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.

Danes have say on foreigners

The vote on Holocaust Day by the Danish parliament to strip refugees of valuables to ‘pay’ for their stay brought to mind the collection of gold fillings, spectacles, hair, and suitcases piled high in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

But just as surprising was the recent survey of 79 EU cities; some 90% of Copenhagen citizens believe that “the presence of foreigners was generally viewed as positive” for the Danish capital, the survey found.

Dublin’s citizens were the fifth most positive, at 89% a sizeable increase since 2012.

In all but five of the cities surveyed, an absolute majority of respondents agreed that the presence of foreigners was good for the city. The five included Istanbul, Athens, and Italian cities unable to cope with the influx of migrants.

Makes you wonder just who politicians are listening to.

Kelly seeks to clarify EU rules

The Department of the Environment has been accused of ‘gold plating’ EU rules on the environment, and then blaming Brussels for its failure to respond to emergencies.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly paid a trip to the European Commission to clarify that one, but he may need to make another trip shortly.

This time it’s in connection with a community hall in south Tipperary losing €28,000 — a quarter of its grant — on the basis that publishing the call for tender for the construction work in a national newspaper did not satisfy the demands of the EU directive.

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has asked the European Commission to clarify exactly what the requirements are since South Tipperary Development Council believed it could advertise in either a national newspaper or online.

And it chose the more traditional method.

MEP sees rise in studying abroad

A little over 10% of the students who went abroad under the Erasmus+ scheme last year were Irish, according to MEP Mairead McGuinness.

She believes that the close to 3,000 Irish students could more than double to 8,000 a year, studying in one of 4,000 third level colleges, or doing a work traineeship placement for a year.

Their favourite countries are France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, she said.

EU, US must strike data-sharing deal

Tomorrow is D-day for the EU and the US to agree a new data-sharing deal after the European Court of Justice three months ago struck down the Safe Harbour Agreement, finding it did not protect privacy sufficiently.

Since then companies have been using ‘work arounds’ to continue business, the US has been lobbying the capitals, and talks continue in Brussels.

Minister Dara Murphy, in his data protection role, was in Brussels to discuss the issue with the US Ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner. Ireland, where many of the US companies affected including Google and Facebook are headquartered, is extra worried. Mr Murphy also took the opportunity to ask what was delaying US aviation authorities giving the go- ahead to Norwegian flights from Cork to Massachusetts.

EU role for Galway research student

Research student at NUI Galway, Dilip Thomas, has been elected as chair of the EU Student and Young Investigator Section of the Tissue Engineering International and Regenerative Medicine Society.

His doctoral studies are in the development of next-generation stem cell therapies for cardiovascular diseases, particularly on severe obstruction of arteries to the hands, feet and legs. He has already designed and developed a method for delivering stem cells to help repair damaged blood vessels.

Dilip takes over from another Irish researcher, Michael Monaghan, who also studied under Professor Abhay Pandit, scientific director of Galway’s Centre for Research in Medical Devices.

More support for Portugal’s left

There was a very undemocratic response in much of Brussels to the election of a combined left and radical left wing government in Portugal last October, led by prime minister António Costa.

And despite warnings — mainly from the decreasingly centre and more straight right EPP group — that such left-leaning politicians would not be able to form a stable government, they have.

Last week, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is anti-abortion, an outspoken opponent of the left, and a former vice-president of the European Parliament’s EPP, was elected president of Portugal. He said he would support the government’s programme as it stands, including a move away from austerity.

Belgium bends rules on facial scans

Air travellers flying into Brussels from Ireland and Britain are having their faces scanned against the digital photograph in their passports at the moment — against EU rules.

Despite hosting the European Union’s headquarters, Belgium is not always too observant of EU rules.

Apart from being a mild inconvenience as you look into a screen that searches your facial features for digital similarities to your embedded passport photograph, it feels more invasive than being scrutinised by a human being.

Now the Belgian home affairs minister Jan Jambon has said he is installing more scanners to check all those coming from outside the Schengen area in their search for terrorists.

Sooner or later, he will need EU leaders to agree that he can systematically check EU citizens from outside the Schengen area too.


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