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It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Future of the EU, December, 2008

Today:
  1. EU trio’ concept gains weight amid Czech Presidency doubts
  2. Czechs dilute EU presidency message, logo
  3. Czechs to push for Nabucco gas pipeline at EU helm
Today, probably the last post for this year, we'll talk about the future of the EU and the new Czech presidency. I hope you enjoy the post. I know I did :) Did you know that Topolanek said that Obama's ancestors ate Polish missioners? That's so fun!

EU trio’ concept gains weight amid Czech Presidency doubts

20 November 2008

As apprehension mounts in Brussels over the incoming Czech Presidency, officials are playing down anxieties on the basis that the EU's work schedule increasingly relies upon agendas drawn up by 'trios of presidencies' including older, more experienced member states.

Presidency programmes are now seen as a collective effort by 'trio presidencies', in which at least one country is one of the 'older' group of 15 EU member states.

The current trio is composed of France (the current EU president holder), the Czech Republic (which will assume the Union's helm in January 2009) and Sweden (presidency holders in the second half of 2009). The three presented their joint 18-month programmePdf external in June 2008.

The next 'trio', due to start work in January 2010, will include Spain, Belgium and Hungary.

Individual countries will still be able to include specific priorities in their programme, but according to one insider, the Council wants to avoid a situation whereby "a country from the North pushes for priorities specific to its region, followed by a Southern country with a very different agenda". In addition, the trio programme allows for a longer-term vision, he added. source

My comment: I like the idea of a troika ( it's funny how the very fact they call it "troika" and not trio, reminds us that 1/3 of the population of Europe are dominantly slavs), because one country can hardly know or care about the interests of all countries. The Union is covering the whole continent and every country is on its own level of development. It's hard for Bulgaria for example to consider the needs of France, we're too different. Having 3 countries instead of one guarantees continuity and balance. Nice!

Czechs dilute EU presidency message, logo

17 November 2008

The logo of the Czech EU Presidency and its accompanying motto 'Europe without barriers' were officially unveiled this week in what appears to be something of a retreat from a previous message, 'We'll make it sweet for Europe'.

The visual identity of the upcoming presidencyexternal was unveiled to the media and the public by Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and his deputy Alexandr Vondra at a press conference at the Veletržní Palace in Prague on Wednesday (12 November).

As well as the logo, the ministers revealed a number of other designs to be used on government cars and at all official venues for the duration of the presidency, including a map of Europe, with each member state represented by their abbreviations (UK, DE and so on) displayed in national colours.

Prime Minister Topolánek used the occasion of the logo's presentation to outline the priorities of his country's EU presidency, namely the economy, energy and external relations, and insisted that his government would adopt a "flexible approach" to addressing issues of common concern.

Topolánek announced the Czech Republic's intention to focus on the economy and particularly the European response to the financial crisis. Regarding energy, security issues and the further development of the climate and energy package feature high on his 'to do' list.

As for external relations, the Czech EU Presidency intends to focus on deepening the bloc’s transatlantic ties. source
My comment: The last paragraph is such a surprise. Like we didn't know how much Czech and Poland adore USA. I wonder when they will get the moral of Georgia and Palestine and understand that the only people who might care about them or help them are those around them, their fellows from the EU. Because USA is way too far and way to complicated to mess with Russia. Anyway, that's their problem so far. But I like how they changed the logo. The previous version was ridiculous, childish and stupid. I think they finally started to take seriously the Presidency and that's good. God helps us the next 6 months, they are going to be tough!

Czechs to push for Nabucco gas pipeline at EU helm

16 December 2008

The Czech EU Presidency will push for the planned Nabucco gas pipeline, which aims to reduce the Union's dependence on Russian gas, to become an EU project, the country's Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek recently announced.

The Czech Republic is among the biggest supporters of the EU's flagship gas project and has put energy security among its highest priorities.

"This is an absolute priority. Our partners see it in the same way" said Topolánek, quoted by the Prague Monitor.

Topolanek alluded to this summer's unexpected cut in oil supplies from Russia to the Czech Republic (EurActiv 31/07/08). At the time, Moscow insisted that the reductions in Russian oil deliveries to the Czech Republic were a result of technical problems, but there was widespread speculation that the cuts may have been politically motivated and linked to Prague's recent decision to host a radar that is part of the US missile shield defence system.

The Czech Republic, unlike some of its neighbours in central and eastern Europe, can cope without Russian crude oil thanks to the IKL pipeline, which was built in the 1990s and connects the country with the Western European pipeline system in Germany. source

My comment: Another surprise :) Well, you know how I feel about Nabucco. I understand why they want it so bad, but I think that the cost at which it will come isn't right. If you read the article you'll see how Turkey blackmails the EU. And honestly, I don't see a difference between being dependent on the USA (or their allies) or on Russia. It's good to have variety in the energy sources, because it allows certain level of manoeuvrability, but we have to be realistic, it's not a panacea and it won't solve all our problems. Also, we have to think about Iran and that's a tough one. That's why, I don't believe in Nabucco, even if it would be good to have it.And I kind of think that it would be used to pour European money into non-european companies, something that I certainly don't approve.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Lisbon Treaty in sight or maybe not?

Today:
  1. Czechs postpone Lisbon Treaty vote to 2009
  2. Lisbon Treaty given green light by Czech court
  3. Irish parliament clears path to new Lisbon referendum
  4. Swedes approve Lisbon Treaty as Czechs, Irish squabble
  5. Eurosceptic chancellor to take lead in Austria
  6. Poll: Irish may say 'yes' to Lisbon Treaty
Don't worry, most of them are quite short.

Czechs postpone Lisbon Treaty vote to 2009

10 December 2008

Czech MPs yesterday decided to postpone voting on the Lisbon Treaty, putting paid to hopes that they would ratify the controversial treaty before they adopt the rotating EU presidency on 1 January.

Having survived a party leadership contest at the weekend (EurActiv 08/12/08), Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in theory gained a stronger mandate to ratify the treaty in the Czech parliament and could have put it to vote had he so wished.

However, at yesterday's extraordinary meeting of parliament initiated by the Czech opposition, Topolanek instead led his ODS (Civic Democrat) party to postpone the debate on the treaty, which will now take place on 3 February. This, then, is the earliest possible date for the Czechs to vote on the treaty. Even then, the vote is not guaranteed to take place.

In fact, Topolanek pushed the ODS to prioritise the approval of the controversial US missile defence systems above Lisbon in the 2009 parliamentary agenda.

The official reason given for the postponement of the vote was Topolanek's assertion that the treaty still needed to be examined by a number of parliamentary committees. Moreover, he claimed that before putting Lisbon to vote, he needed to discuss the treaty and other aspects of cross-party cooperation with the leader of the Czech opposition.

In reality, it is believed the Czech PM is buying time in order to unify the warring factions of his own party, following the dramatic resignation from the ODS of anti-Lisbon Czech President and party chairman Vaclav Klaus on Saturday. source
My comment: So, they will get the Presidency before they ratify the Treaty? Fun! Just notice what is more important for them- to have their precious missile defence system. All I can say in the case is that Georgia learnt the hard way that you don't fight Russia with good intentions from the USA. It's just not going to happen. So if they think this is some type of defence against Russia, they are SO wrong.

Lisbon Treaty given green light by Czech court

26 November 2008

The Czech Republic's highest court today (26 November) ruled that the Lisbon Treaty is consistent with the country's constitution, clearing the way for the country to ratify the EU's reform treaty and cornering Ireland, which is now the only EU country to block it.

The Czech Constitutional Court started public proceedings on the treaty's compatibility with the Czech constitutional order on Tuesday, when it heard a speech criticising the text by President Vaclav Klaus and another by Vice Premier Alexandr Vondra, responsbile for European affairs, who spoke in favour of the treaty on behalf of the Czech government. source

My comment: Not much to say here. It's funny how the President and the Premier had to plead for the Treaty. That's odd. One would think that the Court should be independent from the other powers. In any case, they ran out of excuses.

Irish parliament clears path to new Lisbon referendum

28 November 2008

An all-party parliamentary report published in Dublin yesterday cleared the way for a re-run of the failed 12 June Lisbon Treaty referendum in Ireland, which threw the Union into crisis.

"No legal obstacle appears to exist to having a referendum either on precisely the same issue as that dealt with on June 12 or some variation thereof," said the report, by an Irish parliamentary sub-committee looking at the country's future in the EU.

The report warned that the position of Ireland has been diminished since 12 June and that the country could suffer serious economic consequences as a result of the negative vote on the Union's reform treaty.

