Brussels Briefing - A lighter look at European events

And now for something completely different, we take a look at some of the lighter stories from the happenings of the European Union.

Brussels Briefing - A lighter look at European events

Fracking opponents hail vote

Fracking opponents hailed a vote in the European Parliament demanding a halt to the extraction of gas until the implications not just for human health as well as the environment are understood.

Marian Harkin, independent MEP, noted the vote mirrored the views of the county councils of Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Donegal, Cavan and Clare. However the full Energy Security report was voted down in the end when upset pro-fracking MEPs joined anti-nuclear groups against the proposed public funds for nuclear energy.

While the report does not have legislative sway it is seen as an important reminder to member states and the European Commission that most citizens do not support fracking.

Ireland’s environmental protection agency has awarded a contract for a two-year study to a consortium that includes a US company that has worked with fracking.

Taking Hungary PM to task

Much of the European Parliament is battling to bring Hungary’s prime minister, Victor Orban, to account for his breaches of human rights and the EU Treaties.

As a member of the majority European People’s Party to which Fine Gael and Angela Merkel’s party belongs, he has maximum tolerance at least in public from EPP governments. Part of the problem is the only sanction is the extreme one of suspending Hungary’s EU membership. This has not been considered despite his compromising media, internet and free speech, perverting election laws, broaching reintroducing the death penalty and hate speech against migrants — mostly Serbians and Kosovars.

MEPs supported an ALDE liberal group proposal for a Democratic Governance Pact that they say would act like the Stability and Growth Pact on economies, to monitor compliance with the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights.

Dominance of Lego challenged

The dominance of “Lego”, officially the world’s most powerful brand, is about to be challenged.

Fifteen years ago they registered their Lego man/woman as a trademark, but according to EU trademark law, marks dictated by the

nature of the product cannot be registered, such as the interlocking pieces on their head or feet.

Competitor, Best Lock, challenged the trademarks and the European Court of Justice will rule tomorrow.

Greenpeace ‘be nice to coal’ approach

The EU has traditionally been the world’s environment-friendly bloc, pushing others to adopt ever more ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change but also damage people’s health.

But the European Commission in April, proposed limits for coal that are in fact weaker than the standards and pollution control technologies already existing in China, the United States and Japan, Greenpeace points out.

Now these have been given further credence since tThe Technical Working Group, made up of national government experts involved in drafting the new limits, adopted them during the week at a meeting in Seville. Greenpeace ascribes the ‘be nice to coal’ approach to the fact that more than half the delegates coming from fossil fuel industries or seconded to government delegations from industry.

Dismantling a cyber scam

A neat little business earning its enterprising multi-national members a good income was dismantled by teams of police from a number of countries coordinated by Eurojust.

They intercepted companies email payment requests to customers — and sent out bills of their own with the same format, just changing the bank details so it went straight into their accounts.

The cybercriminals, mainly from Nigeria, Cameroon and Spain, were operating in Italy, Spain, Poland, the UK, Belgium and Georgia.

Forty nine suspects were arrested and €6 million that had just arrived in their accounts.

Keeping track on horses’ health

A horse is not the same as a cow or a cat, a first report on the health and welfare of equids — horses, donkeys and mules — points out to the European Commission.

Horses especially are multi purpose animals used for food, sport and agriculture and most legislation is not relevant for them, but they are worth more than €100 billion to the economy, says the Eurogroup for Animals.

The Commission has agreed to map out the sector, laws and the specific health and welfare problems — including finding out just how many of these animals exist in the EU for the first time.

Irish vote ‘breached democratic rules’

The way Ireland’s referendum on same sex marriage was run was criticised in the European Parliament as breaching fundamental democratic rules.

Polish MEP Marek Jurek said there were questions over the financing of the campaign, with some State-funded organisations threatening to exclude certain politicians whose voice appeared to be in the minority.

Mr Jurek, of the parliament’s European Christian Political Movement, raised this concern before the vote, also warning there had been very serious cases of intimidation and bullying by employers, telling employees to vote ‘yes’. He also warned of the danger of foreign interference, with the American Atlantic Philanthropies trying to influence Irish voters, as were multinationals Google and Facebook. So far Mr Jurek has failed to have the issue put on the Parliament’s agenda.

Red tape hindering road safety drive

Road traffic injuries appear to be the latest victims of the European Commission’s drive to cut red tape.

There has been spectacular success in halving road deaths over the past decade as member states learn from one another what works to cut drink driving and speeding and increase seat belt wearing. But the numbers seriously injured in accidents has increased to 200,000, says Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune. Many are the most vulnerable road users — cyclists, the elderly and pedestrians. In Ireland the number of cyclists injured increased by 59% in 2012.

Experts and road safety bodies have written to Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker asking him to reverse the decision and set new EU targets to cut serious road injuries.

More in this section