Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘European Union’

If misery loves company, we can be very happy with these two stories about over-compensated bureaucrats from outside our borders. The first comes from Europe, where the Daily Telegraph reports that pension costs are skyrocketing for bureaucrats with the European Commission and other European Union entities. With the average pension being more than $88,000 per year, that’s hardly a surprise. This adds injury to injury since EU bureaucrats already get paid much more than workers in the productive sector of the economy.

Internal estimates, seen by The Daily Telegraph, show huge cost increases as growing numbers of officials in an expanded EU qualify for retirement, often at a younger age than the taxpayers who fund their generous pensions. Over the next three years alone, the cost of EU civil service pensions is expected to rise by 16 per cent to an annual bill for taxpayers of £1.3 billion. … EU officials are allowed to retire at the age of 63, younger than Britons who have just had their retirement age increased from 65 to 66 by 2016. …According to unpublished Commission figures, the pension bill will by 2040 risen 97 per cent to over £2 billion, with a British contribution of over £350 million. …The average annual pension pocketed by the 17,471 retired eurocrats benefiting from the scheme is £57,194, while the highest ranking officials can pocket pensions of over £102,000.

Our second story comes from the Cayman Islands, where bureaucrats (as well as some politicians) have figured out the double-dipping scam, getting a lucrative pension while still receiving a salary. But the Cayman Islands at least deserve credit for limiting the damage. All bureaucrats hired after 1999 participate in a mandatory savings system, thus limiting the long-run risk for taxpayers.

A significant number of employees in the Cayman Islands Civil Service receive a monthly pension as well as a salary, according to records obtained by the Caymanian Compass. There are 65 people who have retired from the civil service under the defined benefit pension programme – which means they are receiving a monthly pension while continuing to work in government, according to information from a Freedom of Information request made by the Compass. Those workers are typically employed on a fixed-term contract and, therefore, also receive a salary. …There were 171 employees working in the civil service who were age 60 or over at the date the Compass made its open records request. The ability of civil servants and Cayman Islands legislators to ‘double dip’ is not to the liking of at least one lawmaker, who raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly in June. North Side MLA Ezzard Miller told the assembly that a change in the parliamentary pensions law in recent years has allowed elected officials to receive the same benefit as civil servants – to retire while continuing to serve in the assembly. In essence, Mr. Miller said, those lawmakers can “get a double dip” – continue to receive their salaries while earning a pension at the same time. …Cayman Islands civil servants who joined the service after mid-April 1999 no longer receive defined benefit pension payments. In other words, the newer civil service employees will receive a lump sum payment from their pension funds rather than a monthly pension.

Read Full Post »

I never thought “penile implant” was a term I would use on this blog, but that’s because I never thought I would read a story about taxpayer funding of the procedure. The only good news is that this is a story about fringe benefits for the politicians and bureaucrats in Brussels, so European taxpayers are being raped (no pun intended) rather than American taxpayers. But phallic implants are just the tip (no pun intended) of the iceberg. European taxpayers also provide unlimited viagra, heroin replacement drugs such as methadone, and mud baths to the euro-crat elite. Even American politicians haven’t figured out how to bilk taxpayes like this (or, if they have, they are clever enough to keep the information hidden).

EURO MEPs can claim for viagra on their health insurance – and the taxpayer picks up the bill. All Brussels officials and politicians can get the sex aid drug for free if needed. They can even claim for heroin replacement methadone under the European Commission scheme. Other free options include willy implants, the UK Independence Party discovered. Marta Andreasen, an MEP for the party, said: “It is utterly bonkers what British taxpayers are funding for Eurocrats. “Surely if they want these things, they should be able to pay themselves. It is a total waste of taxpayers’ cash.” …Last year it was revealed MEPs receive public funding for massages and feng shui. Other perks which qualify include mud baths, hydromassage and mild electric shock treatment. The TaxPayers’ Alliance last night blasted the wasteful perks in Brussels. Spokesman Matthew Sinclair said: “Taxpayers expect to see their money spent on providing essential services, not Viagra. The Government should insist on a better deal from Brussels.”

P.S. I’m very proud of myself for resisting the impulse to make jokes about “stimulus.”

