Brittan defends leghold trap deal

first_img“If you had a ban, any belief this would lead to a sudden acceptance of allthe things the animal welfare people want is mistaken,” he insisted.The Commissioner said the deal not only ensured improved trapping normsoutside the EU, but also introduced for the first time humane standards forthe hundreds of thousands of animals trapped as pests each year in theUnion itself.Brittan confessed that he would have preferred a deal guaranteeing ashorter killing time than the 300-second limit written into the draft, butstressed that the time-limit should be viewed in the context of the overallcompromise.“The agreement foresees that this 300-second limit should be reviewedwithin three years in order to be lowered to 180 seconds,” he said, addingthat traps which kill animals more quickly needed to be more powerful andcould pose dangers for trappers and members of the public.Brittan considered that the immediate phase-out of leghold traps was amajor success, and pointed to the tightening of the deal after environmentministers expressed concerns about the initial draft last December.“Any trap which does not reach the standards for humaneness will be banned. Speaking just days before EU environment ministers are due to decide theissue, Brittan told European Voice: “The deal means a major improvement inanimal welfare which would not be achieved by a ban on the import of fursfrom the countries concerned.”The Commissioner accepted that the agreement to be presented to ministersnext Friday (20 June) was “not one that secures absolutely every objectiveone could possibly think of”.But he said that, as a first step, it represented a substantial improvementand would achieve considerably more than an import ban. But for now, the Commission’s main task is to persuade environmentministers to accept the first two texts next week. With officialspredicting the outcome will depend largely on the ‘chemistry’ in themeeting, the appointment of radical Green Dominique Voynet as the newFrench environment minister could play a decisive role.Meanwhile, MEPs are keeping up the pressure on ministers to reject theagreement, with a report drawn up by Portuguese Liberal MEP Carlos Pimentaclaiming that it is completely inadequate. He says it will allow legholdtraps to continue being used for another four years, while “legitimising”some forms of this trap as humane, and claims the standards fail to takeadequate account of physiological suffering.He also says substantial derogations “cast doubt on whether even the smallcommitments made by Russia and Canada will produce much in reality”.center_img That is the main principle which has eluded us for many years ininternational negotiations: a definition of what the standards should be,”he said.He also argued that a major factor in securing agreement was the pressureimposed on Canada and Russia by the threat of a ban. In this, he says, theregulation agreed in 1991 has fulfilled its purpose.“The regulation did not say there should be a ban, unless there was noagreement on standards. Its purpose was not to ban the fur trade but tobring pressure to reach an agreement,” he said.Brittan rejected MEPs’ charges that the Commission had reneged on its dutyto implement the 1991 agreement earlier, saying: “We are complyingcompletely with the proper procedures and there is no question of therebeing any shadow of impropriety.”Apart from the bad feeling an import ban would cause, Brittan believes thatrejection of the deal would leave the Union open to attack in the WorldTrade Organisation. It would also expose the EU to accusations ofhypocrisy, given its opposition to extra-territorial legislation such asthe US Helms-Burton law.Negotiations are continuing with the US, which has so far proved unwillingto sanction the unconditional phase-out of leghold traps. “Our strategy hasbeen to conclude a deal with the Canadians and Russians because we thinkthat will make it easier to secure a deal with the Americans,” explainedBrittan.last_img read more

Growing interest in Fischler

first_imgHe is being talked of as the man to replace Austria’s Foreign Minister and leader of the ÖVP (People’s Party) Wolfgang Schüssel, whose position is wobbly after he called Hans Tietmeyer a Sau (sow) and Goran Persson a Trottel (fool) at last month’s Amsterdam summit. Schüssel is a bit of a comedian – a helpful trait when your surname means ‘saucepan’ – and was probably joking. But the fact that he denied the meeting with journalists at which the remarks were made took place at all has left him vulnerable.If Fischler finds that job unattractive – the ÖVP is slipping down the political ratings in Austria – he could go for the mainly ceremonial post of Austrian president. Elections for the job will be held next year and the prospect of Fischler going for one or the other of the positions has raised questions about who might replace him: Austria’s Farm Minister Wilhelm Molterer, perhaps, or another former Agriculture Minister Josef Riegler?last_img read more

