Category Archives: European news

Milk and honey

I’m sure today’s Express article (strap on front page, article page 3, opinion page 12) had the good burghers of the UK spitting out their Earl Grey in disgust, where it broke the story that the EU was planning to ban milk jugs in the good old British tea shop. Needless to say it’s rubbish. And it’s an interesting look at how these stories come about. We’ve seen the copy that was filed, which was about the discovery by some Spanish researchers that a lot of milk in coffee shops etc didn’t meet hygiene standards. The leap from there to an EU ban was purely in the mind of some sub at the Express. Purely. I would link to the story, but it was taken down pretty quickly and replaced with something nearer the original when this was pointed out to them. But how will the 700,000 people who bought a copy of the Express know that?

Even as other issues displace Haiti at the top of the news ladder, the relief effort there continues. The Commission’s humanitarian department is supporting NGOs on the ground and has a team out there. Their letters make interesting reading. The latest is on our website. Those from before, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake can be found on the Facebook Page of ECHO, the humanitarian aid department.

Moving on up

Just had a discussion on Twitter with @npanayotopoulos and @kosmopolit about the problems faced when someone moved from one European country to another. Moving to the UK, you are often required to provide referees to rent – how do you get those if you lived in your own home, or your landlord doesn’t speak English? I have had my own problems getting credit because I haven’t got 3 years of addresses in the UK. Would really like to hear what else has come up. These are the nitty gritty issues of being in the EU and are in their way far more important to many people than the intricacies of the co-decision procedure as amended by Lisbon!

How creative are you?

If you’re an existing or aspiring journalist, there are two pretty cool competitions going on at the moment which you might be interested in.

The first is the Enlargement Young Journalist award, open to journalists and journalism students aged 17 to 35 from the EU or current and future candidate countries. They’re looking for a creative, thought-provoking piece – online print or AV –  focussed on the expansion of the EU. There are national winners and then three Special Prizes.

The second is AV only, and is looking for a 3 minute piece on what Europe means to you, with at least 90 seconds using footage available from the audiovisual portal. Most of the material available through the portal is raw and unedited, as it’s intended for broadcasters, so there’s a lot of room for creativity there too. Details and rules available here. The winning entries will be screened at MIPTV in Cannes and the winner will walk away with €10000

Can’t find my way home

I’m gearing up for a few days of travel chaos. I’m off to spend Christmas with my parents in France and am booked with BA. though I fly the day before the strike is due to start and come back the day after. But you never know… The boyfriend is also on BA right slap bang in the middle of the strike, so we’ll have to see how that works out. Added to that is my trip to Brussels this weekend on Eurostar which is threatened by strikes as well, and you can see why I thought this list of reminders for travellers was worth repeating. Although the UK isn’t implementing the Rail Passengers Rights Regulation yet (in spite of its entry into force on 3 December) the cross-border services like Eurostar are covered nonetheless.

1. If you travel by air and you are denied boarding, or if your flight is cancelled without notice or is subject to a more than five hour delay, ask for reimbursement or rerouting.

2. You also have the right to assistance and, in some cases, to a monetary compensation in case of cancellation or a delay exceeding 3 hours. In all cases the company has to inform you about your rights on the spot, when an incident occurs.

3. If your luggage gets lost or damaged, you have the right to a reimbursement of up to €1223 when you take the plane.

4. When you book your flight ticket online, remember that the final price must be clearly indicated on the first page.

5. When you check in at the airport, only take small quantities of liquids in your hand luggage (a maximum of 100 millilitres is permitted per container, which includes creams, powder and mousse). The total amount of liquids per person cannot exceed one litre.

6. If you are planning to travel by aeroplane outside Europe, check the black list of airlines banned in the European Union before buying your ticket.

7. If you are a passenger with disabilities or reduced mobility, you will be granted non discriminatory access conditions if you decide to travel by air or by cross-border train within the European Union. You have the right to free assistance before, during and after the flight, when travelling by air; to free assistance at the station and on board, when travelling by train. Inform your air carrier at least 48 hours in advance if you require such assistance.

8. When you travel by cross-border train within the European Union you are entitled to reimbursement (or rerouting) and compensation, plus assistance, in case of cancellation or delay at departure or at arrival of more than 1 hour. You will also enjoy adequate information before and during the journey.

