Brussels briefing

Questions, answers and kidney stones

Journalists aren’t used to being asked questions, so nobody replied when eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker, right, asked who suffered from kidney stones.

“They are very uncomfortable” he said as he invited everyone to keep their questions to a minimum after a long meeting.

Olli Rehn, sitting at his side, did not have the same excuse when he erupted during the final question to tell Ireland to “pay their dues”.

He looked pale and bedraggled, having taken a pumm-elling from Spain, and a full assault from Hungary and their allies over two days. He had barely seen off the first concerted attack by member states to get around the new tough rules to keep their budgets in line.

The usually cool Finn might have preferred kidney stones.


Children and chocolate are a natural pairing, but not when it comes to harvesting cocoa beans.

The EU imports 80% of cocoa from West Africa, where over 7m people are employed in its production; many of them children, some enslaved.

Globally, child labour is illegal since 2001, but enforcing this needs a system where consumers identify ‘child-labour-free’ products by their label.

The European Parliament has signed up to this agreement, so it’s hoped such a system will be in place shortly.

Máire down under

Having a €80bn budget has made Máire Geoghegan-Quinn very popular in Australia.

The research, innovation and science commissioner, together with her cabinet chief John Bell, spent 10 days down under as guests of the Aussies.

The EU encourages scientists from all over Europe to link up with one another, but also with those from other continents, to develop new ideas, products and cures.

Canberra laid out the red carpet for the commissioner as science and research minister Chris Evans praised her for placing research and innovation at the forefront for “smart, sustainable, socially inclusive European growth”.

“Increasing Australia’s presence in global research networks and partnerships is a priority for the Australian government,” he said.

Ireland could miss out on EU crime battle

Ireland led the way in tackling drug and other crime by confiscating criminal assets, and now the EU is following.

But while plans to link up the cross-border battle in a more structured way is going through the system, Ireland could be left out, Dublin MEP Emer Costello pointed out.

The Government needs to opt-in to the system as traditionally the country does not automatically cooperate on all justice issues. She added Ireland already takes part in a 50-country international network of asset recovery practitioners.

MEPs agreed to set up a committee to investigate infiltration of the EU’s legal economy, public administration and financial systems by organised crime and propose ways to fight it.

Floury bread is all blaa, blaa, blaa

Blaa is not a description of a long-winded statement on nothing of any importance in Waterford. It’s a nice, white bred bun produced by local bakers.

And they want to make sure that nobody else steals the name, so they have applied to the EU for Protected Geographical Indication status — which would mean that nobody else could call their produce “Waterford Blaa”.

If successful, Blaa would become only the fifth Irish food product to get this protection and join a club of over 1,000 other similarly protected EU products.

Labour MEP Phil Prendergast called on other Irish food producers to join their ranks. Though it will be difficult to come up with one that has such a universally popular name as Blaa.

Hungary pushes membership to the limit

EU politicians accept that they may deliver one message for their home audience and a slightly different one for the Union.

But Hungary’s Viktor Orban brought this tolerance to its limit when he declared, “we will not be a colony”, clearly referring to the EU.

He galvanised remnants of the old Austro-Hungarian empire to battle on his behalf against the threatened loss of EU funds last week, but he may find it difficult to muster such support again.

With his two-thirds majority in government, Orban has been able to push through some suspect changes in his country’s constitution.

However, he is really putting it up to Europe now to either stick by their convention of fundamental rights — or let Orban away with having his cake and eating it.

Discarding rules

FISHY FIASCO: Simon Coveney will have a tough job making the right decision today as France pushes for pivotal changes to the EU’s fish policy.

The commission wants to reduce fish discards, but France and Spain have other plans. Mr Coveney has had their letter for days but has delayed signing it.

Maybe he is waiting to see what the Germans will do first.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

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