ANN CAHILL: Brussels briefing

When Irish finance ministers are smiling

The Danish presidency thought they were about to achieve one of their aims when George Osborne, the UK chancellor, unexpectedly turned up for the special meeting on capital requirements — the ratio of money banks need to set aside.

But by 1.50am it was clear they were going nowhere and decided to leave it for another day.

Michael Noonan — another unexpected attendee — had left 11 hours before, saying nothing about where he stood on the issue.

However, he made a lasting impression as his photograph was the main image used on the Danish website.

Austerity breeding xenophobia

All eyes were on the French presidential election this weekend, overshadowing one that may prove to be even more significant happening in Greece.

Having had a caretaker government under the strict control of the IMF and the EU, voters were offered a choice between parties all of which were forced to sign up to their austerity programme in exchange for massive bailouts.

The alternative for voters wishing to protest was to vote for xenophobic parties.

At least it gives the Greeks someone to blame — but, as the Dutch have discovered, such parties could yet interfere with the carefully choreographed economic policies too.

So, who’s paying?

Making oil and other companies report what money they have paid to governments for drilling rights moves to the European Parliament this week.

The proposals have been watered down and Richard Bruton, the enterprise minister, believes EU countries such as Ireland should be excluded, saying it’s just to fight foreign corruption.

But Labour MEP Nessa Childers disagrees and thinks everybody will want to know what each government gets for oil, gas, forestry, etc from Shell and others, especially with shale gas such a hot issue.

Chinese whispers

Thursday was World Press Freedom Day and not the best day for EU institutions to meet important Chinese dignitaries — and refuse to hold a press conference afterwards.

Commission president Jose Manual Barroso would have been happy enough but he was snagged by diplomatic tradition that forced him to go along with the wishes of his shy guest.

Journalists objected, pointing out that freedom of speech is a core EU value, and if we don’t stand up for it, who will?

High energy

The EU and China have formed an urbanisation partnership to co-operate and share experiences on addressing the economic, social, and environmental challenges.

Building 10 cities a year for the past decade — not counting Athlone — that’s a lot of energy demand. The commission introduced energy decision makers from the member states to the Chinese energy ministers.

The hope is that with the EU being the largest single market, worth €12,600bn, and China the world’s second largest economy, new opportunities for investment will help bail Europe out of its crisis and keep China flourishing.

Mobile phone apps seen as wild west

Mobile phone apps, worth more than €5bn last year, were described as a regulatory wild west by Commissioners, warning that the industry needs to do more to protect children.

It’s moved on from bullying to grooming for sexual abuse and now geo-location is making it easier to trace a youngster’s location.

About 40% of websites promoting child sex abuse are hosted in Europe, including Russia. The Commission has warned the industry to introduce its own safety systems for children, or have it forced on them.

Strong medicine may not provide the cure

Employment Commissioner László Andor usually tweets his remarks that upset the status quo, but this time he blurted them right out.

“The economy is there for the people, not the other way around”, the British-educated Hungarian economist said in Manchester.

Talking about Britain’s “strong economic medicine”, he said, “one is entitled to wonder whether the medicine is killing or curing the patient?”

He’s been a voice in the wilderness for the past few years but with the Commission working on a growth and employment package and François Hollande promising to demand one, he might be listened to at last.

Music to ease pain of presidential debate

More than 18 million French tuned in to watch the two-and-a-half long TV debate between Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.

Yes, 150 minutes long. The French take their politics seriously, but with a nice sideways sense of humour.

For instance the music magazine Les Inrocks, put together 10 songs to help you “survive the presidential debate”. It included Brigitte Bardot singing You want, or you don’t want, some rap, but failed to include Mrs Sarkozy, Carla Bruni.


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