Significantly, the report warns that other EU countries are likely to develop a mechanism to allow them to move forward - without Ireland - with the reforms envisaged by the treaty.

The current world economic crisis also appeared to be a major argument in favour of the Irish thinking again. As a result of its isolation, the ability of Irish banks to raise money in international markets would be diminished and the country would be less capable of competing for foreign direct investment.

The report also rejected as "undesirable" a suggestion that Ireland could ratify the Lisbon Treaty through its parliament. Scholars had pointed out that this solution was legally possible, but politically difficult to sell to the Irish people.

Moreover, a solution whereby Ireland would leave the Union was rejected as "unthinkable".

Although stopping short of proposing concrete solutions, the report leans heavily in favour of a second referendum with additional declarations, joint decisions or protocols to reassure Irish voters on various issues. source

My comment: Nothing we didn't already knew. Ireland will have to vote Yes eventually, simply because they were wrong the first time. They were used in a very ugly manner and now people start seeing it. I don't know what to think about the One commissionaire/country. It sounds good, but how practical will it be if there are 5 more countries to join the EU? I don't know. Maybe it's doable, every country prefers to keep that ratio, though imagine if there are two good candidates for 2 positions from 1 country. This isn't particularly business-oriented way to work. I don't know, I have to make up my mind on that yet. But so far, it wouldn't hurt to keep the 1 commissionaire until the next enlargement.

Swedes approve Lisbon Treaty as Czechs, Irish squabble

21 November 2008
The Swedish Parliament's approval of the EU Reform Treaty yesterday (20 November) has further increased the pressure on the EU's two odd men out, the Czech Republic and Ireland, to come up with a rescue plan for the text.

Just days before the Czech court is set to give its opinion on the treaty, 243 Swedish MPs voted in favour and 39 against the text, with 12 abstentions, raising the number of EU countries that ratified it to 23. The parliaments of Germany and Poland have already given their approval, but ratification is not yet complete as the country's presidents have not yet signed the text.

In a thinly-veiled attack on Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Duff said it was "fortunate that Sweden does not have an eccentric, eurosceptic head of state to impede the completion of the ratification process". source
My comment:Nice! What more can I say. Especially the last paragraph which is entirely correct. Way to go Sweden!

Eurosceptic chancellor to take lead in Austria

24 November 2008

Austria yesterday (23 November) formed another grand coalition between the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the conservative People's Party (ÖVP). But this time the new government is expected to be led by a eurosceptic chancellor.

A 200-page coalition agreement indicates that the government will fall if one party decides to push for a referendum on a new EU treaty. The Austrian Parliament ratified the Lisbon Treaty in April 2008 amid calls for a referendum from the right-wing opposition.

The prospective new chancellor, Werner Faymann (SPÖ), insists that a nationwide referendum should be held on any new EU treaty. But his future Deputy Chancellor Joseph Proell (ÖVP) insists that no referendum should occur against his party's will.

Faymann is known as a eurosceptic prepared to push his party into uncharted waters. He benefited from the support of Austria's tabloid press due to the party's promise to put the future of the EU to a popular vote. He served as transport and infrastructure minister under the previous Gusenbauer government. Faymann never finished university and has never held a job outside politics. source

My comment: I don't like the guy from now. I don't understand how these people get to the power. Ok, I understand but still it sucks. I hope they make him behave. In any case I don't understand all the fuss around that Treaty. It's not that different from the last one. It's just more practical. I think people use it for media attention, not because they protect any kind of national interest. After all what interest will it harm?

Poll: Irish may say 'yes' to Lisbon Treaty

17 November 2008

The Irish may approve the Lisbon Treaty in a new referendum, provided that a number of safeguards are added to the text, according to a new opinion poll published by the Irish Times today (17 November).

The Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll reveals that a swing to the 'yes' side has taken place since the referendum defeat last June.

Now, 43% of the Irish say they would vote 'yes' and 39% woud say 'no' to the text, while 18% have no opinion. Excluding the 'don't knows', this would give the 'yes' camp 52.5% and the 'no' side 47.5%, compared with last June's referendum result of 53.4% 'no' and 46.6% 'yes' (EurActiv 13/06/08).

But the possible breakthrough would come at a price. In the poll, people were asked how they would vote if the Lisbon Treaty was modified to allow Ireland to retain its EU commissioner, with other Irish concerns on neutrality, abortion and taxation clarified in special declarations. source
My comment: That was just for information.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

European Environment, December, 2008

Today:
  1. UN climate talks make little progress
  2. EU to consider CO2 labelling for products
  3. Road users pressed to 'internalise' pollution costs
  4. Commission tables electronic waste recycling review
Merry Christmas to all! The news aren't exactly Xmas like, but oh well, better than nothing.

UN climate talks make little progress

9 December 2008

After a week of intensive talks, ministers have not yet made a breakthrough in negotiations for a post-Kyoto climate change deal currently taking place in Poland, despite some progress on tackling deforestation.

Uncertainty over the recession, the change of US administration and the adoption of an EU energy and climate package this week is weighing heavily on the talks.

Sources close to the negotiations at the December 1-12 summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) expect parties will not be able agree a negotiating text before the very end of the conference, during the night of December 12-13.

Some experts are still confident that some progress is possible in specific areas. Countries could agree on funding to help poorer countries cope with the effects of climate change and set up a scheme to pay tropical countries to protect forests.

According to the UN, annual investment of $17-30bn could halve deforestation levels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.

Speaking to EurActiv, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas underlined that part of the bloc's contribution to such a global mechanism could come from the revenues governments receive from auctioning emission allowances under the EU ETS.

Broadly, the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation initiative - known as REDD - proposes to extend existing carbon trading mechanisms whereby polluters in the developed world would buy credits to offset their carbon emissions that include forests in the developing world, rewarding conservation and sustainable use.

But the "forest offsetting" mechanism sparked criticism among developing countries in Poznań.

Brazil has ruled out letting developed countries offset their greenhouse gas emissions by helping to save the Amazon rainforest. Earlier last week, Brazil set itself an ambitious target of reducing its deforestation by 70% over the next 10 years. But the Brasilia government favours a public funding scheme, rather than allowing countries and companies to compensate for excess carbon emissions by funding tropical forest conservation.

Representatives of Latin American indigenous communities in Poznań have opposed a carbon market approach, as they fear the scheme will trigger a damaging land grab involving millions of dollars.

The Commission suggested having a pilot phase in which credits could be bought by governments to help them meet their post-2012 emission targets.

Meanwhile, big polluters from the developing world, such as China and India, have repeatedly said that they will not commit to a global deal until tough action is taken by developed countries. source

My comment: No surprise here. I wonder that's the thing with Brasilia. Not that I get the idea of the forest offsetting but it might be better than it sounds. Oh well, I don't expect any deal soon, because everyone is using the crisis as an excuse to not give money (or to request some more).

EU to consider CO2 labelling for products

8 December 2008

EU environment ministers have asked the European Commission to find ways of calculating carbon footprints and assessing environmental performance of products throughout their life cycles. But the idea has attracted fierce criticism from industry.

Last week's Environment Council (4 December) requested a study as part of its conclusions on the Commission's action plans on sustainable consumption and production and sustainable industrial policy (SCP).

Overall, ministers welcomed the Commission's proposal as a potential means of speeding up the creation of "a safe and sustainable low-carbon and resource-efficient economy that is capable of competing successfully in global markets," through a combination of voluntary and binding measures designed to mitigate the energy consumption and environmental impact of products.

They asked the EU executive to conduct a study estimating the impact of inserting a carbon footprint for products into existing EU environmental labelling instruments, including the eco-label and energy labelling, and to develop common voluntary methodologies for its calculation.

The Commission is expected to assess the implementation of the SCP action plan by 2012, to provide guidance on widening of the scope of the Eco-Design Framework Directive to other product types. source

My comment: I like that obviously but I'm kind of suspicious toward the good will of ministers. Sure, the idea sounds very good, but I'm sure that industry won't like it too much, because of the lack of clarity and probably of fairness. They probably agree to it only because it's in such a beginning phase.

Road users pressed to 'internalise' pollution costs

5 December 2008

As transport use continues to grow, all modes of transport must pay their fair share for the pollution they emit, including lorries and private car users, argued stakeholders attending a logistics conference on 3 December.

One of the main questions debated in the CLECAT annual freight forwarders' conferenceexternal was whether the current EU approach to 'internalise its external costs' is right in the current context of economic slowdown.

