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The talk of the continent


Spain: ‘Ebola: a caregiver from Madrid, the first case outside Africa’

Tue, 07 Oct 2014 10:07:54 +0100

Spain’s Ministry of Health confirmed on 6 October that a caregiver has contracted the Ebola virus in a Madrid hospital, after treating a missionary who came into contact with the disease in Sierra Leone, reports ABC.

The Spanish daily notes the incident marks “the first case of transmission of the virus beyond Africa”. Some thirty people, who were in contact with the caregiver, are also being monitored for signs of the disease.

The virus’s transmission has raised questions over protection measures. According to ABC, the European Commission is under pressure to ask Spain for —

explanations about the circumstances of the contamination, given that European hospitals must be “highly equipped” to protect their personnel.

Medical Tourism: ‘Healthcare Schengen’

Fri, 25 Oct 2013 09:50:19 +0100

Once the cross-border health care directive comes into force on October 25, every EU citizen will be able to seek medical assistance in any member state, writes Gazeta Wyborcza.

This allows patients to travel to another EU country for treatment and be refunded by their own national health authorities.

Some Czech clinics near the Polish border, where certain medical treatments are substantially cheaper and more accessible for patients than in Poland, are bracing themselves for the “Polish invasion”, notes the daily.

Meanwhile, the Polish government is seeking to make it difficult for Poles to use the new system by adding extra conditions, writes the newspaper, adding –

If we choose a country where an operation is more expensive than in Poland, we will have to cover the difference by ourselves.

Netherlands: ‘UN resolution against Santa's helper?’

Wed, 23 Oct 2013 11:44:07 +0100

"Zwarte Piet" — or "Black Pete", as the faithful assistant to Saint Nicolas is known in the Netherlands – is once again the focus of controversy because of his role and his skin colour, explains Dutch daily De Volkskrant. Santa Claus is derived from Saint Nicholas.

Verene Shepherd, who chairs the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, says that she considers the character of Zwarte Piet – a white person in blackface dressed as a 15th-century pageboy – provides an image of Blacks derived from the colonial period.

The working group is scheduled to present a report on the issue to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, says the paper, which could lead to "a recommendation that the Netherlands stop celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas".

Tobacco: Regulations are a step forward

Wed, 09 Oct 2013 14:46:18 +0100

“Menthols will disappear, while slims will remain”, headlines Rzeczpospolita. “Shocking pictures to scare smokers”, announces the Süddeutsche Zeitung, while the Financial Times notes that “electronic cigarettes exhale a sigh of relief”. The draft law on tobacco, voted by the European Parliament on October 8, has many aspects.

For Poland, “the EU’s main cigarette producer,” the vote is “a step in the right direction”, notes Rzeczpospolita. Menthol cigarettes will not be taken off the market for another eight years, and health-warnings will only cover 65 per cent of packaging, down from a proposed 75 per cent. On this last point, warns the daily, making packs all the same will make smuggling easier, at a time when one pack in every five sold in the country is already counterfeit.

For its part, Süddeutsche Zeitung believes that the text endorsed by MEPs is “an excellent illustration of a confused and blundering policy” —

Smoking kills 700,000 people every year in the European Union, and burdens the healthcare system with billions of euros in extra costs. However, [it must not be forgotten] that many lifestyles are dangerous and costly for society. Nonetheless, the state lets its citizens live them, and rightly so. Because a free society is one that allows people – up to a certain limit – to harm themselves and the community. What’s more, the state, which is happy to levy a tobacco tax on smokers, rakes in a lot of money from the disaster of smoking.

To date, stresses Tagesspiegel, “the strengthening of regulation” amounts to a step forward for the health of Europeans, and in particular for young people’s health. The draft law must now be negotiated with the Commission and the European Council, before a vote is taken on the final directive.

European Parliament: ‘Tobacco: Europe holds its breath’

Tue, 08 Oct 2013 11:34:35 +0100

The European parliament is set to vote on the new tobacco directive October 8 in Strasbourg, reports Le Soir.

MEPs will decide on 189 amendments to the text adopted in July by the parliament’s health committee. The bill “planned [...] to outlaw slim cigarettes and certain flavours like menthol, products that have been specially developed to appeal to young consumers and women. [...] It also stipulates larger dimensions for the ‘frightening photos’ on three-quarters of packets [...] and provides for restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes, which are to be regulated as medical products, whose efficiency and safety will be monitored.”

“If they are adopted, the 189 amendments will do away with this progress,” notes Le Soir, which writes of intervention by the cigarette producers lobby. Some countries “have been scared off by the assurance that they will lose income,” explains a Belgian MEP quoted by the newspaper.

European Union: ‘EU clamps down on designer drugs’

Wed, 18 Sep 2013 12:23:03 +0100

The European Commission says it will clamp down on the sale of "legal highs" or psychotropic drugs legally used in the pharmaceutical or cosmetic industries, which can have effects similar to those of illegal drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy. These are usually sold on the Internet as, for example, bath salts or cones of incense.

"New drugs, which are spreading faster and faster in Europe, must be banned more quickly" once a procedure is launched. In other words, within a ten month delay rather than two years as is currently the case, [reports German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

An immediate one year ban will also be allowed.

The number of these types of drugs "tripled between 2009 and 2013," the paper says. The proposal, presented by Commissioners Viviane Reding for Justice, Antonio Tajani for Industry and Tonio Borg for Health, to the European Parliament and to the Member States also stipulates that Member States will be able to inflict a prison sentence of up to three years.

