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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

EU Scientists unite against paperwork, 03, 2010

Today:
  1. EU to pump €18m into flu research
  2. EU innovation strategy delayed until 'autumn'
  3. Finance ministers want 3% R&D target ditched
Shorties:
  1. Scientists unite against EU paperwork
  2. EU guide to boost green goods and services
  3. EIB ramping up support for venture capital
Quote of the day: So they first pay billions for vaccines, then they decide to invest little bit more into pharmaceutical companies, just to be on the safe side? I also question the actions of European and national authorities during the epidemic. They made sure to spread the panic and to offer the vaccines instead of making independent scientific assessment of the situation and then making decisions based on that. And the worst is that virus epidemics are really dangerous!

EU to pump €18m into flu research

10 March 2010
The European Commission has unveiled plans to pour €18 million into research projects on influenza. The news comes as MEPs from across the political spectrum call for a European Parliament inquiry into the handling of the swine flu pandemic.

The EU executive has shortlisted four collaborative projects for funding. These involve 52 research institutes and SMEs from 18 European countries and three international partners – Israel, China and the US.

This latest series of projects bring the total Commission funding for flu research to over €100 million since 2001.

EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said EU research to prevent and treat flu has "enormous social and economic value and can contribute significantly to our Europe 2020 goals".

Flu virus genes migrate across continents and between species and seriously threaten both human and animal health, according to the Commission.

Two consortia will focus their research on influenza in pigs while the two others will develop innovative drugs against influenza in humans.

Meanwhile, MEPs are demanding an inquiry into how European public health authorities handled the flu pandemic. In a statement, the parliamentarians said the credibility of the EU institutions had been undermined in the wake of the outbreak.

"The inadequate appraisal of risk in view of the data available and the marketing authorisations granted to various pandemic vaccines, which the European public health authorities declared safe without proper prior investigation, force us, as members of the European Parliament, to ask a number of questions," they said.

During the presentation of the initiative, French Green MEP Michele Rivasi said the crisis was overblown and noted that parliamentary inquiries were established following the BSE crisis.

Bulgarian Liberal MEP Antonyia Parvanova said confidence is crucial in managing serious health crises, and "a lot of answers are missing on the way the alleged H1N1 pandemic has been managed at EU level and by member states". source

My comment: So they first pay billions for vaccines, then they decide to invest little bit more into pharmaceutical companies, just to be on the safe side? I also question the actions of European and national authorities during the epidemic. They made sure to spread the panic and to offer the vaccines instead of making independent scientific assessment of the situation and then making decisions based on that. And the worst is that virus epidemics are really dangerous! Strains can mutate, jump species and/or spread very quickly. We really have to be prepared for such situations and what happened last year wasn't helpful at all. Or maybe it was helpful in that it showed us how incapable we are to handle such situations. I can only hope that the money the EU will invest won't go into companies, but in universities and institutes and better organisation of the response to such crisis. But I doubt it!

EU innovation strategy delayed until 'autumn'

18 March 2010 source

"
He said the new plan would "take the broadest possible approach to innovation in business," and would propose a new generation of financial products designed to get funds flowing to innovative small businesses.

"Innovation is a much broader concept than R&D," Tajani added.

The new figures, which date from 2008, showed steady improvement by most member states but noted that the economic crisis has hampered progress and stalled the EU's efforts to catch up with the US.

As in previous years, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the UK were lauded as "innovation leaders," and Bulgaria, Latvia and Romania were at the bottom of the league.

Geoghegan-Quinn said Europe maintained a strong lead over the emerging 'BRIC' economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – but acknowledged that China could close the gap by the end of the decade.

Both commissioners also reaffirmed their support for setting a spending target of 3% of GDP. The target has been the subject of much controversy, with finance ministers yesterday calling for a new "outcome-oriented" measure of success rather than a fixed spending target (EurActiv 17/03/10).

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said it was "no coincidence" that the countries at the top of the innovation scoreboard are those closest to the 3% target" source

My comment: Yes, it is not a coincidence, it's very simply - if you want to profit from science, you'll have to invest in it first. And even that's often not enough. Anyway, I really don't like how the new Commissioner (and the old one actually), keep on emphasizing how innovation is not only R&D. Oh yeah, and what it is then? Finding new and clever ways to classify the folders on your desk. I'm really sick of all this watering of what research is. They call it broadening of the scope of the projects, I call it changing the real beneficiaries of those projects who should be scientists, with people who are not scientist. As simple as this. If you want to have innovation, if you want to have cool new products that will sell like crazy and will bring you profits, you have to invest into people who make them. And not in the people who think they know how to find people that will make products eventually. I don't underestimate the middle men, but without two clearly set sides, you don't have a middle. And it's sad to see how the EU falls for the words and not for the real things. Yes, the world needs lawyers and insurance agents and patents hunters and whatever, but they alone cannot create a product. Scientists and researchers do create! All the other - use. And precisely because of this, scientists and researchers do need support. Because it's easy to be in the middle - if you get tired of it, you change your profession. It's much harder to change your profession when you have dedicated decades to study or acquire skills and then to perfect them.

