Category Archives: EU budget

Update: Parliament confirmed to meet in Brussels for full session

The word is out that European Parliament Secretary General Harald Romer has confirmed that the coming plenary week from 1-4 September will take place in Brussels. Now is the time to fully acknowledge that one seat will do! – Sign the petition at www.oneseat.eu.

Here comes the Email to all MEPs:

Subject: Parliament’s September I session to be held exceptionally in Brussels
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2008 11:55:49 +0200
Priority: Urgent
From: “ROMER Harald”
To: “MEP & ASSISTANTS”

Parliament’s September I session to be held exceptionally in Brussels due to the partial collapse of the ceiling in the Hemicycle in Strasbourg – September II session to be held as foreseen in Strasbourg

Following the preliminary results of various expert enquiries that have been conducted after the partial collapse of the ceiling in the Hemicycle in Strasbourg on 7 August 2008, President Hans-Gert PÖTTERING has today, on the basis of a recommendation by the Secretary-General and after consulting Chairmen of political groups, taken the decision to exceptionally move the holding of the September I session from Strasbourg to Brussels in view of guaranteeing the absolute security and safety of Members and staff. This decision has been taken after consultation of the French Presidency, also in view of providing continuity to the legislative work of the Institution.

Members should note that it has proved impossible to find alternative solutions in Strasbourg, guaranteeing the full language regime and normal voting facilities for Members, for the holding of the September I session.

At the moment, the reconstruction of the whole ceiling of the Hemicycle is being carried out. In practical terms this means the dismantling and installation of various parts of a very complex construction. A completely new suspension technique, already approved by the experts and local construction authorities, will be used for the new ceiling. Although all the efforts are made to advance as quickly as possible on the reconstruction and assurance of the security of the ceiling, the procedure is lengthy and it will therefore not allow for all necessary legal obligations regarding security and safety of buildings to be made prior to the holding of the September I session.

On the basis of the progress of the construction works and the efforts that are made by the services and the companies involved in the works, the September II session will be held in Strasbourg as foreseen after the necessary verifications regarding security and safety have been concluded.

Preliminary cause for the collapse of the ceiling
The preliminary enquiries have revealed that the partial collapse of the ceiling results from the breaking of the parts holding the inserted ceiling which connects it with the actual structure of the ceiling. The ongoing enquiries – conducted by several impartial and international engineering companies – will further determine the details and liabilities linked to the cause of the collapse. These enquiries are being conducted in full co-operation with the local responsible authorities and with a high-level building security expert appointed by the French government.

Members are also informed that the costs relating to the repair construction will be covered by the insurance of the LOW building, not by Parliament’s budgetary provisions. Following the final result of the enquiries, the liabilities will be established between different actors of the time of constructing the original ceiling.

Practical arrangement for the transfer of the session from Strasbourg to Brussels
An inter-service group will start meeting today in order to deal with all practical and logistical questions in relation to holding of the session in Brussels. Members are invited to rearrange their travel and hotel accommodation the earliest possible.

For the visitors’ groups invited by Members, the Visitors’ Service will apply the maximum amount of flexibility: For those visitors’ groups that are able to redirect their visit to Brussels, the Service will do their utmost to put up a programme. For the visitors’ groups who wish to maintain their planned visit to Parliament’s premises in Strasbourg (without guaranteeing the possibility of seeing the Hemicycle), the Service will assure a shorter programme. Furthermore, for the groups of visitors who would wish to postpone their visit to a later occasion, a rescheduling will be guaranteed. Members are invited to take contact with the Visitors’ Service with a view to defining the appropriate arrangements.

With any other questions related to the holding of the session in Brussels, Members can address their queries directly to the private office of the Secretary-General either by email or by phone. My office will inform the Members on any other practicalities in the near future.

Harald RØMER
Secretary-General

Update: Parliament’s roof crashing in Strasbourg

Gerard Onesta, Vice-President of the European Parliament and in this capacity resonsible for the building/infrastructure management has clarified the following points (excerpts, quoted, bold from me):

1.  About 250 square metres of the plaster ceiling lining have come off in two phases on Thursday, 7th of August, one at the end of the afternoon and the other during the evening.
This represents 10 tons of material and 10% of the surface of the ceiling. Luckily the hemicycle was deserted. … Accordingly, if this accident would have happened during one of our sessions, this would have hit the representatives of the European Commission, a part of the EPP party and all non-attached members, as this are the parts of the hemicycle that is concerned.

