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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

European economy in March, 2009

Today:
  1. Czechs vow to revive Community patent talks
  2. SMEs 'unimpressed' by plan to cut red tape
  3. Green VAT proposal likely to be scrapped
  4. Parliament reaffirms industrial pollution 'safety net'
  5. Parliament votes for green road tolls for trucks
It could go by the title-"stuff that are not meant to happen soon", but hope dies last, right?

Czechs vow to revive Community patent talks

6 March 2009

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, responsible for EU affairs, has pledged to work towards devising an EU-wide Community patent. Describing the existing system as "fragmented and inefficient," he said Europe's intellectual property infrastructure is stifling innovation and holding back progress on the Lisbon Agenda.

Vondra said the high cost of filing patents is a major barrier for SMEs and is proving to be a disincentive to bringing new products to market.

"The key to innovation at times of crisis is incentivisation. Lack of IPR [intellectual property rights] can be fatal to SMEs, who are the main drivers of our economy and who, according to many studies, outperform larger firms in terms of technological importance of their innovations," Vondra said.

He called on the EU to prioritise negotiations on a Community patent and find ways to achieve significant savings in translation and procedural requirements.

In a statementPdf external released after the meeting, the Council said work to create a Community patent and a patent litigation system would be intensified.

Alexandr Vondra also highlighted the need to dismantle barriers to the mobility of researchers, saying the Czech Presidency would build on the work of the French Presidency in this area.

He said further development of the European Research Area (ERA) is crucial, and was highly critical of the EU's record in linking its researchers together to get maximum value from investment.

He pledged to help overcome this fragmentation, and said the Czech Presidency is looking at the possibility of enhancing cooperation between smaller EU member states in developing research infrastructure "in order to pool their often limited human and financial resources". source

My comment: I won't comment much, since it's obvious I totally agree. Patents are so important, I just don't understand how the system isn't yet ready.

SMEs 'unimpressed' by plan to cut red tape

3 March 2009

Small businesses are deeply concerned by a European Commission proposal to exempt micro-enterprises from accounting rules as part of an ongoing drive to ease the bureaucratic burden on SMEs.

The plan is unlikely to save small businesses money and risks distorting the market and reducing transparency, according to the UEAPME, the European craft and SME employers' organisation.

The SME group said it was "unimpressed" by the Commission's attempt to ease the administrative burden faced by small enterprises, as filing annual accounts is a fundamental tool for small businesses to prove their financial solidity.

"The suggestion to exempt micro-enterprises from filing accounts is a questionable proposal. Public authorities will still require those data for fiscal and statistical reasons. Banks will keep asking for financial information to check creditworthiness...." said UEAPME.

The organisation said the proposal goes against single-market principles, creating an uneven playing field between businesses operating in different member states, only some of which will use the exemption.

UEAPME instead recommended simplifying existing harmonised accounting rules as a "more viable and less distortive alternative". source

My comment: Same thing I said when I learn about the idea. It basically sucks. Instead, they should really harmonise the legislation across Europe.

Green VAT proposal likely to be scrapped

6 March 2009

The European Commission is poised to put forward proposals for a 'green tax' in early April, but reduced value-added tax (VAT) rates to promote green products are unlikely to feature as part of the package.

The legislative proposals will modify existing EU laws on taxation of energy products. They will be accompanied by a Commission communication and a staff working document on the role of taxes in energy and environmental policy.

The package also includes a draft law to amend the 2006 VAT Directive, with view to cutting value-added tax (VAT) on some environmentally-friendly goods, including energy efficient light bulbs and insulation.

Recent reports nevertheless suggest that the Commission might decide against proposing such reduced VAT rates. The concerns expressed reflect a consultants' report, submitted to the tax department in December, citing negative cross-border effects and higher energy demands.

The European Environmental Bureau criticised the Commission for contradicting itself.

The legislative package is still at a drafting stage and details of its exact content are yet to emerge.

