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Friday, February 13, 2009

Upgrades in European administration

Today:
  1. Global renewables agency launched as support falters
  2. SMEs laud Commission's e-invoicing initiative
  3. New EU battle over copyright rules in sight
  4. EU to use unspent cash for clean energy, broadband
  5. MEPs' attendance records set for publication
Check out the last article. Pretty cool, right?

Global renewables agency launched as support falters

28 January 2009

A new international agency to promote renewable energies across the world was launched in Bonn on Monday (26 January) with fewer signatories than had been hoped for, after the US and UK dropped out of the list.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was established to counterbalance for the International Energy Agency, which has been criticised for favouring fossil fuels over green energies. IRENA is expected to offer advice to both industrialised and developing countries on reaching higher energy shares from renewable sources and promoting better financing mechanisms and technology transfers to developing nations (EurActiv 03/11/08).

The initiative has been strongly driven by Germany, which invited all United Nations countres to attend the founding conference. The founding treaty was signed by 75 countries.

The US and the UK, however, decided not to commit to the new body for now. The US is expected to join at a later stage, as President Obama's new administration has set out more ambitious goals for the share of renewables in electricity production.

The UK, on the other hand, appears more reluctant to sign up to an initiative that in its eyes undermines the power of the UN-backed International Energy Agency. However, London did not rule out the possibility of joining later if other major polluting countries such as China, the US and Japan were to commit to the agency's goals.

Even France reportedly hesitated to join until the last minute after Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo had expressed reservations about the idea, notably regarding the decision to choose English as the agency's only working language.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs urged all EU member states to participate in the agency, adding that he is working on achieving a mandate for the Commission to join in. He said the body's global reach and $25-million budget could make a real difference, helping EU countries to meet individual targets under their common obligation to increase the share of renewables in the bloc's energy mix by 20% by 2020. source

My comment: Another agency, nice! I don't see much the point, probably it should have been a part of IEA, but after all, the latter really is annoyingly biased toward fossil fuels. Actually, IRENA might even be a good idea- if there is enough funding and commitment, it really can make a difference.

SMEs laud Commission's e-invoicing initiative

2 February 2009

Small businesses welcomed a European Commission proposal to allow tax to be invoiced electronically, which the EU executive said could save companies €18 billion every year.

The new legislation, which still needs the approval of EU finance ministers, aims to eliminate current barriers to 'e-invoicing' but also addresses businesses concerns over the storing of invoices and discrepancies in the content of invoices.

Up to €18 billion annually could be saved in the medium-term if EU companies switched to 100% e-invoicing, according to official estimates. But even if take-up were lower, the savings could still be "very significant", the Commission said.

SMEs described the new initiative as a "huge step forward", Gerhard Huemer from UEAPME, which represents more than 12 million small businesses across Europe, told EurActiv. But he said he was sceptical as to whether the proposal will find the approval of the bloc's finance ministers, given reservations from the Spanish and German governments.

The proposed revision of invoicing rules also aims to fight VAT fraud, which is estimated to cost the EU tens of billions of euro every year.

Officials claim that the new legislation will close a loophole in the current legislation, which has allowed businesses operating across EU borders to invoice deliveries in later than the month in which they actually supplied the good or service.

Under the new law, companies will have to report their transactions in the month that they supply the goods. source

My comment: I must say I have my worries on the entirely electronic invoicing system. Because as we know, electronic signatures work only on Windows. And I don't want to use Windows for example. Of course, this is just for SMEs and they can afford a single computer with M$, but still, it's not very fair. But again, I like the idea and I can't wait for the promised harmonising of the systems.

New EU battle over copyright rules in sight

30 January 2009
The European Commission will reopen the 'Pandora's box' of online copyright protection with a new legislative initiative on e-commerce, after attempts to filter Web traffic failed during negotiations over the telecoms package.

The Commission will launch a new consultation on 26 February to identify shortfalls in existing rules governing e-commerce, including a possible monitoring role to be assumed by Internet service providers (ISPs), such as BT or Belgacom.

The current directiveexternal does not foresee obligations for network managers to control Web traffic. But national authorities can oblige them to release stored information "in order to detect and prevent certain types of illegal activity".

The vagueness of present rules provoked a wave of different interpretations by national courts.

"We want to clarify the directive to avoid different interpretations of the liability regime," a Commission official close to the dossier told EurActiv. He gave assurances that the EU executive will adopt a "balanced approach," presenting "neutral" questions to relevant stakeholders.

A "new balance" in the management of online copyright protection is also sought in the current negotiations for the so-called Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA ) which involve the EU, Japan, the US, Switzerland and many other countries. According to a leaked draft text , the deal might involve "procedures enabling right holders who have given effective notifications of claimed infringements to expeditiously obtain information identifying the alleged infringer".

Some analysts in Brussels do not rule out the possibility that ongoing negotiations on the telecoms package could end up in a new attempt to introduce obligations for ISPs, which were left out of the current temporary agreement.

All these efforts aim to protect the content industry, which has been obliged to go through a significant restructuring process after the take-up of the Internet. Many think this could be beneficial in the long term, but the current players have been very reluctant to change traditional business models.