Read Full Post »

Jim Glassman has a thorough article in Commentary explaining that Europe is in deep trouble both because high tax rates discourage work and production and because excessive handouts encourage sloth and dependency. This should be a common-sense observation, but most politicians get votes by convincing voters they can have comfortable lives without producing. The inevitable result is what happened in Greece, though the negative effects of that debacle are being postponed (but also magnified) by the European bailout. Considering what’s happening, it’s hard to have any optimism about the long-term result. Here’s a long excerpt, but the whole article is worth reading since the same thing will happen in America if the Bush-Obama policies are not reversed.

Prosperity, it seems, can bring sloth, which in turn disrupts the virtuous cycle, though not immediately. There is a period, which I believe we are in right now, where the disruption is not apparent, where it can be obscured through government monetary and fiscal manipulation. But eventually, a simple rule will prevail: you can’t live well if you don’t work. It is hardly surprising that work produces well-being, and if work diminishes, then well-being, even in the most advanced economy, will slow down, stop, or shift into reverse gear. “Decadence,” with its connotations of self-indulgence and decline, is not too strong a word for the response we have seen to economic success, especially in much of Europe, over the past few decades. …In 2004, the year he won the Nobel Prize, Edward Prescott, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, published a paper titled “Why Do Americans Work So Much More than Europeans?” The data were stunning. Prescott found that the average output per adult between 1993 and 1996 in the United States was 75 percent greater than in Italy, 49 percent greater than in the United Kingdom, and 35 percent greater than in France and Germany. “Most of the differences in output,” he wrote, were “accounted for by differences in hours worked per person and not by differences in productivity.” …Prescott showed that these differences are of fairly recent origin. During the period from 1970 to 1974, Europeans—including the French, Germans, and British—generally worked more than Americans. At that time, however, Europeans were less productive than Americans, so their overall output per person was about the same as it was in 1993-96: around one-third below the U.S. level. So, as Europeans became more efficient (producing more goods and services per hour of work), they cut back on their hours, choosing leisure over work. And the gap has widened. By the time Prescott won his Nobel Prize, Americans were working 50 percent more than the French. …In his paper, Prescott fingered the culprit: high taxes. “The surprising finding,” he wrote, “is that this marginal tax rate [difference between Europe and the U.S.] accounts for the predominance of differences at points in time and the large change in relative labor supply over time.” Taxation rates on the next euro of income became so high that people were discouraged from working—especially with the enticements of early retirement. But this explanation is incomplete. Why are taxes so high in Europe? Certainly not to maintain a strong defense but rather to pour money into a welfare state that provides lavish support to retirees, perennial students, and others who aren’t working. In other words, Europeans have chosen to have workers support non-workers in their leisure. …A financial crisis can pull the covers away to give us a clear look at what’s underneath, and the current crisis has exposed Europe as a fool’s paradise. “The fundamental cause of the financial crisis,” wrote the George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen on his blog, Marginal Revolution, “is people and institutions thinking they are more wealthy than they are.” …The same with nations. Europe supported its welfare state with borrowed money, a practice that can be perfectly healthy as long as both welfare state and debt are modest and loans can be serviced by diligent workers. Europe, however, is not nearly as wealthy as it thought it was, or as wealthy as its national way of life indicated. Take Greece. …Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and the eurozone—the continent’s monetary union—in 2001. Since the second event, especially, Greece has been behaving as if it were truly rich. The secret was borrowed money. At the end of 2009, the country had a public debt equivalent to 114 percent of its GDP. That’s on top of the 3 percent of GDP that the European Union contributes as direct aid each year. Meanwhile, Greece consistently violated the EU’s rules for minimum deficit and debt levels. The Greeks, however, lived better and better, with an official retirement age of just 58. Only three-fifths of adult Greeks under age 64 were in the work force. …Default can impose needed fiscal discipline on a government. But in an age of financial magic and euro-solidarity, default for a European nation is not a burden that has to be borne—at least not yet. On the brink of not being able to pay its debts earlier this year, Greece was bailed out with $100 billion in loans from the 15 other eurozone countries and about $50 billion from the International Monetary Fund. This year, the Greek government will make interest payments amounting to 15 percent of GDP on its loans (the U.S. pays less than 3 percent). With Portugal and Spain and perhaps Italy heading for similar trouble, Europe announced it would guarantee debts up to $955 billion. There are two problems with such bailouts. First, they do little or nothing to end the leisure-seeking practices, encouraged by high marginal tax rates and labor regulations, that led to the near-defaults in the first place. Greece may promise austerity as a condition for being saved, but don’t count on delivery. Second is the matter of moral hazard—the tendency of insurance against calamity to provide an incentive toward behavior that produces calamity. I warned of the dangers of moral hazard during the current financial crisis in an article in this magazine last year, and, unfortunately, we are seeing those predictions being realized. Much pain was caused by the crisis, but much was mitigated as well by government policies that kept profligate banks and other businesses alive that should have disappeared—and, of course, Washington took the occasion of the crisis to increase the size of its own welfare state. What the eurozone nations have done in bailing out Greece and pre-bailing Portugal and the others is to introduce a heaping helping of moral hazard that may seem nourishing at first but that inevitably will cause severe indigestion, or worse. …While the United States is not Europe, many of our states clearly have aspirations in the same decadent direction. With high marginal tax rates and regulations that discourage work, California this year is running a deficit of $20 billion, and a recent study found that the pension shortfall for government workers is $500 billion. Investors were recently paying about $300,000 to buy credit default swaps—that is, an insurance policy—on each $10 million in California municipal bonds. That’s a rate 50 percent higher than on bonds issued by Kazakhstan. As a monetary union, the United States may face a decision similar to that of the eurozone nations: should the federal government bail out California? If it does, we will have entered a fool’s paradise on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Read Full Post »

