We have updated the “Coffee table” page with this year’s issues of our BigPictureBrussels – a bi-monthly publication which covers many of the key events in Brussels at the EU level.

Everything you wanted to know about EU Summits, and everything you didn’t know that you wanted to know, etc.

Happy reading!

Although the talks between the US and the EU were ultimately cancelled last week due to the government shutdown, the EU-US negotiations are moving forward.

We are therefore pleased to present you with the October edition of the Pondhopper, Grayling’s transatlantic e-zine providing you with differing perspectives on issues currently spanning ‘the pond’.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions on the attached or if you would like to learn more about Grayling’s transatlantic governmental affairs offering.

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Countries who take over the EU Presidency in the second half of the year always complain that they have drawn the short straw.

Sandwiched between the Summer holidays and the Christmas break, these Presidencies like to point out that they only have a three month window – September to end November – to make realistic progress on the dossiers.

Lithuania’s task is made even harder given the need to finalise what is on the table before the EU elections in May next year, with the legislative slowdown due to kick in from March.

For a first-time Presidency and a small country, this is no easy task.

Such countries are often eager to succeed during their time in the EU limelight, but there is a danger that Lithuania could be overwhelmed, both in terms of the sheer number of dossiers and the political struggles within the Council.

Indeed, Presidency or no, there is no doubt who still calls the shots.

If turning the EU around is akin to turning round an oil tanker, then Chancellor Merkel is very much on the bridge, steering the EU through troubled waters.

Moreover, with Lithuania not a member of the Eurozone, it will not be able to influence the engine-room of fiscal and monetary integration which is still largely driven by France and Germany and remains the headline issue for the Eurozone at least, if not the EU as a whole.

In past times it used to be said that “all eyes are on the Presidency” – not anymore.

With the new roles for President Van Rompuy and Commissioner Ashton, and the Eurozone taking centre stage, rotating Presidencies are now reduced to that of policy mandarins, digging into details and marrying the interests of the divergent Member States.

Important, undoubtedly. But headline-grabbing? Absolutely not.

Maybe this suits Lithuania just fine.

- Rob

To see Grayling’s full preview of the Lithuanian Presidency, click here!

ImageWe hope you had a peaceful Summer and are looking forward to what is sure to be a very busy end to 2012!

In preparation for the annual “Autumn onslaught” – or perhaps to take your mind off it –Grayling Brussels is pleased to present you with its latest edition of Espresso.

In this week’s publication:

On the run from the BRICs;

A preview of the Cypriot Presidency;

How health policy is affected by the financial crisis; and

An interview with Grayling Consultant Charlotte Ryckman.

You can access Espresso here.

Happy reading!

- Rob

In the first of a series of interviews with EU policy experts and decision makers, Brian Simpson the Chairman of the European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee exchanges with Grayling’s Kevin Doran on the Airports Package that is currently being reviewed at the Europoean Parliament.

The latest Grayling BigPictureBrussels explains that:

  • Two mainstream parties in Greece managed to achieve a majority in the weekend’s elections and are likely to form a government of national unity to press ahead with the terms of the country’s bailout. A Greek default has however not been ruled out.
  • Earlier this month, the European Commission adopted its package on bank recovery and resolution with the aim of putting banks on a stronger footing to face down future crises.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made it abundantly clear that a banking union is impossible without first establishing a fiscal union – an idea resisted by France and Italy, not to mention the UK.
  • The Spanish bailout and the uncertainty in Greece have pulled the Eurozone closer to a banking union, and it remains to be seen whether it can be designed in a way that suits both the weaker and stronger economies and does not undermine the EU’s single market in financial services.

France and Germany do Battle over Eurobonds

My name is Bond, Euro Bond

  • EU leaders agree that Greece should remain in Eurozone – but stick to its bailout conditions.
  • New French President François Hollande not shying away from doing battle with Chancellor Merkel over Eurobonds – battles ahead!
  • Key decisions to come at June Summit on how to strengthen banks’ liquidity and on expanding fiscal and monetary union.
  • Mr Hollande’s confident performance likely to draw further support from other countries…to Germany’s cost.
For our full report, please read Grayling’s latest BigPictureBrussels

This articles comes fromt he Grayling Brussels Espresso May 2012 edition.

The Commission is proposing that Member States place a minimum tax of between one-tenth and one-hundredth of one

A new tax coming out the woods? (picture by courtesy of JeSaurai)

percent on a range of financial trades.

Although these proportions seem tiny, the sheer volume of trades that occur every day means that the Commission anticipates raising up to €57 billion in revenue from the move.

