La Treizième Étoile: 27/06/10 - 04/07/10 Blog Archives
News from the European Union with a focus on the South West UK and Gibraltar region and its MEPs
My tweets (@SWUKinEU)
Optimistic thinking? Belgian official believes Cameron will back down in fight with EU

Friday, 2 July 2010
Prime Minister David Cameron gives a press conference prior to an European Council gathering EU's heads of state on June 17, 2010 in Brussels (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)The senior official quoted yesterday by the Daily Telegraph is either hopelessly optimistic or knows something that a lot of us in Britain cannot even imagine. Throughout his party's campaign for election David Cameron, now PM, vowed to restrict all future transfer of powers to Brussels and has repeated this pledge countless times since entering No. 10.

Now, following his first EU Summit as PM, senior Belgian officials have predicted that Mr Cameron will break his promise not to transfer powers to Brussels by yielding to plans for an EU "economic government" and City regulation.

These two issues are top of the country's agenda for the EU as it takes over the EU's six month rotating presidency and so grants it a leading role in negotiations.

The aforementioned article explains that Belgian negotiators are seemingly convinced that Mr Cameron's hard line opposition, a pledge written into his coalition government's agreement, will be sacrificed in the interests of pragmatism.

The senior source observed that no EU agreements would ever be possible if all European leaders stuck to the "totality" of their election manifestos. "It is impossible to have compromise with total programmes," he said.

I cannot decide whether this is blind optimism or ambitious thinking, but I certainly cannot imagine Mr Cameron conceding (if he ever does) without one heck of a fight. Six months might not be enough in that scenario...

Van Rompuy - the face on Belgium's commemorative stamp for its EU Presidency

Well it certainly appears Mr Herman van Rompuy is indeed going to play a figurehead role in his countries' six-month rotating presidency of the European Union in the absence of a new coalition government - his image appears alone on the presentation sheet of the special edition postage stamps that have been specially produced as is custom for such occasions.

Each individual stamp features the eutrio logo decorated in the colours of the Belgian flag and is of the value of €1 - the cost of posting a letter to any country in the European Union.

Priced at €4.50 a sheet, should you so desire to own such a 'collectors item' visit the online shop of La Poste (readable in Dutch, French or German only).

The UK 'will provide more EU officials to increase her influence' vows Hague

Thursday, 1 July 2010
There was a particularly interesting subject address today by William Hague in his first major speech as Foreign Secretary in which he laid bare the new blueprint for Britain's foreign policy - the subject of the number of British national working as EU officials.

Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave a speech outlining the Government's vision for UK foreign policy in London, 1 July 2010. (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/ the UK representing 12% of the EU population, he revealed that just 1.8% of entry-level jobs in the European Commission are held by British citizens and to this said "it is mystifying to us that the previous [Labour] Government failed to give due weight to the exercise of British influence in the EU.

"They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions, and so we now face a generation gap developing in the British presence in parts of the EU,” he said.

"As a new Government, we are determined to put this right."

Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave a speech outlining the Government's vision for UK foreign policy in London, 1 July 2010. (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office/ Hague, left, clearly wants to boost the numbers of Brits working for the EU and this ‘recruitment drive’ will form part of a “new approach to foreign policy designed to extend British global reach and influence”.

He then disclosed the number of British officials at director level in the European Commission had fallen by one-third since 2007, and the number of UK posts by 205 overall, but it remains unclear how the government can 'put this right'; especially when you consider the widespread euroscepticism of this country, and the linguistic barrier that forms one of the EU’s recruitment requirements.

While the majority of the work and conversations within the EU institutions are conducted in English, to even be considered for a traineeship, applicants must have a very good knowledge of a second official language, such as French or German. But only 2-2.5% of students actually choose to pursue modern languages to degree-level at university (myself included).

But then, there is another problem since European civil servants are duty-bound not to further their own country's national interests, so how will this wash with Mr Hague’s idea that more Britons should join the Commission to give "due weight to the exercise of British influence in the EU"?

I, for one, will be very closely following Mr Hague’s intentions and shall very soon be soon sending a letter and CV to the Foreign Office

UPDATE (01/06 - 15.15):

Chris BryantFascinating response to this speech by Chris Bryant, the former EU minister pictured left - speaking in the last few minutes on the BBC News Channel, Mr Bryant has called Mr Hague's speech "the biggest pile of posh tosh that I've heard in my life" and that "this is one of the worst foreign secretary speeches I've heard...There's nothing in it".