The Wall Street Journal correctly pulls aside the veil and exposes the dubious gimmick that European politicians used to declare that banks are reasonably health. To put it bluntly, they assumed no government would ever default, which really means that the stress test was a fraud or German taxpayers are now on the chopping block to bail out every other nation.

Two months ago, credit markets in Europe nearly went off the rails over concern about what a sovereign debt default in Greece would do to the Continent’s banks. After last night’s release of the result of a Europe-wide stress test, we’re not much wiser. The EU’s committee of national bank regulators repeatedly says that its stress test includes a “sovereign shock” scenario. But crucially, “a sovereign default was not included in the exercise,” in the dry language of the committee’s summary report. This means the test only looked at government debt held in trading portfolios, while ignoring any government bonds listed as held to maturity. Earlier this month, regulators made it clear that they opposed testing the consequences of a sovereign debt default on European bank balance sheets. The German magazine Der Speigel reported that regulators felt including sovereign default in the tests might imply that the EU’s €750 billion ($960 billion) bailout fund wasn’t guaranteed to work. In other words, bank regulators in Europe think Greece, Spain, Portugal and the rest are too big to fail. Germany and France will always save them in the end, so the consequences of a default don’t even need to be considered.

Read Full Post »

I always appreciate a column that sounds like I could have been the author, and this editorial from the WSJ hits the mark. The IMF/EU bailout is just masking the problems of a bloated welfare state and giving politicians some breathing room to avoid making the real reforms that are needed:

It hasn’t been a week since the terms of Athens’s €110 billion ($145 billion) bailout were set, and already the reviews of this latest Greek drama are saying it’s a flop. Yesterday the euro sank to its lowest level in a year. Stock markets across Europe fell nearly 3%, and the carnage spread to Wall Street and beyond. Greek interest-rate spreads climbed higher again, and market players have turned their attention to the euro zone’s other weak sisters as everyone tries to figure out who is most likely to follow Greece down the road to national insolvency. The bailout, in other words, hasn’t stopped the much-feared contagion. If anything, it has spread it. Part of the problem lies with the bailout’s terms. The €110 billion agreed over the weekend was more than twice the €45 billion originally proposed, but it came with revised deficit projections that immediately made even the higher number look inadequate to fund Greece’s bloated state. …According to the latest official projections, Greek public debt, currently 108% of gross domestic product, will top 149% of GDP in 2013, the year that the bailout loans, in theory, come due. Assuming an average interest rate of 6% on that debt, Greece would be left paying 9% of its GDP to bondholders, 80% of whom are located abroad. Put another way, 25% of Greek tax revenue would go toward interest payments to foreign bondholders. Meanwhile, Greece’s government spending equals more than 50% of GDP and labor productivity is well below the EU average, neither of which bode well for growth going forward. …It’s time that Greece and the rest of Europe started listening to the market instead of attacking it. Greece needs a debt restructuring and wholesale reforms that reduce the state’s share of GDP and promote economic growth. As for the rest of Europe and the U.S., Greece’s predicament is a warning to stop the tax and spending binge before it leads to crisis.

