ANN CAHILL: Brussels Briefing – EU rapidly changes it’s tune on Greece


The mood music around the election of left-wing Syriza in Greece changed significantly in the EU as voting day approached.

It started out as a shrill message, including from our own Department of Finance that “we are not Greece”; included messages from Berlin that anybody other than EPP’s centre right PM Antonis Samaras could not be trusted; and threats of no more money.

But as the polls showed that Syriza would be first past the post, the politicians and economists’ near hysteria was modified significantly.

Sending Greece down the euro exit tube could create a vacuum that would draw Italy in its slipstream — and the rest of the zone with them.

Politicians are nothing if not practical and decided to work with the fact, even if that means talking to Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, who has also modified his message.

Net neutrality battle spirals

The battle over net neutrality scaled up a notch during the week when the Latvian presidency found a compromise acceptable to the EU countries.

The European Parliament and defenders of a free internet insist there should not be a two-tier system where some can get a faster, more reliable service than others.

Industry has been pushing for maximum flexibility that would allow them sell faster internet to consumers who pay more and who could also receive emails more quickly.

Before Christmas German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed a two tier system, making the case for ‘important traffic’ such as medical to be in the faster lane.

The Latvians have followed up on this saying there must be equal treatment for all traffic – except in certain circumstances such as for security or to comply with a request from police.

Delivering a message to Moscow

Ministers and diplomats were holding their breath during this week’s foreign ministers meeting as to whether anybody would dissent on the issue of Russian sanctions.

They didn’t. And doubtless they are all relieved now with the escalation of the Russian-proxy war in eastern Ukraine.

Kiev has called for EU Foreign Ministers to meet urgently but what exactly they can do is not clear.

EU prime ministers are probably sorry that Vladimir Putin will not attend the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in Poland tomorrow. (Tuesday)

Warsaw did not directly address the invitation to Mr Putin and either fearing a snub or a dressing down, he is sending Sergei Ivanov, his chief of staff.

EU leaders will have to send a message back to Moscow through him.

Mixed response to death of Brittan

The death of former European Commissioner Leon Brittan was marked with measured statements in Brussels, overshadowed by child abuse allegations in London.

He spent ten years as Commissioner first for Trade and later in the External Affairs posts and is as remembered for his choice of brilliant cabinet members.

They included a slew of people who went on to shape EU and British policies including Commission head, Catherine Day, Nick Clegg British deputy British PM, ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers who headed up his cabinet; senior Commission officials Jonathan Faull, Simon Fraser, Martin Donnelly, and Robert Madelin.

Lidl pressure on Finnish products

Finland may not be a huge producer of food, but up to 80% of food in Finnish supermarkets is nationally produced.

Now the fiercely independent country fears they are under attack with the German discount chain, Lidl, entering the market, offering much lower prices on foodstuffs that mostly do not come from Finland.

Helsinki, that has suffered a series of job catastrophes recently, is anxious to ensure the price war will not mean that demand drops for Finnish produce, or that producers – already hit by the Russia sanctions, are not forced to cut prices to unsustainable levels.

€250m leader programme set for delay

It looks like the €250 million LEADER rural development programme will once again be delayed, depriving communities of funds they could use to generate growth and jobs.

Rural Affairs junior minister Ann Phelan discussed it with Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan in Brussels during the week.

Prior to her visit Minister Phelan said that for too long rural Ireland had not experienced the same scale of recovery of the urban areas, and it was her job to help reverse this.

However she was equally vague following her meeting with Mr Hogan and EU officials on when exactly the programme would be rolled out.

Ireland’s Leader model was widely acclaimed at EU level as a model for others and changes introduced by Mr Hogan when he was in charge as Environment Minister have been criticised.

Meat labelling law a work in progress

When you buy a piece of steak, the label will tell you where it’s from. But if you are buying a burger, or a lasagna, it won’t, points out Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan.

She favours having a country of origin label on all processed meat products and hailed the vote in the European Parliament’s environment committee that supports this also.

They point out that half of all slaughtered meat is processed. Following the horsemen scandal, 95% of Irish consumers want to know where every little piece of meat comes from.

It would clearly benefit Irish meat with many producers and farmers voluntarily opting into the Bord Bia labelling scheme.

All MEPs will vote on the matter in February.