Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

EU and Climate, 03.08

In this edition-the victorious march of European heavy-polluting industries and more:
My comments are below the articles as usual.

Social partners demand protection from 'carbon leakage'

14 March 2008

Climate change topped the agenda of the Tripartite Social Summit yesterday (13 March), with social partners insisting that incentives must be offered to prevent potentially polluting industries from relocating and withdrawing jobs from the EU.

The Tripartite Social Summit, which meets once or twice a year, brings together European social partners (trade unions and employers' federations) with the Commission and the Council Troika (the present and the two upcoming EU Presidencies).

Prior to its meeting on 13 March 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had pointed out the risk of heavy industries moving outside Europe to avoid strict environmental standards and emissions trading within the EU (see EurActiv 13/03/08).

Addressing the Tripartite Summit, which he chaired, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said employers' organisations and trade unions must "make an active contribution to the new low-carbon economy". "Our industries must not leave Europe to go pollute elsewhere, taking jobs with them," Barroso added.

The Commission president agreed "legislative measures to protect industry" were needed, adding: "We have time, until 2009 or 2012, to put together a precise system, but we can already establish an obligation to define this objective."

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said the revised emissions trading scheme should include a border adjustment mechanism to ensure European industry remains competitive (see EurActiv 23/01/08).

The social partners also agreed to start negotiating a framework on how to maximise the potential of Europe's workforce, including providing easier access and better career opportunities for disadvantaged groups and promoting the reconciliation of work, private and family lifeexternal .

The social partners' framework, which is a follow-up to their joint analysis of EU labour markets (see EurActiv 19/10/07), may include measures such as active labour market policies and lifelong learning. Depending on the outcome of negotiations, it could be considered an endorsement of the Commission's flexicurtity agenda (see EurActiv LinksDossier). source

My comment:Honestly, I think industries are black mailing EU. As you can read also in the article below, there's simply something wrong. From one side, we want to be firm about climate, on the other, we don't want companies to leave Europe. Ok, I'm asking , how this is going to happen. Because it looks impossible to me. If we give them free CO2 allowances, they will continue polluting without doing anything to improve efficiency and the CO2 emission. We keep the jobs, we loose all we were fighting for. For me, we should clearly decide what is more important for us-climate or industries. Because let's face it, we can't have both in the current situation. The only thing, I figure it could be done on the issue is to subsidize those companies to improve their emissions/directly, we show them the money and they show us the improvements/. Otherwise, we're just wasting our time.

Merkel urges EU leaders to act on 'carbon leakage'

13 March 2008

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will press EU leaders meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow to back urgent measures to prevent heavy industries such as cement and steel from fleeing the continent, as the bloc debates tighter limits on CO2 emissions after 2012.

EU heads of state and government are meeting in Brussels on 13-14 March for their traditional Spring Summit, which is going to focus on climate change and economic issues (EurActiv 10/03/08).

In January, the Commission proposed to tighten the EU emissions trading scheme (EU-ETS) for the period after 2012, a move which it said could lead to a rise in electricity prices of up to 10-15% (EurActiv 23/01/08).

But it added that, unless a global climate change agreement is reached, a "compensation mechanism" would be put in place to prevent 'carbon leakage' whereby EU industries covered by the EU–ETS move to other parts of the world, like China or India, where CO2 emissions are not regulated.

Two options are being considered in that event:

  • Granting free emission allowances to industries which are particularly exposed to international competition, or;
  • imposing a "carbon tax" on imports from countries with no CO2 emission constraints.

However, the Commission has delayed making a decision over which industries could benefit from the measures.

In Germany's view, the matter must be addressed "urgently", before a potential international agreement is struck to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

"Until an international agreement is concluded, auctioning of greenhouse gas allowances should not apply to sectors with a significant risk of carbon leakage," according to the text pushed for by German diplomats.

Energy-intensive industries such as glass, cement and steel have stepped up warnings about the potential for 'carbon leakage', meaning the relocation of energy intensive factories and jobs beyond the EU's borders (EurActiv 27/11/07).

But until now, the Commission has only given them partial assurances, saying they may be given free emission allowances in the post-2012 phase of the EU emissions trading scheme.

However, at the same time, it has also resisted calls for immediate measures, saying the priority should be to conclude an international climate change agreement that would potentially resolve the 'carbon leakage' issue.

My comment: "Until an international agreement is concluded, auctioning of greenhouse gas allowances should not apply to sectors with a significant risk of carbon leakage," To me-that sounds like never. There will always be a country, no matter how small which won't sign the agreement and all the companies will head for it. That's not the way. At that moment, we simply can't expect to have an agreement that's been signed by ALL and been enforced by all.

EU global green energy fund endorsed by Parliament

14 March 2008

More than €100 million are set to flow into a new Global Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Fund (GEEREF), which the Commission hopes will generate up to €1 billion in risk capital for 'green' energy projects in developing states. Parliament approved the fund during a 13 March plenary session in Strasbourg.

Conceived as a public-private partnership, the fund's objective is to mobilise the large-scale public and private financing needed for pilot projects in renewable energy and clean technology projects, particularly in developing states.

The Commission, which proposed the fund in October 2006, hopes it will act as an incentive for private capital financing by offering "suitable risk sharing and co-funding options for various commercial and non-commercial investors with a global investment mandate".

The Commission estimates that initial capital costs are three to seven times higher for investment in renewables that they are for conventional energies such as coal and gas.

The EU will contribute €80 million to the fund by 2010, with a €15 million 'kick-start' contribution scheduled for 2008. Lending institutions like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) will also contribute to the fund, with €100 million in total initial funding from commercial and public sources expected.

Emphasis is to be placed on the promotion of renewable and energy efficiency projects in areas so far neglected by mainstream investments, signalling a link with EU-funded efforts in local development projects. source

My comment: That is GREAT! But, and that but is very essential, there must be a clear and obvious way of tracing where those money go, are they accessible to every state and are they invested in the right projects. Because as we saw recently, corruption in EU is too high, money are WASTED and lost. And this project is too good to be wasted.

EU agrees tight schedule for climate and energy deal

17 March 2008

Europe’s leaders have pledged to find agreement on controversial CO2 reduction and renewable energy laws before the end of the year, in a bid to maintain a strong position in international climate change negotiations. Energy intensive industries were given assurances that the measures would safeguard their competitiveness.

At a landmark summit in March 2007, European heads of state agreed to move forward with ambitious objectives to slash greenhouse-gas emissions and boost renewable energies by 20% by 2020 in a bid to reduce the EU's dependency on imported fuels and set the pace for "a new global industrial revolution".

On 23 January, the commitments were followed up by a package of Commission legislative proposals, notably on CO2 effort sharing and emissions trading as well as renewables, signalling the start of negotiations to agree the measures necessary to reach the '20-20-20' targets.

