ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing - A lighter look at European events

And now for something completely different, we take a look at some of the lighter stories from the happenings of the European Union.

Leaders to do battle over immigration

EU leaders will do battle on the immigration issue on Thursday at their second summit this week — provided they resolve Greece today.

They will be desperately trying to show compassion with more than 1,600 people having died in the Mediterranean trying to get to Europe this year so far.

However, this will not be easy, especially with Hungary announcing it is building a 175km long, four metre high fence between itself and EU candidate country, Serbia.

UK prime minister David Cameron is also planning to make this his big bid for a ‘reformed EU’ by demanding that workers from other EU countries be treated as second class citizens with fewer entitlements than their fellow British workers.

Ireland says it is open to take some refugees from Italy’s camps but wants to see the full deal first.

Meat from cloned animals banned

A lamb stew of Dolly is off the menu according to the European Parliament’s public health and food safety committee who voted to ban, not just meat and milk from cloned animals, but from their descendants also.

The European Commission had proposed the ban, but not to descendants or material derived from clones.

Independent MEP Nessa Childers who voted for the ban despite warnings of a trade war with the US that breeds and exports clones.

Ms Childers said the vast majority of cloned foetuses dying during pregnancy or birth and that half the survivors die of health complications.

The European Consumers organisation agrees with her as do 70% of citizens asked, questioning the long-term and unknown implications for human health.

The full Parliament will vote on this in the autumn and then must agree with the member states.

Keeping our spirits up

Europe’s taste for the ‘hard stuff’ is waning but the popularity of spirits globally keeps it as one of the EU’s most valuable agrifood exports, says Spirits Europe head Paul Skehan.

Exports have more than doubled to €10bn over the past decade with the US the largest importer, South East Asia the latest growing and Africa offering huge potential.

This should all be helped by EU trade agreements that cut import duties.

Multinationals playing hard to get

The European Parliament’s special tax committee is having as little success with multinationals as it is with national governments. Despite saying the way to go is to have companies pay tax just like citizens, and despite the parliament’s committee being toothless, there isn’t much progress.

Of the 16 companies invited to tell their story to the committee, just four have said they will turn up to the hearing on Thursday week. Those that have agreed to come are oil and energy companies Total and SSE, the French Bank BNP Paribas, and Airbus.

IKEA, Cola-Cola and Disney have been offered alternative dates but have yet to respond while Amazon, Fiat, InBev, HSBC bank, Google, McDonald’s, Philip Morris, Facebook and Barclays have said no thanks.

Noonan talks into trouble with ECB

Finance Minister Michael Noonan is regularly the toast of EU journalists who appreciate his candour and rational explanations, delivered in a measured, teacherly way.

He was again the star on Thursday with his clear delivery of the message agreed by his centre-right EPP colleagues in Luxembourg.

However, his reference to the fact that he consulted “the ECB in Frankfurt” as part of Ireland’s contingency plan for a Greek exit led to consternation.

The ECB people said they did not have any role to play in advising national governments on what to do in such a circumstance. And that they hope it won’t arise.

New far right group in Europe

The far right, united by their anti-foreigner policies, has formed a political group in the European Parliament, a year after the elections.

Europe of Nations and Freedom, with 37 MEPs, are now entitled to €1.8m, and to greater influence, such as the chairing of committees.

The EU body, Network against Racism, is deeply concerned by this group, many of whose members are accused of inciting hatred, including of Jews.

They say that political parties must abide by the fundamental principles of democracy and rights, and that this should be extended to political groups in the parliament.

Battle of Waterloo’s 200th anniversary

The 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo was com-memorated in Brussels during the week — celebrated by the British and largely ignored by the French.

There was a major recreation of the battle scene, where, with-in a few hours, the fate of Europe was resolved. Views differ as to how useful the outcome was, given that the peace pro-cess contributed to the First World War 100 years later.

But while the battle led to the creation of Belgium, some loc-als are still fighting their own war — to have the real site of the battle recognised.

Apparently, Wellington wrote about his victory from the village of Waterloo — so giving it its name — but the actual site was Brain l’Alleud, just a brisk 15-minute walk from the battlefield.

Centres net €80k for holiday shoppers

More than two thirds of Irish people take their holidays in another EU country, and as well as paying for travel, hotels, and food, the holiday feeling tends to loosen the purse strings at the airport.

Monitors tend to delay displaying departure gates so passengers spend more time in the shops. And it continues throughout the holiday usually.

But what many do not know, says Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes, is that holidaymakers can get refunds for faulty goods purchased in other EU countries.

Every EU country has a European Consumer Centre that resolves complaints between purchasers and traders in different member states, and last year, €80,000 was netted for Irish shoppers.


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