ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing: A weekly round-up of the most interesting news from Europe

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

President Higgins to address Council

President Michael D Higgins is due to address the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly next week, and will answer questions from the parliamentarians from 47 European countries.

The council is not part of the EU and much of its work centres on overseeing the requirements of a well-functioning democracy, including the human and civil rights of the citizens.

It is best known for its Court of Human Rights and its various committees on rights, that has given rulings and opinions on cases from torture in Northern Ireland to abortion and the treatment of unmarried mothers in Ireland and their babies.

The parliament, based in Strasbourg since 1949, is composed mainly of politicians appointed by their governments and the committee of foreign ministers from the countries.

SWEDISH MINISTER NOT WELCOME IN ISRAEL

Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, cancelled her planned visit to Israel after Israeli politicians said she would not be welcome.

This is believed to be a reaction to Sweden being the first European country after Iceland to recognise Palestine. It prompted Israel to temporarily recall it’s ambassador to Sweden.

The former European Commissioner says the visit has been postponed for diary reasons, but the fact that Israel said it could not guarantee her security during the visit is believed to be the real reason.

She had hoped to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the disappearance of her country-man Raoul Wallenberg who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the war, and who has been named “Righteous Among Nations” by Israel.

SOVEREIGNTY SURRENDERED TO SWISS BANK

Croatia, the EU’s newest member, is bemoaning the loss of its sovereignty — not to Brussels, but to Berne.

An estimated 60,000 Croatians took out loans and mortgages in Swiss francs, happy that its value was tied to the euro. But the Swiss dramatically broke that link without warning last week.

Their currency rose dramatically in value — and with it repayment costs for Croatians, in one of the poorest countries in the EU.

Left-liberal daily Novi List asserted that the “new lord and master” was the Swiss National Bank.

“National sovereignty and self-determination is being exposed as nothing but an illusion,” the newspaper said.

CLAIMS OF ELECTION RIGGING IN GREECE

Days before the Greek general election even takes place, some are declaring them rigged.

This is because more than 100,000 18-year-olds will not be able to vote as they have not been registered.

Normally the election register is updated every February but because the government was forced to call a snap election, this has not happened.

Some Greek commentators say they could, and should, have been registered in time, and accuse the centre-right government party of not wanting it to happen.

They say outgoing prime minister Samaras fears the young people would vote for the left-wing Syriza party, currently ahead in the polls.

FINANCIAL UPTURN SPARKS KILLING BOOM

The ending of the economic crisis does not bode well for everybody, according to reports from Bulgaria.

The country with one of the EU’s worst reputations for corruption appears to have returned to mafia-like contract murders.

Three entrepreneurs and a local authority official were shot in public in the past fortnight in Bulgaria.

Before Bulgaria joined the EU, reports say there was a total of 111 similar contract killings in the country. But with the economic crisis, the contract killings tailed off.

The media asks if there is anybody left in the police force or prosecution service clean enough to investigate.

AGENCIES TEAM UP TO FIGHT CHILD ABUSE

File photo

An intensive 12-day workshop by police agencies from several European countries and from Australia and the US made substantial breakthroughs in identifying child victims of sex abuse.

Usually they concentrate on finding the perpetrators and those who facilitate putting child pornography on the internet.

However, in this exercise, hosted by Europol in The Hague, they pooled their resources and knowledge to trace the clues to locate the children.

The results, which are being distributed through Interpol’s child sexual exploitation experts database, should help identify and locate the victims and rescue them from their abusers.

Europol said that the internet is giving rise to a growing demand for child porn material and for an increased number of victims.

STALIN'S GRANDSON LOSES LIBEL CASE

The Russian courts were found to uphold journalistic freedom of expression when they ruled that describing Joseph Stalin as a “bloodthirsty cannibal” was not defamatory.

The case was brought by his now 78-year-old grandson, who objected to an article written by a former investigator of the Russian Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office in the Novaya Gazeta. In it he accused leaders of the Politburoof of having blood on their hands, having ordered the execution of Polish prisoners in 1940.

The case was referred to the European Court of Human Rights who agreed that Stalin, as an historical figure, must remain open to scrutiny and criticism.

HOSPITAL RAPPED FOR USE OF CCTV

The Greek Data Protection Authority fined an Athens maternity hospital €30,000 for having CCTV cameras in its delivery rooms.

The hospital argued that most women did not give birth there as they preferred caesarian sections and at any rate, the cameras were not working.

The Data Authority didn’t believe them, ordered them to remove the system and destroy all videos.


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