There’s been a scandal brewing in Brussels over the past week. Chris Davies, a member of the European Parliament, read an internal report that suggests some of his parliamentary colleagues are being less than honest with the money they claim to run their offices. He says he was so appalled by what he found out he’s gone public with it. Now allegations of fraud are flying and a fiercely bad-tempered row has erupted between those who want the report published and those who think it’s less than explosive. MEPs are given around two hundred thousand euros a year to keep an office and pay for assistants. And most of them say they have nothing to hide. So why don’t they want the report to be made public?
With scandals over expense accounts it’s no wonder the EU is thinking about image. In an effort to make the EU feel more of a community the European Commission has launched a new website and radio programme. It’s hoped they’ll reach a youthful audience and provide everything one should know about Europe - from news to culture, and the important work the EU’s doing. European Commisioner Margot Wallström launched “Euranet” this week.
Kosovo's independence was celebrated by tens of thousands in the new country's capital Pristina on Sunday the 17th of February. Posters were plastered across the city thanking the US and the European Union for their support. But as you might expect, that's not the story across the border to the north in Serbia. Many Serbs are angry with the US and Europe for blessing Kosovo's independence. Slovenia couldn’t be much further away from Serbia these days, in the political sense. It was the first province to break away from the Yugoslav union back in 1991. And it's come a long way since then. It currently holds the rotating EU presidency, and is something of a darling in the west. while Serbia remains more or less a pariah state. Within the EU opinions are divided over Kosovo’s independence, and whether Serbia’s right or wrong to complain about it so bitterly. Critics of the west’s media coverage of the move say Serbia’s been getting an unfairly bad press. And arguably, the country’s had a difficult rapport with the rest of Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990’s. Our Brussels correspondent Vanessa Mock believes Europe’s relationship with Belgrade just got even more complicated.
Are genetically modified crops good or bad? Some say they can make certain foods toxic, that they might make us resistant to anti-biotics and that they increase the numbers of things people are allergic to. Others point out that some GM crops in the developing world mean the difference between having a harvest or not – having food or going hungry. France recently imposed a ban on a strain of GM corn—effectively shutting down GM crops in the country, as it’s the only one allowed to be planted in Europe. As France is Europe's largest agricultural exporter this is significant.
No-one is thinking about the mechanics of splitting up when they get married but the reality of divorce in europe is causing extra friction for international couples. The whole process of separating can be even more traumatic than usual for them thanks to huge differences in divorce laws across the EU. If you marry a foreigner and then live in a country that isn’t the home-country of either of you – which country’s divorce law do you follow? And how do you decide what’s fair? Brussels wants to simplify this legal tangle but some countries are blocking the move saying it's causing even more problems than it’ll solve.
In case you haven’t come across the GPS sat-nav system yet, it’s a system of satellites that pinpoint your car and then beam information to the the voice under your dashboard, which in turn tells you verbally to turn right, left or go straight ahead. The EU’s ‘Galileo’ project is supposed to rival America’s GPS satellite navigation system. But being the EU there has been drawn out wrangling about how the project will be funded, stalling progress for months. Until now.
In Germany there’s been something of a storm in a wineglass over apples and the definition of wine. Apple-wine, known in German as ‘Eppelwoi’, has a long and rich tradition in the state of Hesse. Last week, Hessians were outraged to discover an EU proposal to define wine as a product only made from grapes. Faced with this potential re-branding as an alcoholic wine-style apple-based beverage, Hesse’s State Premier, Roland Koch, leapt to the defence of his state’s favourite drink.
Three months after elections in Belgium, there’s still no sign that a new government is coming together. Coalition talks collapsed after French-speaking parties refused to agree to give Flanders greater autonomy. The stalemate is fuelling criticism that Wallonia - the poorer, French-speaking South - is feeding off Flanders - without putting anything back. There's growing support for right-wing Flemish parties who want create an independent Flanders. Radio Netherlands’ Vanessa Mock reports, that's worrying Walloons.
For the first time Europeans might get some genuine free-market choice, when buying an international train ticket. Competition is being introduced in Europe's rail transport sector, after Wednesday's decision at the European Parliament to approve proposals to liberalize the market. But will there be genuine choice, and how do Europe's rail passengers feel about foreign trains rolling along home tracks?
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