Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Monday, June 29, 2009

EU Research and Development, June, 2009

Ok, I totally messed my publication scheme, so I apologise to the people who may have waited for my new post last week. Blame it on Blogger. On on the summer :)

Today:
  1. EU reconsiders green laws to shore up industry
  2. EU research infrastructure offered VAT exemption
  3. EU proposes legal steps towards common patent
  4. Innovation recovery plans in chaos, says report
  5. 'Chemicals Doha' stresses need for global regulation
Quote of the day:But another conference? Like 1000 people participating with public money that don't know what they're talking about would make a difference? Nonsense. And I don't know why they keep messing SMEs and Research-those are two very different entities.

EU reconsiders green laws to shore up industry

28 May 2009

Sectors affected by the ongoing recession – including cars and the chemical industry – will be offered specific treatment under a revised industrial policy to be agreed by EU ministers today (28 May).

EU ministers responsible for industry, trade and research are due to agree a new approach to industrial policy that takes greater care of key sectors such as the chemicals and automotive industries as Europe battles through its worst economic recession since the 1930s.

Germany in particular reckons that all additional environmental legislation should be put on ice until economic conditions return to normal, according to one senior diplomatic source.

The REACH regulation on chemicals and the extension of carbon dioxide emission limits to light duty vehicles in the automotive sector were both cited as areas where industry will be offered special treatment.

The aim is to soften the impact of Europe's strict environmental rules as industries fight their way through the economic recession.

Draft conclusions of the ministerial meeting point to the risk that "regulatory burdens could lead to 'production leakage', notably in the present economic crisis". The term refers to the risk that manufacturing industries might relocate abroad due to strict environmental rules in Europe .

"Compliance with new requirements should not cause excessive costs to businesses in all policy areas," the draft conclusions read.

This sectoral approach to industrial policy seems to find consensus among EU member states. "We need to have concrete measures, sector-by-sector," said a diplomat from one of the larger EU member states. "We will welcome European action along those lines," said another.

BusinessEurope, the EU employers' lobby, insisted that the recession "does not allow for a 'business as usual' attitude to regulatory policy".

The European business organisation singled out the REACH regulation on chemicals in particular for being too costly and difficult to implement. "Companies are still left with legal uncertainties because of inconsistency or lack of coordination between different pieces of legislation," the organisation wrote in an assessment of the chemicals law two years after it was adopted. It called for more consistency and guidance about how the legislation should be implemented in order to provide companies with more legal certainty.

In some areas, initiatives should be reconsidered and alternatives elaborated if required, he said. "The project of establishing an EU-wide emissions trading scheme for NOx and SO2 should be put on hold," the letter adds.

Meanwhile, member states such as France and Germany, which have the largest manufacturing bases in Europe, are hoping to take advantage of the economic recession to revive talks about a more ambitious, EU-wide industrial policy.

According to Le Maire, industrial policy requires a competition policy that will support the establishment of European champions in key industries such as energy and aerospace. It should also encourage the birth of European industrial giants and apply the principle of reciprocity to relations with foreign countries.

However, the mood might be changing. Countries such as the UK, which have traditionally been less enthusiastic about the idea of industrial policy due to their stronger reliance on the services sector, now seem more open to the idea.

In April, Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a "strategic plan" to invest in Britain's economic and industrial future, promising a new era of "activism" in British industrial policy to move the country out of recession. source

My comment: Yeah. Does this sentence "REACH regulation on chemicals in particular for being too costly and difficult to implement" reminds you of an article I posted few weeks ago (or less) about discrimination?! How because it's too difficult and costly to implement anti-discrimination policies, we better drop that requirement? Well, to me, it sounds absolutely the same. And I have absolutely the same conclusion-WTF? What are they talking about? If they have to invest into a new country, would they consider it too costly, if it may open the doors for even greater earning? If they discover that certain product is killing people should they stop its distribution, since it will be too costly to stop it?! What a nonsense! Of course it's costly. The idea of REACH isn't to save them money or to stimulate their businesses, it's done for the sake of safety and transperancy. And probably for many more reasons, but that should be the leading ones. The same goes with climate requirements-especially NOx and SO2. They have to be controlled, because NOx is many times stronger green house gas than CO2!

For the people who like me found their statements for very touching and reasonable, I have to remind you (and me) - climate policies and safety policies are not done for the businesses. They are done for our common home-Europe. For our common future. Because if it's not controlled, it's abused. And you don't have to be a pessimist to see it. That is why, I think it's essential to understand-yes, we have to make consistent and simple policies-easy to implement and easy to control. But that doesn't mean we have to remove them, because this way it's easier. We have to work them out, to perfect them, but they have to be enforced now. Not tomorrow, not when the recession is over. Now is the time. And should we back down from this, we better just admit we can't do it and forget about it. And make sure there are lots of money set aside for disasters, because they are going to come sooner than we expect. I'm no doomsday fan, I'm practical. Yesterday (June 28th, 2009), it was 18C outside during the day. In the city 22-23C. Last year, it was 10 degrees warmer in the same period. Is this normal?No, not at all. What's to come? I don't know. But I know that things are definitely going in the wrong direction. Can we stop it? I don't know. But we have to try really hard.

EU research infrastructure offered VAT exemption

3 June 2009

New pan-European research infrastructure such as CERN, the world's largest nuclear research organisation, is to be granted international organisation status and exempted from excise duty and VAT, EU research ministers decided last week.

After months of deadlock, EU research ministers accepted on 29 May a Czech EU Presidency proposal that European research infrastructure (ERI) projects be treated as international organisations for taxation purposes.

Future ERIs will include any instrument or facility that provides top-class research services to support the work of scientists in a variety of areas, including materials science, astronomy, biomedical applications and the protection of cultural heritage. They can range from icebreaker vessels for marine research to next-generation radio telescopes, and also include social surveys monitoring long-term changes in social values across Europe.

The ministers' political agreement paves the way for an EU legal framework to facilitate the joint establishment and operation of research facilities of European interest, associated countries and inter-governmental organisations.

Current national and EU laws do not meet the needs of complex research infrastructure with partners in many countries.

"The legal framework will significantly cut financial and administrative costs and clarify the legal environment for the functioning of European research infrastructure and at the same time enhance scientific cooperation," stated Miroslava Kopicová, the Czech education minister of education. "In this way it will bring down barriers to investments in science and research," she added.

The European Economic Recovery Plan also urges member states to accelerate national investment in the pan-European research infrastructure. source

My comment: Nice! Obviously, I am not impartial on this, but I have to applaud any effort to stimulate international research. Projects like CERN or MAGIC are so big, the new policy will matter to them. And it's a good sign of political commitment on real research.

EU proposes legal steps towards common patent

27 May 2009

European research ministers are expected to take a significant step towards introducing a Community patent when they meet tomorrow (28 May) in Brussels to discuss ways of improving competitiveness.

The move could finally break a deadlock which has paralysed Europe's ability to make progress on the issue for much of the past decade.

Recent efforts to establish a single legal system, which would have jurisdiction in patent disputes, have been hampered by technical disagreement over whether such a court would be an international body or part of the Community legal infrastructure.

Some member states, including Germany, have favoured establishing an international body to handle Community patent cases, while others preferred a Community system.

A compromise has been reached which would see the establishment of the Unified Patent Litigation System (UPLS), something of a hybrid between a full Community body and an international institution.

Ministers are now expected to ask the European Court of Justice (ECJ) whether the proposed compromise is compatible with Community law. This is seen as the final hurdle to establishing the UPLS.

The central issues will be whether it is possible for an international organisation to make decisions on Community issues, and whether the UPLS will be able to refer problematic issues to the ECJ as is currently foreseen.

Ministers will ask the ECJ to consider the matter before the summer, although it may take 18 months to give its opinion. Nonetheless, the compromise is seen as a major milestone on the road to establishing a single legal system for European patents. source

My comment: I don't get that. Really. Why they have to create an international organisation, when all they have to do is to create pan-European organisation. It's nonsense and it reminds of the dream of some genetic giants to patents seeds and cells and then use such organisations to make people pay them. Of course, it's not the idea. Pan-European patent system will dramatically change the way research is done in Europe in a positive way and it will greatly facilitate filing for a patent. Right now people go to USA to patent, because it's easier to respect US patents, than to respect patent filed only in one European country. But still, why it has to be international organisation?

