Category Archives: European news

Flying without wings

Or at least without misleading information on the website where you book…

Commissioner Kuneva did a press conference today, where she announced the names of the airline companies whose websites comply with all the points of the European legislation that is designed to stop unfair commercial practices in prices, insurance selling and so on. Virgin Atlantic, bmi and bmi baby are all on the list of good performers, whereas easyjet, ryanair and BA are co-operating to bring their sites up to scratch, but aren’t there yet. Details on the consumer sweep website. Or you can listen to me talking about it on You and Yours.

Rehumanize yourself

There’re always people who say that all this sitting behind computer screens to communicate is reducing our ability or willingness to intereact “in real life”. I’ve never agreed with that, and am being proved right this week and next.

Today I met and had a really interesting chat with Jon Worth, who writes a blog on European issues. Quite apart from it being really nice to have that face-to-face contact, he was a great source of EU-related stuff on the net that I didn’t now about. He has pointed me towards several useful sites:

eurotopics aggregates main stories from across Europe into a daily digest. It therefore makes coverage accessible that you wouldn’t otherwise get because of the language barrier. Not always of direct EU interest, but it’s always good to know what else is going on out there, and how different countries react to the same issues.

Votematch is a project of Unlock Democracy, which in the 2004 EP and 2008 London Mayoral elections developed a sort of quiz to help orient voters. Their 2009 version for the EP elections should be launched soon.

There are also a few blogs/sites on CAP issues, such as http://farmsubsidy.org and http://caphealthcheck.eu/. I really like the transparency league table, showing how much information governments are making available on CAP beneficiaries. The people behind farmsubsidy.org also do www.followthemoney.eu, looking at the budget.

My second encounter between cyberspace and real life will be with Nosemonkey at the Europe Day concert in Smith Square next week. Can’t write about that because I haven’t met him yet!

Jon mentioned that through his work on the bloggingportal.eu and other European-oriented activities, he’s made loads of new friends. Encouraging, non?

Update: hadn’t seen Rose22’s post when I wrote this. She seems to think getting to know each other is a bad thing, but surely in life we always gravitate to people who have the same interests as us, even if we don’t always agree? I’d say that the blogosphere is a great vehicle for finding those people. My first blog wasn’t anything to do with work, but about my main hobby, knitting, and through it, I connected with people around the world.

Say What You Mean

I was at the Reporting Europe Awards last night (as was my Twitter pal @Nosemonkey though I didn’t know and so missed the opportunity to meet him in the flesh). Two of the six finalists were people I knew from the Brussels press room and in fact one of them was the eventual overall winner, James Kanter of the International Herald Tribune. His article was about the unintended winners of the carbon emissions trading scheme (I would have liked to link to it on the IHT/NYT site but couldn’t find it there).

Nice as it was to see a friend recognised for his professional competence, the evening was interesting in many other ways.

Firstly, half of the entrants were from non-UK media outlets (IHT, Radio Free Europe and Irish Times). So while UACES is the biggest European studies association in the EU and UK universities have a great reputation in that field, that expertise is not mirrored in the media. This backs up what I experienced when I judged entries to an European journalism prize – the quality pieces just weren’t there.

Secondly, in his acceptance speech, James made an impassioned plea for journalists to be given the space to follow-up stories like this. This tallies very much with comments from people like Roy Greenslade and Charlie Beckett, never mind the whole flat earth news thing. Our experience is the same – it’s increasingly difficult to winkle journalists out from their desks, and we’ll get calls from people writing stories on an EU decision with a deadline of an hour or so and concept of how the decision-making process works. Journalists deserve to be given the resources and time to do their job properly.

Thirdly, it confirmed the point I make all the time when I talk to people about my work. I don’t expect people always to write nice things about the EU. Journalists are there to question, criticise, put both sides of the story. That’s their job, and when it’s well done, like all the finalists in this case, it’s a great thing and can actually make a huge difference. But I do and should expect a fair hearing. Writing up a Taxpayers Alliance report and then not including our reaction is not fair. Not asking us for a reaction in the first place is even less fair. And never mind not fair to su, it’s not fair to the people reading the piece.

So, a really interesting evening. I just hope it is a step towards a more thoughtful and incisive approach to reporting European issues in the UK press.

Magic Numbers

It’s a cliché to say it, but statistics are often really badly misused. People seem to accept figures about this or that without any verification or checking. A really good example was one that came up again this weekend with the Stuart Wheeler fuss in the Conservative party, and is often heard from Nigel Farage of UKIP: 75% of British laws come from Europe. The MEP Richard Corbett has written a very interesting piece (the Open Europe one) for the European Movement which includes this paragraph

As for the UK, two studies exist: one a paper by Edward Page in 1998, which analysed the effects of EU legislation on British law between 1987 and 1997 and a paper by the House of Commons library taking a similar approach between 1998 and 2005. Both papers take their figures from the statutory instruments passed with references to European legislation, with the library justifying this by asserting that “The vast majority of EC legislation is enacted by statutory instruments under section 2 (2) of the European Communities Act.” Page’s study produced a figure of 15.8% whereas the House of Commons library gave a final figure of 9.1%.

Now, of course I checked out the studies, and the House of Commons one is really interesting. Looking at the answers from departments, DTI (as was) and DEFRA are clearly the most affected, with their answers indicating around 50% of their legislation emanating from EU legislation. But several departments had no primary legislation and very little secondary legislation. So I suppose that’s what brings the average down to about 9-10% a year. Comments about the 50% generally refer to legislation that impacts on business, which makes sense given that the EU is still (whatever some people might think) predominantly an economic, trade and business union. But saying that the EU is responsible for 75% of UK legislation does seem to be over-egging the pudding. Unfortunately the Edward Page article is from a journal so I couldn’t read it, but as he quoted his own study in a book I did find on line and he said the figure was probably about 15%, I shall consider that as verification.

