ANN CAHILL: Brussels briefing

Single child Europe

Half of Europe’s children are an “only child”, while 40% have just one sibling and 9% have two. Less than 3% of families have four or more children.

Although marriage rates have decreased and divorce rates increased, most children — more than three quarters — are still raised in families with both parents, according to a report from Worldwatch Institute Europe.

If only our rivers ran free of chemicals

The EU plans to detox rivers, lakes and ground water of the pharmaceuticals humans excrete into them — but it’s a case of one step backwards for every two forward.

Evidence shows some of the chemicals in contraceptive pills and an anti-inflammatory in painkillers are creating havoc in fish, birds and most likely many animals.

Researchers have found a large proportion of male fish in Europe’s rivers have female characteristics, including female sex organs, due to oestrogen from “the pill” in the water.

The European Parliament’s environment committee voted in favour of using water pollution laws to phase out the most dangerous chemicals and recognised certain pharmaceuticals as serious — but failed to set limits to ensure they are reduced or filtered out.

Winds of change for Bord Gáis Energy

Bord Gáis Energy had a good week, with the European Investment Bank announcing it has agreed to provide €155m low-interest loans for six onshore wind farms in counties Tipperary, Clare and Kilkenny. They already have 13 wind farms in eight counties, and 132 turbines.

Earlier in the week the semi-state company raised €500m on the markets.

The new turbines will increase Bord Gáis capacity to produce energy from wind by 50%, bringing them closer to the EU’s target of having 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The EIB is owned by the EU countries, to provide long-term funds for investment.

Toy industry ‘playing with kids’ health’

It’s toy-time again. But consumer bodies are accusing the toy industry of playing games with children’s health.

While the safety of toys especially on flammability, mechanical aspects and warnings has increased thanks to the EU’s Toy Safety Directive that came into force last year, chemicals in the toys are still a major issue.

Even the revised legislation due to come into force next July does not ban all dangerous chemicals despite some of them being carcinogenic, allergenic and hormone disrupting.

And many of these chemicals are in toys for very small children.

It appears to be another win for industry over consumers.

Transparent year

The much-vaulted new transparency register celebrated it’s first anniversary during the week. The idea is that lobby groups sign up to the online register and a code of conduct and in exchange they get access to the EU institutions where they can meet the commissioners, staff and MEPs.

Otherwise they have to arrange to meet them outside the buildings. They also receive e-mail alerts on consultations and roadmaps.

In total 5,431 bodies with 27,000 people have registered with about 60% from industry and business, 28% from NGOs, 7% from think-tanks, 5% local and regional bodies, and 1% from churches.

The Irish Banking Federation is one of a handful of Irish bodies registered.

Social protection spend increase

Ireland — never a big spender on social protection relative to the rest of the EU — now spends slightly more than the EU average, which is an increase of more than 50% in the three years from 2007, when the crisis struck, to 2010.

Spending on social protection, a department headed by Joan Burton, is close to the EU average on housing and social exclusion and a third more than the average for family and children and for sickness and disability spending. For unemployment it’s double the average — and third highest after Spain and Belgium.

Were it not for the demographics and having such a young population, the spend would be way above the EU average as old age pensions and benefits are about half the EU average.

EU Nobel prize award unveils begrudgers

Prizes very often unveil rivalries, jealousies, egos and begrudgers, and the EU being awarded the Nobel peace price has done just that.

So far British prime minister David Cameron, pictured, and the Czech PM Vaclav Klaus have said they won’t go to Oslo for the award ceremony next week — both are EU sceptics and are anxious to maintain their image at home. Two other countries have excused themselves as has Sweden because the prime minister, Frederik Reinfeldt, has another Nobel event to attend in Stockholm the same day.

A row over who exactly will be handed the trophy has been resolved with it being handed to the presidents of the three main institutions — Commission, Council and Parliament.

So far 18 leaders from the 27 EU countries have signed up to be in the audience including Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the heads of the big countries, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland.

Making the most of existing health data

There is a wealth of information about health across Europe that could help professionals and researchers if there was an easy way of finding and searching it.

University College Galway is now involved in such a project thanks to a new €4.4m EU scheme that is using the latest web technologies. Called the Linked2Safety project it will include researchers from the Digital Enterprise Research Institute in NUI Galway.

Their job is to identify the meaning of the data, connecting up the various fragmented and disparate pieces, using the linked data and other technologies developed by the institute.


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