With a major international meeting on climate change scheduled for Copenhagen in December 2009, the EU is under pressure to agree internally on how to deal with the threat of climate change before pushing other states to agree a post-2012 global climate deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

But member states still need to iron out a number of differences before they can present a united front in Copenhagen.

And Europe's energy-intensive industries have put pressure on key member states, notably Germany, to get insurances from Brussels that their global competitiveness will not be undermined by the EU's tightening 'carbon belt'.

The argument put forward is that sectors like steel, cement and aliminium will be forced to take their operations outside of Europe if other states do not adhere to binding greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction measures. This would result in major job losses and so-called 'carbon leakage', meaning an increase in GHG emissions outside of the EU's borders.

The conclusions do address the apparent urgency of the matter. But the text also notes that "an international agreement remains the best way of addressing this issue", a reflection of the Commission's position.

But Brussels remains optimistic a global deal can be reached, and will not elaborate until 2010 any details about what kind of protective measures would be applied in case international negotiations fail.

The summit received poor marks from environmentalists. The Greens in the Parliament said the "Spring Council has proved that economic interests still rank higher than environmental protection".

"The half-successful attempts to grant exemptions to energy intensive industries before it is known if there will be an ambitious international post-Kyoto agreement, is a fatal signal. With this attitude EU leaders demonstrated their scepticism for the chances of a successful outcome of the next round of international UN climate talks", according the Greens' Vice-Presidents Rebecca Harms and Claude Turmes.source

My comment: I fully agree with Greens positions! This summit is just a joke. The only good thing that got out of it is that member states can decrease CO2 in their own way, which mean nuclear plants are safe for the moment. But it's absurd that EU can't make even a slight move without the enthusiastic agreement of big industries. Who rules who I'm asking!

EU to consider VAT cuts on green goods

17 March 2008

Heads of state and government from the EU’s 27 member states agreed to consider a Franco-British proposal to cut value-added tax (VAT) on certain environmentally-friendly goods, such as energy efficient light bulbs and insulation materials.

Current EU rules on value-added tax (VAT), spelled out in the 2006 VAT Directive external Pdf external , specify that member states must subject supplies of goods and services to a rate of at least 15%.

However, they also allow countries to apply reduced rates (never less than 5%) in a broad range of areas deemed essential, like medicines, or labour-intensive services, including renovation of private dwellings, cleaning and hairdressing (EurActiv 27/07/06).

While reduced rates for energy consumption are also allowed to ensure poorer households have access to energy, social considerations rather than 'green' objectives have traditionally driven the selection of items on the list.

The EU executive is due to bring forward new legislative proposals on VAT rates in the summer of 2008 with a view to putting some order to this highly disparate and complex VAT structure and create some additional certainty for businesses and consumers.

The final conclusions from the Spring Summit meeting, released on 14 March, invite the Commission to "examine areas where economic instruments, including VAT rates, can have a role to play to increase the use of energy-efficient goods and energy-saving materials" - a feat appararently achieved thanks to Brown's intense lobbying of other EU leaders.

According to him, products that could benefit from a reduced VAT rate of 5%, rather than the current minimum of 15%, include cars with reduced CO2 emission, insulation materials, efficient light bulbs and energy-efficient domestic appliances.

The move came as leaders restated their commitment to cutting greenhouse emissions and combating global warming (EurActiv 17/03/08).

However, the real test will come once the Commission – generally in favour of a greater harmonisation of VAT rates and the use of taxes as a tool for "greening" the EU economy – presents its new VAT plans in the summer.

They will require the unanimous backing of all 27 EU member states. Yet, any change in VAT rates across the EU remains a very sensitive issue, with many countries fearing the move could make them lose out on vast revenues generated by their VAT. source

My comment:Mhm, let's see that happening. Because I'm not sure even if this is doable. But of course, this is the right thing to do, because it will stimulate people to produce green stuff. The problem is who and when will decide what is green and what not and whether this list will be static or dynamic.

EU signals possible retreat on biofuels

14 March 2008

An EU-wide target to boost the use of biofuels in European transport could be revised due to fears of intolerable hikes in food prices, mass deforestation and water shortages, it emerged from statements made after the Spring Summit.

In March 2007, EU leaders committed to raising the share of biofuels in transport from current levels of around 2% to 10% by 2020, following growing concerns over rising oil prices, energy security and climate change.

The goal was then translated into legal proposals, presented on 23 January 2008 by the Commission, as part of a broader Directive on renewable energiesexternal .

The draft directive introduces a range of "sustainability criteria" for biofuels to counter growing concerns about the risks related to their mass production, including deforestation, hikes in food prices and water shortages.

While no decision was taken at this year's summit, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said: "We're not excluding the possibility that we'll have to amend or revise our goals."

The target of raising the share of biofuels in transport from current levels of 2% to 10% by 2020 was agreed this time last year by EU leaders themselves. It was initially considered a good means of incentivising governments and industry to invest in biofuels, in order to reduce Europe's dependency on imported oil and contribute to the fight against climate change.

Yet a plethora of studies and impact assessments produced by various sources in the past year have raised the alarm, namely that increasing biofuel production to these levels based on current technologies – which mainly involve transforming food and feed crops into fuels – could have more negative consequences for the environment than positive ones.source

My comment: Well, I can't agree more. It's important to be able to face an error and fix it.

Green buildings: EU must get private sector involved, says report

21 March 2008

Financial barriers, including high initial cost barriers and an inadequacy of traditional financing instruments, are a key element preventing private actors from engaging further towards making the residential building sector more energy efficient, according to a study from the International Energy Agency (IEA) published on 20 March.

Existing buildings are responsible for over 40% of the world's total primary energy consumption and account for 24% of world CO2 emissions, according to IEA, which argues that "an impressive amount" of this energy could be saved by applying energy-efficient technologies and practices.

Despite the proven cost-effectiveness of energy-efficiency technologies, their potential remains untapped in the building sector "due to numerous market barriers", states the IEA, based on the results of case studies of the residential sector in France, Germany, the UK, Japan and the US.

The IEA considers energy efficiency as "by far" the most cost-effective way to tackle the three-fold challenge of increasing energy security, reducing costs and contributing to a cleaner environment. While the EU has committed to slashing its energy consumption by 20% by 2020 through improved energy efficiency, its energy-savings plans have so far received much less attention that its 'sister' goals of reducing CO2 and raising the share of renewable energies - also by 20% respectively, by the same date (EurActiv 30/01/08).

The Agency calls for the creation of a real market for energy efficiency, saying the current one is "weak and perceived as too risky". While it congratulates EU moves to create a unified market through standardisation and liberalisation, it warns that market transformation "will not take place without increased involvement from the private sector".