Pressure on Monti over EdF

first_imgThe commissioner is expected to decide soon whether to launch a probe, thereby suspending part or all of the voting rights of bidding consortium Italenergia. Monti is under political pressure from EU governments and fellow commissioners who want to suspend EdF’s acquisitions until France acts to break its protected near-monopoly at home by liberalising markets.His services are being lobbied by the Italian energy conglomerate to scrutinise the Italenergia consortium. Established by EdF, motor giant Fiat and three Italian banks, Italenergia already holds 52% of Montedison.The group is optimistic that the Commission will intervene. “We’re convinced there’s at the very least good reason to investigate the nature and effect of the tender offer,” said a source close to Montedison. EdF and Fiat claim the Italenergia bid is not subject to Brussels clearance since neither the consortium nor any majority shareholder has a turnover above the 5 billion euro EU review threshold.But Montedison’s lawyers say they now have evidence to support their suspicion that the consortium is acting as an EdF take-over vehicle. They maintain the exchange of half of EdF’s 20% Montedison stake for small energy firm Fenice greatly overvalued the Fiat asset.The deal was not notified to the EU executive despite EdF’s statement on 2 July that it would be “subject to European regulatory procedures”. The suspension of voting rights triggered automatically by Commission intervention could enable Montedison to fight off the hostile bid at a crucial shareholders’ meeting on 9 August – or to win support for any friendly counter-bid that materialises.EdF said it would cooperate fully with any investigation. “Whatever happens will be of greater concern to Italenergia than to us,” said company number-two Gérard Wolf. “We’re only a minority stakeholder.”last_img read more

Accountants urge robust debate on risk management reporting

first_imgThe article refers to a discussion paper from FEE, the representative organisation of the European accountancy profession, on the future of internal control and risk management. We never said that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the US legislation introduced after corporate governance scandals, was “a bad model” as your headline put it. What we said was that FEE was currently not convinced about the usefulness of introducing across the EU requirements for published effectiveness conclusions on internal control over financial reporting as required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.In our view, any new requirements to implement reporting on risk management and internal control in Europe must be based on evidence that the benefits to companies, shareholders and the public interest will exceed the costs involved. But FEE emphasises that it will be important to take account of the views of investors, companies and others, as well as forthcoming evidence about the usefulness, costs and benefits of such conclusions to investors as Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act is implemented.Europe’s accountants urge robust debate on reporting on risk management and internal control in the EU. The discussion paper can be downloaded free of charge from the FEE website (http://www.fee.be). Comments on the paper are invited by 31 July 2005.David DevlinFEE presidentBrusselslast_img read more

Zalm sounds alarm over aid plans

first_imgSpeaking to European Voice on the fringes of the World Bank’s annual conference on development economics in Amsterdam on Monday (23 May), Zalm described proposals to raise aid through a tax on air passengers as “more or less a dead horse”. Zalm’s views were echoed by François Bourguignon, chief economist of the World Bank.It would have been better if finance ministers had made the tax applicable across the whole EU, he said. Securing property rights and reducing red tape in particular involved low costs but high benefits. “It would be a tragedy if this opportunity to close the gap to the Millennium Development Goals were not embraced by all of us,” he said.World Bank officials said privately that in emphasising institution-building, Zalm was pushing on an open door as far as the bank itself was concerned, since this was now a focus of its operations.One bank official said that he expected that when its new President Paul Wolfowitz took over next week (1 June) he would make greater emphasis on private sector reform one of his priorities. There would also be, he believed, a tighter focus on helping post-crisis countries, especially in Africa, avoid becoming failed states and havens for terrorists.He said that while the outgoing president James Wolfensohn was “a visionary”, he had “found it hard to say ‘No’ to new initiatives”. France, Germany and Belgium backed the scheme during talks at the informal Ecofin on 14 May but not all countries are ready to introduce it.But, Bourguignon said: “I think the EU’s political will to increase development assistance is there.”Zalm admitted that the EU’s confusion over its approach to increasing development assistance risked weakening its ‘soft power’ foreign policy, with national governments putting forward competing schemes for debt relief.Zalm also conceded that the confusion sent out a poor signal ahead of the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Gleneagles in July and the United Nations summit in September where aid will feature prominently.In his speech to the World Bank meeting, Zalm called on developing countries to put much greater emphasis on making their economies attractive to private investors.“Creating a good investment climate is an area where reform can still have an enormous pay-off, creating up to 2% [of gross domestic product] extra economic growth [per year] in developing countries,” Zalm said.center_img An EU official expressed the hope that Wolfowitz would make it a priority “to broker a deal” on the contentious issue of debt relief.The US has been calling for a write-off of the developing countries’ debts to the multilateral development banks. The EU believes this course would condemn the banks to a protracted period of decline.The EU official said that if the new World Bank president could bridge the gap between the EU and the US on this issue and not simply push the US position, this would send out a positive message of co-operation. Stewart Fleming is a freelance journalist based in Brussels.last_img read more