He said that Mr Hague had spent his career "trying to persuade Britain and Britons to have absolutely nothing to do with the EU" and that had had more of an effect on Britain's standing in Europe than Hauge's speech today.

"What I think is really disappointing.. he's not laying out a patriotic cause for Britain to unite around.. he's just trying to rubbish what we did in the past."

David MilibandMr Bryant's words follow closely behind the advise given by the former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband, left, who responding to Mr Hague's attacks on the previous government's record in foreign affairs, told him he should start behaving as the government post he holds demands.

The message to William Hague is very simple: you don’t have to play politics any more. You’re the foreign secretary now. Behave like the foreign secretary," he told Sky News.

William Hague built up a reputation as being very good at parliamentary jokes and very good at after dinner speeches. He’s now got a serious job to do and I think its very important that he just focuses on his job. Foreign policy isn’t about trying to take some silly hits at a previous administration.

UPDATE (01/06 - 18.17):

Richard HowittAnother Labour minister has waded in on the debate - but one that would know the European administration to a greater extent. Richard Howitt, left, a Labour MEP representing the East of England, has correctly reminded Mr Hague that Britain had more of the highest-grade officials - Director-General level - than any other country. "Across all grades in the Commission, we are in sixth place out of 27 member states, with 1,300 Brits in service," he said.

"Mr Hague should know it is counter-productive to make such an announcement which will only raise the hackles of other nationalities, when it was much better for Labour to quietly encourage British applicants without making a fuss but actually getting the result," he said.

Currently there are more than 25,000 Commission civil servants and British nationals hold six Director-General posts - more than any other member state.

Sending and receiving calls and text messages from abroad becomes cheaper (thanks to the EU)

Life's a beach... (Photo: Breff/ may, like myself, have received a text message from your network provider stating it had lowered the cost of using your mobile phone from abroad – but don’t be fooled: this is all thanks to the European Union.

Mobile networks would happily like to continue ‘overcharging’ customers for using their mobile abroad, but the EU’s roaming regulation which sharply cuts and limits the charges for using your mobile abroad came into force today (1st July) across Europe.

Members of the European Parliament strongly backed the regulation when it came before them at plenary in April last year, and now it is in effect. The new tariff limits apply to all operators in all 27 countries in the EU.

So what does this mean in real terms?

First of all, there is now a maximum tariff of €0.39 per minute for calls made and €0.15 per minute for calls received on your mobile phone if made/received.

Secondly, there is now a €50 per month cut-off limit to protect people from shocks at high bills they may have got through surfing the internet on their laptops whilst in another country.

Thirdly, mobile operators are now obliged to send users a warning when they reach 80% of their data-roaming bill limit, so that they are forewarned of the danger they will exceed the limit and incur huge costs.

Furthermore, the maximum prices for data roaming will fall from €1 to €0.80 per megabyte and receiving a voice mail message while roaming will become absolutely free of charge.

So now you can relax and enjoy your holiday safe in the knowledge you can use your existing phone and not be faced with a huge bill when you return.

This was not bought in by the mobile networks, but the EU, so enjoy the holidays and spread the word – why not via a text message or phone call from abroad?

Merkel made to sweat as her candidate Wulff struggles but is elected German President‎

She may have enjoyed the weekend's World Cup result, but back at home German Chancellor Angela Merkel has problems. On Tuesday she faced another scare but at the end of the day was able to break a relieved smile as her preferred candidate Christian Wulff was elected as the country’s new federal president.

Christian Wulff (left) and Angela Merkel (Photo: the job is essentially a ceremonial one, if Mr Wulff, the conservative (CDU) premier of the state of Lower Saxony in north-western Germany, had been defeated it would send another blow to Ms Merkel’s centre-right government who despite winning a clear victory in previous national elections has seen its approval ratings plunge ever since.

In Germany, the president is a largely ceremonial head of state, but also has limited powers to block legislation and dissolve parliament. The post's present importance is mainly as a litmus test of whether Ms Merkel can control her ranks.

In the event, Ms Merkel must have been sweating buckets of nervous sweat as her candidate Mr Wulff had to go three rounds to secure the vote by the Federal Convention (Bundesversammlung, pictured left) during the nine-hour marathon after not managing to secure an absolute majority to win election.

The Bundesversammlung (Photo: Wulff won 600 votes (out of a possible 1244) in the first round and 615 in the second, as a number of members made their voice heard and voted against the party whip for rival candidates.

