La Treizième Étoile: 06/06/10 - 13/06/10 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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Dutch PM Balkenende quits as far-right the big winner in latest election

Thursday, 10 June 2010
The Christian Democrat party of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has suffered a humiliating defeat in the Dutch general election with centre-right Liberal party (VVD) emerging as the largest party, one seat ahead of the centre-left PVDA Labour party and the anti-Islam Freedom party more than doubling its seats in parliament.

With voter turnout at 74%, the lowest since 1998, the race is now begun to form a new coalition government.

Mark Rutte (centre) and his Liberal VVD Party celebrate the election result (Photo: Hollandse Hoogte)With at least 96% of votes counted, the VVD has won 31 of 150 seats, while Labour had 30. As the party with the most seats, VVD leader Mark Rutte could now become the first prime minister from his political camp since World War I.

However, the unexpected big winner was the anti-Islam Freedom Party, the PVV, and its controversial leader Geert Wilders, which gained so much of the public vote that I has more than doubled its number of seats in the parliament from nine to 24.

Mr Wilders, who was last year refused entry into the UK under an EU law enabling member states to exclude someone whose presence could threaten public security, has said he wanted to be part of the new coalition government.

Geert WildersDuring the election campaign, Mr Wilders, pictured left, campaigned to stop what he called the “Islamisation of the Netherlands” and expressed his desire to ban the Koran, and even suggested a tax on headscarves worn by Muslim women.

The strong showing for the Freedom Party has shown that immigration is still a hot topic in the country, whereas many expected the campaign to be dominated by the economy and the Eurozone crisis, since the Netherlands is the first country in the Eurozone to vote since a crisis erupted earlier this year over the single European currency.

The leader of the VVD party, Mr Rutte has advocated steep budget cuts, a pared-down government and a reduction in benefits for immigrants, and pledged that if his party won he would have a coalition in place by 1st July.

The VVD, which had 21 seats in the outgoing parliament, had topped national opinion polls for several weeks and converted its lead into 10 gained seats, while Labour lost two seats compared with the previous elections in 2006.

Without an outright majority in the 150-seat parliament, the VVD and Labour will now most likely have to forge a coalition with at least two other parties.

Jan Peter Balkenende (right) with Gordon Brown outside 10 Downing Street in February 2009 (Photo: Reuters)In a move not too dissimilar to Gordon Brown after his party lost last months’ UK general election, the outgoing leader Jan Peter Balkenende, pictured left with Mr Brown, resigned his position as party leader and said he was quitting politics - though he also said he would stay on as caretaker prime minister until a new coalition was formed.

Belgian Guy Verhofstadt, the President of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament whose country also goes to the polls this weekend after the coalition government fell, was delighted with the result and sent his congratulations to both Liberal parties on their outstanding election performance.

"The victory of VVD in topping the polls will bring another Prime Minister to the Liberal table in Europe and marks an historic achievement for the Party,” he said.

The 31 seats that Mr Rutte's party gained in the national parliament will provide a strong base for taking the necessary, if tough, measures on the economy to create growth and job opportunities in the longer term.

The election – remarkably the fourth held in the country since 2002 - was called after the centrist coalition government, between the Christian Democrats and the Labour Party, collapsed earlier this year in February. The government fell when Labour withdrew from the coalition after refusing to extend the Dutch contribution to the NATO force which the Christian Democrats wanted.

While the coalition negotiations can now commence, the final results will not be declared until 15th June, when all overseas votes have been counted.

But one thing is certain, there will be challenges ahead: never has the largest party had as few as 31 seats in the 150-strong parliament…

Positive noises from David Miliband on important role of MEPs under his leadership

While not a devout Labour supporter, it was rather encouraging to listen to one of the Party’s leading candidates for the leadership this week stress the importance of engaging with Europe and reconnecting the party with its MEPs in the European Parliament.

David Miliband (Photo: AFP/Getty)In a post on his leadership campaign website posted before he headed to Brussels to meet with them himself, David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary reminded his supporters that “it is important that we listen and engage on Europe. British engagement can see us lead a strong, outward-looking, European Union, supporting an agenda of economic reform and social justice at home and hard-headed internationalism abroad.

With a strong EU we can achieve more on climate change, international crime or on energy security,he continues,we don’t want the British PM to be sitting in the corridor at the forthcoming European Council while the other heads of Government, all of whom occupy places in the centre of European politics, make the real decisions and invite him in afterwards for the toast.