Poland: ‘Across the border to see the doctor’

Mon, 16 Sep 2013 09:59:26 +0100

In line with the cross-border health care directive, Polish patients will be able to travel to other EU countries to receive planned medical treatment as of October 25, writes Gazeta Wyborcza.

The treatment will be refunded by the National Health Fund (NFZ), according to the country’s guidelines. However, the government is worried that when “thousands of angry patients [who currently have to wait for months to see a specialist] head abroad” for care, the NFZ budget will be quickly spent.

As a result, the Ministry of Health plans to introduce restrictions to discourage Poles from seeking healthcare abroad including a compulsory foreign treatment referral from a Polish doctor and restricting refunds to only treatments and drugs reimbursed by the NFZ. The daily notes that if these amendments are not passed before October 25 – which is unlikely – “Brussels may impose a fine on Poland of several thousand euros for each day of delay.”

Portugal: ‘London and Berlin got rid of Portuguese debt after Portas and Gaspar resigned’

Wed, 04 Sep 2013 10:30:15 +0100

German and British investors respectively sold more than €1.8bn and €450m worth of Portuguese treasury bonds between May and June, triggering a sharp rise in interest rates.

Portuguese bond interest rates rose from 5.3 per cent in mid-May to 7 per cent in June, writes Diário de Notícias, a situation that got steadily worse due to the country’s weak economy and the deepening political crisis in July, when Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar and Foreign Minister Paulo Portas resigned.

Poland: ‘Germans get treatment in Poland as it’s cheaper and faster’

Mon, 19 Aug 2013 10:49:08 +0100

Poland is becoming a medical tourism hub as more foreigners come for treatment using the European Health Insurance card.

In the first half of 2013, foreigners received medical treatment worth 30m PLN (€7.1m) and Polish hospitals admitted some 17,000 German patients, mainly in the provinces close to the Polish-German border.

The daily notes that Poland has become attractive for German and Austrian cardiology patients, especially those who have not bought additional insurance in their own countries, but hospitals complain they are not fully reimbursed for costs incurred during the treatment of foreign patients.

Smoking Bans: The Czechs resist

Wed, 14 Aug 2013 16:40:58 +0100

Respekt, Prague – With startling speed and success, Europe has vigorously lobbied to ban smoking from public areas. The Czech Republic comes across as the last obdurate defender of the freedom to inhale nicotine – and, true to its specific concept of liberalism, is trying to muster all its might to torpedo every EU effort. See more.

Belgium: ‘Sharp increase in medical tourism from neighbouring countries’

Tue, 06 Aug 2013 10:40:53 +0100

The number of Dutch, Germans, French, Luxembourgians and British seeking treatment in Belgian hospitals has risen by 18 per cent in four years, notes De Morgen.

According to a study by the Observatory for Patient Mobility, most medical tourists are Dutch people who are attempting to avoid long waiting lists for certain types of treatment in their country. The newspaper adds that more and more Dutch medical insurance companies are drawing up contracts with Belgian hospitals, and quotes a Belgian doctor who explains —

Most of the procedures are either orthopedic or cardiac. In the Netherlands, you can wait six months to get a new hip, while in Belgium you can obtain an operation virtually immediately.

Hungary: ‘Fewer and fewer medical specialists in the country’

Fri, 26 Jul 2013 11:33:52 +0100

Nearly 1,000 doctors leave Hungary each year to settle elsewhere in Europe, reports Hungarian daily Népszava, adding that the situation particularly concerns specialists.

Hungarian doctors earn one-and-a-half times the average Hungarian salary, the paper explains, adding that there are insufficient resources to ensure and develop medical care. Doctors are therefore tempted abroad by better working and living conditions.

Currently 1,634 doctors and 3,433 other medical staff are needed to run the county's health care system properly, according to official statistics, Népszava says.

United Kingdom: ‘Hundreds perish as heatwave takes hold’

Thu, 18 Jul 2013 09:50:44 +0100

Up to 760 people have died in England during the first nine days of the ongoing heatwave, according to estimates from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as temperatures today continued to soar above 30C (86F) for the sixth consecutive day.

The hot spell, which began on July 6, is unlikely to pass until the end of next week, leading the daily to conclude that “this number is likely to double”.

The government’s national weather office issued a health warning to the country’s south east, urging young people and the elderly, as well as people with respiratory difficulties, to take precautions against the high temperatures.

United Kingdom: ‘Furious families demand inquiry into NHS cover-up’

Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:11:27 +0100

MPs are set to summon the current chief executive and chairman of National Health Service (NHS) watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to debate an alleged cover-up of a report into baby deaths at a hospital in Cumbria in 2008.

An independent report published on June 20 into the actions of the CQC, which was supposed to investigate the deaths at medical facilities controlled by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust, criticised several senior CQC officials.

This report claimed former deputy chief executive Jill Finney ordered staff to destroy a 2011 internal CQC review into how deaths went unnoticed, because it was too critical.

EU-US trade talks: Lights, camera...negotiations!

Mon, 17 Jun 2013 14:40:57 +0100

“Happily there is a green light for free trade,” enthuses Le Monde, now that Barack Obama and European leaders have finally decided to begin talks for a vast bilateral accord at the 17-18 June G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

In the wake of two decades of attempts in vain, the rapprochement on trade between the two shores of the Atlantic “is good news”, announces the Parisian daily, which at the same time warns —

The game is not over yet. It will take a minimum of two years to address a large number of contentious issues: financial regulation, the protection of personal data in the context of the PRISM eavesdropping scandal, GMO crops, growth hormones in beef...

