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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Currency, Beef Ban Top EU Agenda

BRUSSELS -- Questions over mad cow disease, the single European currency, and trade with the United States faced the European Union on Monday when institutions reopened and officials returned from their August break.

Also on the agenda as the 15-nation bloc ended its traditional month-long holiday were negotiations on a new EU treaty and a row with Germany over government aid to Volkswagen.

A crisis caused by the ban on British beef exports over bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, dominated EU business in June and July.

Officials on both sides of the English Channel had hoped a plan agreed by the EU for dealing with the disease -- including a massive cull -- would ease the political strain.

But a recent scientific report that the disease is likely to disappear early in the next decade has triggered demands in Britain for the cull to be limited. The rest of the EU is unlikely to agree, leading to renewed tensions.

On the economic front, EU countries seeking to adopt a single currency in January 1999 will be struggling to get their budgets in order and EU officials will be under pressure to solve some tricky technical issues facing the project.

A budget stability pact, a new Exchange Rate Mechanism and the legal underpinnings of a common currency will all be addressed by the European Commission, the EU's executive, during the early part of this month.

Together with the views of the European Monetary Institute, forerunner to Europe's central bank, the conclusions will form the basis for discussion among EU finance ministers meeting in Dublin on Sept. 21.

Germany and France reiterated over the weekend their intention to stick with the strict criteria for joining the currency despite worries that they will not themselves qualify.

In international matters, the EU, along with most of the rest of the world, has been infuriated by new U.S. laws that impose restrictions on foreign companies conducting certain kinds of business with Cuba, Iran and Libya.

Stuart Eizenstat, a special U.S. envoy given the task of selling Washington's anti-Cuba law to the rest of the world, was to talk to Brussels officials Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a row with Germany over subsidies paid to Volkswagen by the state of Saxony was set to be discussed by commissioners at the executive's Wednesday meeting, the first for a month.

At issue is a 91 million Deutsche mark ($61 million) chunk of aid paid in a package towards two plants in the formerly communist east German state.

The commission considers the aid illegal, while Germany considers the former East Germany still in need of special treatment under EU law.

A compromise was in the works.

He faces a tough task. In July, EU foreign ministers, while hoping to avoid a trade war with the United States, gave the commission a mandate to draft counter measures against the laws.

Some of these should be formalized at the commission's weekly gathering Wednesday, then handed to foreign ministers for discussion at an informal meeting in Tralee, Ireland, on Saturday and Sunday.

The ministers will also focus their attention on the bloc's plans for a new treaty, currently being negotiated as a precursor to bringing in a dozen or more countries from eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Talks on the new treaty -- conducted in a so-called inter-governmental conference, or IGC -- are to speed up over the next few months following an instruction from EU leaders for a draft treaty to be ready for their December summit in Dublin.