Wise words. Mr Miliband, who out of the five leadership candidates has the most political experience, the most reliable electoral majority and the required profile on the European and International stage, also advised the Labour Party to heed the former Conservative Cabinet Minister and EU Commissioner, Lord (Chris) Patten’s comments on the Conservative Party’s place within European politics.

In an interview with BBC Parliament programme the Record: Europe, Lord Patten predicted that David Cameron will eventually see the error of his ways and rejoin the mainstream centre right group in the European Parliament, something he described as the “sensible thing to do”, and an eventuality that Tory MEPs in Brussels have outright dismissed.

Whether the Tories move back to the centre of politics in Europe is ultimately a matter for them, but for Mr Miliband, he envisages a big future role for his party’s Brussels representatives if he became leader.

I want to bring European matters closer to our politics at home. These issues require real political leadership, and a strong voice in Brussels inside Labour’s Shadow Cabinet team. That’s why I believe the Leader of Labour’s MEPs should sit in our Shadow Cabinet team,” he writes.

It is an important and significant step that sends a signal to our colleagues in the European Parliament that we are serious about their work, and their role within the party.

Ed and David - the Miliband Brothers (Photo: Telegraph)While he already has a following in Brussels, and indeed his name was touted for the newly-created position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr Miliband’s words and actions towards his party’s MEPs emits a strong message that under his leadership the party would continue in his predecessor Gordon Brown’s footsteps of working hand in hand with the EU.

Mr Miliband is up against his brother Ed (pictured above left), Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and Diane Abbott in the Labour leadership race, the result of which will not be known until the Party’s conference in September. But it seems his move has found himself some new supporters with MEPs Derek Vaughan and Mary Honeyball declaring their support for his candidature via Twitter...

Is the new British coalition favourable to Turkey joining the EU?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010
David Lidington, the Europe Minister of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, who has voted strongly against further EU integration, yesterday provided the answer to the question of Turkey's application to join the European Union in response to a written question tabled by the Labour MP for Midlothian, David Hamilton.

His response reads:

"The Government strongly support Turkey's application to join the EU, subject to the rigorous application of the accession criteria."

Estonia gets further nod of approval to adopt Euro on 1st January 2011

Monday, 7 June 2010
Following today's monthly meeting of the Finance Ministers of all EU member states in Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker the Chairman of the Eurogroup and the country's Prime Minister told reporters that "Estonia will become the 17th member of the Euro area on January 1, 2011".

He said Estonia had pledged "to ensure the sustainability of convergence by implementing further structural reforms" and the positive decision came after the Eurogroup took into consideration the "impressive recent performance ... in fulfilling the convergence (Euro) criteria".

According to the convergence criteria set down in the Maastricht Treaty, aspiring members have to limit their budget deficits to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP), their gross debt to 60% of GDP and their inflation to within 1.5 percentage points of the three best-performing EU states.

As well documented, many Euro states have broken those rules many times in the last decade, but Estonia's deficit on the other hand is estimated at 2.4% GDP this year and its debt at 9.6% of GDP, which is better than any current member.

Today's decision by the Eurogroup is not the final link in the chain however, as it requires a further approval via a vote at the next EU summit scheduled for June 17th - which should be a formality now.

Assuming this is the case, experts will then finalise the terminal exchange rate between the Euro and the Estonian kroon, which have long been pegged, before Eurozone and EU finance ministers take a final decision on the issue on July 13.

Slovenia referendum vote result clears big obstacle for Croatia’s EU bid

On Sunday, citizens in Slovenia narrowly approved a border arbitration deal with Croatia on Sunday in a referendum, clearing a major obstacle to Croatia’s European Union membership bid.

A magnificent view over the disputed Bay of Piran (Source: 99.9% of votes counted, preliminary results showed 51.5% of Slovenes supported the deal, the state electoral commission has said. Turnout was around 50%, and opinion polls prior to the polling stations opening suggested that the referendum might go either way.

The result should boost Croatia's chances of joining the EU in 2012 if it succeeds in completing accession negotiations in the next year.

Under the agreed deal on the border dispute, an international team will now step in to help settle a dispute over the land and sea border that dates from the 1991 break-up of Yugoslavia. The ruling would be binding for both countries.

The Bay of Piran (Source: Wikipedia)In the past, Croatia has called for the border in the Bay of Piran in the Adriatic Sea, pictured left, to be drawn down the middle of the bay. But Slovenia, which has a much shorter coastline than its neighbour, feared this border definition would deny its ships direct passage to the high seas hampering its trade potential.

Slovenia, unsatisfied with their neighbours providing maps and documents in negotiations that failed to take account of Slovenia's position, exercised their veto over the latter’s application to begin accession talks to enter the 27-state bloc.

