ANN CAHILL: European democracy lurches into chaos

A high ranking EU official declared that the situation in Ukraine is worse than that in Belarus — and was quickly asked to explain.

Belarus is a dictatorship with no free media or citizens’ civil rights.

Ukraine has a functioning democracy with a free media — and was sufficiently well-developed to be ready to sign a comprehensive trade and association agreement with the EU.

Having a European country lurch into chaos, unwind its move towards democracy, and see its wealth in the hands of a few corrupt politicians would be a tragedy.

The president of Ukraine has proposed putting the son of his banker in charge of the country — his wealth doubtless couldn’t be in safer hands.

One distraught citizen said it’s like a battle for the soul of a state.

Passport to success

Several hard-pressed countries, including Ireland, offer their passport as an incentive to get high-wealth individuals to pass some money to the state and invest in the country.

But Malta seemed to miss the point and was selling its passport for a miserly €600,000, no strings attached. Now the price has doubled with another €500,000 to be spent on property, shares or bonds.

It gives the purchaser back-door access to the entire EU — but now the Nationalist Party says it will repeal the measure when it gets into government. Nobody is sure how that will work.

EU rescue fund risks going under

BAILING OUT: In 10 years’ time eurozone banks will have put enough money into a fund to bail themselves out if the worst comes to the worst under a plan going through the European Parliament.

Now the Germans, led by Angela Merkel, say that once the banks’ own fund is up and running, there should be no more need for the ESM, the EU’s rescue fund, to offer a facility. The ESM is owned by EU citizens and the idea is to break the link between them and bad banks.

Many, including the Irish Government, object to putting in a review clause with a view to refusing to lend directly to banks in the future. Governments would apparently still have the option to borrow for their banks — putting the taxpayer back in the gap again.

Holidays ‘a right more than a luxury’

“A vacation is a universal right and not a luxury,” the Flemish tourism minister Geert Bourgeois believes, and he has found a way to benefit the tourism industry and those too poor to take holidays. His department has brought together more than 500 hotels, hostels, camps, museums, and others in the holiday business and last year provided 111,000 low-income residents with affordable day trips and holidays.

Now in its 13th year, it offers 563 different holiday packages in Flanders at 30% discount, with trips to the sea most popular. The government says studies show a holiday is important for health and mental well-being.

Call for stronger data protection laws

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights says it’s too easy to collect and abuse people’s personal data and want data protection authorities to have more power to protect people.

They say many people are confused and upset over the invasion of their privacy and that EU laws must be updated to make it easier for people to complain to their data protection commissioners.

Similar punishments such as jail should be available in every country, they say.

Only problem is that they also found that the biggest perpetrators are government bodies, law enforcement, financial and health institutions. And they don’t say how to take them on — and win.

Crackdown on payment card fraudsters

Police raided rooms in two hotels in Krakow — and dismantled a whole mobile manufacturing operation involving stolen credit cards, numbers received online, magnetic strip readers and writers, and equipment to produce fake bank cards.

More than a €1bn was made by card fraudsters in the EU last year alone from ATMs, sales and internet purchases.

Police from Poland and Bulgaria, working with Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, said the hotel arrests were part of a coordinated effort that smashed an international gang of payment card fraudsters.

Separately they arrested a gang of specialist card ‘skimmers’ with their equipment.

Putting it (far) right

Well known extreme right political parties are planning their campaign to take as many seats as possible in May’s European Parliament elections.

French Front National leader Marine Le Pen is discussing creating an extreme-right eurosceptic party with the Italian Lega Nord once they all win seats in the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the new Polish National Movement is working with the extreme Hungarian party, Jobbik, to field a candidate in the other’s country.

O’Reilly investigates ‘citizen government’

EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly continues to take the initiative in investigating how well things are working for ordinary EU citizens. Ms O’Reilly is looking for feedback from the millions of people who have signed European Citizens’ Initiatives over the past two years.

This week the first one to get past all the many obstacles to “citizen government” will be decided — the Right2Water. However, behind this single success lies a trail of failed attempts and frustrated citizens.

The software for collecting the necessary 1m signatures necessary to get the European Commission to look at an issue has been a disaster — and Ms O’Reilly is set to investigate. She also wants idea to improve the overall initiative.

Read Ms O’Reilly’s query at: exa.mn/oreilly


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