Tag Archives: European Commission

Cathy Ashton’s record.

When she was catapulted into her new position almost all of us scratched our heads at how Cathy Ashton – or should I say Baroness Ashton of Upholland could possibly be qualified to be not only Britain’s European Commissioner but also High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union. I, and it seems most of the rest of the country, seem to have missed her illustrious career in foreign affairs and diplomacy: but it’s probably unfair to say that it was a last ditch attempt by the dying Labour government to ensure some continuance of presence… but then again perhaps not.

Of course, on appointment there was much hullabaloo about how Cathy Ashton was a dedicated public servant who’d serve our requirements in Europe with the ‘upmost dedication’ – a phrase that along with ‘the prime minister has every confidence’ is about as subtle as a bell crashing out of the belfry. So it will come as a surprise to some, and no surprise to others, that the Daily Mail is reporting that our dear commissioner has missed four out of ten “key” meetings in Brussels, essentially leaving us ‘without a voice at the top table’. Digging a little deeper into the statistics and it would appear that the two roles Ms.Ashton currently holds aren’t compatible with further revelations that half the meetings she has attended have been abandoned by her before they ended – and presumably before any conclusions had been reached, and it seems that our European neighbours are getting a little bored of her swanning out of meetings as commissioner to go and act as an ineffective voice on the international stage.

It is about time that Cameron, who claimed he was committed to strengthening our position in Europe look to replace her as commissioner without delay allowing her to concentrate all her efforts on her international role as presently she’s failing to do either role well, and convienently has an excuse for poor performance whichever way she turns.

As a broader point the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union should be thought through more thoroughly – it is, potentially, a really powerful position. An opportunity for the European Union to assert a real international voice for the whole continental union on issues which often affect us not just nationally but as one continent of people. This is especially true when flexing our muscles against China, Russia and America where traditionally individual states might be tempted to scupper European needs for short term national need. Indeed played properly, with full support of the EP and EC the High Representative could be a powerful player in the role of the European Union as a global superpower: by many of the guides to being a super-power the EU already ticks the boxes, it would certainly work in the favour of Britain, Germany and France, so why reign it in?

The door to do this is open now, it won’t stay open – given time China and Russia are going to be real powers, not just in military might, but economically in direct trade, energy and natural resources, and like it or not european nations are going to have to deal with these nations: which individually would definitely be on their terms and not on those of the individual nation states, but supranationally, the EU could really flex it’s muscles and act as a powerful balancing lever in the next 100 years.

The EU is not funding Elton John.

Eurosceptics across the media have been up in arms recently, touting yet another inaccurate story that our taxpayer contributions to the EU had directly paid for an Elton John concert held in Italy – “gross wastage”, they screamed – “just another example of how ‘european’ funds are wasted” they grumbled, almost all of them wrapped up with “get us out of this union”.

So I noted with some glee this morning that the organisers of said concert have been ordered to pay back the 720,000 € (£613,000) they used to stage the event without delay. The money was reported as having come from the European Union as finance for the regional development of Campania… a good example of EU waste you might say, but that’s not quite the whole story.

You see the funds don’t come directly from the EU: funds for regional development are distributed first to the individual nation states – it’s a cludged system, and one that is almost solely responsible for the commission’s auditors not being able to sign off the accounts for so many years. The Commission simply signs off on the gross national amount, after which the responsibility for distribution is entirely driven nationally.

Indeed, this waste of funds, and the following demand for repayment only followed a complaint by Mario Borghezio, an Italian MEP from the Northern League party, who brought the attention of the commission onto this issue, describing the use of the funds [as a waste of EU cash which was] “shameful“.

This wastage is currently under debate both within the Parliament and the Commission as it’s been acknowledged for some time that certain national governments were fiddling the books. You’re probably also thinking, well we all know where to point the finger, Greece, Spain, Itally… well yes, at least two those have been highlighted, but so is the UK. In fact the UK is being used in the same sentence as Greece and Spain as being one of the worst offenders!

The UK government defends the improper distribution and poor accounting of EU funds by pointing out that the huge amount which is now being demanded back by the EU “had been accrued over six years“.

In case you missed that, it’s a tacit admission by the UK Government that they have been holding on to money that they shouldn’t have for six years. Money that was either not spent or spent incorrectly on regional development, the common agricultural policy, infrastructure and energy projects, cultural activities and a thousand other areas of supranational interest funding by the European Union.

MEPs are now calling for a need to get tough with nation states and the european bodies that don’t follow the rules: the EU needs to get it’s books in order if it is to have any mandate for future projects which are underway – the most obvious way of doing this would be to make national commissioners directly responsible for the funds which their country takes: it ensures that another ‘super-agency’ does not need to be created to distribute funds directly, and the whole european machine would have someone to hold directly accountable should the funds not tally. So far only  Sweden and the Netherlands have shown the political will to do this, having their commissioners sign off directly on received funds each year.

If you’re not lobbying your MEP yet – make sure you do: the wastage of EU funds is one of the most pressing issues facing the union, doubly so as national and international budgets tighten.

It’s not all bad news though. There was some good financial news for the EU in the recent budget report, with a statement from the auditors that the individual European organisations had finally got their their act together, and that individually the accounts of each organisation made sense and could be approved. If we can now get the national distribution correct, we’ll be well on our way to being able to approve the global accounts, which will no doubt do great good in being able to approve year on year spending for the union as a whole.

Apple out of tune with the European single market?

Back in the heady days of the dot com boom we were endlessly told that we were witnessing a revolution, e-commerce sites and services would make international borders a thing of the past; the old worries of buying and importing goods and services would be a thing of the past; interestingly politics beat e-commerce to this in the European single market – a good thing I think we can all agree, but it seems that the more borders we break down the more artificial ones corporations with vested interests and their dedicated corporate lawyers seem to put up

Take for instance the iTunes store, an example of a digital company taking a traditional industry and dragging it kicking and screaming into the digital age: the music industry is practically luddite in it’s views, but iTunes, at least on the face of it would seem to have made it an open e-commerce industry allowing the users to buy anywhere in the world, but it’s not quite that simple. Try buying a track in Europe however and you might find that something you can buy in the UK isn’t quite so available 23 miles across the channel in France, or literally a hop skip and a jump across a border from Italy to Austria, making an utter mockery of the European Single Market, and making life frustrating in our ever more connected world.

It’s a true sign of the luddite nature of the music industry that the combined bureaucracy of the European Union is having to be brought to bear to strong-arm music licensing and distribution companies to sell their products to consumers in accordance with the laws of the lands they’re selling in. But for anyone that travels, or sits as an ex-pat or just happens to be based across borders it’s really great news that The European Commission competition commissioner Nellie Kroes is going to be bringing together industry executives with Apple’s Steve Jobs, Mick Jagger – presumably representing the musicians union/combined interest and the CEO of eBay, a firm which really has cracked pan-european trading to work toward bringing the true goal of a single market to the digital world, no matter what the excuses may be from companies still intent on keeping artificial borders alive in order to buck the market in their favour.