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Friday, January 25, 2008

The new social toys of Europe

Commission hails EU reform progress, calls for more

Despite much-improved results over the past two years, EU governments will have to focus more on "investing in people" and "unlocking SMEs' business potential" in the next three years if they are to cope with the competitive challenge of globalisation, the Commission has said.

After five years of dismal results, EU leaders, in March 2005, re-launched the bloc's Lisbon Strategy aimed at making it "the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010".

Two essential elements of the "Lisbon renewal" included a greater emphasis on growth and jobs, and transferring more ownership of the strategy to the member states via national action plans.

EU policies to boost jobs and growth in the 27 member states – the so-called Lisbon Strategy – are finally paying off, according to a report, published by the Commission on 11 December 2007, which will be delivered to Heads of State and Government when they meet for their annual Spring economic summit in March 2008.

Economic growth jumped from 1.8% in 2005 to 3% in 2006 and employment rates reached 66% - close to the Lisbon target of 70%.

It suggests that governments should continue on the same path they have been following so far but with a special focus on a few "high-impact actions", including:

  • Connecting at least 30% of the EU population and all schools to high-speed internet by 2010;
  • improving basic learning skills, such as reading; setting targets to reduce early-school leaving; and; adapting school curricula in accordance with constant monitoring of companies' skills requirements;
  • increasing availability and affordability of quality childcare;
  • adopting the Commission's "blue card" proposal for a skills-based immigration policy (EurActiv 24/10/07);
  • fostering SME growth by pushing through a comprehensive "Small Business Act", aimed at cutting red tape, increasing SMEs' access to European programmes and public procurement, and reducing barriers to cross-border activity through the creation of a European small company statute (EurActiv 15/05/07).
  • encouraging innovation by agreeing on an integrated patent jurisdiction and a single affordable patent;
  • facilitating the exchange of researchers with the introduction of a "researcher passport"; and;
  • completing the internal market for energy, including setting mandatory energy reduction targets for government buildings and systematically including energy efficiency as the one of the award criteria for public procurement.


Electronic customs deal to boost EU traders' competitiveness

The European Parliament has paved the way for the introduction of less costly, "paper-free" customs procedures between EU countries, after approving a Commission proposal to ensure that member states' electronic customs systems are compatible with each other.

The vote, which took place on 11 December and confirmed a common positionPdf external reached by member states over the summer, means that by 2011, companies will be able to electronically lodge all the information required by customs authorities for cross-border movements of goods within the EU.

While all member states already have electronic customs systems, the novelty will be in the inter-connection of all of these systems and the creation of a common electronic portal containing all the information relating to customs transactions in each member state.

The MEP in charge of steering the legislation through Parliament, Chris Heaton-Harris (UK, EPP-ED) explained: "Today, despite heavy investment in automated customs, member states use different systems, sets of rules and databases. Their huge disadvantage is the lack of interoperability. This new proposal requires member states to make a substantial allocation of resources to overcome this problem and provide a truly streamlined customs system."

The next move, expected within five years, will be the creation of a single contact point for all economic operators, irrespective of their country of origin or the destination of their goods. This will allow traders to deal with just one regulatory body instead of several border control authorities, as they do at present.source

My comment: Finally something useful! It was about time to see that international system becoming more achievable.

ICT networks prerequisite for healthcare at home

Technologies to deliver healthcare at home can ease the burden of chronic disease in an ageing Europe, but an integrated network enabling interconnection of different medical devices and linking patients to doctors and hospitals needs to be put in place first, argue public sector representatives.

Homecare' refers to a wide range of health and social services delivered at home.

The ageing population is rapidly leading to an increase in the number of Europeans dependent on care and a modification of disease patterns, making chronic-degenerative diseases more prevalent. This, combined with shrinking healthcare and nursing workforces, has led experts and policymakers to consider homecare as a long-term solution.

Technology, particularly active devices such as dialysis systems, wrist-worn monitoring devices and biomedical clothes, can add to the quality of homecare. However, several barriers to the take-up of such technology exist. These include financial, organisational and legal issues as well as privacy concerns, data protection and interoperability.

The European Homecare ConferencePdf external , which took place on 4 December 2007, gathered policymakers, industry representatives and patient groups to discuss the organisation and financing of homecare, the need for integrated homecare services, the impact of healthy technology and the health policy challenges for decision-makers.

In the session on the impact of health technology on homecare, the medical device industry urged for existing technologies to be taken up more quickly, whereas the Commission and a regional representative emphasised the need to put in place health information and communication networks first.

"Even though the technology is there, its uptake in the homecare sector is too slow because of the financial hurdles and the rigid organisation of healthcare," said Rosanna Tarricone, director of Eucomed economic affairs.


EU's new defence procurement initiative broadly welcomed

The Commission has presented its new defence package, saying it would bring the EU closer to its long-term goal of setting up a 'genuine European defence market' for military equipment, in a move applauded by politicians and the defence industry.

The package, presented on 5 December, contains the following three elements:

  • A Communication with recommendations for fostering the competitiveness of the sector;
  • a Directive on defence procurement to enhance openness and intra-European competition in the national defence market; and;
  • a Directive on intra-EU transfers of defence products.

The proposed new legislation should contribute to "creating a genuine European market in this sector without sacrificing member states' control over their essential defence and security interests", the Commission said.

Current EU procurement rules were "ill-suited to most defence and security equipment", according to the Commission.

The Commission expressed its hope that the proposal would "pave the way for increasing industrial cooperation and optimising supply chains" and make a "crucial contribution to a more competitive European industrial and technological defence industrial base".

The Commission's initiative complements the Code of Conduct on Defence Procurement launched in July 2006, which covers contracts placed outside of EU internal market

'Communication dimension' needed for European research

The Commission wants to strengthen the culture of science communication in Europe in order to avoid misperceptions that could lead to public opposition to scientific advances and thus lost innovation opportunities.

In the framework of the creation of the European Research Area (ERA), the Commission aims to promote effective public communication of scientific research activities and results. The EU executive thinks that "the media can play a crucial role as an interface in the science domain, helping to increase public support and understanding regarding the need to create a knowledge-based society".

Furthermore, science communication "could contribute to encouraging investments in research and justifying public funding" as well as attracting more European young people to careers in science to contribute to the EU's future competitiveness.

A reportPdf external on research and societal engagement by the Commission's own research advisory board (EURABexternal ), published in June 2007, stated that researchers should remain aware of "how the actions of the past have generated negative public perceptions of research today (regarding issues arising from nuclear energy, GMOs and pesticides) and that better dialogue with the public either directly or via the societal actors could have prevented much of the friction and lost potential innovative developments in these research fields."

Steve Miller also said that specialised science magazines such as Nature should consider having a short section "vulgarising" their full scientific articles, so that research results would get more media coverage in the general press.


My comment: Well, as a scientist I think it's important to popularize the researches and the new discoveries which I do with my other blog To The Future With Love

But if we want to get real, you can't require this from anyone. Science is busy and hard enough if you have to deal with scientist, what will happen if you have to comply the public opinion? I mean, yes, people have to know what's going on in their world. But the fun and the drama are necessary evil, while making the science a popular vote will simply kill it. We need independence, because not always our guts can be justified for the public. And that doesn't mean that because of the same gut, it's not possible 50 years later to be made the greatest discovery ever. It's a game of chance.

You can read my official opinion here.

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