Read Full Post »

Much of Europe is dealing with a fiscal crisis caused by too much spending and economic stagnation caused by excessive taxation. But for the bureaucratic elite in Brussels, the important business of wasting other people’s money never goes on holiday. So it is quite appropriate that the latest hare-brained scheme from the continent is subsidized vacations. This is not a joke. Or, if it is, many newspapers have fallen for the story. The UK-based Times reports on this vital new addition to the list of human rights financed by other people’s money:

An overseas holiday used to be thought of as a reward for a year’s hard work. Now Brussels has declared that tourism is a human right and pensioners, youths and those too poor to afford it should have their travel subsidised by the taxpayer. Under the scheme, British pensioners could be given cut-price trips to Spain, while Greek teenagers could be taken around disused mills in Manchester to experience the cultural diversity of Europe. The idea for the subsidised tours is the brainchild of Antonio Tajani, the European Union commissioner for enterprise and industry, who was appointed by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister. The scheme, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds a year, is intended to promote a sense of pride in European culture, bridge the north-south divide in the continent and prop up resorts in their off-season. …The European Union has experience of subsidised holidays. In February the European parliament paid contributions of up to 52% towards an eight-day skiing trip in the Italian Alps for 80 children of Eurocrats. Tajani’s programme will be piloted until 2013 and then put into full operation. It will be open to pensioners and anyone over 65, young people between 18 and 25, families facing “difficult social, financial or personal” circumstances and disabled people.

Read Full Post »

Tax-news.com reports that the French and Italian governments want Europe to impose a tax on imports from nations that don’t adopt misguided climate-change/global-warming rules. This is awful policy, but the good news is that such a policy presumably won’t happen unless all 27 European Union nations agree:

France and Italy have demanded that the European Union (EU) consider the introduction of a carbon tax on imports from outside the EU, where countries do not comply with EU standards on environmental issues. In a joint letter to Jose Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission, President Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy stressed that: “It would be unacceptable if the ambitious efforts already agreed by the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… were compromised by carbon leaking due to… insufficient action by certain third countries.” The letter went on to say that the tax could be used to pressurize third world countries to adopt measures to reduce their carbon emissions. …The irony is that the French government recently abandoned a plan to introduce a carbon tax in the country following a ruling that it was unconstitutional. The French government’s view is that any new carbon tax would only be viable if it was adopted by all 27 EU member states.

Read Full Post »

I don’t know what’s more laughable, the fact that some EU bureaucracy is creating an 80-minute poem (with dancing, no less), or that the “low-grade bank clerk” who masquerades as the European Council President is going to publish a a book of haiku poems. But only one item is objectionable, and that’s the latter since it represents a mind-boggling waste of tax dollars. The EU Observer reports:

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) wants the EU’s human rights charter recast as an 80-minute-long epic poem, accompanied by music, dance and “multi-media elements”. …The Vienna-based agency has opened a process of contracting a poet to devise a composition based on the articles of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and hire a company of performers to accompany a presentation of the poem with music, a dance interpretation of the piece and “multimedia elements”, as well as what the tender refers to as “etc.” …Since speaking with the FRA, the page advertising the tender has since disappeared from the agency’s website. A copy of the tender document has however been saved by EUobserver. The development comes as European Council President Herman Van Rompuy announced this week he is to publish in April an anthology of his three-line Japanese haiku poems.

Read Full Post »

Greece is in trouble for a combination of reasons. Government spending is far too excessive, diverting resources from more efficient uses. The bureaucracy is too large and paid too much, resulting in a misallocation of labor. And tax rates are too high, further hindering the productive sector of the economy. Europe’s political class wants to bail out Greece’s profligate government. The official reason for a bailout, to protect the euro currency, makes no sense. After all, if Illinois or California default, that would not affect the strength (or lack thereof) of the dollar.

To understand what is really happening in Europe, it is always wise to look at what politicians are doing and ignore what they are saying. Political union is the religion of Europe’s political class, and they relentlessly use any excuse to centralize power in Brussels and strip away national sovereignty. Greece’s fiscal crisis is simply the latest excuse to move the goalposts. The Daily Telegraph reports that Germany and France are now conspiring to create an “economic government” for the European Union. Supposedly this entity would only have supervisory powers, but it is a virtual certainty that a European-wide tax will be the next step for the euro-centralizers.