Finance ministers want 3% R&D target ditched

24 March 2010
EU finance ministers are fighting against the European Commission's target of spending 3% of GDP on research and development (R&D), demanding a new "outcome-oriented" measure of success.

The 3% figure is one of five headline goals of the 'Europe 2020' growth strategy and has been firmly backed by EU Innovation Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (EurActiv 09/03/10).

Meeting in Brussels yesterday (16 March), finance ministers called for "urgent consideration" of wider indicators to measure R&D and innovation, putting the European Council on a collision course with the EU executive, which has put its political weight behind the target.

Including spending as an indicator has proven controversial and has exposed differences between ministries of finance and research across Europe. With public budgets under pressure, finance ministers are reluctant to commit to additional spending on R&D.

Geoghegan-Quinn directly referred to the rift between ministers earlier this month when she defended the 3% spending target.

However, she also said she would set up a panel of experts to look at new indicators to measure research and innovation output.

Last week, Gerard de Graaf, a senior Commission official working on the implementation of the 2020 strategy, also acknowledged problems with blanket spending commitments.

He said using "input targets" – like spending – was far from ideal but is still the best option currently available. "We are determined to come up with a better measure of outputs," he said, adding that internationally comparable benchmarks are needed. source

My comment: Oh, yeah, outcome oriented? And what outcome do they have if they don't invest in science? I'm very curious what innovation did they manage to produce without investment, that would be almost economical miracle. Though I can tell you what Bulgarian government would manifest - the glorious achievement of scientists who just like me, work for the science and not for the salary. Because when your salary is barely enough to cover you most basic needs, it's hard to say you're doing it for the money. I'd probably sell shoes for better salary. And anyway - the most ironical thing is that all the member states need R&D like crazy, because that's the only thing that can do miracles on the economy. But who needs a miracle?

Scientists unite against EU paperwork

15 March 2010
Almost 7,000 researchers from 41 countries have signed a petition demanding less red tape for EU-funded scientific cooperation programmes. Olivier Küttel, co-founder of the Trust Researchers campaign, says Europe's funding programmes must be streamlined if they are to be effective.

The group was born out of frustration at the mounting paperwork required of researchers applying EU funds such as the framework programme (FP7).

"The administrative burden in European research funding has constantly increased over the years despite many attempts towards simplification," says Küttel, whose Trust Researchers website calls for a more consistent, research-focused approach to funding.

The declaration, signed by thousands of scientists, will be presented to MEPs and the European Council, urging them to move to a trust-based accountability system.

Küttel rejects concerns that cutting red tape would increase the risk that public money would be unaccounted for, saying smarter ways of ensuring accountability are needed.

"The declaration is not against accounting rules. We need rules. The question is which rules," he says. source

EU guide to boost green goods and services

16 March 2010
A European Commission handbook published on Friday (12 March) hopes to give businesses and politicians the right tools to assess the life cycle of all products and services in order to help boost the green economy.

The handbook will provide "a much-needed reference to support decision-making and ensure better environmental choices when designing goods and services" as Europe strives to become more resource-efficient and less polluting, said Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik.

The document provides detailed guidance on how to quantify the environmental impact, such as greenhouse-gas emissions and resource use, of a product or service in an attempt to conduct a full life-cycle analysis.

The handbook is actually a series of technical documents that provide detailed practice-oriented guidance on all LCA steps to ensure consistent and quality-assured analysis. The documents are in line with the two international standards on the matter (ISO 14040 and 14044), and are more specific, concrete and quantitative where relevant, the Commission noted. source

EIB ramping up support for venture capital

23 March 2010
The EU has stepped up its investment in the venture capital industry and will make a €1 billion fund available by the end of 2012, European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Matthias Kollatz-Ahnen told EurActiv in an interview.

Kollatz-Ahnen said the EIB has mandated its long-term investment arm – the European Investment Fund (EIF) – to increase its relative stakes in venture capital funds to ensure that they are large enough to support the development of innovative new technologies. source

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What's wrong in the EU, 03, 2010

Today: (sorry for the delays in my posts, but you know that I love this blog!)

  1. Barnier to fight for consumers and SMEs 
  2. EU weighs proposals to break GMO deadlock
  3. Kuneva turns down EU job, eyes Bulgarian poll
  4. Barroso sparks row over EU overseas appointments

Quote of the day:"Barroso sends his people all over the place, Ashton hires traitors, what's wrong with the EU?! Are we going to be a totalitarian Union? Because it looks this way! The last couple of moves of Barroso are simply scary, he's acting like he's the kind of the EU and he's going to decide everything alone! What is wrong with him?" 

Barnier to fight for consumers and SMEs

Thu, 2010-01-14 08:55

In the wake of the financial crisis, French commissioner-designate for the Internal Market Michel Barnier seemed comfortable in the firing line at a hearing in the European Parliament yesterday (13 January). The Frenchman focused on consumer rights and SMEs.

