Agenda

This WEEK in the European Union

16.09.11 @ 20:31

  1. By Leigh Phillips

The coming week will see all eyes once again focussed sharply on the rapidly metastasising eurozone crisis, although little official is programmed. According to EU officials everything is “still fluid”.

  • The UN hall in New York. EU President Herman van Rompuy is to make his first speech to the General Assembly (Photo: tomdz)

Greece is fast running out of cash, although it is believed that the government has until mid-October before the crunch comes. The troika inspectorate of the EU, ECB and IMF are hoping to return “by the end of September”, according to the commission, to complete their assessment of the country’s progress in meeting its structural reform, privatisation and austerity promises made to international lenders.

As long as the troika review mission gives the green light, euro-area member states and the IMF are expected to release the sixth tranche of bail-out cash, some €8 billion, and disaster can be averted. But again, no specific date has been announced for the return of the inspectors, who left abruptly last week out of frustration that Athens was stalling.

However, the so-called Brics emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa this past week announced that they are in preliminary discussions to put together some form of ‘rescue package’ for Europe. They are set to meet on Wednesday to consider the matter.

Beyond the crisis, the week in EU land is still a packed few days. After winning a new status in the UN General Assembly just shy of most of the rights of a fully-fledged member state earlier this year, the EU will be giving its new muscles a flex at the global body as UNGA meets for its 66th session. An EU statement in the general debate will be delivered for the first time ever by President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy on 22 September.

Beyond the EU president, the bloc is sending out its team in force, with visits from foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and commissioners Piebalgs, Hedegaard, Dalli, and Georgieva.

But even more historically, the Palestinian Authority is set to request recognition as a state and the EU is far from united on what position it will take in response.

Back in the European capital, on Tuesday, the commission is also to outline its strategy for what it calls the “modernisation of higher education”. The plan aims to boost the number of graduates, improve the quality of education and maximise the contribution that higher education institutions can make to business. This is the latest round in efforts towards a harmonisation of post-secondary education policies that has in recent years received a less than welcome response from students and some faculty. Nevertheless, the fact remains that according to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, 35 percent of all jobs in the EU will require high-level qualifications by 2020, but only 26 percent of the total workforce is currently educated to tertiary level.

The proposals the commission has in mind may be more amenable to academe however. They include proposals for the next EU budget to deliver substantial increases in investment for education, training and youth. It wants to significantly increase the number of grants available for Erasmus student exchanges for studies and work placements abroad and to introduce a new 'Erasmus for Masters' scheme to provide loan guarantees for Master's students on a full degree course abroad.

The same day, the EU executive will present a roadmap for a more resource efficient Europe, aiming to break out of the resource-inefficient and carbon-intensive patterns of the European economy. Specifically, this will involve a more sensitive use of all material and natural resources throughout their life cycle, from extraction, transport, transformation and consumption, to the disposal of waste. The approach will remain market-based, the commission says, a design that some green groups, who tend to favour a more interventionist and regulatory path, are likely to feel does not go far enough.

Tuesday is a very busy day indeed for Brussels, as the commission will also set out its framework communication on how criminal law can be given more “coherence” across the bloc. While many crimes occur across borders, this is a very sensitive issue for sovereignty, and the outline will stick to criminal law as far as protecting the environment, preventing manipulation of financial markets such as insider trading, or safeguarding taxpayers' money from fraud against the EU budget.

Agriculture ministers the same day will debate a revision of of the EU's scheme for distribution of food to the most deprived persons in the Union, in order to adapt it to the reformed Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). Some member states, though, feel that this area should be dealt with via social programmes rather than under agricultural policy and are steadfastly opposed.

The first meeting of justice and home affairs ministers of the season will take place on Thursday and Friday, with the Council expected to adopt a decision on the signing of the agreement between the European Union and Australia on the processing and transfer of Passenger Name Records (PNR). PNR is a record of each passenger' travel requirements which contains all information necessary to enable reservations to be processed and controlled by air carriers. The ministers will also review the state of play on other agreements with the US and Canada.

Ministers will also consider the question of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the bloc’s borderless Schengen zone as was agreed in June. The emerging consensus is that the two countries join firstly only with their airports and only at a later stage will the land borders be lifted.

Furthermore, the Council will have a look at a commission communication on a European terrorist finance tracking system.

On Friday, the Council will adopt its position at the first reading on the directive on the European protection order, which aims to deliver mutual recognition in the EU of protection measures taken in criminal matters. The ministers will also discuss a proposal for a directive on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings across the bloc as well the right to communicate upon arrest, both of which are part of a package of proposals that aim to set common minimum standards on the rights of suspects throughout the EU.

Over in the parliament, highlights during committee week include the economic and monetary affairs committee perusing new legislation on the level of reserves that banks must maintain, and the civil liberties committee voting on a bill covering the use of chemicals that can be used to make home-made explosives. The same committee will also receive US attorney general Eric Holder to discuss data privacy, transnational crime and terrorism, and enhancing US-EU co-operation in law enforcement.

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