Caution is thus advised, because a breakthrough on any of these cannot be taken for granted. Even France’s hard-fought battle to exclude audiovisual media from negotiations, which was apparently won on 14 June, may not be definitive, remarks Le Monde. The daily continues —

Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, who is to lead the European negotiation team, insists audiovisual media has only “provisionally” been excluded. He is worried the Obama administration will respond by withdrawing other sectors where Europe was hoping for concessions from the discussions: government contracts, geographical indications on product labels, transport…

For Die Tageszeitung, the decision to exclude audiovisual media nonetheless amounts to a victory. “Filmmaking will continue to be protected. France, which has retained the right to finance film production, can still hold its own against the Hollywood studios,” announces the enthusiastic German daily.

Denmark: ‘Cannabis dealers want to pay taxes’

Fri, 31 May 2013 11:17:41 +0100

Now that Copenhagen city officials are proposing to legalise the sale of cannabis, "99 per cent of the dealers," want to be taxed, a major dealer told Danish daily *Politiken.

That would allow Copenhagen's dealers, who generate sales estimated at €1bn per year, to become respectable tradespeople.

But for Justice Minister Morten Bødskov, who believes that organised crime controls the dealers in the Christiania district of the capital, "the only answer to the proposal to legalise cannabis is three letters: N-E-J," or "N-O" in English.

Food: Nearly 5% of EU beef is horsemeat

Wed, 17 Apr 2013 14:42:28 +0100

"Horsemeat with anti-inflammatories," sums up Spanish daily El Mundo referring to the results of tests run last month in the European Union on samples of beef suspected of containing horsemeat. Aimed at reassuring consumers in the wake of the horsemeat scandal, the results of the tests, which were carried out by the health authorities of each member state at the request of the EU Commission, were published on April 16.

Two types of tests were carried out. The first was designed to identify the amount of horsemeat in meat advertised as beef. The second detected traces of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug, which is potentially dangerous to humans and is banned from the food chain.

El Mundo explains that –

nearly 5 per cent of the beef analysed during the last month by the EU contained horse DNA and 0.51 per cent of the horse meat contained traces of phenylbutazone.

It quotes the findings of the EU investigation, which found that the issue "is a matter of food fraud and not of food safety".

The countries posting the worst results are France and Greece, where traces of horse DNA were detected in 13 per cent and 12.5 per cent of the beef analysed, respectively. However, the United Kingdom, which found no cases of horsemeat in beef in the current tests, was responsible for the vast majority of cases of phenylbutazone being discovered in horsemeat. Of the 3,115 samples tested, only 16 were found to contain phenylbutazone, however 14 of these were found in UK samples.

To regain consumer confidence, the Commission will, in a few months, propose stricter sanctions in case of fraud on labelling or in marketing. It will also establish a passport for horses to reinforce surveillance within the EU.

Corruption and transparency: European Parliament hamstrings Dalligate probe

Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:32:29 +0100

The “Dalligate” scandal, which rocked the European Commission, may finally be laid to rest without the truth ever being known. The European Parliament (EP) has effectively decided not to form a committee of inquiry on the affair, which resulted in the resignation of Health Commissioner John Dalli, amid allegations of involvement in influence trafficking last October, reports Mediapart.

The decision on April 11 not to appoint a committee of inquiry, which was also supposed to shine a spotlight on dubious institutional practices with regard to lobbying, was effectively taken by the main parliamentary groups in the EP — the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe — which refused to back the call for an investigation. The rejection of measure astonished several MEPs, notably in the Green parliamentary group which had submitted the proposal. Some suspect the Commission, which has refused to publish the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) report on the matter, and the Parliament of wanting “to bury the affair”. According to Mediapart

… the PPE will go to any lengths to defend its champion [Commission President] José Manuel Barroso, while the S&D will do all it can to support the highly controversial Director General of Olaf, Giovanni Kessler, who is also a member of the left-wing Italian Democratic Party. The interests of the two major parties were served by a common position: the scandal should be forgotten and attention should be focused elsewhere. [...] In the meantime, many people will be surprised by the rejection of the call for a “special committee” to look into the affair, which, over the last six months, has appeared increasingly shady, while the accounts of those involved appear more and more unlikely and contradictory.

European Commission : Was Dalligate a tobacco industry trap?

Fri, 22 Mar 2013 14:39:00 +0100

“Was European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, with or without his knowledge, manipulated by the tobacco industry into drumming his Health Commissioner out of office on October 16 over corruption claims?” wonders Libération, now that the evidence implicating John Dalli “appears increasingly flimsy.”

The daily’s Brussels correspondent has obtained a recording in which an employee of “Swedish Match, the producer of snus, which began the affair, acknowledges that OLAF, the Commission’s anti-fraud office, told him to give a totally false account of events”.

The daily explains that there are also doubts about a meeting which allegedly took place on February 10, 2012, and which plays a critical role in the case against Dalli.

According to Swedish Match, it was [on that day] that a deal was concluded between a friend of Dalli’s, Silvio Zammit, and Maltese lawyer Gayle Kimberley, agreeing that the Swedish company would pay €10m for a meeting with the European Commissioner and an additional €50m for the authorisation of snus. The corruption allegation relates to this meeting and a previous encounter between Dalli and Kimberley in Malta a month earlier, in the course of which Kimberley presented the commissioner with three pages on the non-harmfulness of snus. However, although he acknowledges that the first meeting took place, Dalli has consistently denied that there was a second one on February 10.

