Irish businesses denied chance of EU expansion

Irish businesses denied chance of EU expansion

Munster MEP Sean Kelly has lambasted the government for failing to implement a key European law that would make it easier for Irish companies to do business in other member states. The EU Services Directive aims to help companies break into the European market by reducing bureaucracy and setting up ‘one-stop shops’ of information for any businesses wanting to expand abroad.

Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week, Mr. Kelly said Ireland’s delay in transposing the directive into law is impeding growth, at a time when Irish businesses are in dire need of any help they can get.

“We had the same situation with the flooding last year - the flood directive was not fully implemented either and that meant Ireland missing out on funding opportunities,” said MEP Kelly.

“We need to get our act together, at public service and at Dáil level, and start drafting the laws to implement this, so that Irish small and medium-sized businesses can grow in the EU without having to go through all the hoops,” he added.

New law will give bus passengers more rights

Private and public bus operators across the EU will soon have to offer passengers compensation if a journey is delayed or if luggage gets lost or damaged, under a new rule approved by the European Parliament this week. MEPs in Strasbourg voted in favour of legislation, due to take effect in 2013, ensuring similar rights for bus passengers as already exist for people who travel by air, rail and sea.

Many of the new rules will not help Irish passengers as they only apply to long-distance journeys of over 250 kilometres, however people with reduced mobility will benefit as their rights will be protected on bus trips regardless of distance. The law will give disabled people the right of assistance at bus terminals and stops, including free transport of wheelchairs and other equipment, provided they make a request 36 hours before departure.

Although the law is being hailed as good news for the bus-travelling public, concern has been raised that it could add to pressure on private bus and coach operators. Speaking from Strasbourg, Fianna Fáil MEP Liam Aylward said while he welcomed any legislation to boost rights for passengers, especially those with a disability, there was a danger of over-regulating the industry.

“Many rural bus and coach routes in Ireland depend on private operators who are working on a tight margin in difficult circumstances. It would be a detriment to these services if we were to put operators off working some uncompetitive routes by imposing too many rules and regulations,” said the MEP.

Huge opportunities for Irish products in South Korea

Irish whiskey, pork and dairy products have been singled out as key growth areas for Ireland’s export trade to South Korea, which is expected to surge under the EU’s first Free Trade Agreement with an Asian economy.

After two and a half years of negotiations, MEPs gave the go ahead this week to ratify one of the EU’s most ambitious free trade deals ever negotiated. The agreement, which comes into effect in July, will eliminate 98 per cent of import duties and allow European countries to double their trade with South Korea over the next 20 years.

Ahead of a debate on the agreement in Strasbourg, Munster MEP Sean Kelly urged Irish exporters to be aware of the emerging opportunity in South Korea and seize it. He added that he had been assured by leading economist Fredrik Erixon, from the European Centre for International Politics and Economy, that the agreement holds huge promise for Irish producers, particularly in the pork, dairy and whiskey sectors.

“The elimination of tariffs on these products will be worth €360 million to the European economy, and I want to see Ireland be the first to fill this gap in the market and continue our solid tradition of exporting the finest agri-food products in the world,” said Mr Kelly.

MEPs dismiss idea of common retirement age

A proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to introduce an EU-wide retirement age of 67 years has been rejected by the European Parliament. In a report supported by a majority of MEPs in Strasbourg this week, it was claimed that it would not be feasible to standardise retirement age due to the different demographics of each member state.

However the report, which focused on the problem of storing up pension funds for Europe’s ageing population, did not rule out the possibility of linking retirement age to life expectancy rates within each country.

Speaking from Strasbourg, Irish MEP Marian Harkin said it was clear that there was a “massive gap” between the money currently being set aside across the EU for pension provision and the amount that will be required in fifty years’ time.

“However we recognise that adequate and sustainable pension provision is primarily a matter for each member state, and there is no question of harmonisation of either pension plans or the age of retirement. Systems operating in each country differ widely from each other,” said the Independent MEP.

Recent estimates by Aviva have shown that those retiring in Ireland between 2011 and 2051 need to collectively save an annual average of €9,100 per person to meet their expected income in retirement.