Eurofile: Ireland is Union's good boy

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The Independent Online
BEAMING and smiling, Ireland's Finance Minister, Bertie Ahern, emerged from a meeting of European Union finance ministers with the EU's stamp of approval yesterday. Only Ireland and tiny Luxembourg are deemed to have met the EU's rules on bringing their budget deficits under control. Though Ireland's national debt is, at 90 per cent of GDP, over the target of 60 per cent set by the Maastricht treaty, the EU has decided that it is well on course. Ireland's unemployment is too high for Mr Ahern's liking, but he predicts that growth will accelerate over the next few years, creating plenty of new jobs. Kenneth Clarke was rather sniffy about Ireland's success, commenting that Dublin receives large sums of cash from the EU's coffers every month.

TWO unexpected countries are participating in the US military clean-up of Haiti: Poland and Belgium. Brussels has announced that it is to send a contingent of military police; Poland is dispatching a detachment of peace-keeping troops, and is offering medical aid and training for Haitian police officers. Belgium's assistance may not be unconnected with the fact that Willy Claes, the Belgian Foreign Minister, is currently the favourite to become the next secretary-general of Nato, but has yet to receive the backing of the United States. Poland, of course, is seeking early entry into Nato and is doing everything it can to keep itself in the spotlight in the US.

FROM poison arrow frogs to pythons, chameleons and parrots, the European Union is the world's second largest trader in endangered species and other threatened wildlife. 'We complain all the time about poorer countries failing to protect their wildlife,' said Lucy Farmer of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). 'Surely the EU with all its resources can make it a priority to control and monitor this trade.'

The absence of inspections between member states means that once illegal shipments of wildlife enter the EU there is little chance that they will be monitored or seized. The EU is the largest importer of live parrots and cockatoos, accounting for 39 per cent of the world market, or some 1 million birds between 1988 and 1991. It is the largest importer of alligator, and crocodile skins and the the second-largest importer of live cats and cat skins, accounting for 36 per cent of the world market.

When the members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) meets in Florida next month, the EU is expected to be heavily criticised for failing adequately to monitor and control the wildlife trade. Environmental groups like the WWF want a special wildlife enforcement agency to be established and severe restrictions on the number of ports through which wildlife can be imported.

GERMANY'S Greens have ditched much of their ideological baggage hoping to carve out a role for themselves in next month's general election. The prospects of a 'red-green' alliance with the Social Democrats (SPD) aimed at replacing Chancellor Helmut Kohl's conservative government have also increased. Since failing to get into parliament four years ago, the Greens have stressed the practical benefits of their policies for combating pollution and poverty. The Green revival began in 1991 when the pragmatic wing, the 'Realos', clashed with the radical 'Fundis' and the fundamentalists stormed out. The Greens last year merged with Alliance 90, a moderate eastern German civil rights group born of the peaceful pro-democracy movement that brought down East Berlin's Communist rulers in 1989 and the party is now called Alliance 90/Greens.

The changes produced strong gains in regional elections in the past year and the Greens received 10 per cent in the European Parliament elections in June. Defeats in two eastern German state elections this month revived concerns, but they took consolation because their main support was in western Germany. 'We want to return as the third biggest party in parliament because that is the only way you can make yourself heard,' campaign manager Heidi Ruehle said. An 11-point programme to be adopted at a party congress this month demands reforms ranging from raising energy taxes to reversing welfare cuts.