If the whole hemicycle would not be covered with dust, the desks, seats and the voting system are only marginally affected.

2. All experts have clearly identified – without any doubt – the reason of the damage. It has to be noted that numerous international engineering companies (charged by the insurances, the public powers and the Parliament itself) have intervened immediately in the presence of the architects. To avoid a conflict of interests, the engineering company being the initiator of the project (OTE) has been excluded and the international engineering bureau charged by the Parliament – which was complemented with our habitual control body – is “not French”.

The French government itself has immediately sent the Director of the National Building Technology Centre to the place; this means the highest authority possible.

The fall of the inserted ceiling comes from the breaking of the flexible parts of the overhead suspension, which connects it with the steel girder of the structure. Effectively, to allow the acoustic for a room of this big seize being adequate, the architects had chosen to avoid rigid fixings so that the inserted ceiling could absorb sound waves. This is a quite common operation. The inquiry will determine if the overhead suspension from caoutchouc have been badly calibrated by the engineering company OTE, or if it has been wrongly placed by the construction companies, or if the chemical composition of the product has deteriorated over time.

It was also possible to note that the rubble of the initial works have been deplorably abandoned on the inserted ceiling, which could have caused a punctual overload. All this conclusions have of cause been made in the presence of the ushers (several hours of investigation with a multitude of photographic overviews).

During the incident, the breaking of one of the flexible overhead suspensions has surely lead to a higher weight to be born by the neighbouring overhead suspensions which then lead this to break off and hence starting a “snowball-effect”. There was neither a safety mechanism to halt the deterioration of the caoutchouc nor a warning system to announce the immediate danger.

It has to be noted that the hemicycle is the only room that has been constructed in this way in Strasbourg (for the reason of it’s seize), and that I have requested to immediately verify the ceiling structure of the hemicycle in Brussels. According to the first results of the investigation, it seems as if the inserted ceilings in Brussels have been constructed differently.

3. The works are not extremely complicated from the technical side, but they are lengthy because they are carried out on a huge surface and need rigidity and thoroughness. … If it becomes clear that we do not rapidly have the ABSOLUTE certainty that everything can be finished on time under the strictest respect of safety, the President of the Parliament and the Secretary General (the only ones competent for questions relating to safety) will decide – according to the evidence – that the first plenary session of September (01-04 September) will exceptionally be held in Brussels.

This is also the position that I am defending from the first day on: The respect of the Treaty that contains the obligation to hold 12 sessions per year in Strasbourg, outweighs no security imperatives

In order to allow the preparation of this session under the best conditions (reservations of flights, hotels) for deputies, functionaries and assistants the Secretary General must officially communicate the venue of the first session as from the end of the present week (at latest on Monday, the 25th of August).

4.  The costs of the works are not yet known – probably several millions of Euros – but the LOW building is covered by its 10 years insurance until December 2008. The whole costs will be hence born by the insurance of the works (the experts will distribute the responsibilities between architects, engineering companies, producers and companies). The European tax payer will hence have nothing to pay.

Decke im Europäischen Parlament eingestürzt

Einem Bericht des Internet-Programms StrasTV zufolge ist die Decke des Plenums im Europäischen Parlament in Strasbourg eingestürzt. – Nun könnte man denken, dass die Sache nur ein guter Promotion-Witz ist, aber auch Nachrichten.at bringt die Story und hat sich bei einem Sprecher des EPs zurückversichert.