It therefore recommends the set-up of public-private partnerships to help overcome the cost barriers related to energy-efficient building projects and to increase certainty through risk-sharing instruments, thereby boosting large private sector involvement. source

My comment: I don't understand this, really. I mean, what better stimulus to improve the energy efficiency of your house than saving your own money. While this is quire expensive, I see many people doing it here. And we're not exactly rich. But they get credits and insulate. Maybe the problem is not that much administrative as informative as people don't realize they should do it not for some stupid EU initiative, but for themselves!

Green NGO demands nanotech legislation

13 March 2008

Consumers are unknowingly using hundreds of products containing potentially toxic nanomaterials, according to a new report by Friends of the Earth (FoE). The NGO is calling for a moratorium on the commercial release of any new food products until a specific legislative framework regulating nanomaterials as new substances is developed.

According to NanoforumPdf external , a European platform on nanotech, 'nanofood' stands for the use of nanotechnology techniques or tools during the cultivation, production, processing or packaging of the food. Even though some think that atomically modified molecular food could some day be created by using nanomachines, this is not the case today.

The aim of researchers is to use this technology to change food processing and enhance the safety and nutritional quality of food. Applications of nanotechnology in the food industry include smart packaging, on-demand preservatives and interactive foods, which would allow consumers to modify the nutritional value, taste and colour of food according to their needs.

Manufactured nanoparticles can already be found in food packaging and other food contact materials, such as storage containers, cutlery and chopping boards. Packaging materials based on nanotechnology can extend the shelf-life of food and drink and improve food safety, thanks to antimicrobial packaging. Future 'smart packaging materials' are expected to absorb oxygen and detect food pathogens and salmonella, as well as to alert consumers of spoiled food.

The environmental NGO argues that it has identified at least 104 food and agricultural products either containing untested and potentially hazardous manufactured nanomaterials, or manufactured using nanotechnology. These products are listed in a reportPdf external released on 11 March 2008. Friends of the Earth believes that the real number of products is much higher "given that many food manufacturers may be unwilling to advertise the nanomaterial content of their products".

The group is calling on European policymakers to adopt comprehensive and precautionary legislation to manage the risks raised by the use of nanotechnology and asks for a "moratorium on the further commercial release of food products, food packaging, food contact materials and agrochemicals that contain manufactured nanomaterials" until the new laws are in place.

The fear is that nanoparticles and materials used in, for example, food contact materials could eventually be transmitted to the actual food ingredients or inhaled and absorbed through the skin by consumers. The behaviour of these materials inside the body is not yet known, which makes the potential health effects impossible to predict. The Commission has asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to deliver a general opinion on the potential risks of the use of nanotechnologies in the food sector.

"Europeans should not be exposed to potentially toxic materials in their food and food packaging until proper regulations are in place to ensure their safety. Policymakers must stop claiming that existing regulatory frameworks are adequate to deal with the emerging science of nanotechnology and address the gaps in current food safety legislation as soon as possible," said Helen Holder from Friends of the Earth Europe. source

My comment:Mmm, obviously it's not about nanoparticles in the food, but I agree new regulations must be created. Safe or not, they must be regulated. And that cannot happen with current laws. As simple as this.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Science in Europe, February, 2008

In this edition:

Scientists issue safety warning on cosmetic nanomaterials

5 March 2008

An EU scientific committee has concluded that current risk-assessment methods for nanomaterials used in cosmetics, in particular sunscreen, are not thorough enough.

A "review of the safety of the insoluble nanomaterials presently used in sunscreens is required," concludes a scientific opinionPdf external on the safety of nanomaterials in cosmetic products. The opinion was issued by the Commission's Scientific Committee on Consumer Products (SCCPexternal ), which addresses questions linked to the safety and allergenic properties of cosmetic products and ingredients with respect to their impact on consumer health.

In its opinion, adopted in December 2007 and made public in late February 2008, the committee recommends a case-by-case risk assessment of all nanoparticles used in cosmetics. It argues that this should be done either through validating existing safety evaluation methods for nanomaterials or by developing new ones specifically for nanomaterials.

The opinion also calls for the "urgent development of new methodologies to assess [the] skin penetration" of biopersistant nanomaterials which can accumulate in organs and which scientists consider more hazardous to health than the biodegradable ones, in particular with repeated application of cosmetic products.

The SCCP was asked to address the safety evaluation of nanomaterials for use in cosmetic products and to determine whether the previous opinions on nanomaterials currently used in sunscreen products need to be revised, following the publication of the UK's Royal Society & Royal Academy of Engineering reportexternal on the opportunities and uncertainties of nanotechnologies.

The report suggested that nanomaterials should be treated as new chemicals from a risk point of view and that evaluation of skin absorption should be considered for both normal and diseased skin.

The use of nanoparticles in sunscreen is just one example of the use of nanotechnology to improve consumer products. The argument is that while zinc is one of the most effective UV blockers, the large size of its particles makes it look thick and unattractive when applied as a sunscreen. Pulverising zinc into nanoparticles makes the sunscreen texture more fluid, transparent and attractive to use.

Other personal care products containing engineered nanomaterials such as deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, anti-wrinkle cream or nail polish are also already commercially available despite the lack of any nanomaterials regulation or requirements for product safety testing.

Nanoparticles and materials are so small that they can be inhaled, swallowed, absorbed through the skin or injected into the body, and yet their behaviour inside the body is still unknown, making the potential health and environmental effects impossible to predict.

The European Commission is currently completing a review of existing EU regulations to see whether specific nanotech legislation is needed to cover risks in relation to nanomaterials, or whether these materials can be considered as being part of, for example, the EU's chemicals legislation REACH. A Communication on the issue is foreseen in 2008.source

My comment: Can't agree more! And I really didn't know they put nano-zinc into sun-screens. I prefer the used of not-tested materials to be labeled!

Europe to link researchers and students worldwide

3 March 2008

GÉANT, a network of European computers linking national research and education networks, will be connected to its equivalents in other regions of the world to create a global research network allowing seamless cooperation between scientists and students from Finland to Latin America, the Commssion has annonced.

"Europe can now bring together the best minds in the world to tackle the challenges that we all face," said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, as she announced an extra €90m of Community funding between 2008 and 2012 for the "third-generation GÉANT".

The network was launched in 2001 as a first step towards the establishment of the European Research Area (ERAexternal ). Its aim is to provide an infrastructure to support the advanced communication needs of the scientific community and to research state-of-the-art communication technologies.

The network was upgraded to GÉANT2 in 2005, providing faster and more powerful services and end-to-end connectivity for the scientists. The network currently connects 34 countries through 30 national research and education networks (NRENsexternal ) and is co-funded by the Commission and the NRENs themselves.

It contributes, for example, to the EU's radio astronomy project, which links the world's largest radio telescopes in China, Europe, South Africa and Chile to a supercomputer in the Netherlands, which produces real-time imaging thanks to the "massive data-flows from the GÉANT network". According to the Commission, GÉANT has also enabled "ground-breaking research collaboration" in the fields of climate change and biotechnology.

