Monthly Archives: July 2007

The EU’s “roaming” saga just refuses to end.

To recap: the union passed a law in June that forces mobile phone companies to slash highly-lucrative roaming fees. These are the rates customers pay to use their phones while visiting another EU country.

By yesterday, operators should have informed customers about the new, capped prices. (If you live in the UK, follow this link to see the deals on offer)

So, is this the final curtain for this lengthy drama, in which Viviane Reding, the pugnacious, headline-grabbing EU telecoms commissioner, has taken on companies such as France Telecom and Vodafone?

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Scotland ‘s new first minister is in town on his first overseas visit since taking up the role.

Alex Salmond said he wanted Scotland to rediscover its sense of internationalism, adding that the country understood the need to raise its game on the world stage.

He also wants more of a voice for Scotland in the EU. He highlighted small members such as Slovenia (which has a population less than half that of Scotland’s) which assumes the union’s rotating presidency next year.  “We recognise the success of so many small countries in Europe, and we aspire to the independent membership of the EU that they enjoy.”

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The European Commission has been keen to play down the significance of Wednesday’s court ruling in the Schneider/Legrand case. In a precedent-setting decision, the European Court of First Instance ordered Brussels to pay damages to Schneider for wrongly blocking a merger with its French rival six years ago.

The antitrust watchdog stressed that it was held liable only for a fraction of the €1.66bn in damages claimed by Schneider. It also pointed out that the number of potential claimants was small – a view shared by most competition lawyers and antitrust experts. Indeed, at first glance it would appear the ruling only applies to the four companies that saw their mergers blocked by Brussels, but later managed to get the ruling overturned in court.

For the sake of European taxpayers, one can only hope that is true. But there are two other potential claimants that could inflict real financial pain on the EU regulator.

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Just reading about the efforts to form a Belgian federal government, which rumble on a mere 22 days after the general election.

Odd? Not really. Apparently it once took 150 days to thrash out a deal for a coalition government in linguistically-divided Belgium, which has zealously carved up the national state and developed a fiendishly complicated political system.

The last time I looked there were, I think, either eight or nine parliaments (in a country the size of Maryland) but who knows – someone might since have slipped in another chamber for good measure.

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The German presidency of the EU will be remembered for the deal on fighting climate change and the outline agreement on a replacement for the constitution.

But aides to European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso’s speak of another less remarked upon achievement of Angela Merkel during her stint in the hotseat: the development and delivery of a tough European line towards Vladimir Putin – epitomised at the fractious Samara summit in Russia.

After years of disunity and fawning by Gerhard Schroder, Ms Merkel’s predecessor, and Jacques Chirac, the former French president, Europe now has a set of leaders prepared to be frank with Moscow. Nicolas Sarkozy, whose family hail from Hungary, and Gordon Brown are not starry-eyed about Putin.

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The European Commission is reaching for something old and something new as it tries to re-connect with the people.  These are the brainchild of Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish communications commissioner who was among the first politicians to launch her own blog.

 The old-style approach is to keep throwing taxpayers’ money at European political parties ; the novel one is to jump on one of the latest internet bandwagons with  EUTube -  a site on Youtube dedicated to Euro-affairs.

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Just in case you know George Parker, I am a student. And as you may have guessed, I am not George Parker. I am Brian Parker, George’s youngest brother, and for the last 4 days I’ve been doing work experience here in Brussels with George, learning about the typical week of a journalist, which is, surprisingly if I’m honest, interesting. Oh, and I’m 14, so cut me some slack.

While my first day was certainly fun, I wasn’t exactly eased into things. My day began by attending the EU commission’s mid-day briefing (it seemed like a big thing at the time) and followed by lunch with an ambassador, though to be on the safe side I’m not saying which one. While I have since come to realise that I could learn to love a job that counts four-course meals as ‘work’, at the time all I could do was worry. A lot.

Though I had read up on as much about the EU as I possibly could before coming to Brussels, the briefing still went way over my head. Possibly because the speakers were using what I’ve generally heard referred to as technobabble. Probably because I was still thinking about the upcoming lunch with a person who, though not famous, was, certainly important.

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