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Friday, August 29, 2008

Science in Europe in July, 08-many awesome news!

An amazingly interesting collection of news on the science in EU. And this time, they are good!
  • Research infrastructures offered EU legal umbrella
  • EU 27 eye increased EU action on space
  • EU eyes 'supergrid' to harness Saharan sun
  • EU 27 to identify joint public research topics by end 2008
  • France challenges world university ranking
  • EU nations urged to pool public research budgets
  • Commission urges solution to soil degradation

Research infrastructures offered EU legal umbrella

17 July 2008

Pan-European research infrastructures such as CERN, the world's largest nuclear research organisation, are to be granted special legal status and exemption from VAT under a new proposal by the Commission.

The European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRIexternal ) was launched in 2002 to develop a coherent approach to policymaking on research infrastructures in Europe and, in parallel, to conduct negotiations between member states on concrete initiatives for such structures at European level.

Examples of current research infrastructures include CERNexternal , the world's largest particle physics laboratory and Géantexternal , the pan-European data communications network for research and education.

The Commission adopted a proposalPdf external for a Regulation on the Community legal framework for a European Research Infrastructures (ERI) on 16 July 2008.

The framework is aimed at facilitating the joint establishment and operation of research facilities of European interest between the EU 27 and associated countries.

Indeed, as ERIs will be established as international bodies, they will be exempted from VAT, explained Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik. The new framework will however only apply to new ventures, with existing ones such as Switzerland-based CERN, retaining their existing status.

According to the Commission, the proposed framework was developed "in response to requests from the member states and the scientific community," which have indicated that the available national and international legal structures do not allow them to establish ERIs.

The legal framework would state that an ERI would be a legal entity

  • with legal personality and full legal capacity recognised in all member states;
  • based on membership with very flexible internal structure;
  • ruled by Community law, the law of the State of the statutory seat or of the State of operationm, and;
  • exempted from VAT and excise duties, with its procurement procedures unaffected by the Directive on public procurement.

As for the Commission's participation in ERIs, the EU executive does not exclude the possibility of becoming a member of certain individual infrastructures. No EU money is foreseen for them, but all ERIs "could compete" for funding under the Community R&D Framework Programme, said Potočnik.

He also said an EU legal framework could be proposed for other types of EU research cooperation activities and networks as well if "a need was expressed from bottom-up" from member states and other stakeholders.

The proposal for a regulation is one of five policy initiatives constituting the follow-up to the 2007 review of the European Research Area (ERA). source

My comment: Yay! Obviously I can't be more happy with this. I only don't quite understand why CERN wouldn't be counted in. It's like the biggest research centre in Europe and they want to exclude it from the goodies? That's kind of weird and I wonder why is that. But in any case, the new legislation will be very stimulating for creating new research centres in Europe and hopefuly soon enough, we'll have one in Bulgaria.

EU 27 eye increased EU action on space

23 July 2008

All member states are politically committed to promoting more EU action on space, the French Presidency said after a two-day informal meeting of the bloc's ministers for space. But the issue of where the money for this increased ambition will actually come from will only be discussed later.

EU ministers in charge of space affairs met in Kourou, the European Space Agency's main spaceport in French Guiana, on 21-22 July. On the agenda were the EU's overall space strategy, the role of space in fighting climate change and its contribution to Europe's competitiveness as well as potential synergies between civil and military space activities.

The message of the meeting is that "space is back" as one of the EU's policy priorities, said Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen after the meeting. He said the ministers had agreed that space policy plays an important role in overall European integration and acts as a catalyst for the development of new technologies. Verheugen also underlined that the ministers had agreed that independent access to space is of strategic importance to the EU in several areas, such as in combating climate change, bioterrorism and natural disasters.

In particular, the EU's new member states, which have traditionally not taken a big interest in space, now understand that the 21st century will be space-driven, said the French Minister for Higher Education and Research Valérie Pécresse, adding that "all member states have now agreed to play a political role" in the development of EU space policy. She also listed Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta among those to express an interest in joining the European Space Agency (ESA), which so far includes just 15 EU countries.

However, both Verheugen and Pécresse stressed that a concrete, increased budget for EU space activities must be agreed upon to ensure the long-term sustainability of such ambitious activities. So far, an operational EU budget for space only exists up to 2010. The expenditure should, according to Pécresse, be added to the current EU budget for research.

Increasing the EU's space budget could be discussed at a high-level conference that the Commission is currently preparing to launch discussions on the strengths and weaknesses of the European space industry.

The ministers also discussed a French initiative to establish a European climate research centre to better exploit the data collected via meteorological satellites and bring together European climate change researchers. Ministers decided that no separate new centre was necessary, but stressed that cooperation between national activities in this regard would be strengthened within the framework of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). In addition, the Commission might conduct an in-depth analysis on space and climate change.

The aim of the meeting was to prepare the decisions to be made at the next Space Council, a joint meeting of EU competitiveness ministers and representatives of the European Space Agency (ESA) member states, set to take place on 26 September 2008. The subsequent ESA ministerial conference in November will then be expected to turn the decisions into concrete programmes. source

My comment: I didn't shorten this one, because it sounds so inspiring! Space is really our future and I'm so glad EU ministers finally started thinking about it. Obviously, it sounds kind of far fetched for countries like Bulgaria that still struggle to find their path and order, but our internal problems shouldn't stop us from dreaming our way forward. And space is the right direction.

EU eyes 'supergrid' to harness Saharan sun

25 July 2008

Massive solar power installations in the Sahara desert could feed the EU's growing energy demand via a new supergrid. The idea is backed by France and the UK, which is simultaneously trying to limit priority access for renewables to domestic grids.

If successful, the supergrid project could supply all of Europe's electricity needs, according to Arnulf Jaeger-Walden, who heads the EU's Institute for Energy in the Netherlands.

The idea is based on the construction of a €45 billion high voltage direct current (DC) grid that could transfer electricity produced by Saharan and North African solar installations to consumers thousands of kilometres away. The construction of a new DC grid would be necessary since most of the EU's existing power grids operate on the basis of alternating current (AC) and as such lose too much electricity over long distances to make such a project viable.

For the moment the idea, which has received the political backing of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, remains on the drawing board and is currently being developed by EU scientists.

No concrete funding commitments have yet been made by private or public investors at EU or member-state level.

While Brown is standing behind the ambitious Saharan supergrid project, the prime minister is being criticised for his stance on renewables at home.

Rather than stipulating that renewables "shall" have priority access to domestic grids, the UK wants to change the wording to "may" on the grounds that renewables do not necessarily need priority access to grids to increase their market share. Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes, Parliament's rapporteur on the renewables proposal, sharply criticised the proposed re-wording. source

My comment: I love this one. Although, I don't quite see those grids make it to Eastern and even Central Europe, they are still a good idea, because they will stimulate research, engineering and provide employment for both Africans and Europeans. It's a win-win situation for everyone if it's done the right way. And my guess is that countries that are left behind will find a way to compensate trough Russian gas and wind electricity, since we're more predisposed for that element. Cool! I only don't get the UK rewording problem, but the UK is weird.

EU 27 to identify joint public research topics by end 2008

18 July 2008

EU research ministers are set to agree on topics for joint public research in December. Before that, discussions are likely to focus on narrowing down the broad topics of food or energy security and healthy ageing to find subjects on which pre-commercial developments at national level are not yet underway.

The first meeting of EU-27 research ministers under the French Presidency, on 17 July, was a follow-up to the 'Ljubljana Processexternal ' aimed at better exploiting Europe's research potential and creating a genuine European Research Area (ERA).

