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Friday, January 30, 2009

Education and research, 01. 2009

Today:
  1. Low R&D budgets 'threaten EU competitiveness'
  2. Czechs look to private sector to fund education
  3. Creating effective cluster-building policies
Enjoy!

Low R&D budgets 'threaten EU competitiveness'

23 January 2009

An EU initiative to create a common research area has helped to make the Union more attractive for foreign scientists, but spending on science and research is still far too low for the bloc to catch up with the US or Japan, according to a new study.

Seventeen member states, mainly those which lag behind in R&D spending, increased their research budgets between 2000 and 2006, the study showed. But the other ten reduced theirs, leaving the Union's overall spending stuck at 1.84% of GDP since 2005, far below the US (2.6% of GDP), Japan and South Korea, EU Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik remarked.

"At a time of crisis, it is not the moment to take a break from investing in research and innovation. They are vital if Europe want to address the challenges of climate change and globalisation," Potočnik said.

As part of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, EU leaders set themselves the goal of boosting R&D spending to 3% of GDP, which they agreed was necessary to keep Europe competitive and make the notion of a knowledge-based society a reality.

According to the commissioner, the gloomy picture is a result of lower private sector investment in the EU at a time that it increased substantially in the US, Japan and China. The latter, especially, is emerging as a new science and technology actor, with an R&D growth rate of 50% between 2000 and 2006, Potočnik stated.

Potočnik called for higher business investment and more involvement of the high-tech industry in the European economy. At present, the high-tech sector accounts for 12% of EU GDP, compared to 18% in the US. Governments must create favourable conditions for fast-growing and innovation-friendly markets and enable cheaper access to an EU-wide patent system, he said.

A recent survey showed citizens are in favour of increasing R&D budgets amid fears that the ongoing economic crisis may lead to cuts in national budgets.

Figures show that the number of researchers has been growing twice as fast in the EU than in the US and Japan since 2000, even if the share of researchers in the bloc's labour force is still lower compared to its main competitors. source

My comment: Hehe, my field :) I think the said above is a very soft version of the reality. The science in the whole world is lagging behind what it could be, because of many factors but mainly the popularism and the lack of proper funding in fundamental science. And the scientific mob that is and absolute burden for everyone in the gild. But that's another story. For me, not only should the GDP investment be increased to the US level (if not higher) but also, the working conditions should be drastically improved. For example, women scientists should be stimulated to become mothers in their early years (yeah, that's my age, and no, it's not my case)-later pregnancy are more dangerous and harder to manage. Sure, there are many ways to handle the situation-many women do it and they are doing well, but why should it be so hard? Science is about devotion- if you want devoted people, you should make the life easy. That's the case in many member states, but not in all of them. Not to mention the ever decreasing number of students in science. That's very unpleasant trend, especially now, when there are so many opportunities and possibilities. What I say in my other blog, I mean it. We could easily be the last people to die or the first to live forever. But this research should be done by people. And there are simply not enough people in the field. Not enough interest by big investors. Not the right intellectual property rights. It's not that bad, but it's pretty annoying. Think big!

Czechs look to private sector to fund education

21 January 2009

Current EU presidency holder the Czech Republic wants to establish a "strategic framework" for European cooperation on education and training issues to help boost the Union's competitiveness, sustainable growth and employment strategies, according to the country's education minister, Ondrej Liska.

Further cooperation on education will be achieved by promoting partnerships between educational institutions and business, the minister said. He stressed that his government wants to improve both the quality of and access to universities, particularly in the context of the Bologna process to establish a European Area of Higher Education by 2010 (LinksDossier).

Welcoming the announcement, Greek Socialist MEP Katerina Batzeli, who chairs the European Parliament's culture committee, said the economic crisis had highlighted the need for "good education systems".

Meanwhile, Czech Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka told MEPs that more funding should be made available for art education to help boost innovation and creativity. "Together with science and research, art can be an inspiration in times of crisis," he said. source

My comment: Sure, art can build you a rocket. It can teach you how to build a plane. HELLO! Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those people who think that art is useless, it's not. But can't we please live art to Russian oligarches?! I mean artists are pretty, sexy, artistic, exotic, hot. They get enough funding trough testosteron. Not that physicists, we're not sexy. We're just not so exotic. Or we're too exotic :) Seriously, I'm against US model and I don't want the business to tell me what I shoult research. Yes, they have their place, but it's limited. And actually it's not the business involvment that's inadequate, it's the lack of middle-men (though in other cases I hate them). Those people that smell the good inventions or research and sell them to the big fishes. That's what we, in Europe, don't have. If we populate with enough such companies, it would get very obvious that our research is good enough, we simply don't know how to sell it.

Creating effective cluster-building policies

23 January 2009

"Clusters built around knowledge hubs are becoming increasingly important in driving innovation," argue members of the Science-Business Innovation Board (SBIB), which gathers leading experts from industry and academia, in a January paper.

Clusters are groups of firms and institutions that are located close to one another and have grown to a scale sufficient for developing specialised expertise, services, resources, suppliers and skills.

To achieve this, "EU cluster policies need to recognise that innovation can happen in all sectors," the experts say, citing the fact that innovation can happen in high-tech as well as the food processing, agriculture and footwear sectors as an example.

Nevertheless, the SBIB underlines that clusters must driven by markets and retain the capacity to change as markets change if they are to grow and innovate.

For EU cluster policy to be successful, therefore, it "must be framed to support local action that is attuned to the specific needs and available resources of particular regions," the experts argue.

Furthermore, the SBIB claims that the EU and national governments should work together to "reform higher education" and "remove regulatory barriers" to cooperation between universities and companies.

"Most successful clusters have universities at their heart," the paper argues. source
My comment: Sure...It's not very informative and it's rather abstract, but it's another way of looking into the issue.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Economy in January, 2009

Today:
  1. Parliament paves way for single EU defence market
  2. Germany approves new stimulus package
  3. EU company statute clears first legislative hurdle

Parliament paves way for single EU defence market

15 January 2009
MEPs yesterday (14 January) approved new EU rules to open up national defence procurement to all European suppliers, raising hopes that more transparency and competition will be introduced to this sensitive market. But industry fears the move will damage R&D investment.

The European Parliament yesterday (14 January) adopted new legislation establishing a co-ordinated EU procedure for public procurement of defence and security goods. The directive also includes non-military goods.

It covers all public service contracts concluded between EU operators, with a minimum threshold of €412,000 for supply and service contracts and €5.15m for works contracts. It does not apply to intelligence-related or extra-EU contracts. source

My comment: I don't get it how this directive could damage the R&D investment, when it should do the opposite-it should stimulate domestic producers to invest into R&D to stay competitive. It's very odd one. In any case, I'd love to see European defence, no matter how much UK is opting out of it. Why should we arm against each other if we're one Union. I feel safe with my European neighbours, I don't need to make sure I have nukes for them. But the EU defence should go with a clause in the accession contract-if any EU member attack another member, it should be isolated from the Union completely-that means no goods, money or people going in that country until it won't get out of the attacked territory and pay reparation to that country along with some other form of penalty to the whole Union. This way, I think no one would be stupid enough to attack. But there must not be ANY doubt that the EU will defend the attacked country without any hesitation. Otherwise, no directive could fight our fears.

Germany approves new stimulus package

13 January 2009

Germany's coalition government yesterday (12 January) gave the green light to a €50 billion economic stimulus package, the largest for sixty years, comprising a mixture of subsidies, tax relief for families and investment in construction.

Combined with the €32 billion that German government had already approved last November, the package represents the largest in Europe, sending a signal to critics who thought the first stimulus plan did not go far enough to boost Europe's largest economy.

The package lowers the entry income-tax rate from 15 to 14%, is expected to relieve the tax burden by €9 billion annually, and will reduce health insurance contributions by 6%. In addition, parents will be granted a one-off €100 bonus allowance per child, while potential car buyers can count on a €2,500 payment for getting rid of their old vehicles.

Some of the fiscal measures agreed yesterday will come into effect on 1 July. source
My comment: I might not be an economist, but I fail to understand how you spend money you don't have. Of course it will increase your debt. Then why doing it? I agree with the social improvements like the reduced tax and so on-this is a logical stimulus. But I don't see why the government should pour billions in companies. Sure, reduce their taxes, create them a better environment to work and sell, but handing them money for me isn't a good idea. Sure, car-producers in Germany are good companies that are very unlikely to go broke, but still I thought there are laws in Europe against government money injections. (yeah, I don't sound like too much of a socialist, but socialism is about people, not about private companies that are rich enough to get out of the mess on their own)

EU company statute clears first legislative hurdle

22 January 2009

MEPs have given the green light to a European Private Company statute aimed at facilitating the establishment and running of businesses across borders. But they also introduced hurdles that small businesses say may prove difficult to overcome.

