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A camel for EU president?

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camelsA camel, says an old Middle East joke, is a horse designed by a committee.

The European Union is in danger of getting camels for its two new leadership positions — president of the European Council and foreign policy High Representative — because of the dysfunctional appointment process created by the Lisbon Treaty.

The secretive horse (or camel)-trading by which EU governments choose the 27-nation bloc’s top office-holders seems designed to deter strong candidates and produce lowest-common-denominator outcomes. Some of the most able potential contenders would rather stay at home than take the key jobs to Brussels.

The treaty does not provide for a democratic election because the EU is not a state, and national governments don’t want a European president with his own legitimacy. However, the rules also seem to set aside the basic principles and procedures that any private sector company or public authority would use to select the best CEO or manager.

In a normal selection process, the jobs would go to the best qualified candidates with a clear vision, relevant experience and a track record of achievement, normally after a series of rigorous interviews. But the treaty suggests that the need to share the spoils among large and small states, and countries from the north, south, east and west of Europe is more important than criteria such as ability, charisma or experience.

Should he stay or should he go? Miliband ponders

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OUKTP-UK-IRAN-NUCLEAR-BRITAINShould he stay or should he go?

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband could be Europe’s first foreign minister in all but name, with one of the most influential jobs in shaping the place of the 27-nation bloc on the world stage, if he is willing to risk leaving British politics for the next five years. That’s a big if.

Miliband is half of a “ticket” concocted by French and German diplomats to fill the two new top jobs created by the Lisbon treaty. The other half is Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy, the preferred candidate for president of the European Council. Officially, Miliband says he is ”not available” and is backing Tony Blair’s forlorn bid for the presidency. If he turns the role down, it could well to go to former Italian Prime Minister Massimo d’Alema.

Lower Opel costs to help government aid

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General Motors’ decision to scrap the sale of Opel rests on the carmaker’s calculation that the hole in its European unit’s finances is not as deep as previously feared.

Governments should welcome the lower demands on taxpayers with open arms. But there is still some horse trading to be done to get everyone on board. 

Turkey’s EU bid fades with little drama

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turkarmeniaTurkey’s bid to join the European Union is fading away with surprisingly little drama because investors no longer see the prospect of accession as an essential policy anchor.

But EU leaders should keep Ankara’s entry negotiations alive on the back burner rather than trying to engage Ankara on alternatives to membership, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy would like to do.

The EC bank smackdown

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Dexia and ING’s recent decisions to call some of their subordinated debt has puzzled market observers, as they seem to fly in the face of the European Commission and its crusade on burden-sharing for banks that have received state aid.

The Commission wants junior creditors of bailed-out banks to share some of the pain along with the public sector, and wants to make sure public funds aren’t used to repay equity or junior debt if a bank can’t. Holders of some of RBS’ subordinated debt recently found this out to their horror when the bank chose not to call the bonds at the first opportunity. The Dexia and ING bondholders, by contrast, will have had a nice pay day. The Dexia upper tier 2 bond was trading below par in the mid 70s area, according to CreditSights.

The EC bank debt riddle

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The European Commission seems to enjoy messing with bankers’ and investors’ heads in its crusade against subordinated bank debt.

Earlier this year the EC roiled markets by insisting holders of bank subordinated debt securities should suffer along with the taxpayer for bailouts. It stopped RBS from calling some tier 2 bonds, and also cracked down on KBC.

Sarkozy looks to stash some cash under the mattress

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nainOn the face of it, France’s 2010 budget is just what the G20 doctor ordered. No early withdrawal of economic stimulus spending. Allowing the welfare system’s ”automatic stabilisers” to absorb the shock of the economic crisis. No raising of taxes or slashing of public spending until growth returns. A small shift away from tax on business towards taxation of carbon.

Of course the headline numbers are horrible and under normal circumstances would prompt disciplinary action by the European Union. The 8.5 percent forecast public deficit will be the highest in French history. Public debt will rise from 77.1 percent of GDP this year to 91 percent in 2013. The EU ceilings are a deficit of 3 percent and debt of 60 percent of GDP. But compared to Britain, Spain or Ireland, France’s deficit will look almost modest.

Germans vote for change; will they get it?

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angieGermans have voted for change. A centre-right government with a clear parliamentary majority will replace the ungainly grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that ran Europe’s biggest economy for the last four years.

This should mean an end to ”steady as she goes” lowest common denominator policies, and at least some reform of the country’s tax and welfare system. The liberal Free Democrats, who recorded their best ever result with around 14.7 percent, will try to pull the new government towards tax cuts, health care reform, a reduction in welfare spending and a loosening of job protection in small business.

Germany will have to change Opel deal after election

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opelanerIt looks increasingly clear that Germany will have to change its deal to aid carmaker Opel once Sunday’s general election is out of the way.

The European Commission has signaled to Berlin that promising 4.5 billion euros in loan guarantees to only one of the two bidders for General Motors’ European arm to preserve all four German production sites and most Opel jobs in Germany may breach EU rules on state aid to industry. EU regulators want to know why Chancellor Angela Merkel and four German states offered the money to back car parts maker Magna’s bid but not for financial investor RHJ International’s, and on what conditions. 

Push comes to shove in EU-Dutch bank spat

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EU-INTEL/Push is coming to shove in a stand-off between the European Commission and the Dutch government over the future of state-rescued banks. The outcome has implications for the whole of Europe.

Markets should watch Brussels’ actions on ING, ABN AMRO and Fortis Bank Nederland carefully because they will set a precedent for forthcoming decisions about British, German or Irish banks that could reshape the European banking landscape. They may also determine whether, and when, taxpayers can expect to recover their investments in the banking sector.

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