Plenum Europäisches Parlament in Strasbourg kaputt

Und was lernen wir daraus? Nach Asbest und anderen merkwürdigen Immobiliendeals der Stadt Strasbourg könnte man den Sitz doch am besten auch einfach aufgeben. – Das beste wäre nun, wenn die Sache nicht vor dem 1. September repariert ist, weil man dann die ganze Plenumswoche endlich mal in Brüssel abhalten könnte! – Und alle würden sich freuen (außer vielleicht einigen in Strasbourg). Wenn die Verwaltung bei der Behebung dieses Vorfalls ihr normales Temp an den Tag legt, kann man sich sicher sein, dass bis September gar nichts repariert ist. (Nur komisch, dass die Verwaltung immer “fliegt” sobald es um den Zweitsitz in Frankreich geht…)

French MEP starts campaign for EP to move to Strasbourg

One CityI have just seen this new and pretty embarrassing campaign “One City” for the European Parliament to have only one seat – in Strasbourg. After OneSeat.eu this is not really a creative idea. Also it is quite embarrassing when there is only one (French) MEP behind this. Brigitte Fouré is not the kind of MEP who is known for her dedicated work in the EP (actually this is the first time I take note of her name). Have a look yourself and let’s see if she manages to make this a real European campaign – multilingual (it is not even there in German while at the same time she puts great emphasis on Strasbourg’s bicultural character)…

Give it a look yourself: www.one-city.eu

Großkonzern = Großprofiteur der Agrarsubventionen in Österreich

Anfang dieser Woche wurden zum ersten Mal in Österreich in einer zentralen Datenbank die Empfänger der (EU-)Agrarsubventionen offengelegt. Mit der Veröffentlichung der Daten setzt sich ein Trend fort, der bisher in allen Ländern zu sehen war (s. farmsubsidy.org): die größten Empfänger sind Großkonzerne in den Hauptstädten. Unser romantisches Bild von den “guten” Subventionen, die natürlich nur an “arme” Bergbauern gehen, um ihnen ein ausreichendes Einkommen zu bescheren, ist damit erneut widerlegt.

Top-Empfänger in Österreich ist die Rauch Fruchsäfte GmbH, die auch in Deutschland ihre Säfte vertreibt und übrigens auch die Abfüllung für Red Bull übernimmt. Mehr zu Reaktionen und den Top Empfängern in diesem Artikel im Standard.

Die große Frechheit ist aber, dass sich die Bundesregierung weiterhin weigert, die Empfängerdaten offenzulegen. Dies geschieht mit der Ausrede, dass dies zentral gar nicht ginge, da die Mittel ja von den Bundesländern verwaltet werden. Insbesondere in den Bundesländern, in denen Journalisten und Campaigner mittlerweile geklagt haben, liegen aber schon einige Daten vor (z.B. NRW – sieht www.wer-profitiert.de). Das Beispiel Österreich zeigt aber, dass die Politik von Minister Seehofer allein der Verschleierung dient. Wenn der Wille da wäre, könnten die Daten genauso wie in Österreich in einer übersichtlichen, einheitlichen Datenbank veröffentlicht werden. Vor der dann folgenden Diskussion haben Bundesregierung und Bauernverbände aber Angst. – Vielleicht zu Recht. Aber immerhin sind das auch meine Steuergelder und die schweigende Mehrheit hat ein Recht auf eine gute Politik. Immerhin: Dank der unendlichen Mühen einiger Europaabgeordneter muss auch die Bundesregierung in etwa zum gleichen Zeitpunkt im kommenden Jahr die Agrarempfänger offen legen.

Interessant ist übrigens, dass in der großen Fischereination Österreich auch 135.500 Euro über den EU Fischereifonds ausgezahlt wurden (s. Übersicht).

SPD und EU-Steuer: Nicht fordern, machen!

Gestern lief über AFP die Meldung, dass SPD Fraktionschef Struck einen Brief an EU Kommissionspräsident Barroso geschrieben hat. Darin fordert Struck die Einführung einer EU-Steuer, am liebsten in Form einer Körperschafts-/Unternehmenssteuer. Ginge es nach der SPD sollten dann alle Unternehmen in der EU gleich besteuert werden.

