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

O’Reilly seeks ‘trilogue’ transparency

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly is pushing for the top-secret “trilogues” to be more open.

These discussions between the European Parliament, European Council and European Commission speed-up deals on rules after their bodies have democratically agreed their positions.

But what comes out of these often late-night sessions can be dramatically different to what went in, and with no agenda or minutes kept, nobody can question it.

About 80% of all new EU laws are agreed in this way.

The European Council has more or less told her to get lost, but Ms O’Reilly has received support from German MEP Sven Giegold, who has taken part in them.

There is no account of who attends or what they say, and it can advantage vested interests as he has seen the ‘secret’ documents in the hands of lobbyists.

Corruption in sport in spotlight

“Play The Game” organised by the Danish Institute for Sports Studies this week shows that there is no drawing a line between politics and sport, as some would rather wish.

Fifa will feature, in relation to the World Cup in Brazil and Qatar, as will the upcoming Olympics in Rio and the European Games in Azerbaijan.

Popular protest over these major sports events is growing, and has even led to some cities backing out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Qatar, Russia and Azerbaijan want to host them, and are happy to invest whatever it takes.

But human and labour rights are regularly breached, corruption is rife and whistle-blowers and journalists are jailed, while in countries generally claims that the huge investment pays back don’t appear to ring true, reports at the conference will show.

Conflict of consciences

There were wry smiles about the centre-right European People’s Party insisting there is a conflict of interest in the European Commission awarding a €5m contract to a consortium that includes a company owned by ex-Hungarian socialist prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany.

One of the stars of the EPP’s annual meeting in Madrid last week was Hungary’s current prime minister, Victor Orban, who is seen as fomenting trouble over migrants.

Indemnity plan to accommodate B&Bs

B&Bs offering to help guests with information on things to do such as spa treatments, surfing or cycling could have been classified as package tour operators.

Which might have sounded okay to some of the more ambitious ones, except that under new rules to protect travellers, they would have been responsible for compensating them if any of the services had gone out of business.

Deirdre Clune, Ireland South MEP, had her amendment accepted to exempt small providers, like B&Bs, from the rule that would have seen them having to take out insolvency insurance to protect themselves.

But the good news for travellers booking hotels and cars though, for instance, airline sites, is they will be compensated if the hotel or car hire is bankrupt and fails to deliver.

Public documents get EU recognition

Birth, death, marriage and absence of criminal record documents can cause a lot of hassle when written in a language not understood by the authorities in another country, or even recognised by them.

Up to now an “Apostille” stamp was needed to verify they were genuine documents but EU countries have now agreed to recognise one another’s public documents.

Citizens will also be able to request that their certificates be made out on a multilingual form that will do away with the need to translate.

A plan to do the same for businesses however appears to have bitten the dust.

Pupils share ideas via ‘eTwinning’

Learning to live together despite cultural differences is the theme of a conference bringing together tougher 500 teachers and administrators from departments of education across Europe.

The Schools eTwinning platform has proved very popular over the past decade with a network of more than 325,000 teachers sharing ideas and projects and connecting their students on-line.

Funded by the EU through the Erasmus+ programme, using a free web-based platform it has engaged two million pupils through 43,000 projects, and so far almost half of all European schools have taken part.

The focus now is on cross-cultural cooperation and tolerance.

Eurosceptic party set for power in Poland

All eyes are on the results of the Polish general election this week as the eurosceptic Law and Justice party looks set to reclaim power after seven years in opposition.

Their previous term in government, when founding twins Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski were president and prime minister, saw Poland side-lined in the EU.

Support for the government of the Civil Platform party has been falling, pushed further by the departure of prime minister, Donald Tusk, for Brussels to head up the Council of Member States.

He could now find himself in a very difficult position with the new Polish prime minister giving him a lot of headaches when chairing EU summits – and possibly questioning his continuing in office when his first two and a half year term comes to an end in 2017.

EU considers biometric data travel plan

An idea that was ditched a short time ago because of the trouble and cost is back on the table — registering the biometric data of all EU nationals as well as foreign travellers crossing into the Schengen area.

Just how this would affect Irish nationals, given that Ireland has remained outside the Schengen zone to form its travel free area with Britain because of the border with the North, is difficult to fathom.

But France wants to protect free movement with mass fingerprinting, face scans and entry-exit logs, citing the need to track terrorists. They are expected to be part of the Smart Borders plan the European Commission is to produce before the end of the year.

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Saturday, May 15, 2021

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