But member states are not expected to endorse an eventual proposal on green VAT cuts. A Council official told EurActiv that many member states have "substantial reservations" on whether the scheme can play a significant role in promoting green products and ultimately the EU's climate goals. Germany, Austria and Denmark are clearly against the proposals, and the Baltic states have expressed concerns too.

The UK and France thus appear to be exceptions in supporting VAT reductions for environmentally-friendly products. France has also been lobbying hard for lower VAT rates for labour-intensive industries, with an eye on its catering sector. source

My comment: As I see it, this yet another proposal in which every country tries to do as much as it can for their own people. It's not unexpected but still, it's not exactly my idea of what the EC should do. And green VAT exemptions is the least the EC can and should do to promote green products on the market. But then, catering is so much more important.

Parliament reaffirms industrial pollution 'safety net'

11 March 2009

MEPs yesterday (10 March) confirmed their commitment to EU-wide limits for industrial pollution, but with more flexibility in granting permits.

The Parliament plenary adopted a report drafted by German MEP Holger Krahmer (ALDE), agreeing to more stringent limit values for pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides proposed by the Commission in its recast of the Industrial Pollution Prevention and Control Directive.

The recast, approved in committee in January , will require some 52,000 industrial operators to obtain permits from national authorities to release pollutants into the air, soil or water.

Nevertheless, MEPs want to go further to insert to the directive the so-called "European safety network", legally binding minimum emission limit values, which cannot be exceeded by any installation.

So far, the Parliament and the Council have not seen eye to eye on the issue. While MEPs insist that minimum values are necessary to avoid a large-scale resort to exemptions, ministers think these are too costly and fail to take local circumstances into account. They prefer the Commission's approach, strengthening the role of Best Available Techniques (BATs), which are deemed to be the most effective emission reduction technologies, according to EU reference documents on best-available technologies (BREFs) (EurActiv 02/03/09).

While the plenary endorsed extending the scope of the recast legislation to include medium-sized combustion plants (20-50 MW), they demanded that installations that only run for a maximum of 500 hours per year should be left outside of the directive.

MEPs also rejected the Commission's plans to widen the directive's coverage of intensive poultry farms and to differentiate between different poultry species. The Parliament voted for a compromise whereby only industries with 40,000 places for poultry are within the scope of the legislation. source

My comment: I totally agree with the emboldened text. While BAT is generally a good idea, I prefer to see a minimum in the emissions that every industry should obey. It doesn't make sense to require that from non-EU countries, if we cannot implement it in our member-states. But I can tell you that this proposition won't pass.

Parliament votes for green road tolls for trucks

12 March 2009

Amid opposition from centre-right MEPs, the European Parliament yesterday (11 March) backed the EU executive in its call to allow national governments to charge heavy goods vehicles for the noise they make and the environmental pollution and congestion they cause.

The EU assembly adopted a report - drafted by Belgian Socialist MEP Saïd El Khadraoui - with 359 votes in favour and 256 votes against, amid 86 abstentions.

But the EPP-ED group voted against the proposal, because centre-right MEPs are opposed to its call for a congestion charge of up to €0.65 per kilometre.

However, the EPP-ED group supports the inclusion of air pollution and noise among trucks' chargeable external costs.

Despite the narrow vote, Parliament's rapporteur on the file El Khadraoui welcomed the result, saying the report represented a first step in the process of introducing the 'polluter pays' principle to the road transport sector. "The strategy is also perfectly in line with the EU's commitment to the fight against climate change," he added.

El Khadraoui reiterated the fact that the proposed revision of the existing Eurovignette Directive remains voluntary, allowing member states to internalise external costs if they so choose.

Meanwhile, the bloc's 27 member states remain bitterly divided over whether to allow for this possibility, with peripheral countries fearing that the directive could hamper their competitiveness and access to the internal market should key freight transit countries, such as France, decide to profit from the new optional charging possibilities. source

My comment:I sooo wish this directive to get into full strength, it would be gorgeous to charge Serbian and Turkish trucks for pollution in Bulgaria. But we all know this isn't going to happen. So...

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