"If congestion is not taken into account - and you hardly ever see trucks on congested roads, but rather private cars of individuals getting their goods in and out of cities - 99% of our external costs are covered," he said.

Nielsen also underlined that the objective of Eurovignette should be see that money collected from one transport mode is invested back into that mode to improve performance.

Nielsen's call for all transport modes to be tackled equally was supported by freight forwarders. "If introduced, internalisation of external costs must be done for all modes of transport, including private cars," argued Jean Claude Delen of CLECAT, which represents the industry.

Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency (EEA) underlined that freight markets were driven by consumption patterns and the burden of external costs should therfore be shared across society. source
My comment: Ok, I have a big problem with such transports, because they claim they pay all but in the end, the decisions are made in a very cartel-like manner. An example is the rows between Bulgaria and Turkey-when Bulgaria threaten to raise some kind of tax, they immediately answer with the same for our trucks. In the end, nobody want to impose any taxes or fees, from fear. This is not right. I don't know what European trucks pay, but I can see how polluting they are home, so..

Commission tables electronic waste recycling review

4 December 2008

Electronic equipment manufacturers fear that a proposed review of an EU directive on recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment will result in producers having to pay for household collection.

The European Commission tabled proposalsPdf external to recast the WEEE and RoHS directives on 3 December.

According to the EU executive, the review aims to tackle the technical, legal and administrative difficulties related to the current directives and cut down related unintended costs and burden on market actors and administrations.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas also referred to the review as "an opportunity for EU companies to innovate and have access to valuable raw materials" as the bloc seeks to become a resource-efficient economy and encourage sustainable consumption and production.

Changes proposed for the two directives include:

  • Change in the collection target from the current 4kg/capita per year ('one size fits all') to a variable binding target that takes into account the economies of individual member states (65% of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market over the two previous years);
  • including the re-use of whole appliances in the recycling and re-use target in order to encourage re-use;
  • increasing the re-use and recycling target by 5%;
  • listing priority substances posing particular environmental concerns when used in electrical and electronic equipment, to be assessed in line with the EU's REACH regulation on chemicals with a view to a possible ban in the future;
  • harmonised EU-level registration and reporting obligations for producers;
  • minimum inspection requirements for member states to strengthen the enforcement of the directive and monitor requirements for shipping WEEE.

The EU executive is also asking member states to encourage producers to finance the costs of separate collection from private households and shift the costs of WEEE collection from taxpayers to consumers of electrical and electronic equipment (through producers) to bring financing in line with the 'polluter pays' principle set out in the EU Treaties.

EICTA argues that it puts a disproportionate financial burden on electrical and electronic equipment producers by encouraging producers to be made financially responsible for household collection. Although the proposal remains unclear on this, stating that producers should be encouraged to finance collection costs, EICTA believes the revision would "massively increase the costs of compliance with no environmental benefit".

Environmental and health NGOs said the Commission proposals regarding the RoHS Directive were not strong enough, because they do not set targets for phasing out additional hazardous chemicals used in electronics. NGOs also called on European regulators to keep the REACH process separate from the RoHS review. source

My comment: I don't understand how they manage to get out of the word "encourage" some form of obligation that will lead to raising of the costs. That's nonsense. Currently the recycling of appliances is so low, it's almost not existing. Whatever they do to improve this should be supported. It's shame to throw out all this silicon when it can be reused.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Research and chemicals, November, 2008

Today:
  1. Commission clashes with pharma groups over drug patents
  2. EU regulators say 'no' to embryonic stem cell patents
  3. Ministers outline EU research vision for 2020
  4. 'Safe levels' of chemical exposure under review
A rather fun one but in quite depressing way. Though I'm proud of the decision discussed in the second article. But only with that. Read my comments on the others to find out what depressed me. Though the main reason is actually the fact that people are so fond of lies, they cannot even consider talking the truth. It's very upsetting.

Commission clashes with pharma groups over drug patents

28 November 2008

The EU executive and European pharmaceutical giants engaged in a high-profile clash in Brussels today (28 November) as the European Commission produced a report on alleged breaches of competition by the industry.

Again, just days before the announcement of the preliminary results of the inquiry, new raids were conducted on the night of 24 November 2008 (EurActiv 26/11/08).

The Commission's preliminary report on the pharma sector inquiry, published on 28 November, alleges that "competition in this industry does not work as well as it should".

However, pharma industry federation EFPIA immediately shot back, ridiculing the Commission's "very selective use of facts" and claiming that the report "focused on the wrong issues".

The main findings of the report point to "problems" in how so-called "originator companies" that develop and sell new medicines delay market entry of cheap generics, blocking one another's innovation and thus the discovery of new drugs.

According to the report, originator companies are using "a variety of methods" with the objective of delaying or blocking market entry of generic companies to maintain high income streams for themselves. They also result in "significant additional costs for public health budgets – and ultimately taxpayers and patients," noted the EU executive.

The practices identified include:

  • Multiple patent applications for the same medicine (so-called patent clusters);
  • initiation of disputes and litigation;
  • conclusion of patent settlements which constrain market entry of generic companies, and;
  • interventions before national authorities when generic companies ask for regulatory approvals.

Higgins (Bayer) argued that the Commission had misunderstood the dynamics of the industry and overemphasised the issue of defensive patent strategies, which he described as a "red herring". "Patents only work if you have the right to defend them," he said.

Rather, he argued that the Commission should focus on the lack of competition in the generics sector: "Why do we pay more for our generics than US citizens?," he asked.

Higgins said he believed the Commission had been "overwhelmed by how much data we gave them" and asked the EU executive to focus on the facts. "This industry has nothing to hide," he concluded. source

My comment: This is fun. Especially the response they got from the "Industry". Oh, don't get me wrong, I agree with the Commission that there's something wrong with the way thing are, but that goes to the whole word, actually. /sorry, I'm a bit depressed today/ I'm absolutely sure that big companies abuse patent laws, I'm just not sure whose fault this is. Because patents as they are now, exist to be abused. How many independent patents you've seen on the whole European market? Well, I cannot speak with numbers, but if they were many, we wouldn't hear about stimulating Research so often. That's why I think that apart from pharmaceutical giants who obviously have to pay for their insolence, the result of those raid should be a rewriting of all the patent laws in the Union as one, single law that actually protects inventors. For a change.

EU regulators say 'no' to embryonic stem cell patents

28 November 2008

The European Patent Office (EPO) yesterday (27 November) ruled against allowing a patent on developing human stem cell cultures whose preparation involves the destruction of embryos. The decision may hamper stem cell research for commercial purposes, as companies may have little incentive to finance it without patent protection.

The EPO's appeal board confirmed an earlier decision regarding the use of stem cells filed by the US Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) in 1995. The EPO, however, stressed that their decision did not concern the general question of human stem cell patentability.

A 1998 EU directive clearly forbids patents on the industrial use of human embryos, yet industry has tried time and again to push them through. German Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer, who is also president of the European Parliament Bioethics Intergroup, "wholeheartedly" welcomed the "landmark ruling", saying that "human dignity has rightfully been put first".

She called on the European Patent Office to prohibit patents on stem cells, which cause the destruction of human embryos. "Such patents come at the expense of patients and doctors," she said, adding that patents should only allow technical use, not the gene itself.

WARF said it was considering various responses and stressed that the decision would not affect patent rights in the US. source

My comment: Ok, is it just me or it sounds weird to patent stem cells? No matter how you obtained, you still try to patent something that is existing without your will, something that you have not created. For me, it's clear - in the case, you should be able to patent only processes, nothing more. Because if you patent stem cells, what is the next step, the mother to pay for the stem cells in the baby's cord? This is absurd and very dangerous!

Ministers outline EU research vision for 2020

3 December 2008

Amid fears that the current economic crisis could severely hamper R&D investment, EU research ministers yesterday (2 December) unveiled their bold vision of a borderless European Research Area (ERA) by 2020 to boost the bloc's competitiveness.

Maintaining R&D investment and strengthening the "knowledge triangle" of education, research and innovation are key to the successful completion of the ERA, ministers said.

Addressing fears that research budgets may be cut during the current crisis, the commissioner said investing in R&D and innovation was "not a supplementary burden but an indispensable investment in future jobs and growth".

