ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing: The real ‘Borgen’ takes on the competition

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

Margrethe Vestager, the Danish deputy prime minister and economics minister has just arrived in Brussels to take up the delicate Competition portfolio.

She, rather than PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is the person who the main character in Borgen, pictured, is based on, according to Danish sources.

And she didn’t deny this when asked recently — in fact, she revealed that the actress who plays the prime minister in the series had shadowed her at work for a few days, and she knows the writer.

The drama was “quite realistic” she said, except that it left out all the boring bits — hanging around and waiting for long speeches to finish no doubt.

Irish voices at European Commission silent

There will be no Irish voice relaying the story according to the new European Commission over the next five years.

There were three Irish spokespersons in the outgoing group of 27, but under new arrangements introduced today for the Juncker Commission, there will be just 12 spokespersons, none of whom will be Irish.

Those with English as their mother-tongue had been in demand, but Mr Juncker opted for people who can speak a number of languages.

Barosso’s adiEU to journalists

It certainly wasn’t true, he said.

“The drama of decisions in Europe were transmitted to all our audiences.

“We are colleagues of sorts. I could not do my job without you, and you without me — frustrating as this may have been.”

Germany drives through foreign driver fee

Germany has decided to charge all foreign drivers for using its famous Autobahn.

A 10-day pass will cost €10, two months €22 or a year €130.

But the country doesn’t want to charge its own drivers — so while they will have to pay the charge too, it will be deducted from their road tax at the end of the year.

The plan was pushed by the deeply conservative Christian Social Union, who eventually won around the other parties with the hope of raising €500m from those crossing from France, Poland, Italy, and the other countries on their borders.

However, critics warn that the system will cost a lot to collect and maintain, even using cameras and petrol stations to collect the money, and they warn that the EU is likely to say it discriminates against non-German EU citizens — so the Germans will end up paying it also.

Neelie proves 73 is the real digital age

One of the better characters of the Barroso Commission was Neelie Kroes who held the Digital portfolio.

A strange choice, many thought, given that she was a pensioner.

Her actions and words belied the lady’s age however — she is now 73, but very much part of the app generation. And, she likes to point out, she needs to be replaced not by one, but by three men in the new Commission.

She and spokesperson Ryan Heath have published an e-book that, in keeping with her philosophy, is copyright-free and reveals a little about daily life, such as: “She wears a …. device that tracks the number of steps she walks each day. If her morning workout at home and her walk to the office is not enough, you’ll catch her in the stairs or searching for a coffee by the longest route possible. Neelie Kroes will reach her daily step target. And that’s why, at 73, she has legs most 37-year-olds would kill for.”

Tradition not as black as it’s painted

In continental Europe, December 6 is a big day for children, when Black Peter delivers gifts — a lot like Santa Claus does on the 25th in Ireland.

He is the Moorish assistant to St Nicholas, is usually dressed as a bishop, and known to us as Santa Claus.

In many countries, including Belgium and the Netherlands, they take part in parades with Black Peter’s face painted black, lips bright red, with an afro hairstyle, mute and sometimes silly.

Some concerned citizens asked the Belgian centre for equal opportunities if this was not a kind of discrimination against black people.

They said it wasn’t, provided that the figure is not the subject of racially discriminatory speech or behaviour.

So the tradition is safe for another while — though the centre called for a debate on how it might be improved in the future so that he is not portrayed as stupid or dangerous.

Treating breast cancer cures differently

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the world, killing more women than any other type.

In the EU alone a record third of a million were diagnosed with it in 2012.

The EU has invested €160m in breast cancer research over the past six years, and gradually, breakthroughs are being made that improve people’s chance of recovery.

But diagnosis and treatment itself are often controversial and one avenue that is creating a lot of interest among experts is an analysis that will help determine if a patient does need chemotherapy.

While it’s effective, the side effects can include secondary cancers, heart damage, early menopause and reduced cognitive functions. The new research could help up to 20% of patients avoid chemotherapy.


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