Friday, 27 July 2007

Russia and West disagree on Kosovo

On 16 July, Russia again opposed a draft United Nations Security Council Resolution on Kosovo which had been proposed by the Western powers. Russia did this on the basis that the draft opens the prospect of independence for this Southern province of Serbia and that the Security Council cannot vote to amputate the territory of one of its member state. The Russian rejection came in spite of the fact that the Western powers backing the resolution had removed from the draft any reference to the automaticity of Kosovo independence, which had previously been provided for after a period of 120 days of further negotiations between Serbs and Albanians. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, has said that the chances that the draft would be accepted were “equal to zero”. He said that the resolution in fact applies the solution to the Kosovo issue proposed by Martti Ahtisaari, which Russia rejects.

Indeed, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has attacked Ahtisaari. On 13 July, and responding to reported remarks by Ahtisaari that Russia would reduce her international status if she vetoed his plan, Lavrov said that such remarks would be “out of place”: “If such an announcement lowers anyone’s international status, it is not Russia’s," he told reporters. Lavrov added, “If one side ... cannot accept these proposals, it is necessary to continue the negotiations and it is probably necessary to have an impartial international mediator foster these negotiations.” The implication was clearly that Ahtisaari was not impartial.

Ahtisaari’s plan provided for independence for Kosovo “under international supervision”. Since 2006, Russia has argued that it is inconsistent for the West to push through independence for Kosovo while denying independence to Transnistria (officially part of Moldova) and to South Ossetia and Abkhazia (officially part of Georgia).

The Russian rejection of the proposal is also nourished by a conviction in some circles in the Kremlin that the West is trying to encircle Russia and, in particular, to drive it out of the Black Sea. The Kosovo issue is part of this plan, to the extent that independence for that province would put a permanent end to any Russian presence in the Balkans.

The Russians are therefore planning to react in kind if the Western states go ahead and recognise Kosovo anyway, which would represent a breach with the terms of the province’s current UN-approved status as a part of Serbia under UN administration. Moscow would be likely to recognise South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria in return. These territories might well then apply to join the Russian Federation. A Russian foothold in Abkhazia would strengthen, not weaken, Russia’s presence in the Black Sea, since the province is contiguous with Russia’s own border on the Black Sea. This in turn would make the NATO accession of Georgia, to which Abkhazia currently belongs, extremely confrontational since Tbilisi would obviously then have a territorial dispute with Russia herself.

The geopolitical tensions are not going likely to abate any time soon. The Russian Black Se fleet is to relocate to Novorossiysk in 2017 when its lease runs out in Sebastopol in the Crimea, part of Ukraine. The Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, incidentally, is to host the Olympics in 2014.
Some Western diplomats have concluded that there is no possibility of any progress on Kosovo until the Russian Presidential elections of 2008. That is not soon enough for the West, even though it has been forced by Moscow now to put the whole issue on ice for a further six months. [Natalie Nougayrède, Le Monde, 18 July 2007]

The latest move by the West has been to try to supplant the UN Security Council and get another ad hoc international body to proclaim Kosovo independent instead. The German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has said that it might be “sensible” to give the mediating role in the negotiations between Belgrade and Priština to a “troika” composed of the EU, the US and Russia. “If Russia and the US both side down at the table, then at least there is the possibility that Serbia and Kosovo will move in the right way.” He said that he had already spoken about this possibility with the Russian and American governments. [Der Spiegel, 23 July 2007] Meanwhile, the Serbian Prime Minister, Vojislav Koštunica, said that the West’s plans for Kosovo had collapsed thanks to the principled stand taken by Serbia and Russia. The Serbian President, Boris Tadić, has rejected the right of another ad hoc group, the “Contact Group” (Russia, USA, France, UK, Germany and Italy) to mediate in the dispute, and said that new negotiations in 120 days’ time will give Serbia another chance to defend its territorial integrity. [Handelsblatt, 21 July 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here ----