Sixteen members of the European Parliament's legal affairs committee on Tuesday (20 January) voted in favour of the European Commission's text. None voted against it, while the seven Socialists abstained.

In a move aimed at securing governmental approval, MEPs introduced a "cross-border component" to the text, obliging entrepreneurs to open businesses in at least two EU member states.

In the beginning, businesses will only have to indicate their intention to become cross-border. However, two years after the creation of the new firm, governments will have to verify whether the company actually meets cross-border criteria.

Parliamentarians also opted to improve employees' rights should their company choose to move to another EU country. According to the approved text, companies which have over 500 workers from EU member states that provide better working conditions, existing EU legislation rather than national law will apply, as foreseen by the Commission's text.

The committee agreed with the EU executive's proposal to fix the minimum capital requirement at a symbolic price of €1, but introduced the hurdle of a "solvency certificate", through which the newly-founded company proves it is able to pay its debts. If it fails to provide the certificate, the minimum capital requirement will be set at €8,000.

The draft approved by the parliamentary committee will now be voted upon in plenary in February or March. It must then be approved by EU governments. source

My comment: Ok, this one got me totally confused even if it sounds good. It's a total mess. Especially the workers part- do I understand correctly that if a company decides to move to another member state, it ought to obey the better requirements for the labour-local or European? That sounds odd and it's very close to "should pay them the better money". Which is a good move to demotivate people wanting to relocate their productions, but it's on the verge of protectionism in the heavy meaning. It's a weird one. For your pleasure and informaiton.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Environment in Europe, 01.2009-weak but steady steps forward

Today:
  1. Parliament seals pesticides deal amid opposition
  2. EU urged to introduce emission limits for power plants
  3. Cities seek better energy efficiency of buildings
  4. Commission under fire over green road charging

Parliament seals pesticides deal amid opposition

16 January 2009

The European Parliament yesterday (13 January) voted to restrict the use of toxic pesticides, despite strong opposition from the UK, Spain and Hungary and calls for better evaluation of the legislation's impact upon agricultural production and food prices.

The package still needs to be formally adopted by the Council, which remains divided over the issue, despite the compromise reached before Christmas (see EurActiv 19/12/08).

The deal will lead to a ban of a number of hazardous substances that pose a potential threat to human health and the environment, and obliges member states to embrace more sustainable use of pesticides.

The UK, Ireland, Spain and Hungary oppose the deal, claiming that it will seriously affect agricultural production and increase food prices. However, the four countries put together will not be enough to form a blocking minority for a qualified majority vote in the Council, which is likely to adopt the package as an 'A point' (adopted without discussion). source

My comment:I'm little confused by the number of times that the EC and EP can juggle in between them, but so what. This deal is going to pass and this is good enough. I already discussed it, it's not perfect, but it's a good start. Producers must understand that the health and safety of the consummers should be their absolute priority. And that's final. And I like the "Adopted without discussion" point :)

EU urged to introduce emission limits for power plants

14 January 2009

Introducing binding emission limits for all power stations is key to shifting investment decisions in the power sector to "avoid dangerous lock-in to high-carbon power infrastructure," argues a new report commissioned by environmental groups WWF, Bellona Europa, ClientEarth, E3G and the Green Alliance.

Europe could cut greenhouse gases emitted by large power plants by more than two-thirds by 2020 if mandatory emissions caps were introduced in stages between 2010 and 2020, according to the researchexternal , carried out by the consultancy Ecofys. It also argues that an early phase-in would be cost-effective.

The environmental groups believe the EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) and other climate legislation agreed upon by EU leaders last December is not strict enough to deliver Europe's commitment to moving from a 20% CO2 reduction target to 30% by 2020 should a new international agreement become a reality.

The NGOs criticise the revised EU ETS for allowing the construction of new power plants "under the guise of '[CO2]-capture readiness'". They say a CO2 emissions performance standard that puts a cap on emissions per unit of energy output would guarantee investment in low-carbon technologies, as new power plants unable to meet the standard could no longer be built. Existing installations would also have to invest in energy efficiency measures and have carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies retrofitted.

According to the research, an emissions performance standard could be introduced in stages for both new and existing plants. source

My comment:"[CO2]-capture readiness"-what the fuck?! Can you believe such a word exist. Just like "vista-ready", this is an absolute nonsense. You're either energy and emissions effective or you're not. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if such measures are to be implemented sooner or later, the sooner is the better. And for people with long-term investment in any business, the sooner they start investing, the easier it will be when the time comes. And the time will come. Notice the last Atlantic storm? Or the -10C in Spain? Very unusual, but not for long.

Cities seek better energy efficiency of buildings

16 January 2009

The public sector must be the front-runner in raising energy-efficiency standards for buildings, according to 45 European cities that have come together to contribute to a review of EU laws regarding the energy performance of buildings.

The cities have united in pursuit of sustainable communities by integrating energy-efficiency improvement techniques and the use of renewable energy sources. They argue that the revamped Energy Performance of Buildings Directive should oblige authorities to display energy-performance certificates in visible places in all public buildings. In addition, all new public buildings should exceed national regulations by a certain percentage, they recommend.

CONCERTO's other key recommendations include:

  • Lowering the current 1000m2 threshold required for buildings undergoing a major renovation in order to meet specific efficiency standards,
  • Including final energy-use figures, as well as the corresponding primary energy-use and CO2-emissions ratings, in energy performance certificates, and;
  • Creating a certified professional category, introducing certification to guarantee the quality of inspections and energy-performance certificates.
The CONCERTO representative said the group had reached agreement with the Commission to continue to cooperate until the draft directive is adopted. source

My comment: It's interesting that this is an organisation from cities, not from NGOs or GOs. I of course support the idea and I think that the recent gas crisis showed us just how vulnerable we are on this front. Sure, the only European capital that felt it really was Sofia, but how many examples one needs to get the moral. And the moral is simple-we're way to used to our comfy life to be so dependent on the benevolence of third countries. Especially when there is enough energy in the form of wind,water and sun around us. And when we're losing so much energy in the form of heat or inefficieny. It's a big investition but a worthy one. Because no matter how many sources we have for gas, there'll always be a possibility that something will go wrong with them (even if it's just a huge accident or sabotage). We cannot allow ourselves to be that vulnerable! see here what France will hopefully do.

Commission under fire over green road charging

20 January 2009

Amid accusations of failure to provide adequate trade-offs for the road freight industry, a European Commission proposal to charge trucks for the environmental damage they cause is attracting fierce criticism from politicians and industry.

The EU executive had a hard time yesterday evening (19 January) defending its proposal to charge trucks for the noise, pollution and congestion they cause.

In a debatePdf external on the greening transport proposal and in particular the internalisation of transport external costs, MEPs and representatives of both the Council and road freight industry argued against the proposal as it currently stands.

Finnish French MEP Ari Vatanen denounced the Commission's "useless" attempt to force a modal shift from road to other means of transport.

The rapporteur underlined that all political groups support Commission's proposal to earmark revenues from green road charging for expenditure on transport infrastructure, from which the funds are collected.

Meanwhile, Council representatives noted that there is currently no common position among the 27 EU countries on earmarking, while overall, EU governments are having a hard time forging consensus on the proposal, as it would affect central and peripheral countries differently. source

My comment: Many points of view, of course, but I think that trucks are way too polluting as they are and we should use any means possible to force them to invest into cleaner, and not so loud vehicles. If that's another tax, then so it shall be. And I don't see anything wrong in using this money for infrastructure. Especially if that means sound-isolation of the high ways and/or some ways of cleaning the air.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

An update on pesticides, 2009

EU reaches deal on banning toxic pesticides

22 December 2008

Negotiators from EU member states and the European Parliament have reached a compromise on the controversial pesticides 'package', ending a long battle over what substances should be banned due to their potential risk for human health and the environment.

The compromise reached in behind closed-doors talks during the evening of 17 December is set to ban a number of hazardous pesticides and cut down the overall use of so-called plant protection products. The texts are now set to be approved in a vote in Parliament in mid-January.

The agreement on new market authorisation rules divides the EU into three zones (north, centre, south) inside of which mutual recognition of pesticides will become the rule. However, member states will still be allowed to ban a product on the basis of specific environmental or agricultural circumstances.

It also introduces bans on:

  • Certain highly toxic chemicals, namely those which are genotoxic, carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction (unless their effect would in practice be negligible), and;
  • neurotoxic, immunotoxic and certain endocrine-disrupting substances if deemed to pose a significant risk.

However, the deal allows continued use of both the above-mentioned groups of chemicals for up to five years, if they are proven essential for crop survival. Otherwise, products containing certain hazardous substances are to be replaced within three years if safer alternatives are shown to exist.

