EU split over budget as Germans push for curbs

EU Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger speaks during a news conference in Brussels. (Reuters/File)
Updated 17 September 2019

EU split over budget as Germans push for curbs

  • Divisions over the next 2021-2027 financial framework run deeper than usual

BERLIN: The EU may need to scale back its plans to boost growth and counter climate change if it fails to quickly agree on a long-term budget, European officials said on Monday, as Germany and other northern states push to restrict spending.

The EU administration is funded with a seven-year budget. The size and targets are often subject to prolonged haggling among its member states.

But divisions over the next 2021-2027 financial framework run deeper than usual at a time when the bloc faces risks of a new economic recession and uncertainty over the outcome of the Brexit process — which is expected to lead Britain, one of the largest contributors to the EU coffers, out of the union.

“My big concern is that Europe will be in a difficult economic and geopolitical situation if there is no budget by the first of January,” the EU commissioner in charge of the talks, Guenther Oettinger, told an EU ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

He said the urgency to strike a deal was heightened by the bloc’s weakening economy, with Germany and other EU states stagnating. He said it would take years to find a compromise at the current pace of negotiation.

The long-term financial framework needs to be adopted well in advance of its starting date because it has to be translated into yearly spending programs which also usually require long negotiations.

The EU’s executive commission proposed last year a seven-year budget of roughly €1.1 trillion ($1.22 trillion) which would represent 1.11 percent of the bloc’s Gross National Income (GNI), a measure of domestic output. The estimate does not include funding from Britain, which is planning to leave the EU at the end of October.

But Germany, the EU’s largest economy and the main contributor to the budget, has made it known that it wants to limit spending to 1 percent of economic output, according to a document seen by Reuters. Sweden and the Netherlands openly support Berlin’s more cautious spending plans.

The budget for the current seven-year period also amounts to 1 percent of GNI, but Brussels said it has to go up because of planned higher spending on research, digital economy, border control and defense.

Berlin said the proposed cap would represent a net increase in spending by EU states, as the bloc would have to do without contributions from Britain. It also urged more spending to counter climate change.

The European Parliament, backed by southern and eastern European states who are net receivers of EU funds, wants a bigger budget, set at 1.3 percent of the bloc’s GNI.

Lawmakers also urged further funding for new projects on climate change and for unemployment benefits as mentioned by the commission’s president-designate Ursula von der Leynen in her inaugural speech after appointment in July. Spain’s state secretary for EU affairs, Marco Aguiriano Nalda, said differences between the proposals made it almost impossible to find a compromise before the end of the year.

“I have to express strong worries and reservations on the state of play of the financial framework,” he told his counterparts at a televised session of the ministerial meeting.

Poland’s State Secretary for European Affairs, Konrad Szymanski, told the same meeting that reduced spending caps would inevitably translate into lower ambitions.

A compromise is made more difficult also by plans to make EU funding conditional on upholding the bloc’s values, including the rule of law. Germany called for this “conditionality” in its confidential document reviewed by Reuters.


Case against Ghosn excuse to get him out of Nissan, claim lawyers

Updated 13 November 2019

Case against Ghosn excuse to get him out of Nissan, claim lawyers

  • The former motor giant chief’s legal team has alleged that both his arrest and the prosecution efforts have been illegal

TOKYO: The drama surrounding the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, former boss of motor giants Nissan and Renault, has yet to reach its climax. Yet the plot continues to thicken with each new development.

On Monday, Ghosn’s defense lawyers unveiled court submissions highlighting the circumstances in which the 65-year-old executive was arrested and subsequently held in detention.

“We believe that Mr. Carlos Ghosn is innocent. We believe that the arrest and the prosecution efforts thus far are illegal and therefore Mr. Ghosn should be immediately released,” the head of his defense team, Junichiro Hironaka, said during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo on Monday.

Hironaka claimed that Nissan wanted to kick out Carlos Ghosn from the company and therefore put together a team dedicated to searching around for something that would justify them to do that.

“This prosecution motion wasn’t initiated because the prosecution side believed that Mr. Ghosn had committed an illegal act. Fundamentally there is a problem with this being treated as a criminal act,” he said.

Hironaka further said that the prosecutor’s office is supposed to be acting in the public good for everyone and not behalf of a specific corporation.

“From the investigation level, there were various problems and mistakes with this case. Furthermore, the Japanese persecution office can’t reach overseas so they rely on Nissan employees to go into Mr. Ghosn’s offices and residences and removed objects illegally,” he said.

Hironaka said there is no evidence to support the alleged wrongdoing claim that Nissan made payments to SBA in Oman, and Ghosn re-directed that money to himself or his family.

“The amounts that were paid by Nissan matched exactly the amounts due to SBA,” he said.

The lawyer had a similar response to the reports connecting some donations by Ghosn to a school in Lebanon that would somehow benefit himself. “There is absolutely no evidence or factual basis for indicating that,” Hironaka said.

He said that his team is trying to access correct information and find out what evidence the prosecution might have.

“I have made an effort to share information with the media, including the foreign media, during this whole pre-trial motion,” he said.

Under the Japanese system, the prosecutors are not required to disclose all the evidence at their disposal. Japanese law requires that prosecutors must disclose anything related to any evidence related to the specific filings they make.

They must also disclose any evidence that is related to the filings that are made by the defense counsel. However, there is no requirement for them to disclose evidence from other parts.

Ghosn was arrested at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Nov. 19, 2018, on multiple charges related to his stewardship of the two companies.

The cases involved not only Nissan-Renault and Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors (part of the Franco-Japanese alliance), but also the Japanese and French governments along with various key players from Asia and the Middle East.

Nissan was on the brink of bankruptcy in March 1999, with about 2 trillion yen ($17.6 billion) in interest-bearing debt.

This is when it entered a capital partnership with major French automaker Renault SA. Ghosn has been credited for turning the company around dramatically since then.

However, fears that the high-profile CEO and chairman was planning to merge Nissan into a much larger multinational motor alliance appeared to have fueled speculation regarding the future of the company.

It was reportedly argued within Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government that the automaker would no longer be recognizably Japanese.

The case has larger ramifications and the two governments have routinely become involved in discussions related to its future.

According to news reports, when Macron and Abe met in Buenos Aires, the French president asked that the Franco-Japanese alliance be maintained.

On being asked by Arab News Japan about reports of a prosecution team visiting Saudi Arabia and Oman, Hironaka confirmed that the visit indeed took place after Ghosn’s arrest.

“However, we have not been given any access to any information that they may or may not have gathered there,” he said.