Brussels Briefing

Flying into a storm at Belgian airports

Ryanair’s expansion to main airports is causing a stir in Belgium, where it christened the runway at Charleroi, 50 minutes outside the capital, as Brussels South. Now it is launching flights from the airport just 10 minutes from the city, called Zaventem.

The Belgian media put Michael O’Leary through his paces, asking where his staff will pay their tax and social welfare. Since last February this has been more closely regulated, with staff paying income tax in Ireland, as they have Irish contracts, but paying social insurance in Belgium where they are based.

And companies will be able to book through travel agents for the first time.

Herman’s haikus

Wandering clouds

Full moon and

black heaven

Chiaroscuro

That is a haiku, written by president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, whose day job is to keep member states’ leaders in order during their regular summits. Not an easy task.

Giving clues to his success, he told the Haiku International Association: “A haiku poet engaged in politics cannot be extravagant, or excessively vain, or over the top. He should incorporate into his actions a sense of balance, a desire for simplicity and harmony.”

Will she stay or will she go?

Election and selection fever is gripping everyone in Brussels in the run up to European Parliament elections in May. It’s not quite like the US where every civil servant changes too, but it’s close.

One of those who will be hoping to be reappointed on the nod will be ombudsman Emily O’Reilly. Tagged as a “professional outsider” by a Brussels-based paper that specialises in EU affairs, she tells how she was attracted to the Carmelites as a pre-adolescent.

She has produced an impressive number of high-profile reports since she took over in October and now she is hosting a conference called ‘Beyond the Crisis? Business in Europe 2014’, in the European Parliament with a number of prominent speakers, some of them MEPs.

Continental tour

EU-US summits are regular affairs but Barack Obama had turned down all invitations to come to the EU capital up to now.

It has to be worth his time, so the EU had to wait until he had other appointments on the continent. One of them is the nuclear security summit, an initiative of Mr Obama, consisting of three meetings of world leaders, and the Netherlands hosts the final meeting on Mar 24-5.

He will spend two days in The Hague before moving to Brussels, where he will meet presidents Barroso and Van Rompuy; he will visit NATO and meet Belgian leaders, travelling to Rome for an audience with Pope Francis.

Chemical link to obesity and heart disease

A chemical, BPA, used in the production of certain plastics used to line aluminium food and drink cans has been widely linked to obesity and coronary heart disease. The chemical is also used in pesticides and consumer plastics.

It has also been linked to increased risks of cancers and adverse effects on the immune, nervous and reproduction systems. It has been banned from baby bottles both by the EU and the USA, but not from other uses.

Rules due to be drawn up by the European Commission have been delayed. Furious MEPs decried the delay and accused the European Food Safety Authority of lacking competence in the area of endocrine disruptors.

Publishers, journalists seek transparency

Media and publishers are desperately trying to alert the European Parliament to some unintended consequences of laws they are due to vote on this week designed to prevent bankers messing with the Libor and Euribor that are related to setting interest rates.

A coalition of leading European publishing and journalist associations wants MEPs to exempt the press, media and journalists from the regulation, pointing out that they do not have a vested interest in giving specific information, as the bankers do. Rather than helping prevent future rate-fixing scandals, insisting the media cannot report on issues related to this area of banking would remove an essential area of transparency.

Tracking the tractor trail across Europe

More than €3m worth of tractors disappeared within 18 months from fields and farms in France.

They were targeted by a gang of Romanian thieves living in Spain, who nipped across the border to steal the vehicles, valued at about €80,000 each.

They were loaded onto Romanian trucks and off- loaded, mainly in Hungary and Romania.

The trail, that started with three missing John Deere tractors in Bordeaux, led to cashes of mobile phones and sim cards, cash, handguns and ammunition, GPS devices and forged identity cards — and the arrest of nine members of the gang.

Cultural objects third most smuggled

An estimated 40,000 cultural objects are stolen and removed each year from EU countries, in fact, cultural objects are the third most smuggled items after drugs and arms according to the UN.

There have been on-going rows between countries over art treasures that have disappeared or been appropriated during wars and invasions. Getting them back frequently raises fears of another war.

Now MEPs in the Culture and Education committee have approved a revision of the law dealing with the issue and say it will make it much easier to get them back. However, the Greeks won’t be able to use it to have the Elgin marbles returned — the law only covers goods taken after 1993.

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