The deal on sustainable use of pesticides:

  • Asks member states to adopt national action plans on safer use of pesticides as well as overall usage reduction targets;
  • bans aerial crop spraying, with exceptions subject to approval by member-state authorities;
  • asks member states to establish approporiate measures, such as buffer zones, to protect aquatic organisms, and;
  • bans the use of pesticides in public places, such as parks and school grounds, or at the very minimum asks for their use to be kept to a minimum. source
My comment: Read the article to see the totally expected positions of different sides of the problem. I personally don't see what's the problem of the organisations in question when the regulation is so unspecific and lax. In any case, it really is a step forward, but I'd rather see some concrete measures, not the words "if otherwise decided by the member-state". This is a very dangerous statement and effectively gives all the responsibility to the member state government. Something that we already know isn't working well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The European election, 2009

Ok, here's some news about the elections, the new Commissionaires and so on.
  1. Capitals tune in to Commission's musical chairs
  2. EU summit gives in to Irish demands on Lisbon Treaty
  3. Lisbon Treaty revote linked to Croatia's EU entry

Capitals tune in to Commission's musical chairs

6 January 2009

Just under a year ahead of the appointment of the next EU executive, word is already out regarding the redistribution of portfolios and replacement of some commissioners, nominated by the 27 member states.

The appointment of the future Belgian commissioner appears to be part of a deal to form a new government in the country.

Like his predecessor, the new prime minister Herman Van Rompuy is from the Flemish Christian Democratic Party (CD&V), and Van Rompuy's government is similar to the previous one. The Belgian press reported that CD&V had obtained assurances that they would be able to appoint the successor to the current liberal (VLD) Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht should the latter become the country's next European commissioner.

De Gucht, who was recently suspected of using his privileged position to profit from the sale of Fortis shares just before the bank's collapse, has since regained the confidence of his political allies.

Ireland, which was given assurances by EU leaders that all the bloc's members would keep their commissioner to help pave the way for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the country, is also considering the identity of its next commissioner. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has called for John Bruton, a former prime minister and currently the Commission's representative in the US, to be formally recommended as Ireland's next commissioner.

The Czech press quoted opposition leader Jiri Paroubek (CSSD) as saying that former CSSD chairman and current EU commissioner Vladimir Spidla would not continue in his role.

Although the Czech leadership is now busy with the EU Presidency, word is spreading about the ambition of Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra for an international top job. Some see Vondra not only as a potential commissioner but also a potential replacement for Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO secretary general.

A number of commissioners are widely expected to leave the EU executive, including French Commissioner Jacques Barrot. Current French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier is frequently cited as the Elysée's next choice for a Commission post. Should he assume the role, as a former commissioner for regional policy in Romano Prodi's commission, a former EU minister and a former head of the French diplomatic service, he is expected to be given an important portfolio.

German Commissioner Guenther Verheugen and his Dutch colleague Neelie Kroes are also expected to leave. But others are expected to stay, including Olli Rehn, responsible for EU enlargement, who recently made no secret of this ambition in an interview (EurActiv 21/11/08). Recently, a Finnish MEP suggested that Rehn could become the first 'High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy' once the Lisbon Treaty is enforced (EurActiv 17/12/08).

UK Commissioner Catherine Ashton only took office recently, replacing Peter Mandelson without giving clear indications as to whether she would stay in the next commission.

Among the new members, Bulgarian Commissioner Meglena Kuneva is expected to stay for a second term, while her Romanian colleague Leonard Orban is expected to be replaced. According to rumours, Slovenia's Janez Potocnik, Hungary's Laszlo Kovacs and Latvia's Andris Piebalgs are also expected to leave the commission.

While Commission President José Manuel Barroso is expected to retain his job should the EPP-ED group prove successful in the European elections, his main challenge will be to redistribute portfolios. As a rule, commissioners who wish to stay for a second term seek more important dossiers. source

My comment: So, this was a long least of names, many of which you probably don't know. In any case, you'll at least know your own Commissionaire so now, you know whether s/he is staying or leaving. I'm happy that Madam Kuneva will stay, because she did a great job to protect European consumers, she was even chosen for a top Commissionaire which isn't little. Also, I support Oli Ren in his ambitions, he looks like a great man to me. And I have my doubts for the Irish ambitions since they proved they are unreliable and that they simply don't care about the EU. Let's see what will happen.

EU summit gives in to Irish demands on Lisbon Treaty

12 December 2008

On the first day of the European Council (11 December), EU leaders agreed on a package of Irish demands which pave the way for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, which will most probably be held in October 2009.

Under the compromise text, seen by EurActiv, all EU countries are expected to keep their commissioner. Ireland will receive legal guarantees on taxation policy, social and ethical issues and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CFSP), with regard to Ireland's traditional policy of neutrality among other provisions.

The draft summit conclusions feature a page entitled 'Statement of the concerns of the Irish people on the Treaty of Lisbon, as set out by the Taoiseach'. These include social protection and protection of workers' rights, public services as an instrument for social and regional cohesion, the responsibility of member countries for education and health services, and the role of national and regional governments in providing non-economic services, including those related to the common commercial policy.

In exchange, Ireland committed to holding a second referendum on the Treaty by the end of the current Commission's term: that is, before the end of 2009. Several sources said October 2009 was the most likely date for a re-run of the referendum.

It is now clear that the re-run of the referendum will not take place ahead of the EU elections, as MEPs had been calling for.

As European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering explained at his summit press conference, finding a solution before the European elections, due in June 2009, would indeed have been more desirable but was widely considered unrealistic.

Transitional accommodations

Therefore, transitional measures have been adopted with respect to the Presidency of the European Council, as well as of the European Parliament. The member state holding the EU presidency when the Lisbon Treaty enters into force (Sweden holds the presidency until the end of 2009) will continue to chair all meetings in the same manner as today's presidencies.

But the next EU presidency holder (Spain from January 2010) will make changes in conformity with the Lisbon Treaty, making room for a permanent President of the European Council and a High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy.

Also, European Parliament will be enlarged from 736 to 754 members in the course of 2010, if indeed the Irish say 'yes' to the reform treaty. The elections will take place under the Treaty of Nice, but soon the Parliament is expected to accommodate the provisions of Lisbon.

National insiders

Some countries, such as Belgium, were reportedly not particularly enthusiastic about the compromise whereby each member state will keep its commissioner. One of the aims of slimming down the Commission was to boost its independence from member states.

But several countries, especially among the new members, expressed their preference for keeping the current system, considering commissioners to be the highest ranking national insiders in the EU executive. Just before arriving in Brussels, Romanian President Traian Basescu and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said they were in favour of keeping the one-commissioner-per-country system. source

My comment: Well, I still don't know which system I prefer, because let's be honest, if there weren't 1 Commissionaire for each member state, we would never seen the potential Meglena Kuneva has and she would never have done all the good stuff she did for European consummers. I have not doubts that a Bulgarian would never get that post in other circumstances no matter how qualified, that's why I think this system is good. True, the Commissionaires aren't really independent of their countries, but as long as their take care of the interests of the Union, who cares.

Lisbon Treaty revote linked to Croatia's EU entry

12 December 2008

Changes to the EU's Lisbon Treaty, aimed at pleasing Irish voters in view of a second referendum on the failed text, will be introduced with Croatia's EU accession treaty "in 2010 or 2011," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said after an EU summit today (12 December).

Speaking at a post-summit press conference, a triumphant Sarkozy confirmed that agreement had been reached over the compromise package, which paves the way for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland.

"The Lisbon process has been is relaunched," Sarkozy announced, indicating that the Irish would hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

"If the Lisbon Treaty is ratified by all member states, each member state will have a commissioner," Sarkozy declared. Political guarantees will be given to Ireland "concerning neutrality, tax and family," he added.

To make these commitments legally binding without reopening the treaty ratification procedure in all 27 countries, Sarkozy explained that at the time of the next enlargement, in "2010 or 2011, at the moment when in all likelihood Croatia will join us," provisions will be included in that country's accession treaty as "an Irish protocol".

The protocol will also confirm an increase in the number of MEPs from 736 to 754: three MEPs more than the number foreseen by the current Lisbon Treaty. The deal benefits Germany in particular, which will retain its 99 MEPs. source

My comment: This one was just to complete the article before.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

European administration and the new Presidency, 2009

Today:
  1. Parliament upgrades MEPs' assistants to civil servants
  2. MEPs' access to EU summits under fire
  3. Energy security tops Czech Presidency agenda

Parliament upgrades MEPs' assistants to civil servants

17 December 2008

MEPs yesterday (16 December) overwhelmingly passed legislation to normalise the employment conditions of their Brussels-based assistants by developing a common set of rules.

The legislation aims to "ensure transparency and non-discrimination" by adding the contracts of MEPs' assistants to the wider EU civil servants' statute.

