Brussels briefing

Enda’s German gong overshadowed

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, pictured, evoked elements of the poetic, mystical and misty island so beloved by Germans in his speech in Berlin where he was awarded European of the Year by the German magazine publishers association.

It was reasonably well received, but completely overshadowed by the ceremony presenting former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher with his award.

Genscher is best remembered for his appearance on the balcony in Prague announcing he had reached agreement with the authorities that the east German refugees would be allowed cross the border — signalling the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

The presentation to the 85-year-old lawyer was greeted with a standing ovation.

Due for a grilling

MEPs are expected to give a hard time to Tonio Borg, the Maltese minister nominated to take over health and consumer policy from his fellow countryman, John Dalli who was forced to resign amid allegations of bribery.

There are more than a few questions the MEPs want to put to Borg about some of his relationships with ministers in other countries and his well known views of a range of social issues from gay rights to abortion.

Choice of tragic Greek scene is troubling

There is something disquieting about the ECB choosing the rape of Europa by Zeus as the new security picture for bank notes.

The bank, that does not have even one woman on its board, will begin the rollout of the new notes in May with additional security features to try to reduce counterfeits.

There was much comment on the choice of bridges, doorways, and gates which will remain as the main picture elements on the notes.

But at least it was an effort to show respect for the ideal of the EU as a uniter of people.

What, one wonders, is their excuse for choosing the rape of a women even if it was by a mythological Greek god.

Changing the guard

While the Irish were happy they had backed the right candidate in the Chinese leadership contest, the Swedes had an interesting take on the country poised to become the single biggest economy by 2016.

Stockholm’s daily, Aftonbladet, noted that China’s exports now include its dictatorship. “In the west we tend to believe that everyone wants to be like us. But the Chinese model of successful economic development without democracy and without human rights is exerting a powerful force of attraction that reaches from Central Asia to Eastern Europe. Even in an EU country like Hungary there is sometimes talk of an “Asian reversal”.

OECD compiles rich list predictions

The OECD has looked into its crystal ball and come up with a view of just how wealthy we will all be in the future.

India and China will have more than half the world’s wealth within the next five decades leaving the eurozone falling from 17% to 9% of the global wealth while the US falls from 23% to 17%.

Surprisingly six Eu countries will not see their share of the world’s GDP change that much. Ireland will suffer its biggest fall by a third from 0.3% to 0.2% by 2030 but it will remain the same in 2060, according to the OECD’s estimates. It shows similar results fro Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Slovenia and Sweden.

By then the UK will have overtaken Germany as Europe’s wealthiest country.

Relaxing visa restrictions

While Ireland is organising festivals to bring in tourists, the EU is advocating making it easier for people to actually gain entry to the bloc by simplifying visa rules.

Citizens of 42 countries don’t need a visa to enter the Schengen area and the proposal is to extend this to include some Pacific and Caribbean islands.

Last year 12.6m visas for the Schengen area were issued, but a separate visa is needed to enter Britain or Ireland, which aren’t part of the passport-free zone.

According to EU Justice Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, 21% of people outside Europe say they avoid going there on holiday due to the problem of visas.

Brits opt out

Senior EU diplomats are convinced that Britain is heading towards the door and will exit the bloc in the not-too distant future.

It would likely remain part of the single market, ensuring the doors of the EU are open to import British goods without tariffs or other barriers.

Britain would join Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, which are required to automatically adopt legislation related to the single market, amounting to the vast majority of EU laws.

Some estimates say Britain would save about €2bn on its annual contribution of €12bn.

Such a move could create major problems for Ireland but may also demote Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the US.

Just like us

German chancellor Angela Merkel gave a bravura performance in the European Parliament when she updated her vision for the EU’s future.

Briefly, it is that the union will become a federal state like Germany. But not yet. The economics has to be sorted out first to ensure Germany is not left paying for anyone else.

EU leaders’ vision for the future appear to be perpetually limited to the country they know best. Former British prime minister Tony Blair told the parliament the EU would be perfect as soon as it became like the UK.

And now we have Merkel saying perfection is federal Germany. But the 16 länder have a huge amount of autonomy and in many ways the federal government is the dog that is wagged by the länder tail.

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