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20 September 2007 Edition

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This news feature is funded by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

MEPs call for ban on Brazilian beef

MEPs from across the political spectrum have launched a written declaration calling for an immediate ban on the importation of Brazilian beef into the European Union.
This move, which is supported by Sinn Féin’s two MEPs, comes at a time of increasing unease among consumers and farmers over the effect of importing cheap meat from outside the EU. The standards in Brazil are not up to EU standards, allowing Brazilian beef to be sold at a price with which Irish farmers cannot compete.
If the majority of MEPs sign the declaration it becomes the official position of the European Parliament and would increase pressure for the Commission and Council to act.
The environmental aspect of importing beef from across the Atlantic Ocean is also significant,
Reacting to the declaration, Irish Farmers’ Association President Padraig Walshe said:
“The EU Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Markos Kyprianou, can no longer ignore the unacceptable standards in Brazil which cannot provide the guarantees that Europe requires. He must therefore immediately impose a total ban on Brazilian beef imports.”
The IFA president added that foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is endemic in Brazil, there is a haphazard vaccination programme and there are no effective controls on the movement of cattle across borders and between FMD restricted and unrestricted states.
“On top of this, there is no reliable cattle traceability, there is a routine cutting out of tags to remove animal identity, and no monitoring of cattle treatments.”

MEP Bairbre de Brún added her voice to calls for action on the concerns of farmers and the importation of Brazilian beef:
“There cannot be a position whereby beef imported from outside the EU does not meet the same standards as beef produced inside the EU, and that includes questions of traceability and border controls. Consumer confidence and fair treatment for Irish farmers demands this.”
“Clearly, as things stand, further action is needed by the Brazilian authorities with regard to transparency and traceability in particular. I hope my support for this declaration by MEPs can help maintain the pressure before lasting damage is done to our beef industry.
“Whatever else is achieved by this initiative in the European Parliament, it should act as a spur to the Commission and to the Brazilian authorities to resolve the outstanding issues of concern.”


Foot and Mouth: ‘Brand Ireland’ the only way forward for Irish farmers

THE OUTBREAKS of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in livestock in Britain have left Northern produce exposed to possible bans and embargoes despite the fact that the outbreaks occurred on a neighbouring island. Thankfully, and due to swift diplomatic manoeuvering from Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew produce from the Six Counties escaped the blanket ban imposed by the European Commission on all ‘British’ food exports.
While welcoming the exemption won, MEP Bairbre de Brún has called for a more formalised approach which would remove the need in the future for dramatic last-minute discussions. Instead, de Brún has called on the Commission to formally treat produce from the Six Counties independently of British food to ensure security for local produce in the future. She said:
“The EU’s acceptance that the quality of our local produce can remain unaffected even when there is an animal health or food threat in Britain is a common-sense realisation which should now be formalised.
“Now is the perfect time for the EU to give our food industry peace-of-mind by formally accepting that outbreaks of disease on our neighbouring island will not necessarily threaten our food safety and thus our prosperity.
“I will be working with Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew in an effort to reach this sensible position.”
A more formal approach of this type would allow the creation of a ‘Brand Ireland’ identity for Irish produce. The Irish food industry, North and South, must seek to establish its own identity and brand that is not tainted in the eyes of consumers by the recent outbreaks across the Irish Sea. Coming on top of the legacy of BSE associated with the British food industry, these recent outbreaks of FMD should be enough to convince everyone connected with the Irish food industry that an all-Ireland ‘Brand Ireland’, signifying the clean, safe and local nature of Irish food, represents the way forward for Irish agricultural produce.
The EU, Irish Government and Executive all have a role to play in creating this mark but so too does the industry itself, according to Sinn Féín Agriculture spokesperson Gerry McHugh:
“It is time the industry took the bull by the horns and bought into the potential of marketing our local produce under the ‘Brand Ireland’ logo.”

De Brún backs calls for dairy promotion scheme

BAIRBRE DE BRÚN has supported calls at EU level for any savings resulting from three European Commission proposals to simplify the Common Market Organisation for milk and milk products to be retained for the dairy sector.
De Brún voted for the European Parliament to include in the Commission proposals a milk restructuring programme that will help milk producers and processors cope with increasing market liberalisation, stepping up promotional activities and nutritional awareness measures and the strengthening of the school milk scheme.
The European Parliament voted on three reports dealing with milk drafted by German MEP Elisabeth Jeggle on behalf of the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.  In the reports, MEPs are calling on the European Commission to ensure that any savings generated by the simplification are of benefit to the sector. 
Speaking from the European Parliament in Strasbourg de Brún commented:
“The EU has approached this topic sensibly and has come up with an imaginative way to aid the dairy industry and provide nutrition to children. The Parliament’s wish to see the Commission also explore other potential products which could be used is also welcome. Obesity and poor diets have never been such a problem and any action the EU can take to tackle it especially among children should be welcome.”

