Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tymoshenko upbeat on EU integration

Welcoming international, and especially European business houses to Ukraine, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said in Brussels that, “It is crucial for the Ukrainian authorities to make foreign business feel comfortable in our country.”

Addressing a galaxy of European industrialists, diplomats and other dignitaries brought together by EU Ukraine Business Council and EGMONT, the Royal Institute for International Relations based in Brussels, Tymoshenko said, “We aspire to be a favourable country for foreign investments.”

Comparing the problems faced by Ukraine with the biggest tsunami in the world, the prime minister said, “This is the tsunami of counteraction because the society is used to live in a half shadow economic situation”

Acknowledging that Kiev is facing tough opposition to the proposed reforms, Tymoshenko assured business community saying, “But our government team is able to accept all challenges and demonstrate results.” “We are confident of our power, unity of our democratic team, including consolidation of the Government and President’s team and of the fact that Ukraine will become a member of the European Union,” Tymoshenko added.

Answering questions from the audience, the prime minister gave a balancing act answer about relations with Russia and the European Union.

Pointing out that European integration is supported by main colours of political spectrum and vox populi in Ukraine, Tymoshenko said the country is taking “serious steps” to get closer to membership of the European Union.

But asked to give a timeline for membership, Tymoshenko said she would prefer not to give a specific date just in case success is not achieved by then. Outlining the roadmap for reaching the EU membership, Tymoshenko stressed the importance of economic integration, particularly freeing trade environment and letting relations develop without economic barriers.

Basing her prediction on current GDP levels, Tymoshenko said Ukraine “could be a serious economic partner,” as Kiev expects inflation to reach half of 2007 levels.

Highlighting the role of privatisation of key sectors, Tymoshenko said Kiev is planning to privatise its communications sector in the coming months, as well as its energy distribution network.

Accepting the fact that Ukraine is currently fully dependent on Russian energy networks, the premier said there is more close cooperation between Moscow and Kiev in different branches of industry, from outer space to machine-building. But this is important both to Ukraine and to Russia, underlined Tymoshenko.

Lamenting inefficient production and corruption as the stumbling blocks to utilising Ukraine’s own gas resources, the premier said, “Licenses are issued but there is no exploration and zero efficiency.” Tymoshenko promised that Kiev is set to float legislation which would enable investors in this sector to build a more secure relationship with the state on the basis of production-sharing agreements.

Tymoshenko negated the suggestion that Ukraine has to choose between building relations with the EU or Russia, saying, “Either, or is incorrect.” Blaming Ukrainian politicians before 2004, who she said had put national interests second to other interests, thus strengthening Kiev’s energy and political dependency on Russia, she stressed that Kiev is now set to build relations with Russia as equal partners, diminishing its energy dependency on the big neighbour.

Reiterating, “Integration is hopefully towards the EU. Ukraine decided that a long time ago,” Tymoshenko concluded, “We are not flirting anymore (but) we are seriously integrating.”

“Better job = Better pay”- Barroso

Tripartite social summit cites more attention for education

The European Union is a far-away institution that does not care for ordinary European citizens and this was the notion that the “Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment: An Instrument of Social Dialogue,” addressed prior to the European Council last week.

Answering journalists’ questions, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, defined a better job saying, “Better jobs are jobs that first of all better paid.” Those need to be also “sustainable,” he added.

Europeans fighting rising prices and lower wages were addressed as Barroso continued, “We cannot create a competitive Europe if we leave some citizens on the margins.”

Reiterating the importance of the Lisbon Strategy, Barroso said, “Lisbon strategy is not growth for growth sake but (our) aim is a modern Europe. A Social Europe and an environmental friendly Europe.”

Among others present at the press conference were G. Toifel, President, UEAPME; C. Einem, President, CEEP; E. A. Seilliere, President, BUSINESSEUROPE; J. Monks, Secretary General, ETUC/CES; J. Jansa, Prime Minister of Slovenia and President of rotating EU Council; Vladimir Spidla, European Commissioner for Social Affairs.

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa talked of health and safety of work place calling Lisbon Agenda reforms as not only just “EU level” but also to be addressed at “national level” and at the level of “citizens.”

Reiterating, “the renewed Lisbon Strategy is working well and is delivering results,” he added, “as shown by the fact that the basis of the European economy is healthy, that 6.5 million new jobs have been created, that the budget deficit has been halved in comparison with 2005 and that the European growth rate stands at 2.9 percent.”

Another area Jansa stressed was wind energy where the prime minister said, “employment tripled.”

