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.

Irish universities rated top by students

Irish universities are ranked right at the top when rated by students.

Foreign students spending time at Irish universities rated their experience so highly they beat the usual favourites from Scandinavia and saw British colleges ranked 10th.

The top score was not all about having the craic but was based on the innovative programmes, support structures for students, and their multicultural mix and vivid student life, according to the Study Portals website that carried out the survey.

Maynooth University received an ‘outstanding’ award with students being particularly happy with the charming and lively campus, the close community of students, friendly teachers and small classes.

University College Cork, Galway, and Limerick universities were all rated excellent, while University College Dublin got a ‘very good’.

Speaking a different language

The European Court has just laid plans to build the EU’s tower of babel even higher with its latest ruling on the European Commission’s language regime.

While the EU has 24 official languages — including the most underused in the union, Irish — its 33,000-plus civil servants operate mainly in three: English, French, and German.

Applicants for new jobs must communicate with the recruitment office in one of these three languages, and must be proficient in at least one other of the official languages.

Italy and Spain have always been unhappy about the privileged three and took their case to the European Court of Justice, which has just found in their favour.

The commission arguing that most work is done in the three and that it makes for greater efficiency cuts no ice with the court.

They are considering appealing the court ruling.

Regan begins as European judge

Former Fine Gael senator Eugene Regan begins his career as a judge this month, joining the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

He has been a barrister and senior counsel up to now and hit the headlines when as a Senator he raised questions about Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea that led to his resignation as defence minister.

Mr Regan spent three years in the cabinet of former commissioner Peter Sutherland.

Genetic engineering patents hearing

There will a public hearing in The Hague tomorrow on patents for genetically engineered chimpanzees, held by the US company Intrexon.

The company, whose stock has increased dramatically, has patents on a range of animals, including cats, dogs, cattle, monkeys, and chimpanzees. They have genetically engineered the animals using genes from other forms of life, says Testbiotech, which campaigns against genetic engineering.

Intrexon supplies the pharmaceutical research industry with such animals. It is becoming common for animals to be engineered to develop human-type diseases such as cancer, diabetes, dementia, and heart diseases. According to Testbiotech, the promise that this would lead to fewer animal experiments and cures for these ailments has not been realised.

Irish love to visit US on holidays

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

Many nationalities just go next door for their holidays — the Greeks to Albania, the Croats to Bosnia, the Estonians to Russia, while the favourite for the Irish who don’t go east to Britain is to go west across the pond to the US.

In fact, almost half of the Irish who holiday outside Europe go to the US.

The good news is that the admiration is mutual with close to one in every six Americans visiting the EU spend some time in the Emerald Isle and make up half of all the countries non-EU visitors.

The big winner, however, is Italy, which is the favourite for non-European holidaymakers.

Key appearances in Strasbourg

King Felipe of Spain
King Felipe of Spain

Next week will see three important appearances in the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, with King Felipe of Spain attending a formal sitting with no arrangements for him to be subject to any barrages — although some Catalan MEPs might be tempted to raise the independence flag.

The real excitement however will be for debates with French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

As it happens new measures to reduce air pollutants from small combustion plants will be on the agenda – but one suspects the MEPs will want to widen this to include the scandal of vehicle emission cheating.

Disability group marches for freedom

Hundreds of people with disabilities from all over Europe plan to be heard when they arrive in Brussels with posters, megaphones, drums, flags, and other props en route to the European Parliament on Wednesday.

It is the seventh ‘Freedom March’, organised by the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), and the first in Brussels.

On Thursday, good practices will be shared at a conference.

ENIL, a Europe-wide network of people with disabled people and supporters, campaigns to ensure that all can live an independent and full life.

They will tell MEPs that the prerequisites are to grow up in families instead of institutions, attend mainstream schools, use the same transport as everyone else, and work in jobs that are in line with the individual’s education and interests.

Finns’ mixed messages on migrants

Many Finns have been stressing about migrants with the xenophobic True Finns getting enough support in the recent election to join the coalition government, with their leader the deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

About 50 turned out to give what must have been a terrifying experience to about 50 migrants, including children, setting off firecrackers as they entered the southern town of Lahti during the week.

Finnish diplomats were eager to dispel the idea that all Finns are unwelcoming, informing journalists that those coming across the Swedish border in the north to Tornio are being managed so well that the registration centre is expected to become a model for the ‘hotspots’ being set up in Italy and Greece.


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