Brussels Briefing - A weekly round-up of the most interesting news from Europe

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

Court to rule on air travel tax cases

On Thursday, the European Court will rule on the now abolished air travel tax in cases brought by Ryanair and Aer Lingus against the European Commission.

Ryanair won the first leg in having the court agree that the Commission should have examined the €2 for short flights and €10 for longer ones, to see if it gave Aer Lingus and Aer Arann an advantage because their transfer and transit passengers were exempt.

Ryanair pointed out it had fewer such passengers. The government replaced both with a single €3 tax, but the EC ruled the €10 rate from 2009 to 2011 was state aid and ordered all three airlines to repay the difference — €8 per passenger to the state.

Aer Lingus is suing the state for around €60m, and Ryanair is none too happy either.

A taxing issue for multinationals

TDs and MEPs will discuss national tax rules that profit multinationals — such as the soon-to-be deceased ‘double Irish’ — in the European Parliament this week.

While Fine Gael can usually depend on some support from its EPP group, it’s not clear what attitude will be taken by German MEP and former banker Burchard Balz, or the other person due to intervene, British Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds, a member of the Socialists that normally decries business being let off the tax hook more easily than workers.

Also there will be MEP and former finance junior minister Brian Hayes, with FG deputy Liam Twomey, chair of the Dáil’s Finance Committee.

With them will be Independent TD Stephen Donnelly, well known for his measured “we want our money back” arguments, and Labour’s Dominic Hannigan, chair of the EU affairs joint committee.

Presidential calls for Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visits European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk this week, according to their calendars.

The issue of Greece is likely to arise as it and its bid to lighten its debt burden will dominate next week’s Brussels summit.

Ireland will want to ensure it benefits from any ease- up, though it has not come out in favour of writing down debt.

Security ‘mustn’t hurt civil liberties’

Warnings that security must not threaten civil liberties are increasing, spurred on by increasing evidence that this is happening. Last week, French media, trade unions, anti-corruption groups, and lawyers scored a significant victory. Found buried deep not in anti-terrorist legislation, but in a so-called law for growth, under the protection of trade secrets, was the criminalisation of whistleblowers and publishers of their information. This has now been changed.

But, warns the NGO Corporate Europe Observatory, the draft EU directive on trade has similar wording that could prevent consumers learning what is in food, medicines and environment. In the meantime, justice ministers have decided they want help from Facebook, Twitter, and Google to help track those recruiting for and promoting jihad.

O’Reilly targets expert group reform

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly is tightening the noose on the European Commission to clean up its so-called expert groups.

These groups create the basis of much EU legislation but those with economic vested interests tend to be overrepresented, while those from civil society are under-represented.

The commission has long been suspected of colluding in a cover-up, helping pretend that members of these groups are independent, when in fact they work for industry or business.

Now Ms O’Reilly has given commission president Jean Claude Juncker until April 30 to respond to widespread criticism and say what he will do to reform the groups.

She wants a public call for applicants, and members linked to their interests in the Transparency Register. She wants the balance and transparency that the commission says it works to achieve, made mandatory and legally binding.

Greece ‘not the bad boys of Europe’

“So you see, we are not the bad boys of Europe,” new Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias said after his first EU meeting.

The Syriza government was painted as pro-Russian and expected to resist deepening sanctions following the attacks on Mariupol. Austria, Spain, and others would have hidden behind them. But Kotzias accepted the tough anti-Russian stance, and got the hardline UK to soften its anti-Moscow line.

“If we can swallow three pages, you can sacrifice three words”, he told London. And they did.

The former university professor and foreign ministry employee told parliament that foreign policy is a battleground in Athens’ debt war with the EU.

In the early troika days, Ireland’s voice was very muted.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

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