9. If your luggage gets damaged during cross-border rail travel within the European Union, you are entitled to compensation of up to €1300. In case of accidents during the journey, you are entitled to advance payments and compensation for you or for your family.

10. If you are not satisfied with your cross-border rail journey within the European Union, keep in mind that each railway company has to communicate you the contact detail of the complaint handling body, which will answer to your complaint within one month.

11. When you buy a travel package, always make sure that both the price and all relevant information are clearly indicated.

12. Keep in mind that one out of four road accidents can be attributed to excessive alcohol or drug consumption. Don’t drive if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs!

What’s going on

The member of the team here that deals with regional issues has just come back from a couple of days in Northern England, talking to regional press and other media actors about what they need from us and what is of interest to them. One interesting point that came up was that journalists wanted to know what was being written about elsewhere in Europe. Since I moved back from Brussels, I haven’t had the overview of Europe’s press that I had there, but there are a couple of useful websites for those that would like a more Europe-wide perspective on the media.

The first is Presseurop. Their approach seems to be briefs on a particular issue, pulling together the approach from across Europe, and highlighting the main trends of comment. They link to the principal articles quoted. Certainly worth checking out. And if you’re on Twitter, they are worth a follow (@presseurop) – it’s a real person tweeting, complete with cheeky comments, rather than a feed.

The second, recommended to me by the excellent Jon Worth, is Eurotopics. They do a daily press review drawing on sources from across Europe. Rather than a precis by topic, they do English- (and other-) language summaries of articles, which opens up sources of comment and analysis that would otherwise be closed off for linguistic reasons.

Are there others? It would be good to hear about them if there are.

Looking at the figures

We had a press briefing this morning with Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistical office. They were here to talk interested journalists through their new website. Over my years as a Spokeswoman I had the misfortune to talk journalists through the old version so was really impressed by the new site, which is much more user-friendly.

Particularly interesting were:

the country profile section, where you can set up custom tables, comparing one country with another, or with the average, or other parameters;

the structural indicators, which groups together those statistics that are most important for EU policy development – where there are targets agreed at EU level, for example.

the statistics database. Here there are main tables, where certain sets of data are already set up as tables, graphs and maps, but the user can cutomise the settings to get the graph s/he wants, or simply download the data to produce her/his own representations. Or if there’s a specific data set the user wants, s/he can use the database to create it.

You can register to get regular updates whenever new stats are put up on the site in a particular policy area, as well as a RSS feed for the news releases.

At all bits of the site, there is information about the methodology used, which is important from our point of view to make sure we are comparing apples and apples. There are still some differences in how statistics are presented, with governments presenting some at national level with slightly different methodology, usually for historical reasons, but also because of things such as a different financial year. So being open about our methodology allows proper comparison.

It might all seem a bit geeky, but I think it’s really important that there is a good statistical site to allow credible comparison at EU level. And I think Eurostat have managed to do so very well, steering a difficult course between being accessible to the ordinary person, and at the same time useful for experts.

Court of Auditors

After today’s Court of Auditor’s report, Open Europe have done another of their lists of “EU waste”: http://www.openeurope.org.uk/research/top50waste.pdf

Here’s a comment we have posted on their blog:

Indeed, here we go again. Open Europe’s “research” of 50 examples of EU ‘fraud and waste’ is a compilation of excerpts from EU project descriptions published by the EU, but then presented out of their context by Open Europe in a populist manner. However, the list has nothing to do with the findings of the Court of Auditors (but has already been misinterpreted as such e.g. by Mail Online). The reader concerned about the state of EU finances after reading Open Europe’s piece should rest assured: the 2008 EU accounts were signed off and the majority of EU payments were found to be correct.Why not check for yourself what the Court says at http://eca.europa.eu/portal/pls/portal/docs/1/3260294.PDF

Here’s some other coverage:

Auditors: EU budget spending improving [BusinessWeek.com]
EU auditors say management of the 27-nation bloc’s multibillion-euro (dollar) budget is improving. The EU’s Court of Auditors says, however, there are still too many errors in some programs.
http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9BSK7B80.htm

Budget errors falling [EuropeanVoice.com]
EU auditors find that level of incorrect payments is particularly high in regional support programme.
http://www.europeanvoice.com/current/article/2009/11/budget-errors-falling/66379.aspx

And for all you ever wanted to know about the EU budget (e.g. the difference between errors and fraud): http://ec.europa.eu/budget/library/publications/financial_pub/pub_eu_spending_en.pdf

Beast of burden

There was a lot of nonsense in the EP election campaign about the EU being responsible for 80% of UK legislation, which I have already dealt with elsewhere on this blog. Even there, I suggested that if we were getting up into big numbers, it would only be in certain areas, such as business and environment and certainly not all legislation.

