Brussels Briefing

Christine clean-up leaves €300m bill

MEP Jim Higgins

Government needs to apply immediately for EU funds to help with the estimated €300m worth of damage caused by Superstorm Christine, says MEP Jim Higgins.

They have 10 weeks to apply for money from the EU’s €500m Solidarity Fund and the Government should factor in rebuilding basic infrastructure and emergency services, which are allowed under the fund’s conditions.

His fellow Fine Gael MEP, Sean Kelly, has asked for a meeting with the commission to further Ireland’s case, pointing out that in the past decade the fund has paid out more than €3.5bn for 56 disasters, including €13m to Ireland after the 2009 floods.

Trying to pour cold water on charges

Despite the ongoing fury among Irish citizens about the soon-to-be-imposed water charges, the country was not among 16 EU countries involved in a drive to have water declared a public good and not a commodity.

Over 1.6m validated signatures were sent to the European Commission, more than fulfilling the requirements for the European Citizens’ Initiative that can force the commission to consider legislating for a demand.

The Right2Water initiative becomes the first citizens’ initiative — introduced in the Lisbon Treaty — and the commission must organise a public hearing in the European Parliament and invite organisers to Brussels to explain ideas in detail.

Residency ‘for sale’

The Maltese citizenship scheme will come under the spotlight this week in the European Parliament, with MEPs voting on it on Thursday.

They won’t have a say in this or any of the many other similar schemes now being operated by hard-pressed countries, including Ireland, but they say the Maltese scheme is different.

It operates more on a ‘for sale’ basis with applicants not having to be a resident on the tiny island — MEPs say that it should be based on investment and residence, otherwise it’s just an open door to the rest of the EU.

Creativity sector grows faster than average

More than 6 million people are employed in the creativity industry that ranges from books and films, to theatre, art, newspapers and photography. It is growing faster than the average and accounts for more than 4% of GDP.

But it is hampered by banks that base loans on tangible assets and do not know how to assess the value of copyright and licences, and by small companies that don’t have business plans. As a result banks don’t lend to them. The Commission is setting aside €120m to help guarantee bank loans which will leverage more than €750m for the industry. The Commission study did not have full information for Ireland, saying turnover was at least €1.6bn p/a, small compared with the €400bn for the EU as a whole.

Uptake in flu jabs wanes across EU

It’s that time of year again, when pharmacies and governments push the flu shot, especially for the very young and the elderly. But an EU survey says that only the Netherlands has sufficient supplies to cover 75% of people aged over 65, followed by the UK.

In the meantime, the popularity of getting the vaccine has been waning in Ireland, with more than 70% of over-65s receiving it in 2008, compared to 56% in 2012.

Opinions on how effective it is vary but a new vaccine needs to be developed each year to deal with the latest virus, and as it matures, the vaccine becomes less effective as the year moves on, according to one report drawn up for the EU.

Armed conflict

Irish Socialist MEP Paul Murphy is taking issue with plans for the EU to send a force of around 1,000 soldiers to the Central African Republic, where a vicious war has broken out.

More than a quarter of the population — one million people — have been displaced but the Dublin MEP points out that armed intervention by former colonial powers such as France, aided possibly by Ireland, is not the answer. He argues that supporting civil society organisations offers the only real chance of change.

The country has valuable natural resources but ordinary people see nothing of this wealth.

Just don’t bank on it, ladies

GIRL POWER: Nine months after promising to stop talking and startacting to increase the number of women employed by the ECB, the governing council is about to have a woman among its ranks.

Germany’s Sabine Lautenschläger, currently vice president of the German Bundesbank, will replace Jorg Asmussen who made the announcement, admitting they needed more women in the Frankfurt-based institution.

She will be just the third woman on the six-strong board.

Hopefully she will encourage the ECB to meet its target of increasing female senior managers from a lamentable 14% to 28% by 2019 — hardly a fair representation of the population but at least a chink in the grey suit brigade.

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