Green boat-trip puts wind up MEPs

first_imgWind-power has its limits, or so a gaggle of Green MEPs found out last week during a visit to a wind farm off the coast of Copenhagen.The Greens were enjoying the views on the ¯resund, the wintry channel of water that separates Denmark from Sweden, when calamity struck. In the midst of finding out that wind-power is created by turbines, not windmills, and learning the benefits of renewable energy, the ship struck land, even though the captain’s instruments were all working correctly. Perhaps he was having too much fun preaching to the converted.Despite the collective wind-power of a dozen Parliamentarians, including Dany Cohn-Bendit, the Greens still required a tug to pull the ship to safety. The tug, it must be regretfully reported, was powered by some non-renewable fossil fuel.last_img read more

Are our Polish friends prickly or patronised?

first_imgBritain’s ambassador to Poland, Charles Crawford, is sharp in his wits, pen and humour. But from the press coverage he’s received this week, one might assume that the ideal diplomat is a timid humourless dullard whose words are so tangled and floppy that they offend nobody. There’s certainly no shortage of such people.Mr Crawford’s crime, in Polish eyes at least, was to write a tongue-in-cheek memo to his bosses in London, outlining some blunt points that, in an ideal world, Tony Blair might have made to his counterparts at the EU summit. It was a bit overstated in parts. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), for example, is not “the most stupid, immoral state-subsidised policy in human history, give or take Communism.” It’s true that the CAP kills a lot of people indirectly, but for a start, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, or Hitler’s Final Solution, have probably killed more. And the comparison is a bit tasteless. Agricultural subsidies are bad, but they are driven by greed and ignorance, not a conscious intention to exterminate Untermenschen or bourgeois deviationists.But what infuriated some Poles was his characterisation of the new member states as ungratefully rude for the fact that Britain, by opening its labour markets, had created “more jobs for Poles in the past year than the Polish Government”. Ouch. That prompted a storm of protest in Poland, where short-term emigration to Britain is a sensitive subject. Polish physicists may earn good money fixing bathroom taps and laptops for the British middle-classes, but that doesn’t mean that they like it. I sometimes wonder how I would feel if I had to subsidise my work as a journalist at The Economist by spending my holidays picking mushrooms in Poland. The Polish foreign ministry, unamused, summoned Mr Crawford for a chat.But Mr Crawford has nothing to apologise for. Indeed, as a British taxpayer, I am rather proud of him. I want my country’s diplomats to have the freedom to be candid and caustic. I’d be even happier if the government listened more and leaked less. But that’s not Mr Crawford’s fault. The story took another twist when a diary item in the Financial Times UK edition poked fun at Polish prickliness, with an apology, ostensibly by Mr Crawford, that sarcastically complimented the Poles for being “marvellously unencumbered” by the “traditional language of diplomacy”. It tried to make the point that there is a long EU tradition of privately insulting your partners and new members should better get used to it.This got the Poles (or at least some of them) even crosser. Jan Cienski, the FT man in Warsaw, and Mr Crawford held a joint news conference to explain British humour. Their case would have been strengthened, perhaps, if the FT website had made it clearer that this piece, written with a British audience in mind, was a spoof.I instinctively side with the underdog. I cringe when people living comfortably in rich Western countries mock the former captive nations. Silly stereotypes that no one would use about black people have free rein when it comes to Moldovans or Kazaks. Poles are understandably prickly about being patronised. But the best response would be to leak a Polish diplomat’s similarly punchy thoughts about old rich Europe’s pomposity and hypocrisy. Why is that so hard to imagine?last_img read more

