ANN CAHILL: Budgeting for a long night of short change

Simon Harris

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

Simon Harris, junior minister in the Department of Finance (pictured), was dispatched for the normally boring and almost intractable negotiations on EU budgets over the weekend.

On the table was a harrowing collection of budgets, amended budgets, proposals to cut budgets; refunds for some, and extra payments for other countries.

His chief focus appeared to be on proposals by the Commission to use part of its agriculture budget to shore up holes in other sectors.

Irish farmers were not buying Brussels’ assurances that this would not leave them short of funds.

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has been keeping his head down on this one, publicly at any rate, but Mr Harris shared Ireland’s concerns with him during an evening meeting.

Packing a punch for food safety

Food bought already packaged by supermarkets and shops must be safe to eat, or the retailer can be fined, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

Turkey meat bought already processed and vacuum-packed by another company was found by Austrian authorities to be contaminated by salmonella.

The supermarket owner pleaded that she had no control over the meat. The court said under EU law she was also liable but did say the penalty must be ‘proportionate’.

Navigating a maize of misinformation

A scandal has erupted around EU-funded research into the health effects of a GM maize which had been claimed to produce no ill effects.

The GRACE project purported to test MON810 on rats, giving it the all-clear, but an independent evaluation published by Testbiotech says it ignored negative effects on kidneys, liver and pancreas.

The consumer group said the suspected manipulated project was also published in a journal with links to the industry, that would not necessarily subject it to rigorous peer review.

Vision of the future in the wink of an eye

“Using smart glasses, you can hail a driverless taxi with a simple wink of the eye. Once you are in the car, it recognises you and plays your favourite song. It drives you to a shop where you pick what you want and walk out. The money is deducted automatically using face-recognition technology. Or you shop online and your purchase is delivered by a drone”.

The unemployed taxi drivers and shop assistants will be working in new jobs, like the 100,000 jobs in social media created by Facebook in Germany.

This is a glimpse into the world of the future, according to consultants and MEPs at a digital single market workshop in the European Parliament during the week.

Nice Euro stats — relatively speaking

Sighs of relief were audible around Brussels when the growth figures for the last three months were released by Eurostat.

It showed that Germany didn’t slip into recession and that France grew for the first time this year.

Figures for Ireland and five other countries were not available.

Greece was the headline, however, showing the fastest growth in the eurozone at 0.7% while the eurozone average was 0.2%. The reality, however, is that any reversal in the fortunes of such a depressed economy will look great, but the figures aren’t a reflection of reality

EC set to consult on all new rules

FAIRNESS: The European Commission is to check with member states before even considering proposing a new rule in future.

This seismic change was announced without any fanfare by the man who is expected to be the real president of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, pictured. The Dutch man and first vice-president said that pragmatism was his philosophy and that everything must fit the policy of “growth, jobs and fairness”.

So effectively, the era of having a body to look after the interests of the Union as a whole has come to an end.

Now Mr Timmermans will have to weigh up which member state wants what in future.

The science of listening to sound advice

The awkwardly-named Joint Research Centre is the European Commission’s in-house science advisory service that provides the basis for many of the rules Brussels formulates.

Three years ago, as the call for more science- based policies became louder, Jose Manuel Barroso appointed his own chief science adviser, Anne Glover. Her job is among many now axed by the new commission president, Jean Claude Juncker, creating a storm of protest from some scientists and MEPs.

It points to another way in which Mr Juncker will fulfil his promise to have a more political commission — rather than depending on contentious scientific evidence.


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