Brussels Briefing: The other side of Europe

We bring you a brief look at some of the other news from the European Union from the past week in our Brussels Briefing.

Anger at treatment of whistleblowers

Journalists and whistleblowers have enlightened members of the European Parliament about LuxLeaks that exposed sweetheart deals for the world’s wealthiest corporations.

Many MEPs on the special tax committee were very critical of the fact that some of the whistleblowers, such as Antoine Detour and Edouard Perrin, are being prosecuted while none of those responsible for tax evasion was being taken to court.

Some want an EU-wide law to protect whistleblowers and said it was difficult to explain to people why the EU enforced austerity on citizens but did little to prevent the wealthy evading tax.

Some said the committee was typical of the hypocritical attitude taken by those in power since the committee had been downgraded by a vote of the majority of MEP. So far they have not managed to get one document from any member state.

Spotlight on immigration

With more plans to control the inflow of migrants and the work of terrorists underway in the EU, research into how the current system is working should be a reality check.

Carried out by doctors Cian Murphy at King’s College London, Aldo Zammit Borda of Anglia Ruskin University and Lucy Hoyte, it included interviews with border control experts.

They reported that few EU countries exchange information because of a lack of trust — which is understandable given recent revelations about German spying for the US.

Then there is the Schengen Information System that will have 70m records covering wanted or missing persons and property, European Arrest warrants with finger prints, pictures and biometric data.

Many people are concerned about the balance between security and human rights.

Million protest animal testing

More than the required one million people have signed a petition to get the European Commission to completely ban using animals for scientific and medical tests, under a “Stop Vivisection Citizen’s Initiative.

Most signatures came from Italy, with 3,300 from Ireland. Scientists oppose the move saying alternatives are being used increasingly but a ban would endanger medical progress that benefits humans and animals.

Gay marriage first for EU premier

Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, became the first gay EU leader to marry his partner last Friday after the conservative Catholic duchy legalised same sex marriage last year.

He and his Belgian architect partner have been in a civil partnership for the past five years and he is believed to be only the second married gay premier — Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir married her partner in 2010.

The 42-year-old centre-right politician in a TV interview said that rather than hiding his sexuality and being unhappy his whole life he believed that to be an honest politician he had to be honest with himself and accept who he was.

The couple held a private bash for around 500 guests. Under Luxembourg law the couple can now apply to adopt children.

IFA happy with Kelly appointment

Ireland’s farming sector is delighted that Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly has become chair of the European Parliament’s negotiating committee for the International Climate Change Agreement.

IFA president Eddie Downey hopes that the Kerryman will be able to ensure that Ireland’s efforts and point of view are brought to the fore for the huge UN climate talks in Paris in December.

Because of the huge amount of methane emitted by the country’s cattle herd, Ireland needs to have recognised the balancing role its grassland, bogs and forest plays as a sink for carbon dioxide.

First-time Irish mothers ‘older’

More than half the Irish women becoming mothers for the first time in Ireland were aged between 30 and 39 years — a much higher proportion than the EU average.

Just Spain and Italy had more older mothers followed by Greece — all countries with an economic crisis.

The proportion of teenage births was fewer than 5% in Ireland — about 1,200 out of the 26,080 babies born in 2013.

Romania and Bulgaria had the highest at around 15% of all births being to teens.

Among the more than five million babies born in the EU, one in five already had two siblings.

Poles ‘not cheap labour for Germany’

The economic crisis has thrown up a north-south divide in the EU but now the Poles are about to create the east-west split, led by pop star, Pawel Kukiz. He took 20% of the votes in the first round of the presidential elections.

The run-off next Sunday will be between the current president from the centre right, Bronislaw Komorowski, and the far right and eurosceptic Law and Justice party candidate. However, the pop star is putting together a political party to contest October’s general election with the message that the EU views Poland and the eastern states as second-class citizens.

Playing on fears he says the Poles are seen as cheap labour for Germany that will one day hand them over to Russia.

Operation Snake snares its target

A Chinese laundry that had nothing to do with cleaning clothes managed to evade taxes and send about €300m over the past six years to its masters in China before being dismantled by the Spanish authorities and Europol.

Not only did they launder money for themselves and their empire in six member states — they also sold their services to others with similar needs, for a commission.

The network imported products into the EU, including counterfeits, using bogus documents and evading excise duty.

The profits were lodged in hundreds of personal bank accounts and transferred to China, to the even larger criminal parent network.

Called Operation Snake the investigation took more than two years and so far 32 people have been arrested.


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