“In other words, the most important piece of evidence [in the case against Dalli] is based on two lies: one put forward by Kimberley, and another affirmed by OLAF,” explains Libération, which quotes the Commission’s vice president for agriculture, José Bové, who finds the affair “more and more dubious.”

Social issues: Gaping healthcare inequalities

Wed, 13 Mar 2013 14:05:38 +0100

"Health is dividing Europe in two," notes El País commenting on the publication of The European Health Report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Spanish daily highlights that "Spaniards are among the Europeans who live the longest." This longevity is explained in part by their Mediterranean diet and lower alcohol consumption. Spanish women live the longest in Europe, with a life expectancy of 85 years, 12 years longer than people from Moldova or Kyrgyzstan whose life expectancies are the shortest on the continent.

This is one of the indicators that demonstrate the major imbalances which still exist between Europe's 53 countries. Eastern Europe continues to have the worst mortality rates, rates of illness and rates of access to clean water. This paints the picture of a duel continent.

Despite this, "life expectancy is increasing in Europe," notes El País. And German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung also remarks on this situation.

Life expectancy is clearly increasing. In 2010, Europeans reached an average age of 76, five years more than in 1980. But a huge gap has opened between the countries in which life expectancy is the highest and those in which it is the lowest. The Swiss, Icelanders, and many inhabitants of the Mediterranean zone reach an average age of 82 years. People living in Russia can hope to live only 69 years.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung remarks that the highest cause of death is a heart attack and that the rate of death due to cardiovascular illness is 13 times higher in Eastern European countries than in the rest of Europe. For El País, which notes that the report does not take into account the health effects of the crisis, "one of the keys to improving these figures is to improve public health policies".

Czech Republic: ‘Hundreds of doctors stop work. And put their feet up’

Fri, 01 Mar 2013 12:01:23 +0100

Czech doctors are holding a “Healthcare Day” on March 1 in protest at a lack of investment in health services and new payment regulations, which may see their salaries fall.

“They will close their consulting rooms and relax or go get preventive health check-ups,” reports the Prague daily, adding the new reimbursement regulations set limits on how much insurance companies will pay for patient treatment. For example, doctors who specialise in internal medicine, “internists”, may see their pay cut by almost 25 per cent.

The protest comes two years after the successful ”Thank you, we are leaving” pay rise campaign arranged by doctors.

Food: Romania struggles to swallow horsemeat scandal

Wed, 27 Feb 2013 12:02:27 +0100

Revista 22, Bucharest – Romania, wrongly named as the source of the horsemeat food fraud, has suffered more than most in the ready-meals scandal. Having been dealt a severe blow, the country’s agriculture industry now has to pick up the pieces and regain Europe's trust. See more.

Food: ‘EU: Greater demand for clearer meat labelling’

Mon, 25 Feb 2013 11:28:00 +0100

With the horsemeat scandal in full swing, “France, Germany and Austria want more effective food traceability," reports the daily.

In the run-up to a meeting of agriculture ministers in Brussels on Monday, Austrian Agriculture Minister Nikolaus Berlakovich called for “food passports”, which would provide transparent information on the origins and ingredients of ready meals prepared in the EU.

Berlakovich is planning to join forces with his German, French and British colleagues to overcome any resistance on the European level. The main opposition will likely come from industrial interests, which are “concerned about more bureaucracy.”

Germany: ‘Organic egg fraud’

Mon, 25 Feb 2013 11:22:36 +0100

Prosecutors in Oldenburg are investigating 150 companies in the state of Lower Saxony and 50 more elsewhere in the Federal Republic amid claims eggs were being mis-sold.

The firms are suspected of passing off millions of eggs from battery hens as “free range and organic” in a fraud that may have lasted several years.

If the investigation, which was launched in 2011 and was revealed by the weekly Der Spiegel on February 23, proves successful, those convicted will face fines and prison sentences of up to a year.

Belgium: ‘Children are already euthanised’

Thu, 21 Feb 2013 10:46:09 +0100

"We all know that euthanasia is already practiced on children. Yes, active euthanasia," says the head of the intensive care unit of Fabiola Hospital in Brussels. He made his comments to the Senate's Judicial and Social Affairs Committee at a February 21 hearing.

Euthanasia on children is forbidden in the kingdom, but the Belgian daily notes "a growing political consensus in favour of the extension of euthanasia".

The euthanasia law dates from 2002 and applies only to adults who are "in unbearable physical or psychological pain" or for whom "there is no hope".

Food: ‘Guaranteed horse’

Tue, 19 Feb 2013 10:39:07 +0100

Cheap lasagne containing horsemeat instead of beef is only the tip of the iceberg.

Health authorities and distributors are now finding traces of horsemeat in all kinds of ready meals.

The state is working on an “action plan”, which will include stiffer penalties for fraudulent labelling.

United Kingdom: ‘NHS failings cause 1,600 child deaths every year’

Tue, 19 Feb 2013 10:15:36 +0100

More than one in four child deaths were the result of “identifiable failures” in medical care, and 43 per cent involved “potentially avoidable factors”, the government will tell parliament today as it unveils a new plan to cut child mortality.

The plan will see a nationwide child care review, creation of a new group to monitor child health and improved data sharing among medical professionals.

The plan comes a week after a damning report into patient care at Stafford hospital found up to 1,200 people had died through neglect.

Health: ‘EU wants to facilitate clinical trials on humans’

Mon, 18 Feb 2013 10:47:34 +0100

The European Commission plans to introduce a regulation to simplify the procedure for carrying out pharmaceutical tests on humans. The text, which will be debated in parliament in June, will dispense with the requirement for independent ethical committees to be involved in the authorisation of tests.