The upgraded GÉANT3 will now establish high-speed computer links with emerging regional research network infrastructures in the Balkans, the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions, as well Asia, southern Africa and Latin America. These links are established with the aim of creating a single global research and education network. source
My comment: Cool! Can I say more?

EU technology institute to start operations by 2010

12 March 2008

Even after the final approval of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), opinions diverge on the necessity of the institute, which was originally deisgned as the European rival to the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Nevertheless, concrete research, education and innovation actions are expected to start by 2010.

After the Parliament's Industry Committee, in late February 2008, approved the Council's common positionPdf external on the EITexternal , the regulation was finally adopted in the House by second reading on 11 March. The institute is expected to start work towards its establishment this summer.

MEP and Parliament rapporteur Reino Paasilinna qualified the compromise between the Council and the Parliament "a success for Parliament" as it "stresses the role of innovation". "Too often, our brilliant students and researchers do not reap the rewards of their work simply because there is no one to help them turn research results into commercial products," he said.

Meanwhile, the Commission is urging the member states to reform their national higher education systems in a drive to bring business and academia closer together to achieve quicker transfer of research into innovation in services and products.

Once the EIT is established, the first Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICsexternal ) on climate change, renewable energy and next-generation information and communication technologies (ICTs) are expected to be established within eighteen months. If operations begin in summer 2008, the first KICs could see the light of day by 2010.

Even if the major topics of the new institute generally appear environmentally friendly, Green MEPs voted against the whole proposal. They qualified the plans, which were originally put forward by Commission President Barroso, as "lofty" and called the agreed budget a "joke".

"While the Greens supported the original plans for an EIT, the initiative has degenerated into a farce: poorly defined and lacking a realistic, workable budget," explained MEP David Hammerstein his Party's decision to vote against the report. "We believe no EIT would be better than an ill-conceived and under-funded EIT," he added.

According to the original Commission proposal, 2.3 billion euro would have been necessary for the creation of six KICs. The compromise proposal, however, foresees the creation of just "two or three" KICs as the Commission's contribution, 308 million euro, is the only concrete project money earmarked for the EIT.

Contrary to the MIT, the European institute will not resemble a university in a specific geographic location, but will instead be a virtual network of universities, companies and other stakeholders expected to form the KICs. Each KIC must have at least three partner organisations, based in two or more member states. At least one of these partners must be a university and at least one a private company.
source

My comment: Kind of agree with the Greens. The budget is well too cut. But well, better this than nothing, I guess.

EU leaders to address research spending shortfalls

11 March 2008

Although European R&D budgets vary widely, from 0.4% of GDP in Cyprus to 3.8% in Sweden, average spending has stagnated at around 1.84% since the mid-1990s, a shortcoming the EU's competitiveness ministers have asked leaders to address at the Spring Summit.

Despite multiple EU initiatives aimed at increasing investment in research in R&D to 3% of GDP by 2010 - a target agreed upon by EU leaders in order to meet the bloc's Lisbon growth and jobs goals - Eurostat figuresexternal show that the objective remains far out of reach.

Sweden (3.82%) and Finland (3.45%) remain the biggest spenders in terms of percentage of GDP, followed by Germany (2.51%), Austria (2.45%) and Denmark (2.43%). However, if measured by volume, Germany, France and the UK continue to spend the most - €58, €38 and €32 respectively. Together, they are responsible for around 60% of total R&D expenditure, which amounted to €210 billion in the EU 27 in 2006. The lowest R&D intensities were registered in Cyprus (0.42%), Romania (0.46%) and Bulgaria (0.48%).

The new statistics also rank countries according to the proportion of scientists and engineers in their population. Here, the EU-27 average was 4.8% in 2006. The highest shares of scientists and engineers were found in Belgium (7.9%), Ireland (6.8%) and the Nordic countries (6.7-6.0%) and the lowest in Portugal (2.7%), Bulgaria, Austria and Slovakia (all 3.0%).

Increasing the number of scientists throughout the bloc will be a key consideration at this week's Spring Summit (13-14 March), expected to consider ways to speed up progress towards the Lisbon agenda objectives of more competitiveness, growth and jobs. Ahead of the meeting, the EU-27 ministers in charge of competitiveness calledPdf external on leaders, in late February 2008, "to invest more and more effectively" in research, innovation and higher education at all levels and to reinforce efforts to achieve the 3% R&D investment target.

The ministers also want EU head of states and government to "take concrete steps" to increase human resources for science and technology and to "enhance the mobility and career prospects of researchers" by building a European Research Area (ERA). The aspiration is to remove all obstacles to the cross-border mobility of knowledge in the EU and allow for free movement of knowledge, defined as a "fifth freedom". It would, for example, include initiatives to remove barriers to researchers wishing to work in another member state.source

My comment: Haha, read the last part. I want ministers to take concrete steps to increase salaries of researchers like me. Cuz right now, being a scientist is like a penalty.

ICT industry wants more women engineers

10 March 2008

The Commission, together with leading technology companies, is trying to get more young women interested in ICT careers in a drive to avoid a predicted shortage of some 300,000 qualified engineers by 2010.

"It is unacceptable that Europe lacks qualified ICT staff. If this shortage of computer scientists and engineers is not addressed, it will eventually slow down European economic growth," said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, addressing a conferenceexternal exploring the potential for women in the ICT sector.

The conference, held on 6 March 2008, just two days before International Women's Dayexternal , showcased a joint initiativeexternal by the Commission and a number of leading IT companiesexternal "to give young women a taste of what a job in ICT would be like".

"We need to overcome common stereotypes which describe ICT careers as boring and too technical for women," Reding told the conference, which also discussed best practice on how to get girls and young women interested in taking up ICT careers as well as possible educational barriers.

Encouraged by the experience, the Commission, together with the private sector, is to draft a "European Code of Best Practices for Women in ICT" by next year's Women's Day.

Increasing human resources in science and technology is one of the key targets of the Lisbon agenda in order to boost competitiveness and increase growth. According to the Commission, the ICT industry alone contributes to one fourth of EU's total growth and 4% of its jobs. Yet the sector is set to face a skills shortage of some 300,000 qualified engineers.

Using the existing pool of highly trained women is seen as one way to avoid the shortage and increase human resources in science and technology.