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

France’s ‘general attack on the euro’

EU Finance Ministers have backed off from a confrontation with the new French President. They had wanted to force France to balance its budget by 2010 but they have been palmed off with an empty promise that the country will do all it can to reduce it borrowing providing that the economy grows. This means that France will continue to borrow until 2012, in spite of earlier undertakings to the contrary. But this is no ordinary wrangle within the Council of Ministers. Sarkozy’s disagreement with the euro-zone Finance Ministers goes to the heart of the Stability Pact and its philosophy. Sarkozy’s decision to attend the meeting of finances uninvited is being seen (at least in the German press) as a wholesale attack on the very fundamentals of the monetary union. For the Germans, the whole EMU structure is based on the independence of the European Central Bank; control over budgets and borrowing; undistorted competition within the euro zone; and benign neglect of the euro exchange rate, the control of inflation being the single priority for the ECB.

Sarkozy, it is alleged, is attacking all four of these pillars of the euro regime. He wants to undermine the Stability Pact (which governs borrowing) and change its rules. He wants to limit the independence of the ECB by requiring it to pursue an exchange rate policy: in particular, he wants the euro to weaken on the foreign exchanges, since thinks that too high a rate damages exports and growth. He wants monetary policy and budgetary policy to be closely coordinated. And he has attacked the principle of undistorted competition by having the reference to it removed from the new treaty which the EU is now drawing up to replace the defunct constitution. Jürgen Stark, the Chief Economist of the ECB, has attacked these proposals and said that they will damage the climate in which the ECB operates, threatening its independence. [‘General attack on the euro,’ Patrick Welter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 11 July 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here ----

Monday, 23 July 2007

European Parliament criticises flight data deal

In a strongly worded resolution, the European Parliament has attacked the transfer of passenger details on trans-Atlantic flights to the American authorities. The agreement was reached in the final days of the German Presidency of the EU, and the Parliament has now said that it contains “significant mistakes” and failings for the data protection of EU citizens. It says that many of these data have been sent too soon and saved for too long. Many MEPs expressed their anger at a meeting with the EU Justice commissar, Franco Frattini. The EU was accused of having sold the pass to the Americans. The issue dates from 9-11 when the Americans asked for access to the reservation systems of airlines bringing in passengers from abroad. The goal was to have access to information about credit cards and so on. The idea was to filter out terrorists. Chosen people were then detained on arrival and questioned.

In May 2004, the EU agreed with Washington on certain minimum standards to protect this data. But the European Parliament was strongly opposed to this agreement and it took the case to the European Court of Justice and won. In May 2006, the ECJ said that the agreement violated EU law, although it did this on procedural issues and not on the substantive questions of data protection and privacy. So the Council of Ministers continued to use the agreement as a framework for future negotiations. The Council and the Commission came to an interim agreement with the Americans which, in the eyes of MEPs was even worse than the original deal. According to the agreement, the American authorities could take the data and pass it onto other authorities like the FBI and the CIA, essentially without restriction. The Americans threatened to withdraw landing rights from airlines if they did not comply, and this put them in a strong position vis-à-vis the EU, which knew that the data protection would be even less if there was no agreement governing it. The new resolution, essentially voted by Social Democrats, Greens, Liberals and other left-wingers, said that the new agreement is based on non-binding reassurances by the Americans. Right-wing MEPs, by contrast, have congratulated the Commission on the agreement. [Stefan Tomik, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 12 July 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here. ----

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Now French EU Accession Talks Resume with Turkey

On 26th June, accession talks resumed with Turkey. The process, which began in October 2005, was partially suspended in December 2006 after Ankara refused to open its ports and airports to aeroplanes and ships from Cyprus.

The EU decided to suspend discussion on eight of the thirty-five “chapters” in the accession talks. Before the partial suspension, talks had been concluded on one “chapter”, on science and technology, while another, on enterprise and industrial policy, was opened in March 2007 but not completed.