Innovation recovery plans in chaos, says report

4 June 2009

A report to be published in a month's time lambasts national recovery plans for failing to achieve global coordination of innovation policies to combat the recession. It concludes that a massive global conference on innovation is needed to promote cross-border collaboration.

The 'Stimulating Innovation' report, due to be officially launched in July, argues that while G20 governments have set aside more than $200 billion for new innovation programmes, there has been little coordination between them.

The UK, for example, is putting $2.1 billion toward loan guarantees for SMEs, while Germany is extending its write-downs, the study notes.

The report was presented at a high-profile meeting in Brussels this week (2 June), which brought together policymakers, university leaders and innovation experts from both the private and public sectors.

They argued that innovation ideas must be coordinated between countries in order to maximise the value of the many economic recovery packages currently in force.

Without cross-border cooperation, they concluded, industrialised countries including the EU member states would lose out in the long run.

"A relatively easy area in which to start collaborating," says the report, is in "R&D and innovation-incentives intended to solve the grand challenges of our day – including research on climate change, alternative energy and healthcare for an ageing population".

It also identifies scientific visas, intellectual property rules and "other legal regimes that limit mobility of researchers and ideas" as areas where heightened international cooperation is not only desirable but imperative.

However, the speakers were less clear on precisely what measures countries should take, or what new mechanisms they should set up, to achieve these cooperative goals. source

My comment: Verdad? Lol! Is this news for anyone? If research plans were not in mess, we might actually had some real scientific success in major projects. Maybe even LHC would be functioning (speculations, I know, but I have a theory on that). But I don't think we need a conference. I think we need to gather a think tank, not by economist, but by scientists that have experience on international collaborations. Or the managers in CERN or Magic or IceCube. Or the supercomputer network. We need experts in joint-venture projects, in international projects, who know where the major problems are and how to solve them. And when they point out the problems and propose solutions, it will be up to politicians to do what they have to do. But another conference? Like 1000 people participating with public money that don't know what they're talking about would make a difference? Nonsense. And I don't know why they keep messing SMEs and Research-those are two very different entities. Major research projects are not small, they are big, expensive and require very different approach than SMEs. Another nonsense.

'Chemicals Doha' stresses need for global regulation

2 June 2009

More global regulation on chemicals is required, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas agreed at a forum last week, urging action on 'chemical cocktails', endocrine disruptors and nanotechnology.

The first Helsinki Chemicals Forum (HCF), an annual meeting of stakeholders from industry, research, authorities and NGOs, took place on 27-29 May in Helsinki, where the European Chemicals Agency (ECHAexternal ) is located.

The aim of the meeting was to shape a 'Helsinki Agenda' for safe and sustainable development, manufacture and use of chemicals. The agenda aims to define the topical and critical issues related to chemistry and its interest groups regarding: competitiveness and innovation, industry regulation, safety and sustainability and consumer awareness.

The agenda is currently being drafted and should be made public shortly, but a summary of its key points already notes that "there is a clear need for more global chemical industry regulation".

Ahead of the forum, HCF Secretary-General Kyösti Sysiö told EurActiv that the aim of the organisers was to develop the HCF into an annual 'Chemicals Doha' bringing together stakeholders from all over the world. While this year's forum primarily focused on Europe, the aim is to have a stronger US representation in years to come, Sysiö said.

Klaus Berend from the Commission's chemicals unit said that REACH already "affects global trade policy because the EU is one of the largest importers of chemicals and end products". Even if similar chemical legislation is not applied on other continents, market forces will force countries outside the EU to take into account the requirements set by REACH, the forum noted.

Chemical industry groups argued that while the world's chemical producers have already established a voluntary system for gathering and transmitting the information required by REACH around the world (Global Product Stewardship), new instruments are needed for global information transfer.

They also underlined that "considerable effort must be taken to raise awareness" about all kinds of chemicals and their harmful effects, and to make sure that data about chemical substances generated by the EU's REACH regulation reaches end users.

As for the challenges ahead, Commissioner Dimas stressed the need to close remaining knowledge gaps surrounding 'chemical cocktails'. While REACH considers the effects of single substances, "the fact is that we are most commonly exposed to a cocktail of many different substances," he said.

The commissioner also called for the development of specific criteria and test methods to determine the endocrine disrupting properties of chemicals, which can affect the development of the brain and reproductive organs, for example.

Lastly, Dimas called for more work to consider "whether specific legislation is required to address the risks that may result from the use of nanotechnologies". source

My comment: Yes, this was just for your information and for comparison with the first article. The same participants, more or less, and totally different messages. Go figure! But I agree with mr. Dimas-those are the real priorities and I so hope that they won't stay only in words, while the industry try to remove even REACH. As I said, it might be hard, but it must be done. This is for our common benefit. It might come at cost, but I don't see why my life or health should be considered less costly than implementing a policy by a business.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

European Industry in June, 2009-or how much is enough for oil companies?

I must apologise for the late post, but something appears to be wrong with bloggers dates. This was scheduled for 23th!
Today:
  1. Power sector calls for smart grid support
  2. Industry calls for funding to cut CO2 emissions
  3. Commission faces revolt over 'carbon leakage' plans
  4. EU unveils €246m 'innovative medicines' scheme
  5. EU nations scrambling to support small firms during crisis
Quote of the day:"I disagree this is just a PR, I think they are genuinely worried about their investments. Or, wait, I should have said the climate. Well, I'm absolutely sure they don't give a damn about climate change. After all, whatever happen, as long as their is a civilisation, people will require oil for fuel and for production."

Power sector calls for smart grid support

20 May 2009

Europe's electricity industry yesterday (19 May) called on regulators to increase their incentive to develop and commercialise smart grid technologies.

National energy regulators must offer distribution system operators "an appropriate return" on their investments in R&D and the deployment of smart grids, electricity industry association Eurelectric told a conference yesterday.

As most European electricity networks are regulated monopolies, incentives will be crucial to develop the technology required to achieve the EU's climate goals, it said.

Smart grids introduce information technology to electricity transportation, allowing energy to flow in two directions. This gives them a superior capacity to integrate both small and large-scale renewable energy into the grid. It allows households to produce their own renewable energy and sell it back to the grid.

The industry said the EU's commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by 20% and produce 20% of total energy from renewable energy sources by 2020 would prove challenging for the electricity grid, requiring as much as 35% of electricity to come from renewables. Moreover, it expects the introduction of electric cars to put the grid under further pressure in future.

The electricity industry eyes smart grids as a solution, but is worried that it will end up being solely responsible for funding large-scale commercialisation of the technology.

Manuel Sánchez Jimenéz, a senior official at the Commisison's information society department, argued that initial investment had so far presented an obstacle to commercial deployment of the technology. Technically, it would be possible to roll out smart grids within a decade, but uncertain returns on investment and a lack of standardisation are hindering development.

At least 80% of consumers should be equipped with intelligent metering systems by 2020.source

My comment: I think I recently blogged about the smart grid introduction in UK. I think this is a great idea and that the only way for the electricity companies to do it is the government to require it. Because let's be realistic, those companies have no interest in users controlling better their consumption. The more we use, the more we pay, the richer they become. Then it's obvious they won't simply introduce those smart meters in our homes. So, let's say, I could understand some government funding of the installation of smart meters. Hell, i'd pay for my own, if it respects my privacy and helps me regulate my use .But the smart grids from the other side are totally different animal-this is a grid system that allows user to produce electricity and sell it back to companies. And also, it's crucial for big renewable projects, which rely heavily on immediate consumption. So should the government fund these grids? I think not. Because after all, home producers will be a very small part of the over-all production, the big share is for other energy companies, with big renewable projects. And since this is a market issue, then the business should pay for it. All the governments must do is to consider the lack of smart grid as monopolising the market-after all without those grids, the renewable companies will be killed. And then to enforce the new regulation.

Industry calls for funding to cut CO2 emissions

26 May 2009

More than 500 industry leaders gathering in Copenhagen this week are calling on heads of state and government to strike a strong deal to reduce carbon emissions, stressing that long-term policy clarity is required as well as financial backing.

