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by Euro Reporter
2015-02-12 10:44:02
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Juncker torpedoes David Cameron's plan to rework EU treaties

Jean-Claude Juncker has torpedoed David Cameron’s planned timetable for renegotiating EU treaties by scrapping a key paper on the future of the eurozone. The president of the European Commission was instructed last December to prepare an “analytical note” on “stronger economic policy coordination, convergence and solidarity” for discussion by EU leaders. The Prime Minister regarded the paper as a key “staging post” in signalling that his plans for a renegotiation for Britain could be delivered as part of treaty change to “ensure the smooth functioning of the Economic and Monetary Union”. Senior European diplomats have told the Telegraph that the blueprint was dropped because of fears that any failure to directly address “the British question” could trigger “repercussions” ahead of the general election in May. “It is very easy to damage the UK government, if such a paper starts to speculate on treaty change then you are in trouble,” said a senior diplomat. “I could only imagine what kind of repercussions it might have.”

Mr Cameron’s plan for a “new settlement for Britain in Europe” is the basis for his planned referendum on EU membership in 2017, or earlier. His strategy is dependent on EU treaty changes to address the eurozone crisis and Downing Street had hoped that the paper from Mr Juncker would put that firmly on the political agenda. Mr Cameron will on Thursday hold his first face-to-face talks with Alexis Tsipras, the new Greek prime minister. Experts are growing increasingly concerned that Greece could default on €315 billion of debt and drop out of the eurozone. Any written proposals for renegotiation have now been postponed until June, after the general election. At the EU summit in June, Mr Cameron, if he is still Prime Minister, will be asked to make concrete proposals for treaty change by the autumn of 2015 but will face stiff opposition.

He has already dropped demands for European treaty rights of free movement to be amended and is now basing his new settlement on an opt-out from the EU’s commitment to “ever-closer union”. Instead of having a written paper to discuss, EU leaders will hear "oral presentations" from Mr Juncker, Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank and Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who chairs meetings of eurozone finance ministers. "The decision has been taken to park this debate unto a safer moment," said an official close to the talks.


Greece presents bailout plans to EU finance ministers

Greece's anti-austerity government is presenting its first concrete proposals for an alternative debt plan at an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels. The government wants to overhaul 30% of its bailout obligations, replacing them with a 10-point plan of reforms. But EU ministers have warned that Greece must abide by existing terms.

The EU-IMF bailout for the debt-laden country expires on 28 February and Greece does not want it extended. Instead the new Athens government is asking for a "bridge agreement" that will enable it to stay afloat until it can agree a new four-year reform plan with its EU creditors. Thousands of left-wing demonstrators have rallied in Athens in support of their government's proposition.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's government won a confidence vote on Tuesday, with the support of 162 deputies in the 300-seat parliament. The Athens stock exchange then fell by 4% ahead of the emergency Eurogroup meeting, which will see Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis unveil the controversial debt proposals. The Syriza-led government says the conditions of the €240bn (£182bn; $272bn) bailout - sweeping spending cuts and public sector job losses - have impoverished Greece. It rejects the "troika" team - the EU, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Central Bank (ECB) - overseeing the bailout's implementation.


EU leaders set to debate anti-terror measures

Galvanized by the recent terror attacks in France, European Union leaders on Thursday debate a range of ambitious steps to better protect their 28 nations, including exchanging airliner passenger manifests, tightening controls at the border and combating extremism on the Internet. "Europe is facing an unprecedented, diverse and serious terrorist threat," Gilles de Kerchove, the bloc's counter-terrorism coordinator, warned EU member governments in a report last month.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, whose nation holds the EU's six-month revolving presidency, said Tuesday the often fractious members had reached broad consensus on what actions to take, and share the "strong will" to implement them. But Wednesday, an EU official, briefing journalists on condition he not be identified by name or function, said work was still going on to finalize the list of recommended actions to be submitted to the leaders at the summit for their approval. Counter-terrorism policy shot to the top of the EU agenda following the Jan. 7-9 terror attacks in Paris against a satirical weekly, a policewoman and a kosher grocery store that claimed a total of 17 victims. The three gunmen, who proclaimed allegiance to Al-Qaida in Yemen and the Islamic State group, were also shot dead by French police.

The attacks stunned Europe and mobilized France and other EU countries to seek more effective ways to deal with armed Islamic militancy, especially the problem of radicalized European-born Muslims departing to fight in Syria or Iraq and returning home to sow the doctrine and techniques of holy war. The attacks in the French capital "were a game-changer" for EU counter-terrorism policy, said Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, senior trans-Atlantic fellow and director of the Paris office of the German Marshall Fund think tank. To prepare for Thursday's summit in Brussels, EU foreign, finance and interior and justice ministers drew up recommendations on what to do.


EU leaders to urge stricter border checks in counter-terror drive

European Union leaders are set to call on Thursday for stricter checks on travellers entering the passport-free Schengen area and increased information-sharing as part of a revamped counter-terrorism strategy following the Paris attacks. Spain had suggested that the agreement governing the 26-nation Schengen zone might have to be amended to permit more border checks on people suspected of terrorist links after 17 people were killed in a wave of violence in France last month that began with an attack on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. EU leaders meeting in Brussels later on Thursday will say that more can be done under the existing rules to strengthen checks on travellers entering or leaving the Schengen zone without changing the agreement or undermining the right to free movement within the passport-free area, which covers Western Europe. "We agree to proceed without delay to systematic and coordinated checks on individuals enjoying the right of free movement against databases relevant to the fight against terrorism," the leaders will say in a statement, according to a draft copy seen by Reuters.

EU governments have been searching for ways to stop Europeans going to fight with Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. Concern has risen since a Frenchman believed to have returned recently from fighting with rebels in Syria was arrested in May over the killing of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. The 28 heads of state or government will also urge the European Parliament urgently to adopt a plan for countries to share airline passenger data. Lawmakers have resisted endorsing the system for sharing data, known as the Passenger Name Record (PNR), on the grounds it would infringe people's privacy.

Under pressure to drop their opposition in the wake of the Paris attacks, members of the European Parliament pledged in a resolution on Wednesday to aim to finish work on the PNR law by the end of this year. The leaders will call for police to step up information sharing and closer cooperation between EU members' security services and in the fight against arms trafficking. They will also urge EU governments to quickly implement stronger rules to prevent money-laundering and terrorist financing and to effectively freeze assets used for financing terrorism.


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