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

Data Protection Minister Dara Murphy

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

Up all night to get lucky on data rules

Germany sees Ireland as representing big US IT companies in negotiations on a common set of EU rules on data protection.

They could not be blamed for thinking so with, according to the Government, 29 of the 30 biggest global players, such as Facebook, established in Ireland.

They are slowly reaching agreement on new laws, but while Ireland won the case for having the data body in the country of the company investigate complaints, Germany insists the decision can be appealed on the say-so of any other data protection commissioner.

Ireland won on having a review clause inserted, to see how the new process would work in practice.

However, Germany is not giving up yet and must believe Ireland’s data minister, Dara Murphy, is not a night owl, as they want an all-night session to finalise the law in June.

O’Reilly rebukes EC over cartels

Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly struck again during the week, taking the European Commission to task over public statements made during a cartel investigation.

There is no office more tight-lipped in the commission normally than the Competition Commission, and its independence is underlined by the fact it does not have a vice-president supervising it.

However, former Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia was known — and liked by journalists — for letting his views be suspected occasionally.

However, Ms O’Reilly — whose job is to make sure the EU institutions other than the parliament remain on the straight and narrow — found that his statements on the cartel investigation involving French bank Crédit Agricole suggested he was biased.

Four of the seven banks paid fines of more than €1bn, but the investigation against the others, including CA, is ongoing.

Black mark by diplomat’s name

Greece is furious with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini after she referred to the EU candidate as Macedonia rather than by the UN’s temporary name — Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Part of Greece is also called Macedonia and Athens insist there can be only one, and it will veto EU membership until it changes its name. Ms Mogherini followed the UK, US, Russia and China in calling it Macedonia.

Coin plan meets its own Waterloo

June 18 this year will mark 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo, that saw an end to Napoleon’s plans to unite Europe.

Belgium — the modern country created by Britain from parts of France and the Netherlands after the battle — wanted to commemorate the event with a €2 coin.

But France objected to what it saw as a hurtful reminder of a defeat at the hands of old enemies, Britain and Prussia.

So there will be no euro coin, but Britain is issuing a £5 coin with the victors, Dublin- born Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and Marshal Blucher shaking hands.

Mediator on parental child abduction

There are few things more tragic than child abduction, even when in the majority of cases in the EU the abductor is one of the children’s parents.

EP vice-president Mairead McGuinness has stepped into the shoes once filled by former Fine Gael MEP Mary Banotti as the parliament’s mediator in cases of international parental child abduction. All too frequently, when the cases come to court, the judges take the side of the parent from their jurisdiction, suspicious of what children may face in another.

Ms McGuinness, who hosts a conference on the issue next month in the European Parliament’s office in Dublin, says clear guidelines, a database of cases and specialised courts with a network of mediators to help with cross-border cases is needed.

Egyptian buys up Euronews shares

An Egyptian tycoon has bought a majority share in Euronews, diluting the influence of the Russian, French, Italian, and Turkish media companies that held close to 80% of the shares.

RTÉ has a 5% stake in the station, billed as the most watched news channel in the EU, and broadcasting in 13 languages.

Billionaire Naguib Sawiris, told the Financial Times he will not interfere with the station’s independence and sees it as the most neutral news channel in the West.

A Coptic Christian, he and his Egyptian media played a political role in the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated elected government of Egypt.

Irish MEPs abstain on equality vote

Four Irish MEPs abstained in the vote on equality between men and women that was passed in the European Parliament during the week. It dealt mainly with pay, combatting violence, and affordable childcare.

Two of the three Sinn Féin MEPs present — Lynn Boylan and Matt Carthy, Independent Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness — abstained.

Independent Nessa Childers voted in favour, while Fine Gael’s Seán Kelly, Brian Hayes and Deirdre Clune broke ranks with their EPP group to support the report.

This was the first time the Parliament voted in favour of women’s right to access abortion. Ms Clune pointed out she voted against this paragraph.

The vote was just two-to-one following huge lobbying by those opposed to abortion being a choice.

Big Phil goes soft on dairy farmers

The week proved to the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner that you just can’t be loved by everyone all the time.

Much to the glee of Fine Gael colleague Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Commissioner Phil Hogan changed his mind and announced a soft landing for dairy farmers.

Ireland was one of eight countries fined €409m for exceeding milk production last year, and Irish farmers may now pay their €10m fine, interest free, over three years.

The quota system finishes at the end of the month after 30 years. However, British and Scottish farmers are furious, having under-produced, and are warning that with no fine to restrain them, the big producers will flood the market, collapsing prices.

 


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