Ministers also agreed on a procedure for joint research programmes, aimed at better responding to major societal challenges such as the food crisis and its consequences for agriculture, as well as how to manage our ecosystem, climate change or the ageing of the European population.source

My comment: Yeah, I couldn't agree with this more. Actually, I can say even more, but I think I already said it in few occasions. If the EC is smart, it will bet on the R&D. This is the only way to get clean of what is to come. Industries are going to drown, but technology and technological supremacy will stay on top and whoever has it, will be on the top after the crisis is over. I hope they realise it rather sooner than later.

'Safe levels' of chemical exposure under review

1 December 2008

A draft report by three EU scientific committees tries to establish whether current toxicity risk assessment can be applied to establish safe levels of human exposure to a number of substances in cosmetics, toys and cleaning products. Its initial findings can be commented upon until 2 January 2009.

The draft report , published in November, comes just days before a 30 December deadline to pre-register substances for safety screening and registration under the EU's chemical regulation REACH.

The report assess the applicability of the so-called Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC) approach to the human health-related risk assessment of chemical substances.

The TTC concept is based on 'safe levels of of exposure' and evaluates toxicity based on substances' known toxicity or chemicals that share similar characteristics. According to the EU scientific committees, it is used in situations where there is limited or no information on the toxicity of a compound, and where human exposure is so low that adverse effects are not expected.

The concept is currently used for materials which come into contact with food, but its application in a number of other areas is under discussion, notes the report, listing consumer products, food additives, pesticides and cosmetics as examples.

The draft opinion underlines that appropriate exposure assessment is essential for TTC, adding that only limited knowledge exists regarding a wide variety of consumer products with "complex exposure scenarios" and "multiple exposure routes".

The scientific committees note that "uncertainties are higher and methodology is less developed" for consumer products such as cleaning products, cosmetics and toys, which involve oral exposure, skin contact and exposure via inhalation. Meanwhile, "significant" exposure is likely for products that are frequently used, they add.

In conclusion, the committees call for further research to be carried out into the development and validation of toxicity databases, particularly in areas where insufficient numbers of representative chemicals are included.

With regard to exposure, the document states that, for human health aspects, the TTC approach is only applicable in cases where detailed information is available on all anticipated use scenarios for which the risk assessment is provided. source

My comment: What a useless piece of research. Really. Seriously, what new information we got out of it? That we cannot make risk assessment based on TTC approach for complex situations. Well, hello! I think they (or maybe I) got the whole idea wrongly - the point was to check if the presence of a single toxic element can lead to disqualifying of a product. And the answer here should be pretty straight forward as long as the product is in the form that is toxic to humans. Unfortunately, they simply couldn't but a "No" in a way that the industry won't have to hang them somewhere. Oh, well, nothing new here...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ecology in November, 2008 - a compromise that nobody needs

Today:
  1. Renewables deal edges 'closer' despite French pressure
  2. EU eyes tax breaks to 'green' economic recovery
  3. Sustainable cities framework to be presented in 2010
  4. EU agrees 10% 'green fuel' target in renewables deal
The real news is in the last article and it really made me angry. I can't say more, actually. It's amazing how stupid and egoistic people can be.

Renewables deal edges 'closer' despite French pressure

28 November 2008

EU countries and the European Parliament are "tantalisingly close" to a compromise agreeement on legislation to promote renewable energy, but the French EU Presidency is stalling the negotiations, according to the European Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier, Green MEP Claude Turmes.

Turmes, who is responsible for guiding the proposal through Parliament, said while much progress had been made in 'trialogue' negotiations between the European Commission, Parliament and the French Presidency, Paris was "refusing to engage in meaningful negotiation" of the main outstanding issues.

These include a safeguard mechanism for the European transport sector and a revision clause for 2014, according to Turmes.

One of the most controversial French ideas is a proposal to review efforts torward the 20% target in 2014. The Parliament is vigorously opposed to this amid concerns that it would undermine investor certainty in the sector. MEPs are also worried that a proposal on flexibility, whereby member states could count investment in renewable energy production in other countries towards their own targets, would create a virtual market for greener energy certificates instead of encouraging physical cross-border trade.

Meanwhile, a consensus on biofuel sustainability criteria seemed to be emerging in talks on Wednesday (26 November), as MEPs and EU governments set out to incorporate the impact of indirect land-use changes into the new renewables directive.

But there was no agreement on when to factor these into the calculations. MEPs want to see indirect land-use change included immediately in the formula proposed for calculating biofuel emissions, while member states would rather wait for the Commission's quantification proposals in 2010, which would delay the introduction of the law substantially.source

My comment: Notice the funny tenses they are using. Which probably means that nothing is sure. I probably should simply state my position in the case - I think that EC should decide for the way that would lead to the most investment in the sector, especially now, when the crisis is making the oil so cheap that it's not worthy to invest into renewable. However, that won't go on forever and it's very important to keep the investments into the green resources, otherwise, we could get ourselves into very unpleasant situation.

EU eyes tax breaks to 'green' economic recovery

27 November 2008

Fiscal incentives backed by EU funds to promote cleaner vehicles and building efficiency are recommended as part of a 200-billion-euro economic recovery plan unveiled by the European Commission yesterday (26 November).

The planPdf external proposes three public-private partnerships (PPPs), the most ambitious of which is designed to achieve a 'breakthrough' in reducing CO2 emissions from the European car fleet.

The buildings and construction sector fall under the second PPP proposed in the plan, though the initiative is less ambitious in scope and limited to €1 billion.

The EIB will also boost annual investments for energy and climate change-related infrastructure by up to €6 billion, and a new '2020 fund for energy, climate change and infrastructure' is also envisaged by the plan, though details are not included.

A cross-sector PPP valued at €1.2 billion for the manufacturing industry, notably the ICT sector, is the last point outlined in the proposals.

"Targeted tax incentives" should complement nearly all the actions outlined, according to the Commission, which will propose reduced value added tax (VAT) for 'green' goods and services, especially those that contribute to greater energy efficiency in buildings. In addition, "member states should consider introducing a reduction of property tax for energy-performing buildings," the communication says.

The recovery plan will be scrutinised and potentially adopted by EU governments during the 11-12 December European summit in Brussels. source

My comment: Yeah, VAT reductions are notoriously hard to obtain, very correct observation. I only don't understand why Germany is so much against it. True, it's a big source of money for the government, but if it will help the industry to recover from the crisis (or to survive it), it's not so bad. After all, it's always possible to increase the taxes. But it's not that simple to keep alive an industry.

Sustainable cities framework to be presented in 2010

26 November 2008

EU ministers have agreed to develop a practical and inclusive reference framework for the implementation of EU's sustainable urban development goals regarding the environment, the economy and social issues.

Many European citie suffer from heavy congestion and pollution, high noise levels and social exclusion. As the source of almost three quarters of energy consumption, cities also have a major role to play in the fight against climate change.

The EU-27 urban development ministers met on 25 November to discuss how different policies can contribute to sustainable urban development and how horizontal work on the sectoral policies could be enhanced.

The framework would outline the general principles of a sustainable city: an integrated approach of all public policies and all levels based on interaction of environmental, economic and social sectors. A flexible, collective and open process would be put in place via a "questioning and analytical tool that could serve as a medium for debate and a joint search for converging pathways to progress". Thus conflicting approaches to sustainable urban development should not be an obstacle to developing more shared solutions, the ministers note.

According to the French EU Presidency, the final architecture and specifications of the reference framework would be jointly developed by a high-level group made up of representatives of member states, EU institutions, local authority networks, professional associations and the civil society and by a cities work group set up as part of URBACT II. source

My comment: I can't but think about some sci fic novels, that describe the cities of the future. It's scary and exciting in the same time. I have my doubts of the effectiveness of the scheme from the article, but that's not so improtant. As my supervisor says, "we'll get there with few iterations". And the idea is good, because most European cities really have much problems, my own is one of them. And those problems cannot be solved by thinking locally. There are too many conflicting interests in every country. While if it's done on European level, there is much better chance to actually do something good.

EU agrees 10% 'green fuel' target in renewables deal

5 December 2008

The EU has struck a deal to satisfy 10% of its transport fuel needs from renewable sources, including biofuels, hydrogen and green electricity, as part of ongoing negotiations on its energy and climate package. The move represents a step back from the original aim of sourcing 10% of the bloc's transport fuels from biofuels alone.

A compromise deal on the contribution of biofuels to the EU's overall renewable energy consumption target, which foresees sourcing 20% of the bloc's energy needs from renewables by 2020, was reached late in the night of 3 December during behind-closed-doors negotiations between representatives of the three main EU institutions.