Business leaders are reportedly working on a draft statement that would call for emissions to be cut by at least 50% by 2050, an ambitious target which has also been endorsed by the United Nations.

In a speech to business leaders, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that only a few businesses had made climate change a priority, with most adopting a wait-and-see approach and others defending "the old order". "For those who are directly or implicitly lobbying against climate action, I have a clear message: Your ideas are out-of-date and you are running out of time," he told delegates.

"This is not about capability, it's about cost," said Tony Hayward, chief executive of British oil company BP.

BP has a joint venture with mining company Rio Tinto to split fossil fuels into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, bury the latter and sell the hydrogen as a clean fuel to utilities - but says it needs public funding support.

Climate bonds, carbon markets and renewable energy subsidies were ideas put forward in Copenhagen by heads of companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and investors Vantage Point Venture Partners as ways of promoting cuts in carbon emissions.

Royal Dutch Shell, another oil major, said in March that it would scale back investments in solar and wind power because they could not compete with fossil fuels - and announced that it would increase oil output by two to three percent annually over the next four years.

Some doubted the sincerity of large western companies which say they want to fight climate change.source

My comment:Oy oy. Or in Bulgarian style-oh! I disagree this is just a PR, I think they are genuinely worried about their investments. Or, wait, I should have said the climate. Well, I'm absolutely sure they don't give a damn about climate change. After all, whatever happen, as long as their is a civilisation, people will require oil for fuel and for production. So, they're safe. What they are worried however is that people are slowly changing-from consumers to savers. And that's bad for the business. Even more, people will require fossil fuels to become clean. Thus, they have to figure a way how to do it, because other way, they'll have a major problem. And thus, they invest in CCS. Not only the invest, they secure BILLIONS from the European taxpayers money to go for CCS. I'm not sure how much those companies have invested in CCS, but I have the bad feeling that it's the EU that will fund the major part of this absurd research. And that doesn't seem to me extremely fair. Those money should have went to renewables-a clean source of energy, still new to the market, that definitely needs both financial and regulative support. But not this time. And now the same companies require even more money? I'm sorry, but I can't wait to see how the EC will sell this idea to the population. Because people are not that stupid that they seem, and the rise of the Green in France is a good proof.

Commission faces revolt over 'carbon leakage' plans

26 May 2009

European big business and environmental NGOs have disputed the data used by the European Commission to assess whether polluting industries are likely to suffer from foreign competition as a result of Europe's climate change legislation.

As part of the revision of the EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), the Commission was required to compile a list of sectors and sub-sectors that are deemed to be at risk of carbon leakage, that is, relocation to third countries without any carbon constraints. These sectors will continue to receive their emissions allowances for free in the post-Kyoto Protocol period until 2020, up to a benchmark of the best-performing 10%.

The EU executive presented the preliminary results of its exercise at a stakeholder meeting on 29 April, confirming that the lists would be made available for comment in June.

The chemicals industry has expressed its discontent with the preliminary tables. Many sub-sectors fulfilled the Commission's key criteria for qualifying as exposed to carbon leakage, namely exposure to international trade and major cost increases as a result of the EU ETS. Nevertheless, the industry said incomplete assessments had left some vulnerable sub-sectors subject to auctioning.

Cefic, which represents the European chemicals industry, argued that a more sophisticated method was needed to judge the level of exposure of chemicals firms, which have many users further down the production chain.

According to Cefic, the Commission's assessment has not given enough consideration to the higher electricity prices that are passed through to industrial customers as a result of the EU ETS. The trade association thus urged the EU executive to ensure that the measures do not hinder their activities.

Green groups, on the other hand, say the number of sectors exempted from carbon trading will be too high under the Commission's assessment. They argued that half of the sectors are deemed to be exposed to carbon leakage, covering as much as 90% of industrial emissions.

WWF criticised the Commission for failing to run a proper scientific exercise and bowing to big business by excluding most of the sectors from carbon obligations due to their trading intensity. The NGO said that in many cases, the data does not reflect reality.

In the case of cement, the second-largest sector in the ETS, WWF pointed out that the percentage of international trade is in fact very small. Instead of looking at the price increase, the Commission should look at the structure of the market. Indeed, regional markets, usually composed of few new entrants, can easily pass the CO2 price on to customers, the NGO argued.

Some observers have also raised suspicions that the Commission's methodology, based on 100% auctioning, is in breach of the revised ETS Directive, as full auctioning only applies to the power sector. Industrial installations will still get 80% of their allocations for free in 2013, being being gradually reduced to 30% by 2020.

The Commission, however, aims to adopt the list by the end of the year, without considering the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, which will seek to reach agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol in December.

In the meantime, the cement industry is united in calling for a sectoral approach to emissions reduction in the post-2012 climate treaty.

The sectoral approach would nevertheless provide an incentive to slash emissions by substituting clinker with fly ash, which is a bi-product of steel production. Environmentalists are concerned that the way emissions allowances will be handed over to the big polluting sectors will overshadow all efforts to move to low-carbon alternatives. source

My comment: Not much to say here. I have said it like thousand of time-carbon leakage is a total nonsense. There are very few businesses that will really leak, for the others the cost for relocation will be too big. So, they will stay, pass the expense on the consumers and those that survive, will be fine after 5-10 years. It's a cost we all would pay. Otherwise what's this story about Green Europe-the dirtiest productions will stay and continue to be dirty. What's the point then?

EU unveils €246m 'innovative medicines' scheme

19 May 2009

The pharmaceutical industry and the European Commission have forged a multimillion-euro collaboration aimed at developing new medicines and bringing them to market more quickly.

15 major research projects have been chosen under the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a public-private partnership which is designed to boost Europe's biopharmaceutical industry.

The European Commission will contribute €110 million under the deal, while the European pharmaceutical industry (EFPIA) is providing €136 million of in-kind funding.

Major pharmaceutical companies within the association will fully fund their own participation by providing R&D resources including staff, laboratory facilities, materials and clinical research. European Community funds will be allocated exclusively to other participants including SMEs, patient groups and academic researchers.

The projects covered by the initiative will foster understanding of health issues such as diabetes, pain, severe asthma and psychiatric disorders, while increasing drug safety.

The EU executive said the projects will address delays in bringing new medicines to market in Europe. Enhanced data exchange between researchers and better education and training in the pharmaceutical sector are also a central part of the plan. source

My comment: Good news, I guess. I wait to see when they will focus on health for a change. But that's a good initiative, in any case. It might not make us healthier, but at least, it will make us less sick. And we must become competitive in our knowledge with USA. And the money are not so much, anyway.

EU nations scrambling to support small firms during crisis

14 May 2009

Faced with reluctant credit markets, late-paying clients and sagging consumer confidence, businesses are looking to governments to help them through turbulent times. EurActiv's media network takes a look at the situation in key countries across Europe.

The European institutions and national leaders have taken extraordinary measures to prop up domestic industries given the unprecedented nature of the current economic recession.

To help provide lines of credit to small companies, the European Investment Bank has made €30 billion available over the next three years EIB (EurActiv 13/02/09).

This complements efforts by the European Commission to redraft the Late Payments Directive (EurActiv 09/04/09).

Businesses are suffering serious cashflow problems due to the estimated €270 billion in unpaid invoices (EurActiv 12/05/09).

However, it is at a national level that the real activity has taken place. Governments have become lenders of last resort. Some have cut employment taxes to boost jobs, while others have cut VAT to encourage retail sales. Still more have sought to stimulate demand by embarking on publicly-funded building programmes.

Positions:

Germany

Of the total €115 billion envisaged in Germany's January 2009 recovery plan, 15 billion were reserved for SMEs. But the largest slice of the cake - €75bn - went to large companies, including the much-debated auto bailout plan (EurActiv 04/02/09), bank subsidies and nationalisations.

The package included a scheme aimed at easing credit access for SMEs and a special fund for start-ups. The sums are managed by the state-owned development bank KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau).

So far, only about €2 billion worth of loans have been successfully granted, or under five percent of the €15-billion funding scheme for SMEs, according to the FTD.

France

The French government launched a detailed plan in October 2008 which includes €22 billion for SMEs. €17 billion of this has been funnelled through banks, which have signed a deal with the government agreeing to use the funds to finance SMEs. Banks will have to produce monthly reports to demonstrate that they have fulfilled their obligations.