The Linke (left) party then withdrew its candidate, Luc Jochimsen, from the third round, in a move the party hoped would pave the way for its members to vote for the main opposition candidate, Joachim Gauck, but instead they abstained.

As a result, Mr Wulff scraped 625 in the third and final round. Mr Gauck, secured 494 votes, and according to the Guardian had to fight back tears as the result was announced before he then received a standing ovation from the opposition who had backed him.

Following his election, Mr Wulff said he was "extraordinarily willing" to accept the office and thanked Mr Gauck for what he called a "fair competition". His inauguration will take place this Friday.

But even though Ms Merkel’s candidate won, the members of her government that made their feelings clear by voting against the whip have made their message known and many in Germany believe that the damage to Ms Merkel’s credibility may prove to be irreversible.

Belgium assumes EU rotating presidency while in political limbo

Belgium, home of course to the EU institutions, today (1st July) assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union.

Taking the reins off the back of its recent national elections, Belgium is in the unusual position of acquiring this status with only a caretaker government and so without neither a confirmed Prime Minister at the helm nor a coalition agreement in place to guide its agenda for the EU's priorities. Indeed, the negotiations on forming a new government are not expected to come to a conclusion until September or early October at the earliest...

It is therefore expected that the current President of the European Council, fellow Belgian Herman van Rompuy, will have a big role to play over the next few months.

"To a great extent, the Belgian EU Presidency will be Herman Van Rompuy's presidency," said Pascal Delwit, a professor of political science at the Free University of Brussels (Universite Libre de Bruxelles) in an interview with EurActiv France. Mr Delwit is also quoted as commenting that the lack of political leadership in Belgium means "no-one will be there to overshadow him".

Does this leave the door open for Mr Barroso I wonder...?

Our Digital Agenda Commissioner finally has a Twitter account - albeit FIVE months late...

Wednesday, 30 June 2010
It has taken a disappointingly long time in coming, but at last, almost FIVE MONTHS since her confirmation as the Commissioner responsible for Digital Agenda, the 68-year old former Dutch politican Neelie Kroes has a Twitter account.

The Commissioner for Digital Agenda (previously the Commissioner for Information Society and Media) is the member of the Commission responsible for media and information issues such as telecoms and ICT, and is supposed to use current technological advancements to make Europe "a true digital area" (words of Commission President Barroso in his November letter to Ms Kroes outlining the mandate of the new portfolio).

You can follow Ms Kroes at @NeelieKroesEU.

Neelie Kroes delivering a speech (Photo: Commission and its Commissioners still have a lot of work to do to improve its communications policy and methods in which it can communicate and listen to the citizens they are 'serving' and to me it speaks volumes when the Commissioner responsible for establishing a digital agenda and thus should be more "online" and "in touch" with Twitter and other social media requires five months to set up an account.

That said, at 68-years of age (69 in a few weeks), she perhaps needed that amount of time to learn what Twitter and Facebook are...

In fact, Ms Kroes also has a YouTube account and a Facebook page, but has also confessed on her Commission blog that members of "my staff will also make posts so that you get good information when you need it".

Gott! New survey says most Germans want a return to the Deutschmark

Gosh. I’ve just come across a surprising statistic that does not particularly bode well for the Eurozone as it seeks to re-establish itself following the crisis imposed upon it by poor Greek accounting – that the majority of people in Germany want to scrap the Euro and bring back the old currency, the Deutschmark.

According to a new poll conducted by Ipsos, 51% wanted their beloved Deutschmark back, while only 30% wanted to keep the Euro. The remainder was undecided. 1000 people aged between 16 and 64 were surveyed between April 9 and 12.

Delving into the latest survey results more deeply and you find that older Germans were, perhaps nostalgically, keener to return to the Deutschmark, with 56% of those over 50 years old voicing their discontent with the Euro. Yet, in contrast, only 42% of those between 16 and 29 shared this view.

The place of Germany, the largest economy in Europe, in the Eurozone is pivotal and public support has waned since they gave up their currency to lay the foundations for the single European currency. Public support has since hit an all time low with many in Germany unhappy to be having to pay so much to bail out the Greeks.

The previous Eurobarometer poll published by the European Union in February 2010 noted that before the Greek debt crisis, a massive 66% of Germans were in favour of the Euro, with only 29% pronounced against.

Last election:

Click here to see which six MEPs were elected.