The EU in general and the Commission in particular is looked to for two things: regulation and money. Regulation above, so now I’ll show you the money – aid figures were announced today, which show that the EU (taken as the central budget and 27 Member States) is the biggest donor of development aid. We also announced the first financing decision to spend the Food Facility, set up to help those in the developing world who are threatened by food insecurity. Details on the Rep’s website.

Kuneva webchat – 13 March

To mark the 10th anniversary of European Consumer Day, EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva host a live webchat on 13 March 2009 (at 15h00 CET) with citizens from across the EU about their rights and their concerns as consumers.

Chatters from across the EU will have the chance to ask the Commissioner direct questions on the issues that are most important to them, including uncertainties as consumers in today’s economic climate, unfair sales practices or the safety of daily consumer products. Online visitors will also be told how to get help when they shop online, cross-border or when something goes wrong.

The webchat will be held in 12 languages – Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Italian or Spanish.

It will be broadcast live on 13 March from 15h00 – 16h30 CET.

To join the live chat, visit: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/chat_13march_en.htm.

Nothing else matters

Like I think pretty much everyone in the whole wolrd except Michael O’Leary, I couldn’t believe the reports that Ryanair are thinking about charging for use of in-flight bogs. Is that actually legal? But there is a good side – the endless creativity and humour that people can bring to bear to these kind of situations – look at this great blog post. Also enjoyed Gideon Rachman’s piece in the FT on losing his euroscepticism (not that I ever had him pegged as one!) I also love the fact that I found out about both of these via Twitter. (and they’re easier to find when you’re not been bombarded by Tweets from Stephen Fry on a donkey somewhere…)

Reason for the title is that i saw Metallica last night at the O2. Great stuff, proper old-fashioned rock, with huge flames and lasers and generally ROCK silliness. I also realised that I clearly play my bass with my legs far too close together and my guitar far too high up my body. Not like Robert Trujillo at all:

What a rock bassist should look like
What a rock bassist should look like

Loads of stories today in that white noise way we sometimes have to do things. A new campaign to highlight the iniquities of the gender pay gap is being launched – an issue that really needs to be highlighted, as it’s only going to get worse with the recession, as the types of jobs that women are generally in (part-time, services) are among the first to go. Here in the rep we’re hosting an event bringing together the new round of Life+, environmental projects financed by the EU budget. More about that later, either here or on our website, as our new intern, Anastasia, is following the event.

Lots of admin on my desk though – tenders for media montoring, planning documents for our internal use and Brussels, and recruitment to replace Greta who left last week. Best get back to it.

The Sound of Silence

I’ve been very remiss about writing the blog recently, but as I pointed out previously, there’s a fine balance between being busy enough to have something to write about, and being too busy to find the time. We’re missing several members of staff at the moment, for a variety of reasons, so its been mayhem around here. There’s lots more admin in this job than when you’re a Spokesperson, and that has to get done. Also fewer press officers around means fewer people to answer the phone, so more time dealing with queries from the press. Not that I complain about that – it’s the best bit of the job (next to going to the National Theatre or, in the case of tonight, the Whitechapel Gallery!).

Also the health problem from last week is still around – no news from the NHS about the scan I was supposed to be booked in for, so will try a GP again tomorrow. Here’s hoping I don’t get sent to A&E YET again…

Had a lovely weekend in Brussels. On Friday night I got there in time to catch the second half of the Brussels Shakespeare Society’s Othello. A nice day with the Best Mate on Saturday, then went to my friend Michiel’s 40th that evening – we were at college together, and have known each other almost 20 years, so it was a real night for catching up with your past! On Sunday Best Mate had invited two other friends round for lunch – we were all feeling a bit ropey, so it was the laziest Sunday imaginable, finishing up with watching all 4 hours of the BBC’s adaptation of North and South. I won’t try to pretend that the main attraction was anything other than Richard Armitage looking moody!

My mother is visiting from France at the moment, and it’s been lovely having her here. Hopefully we’re off to a Korean on Friday and the Rugby League on Saturday, then she heads home on Sunday.

We’ve got quite a few Commissioners in town in the next two weeks, so we’re busy managing their media schedules, trying to fulfill interview requests we’ve had, or set up new ones. There have also been some interesting stories around, such as reducing the accounting requirements for very small companies.

There’s been a lot around about sheep tagging as well, but that’s a long story, so I’ll deal with that tomorrow.

Melamine – new measures taken

The Commission will take measures to ban the import from China of food for infants and young children containing soya and soya products, after high levels of melamine were recently found in Chinese soy bean meal. Competent authorities in the Member States will have to test all other feed and food containing soya and soya products originating from China before allowing imports. Only feed and food containing less than 2.5 milligrams of melamine per kilo (mg/kg) will be allowed into the EU.     

The Commission was recently informed by the Member States through the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) that high levels of melamine have been found in soy bean meal imported from China.

 

In 2007, the EU imported about 68 000 tonnes of various soya products or products containing soya for a total value of about 34 million euros. The list includes products such as soya beans, soya bean flour and meal, soya sauce and protein concentrates and textured protein substances.

The Commission initially adopted safeguard measures regarding melamine-contaminated products from China at the end of September. In particular, and in addition to the already existing ban on the import of Chinese milk and milk products into the EU, the Commission imposed an explicit total ban on all products for infants and young children containing any percentage of milk (infant formula, follow-on formula and other products). Furthermore, all composite products containing milk and milk products from China have to be tested for melamine before these can be placed on the EU market.