France, however, has ensured that there will be no discussions on economic and monetary policy with Turkey. France opposes the entry of Turkey into the EU and has said that there is therefore no point talking about the euro. The other chapters, Paris says, might form the basis for a “privileged partnership” with Turkey which, it hopes, will be adopted instead of full membership.

Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing with Croatia: six “chapters” have been opened and two completed (science & research; education & culture). [Thomas Ferenczi, Le Monde, 26 June 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here. ----

Euro-politicians upset with Summit?

Some supporters of European federalism and supranationalism came away disappointed by the Brussels summit. The Belgians, for instance, did little to hide their dissatisfaction. Karel de Gucht, the Belgian Foreign Minister, said that he and the Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, had managed to preserve the essential points of the old constitution but that “The aim of the constitutional treaty was to be more comprehensible; the aim of this treaty is to be incomprehensible.” Mr De Gucht dismissed the treaty as “a treaty of footnotes”.

The Belgians are convinced that they owe the fact that there was a deal at all to the brokerage of Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, and not to the new French President. However, even Mr Juncker was clearly not very happy with the outcome. Speaking on the Saturday morning after the summit, he said that it had produced “a very complicated simplified treaty”. (A “simplified treaty” was what Nicolas Sarkozy had said he wanted.)

The Belgians and the Luxembourgers warned, however, that the deal at the summit did not mean that the new treaty would succeed either. A coalition of socialists and conservatives in the Netherlands quickly denounced the new treaty and demanded a referendum on it as well.

The German Green MEP, Daniel Cohn-Bendit (the leader of the May 1968 revolution in France), also attacked the new treaty, saying that it would not give Europe the ability to speak with one voice. He particularly criticised the opt-outs from foreign policy obtained by the United Kingdom. Cohn-Bendit attacked the British and the Poles, saying that they were quite capable of going back on their word. “I would remind you that they both signed the Charter of Fundamental Rights” from which Britain has now obtained an opt-out.
[Jean-Jacques Bozonnet, Rafaële Rivais, Jean-Pierre Stroobants, Le Monde, 26 June 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here. ----

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

European Court of Justice Demands Trade Union Law

In 2004, a Latvian construction company, Laval, placed a number of workers on Swedish building sites. The Swedish trade unions demanded Laval to sign a collective agreement with the same conditions that Swedish construction companies usually sign up to. Obviously, Laval refused to sign such agreement arguing that its workers were working under Latvian conditions and therefore the workers were subject to Latvian pay agreements. Furthermore, the Swedish legislation implementing the posted workers Directive was silent on whether collective agreements on wages should be extended to such workers. Consequently, the Swedish trade unions took collective action against the company, forming a blockade of work at all Laval construction sites. The so called “Vaxholm case” was brought by the Latvian company, Laval, which challenged the legality of a collective action in the Swedish courts.

The Arbetsdomstolen, the Swedish Court, referred the matter to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling as the examination of the legality of the collective action raised issues of interpretation of Community law. On 23 May, the ECJ’s Advocate General, Paolo Mengozzi, gave his opinion in this case that is set to clarify several issues in regards to worker rights. The Advocate General supported the Swedish trade unions.

Moreover, he takes the view that when the Swedish Union attempted to oblige Laval to sign a collective agreement in Sweden, it did not breach EU law. Therefore, according to the Advocate General, in cases where the national laws do not provide expressly that collective agreements are of universal application, trade unions cannot be prevented from attempting “by means of collective action in the form of a blockade and solidarity action, to compel a service provider of another Member State to subscribe to the rate of pay determined in accordance with a collective agreement which is applicable in practice to domestic undertakings in the same sector that are in a similar situation and was concluded in the first Member State, to whose territory workers of the other Member State are temporarily posted.” However, the collective action must be motivated “by public-interest objectives, such as the protection of workers and the fight against social dumping, and is not carried out in a manner that is disproportionate to the attainment of those objectives.”[1]