Under the new rules, which were finalised between the European Parliament and Council last night, employment contracts will be concluded for specific periods and assistants will enjoy "similar social benefits" to those of civil servants and salaries graded accordingly. All contracts must automatically end at the end of each legislature.

The regulation, which both Parliament and Council yesterday insisted would not require increases to the parliamentary budget, is designed to replace 27 different national schemes for employing and paying assistant with common rules on contractual relationships, taxation and social security.

From now on, assistants’ contracts and salary payments will be taken care of by the financial department of the Parliament itself. A maximum of 25% of their allowance may be used to fund research or "other advisory work".

But assistants will continue to constitute a distinct category of staff to take into account "their specific task of supporting members in carrying out their duties," while MEPs will remain "entirely free" to choose whom to employ, the tasks to be assigned to them and the duration of their contracts, according to the adopted text.

If endorsed by the Council, the new legislation will enter into force in July 2009, to coincide with the introduction of a wider statute for MEPs after the European elections. source

My comment: Obviously I applaud the new agreement. Isn't it amazing how the EU takes shape right in front of us? It seems like a small and somewhat beaurocratic leguslations, but every such rule improves the transperancy and decrease the opportunities for corruption. Good work!

MEPs' access to EU summits under fire

17 December 2008

Prominent MEPs, including political group presidents, are protesting after being denied access to Council premises during the EU summit on 12 December, labelling the Council's rules of access "scandalous".

On 12 December, current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy called for less rigid rules and more flexibility and pragmatism at EU summits. In the event, though, a number of MEPs who wanted to react and talk to journalists about the summit's conclusions found themselves forced to remain outside giving interviews in the cold.

The Council's rules of access allow for some 20 access badges to MEPs during EU summits, but only if the president of the European Parliament attends the meeting on the same day. Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering attended the EU summit on 11 December and made a speech, but since he was not physically present the next day, no MEPs were allowed into the Council.

Speaking in plenary yesterday (16 December), Monica Frassoni, co-president of the European Greens, said such practicew were even more unacceptable given the Parliament's co-decision role in EU affairs. Poettering said his office had tried everything in its attempts to gain access to the Council for MEPs, without success.

ALDE President Graham Watson told EurActiv that the Council's rules were "scandalous". "If Europe's citizens knew the disrespect shown by the member states towards their elected representatives, there would be a scandal. Political group and political party leaders, at least, accompanied by those piloting relevant legislation, should be allowed access at all times to EU summits," said Watson. source

My comment: I absolutely agree. True, some MEPs are rather annoying and tend to look for a fight and publicity, but as MR. Watson said, at least the MEPs relevant to a project being discussed should be allowed in the Council. Also, party leaders should be allowed at any time. And maybe a special commission observing the work of the Council. The Parliament is elected by the people, by the Europeans, its members trully has the right to observe and supervise the work of the Commission to some extent!

Energy security tops Czech Presidency agenda

7 January 2009

The Czech EU Presidency yesterday (6 January) published its priorities, with statements regarding energy supply security seemingly hyped up with a view to reassuring the Union amid the ongoing gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Although the Czech Republic is suffering less than others from the recent disruptions to gas supplies thanks to its connection to an alternative pipeline from Norway, Prague considers energy security to be a prerequisite of the Union's political stability.

Nabucco summit?

Prague revealed its intention to hold a 'Southern Corridor Summit' on energy to promote diversification of energy sources and transit routes. Mirek Topolánek, the country's prime minister, had already indicated that Prague would push for the planned Nabucco gas pipeline (which aims to reduce the Union's dependence on Russian gas) to become an EU project.

But the precise scope of these ambitions remains unclear.

Experts on Russia sought

Identifying 'energy' as one of the three 'Letter E' Czech priorities, alongside 'the economy' and 'The European Union in the world', Prague wants to stabilise the bloc's relations with the main foreign suppliers, primarily by "clarifying" Russia's role. Dialogue with Russia will continue, the document says, as will the negotiations on the new partnership agreement with Moscow. An EU-Russia summit will be held in May.

Prague also plans to organise the opening summit of the Eastern Partnership, an initiative recently launched by the European Commission (EurActiv 04/12/08), to be held at the level of EU heads of state and government and their colleagues from Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.

An EU-Ukraine high level meeting will take place on 16 January in Kiev. The EU delegation will receive the Ukrainian president in Prague on 5 February.

Priorities with the new US administration

The Czech Presidency also plans to work closely with the incoming Obama administration in the US on a variety of issues, namely multilateralism, the Middle East peace process, Afghanistan/Pakistan, relations with Russia and joint efforts to deal with the financial crisis. The date of an EU-US summit has not yet been set.

Asked about the scheduling and venue for the EU-US summit, Prime Minister Topolánek said it was certain that Obama would come to Europe, but he was not sure whether the informal EU–US summit would take place in Prague or in Brussels.

Economic recovery not without free movement of labour

Regarding the financial crisis, Prague says that Europe must prepare for a "significant slowdown in economic growth or even an economic downturn, with all its social, political and international consequences".

Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, responsible for EU affairs, said the most important events on the economic agenda would be the spring European Council on 19-20 March and the G20 summit in London in April.

Taking stock of a long-prepared initiative to push for the removal of all remaining barriers to free movement of labour in the Union, Prague expects such a development to benefit the continent in the context of the crisis. This view may not be shared by some Western EU countries such as UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Belgium, which recently opted to keep their labour markets closed to Bulgarians and Romanians for a second period of three years, citing the economic downturn as the main reason for their decision.

Strong message to Croatia

Prague has issued a strong message in favour of Croatia's early EU accession, adding that this would also constitute a major source of motivation for other countries. On Turkey, which Prague calls "a strategic ally of the EU", the wording is more careful. Ankara is given assurances that negotiations will continue. source

My comment: I kind of wanted to keep all the information but still edited some of what I find irrelevant. Just notice how Topolanek said they will TRY to get Obama in Prague. Oh well, what can you expect when a "small" country get the power. But it's good that they published their priorities after all. It was about time. Also, I hope they manage to work on the labor market barriers. True, most Bulgarians are coming back from wherever they were working, so I don't expect a big flow to the countries that denied us access, but still, it's not very fair to us. We have the right to be wherever we want to in the EU as much as any other member state has.

And as for the Turkey's accession, I'm still against. Turkey isn't a part of Europe, it doesn't share our history, nor our common virtues, it doesn't have a place in the EU.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Innovation amid the crisis, 01, 2009

Today:
  1. EU launches ‘new skills for new jobs’ initiative
  2. Parliament focuses on teaching quality in education reform
  3. European Year of Creativity and Innovation launched

EU launches ‘new skills for new jobs’ initiative

17 December 2008

As Europe moves towards a more services-oriented economy focused on ICT and 'green' technologies, its workforce needs to adapt to new requirements and develop new skills, the European Commission argues.

Around 20 million new jobs could be created in the EU 25 by 2020, according to a study presented by the Commission yesterday (16 December). Almost three quarters of these will be in the services sector, the study forecasts.

The best prospects are expected to be in the services market, including the information technology (IT), insurance and consulting sectors, as well as in health care, social work, hotels and catering. On the other hand, sectors like construction could lose 2.9 million jobs, the report says.

As the EU shifts towards a knowledge-based economy, the number of jobs requiring a high level of education will rise from 25% to 31%, the Commission forecasts.

Presenting the EU executive's "New skills for new jobs" initiativeexternal , Employment Commissioner Vladimír Špidla and Education and Training Commissioner Ján Figel' said in a joint statement: "It makes no sense in these difficult economic times to see unemployment rising but job vacancies still not being filled. We must ensure a better match between the skills that workers have and the jobs that are available."

Soft skills, such as problem-solving, analytical, self-management and communication skills, but also language skills, digital competences and the ability to work in a team will become more important, according to the Commission.

Furthermore, the EU executive wants to increase cooperation with third countries, notably the US, China, Canada and India, as well as with international organisations such as the OECD.

Another key challenge will be the demographic factor of the ageing population, the EU executive said. source

My comment: It's obviously wrong to have unemployed people and empty job positions. But in the end, how many employers would happily hire an "ageing" person? Especially if she's a female. I think that the EC again is underestimating the problem. Not to mention the jobs they are promoting- insurers and consultants? Are they serious to believe that the outcome of the financial collapse will lead to more useless personal?! That's absurd. Instead they should promote full requalification to the so called green industry- it lacks skilled and educated workers to an amazing extent. We need to make sure that Europe will be a technological leader and not just the next consumers society as this model proved to be not working- check USA and UK for an example. We must not fall into that!

Parliament focuses on teaching quality in education reform

19 December 2008

Life-long learning and promoting new skills such as media and ICT literacy will be key if Europe is to become a world leader in education and training by 2010, argues a European Parliament report approved yesterday (18 December).