Germany and France have [proposed] controversial plans to create an “economic government of the European Union” to police financial policy across the continent. They have put Herman Van Rompuy, the EU President, in charge of a special task force to examine “all options possible” to prevent another crisis like the one caused by the Greek meltdown. …The options he will consider include the creation of an “economic government” by the by the end of the year. “We commit to promote a strong co-ordination of economic policies in Europe,” said a draft text expected to be agreed by EU leaders last night. “We consider that the European Council should become the economic government of the EU and we propose to increase its role in economic surveillance and the definition of the EU’s growth strategy.” …Mr Van Rompuy, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, is an enthusiastic supporter of “la gouvernement économique” and last month upset many national capitals by trying impose “top down” economic targets. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has called for the Lisbon Treaty to be amended in order to prevent any repetition of the current Greek crisis, which has threatened to tear apart the euro.

Read Full Post »

Greece’s fiscal disarray is a visible manifestation of Europe’s future, but the most appropriate symbol of what’s wrong with the continent comes from Brussels, where there are three “presidents” fighting over the right to represent Europe at international gatherings. The contestants include the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council, and the European Union President (which rotates every six months among different national leaders). While these three personalities fight over who gets to sit where and shake hands first, the real problem is that they all agree that government should be bigger, taxes should be higher, and power should be more centralized as part of the effort to create a superstate in Brussels. Inside this gilded cage, insulated from actual voters, Europe’s technocratic elite is content to enjoy a parasitical existence while the welfare states of member nations slowly but surely collapse and lead to social chaos. Here’s an excerpt from the UK-based Express about the fight between the the philosophical descendants of Louis XVI (or would Nero be a better analogy?):

Promises by EU leaders that the Lisbon Treaty would herald a new era of clarity have been shattered after attempts to settle a major internal power feud resulted in a typical Brussels fudge. Bureaucrats have decided to send not just one president and his entourage to global summits but a tax-draining three. Only four months after the fanfare of Herman Van Rompuy’s appointment as European Council president, his most jealous and powerful rival in Brussels has persuaded allies to allow him to muscle in too. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, has succeeded in his demands that he should also go to diplomatic summits, such as the G20, after insisting only he has the expertise to deal with specific policy matters. At certain summits there will even be a third representative – the leader of the country holding the EU’s rotating presidency. This seems to justify criticism that the Lisbon Treaty would add to the EU’s murky waters and not be a move towards transparency. …Since the Lisbon Treaty came into force at the end of last year, arguments have raged in Brussels over which department does what. Mr Van Rompuy, the former Belgian prime minister dismissed last month by Ukip MEP Nigel Farage as a “damp rag” and a “low-grade bank clerk”, is the permanent president of the European Council.

Read Full Post »

Insanity is sometimes defined as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. On this basis the Euro-statists are clinically over the edge. They keep centralizing more power in Brussels and then they complain that European economies remain stagnant. On this basis, the new EU President must have escaped from the sanitarium, because he is asking for “economic government.” This means, not surprisingly, more power for Brussels to harmonize and regulate in hopes of creating the imaginary nirvana of a competitive social model. But I have to admire the perseverance of the “federalists,” as they are known. Every time they expand power, such as the recent Lisbon Treaty (basically a sanitized version of the statist EU constitution), they claim that they don’t intend to push for more centralization. Yet the ink is barely dry on one agreement before they start pushing for more powers. You would think European citizens would wake up to this boy-who-cried-wolf scam, but since the “European project” is fundamentally anti-democratic, most of them have ceased paying attention.

The European Union’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, is calling for an “economic government” for the bloc, with closer policy coordination and financial incentives for good performers. …”Whether it is called coordination of policies or economic government,” only the European nations working are “capable of delivering and sustaining a common European strategy for more growth and more jobs,” he underlined. …The evocation of a European “economic government” will please France which has lobbied in this direction for years without success. …Thursday’s summit will also will also prepare the ground for a new EU economic strategy, focussing on investing in research, innovation and the green economy. This will replace the bloc’s Lisbon Strategy launched in 2000. The ambitious Lisbon Strategy was supposed to make Europe’s economy the most competitive and dynamic in the world. It failed to do so and Van Rompuy was happy to bury it. …For Van Rompuy it the matter is urgent and strikes at the very heart of the European project. …”Our structural growth rate is not high enough to create jobs and sustain our social model,” he warned.

Read Full Post »

The fiscal crisis in Greece is fascinating political theater, in part because the Balkan nation is a leading indicator for what will probably happen in many other countries. The most puzzling feature of the crisis is the assumption in other European capitals, discussed in the BBC article below, that a Greek default is the worst possible result. It certainly would not be good news, especially for investors who thought it was safe to lend money to the government, but there are several reasons why the long-term pain resulting from a bailout would be even worse.

