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Here’s something to get your teeth into

16 Sep

Bad teeth

Sweet tooth

Here’s an interesting question. What is the involvement of one of the world’s biggest sweet and chocolate manufacturers in a bid to get the EU to do more to improve people’s teeth?

It all stems from a call yesterday by two Euro MPs who said they were concerned that Europe’s poorest citizens had the worst gnashers.

Less than half of Europeans have all their natural teeth, they said, and the MEPs want the EU to urge countries to do more to promote dental care.

They said people should be making use of “fluoride-containing toothpaste, flossing, chewing sugar-free gum and having regular dental check-ups.”

Interesting that sugar-free gum is mentioned in that list as the MEP’s call was signed by, among others, the Wrigley Oral Health Programme.

That’s Wrigley’s who sell millions of packets of chewing gum and sweets every year, including Skittles and Starburst and are now owned by chocolate manufacturer Mars.

*Breaking news* Commissioner “appalled”

14 Sep

“This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War.”

Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, says the expulsion of groups of Roma from France is a “disgrace”.

It is an extraordinary statement which does away with usual diplomatic language.

You can read her statement here.

Joining the party

8 Sep


But who will be invited?

Despite frustrations and apparent increasing scepticism within its own borders, EU membership still holds significant attractions for some.

  • On Sunday, Turkey holds a referendum on constitutional reform. The outcome could have a significant bearing on whether its bid to join the EU receives a major boost. As part of the reforms the country’s Prime Minister wants to restructure the judiciary and limit the power of the army – something that would go down well here in Brussels. Opinion polls put the result currently neck and neck.
  • And in Croatia, a country much further along the road to EU accession, the government has set about privatising its shipyards. At the moment, the state pays huge subsidies to the yards, which is contrary to EU competition rules.
  • Meanwhile Iceland, which seemed determined to join the EU at the height of the economic crisis, appears to be getting cold feet. Iceland wants to be able to catch more mackerel than EU quotas would allow and public opinion appears to be heading towards opposition to membership. Four Icelandic MPs this week called for a parliamentary vote against joining the EU.
  • Over in the UK this morning a Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, has launched his bid for a referendum in Britain on a straight-forward question about the EU: In or Out?

It’s a question being asked by some on the inside looking out and on the outside looking in.

“This is Europe’s moment of truth”

7 Sep

state of the union

State of the Union address

From the romantic:

Europe is not only Brussels or Strasbourg. It is our regions. It is the cities, towns and villages you come from. When you walk round your constituencies, you can point to the European projects that are so important for their prosperity. At the end of the day, we are all in the same boat.

To the historic:

I make a strong appeal not to re-awaken the ghosts of Europe’s past.

To the rallying:

The citizens of Europe expect us to take the action needed to get out of this crisis… It is not with pessimism that we will win this battle.

José Manuel Barroso’s message was clear: You need me.

Yes, there were policy statements and announcements of new initiatives but what really came through was how the president of the European Commission wanted us all to see how indispensible he is.

It suits the message if the situation we face is portrayed as bleak. This, of course, is nothing new in politics. Except this time, the bogeyman is those people who do not buy into the European ideal.

“We either swim together, or sink separately,” he said today. “We will only succeed if, whether acting nationally, regionally or locally, we think European.”

Replace European with “German” or “British” or “Swedish”, or indeed any other nationality, and it sounds ridiculous.

It shows that this isn’t Europe’s “moment of truth” as Barroso put it today, rather yet another occasion when the EU has had to justify its existence.

Q. State of the Union?  A. Still uncertain.

President’s desperate PR fightback

6 Sep


Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission

It is bizarre that, at a time when the purpose of the EU’s institutions are being called into question more than ever, the president of the European Commission decides to introduce a US-style “State of the Union” address.

Rather than use tomorrow’s opportunity merely to set out the priorities for the year ahead, José Manuel Barroso’s PR move looks to owe more to style than substance.

The institutions of the EU face the biggest threat to their power since their creation. Member state governments are increasingly regaining the role of Europe’s navigators.

But, rather than analyse the reasons for this, or try to get to grips with Europe’s pressing issues, Barroso’s move aims to put the commission – and himself personally – back on centre stage.

Like a man whose marriage is in difficulty, he’s going out on the town, drinking with his mates, flirting with women, putting on a brave face and trying to prove he’s still got it — rather than staying at home to work out what is wrong.

But it will strike a discordant note with Europe’s citizens who no longer see the relevance of this type of posturing.

The State of the Union address will no doubt play well to the chattering classes who live in the Brussels bubble and see the strengthening of the European Commission as its main raison-d’etre.

But to the those people protesting on the streets of Athens, those in London who view the EU with scepticism, those in Berlin who are worried about the strength of the economy, they will hear Mr Barroso and ask: Why this? Why now?

That’s if they even listen at all.

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