ms Merkel, you can tell she was pleased - watch the sly smile...

(Video source

Danish opposition to joining Euro continues to rise amid Eurozone crisis

Thursday, 24 June 2010
Danish Krona (Photo: Estonia looks set to become the 17th member of the Eurozone, public support in Denmark for ditching the Krona (left) to adopt the single European currency is falling at a rapid speed according to the latest opinion polls.

Danmarks Statistik regularly conducts polls to quantify the level of public support for the single currency and measurements released for the month of June shows that the ‘No’ side has made big gains and overtaken the ‘Yes’ vote.

According to the June poll, only 32.1% of Danes said they would vote ‘yes’, while 47.8% pronounced they would vote ‘no’ in any referendum.

Danish voters have already rejected switching to the Euro several times: in 1992, they voted no to the Maastricht Treaty which was only passed with an opt-out for euro-adoption. A referendum in September 2000 was also lost by 53.2% to 46.8%.

But, it is unclear when the next referendum will be held on the Euro. In May 2009, the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen pledged to hold a referendum on joining the Eurozone before the next general elections which are due in 2011.

Later that year in October 2009, he repeated this pledge, saying "the Euro ensures political and economical stability in Europe and the current financial turmoil makes it evident that Denmark has to join the Euro”.

A referendum before the next elections however now seems incredibly unlikely due to the country’s high budget deficit and diminishing support for the currency as shown in such polls.

Agreement reached over Parliament's 18 'ghost MEPs'

Wednesday, 23 June 2010
National diplomats have this morning finalised changes to the Lisbon Treaty in order to allow 18 extra MEPs to officially take their seats in the European Parliament.

EU leaders agreed at last week's EU summit to launch an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to handle the required treaty change, and this was concluded in a meeting of the permanent representatives of the member states in Brussels – known as COREPER II.

Now all that remains before the 18 additional MEPs can officially take up their duties is for the national parliaments of all 27 Member States to ratify the treaty change.

Currently, the 18 MEPs – referred to as “ghost MEPs” – enjoy “observer” status in the Parliament and will now be able to begin receiving their allowances and salary although they cannot vote or contribute to debates in the House or in Committees.

The situation has arisen because the last European Parliament elections took place in June 2009 when the Nice Treaty was still in force and so 736 MEPs were elected and are now in office.

But now the Lisbon Treaty has entered into force which envisages 751 seats in Parliament, giving 18 additional seats to 12 Member States, including the UK, while Germany is set to lose three seats.

While these three German MEPs are permitted to continue to the end of the current legislature, the arrival of the 18 additional members would temporarily raise the total number of seats to 754 (736 + 18).

There is no indication on how long this process will take although for the sake of democracy let’s hope it happens quickly.

The UK 'will never adopt the Euro' as Conservative Chancellor Osborne scraps EPU in emergency budget

Tuesday, 22 June 2010
It's been often touted but now it's definite: the UK will not join the Euro single currency during this government (and probably never will after that).

This was confirmed today as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne announced during his emergency budget that the Euro Preparation Unit (EPU) will be abolished.

The unit, within the confines of the Treasury, was set up following the last review of the Five Economic Tests in June 2003, as part of the policy of “prepare and decide” in light of the second review.

The Government, then under the leadership of Gordon Brown, was committed to ensure the UK retained a genuine option to join the single currency if that is what the Government, Parliament and the people, in a referendum, decide, so established the EPU. It worked with stakeholders and county authorities from around the country and across the economy to ensure that every upgrade or replacement of IT systems at the Treasury was 'Euro compatible'.

While it was greeted with cheers from the Conservative benches, many of the Liberal Democrats were visibly disappointed and rueful of the announcement as they sat listening to it in the Chamber.

Effectively this has more than shelved plans to adopt the Euro - even indefinitely.

Should the government ever decide it would be economically viable to join the single currency, it would have to start the process all over again...