The meeting was also the first opportunity to debate the Commission's Communication on joint public research programming to tackle major societal challenges.

The Presidency conclusionsexternal note that ministers have already identified four issues for which "effective coordination of European research could be quickly implemented":

  • Adapting agriculture to climate change to ensure food security;
  • implementing the European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan);
  • embedded computing and future internet, and;
  • Alzheimer's disease.

However, with the exception of the Alzheimer's initiative, the level of concreteness of these initiatives is currently "very low", commented a member state representative. As for the subjects of joint programming in general, he noted that the final topics to be agreed upon will be "far more specific" than the current broad working topics like energy or ICT, adding that Alzheimer's was a good example of such a narrow topic. He said member states need to carefully analyse which topics are worth working together on. source

My comment: Hm, that's very broad if you ask me and probably would be utterly useless if it's left like this. It sounds much more like "let's have a metting to show Europe some activity". Lame.

France challenges world university ranking

18 July 2008

The French Senate has proposed developing a new European university ranking system to counter the powerful Shanghai world ranking, which is said to favour English-language institutions. With France holding the EU's six-month rotating presidency, the issue is likely to be discussed by EU education ministers in November.

The lack of harmonised data on French universities has lead to biased information on the country's higher education institutions and weakened the visibility of the research carried out in them, concludes a French Senate reportexternal on the ranking of higher education published early in July.

At national level, the lack of a transparent system distorts the allocation of human and financial resources, notes the report. At international level, it harms the attractiveness of France as a destination for foreign students and researchers and decreases the visibility of university research.

Another consequence, the report argues, is that exaggerated attention is given to the so-called Shanghai rankingexternal , an index for monitoring the research performance of universities around the world, which the Senate says "only partially and imperfectly reflects the reality". France's key bone of contention with the Shanghai index is that the number of citations of a institution's scientific research is used as a ranking factor. Paris says this works against countries that do not publish in English.

Pécresse is expected to raise the issue during a meeting of EU education ministers in November. source

My comment: Haha, have you expected anything else from France? I mean, who's guilty for not publishing in english? How come we all write our articles in english but they cannot? If you ask me, that's not problem of the ranking even though my guess is that it really is biased. Because science is essentially a mafia (ok, mob) and peopel quote other people only if they are their friends or they really cannot avoid it. I think this is the issue that must be solved, not the ranking of french universities.

EU nations urged to pool public research budgets

17 July 2008

The European Commission wants member states to pool together their money and brains to conduct joint research on major societal challenges such as ageing and energy security, saying purely individual efforts on such vast topics waste resources.

According to the Commission, some 85% of the public sector research in Europe is programmed, financed, monitored and evaluated at national level. Just 15% of European publicly financed civil R&D is financed in a cross-border collaborative manner (10% by intergovernmental organisations and schemes and 5% by the EU Framework Programme).

The EU executive has repeatedly voiced concern over this situation, saying fragmentation and duplication of research efforts are a major obstacle to the EU's chances of delivering on the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs.

Presenting a Communication on joint programming on 15 July, Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik listed fighting climate change, securing energy supply, preventing major pandemics for diseases, preserving marine ecosystems and biodiversity, ensuring food quality and securing food supply as "the most shared challenges of our societies".

These are challenges that "can be addressed through research and technological development" and require a response at European if not global level, he added.

The ambition of the Commission's communicationPdf external is to allow cross-border research on these strategic areas by setting common research agendas, he explained.

He explained that joint programming is about public cooperation in strategic research areas where member states voluntarily decide to bring money and people together. It will also be up to the committed partners to identify common objectives and develop and implement the research agenda.

Joint programming "does not require all member states to be involved. It can be à la carte, but such partnerships will be open to any member state or associated country to join whenever they want," Potočnik added. source

My comment: That's so important! Too bad countries and institutions are too much interested in competing with each other. Also, the question of fair participation stands. For example, different countries to be able to participate with different resources and have their rights protected. Obviously I'm talking about smaller countries like mine. Because here it's hard enough to get any money for science, but if the attitude would be...bad, people simply won't want to participate. And that's is a loss since there are quality people even here.

Commission urges solution to soil degradation

23 July 2008

Officials from various environmental departments and organisations are calling for stalled environmental legislation on the proposed Soil Directive to be put into law by March 2009.

The proposed directive was rejected by a blocking minority – including France – in the Council in a vote in December 2007 (EurActiv 20/12/07).

But speaking at a 22 July , the European Environmental Bureau Secretary General John Hontelez expressed hope triggered by the fact that the French Presidency included the Soil Directive in its agenda.

"France has a big responsibility," said Hontelez, "because it is now in the presidency and was also in the blocking minority last year". This notion was echoed by Ladislav Miko from the Commission's Environment Directorate General: "Despite all the figures and research we have still not agreed on the directive which is quite worrying."

Environmental risks

Soil is a non-renewable resource, and once lost, cannot be retrieved, agreed all the participants. "Soil degradation is an EU problem and needs an EU response," said Miko. He produced some telling figures, showing that UK soil has been losing 0.6% of its organic matter annually for the past 25 years. This is equal to losing 13 megatonnes of carbon per year, the equvialent of five million cars, he said. Considering the Kyoto target of achieving a 27 megatonne carbon reduction by 2010, the importance of soil is obvious, he said.

Sealing – an area of soil surface covered by an impermeable material such as concrete – was highlighted as a particularly troublesome issue, as 9% of European land is currently covered by impermeable material, thus increasing the chance of flooding as was seen in the UK last summer.

Miko said member states' concerns about adding further legislation to existing national soil legislation miss the point because "we have to look at this in a more holistic way". "We need an EU-wide policy," he stated. source

My comment: I find this one kind of worrying, especially the environmental risk from it. I mean it's normal to question additional legislation, but obviously, we don't do enough on this one. I know the attitude in Spain-the more concrete in your yard, the best. And that's simply not right.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Economics in EU, july, 2008

In today's edition:
  • EU offer to slash farm duties dismissed as 'propaganda'
  • EU Court says Spanish blockage of energy merger illegal
  • EU fuelling illegal logging trade, says report
  • Commission delays water saving obligations for farmers
  • SMEs hail new EU strategy on industrial property rights

EU offer to slash farm duties dismissed as 'propaganda'

22 July 2008

An attempt by the EU's trade chief to impress his counterparts at global trade negotiations in Geneva with a pledge to cut the bloc's agricultural tariffs by as much as 60% fell flat as both France and Brazil denied the proposals were anything new.

The Doha Development Round, which aims to liberalise global trade and extend the benefits of globalisation to developing countries, was launched by ministers of WTO member countries in November 2001 in the Qatari capital, Doha.

World Trade Organisation Director General Pascal Lamy had convened trade ministers from 35 key negotiating countries on 21 July in a bid to finally achieve a breakthrough in seven year talks on liberalising international trade.

At the meeting, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson sought to kickstart proceedings with the announcement that the EU was ready to raise its offer on cutting farm tariffs to 60% - rather than the 54% the bloc had previously committed to.

But he stressed that the new offer was conditional on rapidly emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China coming forward with improved offers on lowering industrial tariffs. Indeed, better access to these markets, which are still highliy protected, is a key demand of European manufacturers and is seen as a necessary trade-off for the sacrifices European farmers will be asked to make.

Brazil denounced the proposal as a pure artifice, while EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel said the offer was "nothing new" and French State Secretary for Trade Anne-Marie Idrac denied that the EU was ready to raise its offer in any way.

