ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing

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

Ming’s mantra has him tied up in knots

A delighted Ming Luke Flanagan let fly at EU Commission president designate Jean-Claude Juncker when he was answering questions from the European Left party to which Ming belongs.

He threw the book at him during his four minutes without bothering to include a question as he repeated his mantra that Ireland wants its money back.

He went on so long Mr Juncker did not feel the need to respond. Ming had more success when he picked on Mairead McGuinness during a session with visiting Irish regional journalists when she swiftly responded with a statement.

She pointed out that the issue that worried them both — export of live cattle to the UK — was something the European Commission has the power to sort out, and she has been on to them. Let’s see how Ming deals with that following his statement that he “despises the EU”.

Transplant services

The shortage of organs freely available to save lives including heart, kidney, liver and lungs has led to a global criminal market and sales to those who can afford them.

The organs come from political prisoners in China, people who have been murdered in various countries, and from people who have been trafficked live into countries where they will then be killed for their organs.

The Council of Europe has adopted a convention to combat this trafficking in human organs to encourage countries to make it a criminal offence, to ensure international cooperation to fight against it and to protect victims.

The convention, which is now open for signing by Ireland and others, includes measures to ensure transplant services are transparent and that everyone has fair access.

Plan on track to bring Strasbourg closer

There may be a new European Parliament, but the first issue on the agenda was an old one — abolishing Strasbourg as the institution’s second seat.

Every month, the MEPs and their staff move to the French city on the German border for their voting plenary — and while the city is a delight, most hate the trip. The Strasbourgers have been trying to love-bomb the MEPs but the latest effort — and the best one to date — is from French rail body, SNCF.

They plan a three and a half hour train from Brussels to replace the five hours it currently takes for the 350km, without as much as a coffee trolley on board. But it will be a race to the finish as the new link won’t be available until 2016.

Fine Gael MEPs’ leadership crux

First Mairead McGuinness sailed in as second vice-president in the European Parliament.

Then the four Fine Gael MEPs all got the committees they wanted.

But word is that they still haven’t decided who their group leader will be — it was assumed that Mairead would relinquish that job because she would be too busy in her new role that will include her chairing parliament sessions.

Sinn Féin has All Ireland team in Europe

Sinn Féin has united Ireland within the EU with their three MEPs from the Republic and their one from the North forming one group in the European Parliament.

Martina Anderson, the Derry MEP who was released after 18 years in prison as an IRA volunteer as part of the Good Friday agreement, leads the four in the European Left group to which they belong in the Parliament.

She received assurances from soon-to-be Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, that he would continue to support the Peace Programme to which the EU subscribes €150 million over six years.

Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, will visit the Parliament next week to hold talks with various groups on Irish peace issues.

Women seek commission nominations

Phil Hogan’s move to Brussels as Ireland’s commissioner brings to 11 the number of men nominated to the new commission so far — and just one woman.

The outgoing female commissioners — there were nine, including Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, have written to the new boss, Jean-Claude Juncker, asking that he presses member states to nominate women.

They refer to the fact that all research points to better results when more than half the world’s population is fairly represented. But with just 16 more nominations to come, it will be hard to get half, let alone the third needed for any group to make a difference in an institution.

Immigrants bring native readers to book

Ireland, Canada, and Australia are the only three of the OECD’s 29 countries where immigrant students do better in reading that native-born.

The PISA reading scores of Irish-born students was the fifth highest in the OECD, following Finland, Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada.

Of course, well-read Irish emigrants have contributed to the high ranking of students in Australia and Canada.

The figures were released as part of a report on Italy where the difference between migrants and local-born is huge. Migrants make up around 40% of those in low-skilled jobs.


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