A further €5 billion has been earmarked for the OSEO – a state body charged with boosting innovation and SME development – which will use the money to guarantee funding from banks and equity capital investors. The OSEO has received requests for assistance from 5,500 SMEs in the past five months and has granted loans to the tune of €450 million.

In addition, the French government has decided to abolish a 'minimum annual tax' for SMEs with a turnover of less than €1.5 million by the end of 2011, and will waive business tax on equipment and property purachased before 31 December 2009.

United Kingdom

Stimulus plans for the economy in the UK centre on cutting business 'rates', a form of local taxation. A number of schemes have been rolled out across the UK's regions, with devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland announcing measures to cut rates for some SMEs.

The government has reduced the rate of VAT from 17.5 percent to 15 percent in an effort to stimulate business activity and consumer confidence.

A new £1.3 billion 'Enterprise Finance Guarantee' has also been announced, which will support bank loans of between £1,000 and £1 million up to 31 March 2010. The guarantee can be used to support new loans, to refinance existing loans where the loan is at risk due to deteriorating quality of security, or to convert an existing overdraft into a loan to release capacity to meet working capital requirements.

Italy

In April, the Italian government has approved plan to increase the Fondo di Garanzia's (a warranty fund for grants) budget from €500,000 to €1.5 million.

The decision is part of an 'emergency decree' aimed at helping enterprises avoid bankruptcy. Measures designed to streamline VAT payments and tackle late payments are also in the pipeline.

Evidence is emerging in Italy which shows businesses led by women are faring better during the crisis than companies run by men. An Italian study published in March shows that a higher number of male managers closed their business compared to their female colleagues.

Ireland

Irish exporters are facing a combination of challenges, as the impact of the global credit crunch is compounded by the reduced value of the British pound. The UK remains the largest export market for Irish SMEs.

The Irish government put together an emergency budget last month where it announced a €100 million Enterprise Stabilisation Fund, which will make up to €500,000 available to help viable firms combat the financial crisis.

The government has already guaranteed deposits in Irish banks and established a so-called "bad bank" to buy toxic assets from financial institutions in order to get credit flowing to businesses and consumers.

Czech Republic

The Czech government is focusing its efforts on improving the business environment, rather than targeting particular types of company or individual industries. The government has already abolished regulations which required tradesmen to pay some taxes in advance.

To get credit flowing to exporting companies, loans are being made available through commercial banks and the Czech Export Bank. The government is also making it easier for SMEs to access EU funds.

Romania

The Romanian government has published a three-year macro-economic plan to tackle the crisis, which includes settling central and local government debts to private companies. It has also announced plans to recapitalise the state-owned banks CEC and EximBank as part of its efforts to boost credit activity.

Unemployment assistance has been extended by three months and health contributions by employers have been suspended. Employees in 'technical unemployment', such as those working part-time due to production suspensions by some factories, can earn 75% of their wage tax-free for a maximum of three months.

SME groups were up in arms last month following the introduction of a tax for all small firms.

Slovakia

In Slovakia, €33 million has been provided to increase the basic capital of the Slovak Guarantee and Development Bank (Slovenská Záručná a Rozvojová banka - SZRB), which provides specialist support for SMEs.

A further €11.5 million has been made available to Eximbank, which is extending loans to exporting SMEs, and €5 million has been earmarked to support between 500 and 750 entrepreneurs through a 'micro loan' programme.

Relaxed state aid rules have enabled the Slovak authorities to channel more resources to SMEs from European structural funds. The government is seeking to link its support to energy-efficient innovations and technology transfer, and has begun to establish clusters of SMEs which can access major European funding programmes.

As part of a plan to cut red tape – which was already well underway before the crisis began – Slovakia is exempting microenterprises from accounting requirements in cases where entrepreneurs do not have any direct employees and have a turnover of no more than €170,000. source

My comment: Ok, this is quite long and I won't comment it. It's just for your information. I'm not an economist and so I will refrain from giving ideas how to save the business.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Business in Europe, June, 2009-anti-discrimination too expensive?

Today:
  1. Ministers agree SME 'impact assessment' for new laws
  2. Businesses urge EU to drop anti-discrimination plans
  3. Irish demands on workers' rights causing EU Treaty headaches
  4. Commission issues jobs plan ahead of election
  5. EU makes business case for renewables

Quote of the day:You have to see how under-represented women are in both EP and EC, to believe it. You think we're living in modern time, we have equal opportunities, but we don't! People prefer to elect men. People prefer to see men in charge. They don't do it directly, banning women from politics, but they do it passively, when they elect only men. Sexism is so deep within our minds. Imagine how deep is our discrimination against disabled people then!

Ministers agree SME 'impact assessment' for new laws

29 May 2009

All new legislation should be vetted to ensure it does not make life difficult for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to industry ministers from across Europe meeting in Brussels yesterday (28 May).

It was agreed that thorough impact assessments and cost-effectiveness analyses should be carried out on national legislative and non-legislative proposals to determine their potential impact on business.

Describing SMEs as the backbone of the European economy, ministers said they should be "respected and considered" when setting up framework conditions for industry.

The Competitiveness Council, which continues its work today (29 May), said that companies should be given adequate time to adapt to any new requirements before legislation is introduced, in accordance with the 'Think Small First' principle contained in the Small Business Act introduced last June.

Ministers also asked the European Commission to monitor the impact on business of the REACH regulations on chemicals, "especially SMEs, taking into account the current economic situation".

Discussing the impact of the financial crisis on small companies, the Competitiveness Council said banks should be encouraged to resume "normal lending activities" as a condition of state support.source

My comment: I don't see a problem in this, as long as this analysis won't affect the legislation. Because obviously, any new requirement to the business will come at a financial cost, you cannot avoid this. You can minimise it, but in some cases, you just have to accept it and move on. If the EC is to consider both SMEs and big corporations, in the end we'd all be stuck and nothing will be done. I don't underestimate the value of the SMEs for the economy or for the people, because after all SMEs really represents the least protected part of European's economy. I just think that eventual costs should be softened, not evaded. We have to keep moving!

Businesses urge EU to drop anti-discrimination plans

27 May 2009

Citing the ongoing recession, EU employers' group BusinessEurope has called on the European Union to withdraw a directive aimed at fighting discrimination, causing outcry among social NGOs.

Philippe De Buck, director-general of BusinessEurope, called on EU ministers meeting on Thursday to ensure that social legislation does not put companies under further strain.

The demands were spelt out in a letter to the Czech minister for industry and trade, Vladimir Tošovský, as he prepares to chair a two-day meeting of the 27 ministers in charge of competitiveness and research policy in the EU’s member states.

Germany and Britain are expected to be most reluctant to back the plan when ministers discuss the Commission's proposal, EU officials said.

"We call for the anti-discrimination directive to be withdrawn and for ideas about introducing legislation on EU collective redress to be dropped."

Small businesses in particular have questioned the practicality of the proposal, saying it was open to legal interpretations in the case of disabled persons. "Will all restaurants now have to have a wheelchair ramp? " asked Anja Weisgerber MEP, vice-president of the SME circle for the centre-right EPP-ED group in the European Parliament.

The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, will present a progress report on the disability aspect of the discussions at a meeting of employment ministers on 8 June. The report will serve as a basis for discussing the directive as a whole, said Radek Honzák, a spokesman for the Czech Presidency.

The calls caused outcry among European social NGOs. Conny Reuter, president of the Social Platform, said the European Parliament had repeatedly called for such proposals. 89% of respondents to a Commission consultation on the issue were in favour of the anti-discrimination plans, he stressed.

Katharina Von Schnurbein, the Commission's spokesperson on social affairs, defended the proposal, saying the claims about costs had been exaggerated by business organisations.

German business group BDI had evaluated the implementation costs of the last anti-discrimination directive, adopted in 2000, at 1.73 billion euros, she said. But the figures had later been contradicted by the German anti-discrimination office, which estimated the implementation costs at only 26 million euros.