According to Idrac, the difference between the two figures is simply due to a recalculation of the Commission's earlier offer, with the higher figure reflecting the inclusion of tropical products, such as bananas – on which a deal is yet to be achieved – in the tariff cut calculations. source

My comment: Lol, that's rather funny. I mean, the guy happily announces the increase and then everyone say "oh, no, that was a mistake". Anyway, I don't care so much about liberalisation of the international trade. I just found it funny how they make an offer, that in the end isn't exactly the same offer.

EU Court says Spanish blockage of energy merger illegal

18 July 2008

The EU's highest court ruled on 17 July that Spain broke EU internal market rules when it insisted last year that all mergers in the energy sector must be pre-approved by its national energy regulator, effectively thwarting a takeover attempt on the national energy company Endesa by Germany's E.ON.

Commenting on the case, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) rejected Spanish justifications that its actions were based on safeguarding public interest and safety as the aim had been to preserve security of energy supply. "The Court considers that the Spanish system of prior authorisation is not proportionate to the objective of ensuring security of energy supply," it said in a press release.

The ECJ also found that Spain had failed to fulfil its obligations under the "principles of free movement of capital and freedom of establishment".

The ruling was welcomed by Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy's spokesman because it confirmed the "consistent line that special rights have no place in the internal market".

The ruling relates to a February 2006 takeover bid of Endesa by German power company E.ON.

While the bid was approved by the Commission, it was blocked by Spain's National Energy Commission (NEC), which imposed a number of conditions on E.ON's bid.

The Commission began infringement proceedings against the NEC in April 2007 on the basis that it was infringing on the free movement of capital and freedom of establishment (EurActiv 29/03/07). But E.ON withdrew its bid shortly thereafter.

In a separate move, Spanish construction group Acciona SA and Italian utility Enel SpA launched a joint bid for Endesa in 2007, which the NEC also said it had to pre-approve. Both of these actions were widely regarded as protectionist measures by Spain to prevent foreign companies from taking stakes in the domestic energy sector.

In March of this year, the ECJ ruled that the NEC's provisions on prior authorisation of acquisitions in the energy sector was contrary to EU rules (EurActiv 07/03/08). Despite the expiry of the E.ON bid at the time, the court ruled this did not relieve the NEC of the responsibility to remove regulatory obstacles to merger and acquisition bids from other non-Spanish firms.

In a separate case, the EU's Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has also sent Spain a final warning on restrictions placed on a bid for Spanish utility Iberdrola by Acciona SA and Enel SpA. source

My comment:Hehe, too bad for Spanish nationalists. Well, I completely understand them, of course, but that's how it should be, they should find another way to protect national interests, a way that isn't protectionist that is. And probably decrease somewhat the level of paranoia. Those energy giants are annoying and suspiciously powerful, but I doubt they'd compromise their business in screwing the energy market in Spain. Though, just imagine how any bill on energy unbundling will pass if EON controls Spain too. I think the EU or at least the Parliament should consider this little problem. Those companies are getting really powerful and if we want to keep them under control, that should happen quicly.

EU fuelling illegal logging trade, says report

22 July 2008

Almost a fifth of the wood imported into the EU stems from illegal logging, compounding deforestation and climate change, according to a report published on 22 July by environmental group WWF.

The reportPdf external , based on 2006 imports, suggests that between 16% and 19% of the wood imported into the EU comes from illegal logging or suspicious sources.

This means that about 30 million cubic metres of wood was imported into the EU illegally in 2006, it estimates. While Russia, China and Indonesia are the bloc's main suppliers, the report highlights imports from Eastern Europe as particularly troublesome, with some 28% of wood imports suspected of stemming from illegal sources. Russia is also said to have exported some 10 million cubic metres of illegal wood to the EU in 2006.

Among the major EU importers, which include Finland, the UK, Germany and Italy, WWF points the finger at Finland in particular as the country of destination for nearly half of all (legal and illegal) timber imports from Russia into the EU. There, they are processed into pulp or paper and exported to other EU countries.

Deforestation is widely recognised as having a detrimental effect on climate change, and the WWF report criticises EU member states for being "guilty" of adding to the problem. According to UN figures, deforestation accounted for 20% of global CO2 emissions in the 1990s, and efforts to stem it featured highly in global climate talks in Bali last December (EurActiv 14/12/07).

Illegal timber imports are also hitting local economies by pushing timber prices down, says the report.

WWF urges the EU to improve its current voluntary licensing mechanism – the so-called Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) system – which it believes is not tough enough. "Even if all agreements currently being negotiated by the EU with partner countries were concluded, about 90% of the illegal wood would still enter the EU," it notes.

Moreover, with the recent enlargement of the EU, illegal logging has now become more of an internal problem, challenging the new entrants.

What's more, it highlights the fact that there is currently no voluntary partnership agreement in the pipeline with China, which is becoming a major global exporter of timber.

The report thus calls on the EU to set up a system whereby operators must prove the legality and origin of imported wood and whereby inspections take place at the point of sale within the EU. It also recommends that companies take on more responsibility for ensuring that they are complying with existing legislation and "provide for an efficient regime of penalties to deter serious infringements".

Other major exporters of illegal wood include South East Asia (40%), Latin America (30%) and Africa (35-55%). source

My comment:I completely agree on this one. It's a tragedy to see a naked mountain that once was all covered with magnificent trees. And that's what happens in Bulgaria. The wood goes in unknown direction and the illegal loggers are free to do whatever they like. And that's waste for everyone!

Commission delays water saving obligations for farmers

15 July 2008

The Commission has rejected the notion that farmers should implement river basin management schemes in exchange for agricultural subsidies, despite increasing fears over water shortages and droughts.

As part of the so-called "health check" of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Commission proposed a number of amendments to the rules governing how farmers can receive subsidies. Among these are a number of cross-compliance measures whereby in order to receive direct payments, farmers have to meet certain environmental, food safety, animal health and welfare standards.

One proposal made by the Commission concerns the extension of existing cross-compliance measures to include an obligation on farmers to leave "buffer strips" between agricultural land and watercourses and to require authorisation for using irrigation channels.

The idea is to save water as global warming threatens to provoke increasing droughts in the future. The agriculture sector is currently the highest consumer of water in the EU at 69% of the total.

There have been fears by member states that the EU's water framework directive (WFD), which includes obligations to improve the management of Europe's freshwater rivers, lakes and wetlands, as well as water pricing measures, would be included as a new requirement in the cross-compliance scheme.

But the commissioner allayed these fears, saying: "I firmly believe that now is not the right moment to bring the Water Framework Directive within the scope of cross-compliance" because these schemes have not yet been implemented in member states.

But Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) official Tom Jones said something has to be done to put an end to the current situation under which heavy subsidies encourage farmers to waste water. "Agricultural water use – primarily for irrigation – remains heavily subsidised, which encourages inefficient use of often scarce resources."

However, this position is contesded by EU agricultural association Copa-Cogeca, which stresses that "food, much like drinking water, is a basic human need and as such agricultural production must be given priority".

The Commission has proposed using 'modulation' as a means of reducing direct payments to farmers and increasing the amounts received for rural development, which would essentially 'green' the CAP. source

My comment: Hm, food is a basic human need, but water is with priority. I think some people really can't believe that there is scarcity of water, not somewhere in the world, but here, in Europe. Like in Spain this summer. That's very sad and irresponsible.