In future, a single member state (and more importantly, one selected by the healthcare industry) will evaluate the risks involved in trials for a particular product, and its decision will apply for all other member states. Doctors have pointed out that states with a record for imposing higher standards will be systematically circumvented, and that the constraints on human testing will be less rigorous than those that apply for animal testing.

United Kingdom: ‘The fat man of Europe’

Mon, 18 Feb 2013 09:58:06 +0100

UK doctors are calling for a 20 per cent increase in the price of fizzy drinks and regulations to limit the number of fast food outlets located close to schools in an effort to combat the “country’s spiralling obesity crisis”.

A new report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges suggests one in four adults in England is obese. By 2050, these figures are expected to rise to 60 per cent of men, 50 per cent of women and 25 per cent of children. Consequences of obesity, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are estimated to cost the National Health Service £5.1bn (€5.9bn) a year.

Food safety: ‘Meat: from fraud to health warning’

Fri, 15 Feb 2013 11:21:03 +0100

“There are now two horsemeat affairs in Europe,” points out the Belgian daily, following the discovery of traces of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory that is not approved for human consumption, in British horsemeat which had been exported to France — a development that has highlighted the failure of local authorities to conduct adequate checks.

In France, the Minister of Agriculture has withdrawn food safety certification from Spanghero, a company that knowingly sold horsemeat, which had arrived on its premises with correct customs labels, as beef.

Food: Perils of supermarket cost-cutting machines

Thu, 14 Feb 2013 16:26:58 +0100

Financial Times, London – The switching of horsemeat for beef is a spectacular signal that a limit has been reached, says columnist John Gapper. See more.

Food: ‘Warning horse’

Thu, 14 Feb 2013 10:33:34 +0100

The scandal of horsemeat in frozen food supposed to contain beef has arrived in Germany. In North Rhine-Westphalia, authorities are conducting DNA tests on lasagne produced by several brands, while discount retailer Real and the supermarket chain Tengelmann have withdrawn their own brand lasagne from shelves.

The daily emphasises that, like the English, Germans have an emotional and historical aversion to horsemeat. In the last quarter of 2012, 14,929,600 pigs were slaughtered in Germany, as opposed to 3,400 horses.

Food Safety: ‘Horsemeat scandal continues to spread’

Wed, 13 Feb 2013 12:37:21 +0100

“The food sector elsewhere in Europe is increasingly concerned,” writes the newspaper, following the discovery of horsemeat in lasagne, which was supposed to contain beef and was sold by French frozen food retailer Picard.

Like Findus in the UK, Picard, which also operates in Belgium, purchased the affected meat from French supplier Comigel.

Food: Horsemeat scam is a European problem

Wed, 13 Feb 2013 12:19:45 +0100

NRC Handelsblad, Amsterdam – The horsemeat scandal has taken on European proportions. While European countries seek to blame each other, they are ignoring the underlying problem, which is that the economic crisis has meant that low income families are increasingly dependent on cheap meat. See more.

EU budget: Françoise-Antoinette

Tue, 12 Feb 2013 15:57:19 +0100

The Times, London – Cartoon. See more.

Romania, United Kingdom: ‘Romanians are not to blame for the arrival of horsemeat in England’

Tue, 12 Feb 2013 11:20:15 +0100

The horsemeat discovered in lasagne that was supposed to contain beef, which was sold in the United Kingdom, came from Romania. However, "in all likelihood", it was processed in a third country.

The scandal will nonetheless affect all of Romania's producers, who have lost credibility on the European market, notes the newspaper.

Romania: Meat scandal puts Bucharest back in the pillory

Mon, 11 Feb 2013 13:37:35 +0100

A new scandal has tarnished Romania’s image in the EU. The discovery of horsemeat from Romania in lasagna supposed to contain beef from a well-known brand in Europe shows once again “our inability to comply with a minimum set of rules without which no community can function”, writes România liberă.

The single market, notes the paper, allows “a Romanian slaughterhouse to export meat to a Cypriot wholesaler, who then sells it on to a company in Luxembourg, who then gives it to a Swedish company that puts it onto the market in the United Kingdom through its subsidiary in France.” This is an advantage if “all Member States fulfil their duties responsibly,” it adds. But “if the chain of trust that connects institutions and the European countries is broken, even if just by the fault of a single link, it is the foundation of the European project itself that absorbs the blow.”

For the paper, this situation

brings grist to the mills not only of British xenophobes, but also to the mills of all those who still argue that Romania should never have been accepted into the EU.

Another Romanian daily, Adevărul, writes that even if the company that ”packaged and exported the meat” ought to be at the top of the list of suspects, “all eyes are on Romania, because it is Romania where the meat comes from.” The proposal from a British Conservative MP to slap restrictions on our exports, and then on all imports from the European Union, shows once again that “it is all our fault, and that all the wrongs done to the UK come from here.”

Liberă România concludes:

What is ironic and sad in this story is that even if it turns out that no one in Romania did anything wrong in this scandal, it will go unnoticed. Now that everyone has grown used to thinking of us as liars and cheats, the fact that for once we may have been falsely accused is irrelevant.

