Margarida Vasconcelos

It is well know that Brussels and the eurozone leaders have not been concerned in ensuring the rule of law. In fact, they have breached the EU Treaties in order to save the euro. All measures adopted to tackle the debt crisis, including the EFSF and the ESM are not in line with the EU Treaties.

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The European Commission has recently published the first EU Anti-Corruption Report, which monitors and evaluates Member States’ efforts in this area. According to the European Commission “EU Member States have in place most of the necessary legal instruments and institutions to prevent and fight corruption” nevertheless, “the results they deliver are not satisfactory across the EU.” The Commission’s report highlights member states good practices and weaknesses, but it has not “named and shamed”. The Commission has analyzed the anti corruption measures in place in each member state, it has identified and addressed problematic areas by making recommendations. Obviously, the level of corruption as well as the effectiveness of measures taken to fight it, is different among Member State.

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Following the recommendations of the de Larosière report, in September 2009 the European Commission adopted a package of five legislative proposals aimed to reform the European framework for supervision of the financial system, based on two new pillars: a European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) and a European System of Financial Supervisors (ESFS). The Commission proposed three separate regulations to establish a European Banking Authority (EBA), a European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority (EIOPA) entered into force in December 2010, and then the three EU authorities were established in January 2011. A EU supervision of the financial system has been in place since then, and powers have been transferred from the UK’s Financial Services Authority to the new European Supervisory Authorities.

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There has been considerable media attention over the letter that 95 Conservative backbenchers have recently sent to David Cameron calling for a national veto over all existing and future EU laws. Bill Cash has signed this letter. There are also six Conservative MPs, including Cabinet members, that although they have not signed it they agreed with the content of the letter. As pointed out by the Daily Telegraph this letter “represents a forceful intervention into the Europe debate, an intervention that signals just how strongly rank-and-file Tories feel about this issue.”

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Following two years of negotiations and successive trilogues, the Council adopted, yesterday, the common agricultural policy (CAP) reform package. The new rules for the CAP in the next seven-year period will come into force on 1 January 2014. The reform is far from being an ambitious reform and falls short of the promises that were made when Tony Blair gave up £7bn of the UK rebate in return for CAP reform.

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The EU's 2014-2020 budget is the first multi-annual financial framework (MFF) to be adopted under the Lisbon Treaty, which has conferred further powers on the European Parliament. The Treaty on the functioning of the EU provides that the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously, through a special legislative procedure (assent procedure) shall adopt the multiannual financial framework, but after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. Consequently, the political agreement reached last February by all the EU member states in cutting, for the first time ever in the EU's history, the budget from its previous level, required the consent of the European Parliament. The MEPs have used, therefore, their strong negotiating position to negotiate compromises with the Council and to obtain concessions from the EU’s Member States. In fact, the Member States have made substantial concessions to the European Parliament in order to secure an agreement. The MEPs have not demanded changes to the overall spending ceiling negotiated by the EU leaders but they presented, their own demands for negotiations with the member states. The European Parliament has been particularly determinate to resolve the issue of unpaid bills from last year’s budget. In fact, the European Parliament has made clear that it wouldn’t give its formal consent to the MFF regulation covering the next period (2014-2020) unless it has an absolute guarantee that the outstanding payment claims for 2013 would be covered in full. At a time when most Member States are reducing public spending and introducing austerity measures the requests for further contributions to the EU budget have been described by the UK Government as "totally unacceptable”.  The Government does not support such requests for additional payment appropriations for the EU Budget. However, the UK was unable to veto it, as the request for extra funds can be approved if a qualified majority of member states supports it.

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Despite the countless European Councils, Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings the EU leaders have failed to come up with a successful response to the crisis. There are some signs of recovery but the Eurozone crisis is far from over. The EU, particularly the eurozone, continues to face low growth, massive unemployment and excessive debt. The European Commission has acknowledged that growth is very slow to restore the unemployment situation across the EU. Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland as well as Italy can only retrieve from their current situation with growth but that won’t happen unless there is a repeal of the EU employment and social laws.

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The Government has been considering different measures that could prevent an influx of people not only from Romania and Bulgaria but also from Southern Europe countries and limit its impact on the UK economy. In fact, there are huge concerns in the UK, as well as in other countries, over so-called “benefit tourism”, whereby people go from their home country to another EU member state to claim benefits, abusing free movement, and taking advantage of social welfare systems in host countries, which puts pressure on public budgets. The UK is not alone in its fight against this.

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The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has recently published a report entitled
EU support for governance in the Democratic Republic of the Congo”, where it evaluates whether the European Commission has effectively administered the EU support to improve governance and whether it has taken adequate account of the Democratic Republic of the Congo fragile context when designing EU programmes. Unsurprisingly, according to the Court the EU’s aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is not effective.

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It is important to recall that although this year budget is €5bn below the European Commission’s original proposal for payment appropriations it is higher than the budget initially proposed by the Council, and, obviously, higher than the freeze demanded by the UK Government. The Council and the European Parliament reached an agreement on €150.90 billion in commitment appropriations and €132.84 billion in payments appropriations, which represents an increase of 2.9%, compared to the EU budget for 2012. Nevertheless, they issued a joint statement on payment appropriations for 2013, “acknowledging that they were “…aware that a draft amending budget may possibly be required as early as mid-2013.” In fact, they called upon the European Commission to present "at an early stage in the year 2013 a draft amending budget devoted to the sole purpose of covering the 2012 suspended claims (…) To ensure sound and accurate EU budgeting, the Council and the European Parliament will take position on this draft amending budget as quickly as possible in order to cover any outstanding gap". Consequently, we were already expecting the budget to be amended during 2013. Hence, although unacceptable, the draft amending budgets are not a surprise.

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