It should be borne in mind that the Advocate General’s opinion is not binding but if the ECJ decide to follow this opinion, such a ruling would have serious implications in the internal market, leading to more protectionist measures. It is well known that ECJ has been taking the view that the EU stands for a community of values, a social and political community and not solely an internal market. According to the EUobserver, Richard Ashworth, MEP, said that “the court must not allow trade union blockades to dictate the terms of the EU single market.” He said “if we are to achieve our goals of more jobs and higher economic growth, we need to encourage competition, not force foreign companies to agree to collective agreements they never actually agreed to.” [2]

The Advocate General refers to the right to collective action, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements, recognised as fundamental rights in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. At the time, he said that “the Charter of Fundamental Rights, although not binding, is principally intended to reaffirm the rights resulting in particular from those traditions.” More importantly, he considers “that the right to resort to collective action to defend trade union members’ interests is a fundamental right. It is therefore not merely a ‘general principle of labour law’,… but rather a general principle of Community law, within the meaning of Article 6(2) EU. That right must therefore be protected in the Community.” It is clear that this case will have several implications if the Court follows the Advocate General’s opinion.

---- Margarida Vasconcelos of the European Foundation recently reported on this case at the ECJ – the opinion in Laval un Partneri Ltd v Svenska Byggnadsarbetareförbundet and others (C-341/05). For a regular subscription to The European Journal, please click here ----

[1] Opinion of Advocate General Mengozzi, Case C 341/05, Laval un Partneri Ltd. V Svenska Byggnadsarbetareförbundet and Others, delivered on 23 May 2007. See:$docrequire=alldocs&numaff=C-341/05&datefs=&datefe=&nomusuel=&domaine=&mots=&resmax=100

[2] Honor Mahony. ‘EU court upholds trade unions’ rights’, 23 May 2007. See:

Prodi says countries have lost Euro-faith

The Italian Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, a former President of the European Commission, returned from the Brussels summit saying that, as a politician, he was happy with the outcome but that, as a European, he felt bitter about the spectacle he had witnessed. Speaking in Bologna the afternoon after the summit finished (in the early hours of Saturday morning, 23 June), Prodi attacked the Eurosceptic countries, by which he meant Poland and Britain. “Some people came to Brussels with a political mandate to put a brake on European integration and they fulfilled their mission,” he said. He added that he had never seen such an explicit and pre-meditated Euroscepticism. He said that in the past there had been foot-dragging on specific technical questions but that now hostility to integration had become “a doctrine”. “Many countries have lost the spirit of working together, they have lost the European spirit,” he said. Prodi said that Italy had been able to retain its own “red lines”, basic demands for further integration on which it was not prepared to compromise, but he said that he felt bitter that he had had to push this through in the teeth of opposition from countries which were against integration, led by Britain. These countries, said Prodi, “put forward a different conception of Europe with clarity and intellectual honesty” but that, while he did not regret EU enlargement, he felt that the time was coming when it would no longer be possible to allow countries to prevent others from going ahead further if they wanted. (This argument, in fact, is not new: Chancellor Kohl in the early 1990s, was always saying that the speed of the convoy should not be determined by the slowest.) [La Repubblica, Corriere della sera, 24 June 2007]

Prodi said that he greatly regretted the fact that some countries had attacked the EU anthem and flag, saying that these same governments – Britain, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands – were also complaining that Europe was too far removed from its citizens. Evidently Mr Prodi thinks that the flag and the anthem can stir people’s pro-European emotions.