SMEs hail new EU strategy on industrial property rights

18 July 2008

Despite the absence of concrete legislative initiatives on issues such as the Community patent, businesses have praised the Commission's new strategy to better protect patents and trademarks – an area particularly crucial for smaller companies.

The draft communication, presented by the Commission on 16 July, proposes two main courses of action: firstly, helping SMEs to better exploit their property rights, and secondly, better protecting rights by stepping up the fight against counterfeiting and piracy.

The protection of intellectual property is seen as key to stimulating innovation and R&D investment and facilitating the transfer of knowledge "from the laboratory to the market place".

According to a 2006 study of European company executives, 35% considered the use of property rights as very important or even critical to their business model, while 53% said it would become an important issue within two years.

Improvements to the current IPR system are among SMEs' key demands as in most cases, they do not have sufficient resources or their own legal departments to deal with these issues.

A key element in the Commission's new strategy, according to the President of the Association for Competitive Technology Jonathan Zuck, is the suggestion that small businesses would be able to avoid costly legal proceedings in court to resolve patent disputes. Instead, the Commission says it will look into the establishment of "alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms," which it acknowledges could "substantially improve" the settlement of disputes.

Such a mechanism would be "key for smaller players", allowing all parties to settle disputes more efficiently, said Zuck.

The Commission's draft also stresses the need to set up an EU-wide jurisdiction system for patents. But up till now this has been a major stumbling block in the negotiations on a Community patent, and the strategy offers no new solutions as to how to move forward on the issue.

However, the paper suggests new paths to help SMEs exploit their property rights, such as reducing patent fees or providing tax incentives to promote licensing activities. This is also a key objective of the Small Business Act proposed by the Commission in June (EurActiv 26/06/08).

The new strategy also stresses the need to address the rising number of counterfeit products flooding the European market, as these are causing an increasing threat to the health and safety of European citizens (EurActiv 20/05/08).

The lion's share of these fake products (60%) stems from China, where the Commission recently set up an IPR helpdesk to provide advice to businesses. source

My comment: As you know, I'm very strongly for a Community patent system, so every step in that direction is welcomed by me. Let's see where this one will take us.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ecology in EU, july, 2008

In this edition:
  1. EU's 'green products' policy fails to convince
  2. MEPs suggest leniency on air pollution caps for trucks
  3. EU OKs contested Slovak nuclear project amid new leaks

EU's 'green products' policy fails to convince

17 July 2008

The Commission has adopted long-awaited proposals to expand the scope of existing 'eco' design and labelling requirements to all products that impact on energy consumption. But most EU stakeholders are not overly enthusiastic about the plans.

The mainstay of current EU efforts to reduce the environmental impact of consumer goods is the 2005 Eco-design requirements for energy-using products (EuP) Directive, which sets out requirements on energy use for popular products that consume energy, such as hairdryers, computers, fridges or office equipment (EurActiv LinksDossier).

The Commission's strategy, presented in Brussels on 16 July by EU Industry Commissioner Günther Verheugen and EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, is based on a combination of voluntary and binding measures designed to mitigate the energy use and environmental impact of products.

Under the draft plans, products like windows and shower heads are to fall under the scope of existing rules for energy-using items as set out by the EuP Directive. They will be banned from the EU market if they do not meet certain standards related to energy consumption.

This represents a step-down from earlier plans in which the Commission was contemplating expanding the scheme to a wider range of consumer goods, like footwear and furniture (EurActiv 28/04/08).

In an apparent effort to strike a balance between regulatory and market-based instruments, industry is being urged to develop benchmarks and voluntary standards for the various products that would be affected by the plans. The Commission said it would step in and regulate specific standards in cases where industry initiatives are deemed insufficient.

The package of measures, contained in 'action plans' on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) and on a Sustainable Industrial Policy (SIP), includes:

  • A proposal to revise and expand the scope of the EuP Directive to all energy-related products;
  • A widened scope for the use of labels that detail the energy use or impact of products;
  • New public procurement rules to favour the uptake of 'green' products;
  • A revision and expansion of the EU's Ecolabel or flower scheme to include, among others, food and drink products, and;
  • A revision of the voluntary eco-management and audit scheme (EMASexternal ).

The products that will be affected by the measures still need to be determined and will be the subject of negotiation between Council and Parliament. Certain products will also require 'priority action' due to their greater impact on energy use, but, again, the precise list of such goods still needs to be determined, according to the Commission.

Once specificied, the minimum requirements will be set either by industry or by the special committees of EU experts according to the exisiting implementing measures set out in the EuP Directive. source

My comment: Everything sounds nice to me, only I can't quite understand how could they live to the industry to make the minimum requirements. I mean, they should obey it, not create it. There is a clear confrontation of interests here and I hope this gets revised or at least to the special committees. Also, I'd like to state that I like such labelling system and I don't see why there are so many problems applying it. Some people still wouldn't care what they buy just as now, but it that would be a good way for energy-efficient/from all sides/ products to obtain a new market niche. I think that's good.

MEPs suggest leniency on air pollution caps for trucks

17 July 2008

The European Parliament's Environment Committee has voted in favour of slightly watering down limits on nitrogen oxide emissions from trucks and buses, saying too tough a target would simply make it harder for them to cut their CO2 emissions.

The proposed regulation for so-called 'Euro VI' standards for exhaust emissions from heavy vehicles should set a cap for nitrogen oxide (NOx) at 500 mg/kWh, rather than at 400mg/kWh as initially suggested by the Commission, voted MEPs on 15 July. This would represent a 75% reduction compared to the Euro V standards due to enter into force in 2009, rather than an 80% cut.

MEPs also agreed with the Commission that emissions of particularly harmful particulate matter should be limted to 10 mg/kWh, rejecting German Socialist rapporteur Matthias Groote's suggestion that this should be cut to 5 mg/kWh. Groote's proposal would indeed have required all new heavy vehicles to be fitted with expensive closed particle filters.

What's more, according to MEPs, any more stringent targets would be counterproductive as they would probably lead to an increase in CO2 emissions – contradicting Europe's goal of cutting CO2 emissions by at least 20% before 2020 and becoming a "low-carbon economy" (see LinksDossier on energy & climate change package). They say the compromise will lead to a "win-win solution" on both air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

MEPs also said new Euro VI standards should come into effect from the start of 2014 – nine months earlier than the Commission is proposing. This would mean they would be applied in parallel to 'Euro 5 and Euro 6' standards for passenger cars, which are due to enter into force in 2009 and 2014 respectively (see our LinksDossier on Euro 5 emissions for cars).

The Euro standards are part of a broader strategy on clean air, which aims to reduce illnesses and cut the number of premature deaths related to pollutant emissions from 370,000 a year in 2000 to 320,000 a year in 2020. This would also save the EU at least €42 billion per year in health costs, according to the Commission (see our LinksDossier on the EU's clean air strategy). source

My comment: Well, it's not like we didn't expect that. But to be honest, better less than nothing. And I think that really an over-doing in the numbers could be counter-productive. The key moment is to get the most out of the industry. As well I think we should set some priorities. For me, particularly harmful matter goes before CO2 emissions since CO2 although a greenhouse gas, is basically unharmful and natural. That's why I'm kind of disappointed they went for the higher level of harmful substances. But again better little than nothing.

EU OKs contested Slovak nuclear project amid new leaks

18 July 2008

Despite recent nuclear scares in Slovenia and France, the European Commission this week gave the go-ahead for the two remaining reactors to be completed at the controversial Mochovce nuclear plant in Slovakia. The decision was widely condemned by environmental group Greenpeace.