Mari Kiviniemi named Finland's new interim Prime Minister

Mari Kiviniemi (Photo: AFP)As expected, Finland's Parliament has today elected Mari Kiviniemi as the country's new interim Prime Minister.

A total of 115 of Finland's 200 parliamentary members voted in favour of Mrs Kiviniemi's appointment, while 56 including the left-leaning opposition voted against.

Mrs Kiviniemi, who took over as head of the liberal Keskusta Party two weeks ago, is to be officially sworn in at a ceremony with Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland, later this afternoon.
She is replacing Matti Vanhanen, who resigned on Friday after seven years as Prime Minister, and makes history as for the first time in the country’s long history the top two positions of state are held by women.

Komorowski vs Kaczynski in Poland's July 4th presidential election run-off

Monday, 21 June 2010
Citizens in Poland are to return to the polling booths on July 4th to elect their new president in the second-round run-off which will pit acting President with the twin brother of the former President.

The election has been forced upon Poland following the sudden death of former President Lech Kaczynski who died in April when the plane he was travelling in came down in western Russia killing 95 other passengers including his wife Maria and top political and military figures.

With all the votes now counted, acting president Bronislaw Komorowski took the largest share of the vote with 41.54% ahead of rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of deceased former President Lech, with 36.46%. Grzegorz Napieralski finished third with 13.68%.

Bronislaw Komorowski (Photo: the order of candidates reflects the numerous polls published beforehand, the margin of victory was much smaller than expected, indeed it was only 5% rather than the predicted 13%.

However, no candidate achieved the magic 50% of the vote and so under Polish law, a run-off between the top two candidates must be held.

Reacting the result, acting President Bronislaw Komorowski responded philosophically and topically speaking in the language of football clichés: "in life, as in football and all sports, it's extra time that's the most difficult,” he told supporters. “Let's be wide awake and mobilise our strength and all our energy for the final stretch.

Mr Kaczynski, left, also urged his camp to brace for the run-off, stating that “the key to victory is faith, the conviction that it is possible and necessary to win. We must win for our homeland, for Poland.

While the two outpolled the other eight candidates, the centre-left Grzegorz Napieralski scored a surprise 13.7% which potentially makes him the kingmaker to the eventual winner.

Therefore, rather unsurprisingly, both Mr Komorowski and Mr Kaczynski had warm words for Mr Napieralski as the count was underway, but the next fortnight of campaigning promises to be much more divisive and competitive between the two camps as both men strive to pick up votes from Mr Napieralski’s supporters.

As defined in the Polish constitution, Mr Komorowski became acting president after the plane crash in anticipation of fresh elections, although even before the tragic incident, he was reportedly preparing to challenge Lech Kaczynski's bid for a second term in an election originally scheduled for later this year, and which he was tipped to win.

Mr Komorowski is still the favourite to win the vote in two weeks’ time and comes from the same Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) party as Prime Minister Donald Tusk – something which many believe appeals to voters who are tired of the tensions between the government and the late president.

Turnout in the election was only 54.94% with more than 30 million of Poland's 38 million citizens were registered to vote.

Sixth time's a charm as Ashton strikes deal with MEPs on her future EEAS

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, has finally reached agreement with the European Parliament's main negotiators on the EU's future diplomatic service, European External Action Service (EEAS).

The agreement, concluded after talks in Madrid today (21 July), will make it possible for Lady Ashton and her staff to prepare recruitment for the most senior positions in the new service before the summer-break and for the EEAS to begin its work later this year.

Catherine Ashton faces MEPs in her Commissioner Hearing at the European Parliament on 11 January 2010 (Photo: BBC/AP)Parliament was thought to be the biggest remaining opposition to her plans for the new external service, and indeed many meetings had been held beforehand to resolve the MEPs’ concerns (14th April, 27th April, 10th May, 27th May and 8th June) since they need to give their consent via a plenary vote.