Calling upon journalists to do the needful, the Slovenian prime minister said, “Communication is the key. We need to market our objectives in a better way.”

Monks, representing ETUC, called for “free movement,” to create more “opportunities for new jobs,” and reiterated, “Lisbon has picked up in last three years.”

ETUC gave a warning, saying that the situation on ground was heading from bad to worse as there were 17 million workers in the rich EU bloc living in poverty while another 31 million work for starvation wages. There are fewer and fewer jobs with security while more and more lowpaying jobs are being created, ETUC had lamented.

In this context, talk of “flexicurity,” took an important dimension. Seilliere, president of BUSINESSEUROPE, demanded more flexicurity, saying: “It is about essentially improving the employability of workers.” “Social partnership is one of the main issues,” he added.

Political pundits and social observers however were sceptical of the final outcome in terms of “walk instead of talk,” pointing out that this is just rhetoric that has been repeated once a year at social summits.

Another social strategist added, on condition of anonymity, “There is no solid new agenda at this summit and Slovenian presidency just wants to get over it without a major failure. The social summit will be the highlight of the overall summit.”

Whitewash Summit

Lots of talk, little action, climate change back

The European Summit of 27 leaders of member states last week, under Slovenia’s rotating presidency, hardly raised any expectations, nor any eyebrows, as leaders came, attended and left. The subject of Climate Change, to which Spring Council 2007 was entirely devoted, was once again on top of the agenda for 2008, with leaders trying to balance industrial lobby demands with greenhouse gas emission cuts.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who, according to the EU grapevine is lobbying for a second term, was all smiles as he stressed his words to please both the industrial sector and European citizens.

Barroso spoke “in favour of keeping jobs and industry in Europe,” and promised to not only provide an EU-wide breathing space for industries but also get “an international agreement” on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

But an argument to use environmental concessions to keep EU-wide industries on the Continent seemed less convincing as environmental pundits and industry gurus confided on the sidelines of the Spring EU Summit.

Claudia Delpero of WWF told New Europe, “A global agreement will help make industries happier, because rules will be applied to everyone. But a strong global agreement will not be possible without strong European legislation.”

Explaining the underlying reasons for industries to shift locations, Delpero said, “The real question is: would weak environmental laws really keep businesses in Europe? History has shown that major factors for relocation are proximity to markets and labour costs, while environmental laws play only a small role in the relocation factor.

“European businesses should rather take this opportunity to become global leaders in clean technologies. The American car industry provides a very good example: after refusing the idea of fuel standards, the market is now overtaken by cleaner product from Asia. Europe should learn from history and avoid mistakes already seen in the past.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed the doubts about an international agreement saying, “If there is no international deal, we should already have a (law) ready on how to deal with energy-intensive industries, rather than only starting to think about it if nobody else joins us.”

The European Commission on January 23 had proposed an auction system for CO2 for industries, who immediately protested, arguing this would make it impossible for them to compete with firms in countries with less stringent environmental rules.

The Commission responded by promising to study the problem with an eye to proposing solutions by 2011 in the belief that to do so earlier would damage the EU’s position in global talks on climate change, which are set to culminate in Copenhagen in December 2009.

But at the Summit the conclusions insisted that the issue be “analysed and addressed urgently in the new (law), so that if international negotiations fail, appropriate measures can be taken.”

Moreover, the 27 leaders also diluted ambitious proposals from Nicolas Sarkozy on the creation of a so-called “Union for the Mediterranean” to promote cooperation in the area.

The first public salvo was fired by the European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering, insisting on a parliamentary dimension of the Union for the Mediterranean. Calling for an explicit reference to the Barcelona Process (launched in 1995 for Mediterranean region) said, “I am convinced that the European Commission will fully take into account the parliamentary dimension of the Union for the Mediterranean in its proposal and that the European Parliament will be fully involved in the debate which will lead to the final decisions on this project.”

According to sources familiar with closed-door talks, there were reservations from member states from Central and Eastern Europe that a Union for the Mediterranean would divert precious EU funds away from the region.

Turkey also immediately was in the news as Ankara got the notion that by being invited to join Union for the Mediterranean, its EU membership application will be left on the back burner forever.

Answering a question from a Turkish journalist, Slovenian Premier Janez Jansa said, “Turkey was not mentioned at the talks.” Saving the situation, he said, “The project for a Union for the Mediterranean was presented as an upgrade of the Barcelona process.” “And sometimes, changes get a new name,” he concluded.