In a set of non-binding recommendations, MEPs argued that teachers and the elderly in particular should be trained in new skills needed for the future labour market. While teachers' role is crucial in preparing future generations for the jobs market, older people have to be able to compete with younger colleagues, especially in times of global economic downturn, which usually significantly increase unemployment, MEPs argued.

The quality of teaching and teachers also featured prominently in the Commission's new skills initiative, which is based on the assumption that the labour market will drastically change by 2020.

Learning foreign languages and teaching entrepreneurship were other key issues highlighted by the Parliament in its report. But they also stressed the need for creativity and innovation to make Europe a world leader in education. Innovation and creativity will also be the theme of the 'European Year' in 2009. source

My comment: Somebody should tell those people that a society of entrepreneurs cannot really function. Because it seems to me that they are simply dreaming of a way to make all the people some kind of tycoon. Well, it's not working like this. Someone has to produce in order to have what to sell. And Europe doesn't have researchers, it doesn't have people in the middle that search for new profitable products and finance them, it doesn't have educated people trained to create products. In any case, I'm sure they will understand it sooner or later. Otherwise, China will simply take us over. And education is really important. They only missed the biggest problem- the lack of respect toward the teachers. Parents cannot and shouldnot control teachers about the way they are working as long as they are not hurting the children. However, there was an article about an english teacher fired after she told the kids there is no Santa Claus. Hello?!

European Year of Creativity and Innovation launched

9 January 2009

As the economic crisis continues to get worse, creativity and innovation are key to strengthening Europe's competitiveness and must remain on the EU agenda beyond the current European Year, leading EU politicians stressed at the its launch event in Prague this week. With additional reporting from EurActiv Czech Republic.

"I believe the 2009 Year of Creativity and Innovation will represent a source of inspiration. It should grow into a big tree and not only be a one-year plant," said Education Commissioner Ján Figel'.

The EU should use the current economic crisis to develop strategic goals both at European and national level and improve conditions for creativity and innovation, the commissioner declared.

"There has never been better time for Europe to be flexible," he insisted. Those who invest in creativity and innovation will be more competitive than those who do not, Figel added.

"Innovation can provide good tools to overcome environmental challenges," said Nokia's Executive Vice-Chairman Esko Aho, a former prime minister of Finland who is chairing the ambassadors' group.

Aho urged EU governments to refrain from cutting R&D budgets at times of crisis to provide short-term solutions, stressing that doing so would be a "great mistake".

Citing Finland as an example, Aho noted that in the early 1990s when he was the country's prime minister, he had to take tough decisions to reverse dramatic negative growth of 7%.

But looking back, he admitted that reforms would not have been taken without crises. "Crises make good circumstances to move on," said Aho, expressing hope that Europe would seize the opportunity presented by the current tumoil. source

My comment: Good news, but so what. It will matter only when it's backed by firm policies and firm funding. All the words of the world cannot change a single event. Only actions matter. And I hope that Europe won't fall for the good publicity of the US model and we'll take only its best features, not also the worst.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The end of the gas crisis?

A little emotional post, since Bulgaria was hit the hardest from the stopping of Russian gas trough Ukraine. That's why I'd like to give you some not so dry details on the crisis, just to let you know about the extent of the damage. But let's make it chronological and somewhat official. The news are followed by my emotional comments, because the situation was really bad home. And the moral is still pending. So, I beg you to read trough the whole post, because the next victim might and probably will be you!

The beginning of the crisis was on 6th January.The reason? Russia claims Ukraina is stealing gas and Ukraina doesn't want to pay interests and higher gas prices. The result-Putin halts the gas delivery trough Ukraina - which happens to be the only pipe for some countries like those on the Balkans.

South East Europe shivers as Russia cuts off gas

6 January 2009

Just as Europe is experiencing a particularly cold winter, all Russian gas supplies to Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia were halted overnight (6 January) following a row between Moscow and Kiev over pricing, reports Dnevnik, EurActiv's partner in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria has been hit most severely by the spat, as it is the only affected country not to possess alternative supply routes which bypass Ukraine and has no liquefied gas terminal of its own. Moreover, the country has just one, limited-capacity gas storage facility at Chiren which can provide adequate supply of gas for up to a month.

The Balkan region has experienced particularly cold and snowy conditions this winter, with temperatures in Bulgaria dropping to less than -15 degrees Celsius overnight.

Romania has also been hit by the dispute. The country's natural gas distribution company Transgaz announced that deliveries to the Isaccea entry point had been entirely halted. Romania normally receives about a third of its gas from Russia, while domestic production covers about 65 percent of its needs.

Russian gas supplies to Turkey via a pipeline across Ukraine have been totally cut off. Turkey had increased supplies of Russian gas delivered via the Blue Stream pipeline, which passes under the Black Sea with 8 million cubic metres per day. The minister said Turkey had not experienced any interruptions to the 15 million cubic metres of natural gas provided each day by Iran.

Elsewhere, Serbia and Croatia also reported that deliveries of Russian gas had stopped completely.

In Austria only around 10% of Russian natural gas is being delivered to Austria's Baumgarten distribution hub, OMV said.

Gazprom has reportedly reduced supplies to Ukraine to the amount that it estimates is illegally siphoned off by Kiev. Ukraine, meanwhile, claims that Gazprom itself has reduced supplies to Europe by a third. The EU at first tried to keep its distance from the dispute, preferring not to become an arbiter in the conflict. source

My comment: There are many sides of this problem. First and foremost, it's very cold this week in Bulgaria and on the Balkans as a whole. Right now, it's -10C and it's the afternoon. The central heating in the big cities is working only on gas. Russian gas to be precise. What's even worst, the electrical system in the old buildings was never planned to serve for heating and as a result, many cables burnt out leaving buildings without ELECTRICITY!!! That, combined with the lack of heating makes the winter very cold! I won't say we were in emergency-we weren't. We're very durable people. But it was very cold, all right. The schools had to close, kindergardens also -thus the parents of children couldn't go to work, the heating was minimal for few days. Even the hot water wasn't hot. The first day with no gas, I took a shower in the night and I showered with the maximal hot water available! And it was merely warm. It was very disappointing.

Now the heating centrals switched the fuels to stuff that are available and things are fine until we have the reserves. But there comes the second point- the business is without gas thanks to the crisis and the obvious priority to provide heating for the people. Thus they are loosing millions just for days. The more the dispute goes on, the more money they'll loose.

Then it comes the political side. We were supposed to have reserves for around a month of limited consumption. It turns out that somebody happily stole the reserves and now we have reserves only for a couple of weeks. The politicians of course won't take charge, they never do. What's even worst, they are too weak to make the right decision to restart the nuclear plant in Kozloduy-the reactors have years of life ahead of them and they are safe. You think it's because it's against the EU accession contract? Not really. The problem is that some Bulgarian oligarch ( I don't know who, though) bought himself few heating centrals (they use gas) and if the country gets on electrical heating, he'll loose money, because he can't compete with the prices of electricity coming from the nuclear plants. What's even worst, the cities electrical system is so old and inadequate, it's not going to survive the power consummation. So, we're screwed from many many sides. But for me, the starting of the nuclear reactors was the best solution to the critical situation. Not so for our ridiculously lousy MPs.

Finally, I don't understand how the EU could down play the crisis. Bulgaria is a part of the EU! Even if Romania has enough gas to make herself comfortable and Greece could suck from whatever they are sucking, we're still going trough some very big troubles! Aren't we enough for Europe to act? Where' s the solidarity! We pay what Russia wants us to, we're freezing! That's hardly fair. I want to ask Europeans that read that to tell me honestly, do you think that the EU should have stayed out of the problem? Do you think that new memebers are not worthy the trouble? If you think so, then you have no idea what the EU is all about. If we're not helping each other, no one will.

Anyway. Let's move on in the chronology.

Bulgaria threatens to restart nuclear plant

7 January 2009

Hit worst by the current Russia-Ukraine gas dispute, Bulgaria is poised to restart one of the nuclear reactors at its Kozloduy nuclear power plant, the closure of which was one of the conditions of the country's EU accession.

As the gas supply from Russia to the country was shut off completely during the night of 5-6 January, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov yesterday (6 January) declared that according to Article 36 of the country's accession treaty, the decommissioned reactors could be reactivated in crisis situations such as the present one.

Without specifically mentioning Kozloduy NPP, the article reads that for a period of three years after accession (Bulgaria joined in January 2007), if "difficulties arise which are serious and liable to persist in any sector of the economy or which could bring about serious deterioration in the economic situation of a given area, Bulgaria […] may apply for authorisation to take protective measures in order to rectify the situation and adjust the sector concerned to the economy of the internal market".