Slovakia foresees a key role for nuclear energy in its future energy supply. But under the terms of its EU accession treaty, the country must phase out production at two of the remaining four reactors at its older Jaslovské Bohunice site.

To compensate, Slovakia is keen to complete construction at a newer site, Mochovce, by investing a further €1.6bn in the plant. However, the construction of the plant began under the communist regime in 1986 according to an outdated Russian design first developed in the 1970s.

Despite the controversy surrounding nuclear power, the EU executive has endorsed it as a key component of its future energy mix, with Commission President José Manuel Barroso highlighting its role as a driver of a "third industrial revolution" that could lead Europe into a "low carbon age" (EurActiv 03/10/07). But the technology continues to provoke heated debate among EU stakeholders and citizens, particularly regarding financing, safety and waste management (EurActiv 04/07/08).

Under the terms of the Euratom Treaty, EU countries must submit all new nuclear development proposals to the Commission, which then issues its opinion.

Strict safety measures

Giving the project the green light on 15 July, the EU executive concluded that construction of reactors three and four at Mochovce – suspended in the 1990s due to lack of finances – can continue provided that certain safety recommendations are adhered to.

The Commission nevertheless warned that the reactors in use at Mochovce do not feature the "full containment structures" common to recent, ongoing or planned construction of nuclear power plants elsewhere in Europe. Critics of the site have long said that it fails to satisfy modern safety requirements.

The EU executive called for "additional features, functional capabilities and management strategies" to be developed to bring the design into line with existing best practice. Specifically, it recommended that steps be taken to ensure the reactors could withstand "a potential deterministic impact from an external source", such as light aircraft.

Moreover, the Commission stressed the need for Slovakia to diversify Mochovce's fuel supply - expressing concern that the site relies too heavily on Russia as a nuclear fuel source – and ensure decommissioning funds are managed correctly. source

My comment: Well, obviously I'm pro nuclear energy, so I think it's great we see some movement in here. However I'm little concerned by 2 things. First are the critics toward the site's safety-an issue that clearly shouldn't stand out. Of course, it's hard to say whether this estimation was political or actual, but if it is actual, then Slovakia definitely has to do something about it. The second issue is quite obvious-I can't like the power the anti-Russian voices has. I mean, one technology either passes the requirements or doesn't and its origin is of no concern for its safety. That's why for me this attitude is majorly bad. I see the same for our plant in Belene. For me, this is focussing on the wrong issue. It's important to make the plant as safe as possible and as cheap as possible obviously. The political issues should be out of the safety ones. I can't but hate politisation of technical issues-something either passes the requierments or not. That's it and all the words in the world won't change it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Progress of Lisbon Strategy

A report I'm not utterly happy to comment, but I should do it, however. It seems like there is some progress on the Lisbon Strategy (the 5 benchmarks are:
  • No more than 10% of students should leave school early (aged 18-24);
  • A decrease of at least 20% in the percentage of underachieving pupils in reading literacy;
  • At least 85% of young people should have completed upper secondary education;
  • An increase of 15% in the number of tertiary graduates in mathematics, science and technology, with a simultaneous decrease in the gender imbalance, and;
  • 12.5% of adults should participate in lifelong learning.)
The bad news is that this progress isn't enough. Some countries got better in some fields, some are stagnated. And Bulgaria and Romania are on the tragic bottom of illiterate people.
I can't be but absolutely upset by such news. I mean, think how limited the life of a person that can read well is. In our time, there is a constant need to read or write something and the lack of that ability is equal to a real disability. The worst is that this is no longer true only for extremely poor people, like gipsies. I hear with my own ear a kid misread "give away" instead of "sell" /in Bulgarian, of course, in English both word are absolutely different/. The kid was like 11 and didn't look poor or lacking proper care. It was just unbelievable. But it happens. And this report only shows it. I hope we do something about it, because having so many people miseducated is really really bad. And notice, this survey is only about the ability to read. What about the general culture. Some people in Southern Bulgaria, that are well brain-washed by brotherly Turkey, think there were Muslims in Europe for thousands of years. Which is obviously impossible. But stupidity thrives in ingorance. Not to mention the benefits from manipulative point of view.
Oh, well, the point was that it the education is important for so many reasons, we really have to work hard to improve it across Europe.

EU lagging behind on education, illiteracy on rise

11 July 2008

The Commission's annual benchmark report finds that member states' progress towards the Lisbon Strategy's goals on education and training is too slow for them to be reached by 2010 and highlights growing illiteracy rates as a major problem.

Each year, the Commission assesses the progress of member states in the area of education and training with regard to the Lisbon Strategy's goals. It uses 16 indicatorsPdf external with regard to five benchmarksPdf external agreed by member states to be achieved by 2010.

The 2008 reportPdf external - the fifth in a series of annual progress reports - shows that the number of maths, science and technology graduates is increasing while the number of early school leavers is decreasing. It also indicates an increase in both upper secondary attainment and adult participation in lifelong learning.

However, countries have failed to bring down the share of low performing readers. Instead of the targeted 20% decrease, illiteracy has actually increased by more than 10% since 2000.

According to the Commission, all countries have their own relative strengths and weaknesses across the benchmark areas and "there are significant divergences between member states and fields".

Regarding reading skills, the benchmark lists Romania and Bulgaria at the bottom with 53.5% and 51.1% of "low achievers" respectively. Finland is the bloc's top performer on this (with just 4.8% low achievers), followed by Ireland (12.1%) and Estonia (13.6%).

For the other indicators, Poland has recorded the highest growth in maths, science and technology graduates since 2000 while Sweden has boosted the participation of adults in lifelong learning the most. The Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia both share the lowest number of early school leavers and record the highest number of young people completing upper secondary education. source

Monday, August 18, 2008

Economy in June, 2008

In this edition:
  • Business and Commission in plea for Nabucco pipeline
  • Baltic pipeline under fire despite industry assurances
  • Nuclear debate continues to stir up controversy
  • EU wants regional policy to become 'launch-pad' for SMEs
  • 'Green jobs' on the increase
  • EU to cut VAT and ease state aid for SMEs
The good news is that

Business and Commission in plea for Nabucco pipeline

4 July 2008

Top officials at the Commission and one of Central Europe's largest oil and gas groups yesterday (2 July) called for progress to be made on the Nabucco project, which aims to reduce Europe's dependency on Russian gas supplies. But they warned that its realisation would depend on "foreign policy scenarios".

Speaking at a round table organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Wolfgand Ruttenstorfer, the CEO of OMV, and Mathias Ruete, the European Commission's Director General for Energy and Transport, agreed that high oil prices are making energy efficiency and environmentally-friendly policies less and less expensive, and could also favour the realisation of pipeline projects, necessary to guarantee Europe's energy security. They cautioned that gas diversification in Europe can come only through the Nabucco project.

Russia is a very reliable supplier, Ruttenstorfer said, but added that the concerns are that Russia will not be able to cover all Europe's additional needs, which in his words could be 100-150 billion cubic metres over the next one or two decades.

"Therefore our commitment is to build the Nabucco pipeline, to get direct access to the gas resources of the Caspian area, and tomorrow to the resources of Iraq and Iran", Ruttenstorfer said.

"If we look at scenarios from Eurogas, we will need to build not only South Stream, North Stream, Nabucco, but also a number of other pipelines," Ruete said. He also hinted that for the EU, Nabucco is not an alternative to supplies from Russia but a necessary additional channel of supply.