Yesterday's hearing deviated from the raft of financial regulation that has been coming out of the European Commission. Instead, MEPs were more interested in consumer rights, e-commerce and the social and environmental dimensions of the internal market.

Mirroring MEPs' questions, the commissioner-designate appeared to steer clear of macroeconomic policy and focused his answers on citizens and microeconomics, in particular on copyright and SMEs. 

Barnier put special weight behind developing a strict copyright law to protect both consumers and rights holders.

"There are estimates that the EU has lost 2.5 million jobs to counterfeiting and I will not compromise on the protection of copyright and protecting rights holders," Barnier emphasised.

The Frenchman also told MEPs he wanted to conclude negotiations on patent litigation and eradicate counterfeiting of patents.

In addition to negotiating with the World Trade Organisation, Barnier said he will be engaging in talks with the US on an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement "to combine our efforts against counterfeiting and piracy".

There were no sweeping statements made on regulating financial services. Instead, the commissioner-designate focused on small and medium-sized enterprises.

He promised to bring down SME expenditure as a result of the EU's administrative burden by seven billion euros. His predecessor, former Irish Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, had only managed a one-billion euro reduction, he added.

He also said he would clean up current rules on public procurement, as requested by MEPs, "to facilitate access to public procurement markets, especially for SMEs".

To all appearances, the French commissioner-designate managed to assuage concerns voiced by some MEPs that "he will constantly be on the phone to the Elysee," the French seat of government.  source

My comment: I have very similar concerns that Barnier will be very careful not to disappoint France, although he's job is not to disappoint the citizens of Europe! And as you can see, he stated from the very beginning that he'll be working for digital rights and fighting counterfeiting. Which I find very creepy considering the laws in France on digital piracy. I think I have already stated how much I disagree with this law, but it won't hurt to repeat. Internet access is fundamental right and should be regarded as such. Just like nobody have the right to cut the water to your house (or at least in Bulgaria they don't), the access to internet should be the same. And all those nonsense for the losses of media companies, that's an absolute lie! I don't understand why they continue to claim that every song you download is stealing money from them, when we all very well know that we would never buy all those shitty songs. I think people would buy ~1% of everything they download. It would be much better for those companies to try to earn that 1% by better publicities or marketing than by taking away our rights to access the global net. And note how authorities prefer not to discuss counterfeiting coming from China. How convenient...

EU weighs proposals to break GMO deadlock

Fri, 2010-02-05 10:06

Plans to let national governments decide whether to allow genetically modified (GM) crop cultivation on their land could unblock a paralysis in EU GMO approvals, but risk igniting internal market disputes.

Proposals from the Dutch and Austrian governments, under consideration by the executive European Commission, have won the backing of several countries and interested parties, and will be at the top of the new Commission's agenda.

If the plan succeeds, the proposal could see speedier authorisation of GM crop varieties, giving more choice to farmers who are increasingly dependent on them for cost benefits, especially in the animal feed sector.

But some see the plans as fraught with risks and incompatible with the bloc's internal market laws, which guarantee the free movement of goods. They could also engender competitive war between farmers in different countries and contravene international trade laws.

"It would be potentially setting a bad precedent for the politics of the internal market," said Garlich von Essen of the European Seed Association, an organisation of seed industry groups in the EU.

"Suddenly you would have products which are considered safe for use in all of the European Union, and at the same time, banned in some parts [...] without any protocol other than political considerations," he said.

Though practical details of the proposals are still to be worked out, any plan may entail changes to the EU's legislative framework, a protracted process which would require that a decision be made jointly with the European Parliament.  

Authorising GMOs for consumption, processing or cultivation in Europe is a politically charged subject with many openly hostile to what they call 'Frankenstein foods'. Nations have consistently clashed over GMO policy without reaching consensus.

The Netherlands, which has a more liberal attitude towards GMOs, hopes to ease the political pressure in the approval procedure and give governments more policy options.

Britain, which believes the EU approval process is too slow, has welcomed the Dutch initiative and sees some risks and benefits in it. Austria, a long-standing opponent to GMOs, endorsed the plan so as to be able to opt out and stay GMO-free.

Since 1998, only two crops have been cleared for cultivation in the EU. Just one of those, Monsanto's Mon 810, is actually being cultivated, on roughly 108,000 hectares of land. That compares with about 30 GM crops grown in over 102 million hectares worldwide, industry figures show.

Over the last nine years, the EU has on average imported an equivalent of 32 million tonnes of soybeans annually, most of it from GM plants.

"We import 70-80% of our total protein supply. We are unhappy with the situation because EU farmers cannot continue to ignore market realities," said Pekka Pesonen, secretary-general of the EU farmers union Copa-Cogeca, welcoming the proposals. source

My comment: As odd as it seems, I also agree with this proposal. This way, every country could say a clear and loud "NO" to GMO and the problem will be solved. I have to admit, I was on my first anti GMO protest last week, it was quite boring, but still, we had moderate success - Bulgaria banned almost all GMO production with a law. I'm not saying it was because of us, the protesters, but I think it was important to make politicians aware of the public opinion on the issue. And in Bulgaria, the public opinion is very very against GMOs.