According to recent Eurostat statisticsexternal , in most of the EU 27 over 50% of science and technology human resources were female in 2006. The highest proportion of females employed in the science and technology sector was found in Lithuania (72.0%) and Estonia (69.7%), whereas in absolute terms, Germany employs the highest number of women in science and technology, 6.2 million. The vast majority of the EU's female HRSTO work in services: 27 million compared with just two million in manufacturing. source

My comment: That's kind of fun! We want more women in engineering. What for, dear gentlemen? Ok, just joking! The problem in science isn't the lack of women, but the lack of general interest and perspective for good and WELL-PAID job. Fix that and you'll have all the women you need. And even some more!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Energy and climate in February,2008

In this edition:

Environment ministers favour flexible EU climate action

4 March 2008

EU environment ministers have seconded the generally positive reaction to the Commission's climate and energy package given last week by energy ministers. Flexibility is needed for reducing CO2 emissions, however, to prevent key EU industries from moving operations elsewhere, they said.

The Commission, on 23 January, proposed a package of climate and energy proposals designed to bring the EU's emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) down by 20% by 2020 while increasing the use of renewable energies by 20% during the same period. A revised EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) with an EU-wide CO2 cap was presented as a central part of the package.

A separate Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) was also proposed at the end of 2007. It is meant to support the 20% targets by increasing the use of 'clean' or low GHG-emitting energy technologies. Financing issues related to the SET Plan have been delayed until November 2008 (see EurActiv 27/02/08).

EU efforts to reduce GHG emissions will be upped to 30% by 2020, under the condition that an international agreement for tackling climate change beyond the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 is reached.

EU member states have made numerous public calls for tough action on climate change, and the Council and Parliament have applauded the Commission's 23 January proposals and have set to work on adopting the laws that will translate the EU's commitments into binding measures.

But a comparable international commitment to greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol is still missing. Many EU states, notably those with a high concentration of energy-intensive industries, are concerned that if the EU acts 'alone', the bloc's green agenda could push industries to take their operations to countries with laxer environmental laws.

Concerns about this sort of delocalisation, or 'carbon leakage', were most recently aired yesterday (3 March) during a meeting of EU environment ministers in Brussels. EU energy ministers gave their input to the climate measures on 28 February (EurActiv 29/02/08). source

My comment: Yeah, yeah. Read the comments in my last posts on carbon leakage. Absolute nonsense.

Technology not enough to cut transport emissions, says EEA

4 March 2008

EU policies focusing mainly on improving vehicle technology and fuel quality are not enough to reduce the transport sector's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, argues the European Environment Agency (EEA).

To address transport demand, policy measures "must go beyond the transport sector itself and be introduced into sectors of the economy such as households, industry and services, within which the demand for transport actually originates," states the EEA reportexternal , which was presented to the European Parliament's Committee on Climate Change on 3 March 2008.

The report was released on the same day as EU environment ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss proposed new measures to reduce CO2 emissions from cars.

This year's report aims in particular to explore the options for climate change mitigation via transport-oriented policies. It concludes that voluntary commitments by car manufacturers to improve efficiency in vehicles "have not resulted in sufficient gains".

"Transport has been a free-rider for too long when it comes to the fight against global warming and carbon emissions," said EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade. "Governments and citizens need to rethink radically their approach to transport policy - if nothing else, out of self-concern in protecting their health. We cannot continue to give privileges to less efficient transport modes," she added.

According to the EEA, total EU-27 CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2005 would have fallen by 14% instead of 7.9% if transport sector emissions had respected the same reduction trends as society as a whole. Furthermore, the agency notes that as passenger volumes steadily increase and freight transport grows faster than the economy, the movement of goods is becoming less efficient, despite technological progress.

Last week, the "world's cleanest ship", the Victoriaexternal , was put on show in the port of Brussels as one of the outcomes of EU-funded research on reducing the environmental impact of inland navigation. The engine of the ship has been modified in such a way as to substanially reduce several of its emissions (by up to 98%), while a special navigation system helps to optimise the route and speed to slash fuel consumption. source

My comment: Cars aren't a transport? Because if they are, it's weird we're talking about ships, while we very delicately leave automobiles and train outside of the picture.

EU Court rules against Spain in energy merger saga

7 March 2008

The European Court of Justice has ruled against Spain's energy regulator, which previously succeeded in blocking a takeover attempt of Endesa by Germany's E.ON. Meanwhile, Brussels has said it will take a closer look at a blocked merger in Hungary's oil and gas sector.

"Spain has failed to fulfil its obligations under Community law," the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in a 6 March press release.

The statement was made in reference to the refusal by Spain's energy regulator CNE to withdraw certain merger conditions imposed on Germany's energy giant E.ON during its bid to acquire Spain's Endesa.

The CNE ignored warnings and demands by the Commission to remove restrictive conditions attached to the merger, prompting the Commission to refer the case to the ECJ (EurActiv29/03/07).

E.ON ultimately withdrew its Endesa bid due to concerns about shareholder losses and 'unpredictable lawsuits' (EurActiv 03/04/07). But the expiry of the bid does not relieve CNE from obligations to remove regulatory obstacles to merger bids by other non-Spanish firms, according to the EU court.

In a separate case, the Commission has decided to launch an 'in-depth investigation' into a bid by Austria's OMV to acquire Hungary's MOL, a merger that was blocked by Hungarian competition authorities over fears that it would create an oil and gas sector monopoly.

Initially the Commission expressed concern that Budapest was acting contrary to EU competition rules (EurActiv 27/09/07), but Brussels may have reconsidered its assessment.

The Commission now wants to make sure that "effective competition is preserved for the benefit of both domestic and industrial consumers," EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. source
My comment: I don't really understand that article. I mean, we have to opposing forces-customers and share-holders. Because a monopoly is good for its share-holders but not for the European consumers.

Europe wary as Russia-Ukraine gas row intensifies

5 March 2008

A lingering spat over Ukraine's unsettled gas debt to Russia threatened to hit Europe yesterday as Gazprom carried out its warning to cut supplies to Ukraine by a further 25%.

The standoff between the two former Soviet allies escalated on Tuesday, prompting a wave of statements by both Gazprom and the European Commission insisting that gas supplies to Europe remained uninterrupted.

The latest move means deliveries to Ukraine have been cut by at least half since the beginning of the week after Gazprom had already cut shipments by 25% on Monday (3 March). About a quarter of all gas consumed in the EU originates from Russia and 80% of it is shipped via pipelines crossing Ukraine.

The dispute is reminiscent of a January 2006 row that saw deliveries to Western Europe briefly interrupted, highlighting the EU's dependency on Russian gas imports and prompting it to seek new supply routes (EurActiv 18/01/06).

In a statement, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs called for "a determined effort to resolve the current disagreement," saying that "to date, no member state has reported any reduction in supplies".

A spokesman for Naftogaz, the natural gas company which controls pipelines in Ukraine, warned on Tuesday that the company may begin reducing supplies to Europe if Gazprom carries out its threat to impose a second cut. "We will do that if our energy security is threatened. At the moment it is not," Valentyn Zemlyansky told The Associated Press in Kyiv.

In a statement, Gazprom said it "would fulfil all contracts, as it has done for decades" but that, as a commercial company, it needs "clients to pay for the services provided".