On the other hand, ISPs, which are often big telecoms companies, reject suggestions that they are controlling online traffid. Unusually, the ISPs have the backing of consumer organisations, which support free downloading and file-sharing. source

My comment: All I can say is that I hope this new innitiative fail as happily as the last one. Or that it stops protecting the music industry and decide to protect conummers for a change. I mean, I'm sick of hearing how much the industry loses from illegal file-sharing. When this is totally incorrect, they are not losing, they are actually winning. I mean the fact that someone downloaded the latest Holliwood garbage doesn't mean that s/he would actually go to a cinema to watch it if s/he didn't have internet. It only means that people found another cheap way to waste time. If they didn't have that option available, they'd watch TV (zapping trough programs and definitely not watching ads) or just watch videos in youtube. They WOULDN'T go to a cinema! Why the companies are winning? Because they gain viewers to their lower quality movies. The actors also win. Well, the only thing that is required is for the companies to think up a way to monetize those money. And that's not so hard. They can sell those movies online and earn trough the ads on the site (and people will pay heavily for very visited and famous sites) or even put ads in the beginning of the movies (like cineplex home do). And everything is fine again! But no! They really have to fight piracy. Start living in 21st century people! If I can't download the Babylon 5 from the net, I simply wouldn't watch it. Because I don't have the money to buy the dvds or the nerves to wait for them to be delivered home. Learn how to earn in another way!

EU to use unspent cash for clean energy, broadband

29 January 2009

The European Commission yesterday (28 January) proposed to reallocate five billion euro of unspent EU money, mostly to support clean coal projects, offshore wind farms and the deployment of broadband Internet connections in rural areas.

Presenting the plans on Wednesday (28 January), European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the projects would represent a "smart investment" for the EU as it battles a deepening economic downturn.

Under the plans, a total of €3.5 billion will be devoted to clean energy projects, while €1 billion will support broadband Internet. A further €500 million is earmarked for tackling new agricultural challenges such as climate change, renewable energy, water management and restructuring the dairy sector.

"Energy and broadband networks are both crucial to the future of the EU economy," the Commission explained in a statement.

The proposal will now be submitted to EU member states for approval, with the Czech Presidency planning to discuss it at the General Affairs Council, the Commission indicated. The next such meeting is scheduled for 23-24 February in Brussels.

Carbon storage and offshore wind

Projects to store carbon dioxide emissions from power plants deep underground (carbon capture and storage, or CCS; ) receive the lion's share of the funding under the EU executive's proposal, with a €1.25bn financial envelope.

Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain (with Portugal) and the UK will each receive €250m to apply the nascent technology to heavy-polluting coal-fired power plants.

Offshore wind will also receive backing, with €150m going to projects in three groups of countries: Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Poland – the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland and Denmark – and Germany and Poland.

Bringing broadband to rural areas

€1bn is earmarked for projects to bring broadband to rural areas. In total, 30% of the EU rural population has no access to the Internet, but the situation differs from one country to another, the Commission said. A chart, published with the communication, shows that rural coverage in Bulgaria and Romania is equal to zero.

EU member countries will have the responsibility of applying for the money, and amounts will be allocated on the basis of the current distribution key for the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Poorer regions will benefit from higher financing.

Disappointment for Nabucco and gas 'interconnectors'

In spite of the recent gas crisis, sums for "gas interconnectors" designed to improve the EU's resilience in a crisis situation appear relatively modest, totalling just over €1 billion.

Bulgaria and Slovakia, the countries worst hit by the crisis, receive only modest sums: Bulgaria is allocated €20m for the Haskovo-Commotini interconnection with Greece, and Slovakia €25m for the Velky Krtis-Ballasaqyarmat interconnector with Hungary.

€250m has been earmarked for the EU's flagship Nabucco gas pipeline project. However, this amount in fact represents a risk-sharing facility, intended to help secure loans from banks at better conditions than those offered on the market, Commission spokesperson Johannes Laitenberger told EurActiv.

Member states 'puzzled'

But it remains unclear whether member states will approve the reallocation of funds.

source

My comment: I'm quite unhappy by the way the funding was divided. I mean, why they should give all those money for CCS when it's not even working! It looks like another way to steal European money to me. And that weird funding for Nabucco?! Oh, well, my guess is that member states won't approve it...

MEPs' attendance records set for publication

23 January 2009

Details of MEPs' attendance in parliamentary meetings will be published on the European Parliament's website, it emerged yesterday (22 January), marking the first major development since the adoption of new guidelines on access to documents last week.

Accepting a request from Italian MEP Marco Cappato (ALDE), the Parliament's Bureau has agreed to put online "all data" regarding attendance of MEPs in plenary and committee meetings.

The Bureau's decision represents the first stage of the Parliament's response to last week's adoption of a reportexternal calling on the EU assembly to make details of MEPs' activities at work available on its website (EurActiv 15/01/09).

Towards a 'new era of openness'?

Hailing the development, Cappato recalled that previous attempts to publish such records had been refused, and expressed hope that yesterday's move was an "indication of a new era of openness that will also be extended to cover information related to use of public funds such as expenses and financial interests".

The Bureau's decision should allow the Parliament to "implement the plenary decision to make available through search criteria on [its] website more and easily accessible information on MEPs' activities and attendance in absolute as well as relative terms," the ALDE member said.

The extra data should be online in time for this summer's elections to the EU assembly in June.

source

My comment: More info here. Wonderful news! I hope the implement it quickly. I think that all the statements that a MEP does should be available online. I mean, it's not very secret if 200 other people heard it. So better at least make it publicly available.

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