ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing

Reilly spies new source of health funding

Health Minister James Reilly may have found a new way of plugging the funding gaps in his health budget.

Some of the new EU six-year budget apparently can be used to help re-orient health and social systems to “deliver sustainable services that contribute to health equity”.

He has signed up early to take part in a conference in Brussels in January where examples of how this can work will be showcased — with the emphasis on reducing health inequalities within countries.

Election fever grips parliament building

European Parliament elections may still be five months off but the fever has already gripped the institution and the MEPs hoping to be re elected.

The Parliament has launched websites where voters can see exactly what has been achieved since the beginning of its mandate in July 2009 — and looks at what comes next.

Meantime, the Irish MEPs who are rerunning outside Dublin are tackling their vastly expanded constituencies and working to get their names known among their potential new electorate.

They are also grappling with the fact that campaigning across an increased number of counties will cost a lot more and leaves them pretty disadvantaged compared with their Dublin counterparts.

Intensive lobbying over credit cards

The battle by Visa and Mastercard to resist EU attempts to force them to cap and cut the fees they charge for using their services is well under way. Several bodies have been asked to lobby to ensure the EU backs off, including claims that Irish consumers could pay €100m in additional card fees a year.

The Commission says consumers pay more for goods as the retailer has to factor in the costs that the credit card company charges.

Opinion divided on tracker mortgages

Opinion appears to be divided over whether tracker mortgages in Ireland are a problem or not.

The Government is adamant that they are and is being supported by various organisations such as stockbrokers.

But the country’s creditors in the EU are of the view it is all coming, right especially with the rise in house prices.

They of course do not want the State to ask for more help to sort out the trackers — which the Government is pushing — probably in the hope of getting some retrospective funding for the money put into the banks.

Dutch kick blasphemy to touch

The Dutch parliament has banished the ban on blasphemy, no longer recognising it as a crime.

The Dutch newspaper Handelsblad said the problem with the ban in article 147 was that no one could say with certainty if God existed, and so could not prove that he was insulted or not.

There have been several court cases in the Netherlands based on Article 147 for example after a Madonna show, pictured above, after the film The Last Temptation of Christ and after Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.

The newspaper commented that each time freedom of expression was at stake and believes it a good thing that the ban has been abolished.

Troika‘s high regard for Seán Healy

Social Justice Ireland may not have changed the views of the troika on how austerity should be applied, but it has won some admiration.

The troika admitted recently Fr Seán Healy, who heads the organisation and who has had many battles with the troika, had deeply impressed them with his level of economic knowledge.

In fact, some said, they never expected to get such a hard time from a Catholic priest on the economy who had obviously read some of the best literature on offer.

But nevertheless, the men in the driving seat have not been converted from their own church of economics.

Counterfeit crackdown

Websites selling cheap counterfeit products tend to mushroom around Christmas in time for the annual shopping fest.

But there should be fewer than usual this year as a joint operation between Europol, EU member states, Hong Kong and US authorities including Homeland Security.

The groups have seized 706 domain names they say were set up to dupe consumers into buying counterfeit goods. It is not certain that hard-pressed consumers will be as delighted about this as the companies that sell highly prized and priced goods.

Opting out of border watch

The European Border Surveillance System called EUROSUR became operational during the week. It involves 30 countries working to patrol the EU’s borders, prevent cross-border crimes like drug trafficking in drugs and human beings, including migrants trying to get to the EU.

However, Ireland and Britain are not taking part in the body that is mainly an information sharing of the monitoring by states.

If the UK does not opt in, then Ireland fears that if it does, the border with the North would have to be reinstated with all its checks and posts.


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