TROIKA RETURNS TODAY FOR THE 10th PROGRESS REVIEW - Officials from the three agencies that oversee the bailout will kick off their 10th review of Ireland's progress under the rescue deal today. The latest mission by the 'troika' of the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Commission comes as falling borrowing costs and a shrinking budget deficit means the country is on course to exit the bailout at the end of this year, writes the Irish Independent. But the visit comes at a time of increasing tensions within the troika. The IMF is concerned that worldwide austerity measures have failed to restore economic growth, while ECB officials remain broadly in favour of greater financial discipline. The latest review will also coincide with increasing signs of "austerity fatigue" in Ireland, including last week's rejection of the Croke Park II deal by public-sector unions. The Government's response to the Croke Park II vote will now join concerns about overspending in the health sector and the weakness of the banks at the heart of troika officials' discussions with ministers and officials here over the coming two weeks.
CHALLENGE TO STOCK EXCHANGE - The Irish Stock Exchange has asked the Commercial Court to rule whether or not decisions made by it may be judicially reviewed. The exchange contends they may not. Mr Justice Peter Kelly yesterday fixed June 25th next for determination of that matter as a preliminary issue in an action by the liquidator of Bloxham stockbrokers against the exchange, writes the Irish Times. The liquidator claims Bloxham’s €6 million value on the exchange was set at naught after its membership of the exchange was revoked last December. Mr Justice Kelly had previously queried why two sets of proceedings had been brought by liquidator Kieran Wallace challenging the revocation decision made last December. The judge suggested the matter might better proceed through one action rather than through both judicial review proceedings and plenary action, as of now, and asked both sides to consider that. He was told yesterday by Lyndon MacCann SC, for the liquidator, that his side had written to the exchange solicitors suggesting the public law issues could be addressed in the plenary case. The exchange was not agreeable to that and wanted the matter struck out on the basis of its argument there was no public law element at all, counsel said.
NORWAY TO OPEN UP MORE OF ARCTIC FOR OIL - Norway is proposing to open up a further part of the Arctic to oil exploration in the first new acreage from the Nordic country in two decades. The area in the south-eastern Barents Sea is thought to contain about 1.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent and was part of disputed territory between Norway and Russia for four decades, says the Financial Times. The Norwegian government will now propose to parliament later this week to open up the area following a deal in 2010 that settled the border in the Arctic region. “This is a historic day. Opening the first new region for petroleum activity since 1994 will allow us to explore new, promising areas for oil and gas, provide new opportunities and new impetus in northern Norway and boost value creation and employment across the country,” said Ola Borten Moe, minister of petroleum and energy. Oil exploration has become an increasingly political issue ahead of parliamentary elections in September where polls at present show the centre-left coalition being ousted by the centre-right opposition. Norway’s ruling Labour party agreed at the weekend to an impact study on possible oil and gas exploration in the picturesque Lofoten Islands, a highly controversial topic in the country. Oil industry executives argue that despite a series of impressive finds in the Norwegian North Sea to keep the country’s oil production from dwindling, large finds are necessary nearly every year. The country’s oil output was down 13 per cent in the first quarter compared with a year earlier.
AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND COULD ENDANGER STERLING, TREASURY WARNS - The UK Treasury has warned that it could refuse to agree a formal currency union with an independent Scotland unless Scottish public spending was heavily restrained and the country cut its debts to reassure the markets, writes today's Guardian. In a detailed critique of Alex Salmond's proposals to create a new sterling area, published on Tuesday by Chancellor George Osborne, the Treasury said it had significant doubts about whether a currency pact would be in the UK's interests. It said if Salmond won next year's independence referendum, a currency union would expose the UK to greater risks from speculators and downgrading on financial markets. The Scottish economy would be a tenth of the size of the UK's and its heavy dependence on volatile North Sea oil and gas receipts and on financial services would leave it more vulnerable to economic shocks. Its status as a newly separate sterling economy may also unnerve investors and the markets. That, the Treasury report said, would mean there was "a fundamental asymmetry in the degree of exposure to fiscal and financial risk as a sterling union would comprise two members of very different sizes".