Economy could swing Swiss vote on travel agreement with EU

first_imgSwiss voters will decide on 8 February whether to continue a bilateral agreement on freedom of movement with the European Union and to extend the agreement to Bulgaria and Romania, which entered the EU in 2007. Polls show that 49% are in favour and 40% opposed, but analysts are warning that bad economic news could yet swing the vote. Campaigners for a ‘No’ vote say that unemployment among foreign-born Swiss residents – more than one-fifth of the population are non-citizens – is higher than average. The right-wing Swiss People’s Party, the only party in the government coalition to campaign against the measure, is also playing on fears of a crime wave.  Freedom of movement forms part of a package of bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland concluded in 1999 and a ‘No’ vote would automatically lead to the termination of all agreements, including those on public procurement or transport, though some legal experts dispute that view. The Swiss government has until the end of May to notify the EU of the outcome and according to most experts the agreements would automatically lapse after a six-month period if the Swiss vote ‘No’. As a result, the vote has turned into a referendum on Switzerland’s strategic decision, taken in the early 1990s, not to seek membership of the EU while closely integrating its economy with that of the EU through bilateral agreements. Some Swiss politicians have accused the EU of “blackmail” because of the linkage between the seven bilateral agreements concluded in 1999. A European official pointed out that the EU was a single bloc of 27 member states and that it was non sensical for Switzerland to try to pick the member states to which bilateral agreements should apply. 49%The percentage of Swiss citizens polled that are in favour of extending agreements on freedom of movement to Bulgaria and Romania Fact Filelast_img read more

Conservative confusion

first_imgProblems for the European Conservatives and Reformists. More unrest in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group after Michal Kaminski tendered his resignation as group leader. A spokes-man for the group said that Kaminski confirmed his intention to step aside on Friday (28 January) but will stay on until a new group leader is chosen on 8 March. Kaminski’s resignation did not come as a surprise to many in the group, amid growing tensions between the leader and his former colleagues in Poland’s Law and Justice party (PiS). The infighting has raised doubts about whether the group can hold together. He resigned from the PiS because he was concerned about its shift to the right – concerns that have led to a number of moderates leaving the PiS. The UK Conservatives are likely to take the over the ECR leadership. Timothy Kirkhope, a former leader of the Conservative delegation in the Parliament, is seen as the frontrunner to be named group leader.last_img read more

The EU’s first anti-subsidy tariffs

first_imgThe EU is expected to impose its first-ever anti-subsidy tariffs on China soon. The member states will have to decide by mid-May whether to follow a recommendation for tariffs of up to 16% made by the Commission last month, to counter Chinese state aid for exporters of coated fine paper. The EU’s market for glossy paper is worth around €4 billion annually.  In its confidential report, the Commission made a series of assumptions because the Chinese government did not co-operate in the investigation and because China is not a market economy. These assumptions mean in effect that any loan from a Chinese bank is considered a subsidy, according to representatives of one of the firms involved in the dispute. Another trade lawyer welcomed the Commission’s firmness and said that China’s exporters were all “heavily subsidised”. Also in May, member states will have to decide whether provisional anti-dumping tariffs of up to 39.1% on glossy paper from China should be made permanent. The EU has imposed anti-dumping tariffs on dozens of Chinese products, more than from any other country.last_img read more