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.

EU entirely in the hands of the Turks

The EU’s strategy to cope with the biggest flood of migrants since the end of the Second World War has been difficult to clarify, as the reality on the ground continues to race ahead of planned solutions.

But the Dutch presidency shed light on the overall plan when several of the ministers explained that the planned basket of actions will not work until the flow ceases altogether.

So the EU is entirely in the hands of the Turks, with former Dutch minister, Commissioner Frans Timmermans, returning to Ankara to convince them to seal the order with Greece and the Mediterranean.

He knows that part from promising them €3bn and visa free entry for all Turks they will also have to agree to take migrants from Turkish camps and house them in the EU in the near future.

Germany and Poland fall out

Germany has been Poland’s best ally in recent years, partly thanks to chancellor Angela Merkel understanding what it is like to come from a Soviet dominated country.

But now with PiS, the Law and Justice party with a long and sour memory, in power in Warsaw, old enmities have been resurrected.

This was not helped when the Commissioner Gunter Oettinger lectured them through the pages of a German newspaper about their anti-democratic controls over the judiciary and media.

It set back any action the European Commission was preparing to take against them and led to Commission president Jean Claude Juncker appearing to appease them saying he didn’t want to ‘bash Poland’.

But a letter from a Polish minister to his German counterpart asking if Polish women were among those attacked in Cologne suggests this will be long-running and nasty.

Dutch promise ‘pragmatic’ term

For decades Irish governments have prided themselves on being pragmatic, and now the Dutch have adopted this nebulous word, reassuring Europe their motto during their six-month EU Presidency will be “pragmatism”.

The Dutch are not known for flights of fancy, but like ‘common sense’ or a ‘good conscience’ there is no rule-book for what it is to be pragmatic, other than perhaps not be constrained by principles.

Shock and worry at Ireland’s growth

Eurozone president Jeroen Dijsselbloem is shocked and awed by Ireland’s growth, thinking it was close to 7%, while growth in his home economy of the Netherlands is slated to be around 2%. But the man who oversaw the policies of austerity with commendable zeal now has another concern.

“But is it sustainable?”, he asked of Ireland’s growth, when discussing the eurozone generally at an informal chat marking the start of the Dutch taking over the six month EU presidency. While Ireland is having one of the biggest GDP growth among the world’s developed countries, it still has a debt hangover 50% greater than the Netherlands.

But, like Ireland, their attitude is hostile to the European Commission complaints that multinationals are being let off the tax hook while local industries are having to pay up.

‘Business as usual’ in Brussels

The numbers of tourists visiting to Brussels is down because of the media portraying the city as a war-zone, according to the tourism body.

So other than relying on the media to tell people the place is as safe as ever, they have set up telephones in three high-profile sites in the city which anybody can call from their website, call.brussels.

You can also watch as someone picks up the phone. The vast majority of passers-by who answer the yellow phones are more than happy to tell you that everything is normal.

And it will all be part of a world-wide promotion advert campaign for Belgium.

To go or stay: The Brexit dilemma

February is Brexit month, when the leaders’ summit could lead and possibly the month when to the EU changing for ever, to come more into line with what Britain wants the rest of the continent to be in future.

However, the latest suggestion on how to get around the need not to discriminate against workers from other EU countries while dissuading them from coming to the UK could be to make sure British workers are equally deprived.

So none of them would qualify for benefits for a number of years.

On the other hand, they might just introduce residency rules that could require Belgian-style residency cards.

Concern grows over Polish actions

How to take action against countries that infringe fundamental values such as a free media and the independence of the judiciary is sending the European Union into an understandable tizzy.

The Law and Justice party that took power in Poland just before Christmas decided that the Constitutional Court should be subject to the whims of politics, crossing the line on an essential tenet of democracy.

They followed this up by taking control of the next institution that they blame for not allowing them total control the last time they were in power — the media, and precisely the state-owned radio and TV.

They sacked the boards, and all journalists and others will be sacked next month, and have to reapply for their jobs — which they may or may not get.

Socialists end dominance of the EPP

For the past 13 years, the centre-right European People’s Party has had the most heads of government around the table at EU summits.

But almost imperceptibly, they have lost their majority and number now just eight around the table of 28 prime ministers and heads of state. The Socialists have steadily overtaken them and now number 10, while their members participate in 19 coalition governments in EU countries.

The Liberal ALDE group to which Fianna Fáil belongs now has six prime ministers. The Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists has notched up two, with the Poles joining the British Tories. The Greeks give the European Left one seat while Lithuania is an outlier, with their prime minister listed as ‘independent’.


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