Brussels Briefing

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

Spotlight on Dublin asylum system

Politicians fearful of anti-immigrant sentiment have failed to right the wrongs of the flawed so-called Dublin asylum system.

However, they are being called to order by the European Court of Human Rights.

The court has told the Swiss they cannot return a family to Italy because it was not a suitable place for families, they could not be sure the family would be kept together with suitable conditions for younger children.

Under the Dublin rule asylum-seekers can be sent back to the country in which they first landed in Europe.

British MEP Jean Lambert said that it was about time that children’s best interests were put first and added that the current system is unfair on the frontier countries where most asylum-seekers first land.

Germany abolishes university fees

The last few lander in Germany have abolished university fees, joining the Scandinavian countries where third-level has traditionally been free for students.

Fees were introduced in Germany about 10 years ago as politicians chose to follow the example of the US and also Britain and other countries.

But now the tide has turned, and many are becoming scared of the US experience where students have had to borrow to fund their increasingly expensive education.

Now the debt has reached catastrophic amounts of over $1 trillion, adding to the debt of the national economy.

In a U-turn, Germany is now delighted to say that the cheaper cost of living and the free fees will attract the best and brightest from other EU countries and give them a choice of the most talented minds around.

Statistics reveal truth about poverty gap

Non-governmental organisations and those representing the less well-off in society continue to warn about the growth in the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

But it is often felt that in some way they have a vested interest in this and while poverty levels are linked to incomes, what is seen as poor in one country would be riches in another.

However, the latest figures from Eurostat say that last year one in every four people in the EU — 120m in total — were at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

This means that these people were in at least one of the following three conditions: At risk of poverty after social transfers (income poverty); severely materially deprived; or living in households with very low work intensity — where Ireland tops the list.

Online freedom faces new boundaries

The EU is in the final stages of negotiations on a profound overhaul of online privacy and data protection laws.

These laws will affect citizens and internet companies for decades to come and dictate what online freedom and censorship will really be.

Google, like all those involved, has a big interest in the outcome and has a so-called advisory council that has been visiting many of the EU capitals to lobby for their view.

They are concentrating on influencing the policy makers directly rather than engaging the public, says BEUC, the EU consumers organisation that has been following this carefully.

They warn that Google has been creating confusion by using the EU court of justice ruling on the ‘right to be forgotten’, and applying it in a way that creates claims of censorship.

New laws to target company corruption

About 6,000 European companies in oil, gas and banking are gearing up to comply with new EU rules designed to reduce their engaging in or having policies that encourage corruption.

It will be particularly relevant for developing countries and those where corruption deprives much of the population from benefiting from the kind of public services including health and education they are entitled to.

Transparency International has found that the world’s biggest companies disclose little or no financial details about their operations outside their home country, including their source of revenue.

The world’s biggest oil, gas and mining companies are not ready for the EU rules due next July. They are similar to the Dodd- Frank US law that has been held up by a legal challenge from the oil lobby.

Two-faced attitude of EU member states

The British finance minister George Osborne, pictured, feeling the need to lie about Britain’s contribution to the EU budget is just one symptom of member states’ two-faced approach to the EU.

Having agreed how much the EU can have for the next six years and insisting much of it go towards growth areas, the states are now refusing to let the commission spend the money.

As a result, according to the employers’ body Business Europe, more than 70 research projects are blocked; €11bn for environment and climate action projects has been suspended, while funds are not available for development, Erasmus, humanitarian aid and promised aid to Ukraine.

Off the hook

TAXING QUESTION: Ever-jovial finance minister Michael Noonan could hardly hide his glee that the pressure was off Ireland at the latest meeting in Brussels over corporation tax.

With Ireland’s promised move to shut down the ‘double Irish’, focus shifted to Luxembourg.

As new commission president Jean Claude Juncker faced questions as his country’s ex-prime and finance minister, Mr Noonan feigned shock when asked if he liked that it could no longer be pretended Ireland was the EU “tax racketeer”.

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