1. Bailing out Greece will reward over-spending politicians and make future fiscal crises more likely. In a four-year period between 2005 and 2009, Greek politicians expanded the burden of government spending from an already excessive level of 43.8 percent of GDP to an even more excessive level of 51.3 percent of GDP. Subsidies are rampant, the public sector is bloated, civil service pay is way too high, and entitlements are wildly unsustainable. A fiscal crisis – with no escape options – is probably the only hope of reversing these disastrous policies. So why, then, would it make sense for Germany and other nations to provide an escape option?

2. Bailing out Greece will reward greedy and short-sighted interest groups, particularly overpaid government workers. Greece is in trouble because the the people riding in society’s wagon assumed that there would always be enough chumps to pull the wagon. In reality, Greece is turning into a real-world version of Atlas Shrugged. Government has become such a burden that the job creators and wealth generators have given up and/or moved their money out of the country. Should taxpayers in other nations reward the greed and narcissism of Greece’s interest groups by being forced to pull the wagon instead?

3. Bailing out Greece will encourage profligacy in Spain, Italy, and other nations. The hot acronym in public finance circles is PIIGS, which is shorthand for Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain. Greece is getting all the attention now, but these other countries have the same problems of excessive spending, bloated and dysfunctional public sectors, and unsustainable finances. What happens in Greece will send a very clear signal to the politicians in these nations, much as a parent who lets the oldest child run rampant is sending signals the younger siblings. Does anybody doubt that a bailout of Greece will discourage the other PIIGS from undertaking needed reforms?

4. Bailing out Greece is not necessary to save the euro. This is the most puzzling feature of this Greek tragedy (sorry, I couldn’t resist). There is a pervasive assumption that a default somehow would cripple the common currency of most European Union nations. But why would a default in Greece undermine the euro? If California went under, after all, that would not cripple the US dollar. There are unpleasant things that would probably happen following a Greek default, but the stability and strength of a currency is a function of central bank behavior. And so long as the European Central Bank does not crank up the proverbial printing press to monetize Greece’s debt, the euro should be fine.

In my darker moments, I have sometimes warned audiences of what will happen when a majority of voters in a country or a state become dependent on government. In such an environment, it obviously becomes much more difficult to put together an electoral coalition that will lead to fiscal changes that shrink the burden of government and curtail the predatory state. This is what has happened to Greece, and what is soon going to happen in other European nations (and, barring reform, what will eventually happen in the United States). The irony of this situation is that even the folks riding in the wagon should favor reform. After all, a parasite needs a healthy host.

For background info, here’s an excerpt from the BBC article:

Despite heavy rain, there have been rallies across Greece throughout the day, with thousands of striking workers and pensioners gathering in the capital, Athens. Several thousand people were also reported to have protested in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki. The rallies have been mainly peaceful, but in one incident police fired tear gas at rubbish collectors who tried to drive through a police cordon. …The unions regard the austerity programme as a declaration of war against the working and middle classes, the BBC’s Malcolm Brabant reports from the capital. He says their resolve is strengthened by their belief that this crisis has been engineered by external forces, such as international speculators and European central bankers. “It’s a war against workers and we will answer with war, with constant struggles until this policy is overturned,” said Christos Katsiotis, a union member affiliated to the Communist Party, at the Athens rally. …On Tuesday, Prime Minister George Papandreou’s socialist government announced that it intends to raise the average retirement age from 61 to 63 by 2015 in a bid to save the cash-strapped pensions system. …Mr Papandreou has already faced down a three-week protest by farmers demanding higher government subsidies. …The markets remain sceptical that Greece will be able to pay its debts and many investors believe the country will have to be bailed out. The uncertainty has recently buffeted the euro and the problems have extended to Spain and Portugal, which are also struggling with their deficits. The possibility of Greece or one of the other stricken countries being unable to pay its debts – and either needing an EU bailout or having to abandon the euro – has been called the biggest threat yet to the single currency. Ahead of the talks between EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday, some business media reported that Germany is preparing to lead a possible bail-out, supported by France and other eurozone members.

