La Treizième Étoile: 15/08/10 - 22/08/10 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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UN set to ditch EU's observer status but falls short of granting it a vote

Saturday, 21 August 2010
Posted on Th!nk3With the United Nations General Assembly to resume for its 65th session on September 14th in New York, the EU is set to receive special status in the chamber which will allow the European Union a voice in debates while falling short of giving the 27-member bloc a vote.

Subject to approval via a vote of the whole Assembly, under the new arrangement, as confirmed by European Council and Commission representatives last week, the EU represented by either the High Representative for Foreign Affairs Baroness Ashton or the President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy will be granted the right to speak in debates, the right of reply, to circulate documents and make proposals and amendments.

Until now, the EU had only observer status in the UN, without the right to vote or speak in the chamber – a bizarre situation that spectacularly came to light again when Baroness Ashton was recently prevented from taking the floor at a special UN meeting on aid to Pakistan despite the EU being the biggest donor to the flood-devastated country.

Instead, Steven Vanacker, the Belgian Foreign Minister had to relay the EU’s message as his country is the current holder of the rotating presidency.

"I would have represented the European Union myself in this meeting but for the fact that the appropriate speaking rights are not yet in place and expressed my wish that this hurdle can be overcome as soon as possible," Ms Ashton said afterwards is a statement.

On further investigation, it seems the EU submitted a resolution to change the odd situation back in July, but it came under fierce opposition from France and the UK, both veto-holding permanent members of the authoritative Security Council, who saw it as a stepping stone to EU full-membership of the UN and a move that would undermine their respective roles on the Security Council.

Ultimately, it seems both members have agreed to a compromise under which Baroness Ashton will have the right to speak on the EU’s behalf only in the General Assembly, but still not have the right to vote.

David Lidington, the UK Minister for Europe, was forced into explaining the new coalition government’s decision in the House and revealed that Britain had imposed strict conditions on allowing the EU's new UN role.

"The UK's support is strictly limited and does not imply agreement to seek additional rights in any other forums and does not prejudge whether the EU should actually exercise those rights on any particular issue," he said.

The condition has come largely as a result of the current Foreign Secretary William Hague, who while in opposition expressed concerns that the EU could use the new foreign policy powers granted to it by the coming-into-effect of the Lisbon Treaty. According to European diplomats quoted in the Telegraph back in July, Britain blocked German and Irish proposals to give the EU the power to call a vote but Mr Hague has since “had to back down” on what was a “very political and very sensitive issue”.

However, the move will only become official after a vote once the new session opens, but the outcome remains unknown since the resolution has given rise to anger amongst some Arab, Asian and African countries because their own regional organisations such as ASEAN (the Association of South Eastern Nations) and the African Union (modelled on the EU), will not be given the same privileges.

If approved in the vote, Baroness Ashton will find herself sat alongside a new European UN ambassador on a desk moved from the margins where it currently sits with organisations such as NATO, to a position symbolically closer to the centre of the UN's assembly chamber.

Kosovo receives Commission endorsement to join key European Investment Bank

Thursday, 19 August 2010
Posted on Th!nk3Ever since the International Court of Justice’s ruling on 22nd July that Kosovo’s “declaration of independence of the 17th of February 2008 did not violate general international law”, the partially-recognised Republic in the Balkans has sought to gain credibility and take its place on the world stage.

On Tuesday (17th) it receives another massive boost in this respect with the European Commission endorsing Kosovo's bid to join the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which each year pumps millions of Euros into development projects amongst its members.

Addressing journalists after meeting Kosovo's finance minister Ahmet Shala in Brussels, the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs Olli Rehn said that “membership of the EBRD would be a very important step forward following Kosovo's accession last year to the IMF and the World Bank and therefore the European Commission is supportive of this objective.” In response, Mr Shala said "we are very optimistic that Kosovo will reach the necessary votes to be part of this very important institution".

Established in 1991, the London-based investment bank has rapidly become the largest financial investor in Eastern Europe with significant investment injected into projects throughout Western Balkans and even to central Asia. In 2009, it had invested some €47.7 billion of its own capital in 2,835 projects and a total of nearly €150 billion when working together with other public and private co-financiers.

Operating under the mandate that “every EBRD investment must help move a country closer to a full market economy”, the bank is ‘owned’ by its 61 member countries who each own shares as well as two intergovernmental organisations: the European Union and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

With all four of its neighbouring countries (Albania, the FYROM, Serbia and Montenegro) already benefiting from EBRD membership, the attraction of joining is clear for the government in Pristina albeit out of reach.

As of writing, five out of the EU-27 countries and 22 out of the 61 EBRD member countries do not recognise Kosovo as an independent country.

But for Kosovo to be able to join the EBRD, only one of those 22 EBRD non-recognisers would need to change its position as this would secure the 75% vote needed.

So while the coveted membership of the United Nations remains out of the question due to the notable hostility of Russia, which holds the power to veto, Kosovo is not far from making another priceless step towards global recognition and once again enjoy the EBRD financing which it used to receive when it was still part of EBRD-member Serbia.

With that said however, Kosovo did join the IMF, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank in 2009 - all events that the countries’ diplomats used as actual proof of progress towards de jure statehood.

As for the Kosovan Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, he believes the ICJ’s ruling should open the way for more EU and UN members to switch sides and recognise his country. Writing in a comment piece for EUobserver on Monday (16th) he said the ruling was “decisive, and its conclusions were clear: the adoption of our 17 February 2008 declaration did not violate international law; it did not violate United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1244; and, it did not violate the constitutional framework that had been established by the United Nations to guide the interim stabilisation of Kosovo.

