Brussels Briefing

Presidential campaign hits a snag

The idea was that each EU political grouping — centre right, centre left, liberal, far right, far left, greens, etc — would run their campaigns for the European Parliament next May fronted by their leader who would then be their choice for European Commission president.

As far as uniting a very dispirited EU is concerned it was an interesting idea. But now it’s assuming surreal aspects.

Parliament president Martin Schulz, whose idea it was, has ben selected by his Socialist group to front their campaign and become their candidate designate for the commission job.

Only problem is he needs to be appointed by chancellor Angela Merkel, right, as Germany’s commissioner, and would need her support for the president position also. And her group, the EPP, would like to appoint a sitting prime minister who will not show his hand until after the elections.

21% wages gap

In 2010 when the crisis was in full swing public servants were on average earning 21% more than their compatriots in the private sector. The gap was the second highest in the EU after Cyprus.

Women were less discriminated against in the public service, since the gap for them was higher than for men. And the gap is even higher for young people with them earning about one third more than those working for private companies.

Those with low levels of education also did better in public service, earning about a quarter more as did professionals, managers earned about 15% more.

Childers angered by ex-colleagues

When MEP Nessa Childers (above) left the Labour Party, she stay in the Socialist group, the second largest in the European Parliament.

Being a member of a group is important in elections for funding and exposure, especially so next May, when the Socialists in particular intend to run a pan-EU campaign.

Labour, miffed by Ms Childers leaving them for the second time in her political career, insisted she be thrown out of the Socialists group, as they are entitled to.

This has led to a rift with two former colleagues, Phil Prendergast and Emer Costello, who she said failed to speak up for her when the decision was taken. Ms Prendergast denied this and wants a public apology.

Erasmus Plus

Thousands of students have been helped study in other EU states through the Erasmus scheme but now it will be extended to include exchanges of youth club leaders and volunteer activities.

The EU will also for the first time guarantee loans of up to €12,000 for students doing a master’s degree abroad and they plan the grants will be delivered faster in future.

Extending the programme will allow about 5m people from 13-30 to study, acquire professional skills in another EU country, and for the first time will cover sport.

Gays’ asylum rights in EU expanded

Gays are entitled to seek asylum in the EU if their country punishes homosexuals — not just has the death penalty or long jail sentences on its statute books.

This was the ruling by the European Court of Justice to a Dutch case where three gay men from Uganda, Senegal and Sierra Leone sought asylum on the basis that they would be persecuted if deported home. In over 30 African countries homosexuality is illegal, with three having the death penalty and several more prescribing jail for life, including Uganda and Sierra Leone.

Amnesty International said that such laws should be sufficient basis for an asylum request, pointing out that EU foreign ministers committed to promote and protect the rights of sexual minorities outside the EU a few months ago.

Balancing budgets

The nasty rows over the EU’s budget continues with members eventually agreeing an extra €4.5bn to make sure this year’s accounts were not in deficit and provide for flood damage in a number of countries and a social fund for France, Italy, and Spain.

However, the €401m for flood damage in Germany, Austria, and Czech Republic and drought in Romania is causing problems. EU states want the money to come from a fund in the Commission that is already earmarked for various other areas.

They hope to reconcile their differences during negotiations this week.

Terrifying beards

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far right Front National, let her paranoia show in her first response to the sight of four French hostages released by al Qaeda in Niger.

She said she was surprised at their strange appearance referring to their long beards. After three years in the Sahara one wonders what she expected? In her world perhaps true Frenchmen are all clean-shaven.

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