"It is clear that anti-discrimination policies cost something," Von Schnurbein told EurActiv, "but they also protect honourable people". source

My comment: I simply cannot believe my eyes, while I'm reading this. So, business is begging for anti-discrimination policies to be dropped down. What do you think about it? Because I'm furious! I urge you to read the source page, because there are many valuable opinion in there. Discrimination is a crime, how could someone possibly claim a law cannot be introduced because it costs money! Ok, let's all shoot each other on the street because it's less expensive than to go to a court!!! And please note the difference between the claimed cost and the actual cost. I don't know about you, but for me there is a major difference between few millions and few billions! I think people are just trying their luck in this-whether the EC will bend over or it will stay firm. And for me, it's clear that they should stay firm. The time of discrimination should be over. You remember that feminist that asked on a EU meeting the 5 men - no women, is this how you imagine the EU? It was ridiculous, and the Czech prime-minister (I think) responded quite cheerfully "Well, we're men, what do you expect-Martians?", but the problem is quite serious. You have to see how underrepresented women are in both EP and EC, to believe it. You think we're living in modern time, we have equal opportunities, but we don't! People prefer to elect men. People prefer to see men in charge. They don't do it directly, banning women from politics, but they do it passively, when they elect only men. Sexism is so deep within our minds. Imagine how deep is our discrimination against disabled people then!

Irish demands on workers' rights causing EU Treaty headaches

20 May 2009

The guarantees granted to Ireland last year in exchange for a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty are creating difficulties as EU diplomats scramble to finalise agreements ahead of June's European summit in Brussels.

EU leaders made a number of promises to the Irish government last December in exchange for a pledge to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 (EurActiv 12/12/08).

These included a guarantee that each EU member state would retain a commissioner (originally, Lisbon would introduce a rotating commissioner system); legally-binding protocols on neutrality, taxation and ethical issues; and a declaration on workers' rights.

However, diplomatic sources told EurActiv that while the legal wording for the "commissioner guarantee" and protocols are nearing completion, the declaration on workers' rights is proving more problematic.

Despite the fact that the declaration will not be legally binding, it appears a number of EU countries are reluctant to include any such text, as they believe it could cause difficulties at national level, particularly at a time of rising unemployment and economic recession.

A compromise solution may be that the text simply makes reference to current EU guarantees for workers' rights, the source indicated.

However, such a move is likely to be pounced upon by anti-Lisbon campaigners as a sign of EU inaction, according to the source.

Meanwhile, a poll published earlier this week found that Irish public opinion is swinging in favour of the treaty, with 52% saying they will vote 'yes' and 29% predicted to vote 'no' in the forthcoming referendum. source

My comment: Can you blind-guess which countries are opposing workers rights? Oh, well, nothing new here. I hope they manage to amend it in a very positive way. This way the "No" of Ireland will mean something for all of us. Because the commissioner guarantee is certainly a good one, otherwise, small countries would be generally screwed even with the best intentions of the Lisbon treaty. I wonder why those changes weren't made before we all voted on the Treaty. Yes, maybe it would have been impossible to balance all of the demands of the member states, but still, the commissioner guarantee isn't a bad one, if the EU won't enlarge too much more. They certainly can divide the responsibilities of the Commission a little, to fit the number, but I agree it's impractical is we admit all of the ex-Soviet republics and Turkey. Oh, well, I guess we all know what that means :) At least for Turkey, I don't mind Ukraine, but Russia will mind, so...

Commission issues jobs plan ahead of election

4 June 2009

A €19 billion plan to kick-start Europe's job market during the economic crisis has been welcomed by SMEs, but was dismissed by unions and business groups as misguided.

In a communication designed to curb the threat of mass unemployment, the EU executive is to make €19 billion available to support people hit by the economic crisis.

The plan was published as millions of voters prepare to cast their ballot at the European elections this week, starting with the UK and the Netherlands today (4 June).

Business and NGO lobbies, however, dismissed the plan as lacking ambition. BusinessEurope said the European Commission did not to go into far-reaching regulatory approaches in different areas such as short-term work, while the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said the strategy was merely a reworking of existing programmes.

The plan, released yesterday (3 June), includes loans to those struggling to find the necessary credit to start a business. A range of training schemes for small businesses and apprenticeships for young unemployed people are proposed, as well as programmes to help match jobseekers with vacancies.

Key points of the EU jobs plan:

  • Redirecting €19 billion of planned expenditure under the European Social Fund to help people to stay in work or move towards new jobs, through upgrading skills, encouraging entrepreneurship and improving public employment services under the Fund;
  • Reallocating €100 million from the existing EU budget which – when combined with funding from international financial institutions, particularly the European Investment Bank – will provide more than €500 million for the creation of a new EU microcredit facility. These micro-credits will support those at risk of not obtaining funds to set up a business, such as the recently unemployed, and reinforce employment in micro-businesses facing the credit crunch;
  • A commitment to provide at least five million apprenticeships across the EU for young people;
  • Support for schemes to maintain viable employment through short-time work and training;
  • Immediate help for the unemployed to avoid the risk of long-term unemployment and the loss of relevant skills, including proposals that an early opportunity for training or work should be provided to each unemployed person;
  • Help to get the most disadvantaged back into jobs, for example, through lower non-wage labour costs, recruitment incentives and the promotion of low-skilled job opportunities in household and care services;
  • New online 'match and map' service to help jobseekers match their skills to job vacancies throughout Europe;
  • A focus on skills upgrading and a better match with labour market needs, with a Commission sector-by-sector analysis of EU labour market needs today and for the future, including green skills;
  • A practical toolkit to help companies, workers and their representatives better manage and anticipate business restructuring, and;
  • A guide for training in small businesses to help SMEs maintain and obtain the skills they need.

Announcing the plan, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the EU was taking swift action to deal with the crisis, including its social dimension.

However, the strategy was criticised by unions and left-leaning politicians. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said the Commission was responding to an exceptional situation by proposing to continue its existing policy agenda. ETUC called for 1% of GDP to be invested in greening the economy and policies to secure the labour market. source

My comment: Check here for some unemployment numbers. As for the news, I can only shrug. I mean, it sounds good, but I see a list of very definite steps with small numbers next to them and one big 19 billion euro amount, that I have no idea where it will go. They gave some very broad description, but I want to see it divided on member-states, on projects, on professions. It's so broad and so uninformative, it can easily go to oil industry or automakers-I'm sure they will find a way to fit it. It looks horribly nontransparent to me and I fear those money will simply disappear without a trace.

EU makes business case for renewables

3 June 2009

The EU could create more than 400,000 additional jobs by boosting its policies in support of renewable energies and delivering on the bloc's 2020 target, a new study published by the European Commission argues.

The study, on the impact of the EU's renewable energy policy, stresses that reaching a 20% share of renewables in the bloc's energy mix would add 0.24% to total gross domestic product (GDP) in the EU economy as a whole. Meanwhile, the green energy sector could see the creation of 2.8 million new jobs and 1.1% GDP growth, the Commission argues. The latter are significantly higher figures than those for the economy at large, with the study also looking at the impact of a robust renewables policy on other sectors of the economy.

The EU executive acknowledges that while more support for innovative energy solutions such as photovoltaics, offshore wind and second-generation biofuels will stimulate investment in the sector and fuel trade in renewables technologies, this does not come without a cost.

For example, with investment in conventional energy plunging, higher energy costs as a result of increased use of renewables will take their toll on the economy, as consumers and governments alike will have lower budgets. In this scenario, the industry as a whole could lose its competitive advantage.

Nevertheless, the study argues that strong investment overrides the negative impact of the renewables sector. While slashing greenhouse gases and ending Europe's dependence on imported fuel have been most obvious reasons to promote renewables so far, the Commission says that these latest results make the case for competitiveness too.

