Brussels Briefing

Get a taste of some of the interesting and quirky happenings in Europe from our Europe correspondent, Ann Cahill.

Brussels Briefing

Hogan faces Euro SLAPP in the face

Giving someone a slap is an old Irish phrase for putting someone in their place.

The word has been doing the rounds in Brussels in relation to the row between MEP Nessa Childers and Agriculture Commissioner designate, Phil Hogan.

But if you do an internet search you get an alternative description, although they spell it with a second “p” as in SLAPP, which is an acronym for ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation’.

It is well known in parliaments throughout the world but appears to be new to the European Parliament. They may learn more about it at Mr Hogan’s hearing before the agriculture committee on Thursday.

Or it may just be seen as a ‘domestic’ between Irish MEPs with Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness defending Mr Hogan for the job that could otherwise be hers, while Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy and Ming Luke Flanagan go for the jugular.

Women on board — but not in Ireland

The percentage of women on the boards of the largest publicly-listed companies in EU countries has increased slightly to just over 18% over the past year.

Ireland, though, languishes in 20th place on the EU list, at 10.5%, with an even smaller percentage of women on boards than there are in the Dáil.

None of the countries come close to having a third of female board members — the percentage at which any group begins to have an influence.

Higher up the power ladder, at CEO level, the figure becomes truly ludicrous, with just 3.3% women.

Bring up the dead

Greece continues to try and roll back its image of a country not too fussed about the rule of law.

The latest example, however, is more interesting than most — demolishing an illegal cemetery in a suburb of the capital city of Athens.

The site in question consists of a nice Greek Orthodox church and a few graves — normally concrete niches above ground. But the local administration, with the agreement of the courts, said they did not get planning permission, and so they have to go.

“We are sending out a clear message: Nobody can be above the law, which we are determined to apply without exception,” the head of the regional authority said.

And obviously that applies to both the living and the dead.

The French say ‘bravo ’

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, whose five years as European commissioner for science and innovation comes to an end in less than 30 days, has received France’s highest honour, the legion d’honneur.

It was awarded to her to acknowledge her “remarkable contribution to the EU project” at a special ceremony in Brussels by the French secretary of state for higher education and research, Genevieve Fioraso.

She also noted that the world’s single biggest research budget — hard won by the Irish commissioner — “will be a central driver for the economic recovery process in Europe and will create high-skilled jobs and new goods and services”.

Size matters when it comes to banks

Everyone knows about the Texans and their emphasis on the enormous size of everything in the Lone Star State, but the same can be said of Germany within the EU.

Economist Nicolas Veron, from the Bruegel think-tank in Brussels, has done some maths on the ECB’s recent list of all banks in the Eurozone, and discovered that Germany accounts for almost half of them.

However most small banks are German, Austrian or Italian. And this means they will escape direct supervision by the European Central Bank that takes over this new role in November.

But because of some deft negotiating by Germany, of the 3,652 banks, only 120 come under its direct supervision — and they of course include the (relatively tiny) Irish banks because of the bailout.

Billionaires who wield power

There are 1,645 billionaires in the world but they are not all equal either in terms of wealth, but also in the kind of power they wield.

The Brookings Institute has produced a “billionaire political power index” of the most influential, looking at how they use their money to gain power, political donations, media ownership, foundations, public office or policy thought leadership.

Bill and Melinda Gates come first but the top 15 include the political leaders of three European countries — Czech Republic, Ukraine and Georgia. Rupert Murdoch is listed as American — but he has clearly wielded much power in the UK.

Russian ban sparks something fishy

Fish is among the items from the EU that Russia has banned as a result of the row over its heavy-handedness in Ukraine.

The value is close to €144m, which amounts to 2% of the total value of the EU’s fish and aquaculture product — a sizeable amount if it is your main importer.

This has triggered funds to pay for storage for the fish and fish products until alternative markets are found. And the Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki is going to suggest to member states that if the scientific advice agrees, that 10% of unused fishing quotas be shifted to the coming year. However for many fishermen it could be a question of whether they can afford to put off the income for so long.

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