But Nabucco will not see the light of day if we cannot fill the pipeline, warned Ruttenstorfer. "We think it can, that there is enough gas in Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, but we also hope that Iraq and Iran will come into the equation. It all depends on the overall foreign policy scenario"

The OMV CEO also described the current status of the Nabucco project. Six companies are currently in the group, since RWE from Germany recently joined. The next important stage is to reach an agreement with Turkey on the conditions under which Ankara would be prepared to let the gas cross its territory, and an agreement can possibly be signed in autumn. Then Nabucco will invite potential transporters and customers to declare how much they intend to transport and during which periods of time. Based on that, the final investment decision can be taken. source

My comment: I like the new attitude toward Nabucco. I see people really understand the gravity of the oil/gas demand in Europe and in the World. But I still don't see Nabucco happening any time soon, no matter how much OMV wants it.

Baltic pipeline under fire despite industry assurances

9 July 2008

The European Parliament is questioning the environmental impact and geopolitical implications of a planned Baltic Sea pipeline that would bring Russian gas into Germany, bypassing Poland and the Baltic states.

A large majority of MEPs - 542 in favour and 60 against - on 8 July voted in favour of an non-legislative own-initiative report by Polish MEP Marcin Libicki. It raises objections to the planned construction of Nord Stream, a 1220 kilometre pipeline that would stretch along the Baltic seabed.

Nord Stream is one of the EU's priority energy projects, seen as part of EU efforts to secure its supply of natural gas for the coming decades (see EurActiv's LinksDossier on the geopolitics of EU energy supply). If approved, construction could begin in 2010 and be finalised by the spring of 2011. Once operational, the pipe would bring 55 billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year into Germany, from where it could be sold off to other member states.

Gazprom, German energy giant E.ON and chemical firm BASF are backing the project along with Gasunie, a Dutch gas company.

The Libicki report acknowledges that Nord Stream is important for the EU's future energy security, but warns that the Baltic seabed is "especially vulnerable" to environmental damage caused by the laying of the large steel and concrete-reinforced pipes, which measure over 1.5 metres in diameter. There are also concerns that World War II era munitions still littering the seabed could be set off during construction.

Apart from environmental concerns, Poland and the Baltic States have also raised objections about being bypassed by the project. Re-routing the scheme over land would have brought transit fees to the countries concerned.

The Nord Stream consortium also scoffs at the idea of a further impact assessment. Maartje van Putten, a former Dutch MEP who now represents the consortium in Brussels, says Nordstream is taking care of "every detail" with respect to ensuring the safety of the project, and is investing around €100 million in impact assessments.

Ramboll, a Danish consultancy that is conducting a private impact assessment for Nord Stream, is expected to release its findings in October. source

My comment: Poland worried by environmental impact of something?! Is that a joke or what? Poland doesn't care about environment as long as the air is breathable and the water drinkable. Ok, the second may be excluded. In any case, the real problem is Poland being by-passed. But I think they should be angry only to themselves, because of they are so capricious no one want to work with them. In trade, you not only take, but also give. Something Poland don't like doing.

Nuclear debate continues to stir up controversy

4 July 2008

The role that nuclear should play in the EU's energy mix was the topic of heated debate at a 2 July Brussels conference that tackled a number of issues, including nuclear financing, safety and waste management.

The event was organised by the European Movement, a platform for pro-European and non-governmental organisations, and featured a range of panellists including MEPs and representatives of industry and a pro-nuclear environmental NGO.

There are also signs of a "nuclear renaissance" in the EU, with public opinion shifting somewhat in favour of the technology amid growing concerns over climate change and energy security.

While the conference included emotional interventions and charged discussions, a number of participants indicated that the essential elements of the debate have changed little in recent decades, with waste and security issues still high on the agenda. Meanwhile a Eurobarometer survey, published yesterday (3 July), shows that many citizens might change their opposition to nuclear if radioactive waste issues were satisfactorily resolved.

A number of speakers and participants also lamented that discussions on nuclear are seldom based on fact and scientific evidence, but rather on "ideology". source

My comment: Of course, it's all about ideology! I mean nuclear plants are safe and clean as long as the regulations are being followed. There was never a scientific or environmental problem with nuclear plants. The only question for me is who pays to Greenpeace to bash nuclear power and isn't it weird to take fossil money to fight fossil fuels?

EU wants regional policy to become 'launch-pad' for SMEs

10 July 2008

The Commission boosted its focus on SMEs yesterday (9 July) by presenting a new initiative aimed at helping EU cohesion policy to better assist small businesses. The move comes just a day after it pledged to cut tax and make state aid rules more flexible to boost their growth.

Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner announced the allocation of at least €27 billlion (7.9% of total community investment) out of the bloc's 2007-13 cohesion fund to SMEs, with the lion's share (65% or €17.5 billion) going to technology and innovation. The remaining €10 billion or so will be allocated to ICT activities (14%), start-ups (12%) and eco-friendly projects (9%), Hübner said.

"With only a small amount of investment, it is possible to achieve a high impact and raise the innovation capacity of small businesses," Hübner pointed out. source

My comment: The is here only to see the budget which I find fascinating.

'Green jobs' on the increase

14 July 2008

As employment in the fossil fuel sector declines, more and more people are finding work in the renewable energy sector and related professions, with the number of 'green jobs' expected to swell considerably in the coming years, says a new study.

"Growing automation and corporate consolidation are already translating into steadily fewer jobs in the oil, natural gas, and coal industries - sometimes even in the face of expanding production," according to the latest 'Vital Signs Update' from the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington DC-based research institute focused on sustainability issues.

Meanwhile, "renewables are poised to tackle our energy crisis and create millions of new jobs worldwide," says Michael Renner, senior researcher at Worldwatch.

EU estimates vary with respect to how many jobs might be created in Europe's green economy. The Commission's 2006 renewable energy 'roadmap' points to 650,000 jobs in the sector by 2020, while a renewable energy modelling initiative produced by the EU executive in 2003 nearly triples that figure to 2.5 million. Worldwatch says the wind and solar industries alone could provide over eight million jobs worldwide by 2030.

In the shorter term, financing, skills and materials supply shortages in key renewables sectors like wind are likely to put a dampener on job growth (see EurActiv 02/04/08).

But as fossil fuel prices continue to climb and concerns about climate change increase, the promise of green jobs is receiving "unprecedented attention", with more and more investors taking an interest, says Worldwatch. source

My comment: No comment, really. It's just interesting to see how industry finally realise the possibilities behind the green technologies.

EU to cut VAT and ease state aid for SMEs

8 July 2008

The Commission yesterday (7 July) proposed an overhaul of the bloc's VAT and state aid policies to allow governments to reduce VAT rates for labour-intensive businesses and provide small business with more aid for risk capital and innovation.

The proposed taxation plans would allow all member states to apply a reduced VAT rate as low as 5% for a greater number of labour-intensive services, such as haircuts, house cleaning and renovation, vehicle repairs and catering in restaurants.

The measures would also cover items such as childrens' nappies and audio books, but do not apply to environmentally-friendly products such as efficient light-bulbs or less CO2-emitting cars. Proposals for a so-called 'green tax', which emerged from a joint British-Franco initiative last summer (EurActiv 23/07/07 ) will nevertheless be included in a second package due in autumn, the Commission said.

Currently, only 18 member states are allowed to apply a rate below the 15% standard for very limited sectors - with the EU's newer members excluded from this possibility. Taxation Commissioner Laszlo Kovacs said he wants to harmonise these rules across the bloc and provide a "level playing field" until the end of 2010 when the current provisions expire.