And then comes the British Chamber of Commerce’s Report  World’s Apart: the EU and British Regulatory Systems of May 2009 which says in its executive summary:

In terms of the number of regulations, the EU this year accounted for only 20%. The reduction from the previous EU level of about 30% is the primary reason for the overall decline in 2007/8. By value, EU legislation was only responsible for about £1.9m net costs to business (0.1%). It would appear that, for this year, virtually all regulatory activity can be attributed to Whitehall. With a developing single market, business regulation should be needed for the EU as a whole or not at all. UK regulations that are additional to those enacted across the EU reduce business competitiveness.

So not only does EU regulation have much less of an impact on business than some would like to believe, we are doing better at reducing that regulation.

Of course, the document isn’t all glowing about the EU and it make some very cogent points about the process of impact assessment, and how ours could be better linked with national ones and vice versa. But nonetheless, it does shine a light on how things are rather than how some would like to believe them to be.

Have you ever been away

Sorry about the extended silence, but it’s my mid-year resolution to write more often (until I go on holiday in 3 weeks time that is…)

We start with the story doing the rounds on EU rules reducing your pensions, which started in the FT and then moved to the Express. This reminds me of the claims that equal pay legislation would price women out of the labour market – and we have seen that that didn’t occur. A case of over-simplifying, and extrapolating from one factor in a decision to an overall effect. All our proposal tries to do is address the need for sound financial institutions, and I think a lot of people can live with that. While I am sure that our proposals need refining, and the process means that if the case is made for sensible changes they can be incorporated, it isn’t going out on a limb to say that changes are needed in the financial architecture, and prudential rules are part of that. Pensions are going to be at least as much affected by the last year’s market volatility as anything the European Commission can come up with. That’s what this and other proposals, at national, regional and hopefully international level, seek to address.

For months we’ve been wrangling with the issue of electronic identification for sheep. The UK was at the forefront of calls for electronic identification of sheep in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis, when a report for the government recommended its quick introduction. The UK agreed to the legislation when it was put forward, and supported the Commission when it did its implementing legislation. But now, as the memory of foot and mouth has receded, much (but certainly not all) of the farming industry and members of the government are against it. The Commission, aware that there are costs involved in introducing the technology, has made financing available to help farmers at the beginning, but I understand that issues with co-financing mean this isn’t so readily available to farmers here. EID is already being used in the UK, including by the 2007 and 2008 winners of Farmers Weekly’s Shepherd of the Year.

Statement of European Commission and Czech Presidency on WHO pandemic alert

Today the WHO raised the pandemic alert for Influenza AH1N1 from phase 5 to phase 6. This reflects the application of the agreed WHO definition of phase 6. It only covers the epidemiological distribution and pattern of spread but not the severity of clinical symptoms. To date, the influenza AH1N1 virus has presented mild to moderate symptoms and a low mortality rate. In reaction to the current developments, EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and the Czech Minister of Health Dana Jurásková agreed on joint coordination following the formal declaration of phase 6 by WHO, which means that the National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plans will be activated accordingly. The Commission and the Czech Presidency of the EU agreed during the Extraordinary Health Ministers Meeting (30 April 2009) on priority actions to respond to this threat. During the Health Council of 9 June in Luxembourg, the Commission and the Member States committed to discuss, using the Health Security Committee, a concerted response and a common approach on this threat. The Czech Presidency and the Commission will continue to play an active role in planning, coordinating and facilitating measures to contain and mitigate the effects of influenza A (H1N1). The Commission works closely with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Medicine Agency (EMEA) and is in regular contact with the World Health Organisation and our international partners in the Global Health Security Action Group in United States, Mexico, Canada and Japan (GHSAG). We will continue to follow closely the development of the situation and act accordingly.