Influential MEPs study effects of partition

LAST WEEK saw the visit, on the initiative of Bairbre de Brún MEP, of the influential Regional Development Committee of the European Parliament to Belfast and the North-West. The MEPs from across Europe had a hectic schedule with a special focus on examining cross-border development.
The realities of partition and its effects on Ireland’s economy were spelled out time and time again.
The first stop was Stormont where the MEPs met with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as well as with other ministers in the Executive. Also at Stormont, the group had talks with the North-South Ministerial Council and the Special EU Programme Body and partnership bodies involved in cross-border work. The necessity of cross-border work in Ireland was impressed upon the deputies.
After their Belfast appointments, the group headed for the North-West to learn of the practical difficulties that partition has brought to the region. Strabane’s Art Centre was presented to the visitors before they arrived in Lifford for a meeting with Donegal County Council. The economic reality of Donegal’s isolation because of partition was of great interest to the MEPs who counted among their ranks experts on cross-border development and work.
The group then met with EU-funded community groups to see how EU funds are being used in the North-West.
The Irish-language sector was present in the form of an Irish language centre from Gaoth Dobhair. Irish interpreters were on hand for the group, a first for an EU delegation. Other representatives from cross-border groups, local sports groups and migrant advice centres were also given the opportunity to showcase their work to the MEPs.

The evening dinner was hosted by the various county councils in the North-West with the North-West Border Corridor Group also there in Ballybofey. The MEPs had a particular interest in learning about how the councils operate on a cross-border basis. Their experience from their own countries was compared to Ireland, advice given and new ideas for improving future co-operation discussed. A breakfast meeting with the Chambers of Commerce from across the region also took place. Local business leaders informed the MEPs once more about the disastrous impact partition has had on the North-West, prompting one conservative MEP to suggest scrapping the border as a possible solution. His idea has been passed on to the relevant authorities.
The delegation then visited EU-funded projects in Manorhamilton and Sligo. They learned here of environmental projects which aim to create sustainable development in the North-West which respects the area’s cultural and physical qualities.
A meeting with Irish Government officials in Iveagh House wrapped up the visit for a delegation whose members left more knowledgeable about the economic legacy of partition and the uneven development which goes along with it in the EU’s ‘star pupil’ of Ireland. 
This legacy will also be addressed in the report by Bairbre de Brún for the parliament, The Peace Programme: An Evaluation and Strategies for the Future which will come before the Parliament in stages over the coming months. Having visited many Peace-funded projects and met with the executives of the Special EU Programmes Body, MEPs should be extremely well informed about the background and context of the programme. 

Ireland to lose a seat in European Parliament

A REPORT has been adopted in the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the European Parliament proposing that Ireland loses at least one seat, going from 13 to 12 seats in the South.
The attempt of Europe Minister Dick Roche to link the retention of 13 seats to the adoption of the referendum on the renamed EU Constitution looks set to blow up in his face.
On the one hand, the allocation of seats has nothing to do with the renamed Constitution (or as some would have it, the Reform Treaty). The 13 seats could have been retained without the passing of the referendum. On the other hand, having so publicly linked the issue to the referendum, the government’s first shot in the campaign will be an utter failure, leaving them the unenviable task of linking the reduction of seats to the referendum and of having to defend the reduction of seats when the campaign kicks off properly. 
The report also proposed that Westminster loses five seats (going from 78 to 73), but it would be difficult for the British Government to justify cutting back on the three MEPs presently elected from the Six Counties.
One of the core principles on which the report is based is to guarantee each member state “enough seats to represent all major strands in the national political fabric”. Needless to say, this principle is not likely to be a priority, rather than the unwritten principle of maximising the number of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael seats.

Given the common interests of the whole island of Ireland in relation to EU affairs, the 32 Counties should be treated as a single electoral unit. However, the Constituency Commission will only make proposals concerning the 26 Counties.
Within the 26 Counties, the most obvious way of guaranteeing representation of “all major strands in the national political fabric” would be to have a single constituency electing all 12 MEPs, either using the single transferable vote or a list system. However, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have both argued in favour of having four three-seat constituencies, almost certainly guaranteeing each party one seat in each, leaving second FF and FG candidates fighting for the second seat with Labour, Sinn Féin, Greens, Independents or others for the last seat. The arguments in favour of a single constituency, of having three four-seat constituencies, or of having three constituencies of three, four or five seats are unlikely to get a fair hearing.
The report by French MEP Alain Lamassoure (from Fine Gael’s EPP-ED group) and Romanian MEP Adrian Severin (from Labour’s PES group) will be voted on in the plenary session on 10/11 October.
The leaders of all EU member states will have to unanimously agree the distribution of European Parliament seats. The question now is can the Irish Government, having so publicly linked the retention of 13 seats to the referendum, afford to back down and agree to 12? 

Parliament supports review of liquids on aircraft regulations

THE European Parliament has adopted a resolution which called on the Commission “to review urgently and – if no further conclusive facts are brought forward – to repeal the regulation concerning the introduction of liquids onto aircraft”.
Following the vote, on 5 September, Mary Lou McDonald MEP said:
“Anyone who has been in an Irish airport lately knows only too well the chaos caused by the security measures in place. Most airline passengers just grin and bear it because the safety of passengers and airlines is paramount.
“However, security measures need to be both efficient and effective. The EU regulation on liquids being introduced into aircraft is neither. It complicates the lives of the travelling public, as well as costing hard cash when toiletries or other liquids are confiscated.
“The European Commission must either bring forward conclusive facts to demonstrate that the liquid ban is necessary and proportionate, or it should repeal the regulation.”
In the resolution, MEPs express their concern that the costs involved may not be proportionate to the added value achieved by these additional security provisions. They argue that it causes increased costs to airports and operators as well as to passengers resulting from the confiscation of private property.  MEPs emphasise that the security measures need to be “realistically” designed to minimise the risk and should not be “disproportionate”. 


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