This week in the EU

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The week begins with a gathering of the European Union farm ministers who are expected to discuss the issue of state aid to the poultry sector as bird flu spreads among wild birds across Europe. Under current rules, Brussels can co-finance 50 per cent of the cost of any required culling of birds or destruction of eggs.

But EU direct support for the poultry sector is relatively limited because poultry does not benefit from the same special clause that was introduced for beef to allow additional aid measures, in the wake of the “mad cow’’ crisis that swept the UK a decade ago.

Italy said last Friday it was prepared to defy EU limits on farming state aid to come to the rescue of its beleaguered poultry farmers, which could prompt other European farmers to demand higher subsidies to offset the impact of bird flu.

Gianni Alemanno, the Italian agriculture minister, said he would ask Brussels to allow Rome to double to €40m subsidies for farmers left with unsold poultry. He said: “If we don’t get the (Brussels) authorisation, we will ask the government to go ahead even if it means risking EU sanctions.” Brussels said it needed further information to assess whether such a move would conform with EU rules.

Also on Monday, Viviane Reding, the EU’s media commissioner, will publish a scoreboard showing the best and worst countries when it comes to liberalising their telecoms markets.

Germany is expected to be criticised again for the lack of competition in its market, reflected by the low take-up of broadband services.

The European Commission will also promote worker mobility, although the presence in Brussels of Martin Bartenstein, the Austrian economy minister, is a reminder of the EU’s ambivalence on the subject.

Mr Bartenstein, representing the Austrian EU presidency, is a member of a government which intends to extend its “temporary” restrictions on the free movement of workers from eastern Europe.

On Wednesday José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, will announce plans to set up a European Institute of Technology - a pet project based on the Massachussetts Institute of Technology.

The idea aims to build links between high level research and industry, but has been greeted with scepticism by Europe’s elite universities, which fear it could divert funding from their own work to less prestigious institutions.

Also on Wednesday, Joaquin Almunia, EU monetary affairs commissioner, will also report on the budgetary situation in some of the EU’s fiscal “sinners”. He will urge Britain, France and Italy to step up their efforts to comply with the EU’s stability and growth pact, which imposes a deficit limit of 3 per cent of GDP.

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