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The French Minister for European Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, summed up the situation on 24 October with Nicole Fontaine, at the last meeting of the contact group. An ad referendum deal was noted on two of the three "packages" of the negotiation concluded in the technical group: the general provisions and the "non-conflictive financial package" - which is to say about a dozen articles. This agreement in principle however still requires some clarification: on the elements to be incorporated from the Act of 20 September 1976 on the direct election of MEPs, and how they are going to be integrated with electoral rules; and the modifications to be defined for the pension system, where a new element has to be added to the current retirement age of 65, with a reduced level of pension at 60: the conditions for a super-reduced pension from the age of 55.There are still questions to be dealt with on equality of MEPs, transparency, and the democratic link with the citizens, as Pierre Moscovici puts it. In terms of the current discussion, that means:- the level of pay should reflect the average of remuneration of all national MPs, as a majority of Member States believe. So much for equality.- reimbursement of expenses can be dealt with by a decision of the Parliament Bureau on condition that defines mechanisms for verifying real expenditure, perhaps accompanied by some flat-rate element. So much for transparency.- taxation should be national and not at EU level. The UK, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland do not want to break with the principle of the democratic link with the citizen.The timetable.On these three points, the meeting of the contact group was tense. On pay, all MEPs and their President have confirmed their view: they want the average from the four countries with the biggest population. Mr Moscovici has expressed reservations, and what is likely to eventuate is an arbitrary figure of around Euro 7,400 accompanied by an indexation mechanism. As for the rest, rapporteur Willi Rothley, backed by Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl (EPP, Germany) and Ingo Friedrich (EPP, Germany), recalled their demand for EU taxation and total sovereignty for the Parliament on reimbursement of expenses. Mr Rothley even had to be called to order by Mrs Fontaine, who reminded him that she was the only legitimate spokesman for the European Parliament. This exclusivity was implicitly challenged by the EPP group President, Hans-Gert Poettering, at the Presidents' Conference on 26 October, when she came to ask them to take over the discussions from the contact group. Mr Poettering said the link with the contact group should be maintained, and that in any case the Legal Affairs Committee - and thus Mr Rothley - would have to give its opinion before the vote in plenary.The President of the Socialist group, Enrique Baron Crespo, was able to support Mrs Fontaine's line with only a slim majority of his own members at a vote on the morning of 26 October. The ELDR and the Green groups were in favour of a compromise. During the plenary session on 23 October, Bertel Haarder (ELDR, Denmark) accused Mr Rothley of being "a saboteur rather than a rapporteur".The outcome is uncertain, but the timetable jointly agreed shows some willingness to accelerate the process. From 31 October, the political groups should have to deal with a proposal on the Statute to allow a debate at the Conference of Presidents on 9 November. The Council working group will meet on November 6 in advance of the meeting of COREPER on November 9. Pierre Moscovici will meet the Conference of Presidents on November 14 or 16, and on November 15 the compromise will be presented to COREPER before being transmitted to the General Affairs Council. Simultaneously, the Legal Affairs Committee will examine the draft Opinion which will be debated for the last time at the Conference of Presidents on 29 November before the plenary vote on 30 November.
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Publication:European Report
Date:Nov 1, 2000

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