However, the thing which annoyed the Italians most was the removal from the reference to “free competition” from the first part of the treaty. “The main responsibility for this lies with Nicolas Sarkozy,” bemoaned an editorial in Corriere della sera entitled “Sarko retro” (Sarko reactionary). The newspaper said that the decision to remove the reference to free markets was “absurd” and that it demonstrated once again “the protectionist DNA of the French”.
Prodi therefore said that he was in favour of a two-speed Europe (which the old constitution in any case provided for), which would allow some countries to integrate more quickly than others. The Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, said that Italy would put forward its vision at the intergovernmental conference which would open shortly to draw up the revised treaty. But he anticipated success. “We will have stronger institutions from 2009 and not 2017,” he said. [La Repubblica, 23 June 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here. ----

Monday, 2 July 2007

German federalists are pleased with summit outcome

The President of the European Parliament and veteran federalist, Hans-Georg Pöttering, has said that the new treaty has ensured that the President of the European Commission will be elected by the European Parliament, and that this will therefore strengthen the role of the Parliament.

Pöttering said everyone had been very shocked when Jaroslaw Kaczynski put Poland’s war dead into the equation and that it would take a long time for the German-Polish relationship to recover from this episode.

Pöttering rejected complaints that the new treaty was difficult to understand. “The essence of the constitution has been preserved,” he said. [Handelsblatt, 23 June 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here. ----

Oh! What a lovely Warsaw!

The Intelligence Digest has been reporting for over a year now on the dire state of German-Polish relations: they reached a new low at the Brussels summit in June 2007 which produced agreement on the new treaty to replace the defunct constitution. If the German press is any indication, however, the Germans are furious at way the Poles behaved. Polophobia has broken out everywhere. Commentators have praised to the heights the way the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, dealt with the recalcitrant twins from Warsaw – Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the President and Prime Minister of Poland. One newspaper denounced the way the summit went as “a farce” while another referred to “The Polish patient”, a variation of the film title, “The English patient” which expresses, for Germans, all that is wrong with the English attitude towards Europe. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said that, all in all, European integration would continue thanks to the new treaty, in spite of the rejectionist votes in France and the Netherlands and in spite of the demands of the United Kingdom: Poland, however, had behaved in a totally different way from the other Eurosceptic nations, and the Polish government had brought a “hitherto unknown, destructive style” into European politics. The Kaczynski brothers, the newspaper said, had tried to isolate Germany in the EU but that in fact their actions were purely self-serving. Poland, the paper says, is happy to take EU money – a sum approximately equivalent to Germany’s own net contribution – and she is happy to accept other financial support from Germany directly but the Poles behave as if Germany owed them even more. The paper said that Lech Kacyznski had now made it possible to continue his “destructive” polities for the coming years. “This is the demon of an age which many had thought past, whose poisonous breath is now blowing through the glass palaces of modern Europe.” [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 24 June 2007]

The Handelsblatt, meanwhile, called the Poles’ behaviour “a farce” because Lech Kaczynski, the President, was in Brussels, while his brother, Jaroslaw, the Prime Minister, was in fact in the driving seat back in Warsaw. While the President was having dinner with the other EU leaders on Friday night, 22nd June 2007, Jaroslaw Kacyznski was denouncing the German proposals on TV in Poland. The worst moment – which the paper called “absurd” – came when Jaroslaw Kacyznski said that if there had not been the Second World War, then the Polish population would be 60 million and therefore, for that reason, Poland deserved more votes in the Council of Ministers. It was only after massive intervention with Jaroslaw Kacyznski – phone calls to Warsaw from Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy, the Luxembourg premier, José Luis Zapatero of Spain – that the Poles were brought round. [Handelsblatt, 24 June 2007]

The Polish press have returned the compliments, venting their spleen against the Germans in general and Frau Merkel in particular. The conservative magazine, Wprost, caricatured her as “Europe’s stepmother” suckling the Kaczynski twins at her ample breasts. The newspaper said that Germany had shown its “post-colonial reflexes” in its dealings with Poland. Sixty years after the war, it said, Germany was still unable to treat Poland as a partner. German politicians and the media had launched a “frontal assault” on Poland. Germany had gone from being Poland’s advocate to its adversary. Meanwhile the daily paper, Rzeczpospolita, commented, “One has the impression that German politicians have lost the ability to distinguish the German interest from the European interest.”

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here. ----