"There is no reason why restaurant services, for example, should be allowed to benefit from a reduced rate in one half of the European Union but not in the other half," he said. The measures also aim to offer more flexibility for member states "without any real distortion," he added.

Kovacs said he expected the Parliament to approve the proposals next February or March, expressing his hope that they will be adopted by finance ministers next summer. But as changing the tax rules requires unanimity among all 27 member states, there is still a lot of negotiation required, especially to convince the more reticent Germans and Danes.

In parallel to the proposed VAT overhaul, the Commission also pledged to ease state aid requirements, a key part of the Small Business Act to promote SMEs presented on 26 June (EurActiv 26/06/08).

Under the new rules, which go into effect within 20 days of their publication in the EU's official journal (still foreseen for July), small businesses can receive investment aid of up to €7.5 million for a given project without having to notify the Commission. The initiative also aims to facilitate environmental protection projects and promote female entrepreneurship. source

My comment: Again, I can only approve such initiative. It's hight time to see the EU unifying the VAT and actually everything and letting the business flowrish.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ecology in Europe, June, 2008

In this edition:
  • Electronics makers want incentives to green product lines
  • Corruption a catalyst for global water crisis, says report
  • EU moves to combat illegal fishing, protect ecosystems
  • MEPs back stronger clean vehicle procurement plans
  • EU 'green transport' plans to ignore CO2
  • Gordon Brown urges British to stop wasting food
  • G8 backs 50% CO2 cut by 2050
  • EU tuning in to energy efficiency?
Again, they look like many articles, but actually, they are quite short. I hope you enjoy them!

Electronics makers want incentives to green product lines

27 June 2008

Europe's electronics and electrical engineering industries say they can make big contributions to cutting EU CO2 emissions, especially through energy efficiency improvements. But investment incentives and greater certainty on exemptions to emissions rules are needed, they say.

Electra is a commission-backed initiative designed to foster innovation in the electronics and electrical engineering industries in the context of EU efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Electra presented the results of a year of "intense" work yesterday during a conference in Brussels. "Fiscal and financial policies should be designed to attract investment and complemented by facilitating private investment, including through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)," the group concluded.

EU Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, who attended the Electra event, declared the "birth of a new chapter" in the EU's industrial policy. It is necessary to "overcome old thinking" with respect to the perceived contradiction between modern technologies and environmental protection, Verheugen said.

The Commission will next week present new action plans on a Sustainable Industrial Policy and on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). The SCP action plan will include a proposal to extend the EU's Eco-design Requirements for Energy-using Products Directive to "all energy-related products," Verheugen said. source

My comment: I agree with all that, the only thing I disagree is they try to involve the emission permits in the discussion which is convenient for them, but very damaging to the discussion itself. In reality, companies and industries should make investments in new technologies like it or not, so I don't see what this has to with permits.

Corruption a catalyst for global water crisis, says report

26 June 2008

Corruption in the water sector is the "root cause" of the current global water crisis and is undermining efforts to develop a global response to climate change and the food crisis, according to a report published yesterday (25 June) by Transparency International.

The reportexternal , compiled by over twenty experts, highlights the importance of good governance in the water sector. It notably reveals how corruption has had a knock-on effect on the consequences of climate change by thwarting resettlement programmes and hindering water-sharing pacts.

It is estimated that roughly 1.2 billion people across the world lack access to water, with over 2.6 billion without sanitation. But the NGO reckons that by 2025, this figure will rise, with over three billion people living in water-stressed countries. It further says corruption is "undermining the sustainability of water supplies" and could lead to political conflict.

Corruption is also aggravating the current global food crisis, where lack of irrigation is a major issue. The report estimates that corruption adds 25% to the cost of irrigation contracts in India, meaning higher water prices and lower yields for farmers and further exacerbating water shortages. Corruption is also rampant in China, according to the report, where environmental standards have dropped as a result. It is estimated that some 90% of aquifers in cities and 75% of urban rivers are polluted due to bribery.

The phenomenon affects both public and private water services and is apparent in both rich and poor countries. It is a particularly lucrative business in Western Europe, North America and Japan, where the awarding of contracts and infrastructure is a money-spinning business worth an estimated $210 billion annually, according to Transparency International.

Their report suggests a number of remedies to overcome corruption: strengthening independent regulatory oversight, ensuring fair competition for water contracts and implementing transparency and participation as guiding principles for water governance. It particularly highlights the notion of participation as "a mechanism for reducing undue influence and capture of the sector". source

My comment: I won't comment this one since it talks for itself. Corruption should be fought and we're the ones that should exterminate it!

EU moves to combat illegal fishing, protect ecosystems

26 June 2008

Fisheries ministers from the 27-member bloc have given their unanimous backing to Commission proposals to combat illegal fishing and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, in a move welcomed by European environmental groups.

Ministers adopted the regulations on Tuesday (24 June) during a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which took place in Luxembourg on 23-24 June.

A regulation on illegal fishing, which affects EU vessels outside of Community waters as well as foreign boats accessing European oceans, imposes sanctions on offenders proportionate to the value of the landed catch. It permits higher sanctions for repeated lawbreakers.

Ministers also decided to establish a common certification system with the aim of ensuring that IUU products do not enter the European market.

Green groups hailed the adoption of the single authorisation mechanism, with Greenpeace's Saskia Richartz declaring that "today's decision will help limit destructive fisheries and benefit all those that are sticking to the rules".

Meanwhile, the marine protection regulation will only allow fishing in protected areas where there is scientific proof that it does not cause damage to ecosystems, while vessels will require special permits to use bottom fishing gear.

The measures "will protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas not covered by regional fishery management organisations," explained Jarc, as well as regulate "the fishing activities of EU vessels in restricted areas of the high seas". source

My comment:A great news, no question! I'm not sure of their motivation, but still a good decision is good no matter of the motivation!

MEPs back stronger clean vehicle procurement plans

Published: Wednesday 25 June 2008

The European Parliament's Environment Committee yesterday (24 June) voted in favour of earlier implementation of plans making it mandatory for government authorities to ensure public transport fleets and other utility vehicles are clean and energy efficient.

MEPs want to make it compulsory for public authorities to consider not only the purchase price of buses, garbage lorries or delivery vans when acquiring them, but also their environmental impacts. The additional criteria would include life-cycle costs for fuel consumption, CO2 emissions and air pollution and would enter into force as early as January 2010.

This is two years earlier than what the Commission is proposing, but it is more in line with the general approach approved by member states last week, which would allow authorities two years to comply as of the directive's entry into force.

The Environment Committee also said the cost of CO2 should be calculated at a minimum of €30 per tonne, rather than at €20 as proposed by the Commission (EurActiv 20/12/07).

The aim is to kick-start a market in technologies that are currently not commercially viable, such as biofuels, hydrogen, natural gas or LPG, electric or hybrid vehicles.

The new plans would cover all new road vehicles, except – according to an amendment introduced by MEPs – second-hand vehicles, emergency vehicles and those used to provide "operational support" or maintain infrastructure.

The committee nevertheless said the criteria should be taken into account when public authorities purchase replacement parts or engines for retrofitting on older vehicles.

MEPs also called on the Commission to establish a scoreboard for benchmarking similar cities and comparing the environment-friendliness of their procurement practices.

The committee further asked the Commission to set up a "European Climate Protection Fund" to encourage the purchase of such vehicles.