Read Full Post »

I’m not sure if this is better or worse than the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, but the U.K. government has been spending millions of dollars in a futile effort to exterminate a duck. And because they are relying on government bureaucrats to kill the ducks, the cost-per-dead-duck is well over $750. I would suggest that they simply offer regular citizens a $50 bounty on each dead duck, but that might not work since the government has banned private gun ownership. Not surprisingly, this foolish program was instigated by the bureaucrats at the European Commission. Here’s a report from the Daily Telegraph:

For five years it has been subject to a ruthless European Union-inspired campaign of extermination. But now the ruddy duck could be about to have the last laugh. …The cull was supposed to have been completed this year, but despite the killing of 6,200 ruddy ducks, the population is starting to increase again. …And while the British government has been trying to kill off its population, ruddy ducks in Holland and France have grown in number, undermining the British effort. …Lee Evans, from the British Birding Association, said: “It is a pointless farce. They will never be able to kill every last bird. …“The cull has been a complete and utter waste of money because the government would have to kill every one and there is no possibility of that.” …The five year project to kill off the ruddy duck, co-ordinated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), is due to finish this summer. But 687 birds are still alive in the UK, up from an estimated 400 to 500 two years ago. …Andrew Tyler, director of Animal Aid, said: “This has been a completely hopeless slaughter. The whole premise is nonsense, as well as the logistics, and it has also been extraordinarily expensive. “The birds from Britain don’t seem to be going to Spain anyway, but even if ruddies are breeding with white headed ducks, that is a natural hybridisation that occurs in many birds.” …At one shoot earlier this month, an estimated 12 Defra officials, in eight boats, killed a total of 14 ducks on Ibsley Water, near the New Forest. …Half the cost of the UK’s £3.3 million ruddy duck cull has been met by the EU, with the other half provided by Defra. It follows earlier research by the department into eradicating ruddy ducks, said to have cost a further £1.3 million.

Read Full Post »

It seems that the European Union’s governing entities, the European Commission and the semi-ceremonial European Parliament, combine the worst features of statism and collectivism from the entire continent. The Euro-crats make lots of noises about subsidiarity and other policies to leave decision making in the hands of national and local governments, but virtually every policy coming from Brussels is a new power grab for unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. The latest example is possible EU-wide driving laws for the purposes of imposing absurdly low speed limits and to requiring foolish rules against more comfortable and safer large cars. Here’s what the UK-based Express wrote about the topic:

Brussels bureaucrats want to slap draconian European Union driving laws on Britain’s roads in a new “green” campaign on motorists, it emerged last night. Measures being considered include a barrage of new maximum speed limits in town and city areas. British motorists could also be forced to undertake exams in “environmentally-friendly” road skills as part of an EU-wide overhaul of driving tests. And many large cars and other so-called gas-guzzling vehicles face being banned from newly-declared “green zones” in urban centres. The latest threat of meddling from Brussels comes in an Action Plan on Urban Mobility drawn up by European Commission transport chiefs. …Mats Persson, of the Euro-sceptic think tank Open Europe, commented: “This illustrates that the EU simply can’t stop interfering in every aspect of people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, a different tentacle of the European octopus is proposing that the European Union be given the power to audit budget numbers from member nations. Given the fiscal fiasco in Greece, this seems like it might be a reasonable step – until one remembers that the EU’s auditors every year give a failing grade to the EU’s own budget practices. The EU Observer reports on the issue, but the phrase “blind leading the blind” somehow did not get included:

…the European Commission has indicated it will seek audit powers for the EU’s statistics office, Eurostat, in order to verify elements of national government accounts. …Speaking to journalists after a meeting of EU finance ministers on Tuesday (19 January), outgoing EU economy commissioner Joaquin Almunia said greater Eurostat auditing powers could have avoided the mistakes that led to the Greek revision. He said the commission will propose “a new regulation in order to obtain powers, which we’ve already requested, to give Eurostat the possibility of carrying out audits.”

Last but not least, that same EU Observer story has a tiny bit of good news, or at least a dark cloud with a silver lining. Some of Europe’s governments want to impose an EU-wide tax on banks. This certainly fits the theme of ever-growing levels of bureaucracy and interference from Brussels, but the good news is that there is still (even under the statist Lisbon Treaty) a national veto on tax matters. So even though some of the big nations in Europe want to demagogue against the financial sector, the EU’s taxation commissioner (and former communist from Hungary) sadly indicated that such a tax probably would not make it through the process:

While discussion on Greece took up considerable time, EU finance ministers did have an opportunity to discuss a Swedish proposal for an EU-wide bank levy to mitigate the effects of future financial crises. …British, Belgian and German ministers were amongst those who showed moderate support for the idea. However, outgoing EU taxation commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said it was unlikely to fly because of EU unanimity voting in the area of taxation.

Read Full Post »

The clever folks at the Taxpayers Alliance in the United Kingdom have a new video documenting some of the wasteful European Union programs that are imposing a heavy burden on average people.