The study explains, however, that the 2020 target for renewables will not be achieved with current support policies (EurActiv 30/04/09). A 'business-as-usual' approach will only deliver a 14% share of renewables by 2020, it claims. source

My comment: Oh yeah? Sorry to doubt this conclusions. I wonder how such wonderful results will happen if there are no strong policies on the issue, if money simply disappear in nonsense projects as CCS and if in the end, there are no money for renewables, because they give them all for gas projects? I cannot understand why the Commission won't decide finally what it wants, because what we see are so many good intentions, without coverage. Because it's true that the green sector can give be very very productive and to give amazing profit-this is an unexplored niche that offers so much in returns. But without a clear sign that this niche will be preferred over the oil/gas/coal fuels, people simply won't develop it. Or even worst, they may develop it in unsustainable way. So, I think it's high time we see some action on the playground. After all, if the Europe prefers to stay on fossil fuels, it's our right. Pour the money to oil/gas companies and enjoy your life. But if we're serious about going green-not for the Planet's sake, for our own energy security's sake-then we have to act upon it. The time for talks is over. Now it's time for actions!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

(Russian) Gas projects on the move, june 2009

Today:
  1. Russian firm seen as hostile bidder for Nabucco
  2. Putin and Berlusconi seal ‘South Stream’ pipeline deal
  3. Russia alarmed by Ukraine's 'empty' gas stocks
  4. Turkey to help push Nabucco ahead of rival pipeline
  5. Russia adds final pieces to 'South Stream' puzzle
Quote of the day:...after all, Nabucco gets backing from a very major power-USA, it's hard to stop it, obviously-even the lack of gas for it cannot stop it, and one would think this is more than enough in capitalist world for a project not to be developed. So, if it cannot be stopped, I guess, the next best thing is to be controlled. Another brilliant move from the Russian side

Russian firm seen as hostile bidder for Nabucco

18 May 2009

A Russian oil and gas company considered close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has won participation in Hungary's MOL petrochemical group, with the aim of taking over this key member of the Nabucco gas pipeline consortium, experts told EurActiv.

Speaking to EurActiv on condition of anonymity, international energy experts deplored the West's "blindness" at what they described as a Kremlin attempt to interfere with EU plans to set up a foreign energy policy.

Austria, Germany and Italy were singled out as countries whose leaders "thought they were doing big business" with Russia, but had in fact been manipulated by the Kremlin.

The warnings came as the EU and Russia are preparing for a bilateral summit on 21-22 May, at which energy security issues are set to dominate the agenda.

According to the experts, the Kremlin's political motivations were laid bare when Russian oil company Surgutneftgas recently seized control of 21.2% of Hungarian petrochemical giant MOL.

Surgutneftgas, a secretive oil company known to be close to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has spent 1.4 billion euros on the deal, more than twice its market value, the experts pointed out, underscoring the move's strategic dimension.

The deal took place on 29-30 March, in the middle of a political crisis which saw the resignation of former Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány (EurActiv 23/03/09). But Gordon Bajnai, who replaced Gyurcsány, later condemned the deal.

Other Hungarian officials suggested that Russia was in fact operating through OMV, an Austrian oil and gas group whose bid to acquire MOL was rejected in 2007.

In June 2007, OMV launched an unsolicited bid on MOL, which was rejected by the Hungarian company. The European Commission also objected to the hostile takeover, citing competition concerns.

The failed takeover attempt later prompted OMV to sell its remaining 21% stake in MOL to Russia's Surgutneftgas. The deal, signed in March this year, was described by MOL as "unfriendly".

But the Austrian company denies accusations that it was being manipulated by Moscow.

Surgutneft is now the largest shareholder in MOL, but has not yet obtained the formal approval of the Hungarian authorities to be registered as a shareholder. A shareholders' meeting held immediately after the takeover took measures "to preserve their independence".

But the experts said Surgutneftgas is now likely to apply pressure to oust MOL's Hungarian management and replace it with a Russian-friendly team.

The strategy, they said, is clearly aimed at obstructing the construction of the Nabucco gas pipeline project.

Speaking to the Moscow press, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko denied that Surgutneftgas was aiming to block Nabucco. source

My comment: I wonder if obstruction of Nabucco is the real reason behind the take-over, or participation in it is the more likely reason. I don't try to be more positive than needed on the issue, but after all, Nabucco gets backing from a very major power-USA, it's hard to stop it, obviously-even the lack of gas for it cannot stop it, and one would think this is more than enough in capitalist world for a project not to be developed. So, if it cannot be stopped, I guess, the next best thing is to be controlled. Another brilliant move from the Russian side. And I kind of doubt they'll try actively to kill Nabucco -after all, if MOL decides to pull over, someone else will replace it. More likely they'll just join the fun and wait for Nabucco do die peacefuly for other reasons. After all, there are so many difficult problems to be solved in order for that pipe to function, they don't even have to kill it-it'll die alone. Note, I don't mind Nabucco, I want to see Nabucco filled with Iranian gas. But in view of recent Iranian elections and the over-all relations between Iran and the West world, it's unlikly that could happen. And I don't see a reason to support a Nabucco only to make the pleasure of US administration. I'm sure they are more than capable of having fun on their own.

Putin and Berlusconi seal ‘South Stream’ pipeline deal

18 May 2009

Italy's Eni and Russian state-owned firm Gazprom signed agreements on the South Stream gas pipeline project on 15 May, just days ahead an EU-Russia summit later this week where Europe will attempt to speak with a single voice on foreign energy relations.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hosted his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi at the Black Sea resort of Sotchi to mark the event.

Both oversaw the signing of the agreement between Gazprom and Italy's Eni, which will more than double the capacity of South Stream, from 31 billion cubic metres per year (bcm/y) to 63bcm.

Commenting on the forthcoming EU-Russia summit in Khabarovsk on 21-22 May (EurActiv 14/05/09), Putin, who has excellent personal relations with Berlusconi, said he would like to have as good relations with the EU as with his Italian guest.

In return, Berlusconi stated that Russia was a "friendly" country that kept its promises as a gas supplier. The Italian leader also advised the EU to cultivate the same kind of good relations that Rome enjoys with Moscow.

On the sidelines, Gazprom signed deals with Eni of Italy, DESFA of Greece, Serbija Gaz and a Bulgarian energy holding. Gazprom chief Alexei Miller said that the decision to boost the capacity of South Stream was taken following a request from the Italian side.

South Stream has now entered the construction phase, Miller indicated, adding that the project would be completed by the end of 2015 at the latest. The cost of the pipeline will be 8.5 billion euros, he specified.

In the meantime, the press reported that Russia is ready to buy all the gas from a large offshore development in Azerbaijan, known as Shah Deniz II.

Europe's hopes of securing gas from Azerbaijan via Nabucco were recently further dampened (EurActiv 20/04/09) when the country's president, Ilham Aliev, said he wanted Russia to serve as a transit route for selling gas to Europe. source

My comment: Read the article for some interesting additional information. As for the "excellent personal relations" between Putin and Beluskoni-any surprised people here? Not me. And as we remember, mr. Berluskoni made some very successful jokes about president Medvedev and president Obama, so :) Anyway, obviously South Stream is going well. That's not bad. Though, I wonder when there's no more Ukraine to play the bad guy, how Russia will play it with Europe. It's naive to think there will never be any problem between the two sides-that's just normal. Until now, they blamed Ukraine and indirectly punished Europe. If they by-pass Ukraine, then they'll have to directly deal with Europe. I hope we're ready for that. Meaning, that we'll manage to leave the feeling on the commercial level. After all, it's all about the money. No hard feeling for the casualties.

Russia alarmed by Ukraine's 'empty' gas stocks

27 May 2009

Current stocks in the Ukraine will be too low to ensure normal flows of Russian gas to Europe this coming winter, Moscow warned yesterday (26 May), saying disruptions could occur if Kiev does not find the money to replenish reserves.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Gazprom officials called the situation "very, very serious" and warned that "the reliability of gas supply from Russia and Europe's energy security are at stake".

Russia insists that Ukraine should prepay some five billion US dollars to replenish its underground gas reserves with 20 billion cubic metres of gas. However, Ukraine is in a difficult financial situation, and Gazprom says it may have to cut supplies unless "EU bodies assume some responsibility".

Following a working meeting in Moscow with Oleg Dubina, CEO of Naftogaz Ukrainy, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said the information presented by his counterpart had revealed "the dire financial state of the Ukrainian company".

Reacting from Tripoli, in Lybia, Yuriy Prodan, Ukraine's energy minister, said that his country would continue to pay for gas supplies.

Ukraine usually stores Russian gas during the summer period when consumption is lower in order to guarantee stable supplies to the West throughout the winter.

But Russia insists that the reserves need to be refilled right away, as they were almost completely emptied during the gas crisis. According to international experts, restocking can also take place during the autumn.