The opinion affirmed Kosovo's place in the international community, something which 69 countries have already recognised. I call on those states that have not yet done so to recognize Kosovo now,” he said.

Barroso rigorously defends EU response to Pakistan as Georgieva conveniently increases aid to €70m

Wednesday, 18 August 2010
Posted on Th!nk3Within 48 hours of receiving a critical letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy stating that Brussels could “do more” to provide urgent help to Pakistan, the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has rigorously defended the handling of the EU response to the floods in Pakistan in a letter of his own.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (left) and Commission President José Manuel Barroso pictured together in October 2008In his written response to Mr Sarkozy, conveniently released to the press on the same day as the announcement the EU would increase its aid to Pakistan by a further €30 million, Mr Barroso said that the EU had been the "first to react" to the crisis and “of the more than €40 million that was raised, my staff have worked hard to ensure that the money can be spent on the field as soon as possible”.

Referring to the EU's humanitarian aid department (ECHO), he said that "once again, the services of the Directorate General of ECHO are now demonstrating their professionalism and efficiency in responding to major humanitarian crises".

He did however confess he agreed with Mr Sarkozy that more should be done, yet, interestingly he placed the ball firmly in the court of the EU Member States themselves, rather than the Brussels executive – suggesting that he does not see an EU Rapid Response Force (as called for by Mr Sarkozy in his letter and others) as the appropriate way forward.

"The EU can, and must do more. For this, we must mobilise member states. With my services, I devised a plan of action that I wish to share with you,” he wrote.

And indeed the EU is to do more – with the announcement by this morning by the International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, that the EU will mobilise an additional €30 million in urgent relief assistance. This latest funding will bring the total humanitarian aid funds allocated by the Commission to assist the flood-affected populations to €70 million.

Justifying the increase in aid Commissioner Georgieva said that the additional funds will be used to boost the humanitarian aid operations carried out by the European Commission's humanitarian aid partners and that the Commission's relief experts are also active on the ground in Pakistan working “to ensure that funds are being used in the most efficient way possible to the benefit of the desperate victims of these disastrous floods."

On 23 August, Commissioner Georgieva will herself travel to the affected area in Pakistan and will meet with authorities and relief experts, as well as with people affected by the floods.

Is the EU a step closer to establishing an aid 'Rapid Reaction Force'?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Posted on Th!nk3The concept of creating an EU Rapid Reaction Force to deal with natural disasters is not a new one, but it now seems the idea is gaining powerful momentum in Brussels soon after it was revealed the French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote to Commission President José Manuel Barroso urging for a stronger common EU role in disaster relief.

Indeed, in January earlier this year the newly-chosen President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy on a trip to London to visit the then-PM Gordon Brown outlined his desire to create an EU humanitarian Rapid Reaction Force, which was warmly welcomed and was later cited by the humanitarian aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva during her pre-selection screening before the Parliament.

While on both occasions no further details about the possible structure of the force was offered such as who would run it, who would finance it, where it would be based, it was clear that Mr Van Rompuy’s intentions were honest and come in light of numerous occasions when the deployment of vital EU relief aid has been slow. As he stated in that press conference, this proved to him that "a better instrument for reacting - a rapid reaction force" was needed.

This was echoed in Mr Sarkozy’s letter to Mr Barroso dated 15th August, in his he writes: “for obvious humanitarian and political reasons, Europe should manifest its solidarity with the Pakistani population in a visible way. The interest of Europe is to help the development and the stability of this country”.

He also noted the EU can do more in committing to cover the immediate humanitarian needs to a greater extent, in coordination with its member states and the United Nations.

It seems the European Commission has taken note and looks set to lay out its vision on how to improve its capacity to handle natural disasters “immediately after the summer,” Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, a spokesman for Ms Georgieva, revealed yesterday.

Ms Georgieva “is going to come up with a paper on the reinforcement of Europe's crisis response capacity immediately after the summer,” he said before denying that this was solely because of Mr Sarkozy’s intervention saying she “has been working on that paper since day one” of taking office in February.

Naturally, the details are still few and far between about what form any eventual Rapid Reaction Force would take, and Mr Tarradellas repeated that it was “too early” to go into the details of the Commissioner's proposals.

But what is for certain however is that the creation of an EU Rapid Reaction Force would go beyond current arrangements under which the EU simply coordinates aid offered by national civil protection authorities, and would help to quickly mobilise EU funds in times of urgent need.

The main problem however will be finding the means for the individual member states to agree to pool sovereignty and act as one common bloc (how often have we heard this?). Especially in Britain, it is becoming an increasingly hard sell for national governments to ask their people to provide resources for Brussels and then add to that the fact that each member state has its own strategies and they want to put their own flag in the ground, not that of the EU, and you’re faced with a tricky conundrum.

Take the recent response to the flooding in Pakistan as an example: so far the EU Commission has earmarked €40 million in aid, while the UK which has a greater vested interest in the county as one of those in the British Commonwealth has individually pledged £31.3 million in aid – almost the same amount.

But not all are in favour of a common Rapid Reaction Force: Belgian MEP Louis Michel, the very man who managed the EU's response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, spoke out soon after Mr Van Rompuy’s comments in January saying that he was “very sceptical” about creating a special EU fast intervention corps. “We don't want the actors stepping on each other's toes and all the world's well-intentioned volunteers crowding the disaster scene,” he said in an interview published by the European Parliament's news service.

The EU aid mechanism as it currently exists was most recently called into action to help put out forest fires in Portugal and to contribute to the clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico in the United States following the BP oil spill. Back in January the EU pledged more than €400 million (£354m) in emergency aid for Haiti, to which an additional combined €92 million was pledged by individual EU member states.

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