Read Full Post »

The Guardian is a left-wing paper, so the author of this column may also be a collectivist, but he gets credit for being honest about the European Union’s shortcomings. Even more important, he has several very clever lines – such as “post-democratic statism” and “greatest boondoggle of the late 20th century.” His column is designed to promote Gordon Brown for the job of EU President, but read it for the scathing rhetoric:

He is clearly unhappy with the rough and tumble of democratic politics, with the daily grind of public appearances, glad-handing and schmoozing. But these are not required in Brussels, where nobody is elected to anything and such populism as smiling at cameras and holding referendums are anathema. Brown, dark-suited and anonymous, is a natural oligarch, his governing style attuned to the post-democratic statism of 21st-century Europe. …If a Brown presidency were a success it would be a triumph for Europe. It might help rescue the meretricious gravy train that is today’s EU hierarchy, perhaps even setting it on a path to usefulness. If Brown failed, nothing would be lost, since everyone knows it is not a proper job anyway. Since it was invented by the greatest boondoggle of the late 20th century, the Lisbon treaty, it has been a title looking for a purpose – which is why Tony Blair so wants it. …An inability to think laterally has long been the curse of the European movement. A sign of its intellectual insecurity is that it cannot handle scepticism, treating any but the most craven sycophant as an enemy. At the Nice summit that followed the corruption scandals of 1998-9, the EU’s spin doctors declared that in future “decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the citizen”. They lied, and knew it. So did the public. Since 2005, few have dared ask Europe’s citizens if they agreed with the Lisbon constitution, and those that did received bloody noses. The reneging of Labour and the Liberal Democrats on 2005 election commitments to a referendum showed the power of Europe’s oligarchs to outflank democratic accountability. It is near impossible to ascertain what any European citizen expects or wants from what is to be an extraordinary sovereign power placed over them. Nothing in recent constitutional history has been more cynical – or more dangerous – than the fact that referendums voting yes to euro-integration are accepted and those that vote no are rejected. …The tragedy of Lisbon is that it is a rotten treaty, slithering from the disciplines needed for freer trade to the phoney utopia of a level socioeconomic playing field across the continent. This will not work. It will propel the EU into constant friction with national parliaments, and stir public anger at being denied a vote on the new constitution.

Read Full Post »

Last month, this blog noted the bad news from Ireland, where voters were bullied into endorsing the so-called Lisbon Treaty to create a bigger and more powerful European Union bureaucracy in Brussels. Now, the last obstacle has been cleared as Czech President Vaclav Klaus has signed the pact. The Euro-crats in Brussels are overjoyed, but this agreement will mean more bureaucracy, more centralization, and more harmonization. It also makes the EU even more anti-democratic. Reuters reports:

Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty Tuesday, bringing into force the EU’s plan to overhaul its institutions and win a greater role on the world stage. Klaus was the last EU leader to ratify the treaty and his signature, coming after the top Czech court cleared the pact, means the bloc of nearly half a billion people can pick its first-ever long-time president and a more powerful foreign representative.

Read Full Post »

What is now known as the European Union started as a free-trade area, which is something to be admired. But over the decades, the free trade area has mutated into a statist super-bureaucracy pushing for centralization and harmonization. Now, according to leaked documents, the collectivists in Brussels want to impose a direct tax. This would be on top of the already onerous tax systems imposed by member nations. Needless to say, one hopes that one of the 27 nations will use its veto to stop this terrible idea. That would seem to be a simple and obvious task, but the vast majority of politicians in all European nations are terrified of being called anti-European, so even awful ideas become very plausible threats. The UK-based Daily Express reports:

Secret plans to seize more than £4billion a year from Britain and make its citizens pay taxes direct to Europe emerged last night. The leaked proposals, seen by the Daily Express, …would…mean Brussels being given the power to dip straight into taxpayers’ pockets. Shadow Europe Minister Mark Francois vowed they would be resisted by a Tory government. He said: “The idea of an EU tax is a non-starter. …Possible taxes suggested in the report – which could be discussed as soon as the start of the European summit in Brussels tomorrow – include levies on phone calls, flights, financial transactions or carbon emissions. …Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, branded the idea of direct taxation from Brussels an “outrage”. He added: “Control of taxation must rest solely in the hands of democratically elected politicians who answer to British taxpayers. “The EU has shown time and time again it is greedy for power. This is another sign they will never stop trying to grab it.”

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: