Банкеръ Weekly

Briefs

THINGS ARE NOT SO CALM IN BRUSSELS

Weekends in Brussels which is considered the capital of Europe are silent usually. The tens of thousands of officers of the Commission of the European Union (EU), the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the other joint European institutions relax from the bureaucratic business days in the surrounding area. Curious tourists and cyclists typical for the town are the only people one can see along the main boulevards Rue de la Loi and Charlemagne. However, things were quite different on March 19, the Saturday preceding the meeting of the leaders on 22 and 23 March. At that time, the main streets of the Belgian capital were flooded by some 50,000 protesting activists of the European Confederation of the Trade Unions. They were out to express their anger with the draft directive for complete liberalisation of the services trading within the EU, approved during the mandate of the previous European Commission. The document which became popular asthe Bolkestein directivenamed after the former EU single market commissioner stipulates that all companies from EU member countries be allowed to offer free services in other community states. These companies are only required to have registration and to possess permission to operate in their own country. However, the future document relieves them of the obligation to apply for additional licences in order to operate abroad. Should that privilege be introduced, it will practically benefit all self-employed people. It means that Polish lawyers, for example, will be allowed to plead in French courts. According to the legislation currently operating within the EU, this is not possible yet, although the free circulation of services is one of the main principles of the community. The same would also be valid for accountants, financiers, builders, etc. In early March, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that together with his team he was determined to pass the draft of a new directive in the services sector.However, it turned out that the changes that would happen in the sector sooner or later were disliked by part of the so called old member countries from Western Europe and mostly by France. The main motive against the liberalisation is that if companies from Central and Eastern Europe are no longer restricted in offering services to the other EU states, that will result in price dumping. Therefore, the change which at first sight corresponds to the principles of economic integration and free competition within the single market practically sets one community member against the other. In France, the voting pro and con the Bolkestein directive is even becoming decisive for the outcome of the referendum on the new European constitution that is scheduled for the end of May. The fear that the poor relatives from the East will come and take the jobs of their competitors from the richer part of the continent forced many of the latter go out and protest along the streets of Brussels.Logically, the scandal found a proper place in the agenda of the meeting of the 25 members state and governmental leaders. The problem was solved... with a compromise, which is a typical EU practice. A text was included in the final document of the European Council that balanced the opinions of both the supporters and the opponents of the liberalisation of services within the single market: The European Union supports the removal of the restrictions in the services sector, provided that the present social model is preserved. The community states are still to negotiate about how that will be done. According to the Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the proposed draft directive on the liberalisation of services will be processed so that the social tranquility in the member states will not be blown up. However, according to the EC President Mr. Barroso, even if toned down, the draft will not be withdrawn. Some people still consider the EU a community of 15 instead of 25 members. It's time they change the chip in their heads, President Barroso appealed in front of journalists.While trade-unionists were crossing the streets and boulevards of Brussels, in the building of the Council of Ministers the top financiers of the 25 member states were looking for a solution to anotherburning problem of the EUIt's about the well-known reform of the eurozone countries' Stability and Growth Pact. The debate on it was provoked by France and Germany. In the recent years, they have found it difficult to observe the restriction of not allowing their budget deficit go beyond 3% of the gross domestic product. The main argument that was eventually solved last week was about which public expenses exceeding the limit should be acknowledged reasonable so that the countries would not be sanctioned for them. Finally, the 25 leaders approved the package of measures that the financial ministers proposed after having discussed them for more than 12 hours. Again, the EU solved the problem with the budget deficits guided by the principle of leaving everybody happy. In the future, governments that fail to observe the restrictions will only be sanctioned if the additional expenses have a harmful effect on the economic growth and fiscal policy. Excessive spending will also be excused if it is directed towards deepening the integration in the EU. These decisions cover almost entirely the views expressed by Paris and Berlin which have been long insisting on loosening the financial loop saddled by the pact.What is more, countries in the eurozone will not be punished if the amounts that go beyond the 3% limit are invested in projects that encourage research and innovation activities. The European Council also decided that each government that has violated the community rules will be allowed to motivate its expenses before the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. The grace period in which violating countries are allowed to correct their deficit within the limit was extended, too. Instead of one year, they will have at their disposal 24 months to do that. In fact, the agreements reached are still to be analysed. The first to question their expedience was the President of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet. However, politicians quickly told him off by saying that the Bank was obliged to obey their decisions, not to comment on them.Yet, that was not the end of the excitement about the issues fateful for the EU. The European Council in Brussels also had to make a review of the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy adopted in 2000. According to that document, the single internal market should become the fastest growing economyin the world by 2010. Five years before the expiry of the deadline, however, the ambitious goal does not seem so easily achievable. The leaders of the 25 member states were shown an analysis made by the London-based think tank Centre for European Reform. According to the document, the EU economy is still growing slowlier than the US one. Moreover, the British scientists ranked the 25 EU member countries in terms of the level of achievement of the Lisbon Strategy objectives. Sweden, Denmark and Finland appeared to have shown the best results. In the time left until 2010, the members are going to put their efforts in opening new jobs and achieving a higher economic growth. Besides, they will develop special programs for reforms in accordance with the Lisbon Strategy.

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