Agenda

This WEEK in the European Union

17.03.12 @ 17:25

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The Union's next seven-year budget, new tax laws, Palestinian refugees, Belarus and Syria stand out on next week's EU agenda.

  • Blair (r) - a journalist attempted a citizen's arrest on Blair for war crimes in Iraq during one of his previous visits to the EU capital (Photo: Council of the European Union)

With the Greek crisis abating, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, his budget man Janusz Lewandowski and the Danish PM will at a hearing in the EU parliament on Thursday (22 March) debate how to spend the €1-trillion-plus earmarked for EU expenditure in the 2014-to-2020 period.

An earlier discussion saw the Netherlands call for €100 billion less in spending. Other net-paying countries - Finland, France, Germany and the UK, as well as Italy - took a similar line. But poorer member states in eastern Europe want to keep money flowing to catch up with the west.

For his part, single market commissioner Michel Barnier will on Monday unveil first thoughts on how to regulate the 'shadow banking' sector.

Shadow banking - worth $60 trillion last year - refers to entities such as hedge funds, which can rattle the world economy but which operate without political oversight. Leading economists, such as Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, have blamed their mishandling of mortgage-related financial products in 2008 for setting in motion events which culminated in the current eurozone drama.

It will also be a busy week for Barroso's taxation commissioner Algirdas Semeta.

On Tuesday in parliament's economic affairs committee, he will defend his plan for an EU tax on financial transactions in the teeth of opposition from Sweden and the UK, who say it would see businesses flee financial hubs, such as the City of London, to avoid the levy.

Semeta and Barroso will also on Tuesday meet Swiss President Evelina Widmer-Schlump. The commission is hoping that Austria, Luxembourg and Germany will drop their opposition to an EU law designed to stop tax cheats from hiding money in Swiss banks. But Switzerland will have to get on board if the directive is to have bite.

On the foreign affairs front, Brussels will on Monday and Tuesday host a UN conference on Palestinian refugees.

The refugee problem is central to the 60-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict. But the high-level guests - which include the foreign minister of Jordan, Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad and Nabil Araby, the head of the Arab League - are also likely to speak out on Egypt, Iran and Syria.

On Wednesday, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, Fayyad and Tony Blair - the controversial former British PM who now works as an international envoy to the Middle East - will also discuss Palestinian refugees at a Brussels meeting of the so-called Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee.

On Friday, EU foreign ministers will, among other issues, tackle Belarus and Syria.

EU sanctions have been credited with prompting high-level defections from the Syrian regime in recent days, with more punitive measures to follow. On Belarus, the EU is keen to add two oligarchs and several Belarusian companies to its blacklist. But Latvia has now joined Slovenia in opposing the move in order to protect business interests.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, two of Ashton's top managers - Pierre Vimont and David O'Sullivan - will face MEPs in the foreign affairs committee to evaluate the European External Action Service (EEAS) one year after its creation.

Committee chair, German centre-right deputy Elmar Brok, has in the past rubbished Ashton and her crew, but EU countries have in recent months blunted complaints.

"Ashton is really bad at media relations. But her people do good work behind the scenes ... when we were negotiating the Iran oil embargo, Vimont clinched the deal at a private dinner with the Greek foreign minister," an EU diplomat told this website, referring to Greek fears back in January that the oil ban could see its refineries run dry.

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