The final compromise obliges the bloc to ensure that biofuels offer at least 35% carbon emission savings compared to fossil fuels when the law enters into force – a figure that would rise to 45% by 2013 and 50% by 2017. As of 2017, the target will be raised to 60%. Earlier, the Parliament had asked for an immediate 45% target to be established (EurActiv 12/09/08).

Sub-targets for first and second-generation biofuels, demanded by MEPs but stongly opposed by member states, were dropped. Instead, the overall 10% biofuels target now applies not only to biofuels, but also to all renewable energy used in transport, such as electric vehicles powered by renewable sources, which will now contribute to achieving the target.

Until the very end, the European Parliament and EU countries remained split over the so-called biofuels sustainability criteria, and in particular whether to include the impact of so-called 'indirect land use' in the formula to calculate biofuels' overall CO2 performance. Such indirect factors include increased CO2 emissions caused by deforestation and higher food prices as a result of shifting land from food to biofuel production.

In a compromise deal, a legally-binding reference to indirect land use was dropped. Instead, the European Commission was asked to come forward with proposals to limit indirect land use caused by the swtich to biofuel production.

The biofuels deal angered many environmental organisations who argued it came at the expense of the world's poor, biodiversity and efforts to fight climate change to prevail the specific interests of farmers and the biofuels industry. Without the indirect land use sustainability criteria, "the EU risks supporting massive production of biofuels, inside and outside Europe, that does not contribute at all to fighting climate change," the NGOs said. source

My comment: I agree completely with the environmental organisations in the case. This deal is a shame for the EU. What more I can say. It's good that they included other sources to the 10% which means that if additional compromise over the indirect land use is reached, member states will simply ignore biofuels and reach the target trough other means. But still, this indirect land use requirement should have been in the deal. It's desperately needed and I absolutely agree that this formulation will lead to abuse of the poorer nations, or of those who don't really care about their land. We're simply moving our damage to foreing soil. This isn't a climate deal, it's obvious profit.

Friday, December 19, 2008

European Economy in crisis, November, 2008

In today's edition
  1. Towards a European recovery programme
  2. Commission closes antitrust case against E.ON
  3. Commission tables 200 billion euro ‘recovery plan’
  4. EU to relax budget rules to help kick-start economy
  5. France and Germany fail to agree on EU stimulus

Towards a European recovery programme

21 November 2008

The financial crisis requires "exceptional policy responses in order to preserve jobs, livelihoods, financial stability and ultimately political support for open markets," write Jean Pisani-Ferry, André Sapir and Jakob von Weizsäcker of the Bruegel think-tank in a November paper.

As far as Europe is concerned, the experts state that action should be "coordinated in order to ensure consistency and avoid free-riding behaviour". "The more open the economy is, the more governments would be tempted to free-ride and rely on their neighbours' stimulus," they argue.

However, the authors admit that coordinating action will not be easy, especially given that such cooperation would be "among a large number of countries". Furthermore, they complain that economic coordination is a complicated task because "some countries are in relatively good budgetary shape, whereas others, which already recorded significant structural deficits before the downturn, now find themselves in trouble".

The experts are deeply concerned that a budgetary stimulus could "undermine European public finances at a time when the markets are wary of risk".

To get to the bottom of the crisis, the authors argue that the European Union should "combine a substantial coordinated stimulus with measures that improve the long-term sustainability of public finances".

In their view, this should take the form of an "ad-hoc EU agreement" to reform public finances in member states that overrun their budgets, speed up the application of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and commit governments to borrowing at low interest rates only. source

My comment: I sincerely hope that something good will come out of the crisis. I hope I'm not wrong, but after all, human history is spiralling from it's dawn. And the spiral goes only in one direction usually. Life is getting better. Personally, I prefer to see more governmental control to the financial systems, because they proved not to be able to control themselves. Also, it would be nice to see some form of agreement between European countries on the issues. The current systems on projects is fine, it offers some control over where the money go and why. The problem is that some countries feel they give too much, while other feel they receive too little. And that's a good reason for instabilities.

Commission closes antitrust case against E.ON

Published: Thursday 27 November 2008

The European Commission closed an antitrust case against E.ON AG Wednesday (26 November) by formally accepting the German energy giant's commitment to selling a fifth of its power generation capacity along with its extra-high voltage distribution network.

E.ON, an energy corporation based in Düsseldorf, Germany, is the world's largest investor-owned energy service provider. It has subsidiaries in most of Scandinavia, the UK, across Eastern Europe and in Russia. In order to avoid anti-trust fines from the Commission, last February E.ON made an offer to sell its electricity transmission system network "to an operator which would have no interest in the electricity generation and/or supply businesses" (EurActiv 29/02/08).

In a press release, the Commission states that it adopted a decision that renders legally binding a commitment by E.ON to divest around 5,000 MW of its generation capacity to address concerns regarding the electricity generation market.

The EU executive recalled it had concerns that E.ON may have withdrawn available generation capacity from the German wholesale electricity markets (to raise prices), and may have deterred new investors from entering the generation market.

Furthermore, the Commission had concerns that E.ON may have favoured its own production affiliate for the provision of balancing services, while passing the resulting costs on to final consumers and preventing other power producers from exporting balancing energy into its transmission zone.

EU antitrust chief Neelie Kroes welcomed the solution to the long-standing problem.

EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said the European Commission was relieved that the E.ON case had not ended up in court.

If E.ON were to break its commitments, the Commission could impose a fine of up to 10 percent of its total turnover without having to prove any violation of the EU Treaty's competition rules, the EU executive stated.

In a press release, E.ON welcomed the Commission's decision and presented it as a success. source

My comment: A win-win situation, obviously. Then why did they have to go trough all the trouble anyway? I only can applaud the decision and mostly the last paragraph that the Commission can impose fines without proving guilt. That's a fine way of doing politics. And I don't like EON anyway. The Bulgarian filial isn't playing nicely.

Commission tables 200 billion euro ‘recovery plan’

27 November 2008

The European Commission on Wednesday (26 November) suggested that EU countries should spend billions of euro to kick-start their economies, saying it would tolerate higher budget deficits under strict conditions and for a limited period of time.

On 14 November, the countries of the 15-member euro zone officially entered a recession, recording a 0.2% decline in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the second quarter in a row (EurActiv 14/11/08).

The plan proposes a fiscal stimulus of around 1.5% of EU GDP or €200 billion, higher than the €130 billion that had been floated earlier.

Most of the money will be drawn from national budgets, with EU countries asked to contribute €170 billion or 1.2% of the EU's GDP. The rest - around €30 billion or 0.3% of GDP - would come from the EU's own budget and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Presenting the proposal on Wednesday, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "Exceptional times call for exceptional measures. The jobs and well-being of our citizens are at stake."

EU countries are invited to draw from a "toolbox" that includes measures already adopted by some governments. Some countries have already announced fiscal stimulus plans, including Germany and the UK, that will be taken into account in the EU plan, he added.

Measures listed in the EU's 'toolbox' include:

  • Increased support for the unemployed and the poorest households, which have been hit hardest by the economic slowdown;
  • Funding large infrastructure projects such as energy networks and broadband internet;
  • Temporary VAT cuts across the whole economy, similar to the one adopted in the UK, and;
  • Lowering taxes on labour, in particular VAT on 'labour-intensive' sectors such as hairdressers and restaurants, a proposal which has been on the table for some time.

The whole package will be presented for approval by EU member states at their summit in Brussels on 11-12 December.

But while all countries are asked to contribute, the Commission insisted that "a one-size-fits-all approach […] could not work given member states' different starting points" in terms of their budget deficits and overall economic situation.

One of the main elements of the package is that it will allow countries greater flexibility with the Stability and Growth Pact, which limits public deficits to 3% of GDP. "In particular, periods longer than usual to bring the deficit back under the 3% ceiling will be considered," the Commission said.

But Barroso warned about disproportionate use of the flexibility, saying it would result in "a downward spiral of debt" that would only jeopardise growth in the future. The pact is "part of the solution, not part of the problem," he stressed.

In a statement, the Commission made clear that it "will always prepare a report" if the 3% of GDP deficit threshold is breached "unless the excess […] is not exceptional, temporary and close to the threshold".

As a second 'pillar' of the recovery plan, Barroso said measures would need to be "coherent" with the EU's longer term objectives, such as fighting climate change.

The plan, Barroso said, "can turn the crisis into an opportunity to create clean growth and more and better jobs in the future." source

My comment: It's fun to read this even if I know it won't happen like this. I mean, how European countries will give from their own limited budgets to support other countries? In theory this is very good, in practice for local crisis is fine, but in the case of global crisis in which the biggest economies take the hardest hit, I doubt it would work. But it definitely sounds nice.

