ANN CAHILL: Brussels briefing

LOBBYING FOR MORE TRANSPARENCY

The lobby register was launched two years ago with great fanfare, promising citizens they would know who was trying to influence new policies and laws, and why.

But a sign of just how transparent this register is comes from the fact that the review is happening behind closed doors, with commissioner Maros Sefcovic (pictured), the vice-president of the parliament responsible for transparency, and a number of interested parties.

Some MEPs wrote asking for more transparency and calling for the voluntary register to be replaced with a mandatory one with much more detail.

With increasing evidence that amendments to legislation in the name of MEPs are in fact being written by vested interests, the need to tell voters before next year’s election just who is making the decisions is even more necessary.

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS

Ireland says it wants to be ahead of the rest in cloud computing technology — but it has its work cut out.

European countries fell in the rankings this year — ceding the top places to Japan, Australia and the US.

Part of the problem, according to the Business Software Alliance, relate to national laws and regulations in seven policy areas they say are critical to the development of a globally integrated cloud marketplace.

“Too many countries are chopping off pieces of the cloud for themselves”, they said of Europe, remarking that privacy and security rules tend to be different in each country. “This undercuts economies of scale that would benefit all Europeans.”

Wonder if member states forever battling for their national interests are listening?

PLANET OF THE APES

HYBRID THEORY: Companies that want to test medicines on chimpanzees are altering them with human DNA — and now want to patent the resulting ‘humanised’ ape.

The European Patents Office last year granted a patent to one of these genetically engineered chimps to a US company, Altor BioScience. Now 13 organisations from Germany, Switzerland, and Britain are filing an opposition to the patent and the whole idea of allowing companies to patent these hybrid animals.

Jane Goodall, famous for her work in studying chimpanzees in the wild, says they suffer pain and stress and consciousness akin to that of humans. “It seems shocking that a company should consider a great ape as a mere technical tool” she said.

Others involved says it does not promote any medical benefit and in fact there is a growing view that these animals who are our closest living relatives should be given a legal status similar to that of humans.

FOCUS ON ‘THE BLACK DOG’ IN THE WORKPLACE

Absenteeism due to depression is a fairly well-known but another condition equally well known but which perhaps did not have a name before — presenteeism — deserves attention.

Independent MEP Marian Harkin, who is co-chair of the European Parliament’s Mental Health Interest Group, called attention to this during a conference on the effect of depression on work.

Britain estimates that presenteeism — being at work but incapable of carrying out their work properly — costs the economy €15bn a year.

She believes every country should screen for depression in the workplace and have systems to prevent, diagnose, and treat it.

MEPS CANNOT ENTER OCCUPIED TERRITORY

Four members of the European Parliament were prevented from travelling to the Western Sahara when they arrived in Casablanca en route to Laayoune.

The region is one of those areas of the world where few dispute its independence, but it is in fact occupied by Morocco. The EU has agreements with Morocco and pays substantial sums of money to fish in what are the Western Sahara’s seas off the coast of Africa.

The MEPs from Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden were on a human rights fact-finding mission to the occupied territory where people regularly disappear into Moroccan jails and demonstrations are violently put down.

AFRICAN FARMERS TURN TO GROWING SPUDS

The humble spud is now seen as the hunger-busting crop for millions of small farmers in Africa, according to Dublin MEP Gay Mitchell.

A member of the European Parliament’s development committee, Mr Mitchell hosted an exhibition about the potato and the Vita Coalition responsible for a Potato Centre of Excellence in Ethiopia that shows how Ireland’s and Europe’s finest potato researchers, farmers and traders are working on the project.

RETRAINING PROBE

An aging population that is living longer means we are all being encouraged to work longer, and this means retraining people in many instances.

Over the past six years, €75bn — about 8% of the EU’s budget — of the European Social Fund has been spent mainly on supporting training activities especially for the unemployed and disadvantages.

However, the European Court of Auditors could not discover just how much benefit this is to older workers in gaining new qualifications or getting a job in four countries — Germany, Italy, Poland, and Britain.

The problem is that the countries have not put in place any way of measuring their impact — and the commission, when they approve the programmes, are not checking if they are really working, the auditors pointed out.


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