A team of experts is already working at Kozloduy NPP amid preparations to restart the reactors, according to Bulgarian press reports. Ivan Genov, director of Kozloduy NPP, said it would take a month to restart unit four, which was shut down on the eve of Bulgaria's accession on 31 December 2006.

According to the country's constitution, the Bulgarian president alone cannot decide on issues such as restarting Kozloduy's closed units. Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev has so far maintained his silence over the issue.

European Commission spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas said yesterday that he would not comment on the reopening of Kozloduy's units as long as the EU executive had not received an official request to do so from Bulgaria. He agreed that the situation in the country was "a crisis. source

My comment: Obviously I agree with the President, because the priority of the government in such a moment should be to take care of the population. Unfortunately our fearful MPs didn't make the right decision when it was the time and now it doesn't matter. The gas is coming tomorrow. One more missed opportunity. At least for the moment.

EU sends observers to monitor gas, Gaza

8 January 2009

As was the case during last summer's Georgia crisis, the EU has once again responded to the first international challenges of 2009 by sending observers, this time to monitor the borders between Gaza and Egypt, and Russia and Ukraine to supervise the supply of gas intended for Europe.

Yesterday (7 January) the EU finally agreed to send observers to monitor the supply of gas earmarked for Europe. Analysts had been tipping Russia to suggest such a move for some time. At first, the EU appeared reluctant to get involved in what it saw as a bilateral dispute, but its position changed after the situation began to deteriorate (EurActiv 07/01/08).

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso revealed yesterday in Prague that following a series of telephone conversations with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Timoshenko, an EU monitoring mission will be sent to monitor gas flows.

The Russian position now appears not to favour the restoration of supplies until international monitors are put in place in Ukraine.

Commission spokespeople said yesterday that although the mandate of the observers to be sent to monitor the gas row had not yet been determined, the Union would able to dispatch them fairly soon. source

My comment: Well, the observers are already on place and the word has spread that this morning (January 13th) the gas is flowing to Europe again. I don't see what was the problem to dispatch those observers on the first place. It's logical and easy move, then why not doing it?! I don't want to accuse Europe in anything, I just don't understant irrationality.

Czechs take lead in chaotic gas crisis troubleshooting

9 January 2009

Telephone diplomacy achieved optimistic but inconclusive results yesterday night (8 January), after Czech Prime Minister and current EU presidency holder Mirek Topolánek announced from Prague that he had reached a breakthrough with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

A Czech Presidency statement says that the European Union and Russia agreed upon conditions for the deployment of monitors at every Ukrainian location that is relevant for the flow of gas, allowing Russian gas supplies to EU to be restored. Topolánek coordinated his mediation with the help of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the statement says.

The surprising announcement came after earlier talks had collapsed in Brussels, as acknowledged by Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and Czech Energy Minister Martin Riman at a somewhat depressing press event.

Czech Minister Riman did not rule out yesterday that the Union could take a decision to revive the mothballed nuclear units of the Bulgarian central of Kozloduy, should the crisis continue. source

My comment: I wonder is the Czech Presidency is in favour of our Nuclear Power Plant. After all, everyone knows it's safe and that it was closed according to very odd and unofficial requirements that were coming out more from pure sadism than from anything else. I hope at least something good will come from the odd EU Presidency.

So, the net result of the crisis. Bulgaria was without gas for around a week. During this time, we were all in the cold, we all understood how little Russia cares about us (those of us that had doubts on the issue) and most of the people got little crazy about Nabucco. The truth however is that Russia isn't guilty for our absurd lack of reserves and any form of diversity in the energy supply. Bulgaria has enourmous potential for wind and water renewables, however, they don't stand a chance because of the various oligarchs around. I don't mind rich people, even (especially) very rich people. The point is that there must be a balance between personal and social interests and when the balance is missing for too long, the food chain get upside down. I hope this crisis is a good moral for our politicians, though I doubt it.

I hope also it will serve for the EU to reconsider its attitude toward Iran- the only country that can supply Nabucco with gas. Otherwise, whatever we say or do won't matter- Russia is the biggest gas producer around and we'll always be in her feet.

Of course, I don't blame Russia for what it did- every country should protect its own interests as a priority. The point is that we're not protecting ours. We're helpless and we're not doing anything about it. We're singing Nabucco without accepting the real implications - we have to accept Iran as our ally. We're talking about renewables, without any real investments into the sector, without any real support for the energy efficient industries and without any real penalty for the polluters (because usually if you pollute with CO2, you're very likely to not be energy efficient at all!). Where are we going with this? Nowhere. Sure, Bulgaria was hit the harderst. But let me tell you one thing- Bulgaria can last without heating for months- we'll suffer, we'll beg for help, but we'll survive. Tell me honestly, how much German industry can last without gas? How much the whole central Europe can last without Russian gas and oil? Not much! So before dismissing the problem as belateral dispute with Balkan casualties, think about the next time Russia will stop the gas supply. Who will she target and for how long!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Environment in Europe- the face of hypocrisy, 2009

Today:
  1. Poznań climate talks leave 'heavy lifting' for 2009
  2. Developing countries steal limelight at UN climate talks
  3. EU admits failure to protect biodiversity
  4. Industry set to win EU climate concessions
  5. EU leaders clinch deal on CO2 storage financing

Poznań climate talks leave 'heavy lifting' for 2009

15 December 2008

Despite great expectations, UN climate talks in Poznań have failed to deliver a coherent plan for action, with activists and environmentalists voicing disappointment that much of the "heavy lifting" negotiations had been postponed until next year. Delegates will seek to strike a deal on a new international climate change agreement in Copenhagen next December.

After 12 days of extenuating negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), delegates were able to agree on a work programme for next year. They also made progress on technical details, including how to measure deforestation and the principles of financing a fund to help poor and vulnerable countries to cope with the impacts of global warming (rising seas, floods, droughts, storms and wildfires).

However, key issues like the need to set long-term goals for slashing emissions and avoiding dangerous climate change impacts, as well as the introduction of a technology-transfer mechanism to allow developing countries to move towards low-carbon economies, were left untouched. source
My comment: Yeah, they made so much progress, they couldn't make a single decision. Whatever. It's so fun to compare their plans and promises from before the conference with the net result from afterwards. Ok, fun isn't the right word. Sad, more likely.

Developing countries steal limelight at UN climate talks

12 December 2008

Amid a growing sense of urgency at UN climate talks underway in Poznań, developing countries are leading the drive for bold emissions reduction measures, stealing the limelight from EU leaders struggling to finalise the bloc's ambitious climate package in Brussels.

Despite increasing scientific evidence indicating the need for immediate action, over a hundred environment ministers meeting in Poznań, Poland, are having difficulty finding common ground in defining a draft new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Some used the financial and economic crisis to slow down negotiations, while others preferred not to act until the US, which never ratified Kyoto, makes clear commitments to limit its escalating carbon footprint.

In the past two weeks, however, the world's emerging economies have shown impressive leadership in unveiling wide-ranging plans.

In a move to prompt global collective action, Mexico yesterday (11 December) announced a plan to cut 2002 greenhouse gas emission levels in half by 2050, a target made possible via voluntary and non-binding commitments to improve energy efficiency in heavy industry, particularly the cement and oil sectors.

Last week, Brazil pledged to cut its annual deforestation rate by 70 percent by 2017 - which could reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions by 30-45 percent over the next decade.

South Korea said it would announce an emissions cap next year. South Africa approved a plan whereby it would stabilise its greenhouse gas emissions between 2020 and 2025, beginning to reduce them between 2030 and 2035. India outlined a national plan that would boost solar power production. Angola, Pakistan and Nigeria are reportedly developing their own mitigation actions that would be able to be implemented with measurable, reportable and verifiable support.

Meanwhile, positive signals also came from the US. Yesterday (11 December), California approved a plan to implement a law requiring the state to dramatically cut its CO2 emissions, setting a precedent for national and international action. The Global Warming Solutions Act is the first statewide effort to cap emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 (about 30 percent below business as usual).

Seven Western states (Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Utah) and four Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario) followed California's lead by pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions as part of a Western Climate Initiativeexternal .

Australia will also unveil a plan next Monday on cutting emissions, according to reports. source

My comment: Ok, I have a little problem with this article. It's not exactly that I don't trust developing countries to make the right decisions, I just don't trust them to enforce them. I know what kind of problem is illegal logging in Bulgaria and somehow, I just can't expect the countries famous with their drug cartels, to simply say No to the Mob. True, the mafia there isn't such a player into that business, but after they make the big companies leave, the mob is who will continue their action. But illegally.

Industry set to win EU climate concessions

12 December 2008

EU leaders meeting in Brussels yesterday (11 December) closed in on an agreement that would give Europe's big polluters more CO2 emission permits free of charge, as the bloc's major economies slip further into economic recession.

Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi initially threatened to veto the climate accord, but finally retreated.

Under the compromise, 10% of emission quotas delivered under the EU's emissions trading scheme for carbon dioxide (EU ETS) are to be reserved for a "solidarity fund" designed to help poorer countries from Central and Eastern Europe in their transition to cleaner energy production. An additional 2% are to be redistributed among those nine countries, with the bulk going to Romania (29%), Poland (27%) and Bulgaria (15%).

EU states also agreed to "use at least half" of revenues generated from the auctioning of allowances in the EU emissions trading system to invest in low-carbon technologies.

Europe's electricity giants, including E.ON of Germany and the coal-dependent Polish power sector, were also on the way to receiving softer treatment.

Under the draft agreement, power companies would need to buy only 30% of their CO2 emissions quotas at auction from 2013, with the share gradually raised to 100% by 2020. Regular reviews are foreseen every two years to evaluate progress, with precise intermediate targets defined for each year.

Under the Commission's initial proposal, the power sector would have had to buy 100% of its emission permit at auction from 2013.

The Greens in Parliament were outraged. Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, also expressed doubts about the wisdom of handing too much free pollution

A major part of the Brussels talks focused on heavy industries.

In one of the most complex aspects of the compromise, EU leaders agreed on a calculation method to determine which industries are most at risk of delocalising their factories, jobs and CO2 emissions to other parts of the world – a process dubbed 'carbon leakage'.

Under the agreement, industries would be considered "at risk" if the additional costs induced by the EU scheme led to an increase in cost of "at least 5%" of Gross Value Added. In addition, to qualify, any given sector would have to prove it is exposed to international competition for more than 10% of its exports and imports.

Sectors considered at "significant risk" of carbon leakage will be granted up to 100% of their CO2 allocations for free if they meet an agreed benchmark considered as the best available technology in the sector. Industrial installations which do not meet the benchmark would have to pay for their emissions rights, penalising the most polluting factories. This benchmark system had been supported notably by the European chemical industry.

The Commission is being asked to submit a legislative proposal on how the free CO2 credits will be distributed by June 2010, after a key UN meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009 which is due to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

For sectors which are not exposed to the risk of carbon leakage, the share of CO2 allocations to be put to auction is set at 20% for 2013. By 2020, 70% of allocations will have to be bought via auctions, a retreat from the earlier 100% figure credits to the power sector.. source

My comment: Long, but worthy. I actually don't think it's that dramatically bad. It's not the best, but it's close to. And the benchmark system will ensure that industries are not very polluting. In the least. I just don't get it why Romania gets the most out of the free permits. It's not jealousy or something, I don't get why we take any of it apart from because we're so poor. But Romania has similar industry to ours, why it get so much. Poland is clear- it's because they use so much coal. It's kind of odd, but oh well, life is never fair.

EU admits failure to protect biodiversity

17 December 2008

The EU is "highly unlikely" to meet its objective of putting a stop to biodiversity loss by 2010, the European Commission admits.

For the bloc to even come close to achieving the target, "intensive efforts" will have to be made by both the Commission and individual member states, according to the mid-term assessmentPdf external of progress on implementing the Biodiversity Action Plan to halt biodiversity loss in the EU.

Earlier this year, European leaders reiterated their support for the 2010 target to end the destruction of European natural heritage, first adopted in 2000, but the political commitment hasn't translated into effective action.

The report reveals that 50% of all species and up to 80% of habitat types deemed by the EU to be "of conservation interest" in Europe now have "unfavourable conservation" status. The same goes for over 40% of European bird species. While targeted measures to protect endangered life forms have been a success so far, large-scale action is nevertheless needed, it notes.

One positive EU development is the expansion of the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, but site management and financing issues for the scheme must be further addressed, the report says. It also records gaps in EU legislation, most notably concerning invasive species and soil conservation.

The Commission identifies integration of biodiversity considerations into different sectoral policies as a major task yet to be tackled. The agricultural sector, in particular, puts pressure on natural systems as an increasing amount of land is required to meet growing demand for food and to provide energy crops following the EU's new biofuel policy.

Environmental organisations were less than impressed by the results of the analysis. source
My comment: Yeah, in a previous article we understood that the EC wishes to change the status of the territories under Natura 2000 - which are way less than they ought to be, at least in Bulgaria. But that doesn't stop us from saying that Natura 2000 was such a great achievement of the EU. Oh well, irony appart, sometimes I get too much of such nonsense.

EU leaders clinch deal on CO2 storage financing

12 December 2008

A deal on financing coal power plants equipped with technology to capture and store CO2 emissions deep underground edged closer today (12 December) after the European Council decided to give substantial backing to the technology.

Under the deal, national governments will provide 300 million allowances from the "surplus" of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS; Links Dossier) to subsidise the construction of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) demonstration plants.

The final decision comes close to the Parliament's demand for 350 million allowances, providing supporting funding of 7-9 billion euro. The agreed deal will only secure 6-7 billion euros, which Davies described as the "bare minimum" but a basis from which to proceed.

MEPs and the French EU Presidency are scheduled to meet tomorrow to finalise the details of the agreement. The Parliament will then have to modify Irish MEP Avril Doyle's report on the EU ETS proposal to mirror the conclusions of the Council, so that it can be voted upon during the next plenary session on 17 December. source

My comment: Should I even start on CCS?!Ah, how many night, how many fights as the song went. Whatever. Again, better than nothing. I just don't get it who told them that CCS can be used for anything at the current stage of the technology.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Research and development in Europe, January,2009

Today:
  • European solar industry going strong, EU research shows
  • Finns plan massive R&D increase to fight crisis

European solar industry going strong, EU research shows

16 December 2008
Half of the world's photovoltaic electricity is currently produced in the EU, but the European solar industry must continue its "impressive growth" to maintain its market position in the years to come, argues a study released by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) last week.

The annual Photovoltaics Status Report demonstrates that solar power production grew at a rapid rate, averaging 40% over five years since 2003 and peaking at 60% in 2007. This means that the European photovoltaic industry is now worth €14 billion a year.

The JRC notes that Europe has increased its production volume significantly, and even reached its 2010 target four years in advance. It estimates that while solar energy still only makes up 0.2% of total electricity consumption in Europe, 0.5% of total electricity production in the EU 27 will be generated through solar power in 2010, the equivalent of the total electricity consumption of Slovenia.

Solar power is already giving a significant boost to electricity production during peak demand times, particularly when heatwaves force nuclear plants to reduce output because of shortages of cooling water, the report claims. It estimates that four million tonnes of CO2 are saved as a result.

More importantly, renewable energies are the only ones that will become cheaper in future as a result of innovation and economies of scale, and therefore help reduce dependency on imported fossil fuels, the report suggests.

Nevertheless, the EU faces tough competition, with China emerging as a major player in the industry, the report warns. It predicts that the bloc will only be able to secure a 25% market share, even if the massive growth rates of recent years are maintained.

What's more, expanding production will only be possible if new solar cell and module design concepts are developed, the researchers warn, as current technology uses limited resources like silver, supplied of which are expected to run out within the next 30 years.

The European Commission funds photovoltaic energy alongside 27 national programmes in multi-annual framework programmes. source
My comment: The one sentence moral of the article is "We are doing great job, we need more money". I totally agree with them, of course. I doubt there is somebody on the Planet who would not. And I think that if Europe is serious about being a big player on the international scene, it must invest the hardest it can in Research and Development, because that is the only think we have in excess-smart and educated people. We can be the best in this, we just need to make scientists more economically justified than farmers.

Finns plan massive R&D increase to fight crisis

16 December 2008

While cuts to both public and private research and development (R&D) budgets are more than likely due to the current economic crisis, the Finnish government has announced plans to increase R&D investment to 4% of the country's GDP in an effort to combat the recession as quickly as it did in the early 1990s.


The Finnish Science and Technology Policy Council, chaired by Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, adopted a new strategy review of Finland's education, science, technology and innovation policy in early December.

The review sets out an ambitious goal of increasing the country's R&D funding to 4% of GDP by 2011, with around 1.2% coming from the public sector. In 2007, overall spending reached 3.47% (€6.24 billion), with 30% coming from the public sector.

The overall EU goal is to increase research investment throughout the bloc to 3% of total GDP by 2010, with two-thirds coming from the private and one third from the public sector. But the EU 27 average has been stagnating at around 1.9% since the mid-1990s and has even decreased since 2000.

To pave the way for the 4% target to be achieved, the Finnish strategic review proposes an overall funding hike of €760 million by 2011.

The plan is to increase university funding by €330 million to boost basic funding and support local research infrastructure and researchers' career development.

