Brussels briefing

Take a leaf out of our book Germany

Those who recoil from watching the Triple A countries kick Greece when she is down will be cheered to see Germany being told that its future may not be all that bright unless it makes big changes.

That big old industrial manufacturing sector and those sensible wages that have made Germany top-dog among EU economies will not be enough in the future, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Their insistence on austerity for all could just snare the German economy in the resulting stagnation around the rest of the eurozone, the Paris organisation warns.

Instead, it has advice that runs contrary to every German instinct at the moment — spend a little money, on projects, on the unemployed, on increased benefits — even if it means increasing their budget deficit.

The Germans need to pay more attention to their banks too, as the worsening euro crisis will affect them very badly.

Principally it needs to transform its growth model to thrive as a knowledge-based economy, and this means policy, education and skills changes. Sounds like they need to become a lot more like Ireland.

A farewell gift

Irish auditor Eoin O’Shea may be on his way out of Brussels, but he’s finalising a parting gift that not everyone will appreciate.

Indeed, few eurocrats and parliamentarians will.

O’Shea has handed the parliament a report on the billions of euro spent by 22 of the EU’s 31 agencies, saying half could not account fully for their expenses.

Spread around the EU, these agencies range from research on policing to testing food safety and handing out patents.

The Dublin-based European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions — with its board of 84 — are flown in for meetings once or twice a year.

Mr O’Shea suggested this was ‘unwieldy’ in his report.

In the meantime, it’s back to the law courts for the barrister and accountant who becomes the shortest serving auditor in EU history, because the Government needed to find a bailiwick for the Department of Finance head, Kevin Cardiff.

Depressing Merkozy

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton gladhanded her way though members of the Institute of International Affairs on Friday.

One of her pet peeves, she admitted, were those Merkozy summits. They were downright depressing, and made a bad situation worse, she said. In fact, they added to the volatility and instability in the markets.

Fracking around with our gravy train

Those pesky, inquisitive MEPs. Just when Ireland thought it was set to join the fracking gravy train, along comes another EU committee.

Ireland has come late to the fracking party. France and more recently Bulgaria has banned this method of extracting gas from rock. Sofia’s decision has upset US giant Chevron, who had big plans for the country.

The German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen, who chairs the environmental committee, says he’s drawing up plans that would see fracking strictly controlled or even banned in the EU.

It has been linked to earthquakes near drilling sites in Britain, pollution of ground water and according to Cornell University, its true emissions could be much more than coal.

Ireland has handed out licences in Clare and Leitrim but before any findings, the European Commission may deliver some of its own.

Not in tune

Music lovers will be chuffed to hear that sharing downloaded tunes is a fundamental right under the EU charter. Grey-suited EU types were not thinking of music when they put the document together.

But the European Court of Justice has decreed that being able to send or receive information is a right, and that all EU law must recognise this.

Sabam, a Belgian music royalty body, had demanded social network site Netlog prevent their members from illegally downloading music and took them to court when they refused.

The court’s decision that this was out of tune with the charter could have implications for the ACTA treaty, which bas-ically has governments enforcing copyright rules for multinationals.

With most governments, including Ireland, having rushed to sign it last month, the European Parliament’s vote in June will be the last stand.

Saving through a dashboard

What’s the most power-hungry appliance in your house? Most likely, it’s you. And 83% of the population are ignorant of same.

An ‘information- dashboard’ may be the answer, the European Commission says. This invaluable piece of equipment has been developed thanks to a €2.8m EU grant towards the total cost of €3.7m.

It has been tried out in Britain, Bulgaria and Romania, with Australia also a fan.

The dashboard for each home can be accessed on smartphones and PCs and gives a profile of the average daily energy usage.

It compares your household use with that of similar homes so you can see the real cost of leaving the light on. Trials showed families using the system made savings of 8%.

By the way, the washing machine is the most cost-ly domestic appliance.

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