The meeting in Spain today, one of the last to be hosted during the country’s presidency of the European Council, is reported to have lasted several hours and was attended by the foreign minister of Spain Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Maroš Šefčovič, the Commissioner for inter-institutional relations and administration and the lead negotiating MEPs on the matter: centre-right Elmar Brok (EPP, DE), Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) and Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, IT).

In a joint statement, the participants “committed themselves to seek endorsement of the package by their respective institutions as soon as possible” on the basis of the agreement reached today.

In addition the statement states the parties have reached agreement on the text of two Declarations by the High Representative: on political accountability and on the basic structure of the central administration, and that all sides have agreed they have now to “work constructively for the solution of the remaining questions in particular the adoption of the Financial Regulation and the Staff Regulations”.

Screenshot of Tweet posted by Marjorie van den Broeke (@mvandenbroeke) on 21st JuneHowever, the struggle isn’t over yet. According to participants in today's meeting, the formal agreement by the Parliament's plenary will only come once a few remaining questions are clarified…

But already there is a feeling amongst the Parliamentarians that they have won a few battles in this process – after all it is proving very capable and will to flex its muscles with the new powers afforded to it by the Lisbon Treaty.

Finns favour Katainen over favourite Kiviniemi as their new PM poll reveals

As I reported earlier, the resignation of Matti Vanhanen as Finland’s PM has opened the door to a female being appointed to the office for a first time, and it is expected that Mari Kiviniemi would be favourite to succeed him.

However, in a surprise result, according to a poll published in the Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat today, Jyrki Katainen, the chairman of the National Coalition (Conservative), is currently the favourite candidate to be Finland's next prime minister after the general elections in April and not Ms Kiviniemi.

Ilta-Sanomat poll published today (Photo: survey, conducted by Taloustutkimus, asked almost 1,000 citizens on which of chairmen of the three largest parties would be the most suitable to lead Finland after the parliamentary elections: Jyrki Katainen, Jutta Urpilainen (SDP) and Mari Kiviniemi (Centre).

Other alternatives were not given because the party leaders in modern history has always been prime minister and first-party candidates can only be one of three major parties.

Mr Katainen was the preference of 38% of respondents, while 22% would choose Ms Kiviniemi and 10% favoured Ms Urpilainen.

The margin for error was stated as 2.5 percentage points in either direction, but that is still quite a margin of victory. In the meantime, the Finnish Parliament is to elect its new caretaker PM until next April’s elections.

Historic change in Finland as women could hold both top state positions

History could to be made today as Mari Kiviniemi is expected to replace Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen who resigned Friday after seven years in charge meaning for the first time in the country’s history that the top two positions of state are held by women.

Matti Vanhanen, left, tenders his resignation to President Tarja Halonen (Source: AP)"The president has accepted the government's resignation and asked it to continue on a caretaker basis until the new government has been formed and the ministers appointed," read a statement issued by the office of incumbent President Tarja Halonen, who became the first women to hold the office when elected in 2000.

Mari Kiviniemi (Source: Kiviniemi, left, who was voted the new head of outgoing PM Mr Vanhanen's Keskusta Centre Party last weekend, previously served in Mr Vanhanen’s government as the public administration and local government minister.

She was first elected to parliament in 1995 and has since served as minister for foreign trade and development in 2005-2006 before taking up her current post in April the following year.

Mr Vanhanen, who served as Prime Minister since 2003, said last December he was ready to end his second term early due to a leg operation, but Finnish political commentators believe that the decision to stand down is tactical and will allow his party a ‘cleaner standing’ in the run-up to next year’s elections following a ‘scandal-tainted’ tenure.

Ms Kiviniemi is expected to serve as PM until the next parliamentary elections in April 2011 at the helm of the country’s four-party, centre-right coalition. But the country's opposition parties issued a joint call for early elections saying a change of premier was not enough in the current economic climate.

"The problems cannot be genuinely addressed with a completely out-of-date programme and a more than three-year-old mandate," the Social Democrats said in a statement on behalf of all opposition groups.

"Instead the risk is that the next nine months will be spent pushing forward necessary decisions and waiting for elections," they said.

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.