Brussels Briefing

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

Neelie gives telecoms their comeuppance

Old-fashioned telecom companies that refused to give consumers a break have had their comeuppance as their market share has moved to newer and cheaper forms of phone calls, from Skype to mobiles.

Nothing could have underlined this massive fall more than the immediate removal of the extra regulations imposed on them by the European Commission to force them to stop their cartel-like activities and compete.

Commissioner responsible, “Steelie” Neelie Kroes, pictured, referred to them as “spoilt children” when announcing the move, and explaining that rather than them having learnt the lessons of competing, they have simply been overtaken by technology.

Data protection

European court judges really put the cat among the pigeons when they decided in May that people had a right to have material removed from the web that was irrelevant, excessive or inadequate.

They made search engines — Google mostly — responsible for making the call. Some see this as allowing them to censor the web, others see it as infringing on freedom of speech.

EU justice ministers — who had already spent two years trying to revise the outdated data protection rules — are desperately trying to agree on a balance between the right to know, and the right to be forgotten.

Ireland, as Google’s European headquarters location, plays a pivotal role in all this as the buck stops frequently with the Irish Ombudsman.

And the Government told the justice ministers meeting during the week that they would prefer someone other than Google would make the call — as does Google.

Judged badly on gender balance

UNBALANCED SCALES: Yet another fact emerged during the week showing how Ireland discriminates against women — this time in the courts.

The Council of Europe — the human rights body independent of the EU — produced a massive report on whether the time, effort and cost of the judicial systems of its 47 member countries is well used.

This shows that the proportion of women judges in the district, circuit and high courts is the lowest after Scotland and Armenia. The Supreme Court is even lower down the scale with its one women to seven men being the smallest percentage apart from the Netherlands.

The country looks great on the chart showing the number of supreme court presidents with Susan Denham, pictured, Ireland’s first Supreme Court president giving the country 100% female representation, since Ireland has only one chief justice.

Ireland’s tax system in the limelight

For the second time in a matter of weeks the question in Brussels was who is pushing Ireland’s tax system into the limelight via the Financial Times?

A few weeks ago when the investigation into Apple’s special tax arrangements with Ireland hit the headlines just two days ahead of the European Commission’s announcement, the tip-off appeared to come from Silicon Valley.

Now similar headlines named the Irish-based companies being looked at by the Commission — a preliminary investigation that was publicised some time ago.

Perhaps, some Brussels insiders suggested, the information is being leaked by outgoing senior Commission people to ensure they “go out with a bang”. Ireland would doubtless prefer a whimper.

Post-crisis banks face major stress test

Tension is rising as the moment of truth gets closer on just whose banks are fit for purpose, and which are not according to the new post-crisis rules.

Sunday, October 26, the European Central Bank will reveal if any of the most important banks have dirty little secrets, like bad loans, and if they are strong enough to weather another upheaval in financial markets.

Previous tests were not believed by the markets whose suspicions proved correct when various banks marked ok, collapsed.

The European Commission’s Survey of Reforms has an interesting chart showing the ‘total capital adequacy ratio of banks’ of five countries, showing Ireland with the highest proportion, followed by Germany, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

Belgium breaking electoral vrecords

General elections tend to come around quickly in Belgium, especially the last one since it took a year and a half to form a government. That was a world record.

Putting together a coalition government after the May election took less than five months, and while the Belgians failed to create new world records, they did make one of their own in selecting the country’s youngest ever prime minister.

The 38-year-old liberal French-speaking Charles Michel comes from a well known political family — his father Louis was foreign minister for years, then EU Commissioner and later sat in the European Parliament.

Charles is not the youngest PM in the EU — Estonia’s, government leader, Taavi Roivas, is 35.

Conchita sings against homophobia

Conchita Wurst, who won the Eurovision song contest, gave a concert outside the European Parliament during the week to support demands by several MEPs for EU rules against homophobia.

Conchita, with her trademark black beard, long black hair and wearing a nipped-in waist white suit, said she did not understand why some politicians were still afraid of allowing same-sex marriages.


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