United Kingdom: Patient deaths scandal shakes National Health Service

Thu, 07 Feb 2013 15:44:52 +0100

“Patients across the country are unsafe because of endemic failings that caused one of the worst scandals in NHS history,” began The Times on its front page following the publication of a report on the treatment of patients at the state-run Stafford Hospital, where up to 1,200 patients died between 2005 and 2008 due to poor care by medical staff. The inquiry detailed cases in which patients were left so thirsty they drank from vases, and where receptionists rather than nurses were left to decide which people needed priority treatment. As news of the report broke, emergency investigations into five further hospitals were ordered due to their unusually high death rates.

Doctor and broadcaster Phil Hammond, writing in The Times, said it was time to end the “collusion of anonymity” in which medical staff dodged responsibility for mistreatment, and called for senior staff to be held accountable. He also criticised the report’s author, lawyer Robert Francis, for failing to squarely apportion blame to those responsible.

In 2006, when the NHS ran up a half-year deficit of £600 million, its chief executive Nigel Crisp resigned. Yet when up to 1,200 people die unnecessarily in a single hospital, no senior manager resigns. Sir David Nicholson, the chief executive of the NHS, was in 2005 the head of the West Midlands Strategic Health Authority, the body supposedly responsible for supervising standards at Stafford Hospital. He should step down.

Society: ‘Belgium is a drug paradise’

Mon, 04 Feb 2013 10:57:28 +0100

According to a “worrying” Europol study published in January by Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Belgium is home to Europe’s purest and cheapest illegal drugs. This is particularly true for heroin, cocaine, cannabis and amphetamines.

Belgium, the paper says, is at the start of the European drug supply chain, which explains why there are so many cheap products available.

Drugs: European mules pack Peruvian ‘snow’

Fri, 11 Jan 2013 12:32:54 +0100

Le Figaro, Paris – Hit hard by the crisis, Roberta, a Spanish grandmother, and Jeremy, a French baker, responded to the lure of easy money. Their mission? Smuggle cocaine from Peru into their home countries. Today, they’re rotting in a Lima jail. See more.

European Commision: Dalligate: MEPs call for an inquest

Thu, 10 Jan 2013 15:40:57 +0100

"Does the fall of former European Health Commissioner, John Dalli, also cause problems for the President of the Commission?" asks Belgian daily De Morgen. The Green Party group of the European Parliament has requested an investigation into the "secret meetings between the tobacco industry and José Manuel Barroso's staff," the paper explains. The Greens hope to obtain the support of the other political parties at an upcoming meeting of group presidents.

De Morgen notes that Barroso demanded Dalli's resignation, on October 16 following a complaint from a Swedish tobacco producer and suspicions that the commissioner had of a conflict of interests. Dalli denied the allegations but admitted that he had omitted to mention a meeting with a tobacco industry lobbyist, which, "according to the European Commission is a clear violation of its code of conduct as well as that of the World Health Organisation," De Morgen says. Yet, the Commission itself has had "at least six undeclared contacts with the tobacco industry," says Green MEP José Bové, adding that "if Dalli had to resign, other leaders [having violated the same rules] should do the same". In addition, says De Morgen

Green MEPs Bart Staes and Bové say that, thanks to intensive lobbying of Barroso's departments, the tobacco industry managed, as of 2010, to delay the introduction of the new, stricter tobacco directive. Thus, [the Commission's General-Secretary, Catherine] Day, twice delayed crucial talks regarding the directive.

The conservative European People's Party (EPP), the majority group in the European Parliament, partially supports the Green's proposal. But it fears that "putting together a special commission will be time-consuming". According to the EPP, the priority is to have access to the report filed by the independent Supervisory Committee, the internal watchdog of OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office. The Committee is said to have found irregularities in the OLAF investigation, that originally pointed the finger at Dalli.

European Commission: The drug the EU decided to ignore

Wed, 09 Jan 2013 14:14:47 +0100

"Is the European Commission more concerned with promoting the interests of a US pharmaceutical firm than in ensuring the survival of several dozen patients suffering from a serious and rare liver disease?" asks French daily, Libération. The paper explains that –

for the past three years, it has fought tooth and nail against authorising European sales of Orphacol. Produced by small French laboratory CTRS, the drug would save those suffering from the fatal disease. This relentless bureaucratic assault cannot be explained by reasons of public health since the advice of the experts – and of the 27 member states – is unanimously in favour of a medicine that has proved its worth.

However, this refusal by the Commission to authorise Orphacol works in favour of a US firm, Asklepion Pharmaceuticals, a laboratory controlled by the Church of the Seventh Day Adventist, which has also requested an authorisation to market a competing drug – non-existent as yet – from the London-based European Medicines Agency.

This stubborn refusal is "incomprehensible" admits a Commission official. Because, Libération continues, "the Commission usually sticks to the advice of the scientific experts from the various European agencies."

The paper singles out the role of Patricia Brunko, head of a unit responsible for drugs designed for human use within the EU's Directorate General for Health and Consumers, who "appears determined to sink Orphacol”. However, adds the paper, if one makes the link with the Dalli affair,

everyone has noted that Brunko's boss was former Commissioner John Dalli, who was sacked by Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso in October following suspected corruption from the tobacco lobby. Yet, no case has been filed with OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office," French officials note.

Trade: Toxic containers discovered in EU ports

Thu, 03 Jan 2013 14:24:01 +0100

There is "poison in containers" arriving at European ports, warns French daily Le Monde. Out of a million containers unloaded each week, the paper explains, "15 to 20 per cent contain fumes that are extremely dangerous, carcinogenic or neurotoxic" and these substances "endanger a whole series of people, from workers [...] to the consumers themselves."

The presence of the fumes is, in part, explained by fumigation operations aimed at "eliminating moulds and vermin during transport". Another reason for the presence of these poisons: the goods themselves release gases and vapours. Clothing made in Asia often contains benzene- and toluene-based solvents, both of which are carcinogenic.