And to be consistent with the article, I don't think we have to import GMO, quite on the contrary, I think we have to seriously reconsider our food chain. Because I'm not so worried by the few crops they modify, I'm more concerned by the GM food they give to animals, because this is where it gets so ugly. We eat so many chemicals, the plants are modified or heavily fertilized, the meat is a product of GMO food and antibiotics and hormones, if you think about it, what food is clean anymore? I'm not anti-technology, I'm against the lack of choice! Because right now, we hardly have any choice. There is no strict labeling, no strict control and most importantly - very little real choice. And that's obviously wrong and we have to fight it. As for farmers, it's interesting why we don't see so many protest by farmers. Isn't it strange that only politicians worry about GMOs stopping farmers from getting filthy rich? I must admit I'm very mad on Barroso for allowing those two types of GMO in the EU, but I utterly hope that most countries will simply ban them. It is what they deserve anyway. The EU cannot force us to accept GMO when we don't want it. Vox populi, vox dei.

Kuneva turns down EU job, eyes Bulgarian poll


24 February 2010

Former Bulgarian EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva has turned down an offer of a high-profile job in the European Commission. The leader of Bulgarian liberal party NDSV, to which Kuneva belongs, said on Sunday (21 February) that she "could run" for the Bulgarian presidency instead, writes Dnevnik, EurActiv's partner publication in Bulgaria.

Meglena Kuneva, formerly EU commissioner responsible for consumer protection, declined an offer from European Commission President José Manuel Barroso to lead the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA), the EU executive's in-house think-tank.

On her Facebook account, Kuneva writes that she wanted to have "the freedom and the energy" to dedicate herself to building "a better Bulgaria [and] a better Europe".

"I was deeply moved by the proposal by [Commission] President Barroso, made some months ago, to continue work at the Commission in a high-level position […] In spite of this, I see my role as continuing to work as a politician," Kuneva wrote.

Kuneva was one of Barroso's favourite members of his first team. He is said to have put a lot of effort into trying to keep her after her re-appointment was compromised by Boyko Borissov's victory in elections to the Bulgarian parliament (see 'Background').

Sources close to Kuneva told EurActiv that she could not take the job at BEPA because doing so would have caused conflict between the Commission president and Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov. The latter reportedly sees Kuneva as the mastermind behind "a plot" to torpedo the appointment of Rumiana Jeleva as Bulgarian commissioner.

However, the 'plot' theory seems to overlook the fact that Jeleva flopped at her confirmation hearing in the European Parliament (EurActiv 13/01/10), which was seen as the main reason for her withdrawal a week later (EurActiv 20/01/10).

Apparently this was not how Borissov saw the situation.

"Borissov sees Kuneva as the enemy and if Barroso keeps her in his inner circle, he will end up having a prime minister of a member country as an enemy too. Barroso cannot afford that," a high-ranking Bulgarian representative told EurActiv.

The source added that in the current Bulgarian administration, anyone seen as being close to Kuneva fears a backlash from the vindictive prime minister.

Asked to comment on Kuneva's political future, Hristina Hristova, leader of the liberal NDSV party (see 'Background'), said the former commissioner could possibly represent the party in the next presidential elections, due in autumn 2011. NDSV's founder, Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, has indicated that he will not run for president himself, Hristova added.

Kuneva was quoted by Bulgarian national television as saying that the presidential elections were not on her agenda for now. source

My comment: I can hardly express my sorrow that Meglena Kuneva won't work for Europe any more. I think it was the wrong decision. Of course, it's her choice in the end, it's her life and she decides, but she did so great work in the EC, I don't know what in Bulgaria could compare to this. Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it. And I think the reason why she decided not to be a part of Barroso's team (if it's what she say it is) is wrong. After all who cares what someone's on Barroso's team think of Boyko Borissov - BB is a prime-minister, it's an elected position! You can't compare the two posts. It won't be easier for mr. Borissov if Barroso hates him, than if ms. Kuneva working for mr. Barroso hates him. Anyway, what's done is done, but I can only hope that Meglena Kuneva will find her place in this world and that this place will reflect her professionalism and  commitment. She deserves it. And as for Boyko Borissov - I wonder when he'll realise that quality people are not so easy to find, so when you find one, you have to keep him/her as long as possible. Wasting talent the way he does is obviously stupid. After all, good people will work for the one who lets them do good deed. The rest are just details.

Barroso sparks row over EU overseas appointments

26 February 2010
The discrete appointment of José Manuel Barroso's former chief of cabinet as EU Ambassador to Washington sparked protests and controversy over the way the future European External Action Service will be built.

Speaking to journalists, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt described the appointment of João Vale de Almeida, the Commission president's former head of cabinet, as a "downgrade" for the EU in Washington.

"The question is why this downgrade has taken place," he said, adding: "I want to know the Commission's motives […] I'm not sure they're in line with the Lisbon Treaty."

