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.

Ireland not among GMO opt-out states

Anti-GM groups are welcoming the fact that at least 13 countries have said they will ban genetically modified food and crops already approved by the EU.

But by the deadline on Friday, Ireland was not one of them, despite Northern Ireland doing so. This raises questions about the potential for GM crop contamination across the border.

Northern Ireland was joined by Wales and Scotland while England appears to have opted to stay in.

The new rules were introduced by the EU to break the deadlock over GM.

Some are heralding bans as a blow to GM companies, with sovereign governments having to inform businesses they don’t want their products grown or marketed.

The company can refuse these opt-outs leading to the state having to ban the one GM maize already approved for cultivation and the seven awaiting approval.

Roaming charges might linger on

Summer 2017 will see the end of roaming charges in the EU — almost — because there are still 28 different telecoms markets rather than an EU-wide one.

Because of the fact that every country has its own service providers that buy service from those in the other countries, the cost will be handed on to anyone using their mobile cross border for too long at any one time.

Anyone who may be suspected of using an account in one member state while living too long in another will have to pay a surcharge — which will be negotiated by service providers as a “fair use policy”, and which will be defined by the European Commission in December 2016.

The maximum surcharge is calculated to be around a half cent for a call and for a megabyte of data, less than a quarter of a cent for texts, and a charge for receiving calls.

Debate on the state of EU

The European Parliament will debate the state of the EU on Wednesday with French president François Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

It marks 25 years since German reunification and echoes the appearance there of chancellor Helmut Kohl and president Francois Mitterrand 26 years ago.

It will be interesting to see if any of the MEPs mention the main change since then, the shifting balance between the EU’s two largest states.

3m sign petition against trade deal 

Almost three million signatures have been collected for a European citizens’ initiative to ask the European Commission to dump negotiations on the EU-US trade agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The signatures will be handed to the Commission on Wednesday, but it is in not certain to succeed. Just last week the European Court ruled that the commission was right to reject an Initiative that wanted to overturn all austerity rules.

In the meantime, the Dutch will be forced to hold a referendum on the EU agreement with Ukraine that aims to reform the country and bring it closer to the west.

The Dutch eurosceptic right-wing Freedom Party believes its an opener for EU membership. The vote is consultative and the result non-binding.

State branches can share info

So, can one arm of the state share information about you with another?

The answer, according to the European Court of Justice is yes — provided you are made aware in advance that this could happen.

The issue arose because the Romanian tax authority transferred data they had about the incomes of some self-employed Romanians to the Romanian National Health Insurance Fund.

These people had not been paying their health contributions and so were caught for arrears.

They objected, saying the tax authorities had used their data for something other than why it was given to them.

Promoting breastfeeding

West MEP Marian Harkin is behind a campaign to end the absurdity of pointing breastfeeding mothers to the toilets when babies require to be fed.

She is helping to organise a declaration calling on the EU to promote breastfeeding as the best way to strengthen the health of newborns and prevent malnutrition or obesity in childhood.

And she is asking for breastfeeding friendly places for EU employees and recommending the creation of a voluntary European symbol to indicate facilities for nursing mothers.

They have come up with an example — an EU-type star with its ‘arms’ wrapped around a baby.

Italian investors sue bank for €12m

More than 200 Italian investors are suing the European Central Bank for more than €12m they say they lost when the ECB restructured the Greek debt three years ago.

The ECB allegedly negotiated a secret bond swap deal with Greece that gave them preferred creditor status and left the other creditors in a weaker position.

At the same time, Greece offered a swap to other holders of securities for just over half the value of what they held, and over a longer period.

When some refused this offer, Greece enforced it, and the ECB allowed national central banks the chance to rebut Greek bonds to maintain the value of those under the guarantee.

The European Court of Justice will make a ruling this Wednesday.

Court opinion could have major impact

A major plank of Britain’s argument on whether to stay or leave the EU will be the subject of an opinion from the European Court of Justice this week, and will doubtless also be of great interest to other member states.

Over the past 11 eleven years, Britain has gradually introduced rules for EU nationals living in Britain different to UK citizens on social security benefits. They include child benefit, child tax credit, income support, income-based allowances for jobseekers, and employment and support allowances.

The European Commission insists such the measures are against EU rules that say EU nationals working in another EU country and paying their contributions are entitled to be treated the same.

The court will give an initial opinion on child benefit and child tax credit.


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