Prime Minister Borut Pahor, whose centre-left government made ending the border dispute with Croatia its main foreign policy goal, was understandably delighted with the result and told national TV Slovenia "this is a historic decision ... This is a big success for Slovenia".

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso too welcomed the referendum result, declaring it an “important step forward.

We now look forward to a final settlement of the dispute. Resolving this bilateral issue is an important signal for the region and the relations between Slovenia and Croatia," he said in a statement.

David Lidington, the new British Minister for Europe, equally welcomed the preliminary result saying “we applaud the determination of the Slovenian and Croatian Governments to move beyond historical disagreements by negotiating an amicable resolution outside EU accession negotiations.

As William Hague said in Sarajevo, Britain will be a committed and reliable partner in a sustained effort to put the countries of this region irreversibly on the path to joining the EU,” he said in a statement.

Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004 and is currently the only former Yugoslav state so far to have done so. With this result, Croatia will now hope to shortly begin accession negotiations and become the second former Yugoslav state to join the EU.

A small number of postal votes remain to be counted in Slovenia's referendum and final results are due on 29th June.

Jailed UKIP MEP's book vows to 'point the finger' but won't be a bestseller

Tom Wise, former UKIP MEP (Photo: won't be winning any book prizes or be in such demand that copies fly off the shelves but the jailed former UKIP MEP Tom Wise, currently in prison after being convicted for fiddling his expenses, has pledged to continue the party’s tradition of ‘pulling no punches’ in his forthcoming book to be written upon his release later this month.

Wise is expected to be released from jail on 29th June having served just six months of a two-year sentence, which was handed down to him in November 2009 by Southwark Crown Court for false accounting and money laundering.

During that trial, the court heard how Mr Wise, now 62, boasted openly about “repatriating” money from the EU to Britain as he lodged his £3,000-a-month claims for office staff. But, paying his researcher only a fraction of the allowance, he channelled the rest into a secret bank account used to pay for shipments of fine wines and other personal expenditure.

The court then learnt that the former MEP for the East of England could have pocketed up to £180,000 had the suspicious claims not been exposed by the Sunday Telegraph in 2005.

Tom Wise, as an MEP, in Brussels (Photo: then emerged that Mr Wise later managed to fool senior European Parliament officials into clearing him of wrongdoing in an investigation with a series of lies about where the money had gone, the court heard.

However, as his then party leader Nigel Farage was due to give evidence against him, Mr Wise changed his plea to guilty and received his reduced sentence.

Mr Wise, who was described in court as a “rising star” in the party and who during his time in Brussels sat on the Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport committee, was forced to sit as an independent until the end of his term in office after the UKIP party withdrew the whip.

But now, upon his release he intends to pen a book which according to a close friend quoted by will “pull no punches and he will not hesitate to point the finger at those who were culpable in what has happened to him.

I cannot help but wonder whether the book is in fact an autobiography since he surely bought this on himself with his fraudulent expenses claims.

But one thing for sure is that it will certainly not be well received by his old party; one UKIP MEP Gerard Batten confessed that even "if a book ever appears, I shall not be buying it.

As for me, occupying the spot in my summer reading list reserved for an UK MEP EU-bashing will remain the book written by a certain Nigel Farage called ‘Fighting Bull’…

Guess what? Galileo, the EU's GPS alternative, needs more money...

Do you remember Galileo, the EU alternative to the USA's global navigation satellite system? Yes? Well, it needs more money...

Last week, on Monday 1st June, the European Parliament's Industry Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) organised a question and answer session with the European Commission to learn of current developments and the financial requirements of the Galileo project. From the informative discussion the message was clear: it is an important project but the funding is tough in such financial conditions.

Herbert Reul (EPP, DE), the committee's chair reminded the chamber that "economically and politically, investing in the completion of the Galileo system is a wise idea", and that it would be "unwise to abandon the project halfway trough, as more and more economic applications are based on space-based positioning, such as applications in the transport, agricultural or construction sector."

As it stands, the current allocation of funds is sufficient to construct the first batch of 18 satellites, but many say that 30 (27 plus three spares) are needed to guarantee global coverage to EU citizens.

In addition, they will need to be upgraded and maintained long-term, and as a result, the expected budget for these factors combined will reach some €750 million a year.

"The Commission must certainly pay attention to a professional handling of the financing of Galileo," Mr Reul warned, as "cost overruns in the order that we have seen in the past should absolutely be prevented."

Control centres are currently being built and the first satellites will be launched in 2011 with 18 satellites deployed by early 2014.

Last election:

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