Although France began taking measures in 2011 to diminish the health risks linked to exposure to the toxins, including a minimum airing time and the use of masks, gloves and goggles, these are deemed "insufficient and ill-adapted by the trade unions," Le Monde notes, comparing the French case with the situation in Belgium and the Netherlands:

Agreements between employers and unions require that the level of the fumes be monitored systematically as soon as their presence is suspected. Dutch customs officials require a certificate confirming the absence of toxic fumes time-stamped less than two hours before their services are called upon. Jan De Jong, leader of Dutch trade union confederation FNV Bondgenoten is calling on governments to go further by taking action at the source to ban certain chemicals world-wide.

Sweden: Brussels, hands off our snus!

Thu, 20 Dec 2012 14:53:21 +0100

The proposed revision of the European directive on tobacco, presented on December 19 in Brussels, has provoked strong reactions in Sweden. In effect, the text upholds the prohibition on tobacco for oral use, or snus, which is highly popular with Swedes, declaring that “health warnings” similar to those imposed on cigarette packets must be visible on the boxes, and also keeps in place the prohibition against adding flavours. Although Sweden benefits from a exemption from the ban on producing and selling snus, it still cannot export the product – the flagship of its tobacco industry. Aftonbladet accuses the Swedish government of failing to protect the exemption on snus, “occupied as it has been in trying to get permission to export,” under pressure from the tobacco lobby. Fredrik Reinfeldt will now go down in history as the prime minister who has taken their snus away from the Swedes. If Swedish politicians want more success in the future, they must change their strategy. The priority must be the protection of the Swedish exemption. The desire of the tobacco industry to open up new markets must drop into second place. In Expressen the philosopher Lars Gustafsson attacks the “authoritarian language of the European Commission”, which wants to dictate “what flavour snus will have and to where it will be exported.” It is even, he says, "a crucial issue for democracy…. But that is not the issue." He writes – It is no longer a philosophical question about whether an organisation incapable of coming up with a coherent policy to stop global warming should intervene in how consumers in member states should take their snus. No. What matters is to tell Barroso [President of the European Commission] that he is nothing more than a lackey. And that he cannot ignore our trade minister, who, unlike him, does have democratic legitimacy. Where does Barroso draw his legitimacy from? “Pierre Schellekens is the head of the European Commission office in Stockholm. And he takes snus”, the daily writes in its editorial M. Schellekens will soon be sending a report to Brussels on the growing scepticism in Sweden towards the EU and the negative image of the EU bureaucrats who want to regulate our snus in detail and prohibit its flavouring. In many ways, European cooperation is a fantastic invention. But it is precisely this type of stupid proposal that erodes popular commitment to the Union – this outstanding incapacity to distinguish between big and small matters. [...]

Tobacco: Brussels unveils new restrictions

Wed, 19 Dec 2012 14:08:45 +0100

"Europe goes all out to dissuade smokers," runs a front page headline in Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, anticipating the December 19 unveiling of a European Commission directive on "the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco".

The directive, to which several media outlets had access, will increase the space occupied by health warnings from 40 percent to 75 percent, on both sides of packets of cigarettes and rolling tobacco.

French financial daily Les Echos, however, compares "this barrage of anti-tobacco measures" taken by the Commission to those enacted Down Under on December 1st —

We are not yet Australia, where all the packets are now identical and devoid of logos. But the [EU] directive gives states the possibility to toughen the measure. Four countries, including France, the United Kingdom and Belgium, are said to show interest in the Australian example.

The directive should also ban certain flavours (such as menthol) or so-called "slim" cigarettes thought to encourage consumption. This has raised the ire of the very powerful tobacco industry lobby which sought to make itself heard as the directive was being drafted — a state of affairs that came to public attention in October 2012 when the EU Health Commissioner John Dalli was forced to resign amid allegations of influence peddling.

For Italian daily La Stampa, however, the outraged reaction of big tobacco, tobacco growers and tobacconists is not totally unjustified —

Beyond the objective hazards of the vice, which all recognise, the arguments are not without basis. If the door is closed too much, it fuels smuggling, a phenomenon aggravated by counterfeit goods trafficking, which puts packets full of dangerous rubbish on the market.

The war of the lobbies is "far from over," concludes Les Echos, because —

The directive must now be approved by the European Parliament and by the Member States. Stockholm is expected to fight to save its snus [a type of snuff]. Germany has already made it clear that it is not fully in favour of covering 75 per cent of cigarette packaging with health warnings.

Czech Republic-Germany: Two-way traffic on Czech-German border

Thu, 06 Dec 2012 15:38:49 +0100

Petrol flows in one direction and drugs in the other. The German-Czech border is the centre of so much trafficking that the police and customs officials of both countries are keeping it under increasing surveillance.

"Untaxed petrol runs from Germany to the Czech Republic," notes Czech financial daily*Hospodářské N**oviny*. Each day, the paper says, 40 to 50 tankers full of fuel leave Bavaria's Ingolstadt refinery. Half of these, the paper explains, are owned by a Russian firm and go to supply Czech service stations at unbeatable prices: €1.32 per litre compared with €1.42 per litre. The paper adds –

The police and customs officials are investigating tax evasion worth several tens of millions of euros. This amounts to 50 to 60 million litres per month, or one fifth of total Czech consumption. Czech distributers pay for the fuel correctly and pay the excise tax. But then the petrol transits for several days through a number of intermediaries, each of which is borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. One of the intermediaries is declared to the authorities as responsible for the tax payment but then declares bankruptcy [thus escaping from making the tax payment].