The country's main funding agency for technology and innovation (Tekes) will also be given an extra €220m to help increase the number of R&D companies, support innovative SMEs and to boost business R&D in general amid economic recession.

The Finnish Academy will get an extra €80m to support its excellence units and, for the first time ever, the development of a horizontal programme for sectoral R&D will be supported by €45m. Another novelty is proposed systemic funding for the development of a true research infrastructure policy in Finland, the lack of which has been identified as a hindrance to research performance.

Finland quickly got out of recession in the 1990s primarily due to heavy support for R&D. source

My comment: Now, this is the right attitude! I mean, it proved it works, they know it works, they do it. I don't understand why the rest of Europe cannot understand it, but in any case, hats down for the Finnish government. As they say "I was smart, I figured it out, I was strong- I calculated it". What it means? That some people have the brains and the balls to follow the direct route to the better world, the other have to suffer trough the longer one.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Green Europe in the end of 2008

Today:
  1. Mixed reactions as Parliament approves EU climate deal
  2. EU clinches deal on CO2 emissions from cars
  3. Deal secured on ambitious EU renewables law
  4. EU to switch off traditional light bulbs by 2012
Ok, hardly green, but at least trying. I guess this really will take more time than Green NGOs dare to admit.

Mixed reactions as Parliament approves EU climate deal

18 December 2008

MEPs voting in plenary yesterday (17 December) triumphantly endorsed the energy and climate deal agreed by EU leaders at last week's summit, while green lobbies complained that the agreement did not go far enough in fighting global warming.

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the energy and climate change 'package', with 610 votes for and 60 against amid 29 abstentions.

The general consensus among MEPs was that although the original proposals by the European Commission had been watered down, agreement was crucial to the EU's chances of reaching its three targets for the year 2020: a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20% improvement in energy efficiency and a 20% share for renewables in the bloc's energy mix.

Much of the parliamentary debate focused on negative aspects, with the Council accused of handing out too many free emissions allowances under pressure from heavy industry and member states which rely on coal power. In addition, allowing EU countries to "offset" a substantial part of their carbon reductions by financing climate projects in developing countries was seen by some as a means of avoiding taking measures at home. source

My comment: Check here for a good study which claims that the risk of carbon leakage is realistic only for very few industries. Ok, I changed the initial article, with another, more recent and more relevant. I'm still not sure about my position of the Parliament's decision. From one side, it's horrible, because it's very watered down, and well, it's not enough. From the other, however, they are right, the agreement is the most important, because otherwise, we simply wouldn't do anything hiding behind talks and discussions. In any case, it's better than nothing, but very far from being perfect. Let's hope that with time it will get better.

EU clinches deal on CO2 emissions from cars

3 December 2008

A compromise agreement to reduce CO2 emissions from new vehicles was reached yesterday (1 December) amid pressure from the car industry, which is currently being weighed down by the economic recession.

The agreement still needs to be approved by the Parliament's political groups and EU ambassadors.

After a month of 'trialogue' discussions (EurActiv 04/11/08), member states ended up backing a deal based on a French proposal to gradually limit CO2 emissions to 120 g/km for 65% of new cars in 2012, 75% in 2013, 80% in 2014 and 100% in 2015 (EurActiv 01/10/08). The European Commission had initially proposed introducing the caps on all new cars sold in the region in 2012.

A target of 130g/km is to be reached by improvements in vehicle motor technology. A further 10g/km reduction towards the 120g/km target should be obtained by other technical improvements, such as better tyres or the use of biofuels.

As for the fines for the car industries, between 2012 and 2018, they will be as follows: €5 for the first gram of CO2, €15 for the second gram, €25 for the third and €95 from the fourth gram of CO2 onwards. From 2019 manufacturers will have to pay €95 for each gramme exceeding the target.

In the long term, the compromise sets the target of average emissions at 95g CO2/km for the new car fleet by 2020. source

My comment:This is hardly the best agreement in the world, but again, at least it's some. Obviously, car industry got what it wanted. It has plenty of time (5 years) to reach the target of 130 g/km, it also got lower fiens, and of course, it avoided the real value of 120 g/km, because now, they will have to be achieved trough tires. Seriously, I have no idea how you achieve that trough tires and fuels, but I doubt the producer will be held responsible for the lack of fuel to reach the target. Thus, everybody is happy. Except for the Nature. And I can't understand why there are not bonuses for the companies that produce less emitting cars?

Deal secured on ambitious EU renewables law

9 December 2008

EU governments and the European Parliament have agreed a far-reaching new directive to boost EU renewable energy use to 20% by 2020, following a compromise struck with Italy over a controversial 'review clause'.

According to the new legislation, agreed between the Union's lawmakers today (9 December), each EU country will be required to significantly increase the contribution of renewable energies to its energy mix, leading to an overall EU share of 20% by 2020. A 10% share of biofuels in transport by 2020, part of the overall 20% renewables target, was agreed previously under the condition that indirect land-use considerations and other sustainability criteria are taken into account (see EurActiv 05/12/08).

The breakthrough on the review clause and the broader deal on the renewables proposal was signalled by the French EU Presidency yesterday (8 December) following a meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels.

The measures that will be mandated as part of the agreement are largely in line with the policy framework set out by Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes, Parliament's rapporteur on the file.

Turmes, who received MEPs' backing for his report in September (EurActiv 12/09/08), has been credited with pushing occasionally reluctant member states towards an agreement on the new directive.

As part of a wider compromise, member states must, by 2010, draw up and submit to the Commission for review detailed national action plans (NAPs) based on an 'indicative trajectory', followed by progress reports submitted every two years. Brussels reserves the power to enact infringement proceedings if states do not take 'appropriate measures' towards their targets, meaning the decision to take legal action will be based on the Commission's discretion rather than on strict criteria.

Producers of renewable electricity are also set to receive preferential access to EU grids under the new directive.

Member states will be permitted to link their national support schemes with those of other EU states, and will be allowed under certain conditions to import 'physical' renewable energy from third-country sources such as large solar farms in North Africa. 'Virtual' imports, based on renewable energy investments in third countries, cannot be counted towards national targets, however.

A system of open trading in renewable energy certificates between EU member states, favoured by EU electricity market traders and large electric utilities, was rejected in favour of a system whereby a member state can sell or trade excess renewables credits to another member state based on statistical values.

These so-called 'statistical transfers', which can only be conducted under the condition that the selling member state has reached its interim renewables targets, can also be applied in cases where member states cooperate on joint projects, according to the deal, which will receive the public endorsement of EU heads of state during the upcoming 11-12 December EU summit in Brussels. source

My comment: I have absolutely no idea how this article relates to the first one, which is newer, but it sounds good actually. Let's hope they didn't change it too much!

EU to switch off traditional light bulbs by 2012

9 December 2008

EU national representatives voted yesterday (8 December) to phase out energy-guzzling incandescent light bulbs and inefficient halogen bulbs between 2009 and 2012 in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve energy security.

The decision taken by a national expert committee endorsed a proposal by the European Commission to switch to more energy-efficient lighting. The Commission estimates that it will allow EU households to reduce their electricity use by 10-15%, saving up to 50 euro a year, a "balanced, realistic figure".

There has been concern about the higher costs of more efficient lamps, but a longer lifetime and price reductions expected from more production and lifting of excise duties is expected to render them competitive.

According to the conclusions adopted by the energy ministers on Monday, these rules on the energy use and efficiency of consumer items like washing machines and refrigerators should be extended to a range of 'energy-related' items like insulation. If approved by MEPs in the first months of 2009, the 'eco-design' requirements for energy-using products would be updated to include the new product list. The Commission recommended broadening the scope of the directive in its July 2008 strategy on sustainable consumption and production (SCP), part of a wider strategy to 'green' the EU's product line.

The phase-out scheme only covers non-directional lights, emitting light equally in all directions. It also makes exemptions for some technologies, including halogens with specific lamp caps and special purpose incandescent lamps such as traffic lights and infrared lamps. This was justified as ensuring that EU citizens have access to the same standards they are used to while taking care that they do not end up with empty luminaires, which can only take a certain type of lamps.

The new directive thus only bans incandescent light bulbs, Thomas Edison's invention, which are now regarded as last-century's technology due to their energy wastage. It sets minimum standards for energy efficiency and functionality. This gives consumers the choice between long-life compact fluorescent lamps yielding up to 75% energy savings compared to incandescent lamps, or efficient halogen lamps, which have the same light quality as traditional bulbs but provide only 25-50% savings. source

My comment: Well, we discussed that in a Bulgarian blog. It looks like people are not very happy by this decision. I also think it's a nonsense. Until the EC keeps the prices of the Chineese bulbs so high, this is a dust in the eyes and a roberry of the European citizens. Even if the idea is good, combined with the artificial high price that the EU sets for that kind of bulbs, it's simply wrong.

 

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