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Eurobriefs - The latest from Brussels


French motor bail-out

France announced 6.5 billion euros in loans to three national car makers in a bid to save jobs. In return the companies agreed to keep factories open, maintain jobs and produce “green” cars. Other EU member states are trying to cope with the downturn using measures to help domestic workers and companies. But the European Commission is fighting to prevent this necessary turn towards protectionism in Europe.

Deficit deadlines

The Commission is challenging EU countries trying to deal with recession by increasing their budget deficit. Under the EU Stability and Growth Pact this cannot exceed 3 per cent. Six countries have breached that rule for 2008 – France, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Latvia and Malta. The Commission will soon set a deadline for reducing those deficits. Most, if not all, of the six have political difficulties making it hard for the national government to respond.

Some nerve

Baroness Ashton, Britain’s new European commissioner is no change from Lord Mandelson. She said, “We have got to be absolutely crystal clear on our views on industry, on trade, making sure that the strategy we have got in place works and holding our nerve that actually if ever there was a time we needed Europe it's probably now.”

Keep away from the eurozone

Belgian economist Paul De Grauwe has said, “The UK will more easily manage to recover from the crisis than eurozone members such as Spain or Ireland, because it can devalue and is doing so.” He said a eurozone break-up cannot be excluded: “It is possible that Spain would leave the eurozone.”

Gaza: EU toes the US line

EU envoy Louis Michel said on 26 January that Hamas bore the “overwhelming responsibility” for the recent destruction in Gaza, and that there would be no dialogue with Hamas until it renounced violence and recognised Israel – exactly the US line. At a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands all opposed calls for an inquiry into alleged human rights violations.