Nun bin ich der Idee einer EU-Steuer ja überhaupt nicht abgeneigt und habe mich auch ziemlich gefreut, dass die SPD die Idee in ihr neues Grundsatzprogramm aufgenommen hat. Wenn man sich allerdings die Sache mal genauer anschaut, dann verfolgt SPD Finanzminister Steinbrück derzeit genau das Gegenteil von einer Politik zur Einführung einer EU-Steuer. Dass die SPD mit solch einer Schizophrenen Politik durchkommt, liegt wohl auch nur wieder daran, dass sich kein Journalist in EU-Fragen hinsetzt und die Stellungnahmen der großen Volksparteien mit ihrem Handeln auf europäischer Ebene vergleicht. Schade. Denn, wenn diese Kontrollaufgabe eines Tages vielleicht auch wahrgenommen wird, käme Steinbrück mit seiner oft wenig konstruktiven Politik auf EU-Ebene sicherlich weniger gut durch. Damit stiegen dann auch die Chancen einer EU-Steuer.

The EU should take over the energy grid

Eon’s announcement last week to sell its grid was a massive blow in the face of the German government. Now German consumer groups and SPD MPs demand that “the state” should buy Eon’s grid in order to avoid Gazprom and alikes to buy themselves into the German market.

I think that the EU should float a massive investment vehicle together with the EIB and take over the energy grid inside the EU step-by-step. Then a European regulator could put fair prices and oversee sustainable investment into the grid. Such an approach of creating European public goods besides modern developments (e.g. Galileo) would best fit where the EU has its policy competences in any case. – It is clear that energy will remain as one of the core challenges over years to come and the Commission can create free and fair market conditions only if it gains direct access on regulation and investment. – In addition to breaking the European oligopoly market (= better prices for industry and consuemers) this should be of additional help to less well-off member states who can expect a serious investment in their grid infrastructure thanks to EU and EIB funds.

Now such a project would be a bold step for a bold Commission!

Fraud and responsibility for EU funds

Budget cow

There is an excellent own-initiative report up for vote in the European Parliament plenary next week. The Musotto report (doc) relates to the 2005 and 2006 annual reports of the Commission on the protection of the Communities’ financial interests and the fight against fraud.

The worst finding of the report is that vast amounts of EU funds are paid out irregularly or fraudulently due to lack of compliance on member states side. On top of that such cases appear to happen primarily in big member states – and in the so-called net-payer countries. This is ironic as these countries are the strongest advocates of “financial prudence”, continueing to demand tougher limits on the overall budget of the EU. At the same time precisely the same countries let go of their national control systems over agriculture and structural expenditure as well as revenues from televisions, cigarettes and counterfeit products. I really wonder why in particular governments like Germany, the Netherlands or the UK still get their way and no serious bashing from national media, parliament and the public?
In consequence the Parliament report rightly calls on the Commission to make use of infringement procedures and the withholding of funds in countries where the more severe cases happen. I say that Continue reading

Who should pay for the EP’s seat in Strasbourg?

Those who know me are aware of my strong support for the campaign to give the European Parliament one seat (in Brussels). – At least it should have the freedom to decide on its own organisation – and also its seat – by itself. As it currently stands that decision is in the hands of the Council, and actually fixed in the EU Treaties.

Greens-EFA Group logoToday I came across a very nice amendment of the Green Group in the European Parliament. In light of next week’s discharge report they are suggesting to move the budget for the Strasbourg seat into the Council budget because it is them in the end deciding on the seat in the current arrangement. Let us see how many MEPs of the big groups will give in to convenience again next week…

CAP reform: slowly but…

Commissioner Fischer BoelThe more time she has to develop her policies, the better is my impression of Commissioner Fischer Boel. The Financial Times reports on 30th December (find the article here) that she acknowledges the end of full farmer salaries through CAP subsidies. Fischer Boel foresees that farmers will in the future receive parts of their pay through the farming subsidies while they would probably need other incomes on top of that.

Even though she is still a bit reluctant to touch the current budgetary agreement lasting until 2013, at least she works on the reforms she can implement without another IGC-style agreement. Firstly, she prepares for the end of the shameful export subsidies at latest by 2013. Secondly, she tries to end with intervention buying in product markets where I always wonder why the EU has any subsidies from the start (e.g. wine).

What I don’t understand though is what the 2008-review rhethoric is all about as long as she doesn’t want to touch the more central concerns of the 2013 agreement such as export subsidies and ceilings? Maybe she just needs a bit of public pressure to gear up reforms further internally?