EU to relax budget rules to help kick-start economy

26 November 2008

Member states will be offered "temporary" flexibility to deviate from the Union's strict budget deficit rules in 2009-2010 under an "economic recovery plan" seen by EurActiv, set to be unveiled today (26 November) by the European Commission.

The exact scope of the plan is yet to be decided upon, but it is widely understood that it will represent no less than 1% of the EU's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

It will be presented for approval by EU leaders at their summit in Brussels on 11-12 December.

Possible measures listed in the plan include increasing public spending in support of low-income households and boosting investment in large infrastructure projects like energy, as well as temporary VAT cuts and lower taxes on labour.

In doing this, the Commission admits that "member states may be obliged to break the 3% reference value" contained in the Stability and Growth Pact, which limits EU countries' budget deficits to a maximum of 3% of GDP.

But it also insists that the measures must be "timely, targeted and temporary" and limited to two years only (2009-2010).

The Commission also makes clear that its own scope for action is limited. "Most of the economic policy levers, and in particular those which can stimulate consumer demand in the short term, are in the hands of the member states," the draft plan underlines.

The EU plan will make it easier for member states to offer direct support to companies, providing "a temporary framework of state aid rules to enhance access to finance for business".

But EU officials said direct support to companies should avoid "negative spillovers" by preventing "some member states or companies [from getting] an unfair competitive advantage compared to others".

The Commission plan is also meant to grant assistance to the ailing automobile sector. The recovery plan includes a "smart mix" of regulation, R&D, state aid and funds from the EU and the European Investment Bank (EIB) to trigger future investments into cleaner vehicles.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have vowed to step up aid for ailing European carmakers, especially if the US decides to bail out their American rivals with $25 billion in subsidised loans as demanded by the Democrats. Sarkozy said: "Europe won't let the car industry down." source

My comment:I don't understand one thing. Why Italy can not support Alitalia, but France and Germany can support car industries. It simply doesn't make sense, in all the cases it's direct support for a company. I don't agree with that and I like an expression I read somewhere that pouring money in the car industry is like postponing the funeral - you're simply not helping!

France and Germany fail to agree on EU stimulus

25 November 2008

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy ruled out joint tax cuts at a meeting yesterday (24 November), underlining Europe's difficulty in developing a coordinated response to the recession ahead of a recovery plan to be unveiled by the European Commission tomorrow (26 November).

Meeting on Monday (24 November), Merkel and Sarkozy rejected a coordinated cut in value-added tax (VAT) similar to one announced by the UK.

On Monday, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling announced a VAT reduction of 2.5% (from 17.5% to 15%) as part of a wider stimulus plan which also included higher taxes for the wealthiest section of the population.

However, Merkel and Sarkozy said such measures were unfit for France and Germany. "A general decrease in valued-added tax is perhaps the answer for some countries but for Germany and France, it is not," Merkel said after the meeting.

But while they agreed on VAT, Sarkozy failed to push the German Chancellor to accept a bigger stimulus plan, coordinated at EU level. Instead, Merkel adopted a wait-and-see approach, saying Germany would review the situation in January.

She pointed out that the full effects of a €32 billion plan announced earlier this month would have to be assessed before any further measures could be decided upon.

Sarkozy, who has been pushing Germany to do more to kick-start the economy, let his irritation show. Talking about the economic stimulus, he said: "France is working on it, Germany is thinking about it." source

My comment: Nicely put Monsieur Sarkozy. Even if not really correct. I don't see what France is doing to help the crisis. Quite on the contrary, I start to think that this crisis was much more expected that we think. Check out this, for example. Societe Generale knew about the Madoff scandal, but it protected only its own clients. Fun enough, right? Those are major banks, I somehow doubt they knew about a problem, but didn't mention it. Why? They are in no way winning, because some else will loose his/her money. Quite the opposite, they can only win if they show how much better they are from all the rest. But they didn't. The question is why. And why the very same bank lost 5 billions of euro, because of unauthorised transactions by 1 person! Very very suspicious!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Energy and climate, November, 2008

In today's edition:
  1. European energy sector 'continuous environmental threat', warns EEA
  2. EU renewables industry optimistic about 2020 outlook
  3. EU, Brazil 'deepen' energy cooperation
  4. Environment pushes EU to become Arctic player
  5. Knowledge gaps hinder energy-efficient building transition
A rather dark one, and it will get darker in the following posts. Unfortunately, the EU is way too scared of the crisis to make the right decisions. Too bad.

European energy sector 'continuous environmental threat', warns EEA

20 November 2008

Despite improved efficiency in electricity and heat production and a cleaner energy mix, the power sector still produces 80% of European greenhouse gases, putting significant strain on the climate, a new European Environment Agency (EEA) study shows.

The report argues that if Europe continues 'business as usual', energy consumption will rise by up to 26% by 2030 and Europe will remain heavily dependent on fossil fuels.

On a positive note, the EEA says that a change in the energy mix is taking place in Europe. Renewable energies account for the highest annual growth rate in energy consumption and coal is being replaced by gas in response to environmental constraints. In addition, the EU 27 managed to reduce energy-related CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2005 by approximately 3% despite an average GDP growth of 2.1%. At the same time, emissions increased by 20% in the US and doubled in China.

Nevertheless, the report points out that the EU is still a long way off its 2020 target of sourcing 20% of all its primary energy from renewables, with the 2005 share standing only at 8.5%. Furthermore, increased electricity consumption at least partially offsets the beneficial environmental effects of a higher share of renewables, the study shows.

The EEA also suggests a trade-off between a reduction in CO2 emissions achieved by a switch to gas and a greater dependency on electricity imports. Europe must prepare to import an ever-greater share of fossil fuels to cover its rising energy demand, as a striking 84% of gas used in the EU could be coming from outside its borders in 2030, the report warns. In 2005, Europe imported more than 54% of its energy needs, with Russia as the largest supplier.

If the EU fails to reach a deal on the climate package at its 11-12 December summit, this would have severe consequences for the prospects for reaching a deal on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol during the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2009, particularly as major emitters like China and the US are looking to the EU for cues on climate action. source

My comment: Yeah, one thing impresses me. So, when they are calculating the quantities needed to be reduced by each member state, they use data from 1995 (or whichever it was). When they talk about the huge progress the EU made on decreasing the emissions, they use data from 1990. Well, I'm asking then, what part of those emissions that we happily didn't make are due to the countries that were part of the EU by then and what from the new members. And because I know the answer, I think that the position of the EC should definitely be reconsidered in favour of Eastern members that made so much progress, even if they have much to do also. Or to admit the real progress and stop with this nonsense.

EU renewables industry optimistic about 2020 outlook

19 November 2008

Despite gloomy economic forecasts, manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and other non-fossil fuel technologies say they are ready to deliver more than the bloc's target of sourcing 20% of energy needs from renewables by 2020.

"We can deliver between 33% and 40% of Europe's electricity needs by 2020, depending on energy-efficiency achievements, a share of 25% of heat from renewable energy sources and 10% biofuels by 2020," Arthouros Zervos, president of the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), said in a 17 November statement.

EREC has launched a new 'roadmap' that charts how the sector can deliver "much more" than 20% of the EU's energy needs by 2020, on the condition that member states continue to develop their renewables potential and invest in new technologies.

With the EU entering into a recession following turmoil in global financial markets, however, there are concerns in some member states that achieving the targets will be too costly, particularly since many renewables still require state subsidies.

But EREC argues that investments in renewables will lead to significant long-term profits, with the potential to create two million jobs by 2020.

Meanwhile, the European Environment Agency (EEA) argues that bioenergy could deliver almost half of the renewable energy target for 2020, substantially reducing Europe's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions too.

Biomass production might, however, jeopardise the EU's overall environmental goals if appropriate policy and economic incentives are not put in place, the EEA warns. Strong measures must be taken at local and regional level to avoid soil erosion, water pollution and loss of biodiversity, the agency said. source

My comment: I absolutely agree with their opinion- now is the best time to deal with the climate and the energy problem at once. Just think about it-investing in solar and wind systems now and their future research of course, can lead to both getting off the chain of energy dependency from Russia and a great decrease in the emissions. This is simply a great opportunity!

EU, Brazil 'deepen' energy cooperation

24 November 2008

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs met Brazil's energy minister in São Paulo last week (20 November) to discuss closer energy relations amid concerns from developing countries that EU calls for strict biofuel sustainability criteria could strangle global trade for plant-based fuels.

