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 reform of expert groups

Before the European Commission draws up new rules it puts together expert groups to advise it. Currently, there are more than 800 such groups but over the past few years it has emerged that these highly influential groups tend to be overwhelmingly composed of business interests.

Since EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly opened a strategic inquiry into their composition in May 2014, some changes have been made, but she advises there should be a lot more transparency.

She wants the commission to draw up a definition of balance when it comes to the membership of expert groups, and their declarations of interests to be public — essential since consultants to business were being named as independent.

The minutes of their meetings should be public, she advises, and has asked the commission to say how it intends doing this by April 30.

Islands urged to stick together

Small islands all over the EU have their own particular problems, and they should band together to form their own group, according to the European Parliament.

They want a special report to show the extra costs incurred by people who live on islands, such as access to markets and transport.

Marian Harkin MEP raised one of the problems worrying the people of the Aran Islands during the week which seems to be unique to them at the moment.

This is the attempt to replace the fixed-wing aircraft service to Inis Mór, Inis Meáin, and Inis Thiar with a helicopter service.

The public does not want it but the public service obligation that allows the service to be subsidised under EU rules does not define ‘air carrier’, which Ms Harkin says means that the islanders are entitled to define it for themselves.

French spotlight on Vat fraud

Catching companies for Vat fraud can be hard when they disappear after collecting their money. However, the French authorities with the help of Eurojust have carried out searches in seven countries to dismantle a web of carousel fraud and money laundering, where companies vanished after charging Vat. The criminals claimed Vat from member states on small, high-value and often virtual items often connected to computer equipment.

Ireland fails to improve energy record

Despite all the talk about wind energy and harnessing the power of the waves to produce sure, cheap, clean energy, Ireland remains one of the EU’s biggest fuel importers.

The country imports 85% of its energy needs. That is the third highest in the EU and much higher than other countries with a similar climate and as few sources of fossil fuels such as Denmark that imports 12.8%.

The proportion of imports has varied very little over the past decade reflecting the failure to implement proper building- insulation standards and the continuing high dependency on private transport.

Overall, the EU imports half its energy needs and while this figure is fairly stable, 2014 was a record year for seven countries when they relied less on imported fossil fuels in 24 year.

Accent on clarity in language shift

The French are very proud and protective of their beautiful language — and so careful when making changes that the latest have taken a quarter of a century to implement.

So ‘weekend’ may be used by students in their exam essays; oignon loses its ‘i’; waterlily can be spelt nenufar rather than nénuphar and the letters ‘i’ and ‘u’ will lose their circumflex in many cases.

Despite the time allowed to introduce the 2,500 changes, not all agree with them, with one professor of classics arguing that one does not remove the dates from history lessons because they are difficult to remember.

Flood of requests for funding aid

The European Commission must be convinced at this stage that Ireland is a country where the rain falls incessantly, and that this is a recent phenomenon.

The latest politician to bring the plight of those affected by the recent floods to their notice is leader of the Fine Gael delegation in the European Parliament, South MEP Seán Kelly.

He met EU Regional Commissioner Corina Cretu, who he said encouraged Ireland to apply for funding aid under the European Solidarity Fund.

Mr Kelly said he also raised other potential projects that could qualify for funding, such as transport and research.

Ireland has firm rules for campaigning

Ireland is one of the few countries with rules for third-party campaigning according to an OECD study of how politicians fund their election campaigns.

However, the USA is one of the other countries with such regulations so no assumptions can be made about whether this is good or not.

The Paris-based body warns that the rules are not tight enough and leave loopholes that can be exploited by vested interests at the cost of citizens.

And they caution that globalisation has increased the risk of capture of national political priorities by big-business.

Mediocre result on gender equality

Officialdoms’ fear of having equal rights for men and women was dramatically exposed in the European Parliament during the week. The MEPs and political groups were deeply divided on the issue of gender equality during the week when a resolution was barely passed by 337 votes to 286.

The reason so many voted against was because they objected to the ‘working document’ from the European Commission — which is about the least important kind of document they can issue.

It doesn’t need to be approved by the college of commissioners, does not need to have targets or a budget allocated or even to follow the political commitments of member states.

The shame was that so many voted in its favour.

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