ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing

Phones in-flight

New rules mean that airline passengers will be able to use their mobile phones, laptops and iPads during take off and landing although just in ‘airline’ mode.

And more new rules mean that once the plane has reached 3,000 meters, they will be able to switch on their wifi and surf away.

But only about 8% of European airline planes are equipped with a cable running along the cabin roof that will connect to satellites and allow surfing, but that could change now the EU has given it the green light.

It will be up to the airline to decide if passengers can make calls — something the rules have allowed for some time. However, charges will include roaming as ‘rest of the world’ tariff will apply.

Small claims ceiling may rise to €10,000

Small claims courts and procedures was something of a revolution for consumers suffering at the hands of unscrupulous retailers and service providers when introduced six years ago.

But the ceiling of €2,000 has proved too low for many people with issues, despite inflation being at a serious low and threatening to go lower.

So the European Commission is now proposing to increase this to €10,000 — at least it should keep the cost of going to court down.

Porous borders

Greece and Bulgaria are finding it difficult to win at the moment.

Both have been getting a tough time over their porous borders through which hundreds of thousands of migrants have been coming through from Turkey.

In fact, Greece really did not have a refugee policy that was in line with EU rules and is now putting it and the facilities in place with EU money.

They have also been building fences to keep out anybody trying to cross into the EU illegally.

But just last week both the UN and the European Commission warned both countries that they have to stop turning away Syrian refugees.


Ukraine EU deal hopes dashed

Tymoshenko crux: Hopes that Ukraine would sign an agreement with the EU this week bringing it closer to western Europe and a step away from Russia have been all but dashed.

The parliament in Kiev needed to pass laws that would allow the release of former premier Yulia Tymoshenko from jail to travel to Germany for medical treatment, but they failed several times.

While many of the European countries would prefer to sign the deal no matter what happens to Ms Tymoshenko, many Ukrainians would prefer not — given that Russia has its finger on the gas tap (and it gets very cold in Ukraine this time of year).

Next time the signing should be timed to coincide with better weather and when a deal to ship gas through Slovakia to Ukraine, reducing the country’s dependence on mother Russia, finally goes ahead.


Droning club

The outsourcing of war has been going on for quite some time and has gathered pace as advances in technology allow killing to be carried out from a safe distance.

The latest in the area are drones and they are becoming so popular that government spending on them is expected to more than double to about €8.5 billion a year in the next decade.

Almost all drones are manufactured in the US and Israel, but EU defence ministers agreed that it was an area that Europe should compete in.

They formed a club of seven — Britain, France, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Greece — to jointly develop Male drones (medium altitude long endurance) from 2020.

Passport for a price

Quite a few countries are willing to ‘sell’ their passports to wealthy foreigners, in exchange for setting up a business or making a donation to the arts.

The Maltese — feeling the pinch of recession like much of the rest of the EU — are the latest, offering their passport for just €650,000 to help raise income for the country.

They have dropped a plan which would have kept the names of recipients secret.

But even so, they reckon they will attract around 300 people per annum, raising close to €190 million a year.

They can then buy citizenship for their immediate family members for a cut price €25,000 each.

Of course, they are not expected to stay on the island full time, as a Maltese passport is in face an EU passport, allowing access to all other countries.


Parliament finally votes budget through

Voting in the European Parliament saw the EU’s budget for the next seven years of close to €1 trillion finally voted through, and allowed Irish ministers to claim their share of the credit for the work done during the Irish presidency.

While the amount of money coming to farmers will decrease in line with the overall cut in the budget for agriculture, Ireland will get an increase in structural funds bringing the total to around €1 billion for 2014-2020.

It is targeted very much at the real economy, supporting investment in employment, SMEs, energy efficiency and fighting poverty, MEP Phil Prendergast, pictured, pointed out payment will be tied to countries meeting their debt and deficit reducing targets.

This is despite the finding of a study that such conditions might be good to ensure compliance with budget rules, but would be bad for the aims of the policy itself.


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