ANN CAHILL: Brussels briefing

Merkollande partnership forges ahead

Looks like we will all be living in Merkollande for the next few years as the relationship between German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president elect François Hollande will be off to a flying start.

Within hours of being sworn in as president tomorrow, President Hollande, a Socialist, will arrive in Berlin for talks after being treated to full military honours, walking shoulder to shoulder with Merkel. Now she needs him in a nice little twist of fate as his election has emboldened German socialists who threaten to dump the fiscal treaty without Hollande’s growth pact. He needs it to get the Treaty through the French assembly also — so it sounds like a match made in euro-heaven.

On the money trail

Nothing motivates like money. At least where Ireland is concerned in its present state of crisis.

Ireland Inc is descending on Brussels with the kind of drive, enthusiasm and ambition not seen in the EU since the start of the crisis.

IBEC’s Danny McCoy explained that the country needs “a game changer”, and he and Ministers Rabbitte, Burton and Quinn agree.

They reckon there is at least €2bn to be had from left-over EU structural funds and billions more from the EIB and partly private funding such as project bonds to create growth and jobs.

But they still side with the hedge fund industry, saying no to €700m-a-year from a Financial Transaction Tax.

Weighty airline issues raised

FIGHTING TALK: Regional airports can play a big role in boosting growth and jobs in an area, the European Parliament says — agreeing with Michael O’Leary of Ryanair.

But the low-cost carrier may not agree with another section of their report which deals with limits on luggage size and weight.

These restrictive practices not only make travelling more difficult, they also have a negative impact on airport business, they say, adding governments must set a common limit on the rules airlines can impose.

Watch this space for the O’Leary fight-back.

Raise the profile

Holding the EU presidency next year is seen as an opportunity by Ireland, despite the cost of hosting meetings.

There is another side to it though, as it gives the country a chance to improve the profile, be seen as an effective shapers of policies and decisions and showcase the country. So far ministers have notched up at least two conferences quite likely to come to Ireland, including the European Meeting of People Experiencing Poverty, and the Digital Agenda conference.

Concern simmers over food lobbyists

The food industry is probably the biggest industry in Europe, if not the world.

So it is little wonder that it also produces the biggest lobbying efforts — especially in Brussels — and experts with the right connections can name their price.

Consumer and transparency groups cried “foul” during the week when the chair of the management board of the European Food Safety Authority accepted an offer to head up one of the biggest food industry lobby groups in the EU.

MEPs are threatening to delay approval of their budget until they ensure there is a cooling-off period between their experts taking up jobs with industry.

Budget mix-ups

Every year for 17 years the Court of Auditors refused to fully approve the EU’s accounts and every year the European Commission was berated by politicians and media because they were in overall charge.

But since more than 95% of the budget goes back to member states and they manage 80% of the money, the member states were in fact responsible for the problems over missing money, wrongly filled in forms and people getting sums they should not have.

Now the Parliament, which must approve the EU budget, has called time on the member states and says the each country will have to produce annual summaries showing whether their spending was in line with the rules or not.

Keeping up with warrant returns

The joy of rushing to see how Ireland is performing among the myriad statistics released almost every day in Europe is often short-lived when for some reason Ireland is blank as they didn’t make returns.

Not so when it comes to European arrest warrants, however, where Ireland was one of just five countries that provided figures.

Germany was responsible for 70% of warrants issued (14,034) among the five countries. Ireland received 384 requests to arrest and send people to another EU country for questioning about crimes.

The Garda arrested 1,003 under the warrants, surrendered 601 and 180 of these warrants related to Irish nationals or residents.

Do-it-yourself proves a money-saver

Behind this deeply disturbing babel-language word, re-municipalising, is an interesting development.

A lot of those countries, cities and regions that discovered how to get rid of nuisances like providing water, collecting rubbish and operating public transport by privatising them are having second thoughts.

Many of them in this age of austerity believe they can save money and improve the service by providing it themselves. The European Federation of Public Service Unions at their conference during the week showcased a report showing how Paris, London and Munich are leading the way in re-municipalising.


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