In this week’s newsletter, we focus on the following five topics: plans to tighten patrols of the Mediterranean Sea to avoid renewed immigration tragedies; the ESMA’s criticism towards the three big rating agencies; the perception of corruption in Spain and the EU; the pro-EU protests in Ukraine; and the adoption of anti-dumping tariffs on some imported Chinese solar panels. Enjoy the reading and share with us your opinion about these topics!
Plans to tighten patrols of the Mediterranean Sea to avoid immigration tragedies
The European Commission presented on December 4th a plan of action to fight against human trafficking and illegal immigration at the southern border of the EU. These proposals, after being discussed by the 28 ministers for Home Affairs, will be on the agenda of the European Council of 19-20 December. Air and maritime patrols should be strengthened across the whole Mediterranean border to spot and intercept (and, if necessary, help) migrants on boats. A European Patrol’s Network would be set up and backed by Frontex, the existing EU border agency. The increased number of patrols will cost €14 million a year. In addition, border guards will be able to rely on Eurosur, a new information exchange system which became operational On Monday 2 December.
The action plan also includes prevention measures such as facilitating asylum requests before travelling to the EU. So, if the request is accepted, these people could travel legally and securely to the EU. Another idea is to encourage the “policy of resettlement”: the vulnerable asylum seekers would be brought from their home country or from a refugee camp directly to the (EU) country of asylum. Increased cooperation with transit States such as Morocco and Libya should also help reducing the risk of renewed human tragedies.
Some Member States already warned that this increased presence at sea should not have as a consequence that traffickers start migrants’ journeys when Frontex boats are nearby, so that the latter pick up the migrants. On the contrary, Green politicians criticised the proposal because it was too focused on surveillance and not enough on rescue.
The ESMA questions the independency of rating agencies
The European Securities and Market Authority (ESMA), a European financial regulator, revealed it had identified “deficiencies” in the process of rating sovereign debt, which had an impact on “the quality, independence and integrity” of ratings. All three major rating agencies (Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s) are concerned. Among the criticised practice, the ESMA noticed the use of junior staff to work on sovereign debt ratings, the disclosure of future rating changes to unauthorised third parties and the delay in publicising ratings changes, and conflicts of interest. These accusations come in a context where rating agencies are still very unpopular in Europe, being accused of reinforcing the debt crisis by repeatedly downgrading the rating of some Member States. The ESMA will now have to proof whether the European regulation on ratings agencies has been breached; if it comes to a positive conclusion, it may take “appropriate measures”, e.g., levy a fine on the three agencies. In addition, the ESMA called for “remedial action”. All three agencies have claimed to respect the rules and to address the ESMA’s identified shortcomings to enhance their operations. Not all the report was bad, as the ESMA also highlighted some positive practices in training programmes and internal debate on ratings.
A perceived rise of corruption in Spain, while the EU overall slightly improves
According to Transparency International’s index of corruption perception, Spain is the country with the second-highest rise of corruption, after Syria. It fell to the 40th position in the ranking (the 1st being the least corrupt). This result may be explained by several scandals which affected the Kingdom in the past months and which involved the royal family and politicians (in particular, there was the high-profile case of the Partido Popular of PM Rajoy, when its ex-treasurer admitted that several important PP politicians had received cash donations from construction firms). Anti-corruption actors warned on the negative impact that this could have on foreign investment and economic recovery.
4 EU Member States are in the top 10 of the countries perceived as least corrupt: Denmark (1st ex aequo with New Zealand), Sweden and Finland (ex aequo on the third place) and the Netherlands (8th). Greece is the Member State perceived as the most affected by corruption: it ranks 81st globally. Other lowly ranked countries include Bulgaria, Romania and Italy. The UK was ranked 14th.
The EU and Ukraine: the street against the President
The decision of the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, not to sign an agreement with the EU as planned last week has unexpectedly triggered massive protests in this country, as over 100,000 people rallied last week-end to call for the President’s resignation and for closer ties with the EU. As the protests stepped up, the authorities used force against demonstrators, but, under pressure from European leaders, Mr Yanukovych seems to have, for the time being, abandoned the idea of hard repression. The issue united the opposition to Mr Yanukovych, traditionally seen as pro-Russian. He even admitted that he had declined the deal under Russian pressure – Russia, which wants to build a “Eurasian trade union”, threatens to block Ukrainian imports and also gas exports to the country –, fearing that his country would economically collapse if the ties to Russia are severed. The Ukrainian President probably wanted the EU to offer more support than agreed upon.
The European answer to the pro-EU demonstrations has been to confirm that the deal was still open to Ukraine, paving the way for a possible peaceful solution. Mr Yanukovych has issued contradictory statements and now promised to do everything he can to quickly bring closer Ukraine and the EU. The EU leaders also urged the President to refrain from violently repressing the demonstrations.
It seems that, despite its internal difficulties and relative unpopularity, the EU still attracts neighbour people as it represents the hope of democracy, freedom, modernity and prosperity that many citizens of EU neighbour countries still do not enjoy. In Ukraine, this particularly appeals to the demonstrators, who have gone further than just challenging their President’s foreign policy and now want him to leave power, as he represents a corrupt political elite that managed to come back to power despite the 2004 “Orange Revolution”.
Anti-dumping measures against Chinese solar energy panels
From Friday 6 December, the EU will impose anti-dumping tariffs on some Chinese solar panels during 2 years. Talks of trade sanctions had already appeared last summer, but Germany has suggested further negotiations with Beijing. An agreement has been reached with the Chinese authorities, to set a minimum price for imported solar panels (56-60 cents/watt), but around a quarter of Chinese producers have not accepted its terms, so that their products will now be taxed at a 47% tariff rate.
EU ProSun, the organisation that regroups European producers of solar panels, considers the whole action insufficient and has gone to the ECJ to obtain the nullity of the agreement with China and the application of the increased tariffs to all imported Chinese solar panels.
The European Parliament will hold its last plenary session of the year in Strasbourg. On Wednesday, the winner of the LUX film prize will be announced. The Parliament will also adopt a new sustainable fisheries policy and tighten deep-sea fishing rules. To re-launch the CO2 market, the EP will vote to freeze the auctioning of new CO2 permits to increase their market price. MEPs will also vote on a draft legislation which would allow any person legally residing in the EU to have at least a basic bank account, and they will hold a pre-summit debate on the common foreign and defence policy. All planned topics can be found here.
On the Council’s side, there will be the closing conference of the European Year of Citizens 2013 on the topic “How to make every year a year for citizens!”, in Vilnius, on Thursday and Friday (12-13 December).