The new plans, on the other hand, are expected to affect the purchases of roughly 110,000 passenger cars, 110,000 light commercial vehicles, 35,000 lorries and 17,000 buses.

According to Commission estimates, the inclusion of lifetime costs for fuel, CO2, NOx, non-methane hydrocarbons and particulate matter (PM) would push the price of a normal bus up from around €150,000 to €594,030 – meaning that it would become more interesting to pay a higher price up-front for a cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicle with lower fuel energy consumption and emissions. source

My comment: Great, let's hope that would pass also the EC because it obviously will help a little bit to the over-polluted cities in Europe.

EU 'green transport' plans to ignore CO2

7 July 2008

Despite the bloc's ambitious goal to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020, Commission proposals due to be unveiled tomorrow (8 July) would effectively prohibit governments from including the cost of CO2 emitted by road transport in their toll tariffs.

The proposals will be part of a broad package on 'greening transport', which will include a general Communication on 'greening transport', a proposal for a review of the Eurovignette Directive and a 'Strategy for the internalisation of external costs' for each transport mode.

The review of the Eurovignette Directive aims to enable governments to charge truck drivers for the costs they impose in terms of congestion, noise and air pollution.

According to the latest draft obtained by EurActiv, such 'external cost' charges could come on top of those already levied in some countries to finance construction and maintenance work.

Member states would not be obliged to impose such taxes but could choose to do so for vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes, on any part of their road network, as of January 2012. Charges would be capped at maximum levels and would have to vary according to the time of day, the distance travelled and vehicles' Euro emissions class type – which takes account of the amount of NOx and poisonous particulate matter emitted (see LinksDossier on Euro standards).

Tolls with barriers would no longer be permitted and the collection of charges would have to be based on an electronic system so as to avoid hindrances to the free flow of traffic, although there would be a transition period up till January 2014.

Charging trucks for the CO2 they emit would remain forbidden.

In what is likely to become the main contentious issue with national governments, the Commission is proposing that revenues generated by external cost charges be earmarked towards measures aimed at reducing road transport pollution at source, improving CO2 and energy performance of vehicles and developing alternative infrastructure for transport users, the communication states.

Governments would nevertheless remain free to allocate revenues raised through infrastructure charges as they choose. source

My comment: I think it's not a bad proposition, despite the title.

Gordon Brown urges British to stop wasting food

8 July 2008

As leaders of the world's richest countries gather at the G8 summit in Japan to discuss soaring food prices, a UK government report reveals that British families throw away a third of the food they buy, thus creating unnecessary demand which further increases prices and causes greenhouse gas emissions.

"With the average household throwing away food worth hundreds of pounds each year, there is a clear opportunity both to save money and to cut back on waste," argues UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, commenting on the results of a government studyexternal reviewing the main trends in the country's food production and consumption and their effects to the economy, society and environment.

According to the report, UK consumers throw away the equivalent of £10 billion (€12.5 billion) worth of food every year. That adds up to some £420 (€527) per family and £610 (€766) per family with children. According to the report, some seven million slices of bread, one million slices of ham, 4.4 million whole apples, 1.3m yoghurts and 440,000 home-made and ready-made meals every day.

Furthermore, according to the report, wasted food causes greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Eliminating the unnecessary waste would deliver greenhouse gas savings "equivalent to taking one in five cars off UK roads," the study concludes.source

My comment: I do agree throwing away food is the ultimate sin. I mean, so many people starving, so many people dreaming to buy something that is too expensive for them and you have people just wasting. That's bad.

G8 backs 50% CO2 cut by 2050

8 July 2008

G8 leaders on Tuesday (8 July) said they support the successful conclusion of international climate change talks in order to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, but shied away from any specific or binding medium-term targets.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso hailed the statement as "a new, shared vision by the major economies on the climate challenge". "The EU's benchmark for success at this Summit has been achieved," he said

In advance of the talks, Barroso had expressed hope that G8 leaders would agree to "meaningful and ambitious long-term goals and mid-term targets" for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to pave the way for a new global climate change deal by December 2009, in Copenhagen (EurActiv 07/07/08).

But while the statement concedes that achieving the 50% or more reduction target will require "mid-term goals and national plans," no specifics are mentioned. And it highlights several times the importance of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" between developed and developing states to reach any GHG reduction targets.

The language reflects the long-standing negotiation impasse between the US on the one hand and rapidly developing countries like China and India on the other.

While G8 leaders hailed the common statement as a breakthrough, environmental groups like the WWF slammed it as "pathetic". source

My comment: Pathetic is precisely the word. I mean "hailed". What the f*ck do you hail, you accomplished nothing, G8 is still in a deadlock. Then, what precisely did we achieve?! Abolutely nothing!

EU tuning in to energy efficiency?

7 July 2008

Energy efficiency was a central topic of discussion in Paris last week (3-5 July) among EU environment and energy ministers concerned about high oil prices. But to date, efforts to decrease the energy intensity of the EU economy remain lacklustre.

However, if the Commission's energy efficiency action plan, if delivered, the plan would also prevent 780 million tonnes of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere, or twice the amount the EU agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol (see also EurActiv's LinksDossier).

Energy efficiency should be the "cornerstone of public, energy and climate policies," according to a French EU Presidency press release that cited the conclusions of a working session held in parallel to the Council meeting.

"This is essential for reducing greenhouse gases and is one of the necessary mediums to long-term solutions to rising oil prices. The advantages of this choice are therefore three-fold: the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, consumer savings, and on a strategic level, the easing of pressure on Europe's energy supply and in the medium-term, energy price tensions", according to the statement.

But despite these and similar declarations about the need for energy efficiency upgrades, the EU has not set any legally binding targets on energy efficiency. In contrast, legally binding targets for renewable energy uptake and CO2 reduction are currently being finalised as part of the EU's climate and energy package, proposed on 23 January (EurActiv LinksDossier).

Part of the problem is that, unlike regulating energy supply sources and emissions from large industrial installations, energy efficiency improvements are spread throughout the economy, involving a wide range of stakeholders, including a panoply of small firms.

In addition, energy efficiency improvements can require large up-front investment which only pays off after several years, and the issue of who provides funding and how best to implement it remains the subject of a complex and far-reaching debate.

The best solution, most experts agree, is an "integrated approach" that combines policy and fiscal incentives with technological advances, more favourable financing conditions and changes to consumer behaviour (see EurActiv's LinksDossier on energy efficiency funding).

What's more...

The Commission has once again delayed the release of its Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) action plan, which, together with an action plan on a Sustainable Industrial Policy (SIP), was originally scheduled for release in December 2007 (EurActiv LinksDossier).

It is unclear what the cause of the delay is, though stakeholder sources speculate that the Commission is divided internally on the extent to which energy-related products should be subject to 'eco-design' and labelling requirements, the main legislative part of the plans.

The plans are now expected "over the next couple of months," according to a 4 July speech by EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs before energy and environment ministers.

In the meantime, a special EU regulatory committee will vote on standards for standby devices and other energy-using products, part of the implementation of the EU's eco-design requirements for energy-using products (EuP) Directive. The Commission is also planning to put forward a revised action plan on energy efficiency by spring 2009.

Please also visit EurActiv France for further coverageexternal of this issue. source

My comment: I'm kind of sick to repeat that energy efficiency should be the first and most heavily developed tool to decrease both fossil fuel dependency and polluting emissions from all kinds. It's easy, it's practical, it economical and it's DOABLE! It's about time that the EC understands it!

 

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