The EU and Brazil will hold technical meetings at ministerial level in the coming weeks to discuss regulatory issues and joint efforts for second generation biofuels research, part of preparations for a 22 December EU-Brazil summit in Rio de Janeiro, the European Commission said.

Brussels has been keen to ensure good ties with the world's most important producer of agro or biofuels (notably ethanol) following the bloc's controversial commitment to mandate a 10% share of such fuels in its transport sector by 2020.

Brazil has the greatest potential worldwide for affordable biofuels, experts say. Environmentalists are concerned, however, that increasing cultivation drives up food prices while leading to the further destruction of large swaths of rainforests as developing states look to capitalise on a lucrative EU market.

The Parliament, which is currently in talks with the Council to finalise a new EU law on renewable energies that includes the 10% biofuels target, is pushing for strict sustainability criteria to ensure that those plant-based fuels which enter the EU market are produced according to environmentally sound methods.

But many developing nations say the EU does not have the authority to dictate how and where one of their key export crops is produced, and that the sustainability criteria essentially translate into trade barriers. source

My comment:Ok, now I know what the EC didn't pass the sustainability criteria. If Brazil threatened to fail a complain in WTO, it explains the weird decision of the Council. But I sincerely hope that the Parliament will make the right decision in the case and will refuse to sign this shameful idea. As for Brazil-it can says whatever it want, the buyers has the right to decise what to buy- one more reason why I so hate WTO.

Environment pushes EU to become Arctic player

4 November 2008

The European Union on 20 November announced its intention to become an important stakeholder in the Arctic, mainly by promoting an environmental agenda. The European Commission also indicated that Arctic multilateral governance "could be upgraded and adjusted" to changing realities.

The resource-rich Arctic is becoming increasingly contentious as climate change makes the region more navigable. Formerly frozen territories are now accessible, triggering sovereignty disputes.

No country owns the North Pole or the region of the Arctic surrounding it. The surrounding Arctic states of the USA, Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland) have a 200 nautical mile economic zone around their coasts.

The Commission has decided to apply for observer status in the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for countries and peoples, including the Arctic indigenous communities.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, announced the initiative on Thursday (20 November), presenting a much-anticipated Communication on the Arctic.

Ferrero-Waldner said it was the first time the Union had presented a comprehensive review of its interests in the vast spaces of the Arctic, which are believed to host large amounts of oil and natural gas.

Member states of the Arctic Council include Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

But the commissioner downplayed the Union's interest in developing the Arctic's natural resources. She explained that according to recent surveys, up to 25% of the planet's undiscovered oil and gas could be located in the Arctic, and most of the discovered ore and other resources are either on the territory, or within the exclusive economic zones of the Arctic states.

"Therefore our main concern […] is clearly under the aspect of environmental sustainability," she explained, so that any exploration or exploitation activities would be carried out in accordance with the highest environmental standards.

A pair of Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers took off on 21 November from the Engels airbase in southern Russia on a routine patrol flight over the Arctic Ocean, an Air Force spokesman said, quoted by the Russian media. The spokesperson added that the Russian flights were "performed in strict compliance with international law on the use of airspace over neutral waters, without violating the borders of other states". It was also indicated that the decision to resume such flights was taken by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin himself.

Canadian Foreign Minister David Emerson recently expressed concern over illegal Russian flights over Canadian airspace, adding that his country treated such actions in the context of recent Russian actions in Georgia. source

My comment: Now, FUUUN! "Our main concern is environmental sustainability", yeah, right. I'm absolutely sure it has nothing to do with the oil underneath it. Oh well. Even with the wrong motivations, some moves can lead to a good outcome so, this could be actually a good thing. In the end.

Knowledge gaps hinder energy-efficient building transition

24 November 2008

Technology to deliver "dramatic" cuts in emissions already exists, but knowledge gaps and old habits mean progress in being made "at a snail's pace," argues the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in a new report.

Energy savings in buildings could deliver larger CO2 cuts than the entire emissions of the transport sector based on 2050 projections, says the global business association in the latest progress reportexternal for its 'Energy Efficiency in Buildings' project.

The European Council has identified the rapid pace of new construction in developing countries as an opportunity to introduce standards for lowering CO2 emissions in the sector, but also stresses that developed countries must refurbish their existing stock to lower energy consumption.

WBCSD concludes that building professionals' misjudgement of costs and benefits represents a major obstacle to the project's goal of having all new buildings consume zero net energy from external power supplies and producing zero net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. "They seriously over-estimate the cost of achieving energy efficiency and underestimate the potential to reduce emissions," it says.

The WBCSD argues that changes to individual behaviour are essential to supporting more energy efficiency, on the part of both building professionals and users. Energy is taken for granted in developed countries, which leads to "thoughtless waste", while developing countries often consider its use as a status symbol, it says, concluding that the challenge will be raising awareness to change consumption patterns permanently.

Developing countries in particular could make huge savings by investing in more energy-efficient buildings, according to a recent reportPdf external published by McKinsey(EurActiv 29/10/08). The management consulting firm argued that sizeable investments in new capital stock made as a result of rapid economic growth in these countries offer an opportunity to "lock in lower energy consumption for decades to come" by building at the optimal level of energy efficiency. source
My comment: I already commented this in a previous post. I agree. That's all. I just hope that developed countries will decide to support developing ones and their citizens in the turning to efficiency. Otherwise, it will be a cruel winter. Not to mention what would happen if the same measures are applied in the developed countries themselves.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The not-so-unexpected results of the crisis

In today's edition:
  • EU urged to fund research on 'terrible triangle' of disease
  • EU food aid in doubt as economic crisis takes its toll
Two very upsetting news, since we all like to believe that Europe cares about the world and want to do what it can to improve the life of the poorest. Not any more. Read and find out why.

EU urged to fund research on 'terrible triangle' of disease

14 November 2008

The European Commission is failing to pay its "fair share" in funding research into the main poverty-related killers HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, according to health NGOs.

The EU provides support to measures dealing with the three main poverty-related diseasesexternal (HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis) in developing countries. The overall objective is to optimise the impact of existing intervention, increase the affordability of key pharmaceuticals and diagnostics and increase R&D of vaccines, microbicides and innovative treatment.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international medical humanitarian organisation, is calling on the Commission to increase its funding "five-fold" into research for medical tools to fight tuberculosis (TB).

"This is ever more urgent given TB's rapid spread among people living with HIV and the rise of drug-resistant strains of the disease, which do not respond to many of the commonly-used treatments," MSF underlines. "Europe's responsibility here is clear," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of MSF's campaign for access to essential medicines.

Speaking at a conferenceexternal on poverty-related diseases on 13 November, EU Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik acknowledged that "sitting in our comfortable European homes, with well-developed healthcare systems, it is all too easy to forget about the pernicious impact that infectious disease has across the world".

He noted that AIDS, TB and malaria - the "terrible triangle" - kill five million people each year and that a health crisis of this dimension was disastrous not only on a personal level, but also "a major obstacle to development" and thus a threat to humanity.

The aim of the conference was to identify research priorities for these three main killers and consider ways of increasing the impact of EU-funded research to combat them.

"It's all about research responsibility," said Potočnik, listing the roles of different stakeholders on the issue. According to him, all countries should take responsibility through targeted policies and real cooperation, while the pharmaceutical industry should plan and implement more focused R&D strategies to deal with the problem.source

My comment: Very enlightening. The real issue here, however, is that these diseases are really dangerous in many countries, not only for the people who live there. Knowing of the strong ties between Western Europe and Africa, it's pretty obvious that an outbreak of any of these will affect Europe also. Another thing is that not all the European members have a "well-developed health-care system". Some of us really don't have a working one. Not for serious diseases anyway. In Bulgaria, people are still dying from AIDS, something that won't happen in normal countries because of the retro-viral drugs they have. We have them also, but nobody pays them, so, it doesn't really make a difference. That's why, I believe, the responsibility of EU is even bigger- it should undoubtedly fund the research and deployment of drugs and also, it should make sure that the fight with the diseases is really continuing, not only on conferences, but in real life too.

EU food aid in doubt as economic crisis takes its toll

12 November 2008

EU development ministers received an angry rebuke from Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel earlier this week for failing to deliver a billion-euro package aimed at helping farmers in Africa.

The aid package, proposed by the European Commission in July, would free up unused funding from the EU agriculture budget to buy seed and fertiliser for developing countries, thus strengthening their capacity to cope with rising global food prices.