Swedish sources described the appointment as a "golden opportunity" to solidify José Manuel Barroso's own power within the new EU hierarchy. Installing someone from his own inner circle as the EU's man in Washington could make Barroso Brussels' primary interlocutor with the USA and help sideline Ashton, pundits pointed out.

The move triggered a wider discussion about the recruitment policy for the new European External Action Service (EEAS). A number of member states, especially those of the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, are underrepresented in the EU institutions, particularly in foreign representations.

De Almeida's appointment might in fact backfire against the Commission's secretive preparations to establish the EEAS. De Almeida currently heads the steering committee in charge of putting together Ashton's proposals for the new service. The committee also includes Catherine Day (secretary-general of the Commission), Pierre de Boissieau (secretary-general of the Council) and Robert Cooper (director-general at the Council Secretariat for External Economic Relations and Politico-Military Affairs).

The 53-year-old Portuguese would still have a window of opportunity as head of the Commission's external relations department to make his mark on the draft proposals before moving to Washington.

Stanley Crossick, founding director of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think-tank, says "the appointment of a Portuguese official, formerly Barroso's chef de cabinet, smacks of patronage and inappropriate influence".

"This appointment is a continuation of the Commission's unfortunate appointment policy. It could well discourage well-qualified national civil servants from applying to join the EEAS, which must be a meritocracy," Crossick wrote on his blog.  

In the meantime, a former Lithuanian foreign minister forced to resign this year after denying his country hosted a secret CIA prison was named the EU special representative in Afghanistan.

Vygaudas Usackas, 46, who has served as ambassador to Britain and United States, won approval of EU foreign ministers after his candidacy was proposed by the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

"I am 100 percent satisfied with this appointment ... and there is nothing I need to be in any way worried about," Ashton told a news briefing after a meeting with foreign ministers, quoted by Reuters.

An high-ranking diplomat from a large founding member of the EU recently told EurActiv that recruitment for the future EEAS would take place largely from among existing staff of the Council and Commission services.

This diplomat also expressed the view that with the Lisbon Treaty, the rotating EU presidencies would lose ground to the advantage of the High Representative and large EU countries, which traditionally play an important role in foreign affairs.

However, this is not the way the EU new members would like the EEAS to be built, as they are striving to appoint people from their national diplomatic services.

In the absence of a clear recruitment procedure, candidates wishing to join the service are getting nervous, EurActiv has learned. Civil servants from within the EU institutions say it would be unjust if newcomers from the member states were to be "parachuted in" and therefore avoid the difficult recruitment procedures that all EU officials normally have to endure. source

My comment: Wait, did I get it correctly? Someone who denied having secret CIA prisons in his country (which imply he knew and didn't do anything to stop that) got recruited to be the EU special representative in Afghanistan?!!!! That smell so bad, I could throw up! I mean seriously, that person is compromised, that country is compromised and ms. Ashton considers this ok. Barroso sends his people all over the place, Ashton hires traitors, what's wrong with the EU?! Are we going to be a totalitarian Union? Because it looks this way! The last couple of moves of Barroso are simply scary, he's acting like he's the kind of the EU and he's going to decide everything alone! What is wrong with him? I think however designed that economical crisis, did a very good job (unfortunately). Because the EU was so strong before and now, it looks like all the countries are so confused and scared for their own economies, they let Barroso do almost anything. And I used to like him. 

More:


British Eurosceptic insults EU president in Parliament - "A British Eurosceptic MEP branded the new president of the European Council a "damp rag" from a "non-country" on 24 February. The personal attack shocked the normally consensual European Parliament." - That's so funny. Seriously. I don't like van Rompuy at all, but I think such behavior inside the EP is very shameful. There are other way to say the same thing without being so explicit.
EU moves to address funding fraud, corruption - "Brussels yesterday (1 March) launched a new website making it possible for citizens and European Union officials alike to anonymously report suspicious use of EU funding to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF)." - This reminds me of other times when everyone was encouraged to report infractions by other people. It's not the same, but it's pretty close. I think that it's more important people to be encouraged to report, but they shouldn't be anonymous. Otherwise nobody will be responsible for the false reports. Unless they don't intend to make statistical decisions on true reports.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Energy in Europe, 03, 2010 - Nabucco and company

Today:
  1. World's largest solar project set to gain new partners
  2. All obstacles cleared for undersea Baltic pipe
  3. Gazprom’s South Stream: Romania in, Bulgaria out?
  4. France inks deal with Russia's Gazprom
  5. EU throws €2.3bn at gas, power connections
Quote of the day:"Nabucco is not just a possible new pipeline. It's a European project," he said, adding that the fact that talks about funding had started makes the project more credible.

World's largest solar project set to gain new partners

Published: 23 February 2010

The Desertec project, which aims to power Europe with solar energy from the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, is to go truly international next month as five new companies from Spain, Italy, France, Morocco and Tunisia join the scheme.