Gazprom pays Ukraine in advance for the transit of its natural gas to Europe, and claims it has already prepaid for 2009 in full. As Ukraine needs to pay Russia for its own gas consumption, the same money appears to be going back to Moscow, but Gazprom says the amount is not sufficient to cover Ukraine's gas bill.

According to the Russian press, Moscow is suggesting that the EU co-credits Ukraine for the gas storage. However, European Commission spokesperson Ferran Tarradellas was categorical that the EU had not received any such proposal, and repeated that the EU executive expected contractors' obligations on gas supplies to be respected. source

My comment: For more of the joy, click here. The crisis was quickly sorted out after Gazprom received its money. But the drama found a use in reminding Europe why we have to build Nord Stream and South Stream ASAP. We simply need them. Though I can't stop wondering what would happen with Ukraine after Russia no longer is bound by international anger to supply it with gas. And notice how absurd is the whole money circling between Russia and Ukraine. Gazprom pays to Ukraine for transit, Ukraine pays for the gas and in the end they are both miserable. It sounds so...We so need renewables and pan-European gas and electricity grids. Otherwise, sooner or later, we'll become part of this misery and that will suck!

Turkey to help push Nabucco ahead of rival pipeline

29 May 2009

Turkey is likely to give up problematic claims to the Nabucco gas pipeline project, the only way forward for the European Union-backed plan trying to push ahead of Russia's rival 'South Stream' project.

Turkey is seeking to use 15% of all natural gas flowing through the nearly $11 billion Nabucco pipeline in exchange for letting nearly half of the pipe pass through Turkish territory.

Nabucco, conceived as a way to lessen Europe's dependence on Russian gas, which accounts for a quarter of the continent's consumption, received crucial support from gas producers in northern Iraq earlier this month in the form of an $8 billion supply plan that would get the pipeline started.

But Turkey's transit demand has come to be seen as a deal breaker for the Nabucco consortium, also made up of Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. "The 15% has to be off the table. It's not only something that we cannot accept; it's something the producing countries cannot accept," said European Commission energy spokesman Ferran Tarradellas Espuny.

If Turkey drops its demand, final transit agreements can be signed between the EU's five Nabucco consortium members and its sixth non-EU member, Turkey, which is keen to use its clout to become a regional energy hub.

Not only would that help boost investor sentiment towards Nabucco, which has yet to see the necessary financing commitments, but it would also help the project, seen as crucial for European energy security, move ahead of competing Russian-backed pipeline South Stream, which Moscow intends to finish before Nabucco.

With the resolution of Nabucco transit agreements, the consortium could start work on the open-season agreements, when firms buy up portions of the capacity of the 31 billion cubic metre pipeline.

Nabucco rests on securing gas supplies in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and, possibly, Iraq and Egypt, but no contracts have yet been signed.

Some analysts say Turkey may use the issue of the 15% transit share to strengthen its hand at the bargaining table with Europe on other issues, including Ankara's protracted EU accession talks.

Both Europe and potential pipeline supplier countries have tried to soften Ankara's stance, saying they would pay attention to Turkey's fast-rising gas needs.

But analysts say that Turkey's 15% is less about meeting its domestic market and more about becoming a gas-trading country through the Nabucco pipeline. source

My comment: Sorry, but I cannot be sympathetic toward the stance of Turkey. It's understandable that Turkey wants to make the most out of the deal. But there must be some common sense in such demands. Obviously nobody will give them 15% for free-that's a lot of gas. I'm not sure how much they will make out of the transit tolls, but if they get tolls+15% for free that makes a lot of money. Money that they do not deserve-after all they will only allow the pipes on their territory, they won't fund the construction or anything else! I cannot call this fair. What if every country that will allow Nanucco trough it gets 15%? I doubt anything will be left for the final consummers. As for the accession of Turkey and the black mail they are trying to do- isn't it obvious they are doomed? It is to me!

Russia adds final pieces to 'South Stream' puzzle

25 May 2009

By signing agreements with Austria and Slovenia, Russia has edged closer to finalising the legal framework for its 'South Stream' gas pipeline to Europe, a rival to the European Union-backed Nabucco project.

Slovenia will sign the deal in June, Slovenian Economy Minister Matej Lahovnik announced in Ljubljana on 22 May. Austria's economy ministry also confirmed talks were ongoing, but declined to say at which stage the talks were.

Despite the Nabucco rivalry, Russia also said it wants the European Union to make South Stream one of its 10 "priority projects" in energy policy, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko told reporters following an EU-Russia summit in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk on 22 May.

Austria and Slovenia would join Italy, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia, from whom Russia last week secured support for South Stream in its bid to outpace the EU-backed Nabucco pipeline, which would supply gas from sources other than Russia.

Shmatko said Russia and its European partners in the project would request that Brussels grant it priority status.

Priority projects receive EU funding and are those that its executive thinks will diversify the bloc's energy sources or help energy flow more freely between member states.

Slovania's Lahovnik said Nabucco remained an important project for the EU, but added the question was whether there would be enough gas supply available for it.

The Austrian economy ministry said that it did not view South Stream as a Nabucco rival: "Both pipelines are an amendment to the existing routes via Russia and Ukraine," a ministry spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Nabucco consortium, which is led by Austria's OMV, also reiterated that the pipelines were not rivals and that every gas supply extension was welcome. South Stream is a joint venture of Russia's Gazprom and Italy's ENI.

Speaking in Khabarovsk, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferraro-Waldner admitted that EU-Russia relations had been damaged by last year's war in Georgia and the Ukrainian gas dispute.

EU leaders, however, struggled to convince Medvedev that a new Eastern Partnership was not intended to turn Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan against Russia.

Trade was high on the agenda, and a Kremlin foreign policy adviser warned that Russia was losing patience over its WTO bid after more than a decade of attempts to join the 153-member body.

EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton ruled out finalising a strategic pact with Russia before it joins the WTO, and warned Moscow against introducing protectionist measures.source

My comment: I wonder what's the deal in being a member of WTO. But then, I guess there is some kind of benefit from it. As for the article, I can say only that obviously, South Stream goes well. That's not bad. Rival or not, the more pipes, the better.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Energy in May-smart meters in UK and new agency in sight, 2009

Today:
  1. Russia’s Nord Stream pipeline project 'on track'
  2. IEA predicts surge in energy use by electronic 'gadgets'
  3. Smart meters in all UK homes by 2020
  4. EU 'silk road' summit explores gas synergies
  5. Eastern states jostle to host EU energy agency
Quote of the day:...that would work only in the case we have an amazing internal gas and electricity grid that could reroute powers to wherever needed. Otherwise, it's again the big guys securing their markets and the little guys walking on the edge of international politics.

Russia’s Nord Stream pipeline project 'on track'

14 May 2009

The construction phase for the project, which is designed to bring Russian gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine, is due to start in April 2010, EurActiv has learned.

Paul Corcoran, the Nord Stream consortium's financial director, told EurActiv that he expected the necessary environmental permits to be delivered in December 2009.

The project finance will be put in place in the third quarter of this year, allowing construction to begin in the spring of 2010 as planned, he said.

The official insisted that there was a solid base for securing financing.

"The shareholders agreement for Nord Stream had a clear view on how the project should be financed. Thirty percent would be financed by shareholders' equity - that was received upfront - and the consortium holds 1.5 billion euros of shareholders' funds," he explained. "Seventy percent of the investment cost will be covered by external financing, and that would come through project financing."

Corcoran said he was confident that the shareholder equity and a 22-year ship-or-pay contract with Gazprom represented a "good financing proposition" for commercial banks interested in financing the projects. Completion risk will be taken by the shareholders, he added, which should also be attractive for banks.

He admitted, however, that lenders will want to see solid environmental credentials and final technical specifications before pouring money into the project. As soon as the transport route, technical design and environmental impact studies are finalised, the consortium will approach the lending market, he said. source

My comment: I can't say I dislike the North Stream project. It's a good way to add diversification to the routes. And with good internal infrastructure, it might be essential in future gas crises. If we suppose that Germany would share that gas in such situations. Which I find somewhat dubious. But let's say it's just my pessimism. In any case, if all the new routes get finished in 2012 I think Europe will be much more energy-secured, even if only with one provider. But again, that would work only in the case we have an amazing internal gas and electricity grid that could reroute powers to wherever needed. Otherwise, it's again the big guys securing their markets and the little guys walking on the edge of international politics.

