ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing

Get a taste of some of the interesting and quirky happenings in Europe from our Europe correspondent, Ann Cahill.

Where’s the joy?

Everybody wondered what gimmick Ukip— the British eurosceptics that have succeeded in forming a group in the European Parliament — would come up with for the official opening of the new Parliament.

They came into the chamber wearing nothing out of the ordinary. They did have colourful Union Jacks on their desks despite collecting their generous salaries and staff allowances from the EU.

But when the Strasbourg orchestra started to play Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, they turned their backs on them.

It caused a ripple of laughter through some of the ranks, but nothing else.

Contrasting MEP dress styles

PONYTAILS PLUS: Contrasting styles from Ireland’s new MEPs at the opening of the European Parliament’s new term.

Matt Carthy all carefully turned out in suit and tie, hair short and speech prepared.

Behind him, Ming Flanagan dashing in his blue Ballyfin Athletic Club t-shirt and trade mark ponytail.

He tweeted: “getting lots of compliments. Chair does not appear to be upset”. True: Ukip turned up in green t-shirts demanding the Irish vote be heeded in the first rejection of the Lisbon Treaty — a bit late for the Brits to come around to listening to what the Irish want.

And ponytails pose no problems — even the finance minister of Sweden has one.

Germany adopts its first minimum wage

After years of resistance, Germany has at last adopted a minimum pay per hour for almost all its workers from January — increasing salaries for 9% of the workforce.

At €8.50, it is the fourth highest in the EU, just 15 cents less than Ireland, 60 cents less than Belgium and the Netherlands and €2.60 less than the highest, Luxembourg. The lowest is Bulgaria at €1.04.

However, there are exceptions, with the phasing in of those working in agriculture; hospitality; the taxi business; hairdressers; butchers — and newspaper delivery persons.

And those on work experience, the long-term unemployed and those under 18 years of age can be paid less for the first six months — creating fears that they will be fired just before the six months is up.

Plans to side-step commissioner pledge

Plans are afoot to side-step the promise to Ireland that every country would have a European commissioner, despite the Lisbon Treaty, saying that it could be reduced to 18, leaving some countries without a commissioner for a time at least.

A group of former commission employees, politicians and bankers have come up with a plan that would see them effectively reduced to five main commissioners plus the president with power to block proposals coming from the other 22 commissioners.

They say it’s about addressing citizen’s legitimate concerns — which appear in this case to coincide with business concerns — less rules limiting what they can do, sell, pay, produce for consumers and trade.

Dalli hearing

A two-day hearing by the European Court of Justice begins today into the departure of John Dalli from his job as European Commissioner for health and consumer policy.

Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso claims the Maltese resigned after Olaf said they suspected links between him and a former associate who tried to sell changes to the tobacco directive to the Swedish mouth tobacco company.

However, Mr Dalli said he was fired and he wants his Commission salary restored and a symbolic €1 in compensation.

Mr Barroso will give his evidence today.

Failed wine promotion hard to swallow

Around half a billion euro of EU funds was spent promoting wine from the member states in the four years to 2013 but sales went down following promotions.

They had trouble spending the EU funds — and companies reduced their own funding to avail of the money from Brussels.

Equally strangely, wine that did not receive support increased their exports.

Now there is double the amount of money in the budget for the next four years for promoting EU wines — which the European Court of Auditors questions, saying they may lead to less than sound financial management principles and have not proved to be an efficient way of spending EU money.

Alter-EU aim to ensure Politics for People

The lobbying awareness group, Alter-EU, signed up 1,330 candidates for the European Parliament before the election — pledging to stand-up for citizens and democracy against the excessive lobbying influence of banks and big business.

Of these, 170 were elected and the organisation is now hoping to ensure that this Politics for People pledge by the new MEPs will become a reality.

In Ireland they are Marian Harkin, Lynn Boylan, Luke “Ming” Flanagan, Matt Carthy, Nessa Childers, Liadh Ní Riada. None of the Fine Gael MEPs or the Fianna Fáil MEP signed.

Alter-EU is also on revolving-door watch as former MEPs and Commission officials leave for lucrative jobs with business and industry where their insider knowledge becomes valuable at navigating around anything they see as an obstacle to their plans.


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