"Natural gas deliveries to EU countries will continue at full volume," said Gazprom spokesperson Sergei Kypriyanov, adding that "the cuts in gas supplies to Ukraine were caused exclusively by the non-payment of debts for additional Russian gas".

A deal between Gazprom and Naftogaz to displace trade intermediaries between the two state monopolies was announced in February but the details were not immediately communicated to trade partners in Europe (EurActiv 14/02/08).source

My comment: Reading this, I start feeling odd. I mean, the bad guy in the picture is surely Ukraine. Because as I see it, it owes Gazprom money, Gazprom is trying to force them to pay by the only means possible-cutting the gas and Ukraine instead cuts the gas for Europe. I don't want to be that pro-Russian, usually I'm all for EU, but this isn't quite fare. To force Russia to keep the gas steady while Ukraine is using that gas for free is kind of wrong. And it's heavy interference with the relations between two non-European countries.

EU governments clash on car CO2 plans

4 March 2008

A Commission proposal to limit emissions from cars sold in the EU is pitting countries home to the production of larger, luxury models against those which traditionally specialise in smaller, less-polluting ones.

The Commission, last February, proposed binding legislation that would compel vehicle manufacturers to cut average emissions from new cars from current levels of around 160 grammes of CO2 per kilometre to 130g/km by 2012 through vehicle-technology improvements. A further 10g/km reduction is expected to come from improvements in other areas including tyres, fuels and eco-driving.

The new legislation would replace a 1998 voluntary agreementexternal signed with the EU's Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), which committed carmakers to achieving a target of 140g/km by 2008.

Concrete measures are still to be approved by Parliament and member states, but the Commission is envisaging CO2 caps proportional to vehicles' weight, with fines of up to €95 per excess gram of carbon dioxide that is emitted (EurActiv 20/12/07).

A first ministerial debate in the Environment Council on 3 March on the Commission's December proposal revealed a clear standoff between the French and the Germans.

The dispute centred on how much of the burden for cutting average fleet emissions should be borne by small vehicle manufacturers, mainly located in France and Italy, and how much should be borne by larger ones, mainly in Germany and Sweden.

The 'slope of the curve' indicates how strongly CO2 standards depend on a car's mass under the Commission's weight-based proposal.

If targets were based solely on weight (i.e. a vertical slope), manufacturers of larger vehicles would have no incentive to make their cars lighter – and thus more fuel-efficient – as any loss in mass would immediately result in stricter CO2 targets. Such a curve would also penalise manufacturers of small cars by requiring them to achieve much lower emission levels than for heavier cars, despite the fact that they already emit less.

While the Commission is pushing for a 60% slope, Germany is insisting on an 80% slope to accommodate its companies including Mercedes, BMW and Porsche. French environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo however said that even a 60% slope would be "very difficult" to achieve and that 30% should be the maximum.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia, which are all home to German car manufacturing hubs, as well as Sweden, with its Saab and Volvo brands, backed Germany, while France was supported by Italy, Spain and Romania.

Britain, on the other hand, took an alternative approach, calling for a "simpler 25% effort by everybody", but with exemptions for "niche market" producers such as Rolls Royce and Bentley.

Environment ministers also clashed on the size of fines for manufacturers that miss their individual CO2 targets, with many delegations saying the Commission proposals were "excessive" and would both push up car prices and lead to a slower renewal of the existing fleet.

The issue of penalties has also been raised by Parliament's legal affairs committee, which has requested legal advice on whether the Commission has the authority to impose fines, pointing to a Court of Justice ruling which states that decisions regarding types and levels of criminal penalties must be left to the discretion of member states (EurActiv 24/10/07).

Green NGO Transport and Environment (T&E) says penalties have not been set high enough to ensure full compliance. "On the basis of the studies done for the Commission such a level is €150 per gram of CO2 exceeded per car," it stressed, adding: "We would like to stress that the €20, €35 and €60 levels of penalties, as proposed by the Commission for 2012-14, is well below the penalty level in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme of €100 per tonne of CO2".

It further insists that a weight-based system is "counterproductive in environmental and safety terms as it takes away a large part of the incentive to make cars lighter". source

My comment: Again, I'm with Greens. I hope France wins this one, but don't you find it funny how every country is defending its industries? I find it rather sweet :)

Solana to sound alarm over coming climate conflicts

11 March 2008

Europe must prepare for increased competition over dwindling resources, waves of climate change refugees and energy wars, warns a new report to be presented to European leaders during the 13-14 March Spring European Council.

"Climate change is already having a profound impact on international security," according to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who will present the reportPdf in Brussels on Thursday (13 March).

Solana points "reductions of arable land, widespread shortages of water, diminishing food and fish stocks, increased flooding and prolonged droughts" as drivers of increasingly hostile competition between states for dwindling global resources.

The west faces the potential for conflict with Moscow over resources in the Arctic, according to the report. The Arctic ice cap is melting at an increasing rate due to a rise in global average temperatures, making commercial exploitation of mineral and other resources in the untapped Arctic a possibility in future (EurActiv 17/09/07).

Russian scientists made headlines and startled the international community last year when they placed a flag on the Arctic sea bed in an apparent claim to precious mineral deposits.

Another concern cited in the report is the possibility of millions of 'environmental' migrants or refugees fleeing climate change-related fallout. "The multilateral system is at risk if the international community fails to address these threats," Solana warns.

In April 2007, the US military put forward a similar report warning that climate change could become "an incubator of civil strife, genocide and the growth of terrorism" (EurActiv 17/04/07).

Solana makes a number of recommendations for dealing with the problem, including providing greater EU disaster response and conflict prevention capabilities. More 'carbon diplomacy', or cooperation with countries likely to be most affected by climate change, is also recommended.

And since rising waters and melting sea ice are expected to have a profound impact on the size and location of existing borders and territories, there is a need to "address the growing debate over territorial claims, exclusive economic zones, and access to new trade routes", he said.

While the report does not make any explicit calls for greater military spending as a means to deal with climate change fallout, Greenpeace issued a "word of warning" in response to the text.

"Any suggestion to increase military spending to deal with the impacts of climate change should be swiftly replaced with the notion that, to avert the starkest of these predictions, we need to act now to combat climate change", Mahi Sideridou told EurActiv. source

My comment:I'm not going to comment that as it's very obvious. Just read it. It's kind of scary.

EU to update law criminalising pollution at sea

12 March 2008

The Commission has tabled a revised version of an EU directive imposing criminal sanctions in cases of maritime pollution. The original proposal had to be modified following a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling last year.

The ECJ ruling, issued on 23 October 2007, supported the Commission proposal to impose criminal sanctions for pollution at sea. But it also stated that it does not have the authority to lay down the type and level of criminal penalty, which is left to the discretion of member states (EurActiv 24/10/07).

