ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing

GM maize battle about to grow wings

The European Commission is expected to approve a GM maize this week, despite concerns by EU scientists about its effect on butterflies, moths, and other pollinators, according to Greenpeace.

The European court recently told the commission they had to make up their mind one way or the other about the Pioneer-DuPont 1507 maize.

It has been genetically modified to produce its own pesticide that, according to the European Food Safety Authority, could be harmful to butterflies and moths.

They did not assess the grains’ tolerance to herbicides, saying that once released into the environment, its impact should be monitored.

EU pressure on Greece to lock ‘barn door’

Austrian and German governments put massive pressure on Greece to lock down its huge border with Turkey, saying that currently it was like a barn door.

The result, according to a report by human rights bodies due for release this week, is that masked Greek officials are pushing back refugees, mostly Syrians trying to escape the war in their country.

They are being illegally detained, ill treated and deported back to Turkey while those found at sea are being abandoned in Turkish territorial waters, putting their lives at risk.

‘Europe spying on Europe’ allegation

The Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee will hold its eighth hearing on US surveillance in the EU this week when it will report on its fact-finding mission to Washington.

Their enquiry is becoming increasingly complicated, however, as both government and commercial firms appear to be less than forthcoming in their answers to the committee. With the cases of Britain and Germany on the agenda for this week’s meeting, it could become even more awkward with the NSA fingering Britain’s GCHQ as “Europe spying on Europe”.

Budget accord

For a time it looked as though the EU was going to have its own version of the US government shutdown.

But in the end everyone blinked just a little and the member states stepped back and agreed to raise the ceiling for the budget for this year by €3.9bn.

Otherwise there would have been a freeze on the payment of bills, almost all coming from the member states to fund projects long approved. The countries continuously pare back the budget despite approving programmes.

Raiding the bank

The European Central Bank is continuously putting pressure on countries to live within their means, and imposing lots of pressure on taxpayers to foot the bills.

But it transpires that the same ECB is not too good at balancing its own books. It is building a new headquarters in Frankfurt, and the initial bill has more than doubled.

German media has said this is not unusual in their country and point to the new Berlin Airport and several other projects that they say are suffering from poor planning and endless delays.

Secret internet fingerprint exploited

While global attention is mesmerised by the mania of the US and UK spying on ordinary and extraordinary individuals, companies are moving ahead with their own little tracking devices.

KU Leuven-iMinds researchers at the Belgian university have found 145 of the internet’s 10,000 top websites use a hidden script (in ads and widgets) to extract a ‘device fingerprint’ from your computer.

It avoids the use of cookies and ignores requests not to track and allows the sites to track where you go and what you do and can even allow them to use your IP address when visiting another site, as a so-called proxy.

Getting harder just to keep track

Benchmarking is all the rage in the EU just now for everything from a country’s debt and deficit to education, poverty and health.

But keeping track of just where a country is on the multiplicity of scales that is part of the hugely complex EU governance can be boring and difficult.

Eurostat has tried to overcome these issues with its own interactive charts on its website where you can see relatively easily just where the EU as a whole or any individual country is when it comes to making progress on the goals for 2020.

Inspecting the inspectors

LIVES AT RISK: Farmers are being driven to take their own lives as a result of Department of Agriculture inspections that can result in massive fines, MEPs were told by a group desperate to find a solution.

The amount of money levied has increased 500% in the past three years to €4.7m last year, a group of Galway farmers told the European Parliament.

Jim Higgins MEP, above, called for an independent ombudsman to which farmers can appeal rather than the current outmoded internal department procedure that can take up to five years.


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