On another front, dailyMladá Fronta Dnes, says that "Germans stop Czech meth". The paper says that German police have toughened border controls and is keeping a close watch on the border area in order to fight against the trade in methamphetamines, an alternative to crack cocaine. The German police have noted a rise in methamphetamine sales in markets, known for their fashion knock-offs, run by the area's large Vietnamese community. The German police, the paper notes, –

Sometimes even intimidate honest drivers or stop all the cars leaving the markets. Berlin claims that German drug addicts are badly affected by Czech meth, and says the country's laws are too lax. Experts reject these arguments, saying that while possession of a small quantity is considered a minor offence, the production and distribution are indictable offences, as they are everywhere.

European Commission: Big Tobacco at home in Brussels

Fri, 30 Nov 2012 16:37:24 +0100

Der Spiegel, Hamburg – The resignation of Health Commissioner John Dalli last month lifted the lid on the influence of the tobacco industry in the European Commission. That influence has even penetrated OLAF, Europe's anti-fraud office, writes Der Spiegel. See more.

European Commission: “Dalligate” begins to look like a crime novel

Fri, 26 Oct 2012 14:44:00 +0100

La Tribune, Paris – A week after the resignation of Commissioner John Dalli, who was about to table a directive that comes down hard on tobacco products, suspicions of a plot against him have continued to grow. A strange case of burglary at the Brussels offices of anti-tobacco activists adds yet more drama to the allegations of influence peddling. See more.

European Commission: “Dalligate” spreads like wildfire in Brussels

Thu, 25 Oct 2012 14:18:50 +0100

The resignation of EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection John Dalli, after a European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) investigation into trafficking of influence allegations made against him, has taken a legal and political turn that is increasingly embarrassing for Brussels. The “Dalligate” affair, as it has been dubbed by the press, has been marked by a number of new developments which the front page of the Times of Malta summarises as follows: “Barroso warning to Dalli, as Attorney General passes EU report to police. OLAF supervisory board member resigns over breach of procedure”. In a letter sent on 24 October, the European Commission President “responded to the public allegations made by Mr Dalli [with regard to his 16 October resignation] and warned him to “behave with integrity” in line with the terms of EU treaty provisions on former Commissioners,” writes the daily, which further reports that “the Commission may be considering the formal sacking of Malta’s former Commissioner, depriving him from lucrative transition allowances and a pension.” José Manuel Barroso’s letter particularly referred to Dalli’s denial of the accusations made against him, and that he intended to petition European or Maltese courts to invalidate his decision to resign, which was made under pressure from the Commission President. The newspaper adds that in another development on 24 October, the Maltese Attorney General issued a recommendation to the Maltese police to enable it to conduct its own investigation. On the same day, the chairman of the OLAF supervisory board, Christiaan Timmermans tendered his resignation. As Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has previously reported, Timmermans made his decision to protest against the fact that the supervisory board had not been informed about the transfer from OLAF of information concerning Dalli to the Maltese judiciary. “Sending John Dalli to the European Commission was a piece of very-high-risk strategy with a 99.9% certainty of blowing up in Malta’s face”, remarks columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia in The Malta Independent. Arguing that the former commissioner “should never have been dispatched to such an important post”, she continues — … sending him to sit in the European Commission was an act of grave disrespect to that Commission and to the position itself. […] He has turned himself into a national embarrassment. He has continued to compound his dishonour and to illustrate further just why he was unfit for office by turning himself into a circus act. […] Is there nobody who can stop Dalli’s progress down the rabbit-hole? Clearly not. The most worrying aspect of this business is that he seems not concerned so much at the loss of his position, but [...]

GMO: Study finds GMO corn is not harmless

Thu, 20 Sep 2012 15:01:58 +0100

“Yes, GMO crops are poisons!” announces the front cover of Nouvel Observateur, which publishes an exclusive report on a French study on GMO corn. It concerns in particular Monsanto NK 603, and its impact on the health of 200 rats over a period of two years. According to Nouvel Observateur the findings of the study, entitled Tous cobayes ! [All Guinea Pigs] and the eponymous film, by Caen University molecular biology professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, are like “a fragmentation bomb” — They pulverise the official verity which claims that genetically modified corn is innocuous. Even at low doses, the GMO studied was highly toxic and even fatal for rats, to the point where if it was a medicine, it would be immediately suspended pending further investigation. It is this same GMO that ends up on our plates, when it is used to produce meat, eggs and milk. The results brook no contradiction — In the 13th month of the experiment […] the incidence of tumours in rats of both sexes fed on GMO corn was two to three times higher than it was in rats on a GMO-free diet. At the start of the 24th month, that is to say at the end of their lives, 50% to 80% of females fed on GMO corn were affected as opposed to 30% in the GMO-free group. reports that fallout from the publication of the results “has reached Brussels” — … where decisions on GMOs are taken on the level of the EU’s 27 member states. The French government has demanded that the study be verified by the French National Food Security Agency, while the European Commission has instructed the European Food Security Agency (EFSA) to do likewise. EurActiv points out that the effectiveness of this second measure is unlikely to impress Greenpeace, which has argued that EFSA is distinguished by the longstanding and “scandalously close links between its members and the industry and a lack of independence.” However, the Caen University study has also been the subject of sceptical reactions from a number of scientists: several biologists questioned by Reutershave voiced doubts about the protocols and methods used in implementing tests.[...]