The project aims to cover 15% of Europe's electricity needs by 2050 by importing renewable energy, primarily solar power (see EurActiv LinksDossier on 'Solar power') via a high voltage cable. It utilises concentrating solar thermal power (CSP), which collects sunlight via mirrors to produce steam, which then drives turbines to generate electricity.

Paul van Son, chief executive of the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), told journalists last week that many companies had expressed an interest in joining the consortium of 12 companies that was established in July 2009 to devise financing plans for the project (EurActiv 22/07/09).

The joint venture is currently dominated by German companies, including E.ON, RWE and Siemens. The group of 12 companies already has one Algerian member, Cevital, but the arrival of other Northern African companies is expected to win support for the project in the region.

He said the €400 billion long-term plan would start delivering within a decade with its first projects.

The initiative is now finding locations for early projects, Mohanty added, citing Morocco as a potential host.

Another crucial issue the partnership is working on is securing a beneficial legal framework that stimulates investment in North African countries, the spokesperson said. He added that this could take the form of feed-in tariffs. source

My comment: It's amazing how this almost impossible project is coming to life. I'm not sure about their predicted electricity output - 15% of what Europe requires is quite a lot. Especially if they have to account for the environmental impact of the project, which I hope they will. But in any case, I think it's great to see such big international projects develop, because it wasn't that long ago, when such projects were completely unbelievable. Time when we saw enemies everywhere and we were ready to destroy any country that threatened our economical or physical existence. I know it's weird me saying this here, but recently I've been reading a lot about WWII and I think none of the younger people can imagine how ugly that time was. And I hope that such big international projects will give us one more reason, to stay friends instead of foes.

All obstacles cleared for undersea Baltic pipe

12 February 2010
The Nord Stream gas pipeline, which aims to bring Siberian gas directly to Germany, bypassing all "problematic" Russian neighbours, was awarded its final building permit today (12 February). Construction is due to begin in April, the consortium announced.

A Finnish 'water permit' was the final authorisation required before construction can begin of the 1,223-kilometre pipeline, which will stretch under the Baltic Sea.

The project had already received all the permits required from the four other countries whose territorial waters or exclusive economic zones the pipeline will cross: Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

The first gas will be transported through the pipeline at the end of 2011, the statement said.

Warnig thanked the authorities and stakeholders for their contribution to helping find solutions to the many environmental challenges posed by the pipeline to the Baltic Sea ecosystem.

Sebastian Sass, head of Nord Stream's EU representation, recently told EurActiv that the safety standards of the project were sound, as demonstrated by the green light given by countries like Denmark, which is very sensitive to environmental issues (EurActiv 22/10/09).

Nord Stream was happy to be able to have produced the largest Baltic Sea environmental study in history, he said.

According to the official, Sweden and Finland will benefit from the fact that this form of gas transportation is much more secure than others. If the same amount were to be transported in LNG tankers, it would fill 600 tankers a year, he said.

Paradoxically, no permission is needed for LNG tankers, despite the fact that the risks posed by such transport are higher, he explained.

Germany, Denmark and Russia will also benefit from transit fees, as the pipe runs through their territorial waters. Sweden and Finland will not, as in their cases the pipe runs through their exclusive economic zones. According to international law no transit duties can be imposed there. source

My comment: Very nice. I'm sure some countries may claim that Nord Stream can be a significant environmental threat, but if we must be honest if constructed properly, it should be quite safe. Much safer than any other way of transportation. So I support it, just as I support South Stream. If we don't have the political will to develop renewable energy, then we have to at least make sure we have other sources of energy. Russia, Africa - it's all the same. As long as it's not home made, it doesn't matter.

Gazprom’s South Stream: Romania in, Bulgaria out?

22 February 2010
Bucharest has given Russian gas monopoly Gazprom all the documentation relevant for building the South Stream pipeline through Romanian territory, it was announced yesterday (18 February). The move appears to give flesh to a recent Russian threat to eliminate Bulgaria from the project.

Few details have emerged and it remains unclear if the pipeline would now simply feature an extension from Bulgaria to Romania, or if plans to move the pipe north exclude Bulgaria. In recent weeks, Romania has been under strong pressure from Gazprom to join the pipeline project, as a possible alternative to Bulgaria. Sofia is indeed seen by Moscow as a problematic partner under the new centre-right government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov (EurActiv 14/07/09).

Gazprom's executive director for exports, Alexander Medvedev, recently told the Romanian press "Romania has a wonderful strategic location on the Black Sea and could be the point of departure for the European section of the pipeline," he added. Until now, planned the point of departure had been the Bulgarian port of Varna (see 'Background').

Asked by EurActiv if the latest move to bring Romania into the project meant that Bulgaria would be sidelined, a Gazprom spokesperson declined to comment.

Over the last few days, the Russian press has been fuming about Bulgaria's pipeline strategies. In particular, Russia took very badly the Bulgarian parliament's ratification on 3 February of an agreement to build Nabucco, seen by Moscow as a rival pipeline designed to decrease the dependence of several EU countries on Russian gas. Bulgaria became the second country after Hungary to ratify the Nabucco agreement.

