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Viewpoints: EU crisis management

Politicians elected to the European Parliament this week will have real influence over the EU's budget and financial rules.

Here two business leaders with contrasting views examine how the EU is coping with the economic crisis - and what could be done better.

ROLAND RUDD, Chairman, Business for New Europe (BNE)
Roland Rudd

If the financial crisis has shown us anything, it is both the necessity and the limits of European action.

The problems presented by the financial crisis have been cross-border in nature. It would be ridiculous for a British government to lock itself away and think it can better solve the problems in isolation.

Since the British economy is so closely integrated with continental Europe - with trade in excess of £400bn (459bn euros), over half of the UK's trade is with the rest of the EU - it is imperative to co-ordinate action. The UK may be a geographical island but in economic terms, we are highly interdependent.

Co-ordinated European action has helped to steer the economy in the right direction. The EU's banking bail-out last autumn and the 200bn-euro fiscal stimulus package were welcome measures. As was the assertive role that the EU played at the landmark G20 meetings in Washington in 2008, and London in April 2009.

The special assistance provided to Eastern Europe, where many economies have been severely hit by the recession, has been important in shoring up vulnerable economies around the world. The EU has taken many states from Eastern and Central Europe under its wing, and needs to act in solidarity with them.

Having said that, the EU's response to the financial and economic crisis has not been perfect. For instance, it has been slightly off the pace in its response at times, struggling to keep up with the fast-moving market. But which public institution hasn't?

The EU's economic agenda will continue to be important and wide-ranging. We applaud that. The EU needs to spend less time navel-gazing and more time tackling real issues.

If there is one overriding priority for MEPs, it is to guard against violations of the single market. State-aid rules have been overlooked by the European Commission in the midst of the economic crisis, but normal service should be resumed as soon as possible. The single market, with free movement of goods, services, capital and people, must continue to be at the heart of the EU.

Second, efforts to better co-ordinate financial regulation are sensible. There is little appetite for the federalist solution of a single regulator, but much to be gained from greater co-ordination. Both Jacques de Larosiere and Lord Turner have alluded to this in their respective reports.

Finally, for the EU to be more effective, it has to change the nature of its expenditure. Too much money still goes on the Common Agricultural Policy. Too little on building innovation, research and development and other capabilities that will enhance the long-term competitiveness of the economy.

If we are to learn one lesson from the economic crisis, let it be the need to strengthen the EU and equip the Commission to deliver on areas such as the single market, financial regulation and reforming the EU's budget.

BNE is a coalition of business leaders advocating the UK's constructive engagement in a reformed, free-market EU.

RUTH LEA, Director of Global Vision
Ruth Lea

I make no secret of the fact that, whilst a fan of Europe and its wonderful cultural heritage, I am no enthusiast of British membership of the EU.

I believe it is time Britain negotiated a new relationship with the EU based on trade and mutual co-operation, whilst opting out of political and economic union. I am, apparently, not alone in this ambition. An increasing number of polls indicate this is the preferred option of the British people.

I had nevertheless expected a more decisive and co-ordinated response from the EU to last autumn's unfolding financial crisis and deepening recession. These unprecedented events were a challenge to the EU and its oft-professed belief in "solidarity".

Instead, the responses were ad hoc and nationally-based.

France reverted to protectionism and fiscal plans were unco-ordinated. The Commission was almost completely sidelined. And the European Central Bank, the only EU institution to emerge with any credit, was hobbled by its "one-size-fits-all" interest rate policy for a eurozone of 16 disparate economies. The European Parliament seemed irrelevant.

So in the run-up to this week's Euro elections it is pertinent to ask what the European Parliament can do to alleviate the economic recession. The answer is very little.

The Parliament does not have any of the real levers of economic power which are invested in the member states' finance ministries and central banks (including the ECB and the Bank of England). This is as it should be.

Moreover, even with their enhanced powers, MEPs do not propose legislation. But MEPs could - and should - use all their influence to open up a radical debate on two main issues that could help the EU's economies in the longer term.

The first is the EU budget, where even now 35% is spent on the wasteful Common Agricultural Policy. MEPs should bring pressure to cut waste - including the circus of having some meetings in Strasbourg and some in Brussels. Why not aim to cut the budget by 10% or 20% and return money to the member states? The EU's taxpayers would be appreciative.

The second concerns the ever-growing burden of EU regulation on business. Europe's economies need a boost to their competitiveness in an increasingly competitive world. MEPs should act to block new legislation and repeal especially costly current legislation.

Specifically, MEPs should resist yet more EU regulations for the chastened financial sector. Regulatory reform and review needs to take place at global level, not EU level, under the auspices of the Bank for International Settlements and its newly established Financial Stability Board. But it is clear that the EU is already stepping up its regulatory involvement in this area - and the City is likely to be the big loser.

Global Vision is a group of economists advocating a UK relationship with Europe based on free trade without integration.



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MEP Seats

  Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
EPP 33.4 -1.4 264 -18
Socialists 23.2 -4.1 183 -26
Liberal 11.0 +1.6 84 +5
Green 7.4 +1.3 50 +9
Left 5.3 -0.6 34 -2
UEN 3.4 +1.6 28 +2
Ind/Dem 2.7 -1.8 21 -15
No Group 13.6 +3.4 72 +3.4
0 of 27 countries declared.

UK Total MEP Seats

Party Votes MEPs
% +/- % Total +/-
CON 27.7 1.0 *26 1
UKIP 16.5 0.3 13 1
LAB 15.7 -6.9 13 -5
LD 13.7 -1.2 11 1
GRN 8.6 2.4 2 0
BNP 6.2 1.3 2 2
SNP 2.1 0.7 2 0
PC 0.8 -0.1 1 0
OTH 8.5 2.4 0 0
SF 1 0
DUP 1 0
72 of 72 seats declared. Vote share figures exclude Northern Ireland as it has a separate electoral system to the rest of the UK
* Includes UCUNF MEP elected in Northern Ireland
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