The vast European Union budget could be slashed overnight by almost a third amid evidence of spiraling expenditure on quangos, empty parliament buildings and staff pay and perks, a damning report has found. Despite austerity throughout the Continent, the European Commission has proposed a 6.8 per cent increase in EU spending next year, while cutting only six out of almost 41,000 EU jobs, it says. And for the next long-term EU budget after 2014, Brussels has proposed another 5 per cent increase. Now, following a line-by-line analysis of EU spending in 2012, think tank Open Europe is to set out an alternative budget that would reduce spending by almost 30 per cent – saving European taxpayers around £33billion annually. Britain would reduce its annual gross contribution to the EU budget by almost £4.6billion.
It is the last chance of your life to catch one of the rarest cosmic spectacles – Venus slowly crossing the face of the sun. Weather permitting, the transit of Venus will be visible from much of Earth – Tuesday from the Western Hemisphere and Wednesday from the Eastern Hemisphere. And this sight will not come again until 105 years from now – in 2117. The nearly 7-hour show can be seen in its entirety from the western Pacific, eastern Asia and eastern Australia. Other parts of the globe will catch portions of the transit. As in a solar eclipse, do not look directly at the sun. There are ways to watch the Venus transit without blinding yourself. If you still have your pair of eclipse glasses from the May 20 ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse, now is a good time to reuse it. You can also find the special viewing glasses at your local museum – if they’re not already sold out. Another option is to buy welder’s glasses from a home improvement store, but make sure it’s number 14 or darker. To celebrate the last transit in a century, museums, observatories and astronomy clubs are setting up telescopes with special filters for the public. Many will also feature special programs including lectures. If clouds spoil your view or if you’re shut out, there’s always the Internet. NASA plans a live webcast from Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Slooh.com and the Exploratorium in San Francisco are among others that will broadcast online.
Finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations held a conference call on Tuesday to discuss the financial crisis in the eurozone, and its implications for the global economy. A senior European official briefed on the call said a potential Greek exit from the euro was not discussed. “We discussed common challenges in the world economy and especially solutions to them,” the official said. News agencies reported Jun Azumi, Japan’s finance minister, as saying that the G7 had agreed to co-operate in addressing their mutual concerns over Europe. Amadeu Altafaj, the European Commission’s economic spokesman, said the call would be one of a series of such contacts to “inform our international partners of the state of play of our crisis response”. Mr Altafaj said the commission would participate on the call to lay out the EU’s response to continuing fiscal problems, banking instability and how to return the region to economic growth. An Italian government official said the discussion would also include a follow-up to contacts between Barack Obama, US president, Angela Merkel, German chancellor, François Hollande, French president, and Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister. The four leaders had an unscheduled three-hour meeting after dinner at last month’s Camp David summit and a conference call more recently. No statement was issued after the hour-long discussion which, according to a European diplomat, was a general debate that included Spanish banks and Greece’s June 17 general election.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee will begin its monthly policy meeting on Wednesday before announcing its decision at noon on Thursday. The consensus among economists is that it will leave rates on hold at 0.5pc, and maintain its quantitative easing programme at £325bn, which has already been spent on bonds. However, there is a growing feeling that the MPC, led by the bank’s governor Sir Mervyn King,may be in the mood for surprise, and several respected economists are betting that the MPC will announce £50bn of additional QE in response to the worsening economic outlook. Among them are Michael Saunders at Citigroup, George Buckley at Deutsche Bank, and Vicky Redwood at Capital Economics. Even more surprising would be a further cut in interest rates, which have been at the all-time low of 0.5% since March 2009. Last month the International Monetary Fund said Britain should consider a rate cut, which the MPC had previously dismissed. But economists are now saying that it is not impossible that the committee will reverse that decision and cut again.