"Bulgaria will try to delay as much as possible negotiations with Russia on South Stream, while following up the developments regarding Nabucco," Alexey Makarkin, director-general of the Centre for Political Technologies (CPT), told the Russian press.

"If everything with Nabucco were fine, then Bulgaria would just forget about the Russian pipeline, but if Nabucco gets stuck, for example, if its stakeholders cannot find financing, Bulgaria will come back to South Stream," Makarkin continued.

The expert did not rule out the possibility that the Russian authorities, tired of Bulgaria's procrastination, could modify the pipeline route, leaving Sofia empty-handed.

Bulgaria is also demanding that Overgaz, a private company with 50% Gazprom participation, must no longer be the intermediary for buying Russian gas. source

My comment: I sincerely hope that Bulgaria stays on South Stream. But one of the main problem is the requirement there are no intermediaries in the contract between Russia and Bulgaria and I think this must stay even if the other conditions are more flexible. Why? Because during the last gas crisis, Bulgaria was unable to seek compensation, because of that intermediary. And thus, we didn't get anything for all the losses of the business in Bulgaria. So if Romania is willing to agree with a contract with intermediary, then they are simply being stupid. Even though this pipe is direct, there's nothing preventing Russia from stopping the gas for everyone, if they have a problem with any of the countries on the line. And what happens then? Who's going to pay for that? Sure, Russia will lose money from such act too, but is this enough? I don't know. I'm also sick of our government procrastination, you don't do business like that. But if Russia abandon us as a partner, that would be very ugly. And I don't know of any other EU country that support Russia so much, so if Russia kick us in the ass with South Stream, they might lose a good friend. People might not admit it, but we're wired to love Russia, because of our liberation from Turkey. Even if the motives for it were wrong, still, the blood were spilled and we can't forget that. So we will support Russia in reasonable for everyone and profitable initiatives. Romania's loyalty lays with France.

France inks deal with Russia's Gazprom

02 March 2010

In the presence of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, GDF Suez and Gazprom signed an agreement in Paris yesterday (1 March) formalising the entry of the French utility to the Nord Stream pipeline project.

The memorandum was signed by Gazprom's management committee chairman Alexey Miller and GDF Suez chief Gérard Mestrallet, according to a statement from the companies.

The two parties agreed to start discussions on supplying up to 1.5 billion cubic metres of additional gas per year to GDF Suez from 2015. The supplies will be shipped via the planned Nord Stream pipeline.

Under the deal, GDF Suez will become a shareholder of Nord Stream AG and hold 9% of the company's capital before construction of the Baltic Sea pipeline starts next month.

"By entering Nord Stream and increasing its gas purchase from Russia, GDF Suez aims at contributing to Europe's security of supply, including North West Europe, where the group is one the major power producers and holds a large portfolio of final power and gas customers," Mestrallet said in the statement.

However, the Russian press reveals difficulties at GDF during the negotiations in acquiring shares in Nord Stream. The French utility is expected to buy 4.5% of the shares of each of the pipeline's German partners, BASF/Wintershall and E.ON Ruhrgas. However, according to a source quoted by Moscow daily Kommersant, no agreement has been reached with Ruhrgas regarding the price of the package.

Additionally, GDF Suez is reportedly requesting that its Russian partners have more say in the Nord Stream project than Gasunie. In particular, the French utility wants to participate in decision-making on smaller gas sale contracts than previously envisaged for 9% participation in the consortium, the source adds. source

My comment: Yeah, they're doing it for the security of European energy market. I also believed it. But anyone - as I said before - the more international the project, the higher probability it will succeed and everyone will be satisfied. What I find quite curious is that a) Romania got in South Stream in the same time that France did and b) Bulgaria is waiting for the EC approval of our participation in South Stream (even though it sounds quite ridiculous since we're sovereign country) . Very suspicious I think.

EU throws €2.3bn at gas, power connections

06 March 2010
The European Commission yesterday (4 March) cleared €2.3 billion from the EU's five-billion euro economic stimulus package to help finance 43 pipeline and electricity projects.

The decision granted €0.91 billion for 12 electricity interconnection projects and €1.390 billion for 31 gas pipeline projects.

The funding decision followed the approval last December of a series of offshore wind and carbon capture and storage projects that will receive €1.565 billion from the EU's €5bn stimulus package (EurActiv 10/12/09).

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger described the funding as "a milestone in the history of EU energy policy".

Among the projects are key interconnectors linking up the currently isolated Baltic States and neighbouring Finland, Sweden and Poland. Others include an array of reserve flow projects to bring flexibility to responses in crisis situations.

The total sum dispatched is lower than the 2.365 billion originally allocated to gas and electricity infrastructure in the regulation on the economic recovery package.

A Commission official explained that this was due to the fact that there was no proposal for a Slovakia-Poland interconnection, adding that some projects did not request the full amount allocated.

The energy commissioner was quizzed about the EU executive's decision to allocate €200 million to the construction of the planned Nabucco pipeline, which is scheduled to bring gas from the Caspian region to European markets.