The ruling represented an important victory for the Commission, which had been arguing with member states over its right to intervene in criminal matters. The proposed revised text therefore aims to fill the legal gap left open by the ECJ.

EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot commented: "The large majority of operators carrying polluting and dangerous goods are behaving fully responsibly and correctly. The proposal is focused on the small minority operators for whom this might not be the case and who tarnish the image of the shipping industry."

The revised text also complements a more general proposed directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law, on which Franco Frattini, the EU's justice and home affairs commissioner, said he hoped to reach an agreement soon. source

My comment: I agree with that. Any big-scale pollution should be penalized.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Economy in February, 2008

In this edition:
For more, read below.

EU presses state funds on good conduct code

28 February 2008

State-controlled funds must sign up to a voluntary code of conduct or face regulatory action, the Commission warned. The move aims to prevent countries like China and Russia using investments in EU nations to obtain political influence in strategic sectors, such as energy and defence.

Under the new proposals, presented on 27 February, sovereign wealth funds would be asked to make public their investment objectives and relationship with government authorities, as well as the size and source of their assets, the currencies in which they are held and the rules under which they are operating.

The code of conduct, which the EU wants agreed globally, would be voluntary, but the Commission reserved the right to propose legislative measures to "protect the public interest" if breaches become apparent.

Sovereign wealth funds have existed since the 1950s, constituting an important source of liquidity in financial markets, Commission President José Manuel Barroso noted, insisting that Europe must remain open to such inward investments.

However, a recent boom in the size and number of states using these funds and a certain opacity in the way they are operated has prompted concerns in recipient states. They fear that the investments could be used for industrial and technological espionage or to further governments' strategic interests, rather than for commercial purposes, "thus both distorting markets and posing potential security problems for the EU and its member states". Russia and China were singled out as "countries with major strategic and political interests".

"Recent experience shows that the opacity of some SWFs risks prompting defensive reactions. Indeed, in recent months, several member states have been under pressure to explore applying exceptions to the free movement of capital and establishment. This pressure can only be increased by SWFs future expected growth in size and importance," states the Communication, stressing that a common EU approach to these threats is essential. "

Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia stressed that a global code of conduct represented a "win-win game" for both investors and recipients.

The proposals will be discussed by European leaders at a summit on 13-14 March and would feed into international efforts, both at OECD and IMF level, to draft a code of conduct by the end of 2008.

The Commission said it also expects member states to use the summit meeting to send a strong signal regarding their readiness to take joint action to avoid a repeat of the financial turmoil that hit the global economy since the US mortgage crisis in summer 2007. It urged them to give backing to a roadmap on strengthening European financial market transparency, agreed by finance ministers in October 2007 (EurActiv 10/10/07). source

My comment: I find this approach very smart and well-timed. It is a little paranoid, indeed, but that doesn't make it wrong. And we all know about the rich Russian dream-husbands of half Europe (the other half is either male or gay). I mean, they are wealthy, they look for investments, but also, they are kind of too politically committed. A sign of that is how some rich Russians get in jail, while other don't. I don't mind rich people, of course. But it's a fact that being rich in Russia is rarely a product only of good fortune. And if those investors are so politically dependent, we can't expect that their decisions will be independent or always in the best interest of Europe. That's why I support that idea of EU, I hope it passes. And yeah, all said, is multiplied by 10 and applied to China :)

EU employment reaches new high

26 February 2008

The number of jobs in the EU is steadily rising, but more efforts are needed if the progress being made is to benefit all, a number of reports released by the Commission say.

In response to the twin challenges of globalisation and demographic change, the European Council has set the following employment targets:

  • An overall employment rate of 70% in 2010 (67% in 2005);
  • a female employment rate of 60% in 2010 (57% in 2005), and;
  • an older workers (55+) employment rate of 50% in 2010.

Progress towards these targets is measured in quarterly reports - so-called Labour Market Reviews - the most recent of which covers quarters three and four of 2007.

The Joint Employment ReportPdf external (JER), a draft of which was published by the Commission on 22 February 2008, assesses the implementation of the employment aspects of each country's national reform programme (NRP) under the Lisbon Strategy. It spells out recommendations for the majority of those member states where the Commission sees shortcomings in the NRPs.

According to reports released on 22 and 25 February 2008, employment has risen throughout the EU - the sole exception being Denmark, where a saturation of the labour market seems to have been reached. 3.5 million new jobs were created over the last year, 850,000 of which during the last quarter alone. The creation of five million more jobs is being forecast for this year.

The main findings of the reports are:

  • Employment growth rests first and foremost on the services sector, where 18 million new jobs have been created since the year 2000. After a slight decrease in the meantime, employment in industry has returned to more or less the level of eight years ago, while agriculture experiences a steady decrease.
  • Unemployment has dropped sharply in the new member states, as well as in Germany and France. The most notable decrease took place in Poland, where the unemployment rate reached 8.4%, down 3.8 percentage points over the last year.
  • On the downside, youth unemployment remains at levels of around 20% in some new member states (Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia), as well as in several old ones (Belgium, Spain, France, Italy and Sweden).
  • With employment rates of 43.5% for older workers and 57.2% for women, the EU is, in spite of steady growth, unlikely to meet the 2010 Lisbon targets.
  • Low-skilled workers, the disabled and migrants remain the most vulnerable groups in the labour market, stressing the importance of social inclusion and lifelong learning in reaching employment targets.
  • A growing number of sectors, form healthcare to arts and crafts, is feeling increasing skills shortage.
  • Germany, the EU's biggest economy, is about to reach the Lisbon employment target of a 70% employment rate in 2010 - in the summer of 2007, the country was only 0.1% away from this figure. With a 1.6 percentage point decrease in unemployment, German employment has become one of the motors of EU growth again.
  • Nevertheless, a report on social inclusion also finds that 16% of EU citizens remain at risk of poverty, while some 8% are at risk despite being employed. source
My comment: Oh, well, that's the data. What could I say. Maybe only that the increase of the employment in France and Germany is pretty obvious- so many people from the new members went there to work. No big surprise. I wonder why EU wants to increase the employment of people above 55. I mean, aren't they supposed to retire? Hmm.

EU makes assurances to industries hit by climate rules

28 February 2008

Europe's metal and paper industries may be given free emission allowances during the post-2013 phase of the EU carbon market, the Commission indicated in two communications announced this week. Brussels is hoping to prevent energy-intensive sectors from fleeing the EU as the bloc's carbon market becomes tighter.

The Commission on 23 January announced plans to beef up the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS).

But the proposals delayed making a decision over which industries could benefit from either free CO2 emission allowances or a tax on imports from competitors operating in countries with less costly environmental rules.

Preventing 'carbon leakage'

"It is not in the interest of the European Union that in the future production moves to countries with less strict emissions limits," the Commission notes in its communicationPdf external in support of the metals sector, announced on 25 February.