IEA predicts surge in energy use by electronic 'gadgets'

14 May 2009

Measures to reduce the energy consumption of mobile phones, computers, TVs and other electronic devices are failing to keep up with soaring global demand for new appliances, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report yesterday (13 May).

If left unchecked, the IEA predicts energy use by new electronic gadgets will triple by 2030, jeopardising efforts to improve energy security and keep emissions of global warming gases under control.

"Despite anticipated improvements in the efficiency of electronic devices, these savings are likely to be overshadowed by the rising demand for technology," said IEA Executive Director Nobuo Tanaka.

Electronic devices currently account for 15% of household electricity consumption, but their share is rising rapidly, mainly due to growing demand in Africa and the developing world. There are already nearly two billion television sets in use, the Paris-based agency noted, and over half the world's population already subscribe to a mobile phone service.

Over the next seven months, the number of people using a personal computer will surpass the one billion mark, according to the IEA report, 'Gadgets and Gigawatts'.

The rise in demand is expected to bring energy consumption up to 1,700 TWh by 2030, "the equivalent to the current combined total residential electricity consumption of the United States and Japan," said Mr. Tanaka. "It would also cost households around the world $200 billion in electricity bills and require the addition of approximately 280 Gigawatts (GW) of new generating capacity between now and 2030."

On the positive side, the IEA said energy-saving opportunities were considerable, noting that consumption from consumer electronics could be cut by more than half with available technologies.

To deliver these savings, strong public policies are needed, the IEA stressed. "The largest improvement opportunity must come from making hardware and software work together more effectively to ensure that energy is only used when and to the extent needed," the agency said. source

My comment: Yeah, what a problem that there is a rise in the electricity demand in Africa! Are you crazy? This is actually a good sign-that more people have access to technologies. And I must say, I don't believe there is a limit in the cheap electricity we can produce-there are so many sources available. The key moment is to deliver the electricity cheaply, which might be hard for current monopolies who'll have to eventually invest something if they want to keep up with progress. And the other key moment is efficiency. There are so many ways to cut use without affecting the quality of life, it's a shame we don't use them. (I mean why on Earth would someone wants to keep the room-temperature to 30C, when outside is -20C? Is this a need or a caprice?)

Smart meters in all UK homes by 2020

12 May 2009

The UK government yesterday (11 May) announced the world's largest roll-out of smart electricity and gas meters to help households to get on top of their energy consumption.

The government's plans oblige the country's 26 million homes and millions of businesses in the country to have high technology meters installed by 2020. The technology enables remote meter readings and comes with display devices that give customers accurate, real-time information on their energy consumption.

"Smart meters will empower all consumers to monitor their own energy use and make reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions as a result. Smart meters will also mean the end of inaccurate bills and estimated meter readings," said Ed Miliband, the UK's energy and climate change secretary.

The government estimates that the economic savings of the scheme will be between £2.5 billion and £3.6 billion over the next twenty years.

The plans are part of a revamp of Britain's climate strategy. Last month, the country became the first to commit to a binding framework for greenhouse gas emission reductions, committing to cut their CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020.

Yesterday's announcement included the launch of a public consultation on how to install and manage the meters. The government would prefer energy suppliers to install and operate the devices and a third party to coordinate all communications to and from them, it said.

Two other models under discussion would either trust all aspects of smart metering to suppliers, or set up regional franchises to manage installation and operation, with communications managed on a national level.

The European Parliament last month called for smart meters to be installed by default in all new buildings, as well as when renovating older ones (EurActiv 24/04/09).

The new metering devices are a prerequisite for so-called 'smart grids', which not only supply buildings with energy, but also enable them to sell back to the grid electricity generated on-site through solar panels, for example. source

My comment: That's absolutely awesome. I only have a little question-what information would these meters give to the companies themselves. I don't mind distant-reading, it really saves time. But I mind if the company would know my consumption at every moment-that's invasion in my privacy. And they do not need that information!

EU 'silk road' summit explores gas synergies

11 May 2009

The European Union moved to curb its heavy dependence on Russian gas on 8 May by signing an agreement to smoothe the way for more gas imports from the Caspian region.

In return for their commitment to supply gas to Europe, the EU offered to provide more trade and stronger transport links to gas producers and transit countries such as Turkey and Azerbaijan, which form a so-called 'southern corridor'.

The deal, signed in Prague by leaders from Europe, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia, envisions the creation of a central EU gas-buying consortium and new terms for the transport of Caspian gas.

The declaration commits the EU, as a consumer, to providing producer countries with reliable commitments on aggregate demand. It commits producer countries to identifying specific additional volumes of gas and oil that have not already been commercially committed, and which can be dedicated specifically to the EU. And it explicitly recognises the need for commitments by transit countries for a long-term, predictable and stable regulatory regime.

But on the negative side, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan refused to sign the declaration.

Topolánek said the EU should concentrate its efforts on a single project, such as the construction of the proposed 3,300 km (2,000 mile) Nabucco pipeline, if its gas plan was to gain momentum.

The $10 billion Nabucco project envisages pumping Caspian gas via Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria, but it has only secured a fifth of the gas it needs to be viable. Its main source of gas from Azerbaijan may be delayed until 2016.

Leaders at the summit also agreed that EU countries and Turkey would sign an intergovernmental deal on conditions for putting gas through Nabucco by the end of June -- a move that would remove one of the main uncertainties for potential investors.

The summit agreement called for progress on a Caspian Development Corporation to act as a central EU gas-buyer - a move aimed at ending the bloc's long-running problems with securing deals in the region.

European Investment Bank President Philippe Maystadt said the bank had held funding talks with the consortium behind Nabucco and those behind two other proposed pipelines to bring Caspian gas to Europe - the TAP pipeline into Hungary and ITGI pipe into Italy.

Maystadt said while the three projects were all focused on carrying gas from Azerbaijan, there was not enough Azeri gas to go around and some would need to find alternative sources.

"Other projects that came later would need to get gas from Turkmenistan, which would imply the creation of a link through the Caspian Sea." source

My comment:I wonder what's with Czechs so desperately supporting Nabucco. It's odd. Or not too old-after all, they are kind of US pets. But still, they should have done it in a more delicate way-they can't simply stand up and say-we have to focus on Nabucco-a project that still in its idea stage. What a shame. I think what we really have to focus is the smart electricity grids and the pan-European grid. Then we can talk about Nabucco.

Eastern states jostle to host EU energy agency

3 June 2009

Romania launched a campaign yesterday (2 June) to host the future European agency for the cooperation of energy regulators (ACER), entering a competition with existing rival bids by Slovenia and Slovakia.

Adrian Videanu, Romania's economy minister, officially launched his country's bid to host the European agency at a public event in Brussels.

The agency's establishment is part of the European Commission's ambition to further liberalise EU energy markets and streamline cross-border cooperation for gas and electricity transmission between member states.

The minister underlined what he presented as the many advantages of the Romanian offer, including a five-year rent-free period.

Slovenia and Slovakia had already presented their bids, which included two-year rent-free periods.

To further sweeten its bid, Romania also offered diplomatic immunity to all ACER staff, including VAT exemptions for goods and services, while Ljubljana and Bratislava provided for similar privileges only for its high management.

A decision on where to host the agency could be taken as early as 18-19 June, when EU leaders will meet in Brussels to decide on the next Commission president after the European elections.

Bucharest has various other attractions, the minister added, including a "vibrant nightlife", "tasty food" and "excellent wines".

He said Romania could also build on its geographical position at the EU's eastern border by promoting European initiatives in the neighbourhood.

But the geographical argument has also been used by Slovenia.

As for Slovakia, the country is hoping to benefit from its well-developed power sector.source

My comment: Yup, that's precisely what we all need, one more useless agency that will enjoy vibrant nightlife and tasty food. Seriously, anyone feel ridiculed by this article? Anyway, I don't care who'll take the host, obviously, Bulgaria didn't see it necessary to make a bid. So, good luck to all of them and I certainly do hope that ACER's staff will find some time to work in their tight schedule of wine, food and clubs.
 

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