One Member State attempting to cash in on these high stakes is France. A one-time opponent of the tax, then President Sarkozy became its standard bearer, pressing ahead with a light French version of the tax when frustrated with the slow pace of progress in Brussels.

On the other side of the Channel, David Cameron has adopted a more pragmatic approach, insisting the tax is unworkable unless it is applied on a global scale, and expressing fears that the City of London would be hit disproportionately which would send investors packing.

Having already wielded his country’s veto on the fiscal compact, he has demonstrated his willingness to block proposals that he perceives as a threat to the UK’s interest.

Enhanced cooperation

With unanimity required for decisions on taxation and deep divisions within the Council, there is little hope of a speedy agreement. Nine Member States have already formally requested to be allowed to press ahead on their own, with the Lisbon Treaty’s Enhanced Cooperation procedure providing a framework for a core group of countries to do so.

The Commission is reluctant to go down this road, however, not least because they would then lose control of the proposal.

This may partly explain the recent push to advocate for the FTT on the basis of the cash savings that the tax would bring about for Member States contributing to the EU budget.

Earlier this month, EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski claimed the measure could reduce by over €80 billion the direct contributions from Member States over the course of next 7-year budget cycle.

Promised land

Although there is little evidence that his arguments have gained much traction in key opposing Member States, if the Commission did manage to bring the naysayers around, it would not only score a major political victory on financial regulation, but also reach the promised land of generating independent “own resources”, of serious significant value, a goal it has held dear for decades.

However, an EU-wide, or even Eurozone-level, agreement seems optimistic. With negotiations on the next financial cycle due to conclude by the end of the year, time is not on the side of Barroso and his band of Commissioners in his attempt to emulate Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Nigel

Image

Green is the colour...or is it?

Blessed with offices with a park-view, it has been hard not to notice the veritable explosion that has taken place over the last ten days: spring has finally come to Brussels!

What was grey and brown has once more become green.

And how fitting that greening is such a topical matter in Brussels at the moment.

In a rare display of harmony, Belgium and the European Union seem to keep the same pace with each other.

Unfortunately, the sun does not shine as radiantly on the policy side of things as on Brussels’ trees, quite the contrary; dark clouds are gathering on the horizon.

The first thing that springs to mind are the ongoing negotiations on the CAP reform in both Parliament and Council, where the Commission’s greening proposals have come to form a divide between MEPs and delegations.

While decision-makers in principle welcome the measures, opinions vary on the modalities and character of the Commission’s proposal.

After all, tying 30%of the Direct Payments to farmers for  greening measures was bound to cause a stir…

Speaking of stirs, the negotiations on the future EU budget finally seem to have hit a nerve for some Member States. Naturally, we are referring to last week’s GAC meeting ,during which delegations let off some steam concerning spending obligations.

Once again, the green was the main focus of discussions, although a different kind of green: several net-paying Member States demanded the budget be cut by €100 bn. Sometimes too much green makes you see red, says the Lobby.

Surely, the negotiations on the CAP and the budget will be lengthy (did I hear someone say delayed?) and keep on stirring emotions.

In the meantime we will keep enjoying the park view.

- Tobias

The newly elected European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced in an interview that he is going to try to “put the European Parliament in a confrontation with the heads of government.”

Is the Parliament going to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee? (photo courtest of Mark Pellegrini)

The reason behind this is that, in Mr Schulz’s view, the European Council is becoming more and more powerful, while the European Parliament’s role either “goes unappreciated or [is] stolen by the Member States”.

Clearly, this assessment can only be confirmed by people working in the “Eurobubble”.

When going back home, people seldom realise that the European Parliament is in fact a key institution and no longer a talking shop. Worse, only 43% of electors actually go and vote on election day.

This confirms one of the many shortcomings of the Lisbon Treaty: instead of truly democratising the EU, it actually gave more powers to the European Council by making it an official EU institution, which can de facto act as a sort of directoire.

Of course, one could say that governments are under control of their Parliaments back home, but in times when an increasing number of competences are being transferred to the EU, one would expect that the Parliament – which only focuses on EU issues – gets a louder voice and is appreciated as such by the general public.

In this regard, Martin Schulz’s initiative seems very positive.

Yet, the Lobby cannot help thinking that domestic politics may be the cause. By weakening the Council, the Parliament is weakening its de facto leadership, namely Ms Merkel –  something which the SPD, Mr Schulz’s home party, may try to exploit in the 2013 national elections.

It would be disappointing if this should be true, since this would show that even the European Parliament only sees itself as a means to fulfil domestic politics goals.

Yet, sometimes the ends do justify the means. Therefore, whatever its intentions, The Lobby hopes the European Parliament will experience some proper infighting, which at least will ensure the EU gets a little more democratic!

- Christian

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