The EU executive is waiting on the outcome of ongoing international climate change negotiations, launched in Bali in December 2007, and has abstained from giving a clear 'yes or no' answer to questions about how Europe's energy-intensive industries could be protected in the event that the climate talks fail to produce a global deal under which competiting producers in third countries would be subject to EU-style emissions caps.

EU industries are complaining that the lack of certainty is affecting business decisions, and have stepped up warnings about the potential for 'carbon leakage', meaning the relocation of energy intensive factories and jobs beyond the EU's borders (EurActiv 27/11/07).

In the absence of a clear industry protection framework, the Commission is making public assurances.

Buying time?

But before the Commission can determine how to level the playing field, "a lot of technical work needs to be done," according to Jos Delbeke of the Commission's Environment Directorate, who spoke with EurActiv in an interview.

Global supply crunch

In addition to concerns about the cost of production-related emissions, EU producers and exporters of metals and forest-based products like paper are faced with increasing global competition for shrinking raw material stocks.

Global raw material use has been rising steadily since the 1980s, according to United Nations figures, and is being driven by growing populations and rising incomes across the developing world, notably China and India.source

My comment: No comment. I've said it so many time. Carbon leakage is just a myth. If all the countries apply the same environmental rules, or enforce huge taxes on producers from countries that haven't applied the rules, who's going to go produce in China???

Parliament apprehensive over employment guidelines

5 March 2008

EU leaders are set to discuss the bloc's employment guidelines for the period 2008-2010 at next week's Spring Summit amid pressure from Parliament to give a more social angle to the strategy.

In 2005, the Lisbon Strategy was re-focused on the double objective of Growth and Jobs (see EurActiv LinksDossier).

The Employment GuidelinesPdf external , which are part of the Integrated Guidelines for Growth and Jobs for the period 2008-2010, set out the EU's main goals regarding employment and favoured strategic approaches to achieving those targets.

Following a Commission proposalPdf external on 11 December 2007, EU employment ministers agreed that the existing employment guidelines should remain largely unchanged until 2010. At a meeting on 29 February, they confirmed that the priorities should remain full employment, improving quality and productivity at work, social cohesion, work attractiveness and combining flexibility with employment security.

However, EU heads of state and government will not be able to formally adopt these priorities when they meet for their annual Spring Summit on 13 and 14 March because Parliament's report on the issue, which they must take into consideration although it is non-binding, is not due until May.

Early signals from the Parliament indicate that it will criticise the approach taken by the Commission and for the most part endorsed by the Council.

Rapporteur Anne van Lancker (PSE) has repeatedly spoken out in favour of a strengthened social dimension of the guidelines. In the explanatory statement of her first draft reportexternal , van Lancker goes to lengths to explaining that "the renewed Lisbon Strategy is not delivering for all European citizens" and that it "may have delivered more jobs but not always better jobs". She also cites figures showing "that Member States are currently not working towards a balanced 'flexicurity' approach." source

My comment: More jobs doesn't equal better jobs obviously. But as long as Europe supports farmers more than researchers, that's very unlikely to change.

Euro's record high troubles EU finance chiefs

5 March 2008

Finance ministers from the 15 countries using the euro expressed, for the first time, their joint concern regarding their currency's surge to its highest level yet, hinting that the US should be doing more to halt the dollar's downward slide.

The statements came just one day after the euro hit a record high of $1.5275 on 3 March, making exports from the bloc even more expensive for its largest trading partner.

France has already been pushing for the European Central Bank to do something about the euro's rise for months, saying it is killing its exporting enterprises' competitiveness. But some eurozone countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, consider that a strong euro has advantages – most notably in terms of controlling soaring inflation levels, which hit a 14-year high of 3.2% in February.

While the strength of the euro should increase European consumers' purchasing power, the steep rise in energy and food prices has prevented this from happening and consumer spending in fact retracted in the last quarter of 2007, according to the EU's statistical agency Eurostat.

In light of this, the ECB, which holds its monthly meeting on 6 March, is expected to keep its interest rates stable at 4%, despite some signs of growing attention for currency market developments.

The statement came after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke caused a further slide in the dollar's value by telling Congress that its decline was helping to narrow the huge US trade deficit.

Trichet's words are also looked upon as a sign that the ECB may consider a rate cut in the coming months. They were immediately welcomed by French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, who commented: "I simply want to underline in passing that the President of the ECB, contrary to his custom, chose to talk today about exchange rates when entering the meeting." source

My comment: I start having the feeling that the whole world crisis is aimed to hurt Europe. I know I'm little paranoid here, but without actual home crisis, like that in USA, we're loosing on so many grounds, it's unbelievable. Did you know EU is the biggest investor in USA? No surprise every trouble on American soil hits back Europe even harder. And while their authorities are doing their best to cushion the blow for the regular citizens, the EU's policy is to stay firm. That might work, but the fact is that everything is getting more and more expensive.

Berlin wins first battle against European tax havens

5 March 2008

EU finance ministers agreed yesterday to hasten an analysis and possible overhaul of EU rules on tax havens after Germany successfully pressed its European partners to take action.

Ministers agreedPdf external to request the European Commission "to accelerate preparation of a report" on the functioning of the main EU legal instrument to counter tax evasion, the Savings Tax Directiveexternal .

The original deadline to deliver the document was October 2007. Ministers agreed to reschedule it to May 2008, when a new debate on tax havens has been added to the agenda of the Ecofin meeting in Brussels.

German Finance Minister Peer Steinbruck managed to get the apparent support of the majority of EU member states, including Belgium, which has so far been one of the most reluctant to accept any intervention on the topic. Austria and Luxembourg, sharing the same concerns as Belgium, remained opposed to an overhaul of the directive.

The reforms might include the extension of the EU rules against tax evasion. At the moment, the only measure in place to soften the effects of capital migrations for fiscal purposes is the taxation of interest payments on bank deposits in the owners' country of residence, instead of the country where the account is based.

EU institutions are now considering extending these provisions to other returns on assets. Moreover, investment vehicles might be subject to tighter rules, with trust funds coming under particular focus.

The debate on fiscal havens was prompted by the suspected illegal use of financial trusts by wealthy German citizens who, according to Berlin, stash hundreds of millions of euro in secret bank accounts in Liechtenstein, one of the three European tax havens, together with Andorra and Monaco (see EurActiv 03/03/08).

However, talks to modify rules on the subject, and extend them to extra-European tax havens such as Hong Kong, Macao or Singapore, are still expected to go on for a long time. French diplomatic sources underlined that the topic is not a priority of the coming French EU Presidency, which will replace Slovenia on 1 July and run until the end of 2008. source

My comment:Lol. I mean, seriously. If a country is outside EU, how can you possibly make it increase its taxes. It's weird...

 

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