But although the 27-member bloc agreed "in principle" to maintain delivery of the package, several member states expressed discontent at having to release additional funding at a time of global financial turmoil.

Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) surpluses are above average this year following the hike in global food prices, and normal procedure allows surpluses to be returned to the EU budget's largest net contributors.

As a result, many EU countries are reluctant to approve the aid package, citing irregular "budgetary reasons".

Commissioner Michel attacked member states for their intransigence, insisting that the EU urgently needed this funding.

European NGO network SOLIDARexternal delivered an equally strong message to the EU that the "financial crisis must not be used as an excuse": "We urge all member states to resist the temptation to water down their Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) commitments. We call on all member states to support binding timetables in order to ensure the predictability of aid and fulfill the promises we have made."

The French EU presidency has been particularly active in promoting its development agenda. It is expected to try to find a solution to the impasse next week. source

My comment: Oh yeah. Again, not very unexpected. But definitely shameful. Especially when those money pour in agriculture instead of sectors that would really matter in time of crisis-like R&D, infrastructure and so on. What I mean is that we cannot force member states to give money they don't have, although I firmly believe they should keep a percentage of the available money for this purpose. The point is that they don't even give them when they are really useful-then why not give them the starving people. Not to the angry farmers.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fossil future, December, 2008

In today's edition:
  1. Fossil fuels central to EU's long-term energy security vision
  2. Commission unveils new energy-saving measures
  3. Wind picks up for offshore grid plan
  4. International Energy Agency raises alarm on oil, climate
  5. Commission makes energy 'top priority' of EU budget reform
  6. EU offered plan to commercialise carbon capture necessary
Yeah, a rather informational one. It discuss the plans of the EU on energy security, more precisely the fossil part of it. So, enjoy!

Fossil fuels central to EU's long-term energy security vision

14 November 2008
The European Commission's Second Strategic Energy Review warns that net imports of fossil fuels will remain constant until 2020 despite EU efforts to move towards a 'low carbon' economy. Gas supply security takes centre stage in the review.

The five-point plan charts the policy priorities for the next Commission, due to take office in September 2009.

Energy infrastructure, notably gas pipelines, and external energy relations top the list. The Nabucco and Baltic Sea pipelines are listed as priority in the review, along with four other projects.

Concrete actions to address oil supply security are not listed in the review, however.

Oil supply constraints are also being addressed with EU rules for vehicle CO2 emissions and green transport legislation. But the review's central focus on gas rather than oil has angered some green MEPs.

New rules on emergency oil and gas stocks are contained under point three of the action plan, followed by revisions of existing EU energy efficiency laws on appliances, tyres and buildings. A Communication on the development of a North Sea offshore wind energy grid features among the six priority infrastructure projects.

Coal is listed as an "essential component" of the EU's domestic energy supply, followed by nuclear, which "contributes to the EU's security of energy supply as a major source of baseload electricity". source

My comment: I already discussed that Energy Review in tothefuturewithlove and I said it - there's nothing new in it, though the priorities are good thing, they give a clear idea of what should happen. It's fun that it focuses so much on gas, but it makes sense since Europe counts so much on gas, Russian gas to be precise. And the oil is so cheap anyway. One thing however-notice that it also talks about coal. I think coal have no place in the European future- instead they should really focus on green energy.

Commission unveils new energy-saving measures

14 November 2008

The European Commission has proposed reinforcing existing efficiency standards on buildings and energy-using products as part of the Second Strategic Energy Review package announced yesterday (13 November).

The draft law on buildingsPdf external would extend the scope of the 2002 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive by eliminating the current 1000m2 threshold required for buildings undergoing a major renovation to meet specific efficiency standards.

The revision is expected to generate 5–6% energy saving in the EU in 2020. source

My comment: This is a continuation of the previous article. Now, on the treshold-although, very nice, I see how it's happened home in Sofia. The net result is that home-owners will have to pay money to renovate old buildings. Not that this is bad-it will improve efficiency and eventually lead to some savings. The problem is that it's not entirely fair - this should be an obligation of the builders of the building, not of the people who own an appartment for like 30 years in the very end of their use-this is simply stupid.

Wind picks up for offshore grid plan

14 November 2008

The European Commission is promoting offshore wind energy development as part of its Second Strategic Energy Review, released in Brussels yesterday (13 November). Endorsement by Brussels comes hot on the heels of massive growth in the sector.

Second only to natural gas in terms of new electricity capacity, wind power is considered the most promising option in the EU's portfolio of renewable energy technologies, which includes solar and hydro power too.

A recent study, sponsored by Greenpeace, predicts that an interconnected grid of North Sea wind farms with an output of 68 gigawatts could serve up to 70 million households by 2030 . The Commission's action plan ups that potential to 150 gigawatts. source

My comment: Again on the same Review. What I like is that there are numbers of the power they expect from the North Sea grid. Maybe they should have mentioned how much electricity a big European city or an industrialised country requires. It would be a good for comparison. I think the idea of those interconnected grids is great, I hope they put the adequate financing in it. It's simply great for Europe. To be precisely honest, I think Europe should bet on renewables and nuclear plants.

International Energy Agency raises alarm on oil, climate

13 November 2008

In this year's World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency (IEA) breaks with its tradition of allaying concerns about the availability of oil. Instead, it calls for an urgent transition to a more sustainable global energy system to avert a potential climate catastrophe.

"Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable - environmentally, economically and socially," writes the agency in the executive summary of its 2008 outlook, unveiled on 12 November.

The IEA report came as oil prices reached their lowest level since January 2007, with investors worried about the effects of the global economic downturn on oil demand. Light sweet crude traded at only $56 a barrel on Wednesday (12 November) after hitting a peak of $147 in July.

This year's report contains a similar message to the 2006 edition, which called for "strong policy action" to give relief to a "dirty, insecure and expensive" energy future. But the financial crisis and growing concerns that the climate is changing rapidly and dangerously put the 2008 report, which calls for a "global energy revolution," in a different context.

Findings of "unprecedented field-by-field analysis" on the historical output of 800 oil fields are also included in the report. Irrespective of how much oil actually remains available on the planet, major structural changes are taking place in the global energy system, whereby oil reserves are increasingly under the control of non-OECD countries, the IEA points out in the report which affects the access to the fields and the stability of the supply. source

My comment: Haha, nice! What's the funniest is the last paragraph about the non-OECD-y of the exporting countries and what it implies. Actually, it only means that the control will be in the hands of different players, nothing more. In any case, the outcome is good-IEA finally realised that oil isn't a secure energy source, so it asks for renewables. That's good enough for me.

Commission makes energy 'top priority' of EU budget reform

13 November 2008

Energy policy should rank among the "top priorities of the EU budget," claimed Budget and Financial Programming Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaite at a conference yesterday (12 November 2008) on reform of the EU budget.

Money from the budget should be allocated to "research on energy efficiency, investments in new technologies and renewable energy sources," Commissioner Grybauskaite stated.

The suggestion follows a broad consultation that the Commission had with member states, social partners, political leaders and members of civil society over the reform of the EU budget.

However, given that a large proportion of the EU budget had already been set aside for agricultural subsidies, she did not expect the EU budget to be reformed in the near future. source

My comment: I start hating the agricultural subsidies extremely much. From one side, there's the tobacco producers who are also agricultural producers. Two months ago, they were in Brussel asking for subsidies. I don't know what was the reaction, but it's absurd to subsidieze toxic substances. It's just as absurd with other stuff- the subsidies should be the lowest possible, barely enough to secure sustainability of Europe-nothing more and nothing less. And energy efficiency and security is much more important in the case. If not else, because the bring along R&D which is important.

EU offered plan to commercialise carbon capture

12 November 2008

An EU demonstration programmePdf external to bring forward the large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) by ten years was unveiled on 10 November by a multi-stakeholder platform of industry, scientists and NGOs united in support of the technology.

A total of 10 to 12 demonstration projects, using a variety of technologies, will have to be set up by 2015 to "de-risk" carbon capture and storage (CCS) and make it commercially available by 2020, argues a report from the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants (ZEP).

ZEP concluded that eight of the projects currently announced should meet most of the criteria, but a further two to four will be needed to solve the remaining unknowns.

ZEP also concluded that the incentive mechanism needed to guarantee that the plants are constructed and operational by 2015 is still missing. It said an additional €7–€12 billion would be needed to cover the extra cost of CCS installations and lower plant efficiency. source

My comment: Ok, you know what I think on CCS so... When I see an actual demonstration, then we'll talk.

 

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