Brussels briefing

Childers challenges fracking regulations

With shale gas making the US self sufficient in hydrocarbons, the push is on in the EU to exploit the much smaller repositories of the gas with a massive lobbying campaign under way by the big oil companies.

The current EU regulations on fracking, however, mean there would be no need for an assessment of its effect on the environment as the level at which an Environmental Impact Assessment is set is higher than that required for industrial activities of this kind, according to Labour MEP Nessa Childers.

Her environment committee voted to make the assessments mandatory for all shale gas projects which she hopes will be adopted by the full Parliament and the member states.

When it comes to Ireland, she believes there needs to be a serious debate to ask if we need the industry and to balance the damage to the environment against the economic gains.

Teething issues

The Citizens’ Initiative, designed to persuade the EU to introduce or change laws, was touted as a milestone in participative democracy when included in the Lisbon Treaty, but it has had more than its share of teething troubles.

The online forms proved next to impossible and some of the rules on collecting the necessary one million signatures from a range of countries were daunting.

Some changes have been made that, for instance, will mean Irish people signing will no longer need to give their place of birth.

The first initiative that managed to vault all the difficulties and demand that no legislation be introduced on privatising water had a success of sorts as the Commission clarified its position, saying there was no intention of pushing countries in this direction.

Cosmetic labels get a makeover

Make-up, sunscreen, shaving cream, and toothpaste are used in abundance on the assumption they are good for you, make you look better, and protect you.

But anything put on the skin is ingested into the body, and so the effects of the thousands of chemicals and cocktails of ingredients need to be known.

New EU safety standards on this — whether manufactured in the EU or imported — have come into effect and include elements such as indicating what ingredients are ‘nano’ and having a specific person in each company liable for dealing with safety issues.

€23bn farm saving

EU citizens save €23bn a year by having the much maligned Common Agriculture Policy rather than 27 separate national policies, according to research from the German private Bertelsmann Shiftung foundation with the Centre for European Economic Research.

And they say that if member states were to harmonise their foreign policy in the same way it would save up to €1.3bn, or up to 19% of total annual spending by allowing countries to merge their diplomatic and consular services.

A common defence policy could save up to €9bn a year on army wages as the current 890,000 soldiers throughout the EU could be reduced to 600,000.

Travel protection

Having your travel agent book your package holiday picked from a glossy brochure is becoming less common now as people increasingly turn to the internet, often choosing different holiday elements from a range of separate companies.

As a result the EU’s consumer protection rules from 1990 are being updated and will now cover 120m additional consumers.

They should give consumers more rights when a company cancels arrangements, and a right to a refund and a safe passage home if a company goes bankrupt.

For those still selecting traditional packages the new rules include stricter controls on price surcharges while price reductions must be passed on by the companies.

‘Talk the talk’

The European Parliament continues to push the initiative, ensuring big EU listed companies have at least 40% of their directors women by 2020.

Independent MEP Marian Harkin, whose Employment and Social Affairs committee in the Parliament ratified the proposals, urged the EU institutions to “walk the walk” themselves, as well as “talk the talk”.

Britain urged to press for warrant reform

With very little fanfare, the British government opted out from about 130 EU crime and policing laws as they were negotiated under the Lisbon Treaty four years ago — and opted back into 35 of them.

This is the first time that an EU country has succeeded in having EU powers handed back to it, something that Britain is demanding more of and being backed by some Dutch politicians.

This opting in to the European Arrest Warrant, in particular, is causing concern in some British quarters, such as the London-based Open Europe body campaigning for reform of the EU.

It is urging the British government to push for reforms to the warrant to ensure suspects do not languish in the jails of other EU countries while they await trial, and allowing British courts to seek further information if they suspect mistaken identity.

Airport capacity crunch may cost €40bn

As countries struggle to get growth back into their economies, the air industry warns that their contribution will remain just pie in the sky unless airports receive much needed investment.

Eurocontrol warns of a massive crunch in the next few years. This capacity crunch will cost the industry more than €40bn in lost revenues and €5bn in congestion costs a year by 2035.

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