ANN CAHILL: Brussels briefing

Kelly searching for balance on Facebook

Information about yourself and your friends on your Facebook site is about to become even more valuable to the social networking empire.

It is launching its new Graph Search in English- speaking countries and will be extending from there, and it means that anybody will be able to trawl through Facebook searching, for instance, for people who work in a particular office.

It will show up lots of personal information, warns the European Parliament’s Mr Data Protection, MEP Seán Kelly, currently battling to ensure new legislation strikes a balance between privacy rights and commercial needs of the business sector.

His advice to Facebookers is to check their security settings or become victim of this intelligence- gathering mammoth.

Water-tight

The first ever European Citizens’ Initiative is a demand over an issue not many would have chosen as being top of the EU citizens’ agenda — water.

More than 1m signatures have been collected to ensure that water services are not privatised.

Single Market commissioner Michel Barnier has said his legislation does not impose the privatisation of water, as he recognises it is a common good.

But not everybody is convinced and a million citizens want the pledge to be water-tight — by writing it into EU law.

‘Shock and awe’ for Kerry

John Kerry, pictured, came to Europe on his first foreign trip as US foreign secretary, but bypassed Brussels en route to the real capital, Berlin.

But for him it was a return — he lived there with his American diplomat father after the Second World War, when he remembered biking around the then destroyed Reichstag.

The return for him was a case of shock and awe nearly 60 years later as he described the change as “nothing short of remarkable”.

He also congratulated chancellor Angela Merkel on her country leading Europe and thanked her for the country’s “exemplary leadership”.

Wonder then when he will come Ireland to visit the Kingdom, whose name his non-Irish ancestors choose for a surname.

MEPs don’t smell a rat over pet night

Irishman Declan O’Brien, head of the International Association of Animal Health Europe, wants an EU-wide regime for testing and licensing drugs for animals rather than the current 27 national regimes.

His organisation was among the sponsors of a very unusual event where MEPs were invited to bring their pets and hear about some of the not so well known things animals are doing for humans.

For instance the HeroRATs programme where rats are trained to detect landmines and tuberculosis in a range of countries.

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Getting to the heart of a serious matter

Not often does a group set up in Brussels stating its aim is to cut down on the amount of business its members do. Normally it’s the other way around.

But the European Society of Cardiology returned to the city where it was founded 64 years ago and said it want much more emphasis on eliminating the causes of the EU’s biggest killer, heart disease, or cardiovascular disease ( CVD) in their language.

Treating the disease costs up to half the money spent on health, says the society, and much of this could be prevented if public policies took into account the need for people to exercise more, eat less, cut alcohol consumption, and stop smoking.

Up to now, they say, this knowledge has had very little impact on the rates of CVD despite evidence that shows the death rate could be halved.

Demand for update on nuclear plans

A major report due out in Britain shortly on the future of electricity generation is expected to recommend that its nuclear technology be further developed.

There are already four nuclear sites in operation on the west coast of Britain, closest to Ireland, points out Gay Mitchell, Dublin Fine Gael MEP.

While these may or may not be expanded, Ireland should make contacts with its nearest neighbour now about the issue. At a minimum, he says, the British government should provide the Irish-British parliamentary body with a comprehensive update on British plans to expand nuclear, and share information to ensure better safety.

Road hogs

Bad news for heavy goods transport firms — they are not paying enough road charges, according to the European Environment Agency.

Latest research shows that air pollution from heavy goods vehicles alone costs up to €46bn a year — almost half the cost of air pollution from all transport modes.

Diesel, used by most HGVs, causes more air pollution per kilometre than other fuels and exhaust emissions from diesel engines were labelled as carcinogenic.

Older vehicles driven in built-up areas cause the most damage, and the agency says companies should have to pay more to get them to change to newer vehicles, while the money should be spent on public transport.

Green bank smoked out by hoax email

Not often is a bank wrong-footed by an email prank, but the European Investment Bank was smoked out during the week when an email was distributed to journalists saying it would no longer be funding coal plants.

The EIB invests in huge infrastructure developments in the EU and recently agreed a loan for schools and health centres in Ireland along with money for SMEs. When assessing projects, this usually ethical bank, funded by EU member states, includes an assessment of the environmental impact of supported projects.

Its president, Werner Hoyer, announced that the idea of not lending to coal plants was “pure nonsense”. Not the most progressive of attitudes towards the environment.


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