Critics say the pipeline, which has yet to secure gas supplies, does not fill the criteria of a mature project, which is the prerequisite for funding under the stimulus package. The plan requires that all funds are committed by the year's end in order for the projects to contribute to economic recovery.

Oettinger dismissed the claims, stressing the importance of Nabucco in diversifying the sources of gas away from dependence on Russia.

"Nabucco is not just a possible new pipeline. It's a European project," he said, adding that the fact that talks about funding had started makes the project more credible.

A Commission official said the final decision was expected this autumn, when the EU executive could assess whether it would slightly extend the deadline or terminate the funding.

source

My comment: Additional info: Power upgrade 'will cost Europe €28bn by 2015'. Nabucco is not just a pipe, it's also an opera. And a European project. Rofl :) It's quite funny actually. While most countries hurry up to get on the boats of South and North Stream, the EU officials still try to convince us how important Nabucco is. Oh, well, I guess they are right. But as you can see in the "More" links, Italy is already planning to merge the two pipes. Is this diversification of gas or diversification of money?

More:
Italy's Eni wants rival gas pipelines to collaborate "South Stream and Nabucco, the two competing gas pipeline projects supported by Russia and the EU respectively, should combine efforts in a joint cost-cutting drive, according to Eni, an Italian oil company with a stake in South Stream." - yeah, I think it's diversification of money after all.
Commission wants EU capital for new Bulgarian nuclear plant - No comment here since I don't think the EC has the right to requires anything about our own nuclear plant, but our government seems to disagree with me. Not that I mind European capital, what I mind is all that time of procrastination and our behavior of little children requesting permission to do anything from their parents. It's pathetic.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Climate absurds in EU, 03, 2010

Today:
  1. REACH list of dangerous chemicals doubled
  2. Supermarkets urged to lead debate on nanotech in foods
  3. EU rules out binding green criteria for biomass
  4. EU lawmakers call for stricter green rulebook
Quote of the day:But anyway, it's funny to expect from retailers to lead the fight for innovation. What do they mean by that? To happen like in the USA - all the products on the shelves to be GMO so that nobody has a choice. Is this what the EU wants? As we saw, Barroso didn't shy away from approving new GMOs on the moment he was properly elected. It is interesting how the new commissioner made the safety assessment so quickly.

REACH list of dangerous chemicals doubled

Fri, 2010-01-15 08:00

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has added 14 substances to the list of "very high concern" chemicals to undergo special health and safety scrutiny under the bloc's chemical regulation REACH.

The addition brings the number of substances under scrutiny to 29.

The identification of a substance of very high concern and its inclusion on the list is the first step in the new EU authorisation procedure. The chemicals agency underlines that companies may have immediate legal obligations following the inclusion of the substances on the list.

These obligations are linked to the listed substances and products that contain them, and mainly concern the duty of suppliers, producers and importers to provide their customers and consumers with information, notify the ECHA or provide safety data.

The current list of 29 substances is still a long way away from the 270-odd substances identified for priority substitution on a 'REACH SIN List', drafted jointly by public interest groups and NGOs.

However, an industry representative told EurActiv that he expects the list to grow to some 150 substances by the end of 2010 as the authorities "seek to find a balance somewhere between the first official list and the list put forward by NGOs".

Further regulatory headaches may lie ahead for a number of chemical companies, as new Environment Commissioner-designate Janez Potočnik said during his hearing in the European Parliament this week (13 January) that "it is becoming obvious that REACH is not enough" to cover nanomaterials, suggesting that the EU would take action to remedy regulatory gaps on the matter. source

My comment: Yay! And now we're waiting and waiting, for REACH to include all the dangerous substances and finally someone manages to include nanomaterials into some regulation. Because there are more and more studies proving that commercially used nanoparticles are toxic to human body. It will be very unwise to continue to use them pretending everything is ok. It's not ok. Technology is advancing, that's cool and I love it. But with new technologies come new responsibilities. We cannot hide from that. Even if it's expensive. Human health and life should be above all.

Supermarkets urged to lead debate on nanotech in foods

Wed, 2010-01-20 08:45

Big-name retailers like Tesco and Carrefour should help prepare consumers for innovations in the food sector, according to the top civil servant in the EU executive's directorate for health and consumer protection.

Robert Madelin, director-general of the European Commission's DG Sanco, told a meeting of retailers that supermarkets needed to be upfront in explaining the risks and benefits of advances such as nanotechnology.

Pointing to the genetically-modified (GM) food fiasco of the 1990s, he said supermarkets had "followed" the crowd rather than taking the lead.

"On GM, they [retailers] followed their customers and took products off the shelves. On other technologies, they could lead and prepare the debate. They have a role in spurring innovation," he told a meeting of the European Retail Round Table in Brussels on Monday (18 January).

Madelin said powerful retailers should try to take a long-term view and ask themselves what their role is in the context of the EU 2020 strategy.

He said it would be futile to encourage innovation in Europe unless retailers were playing their part in engaging with the public. There would, he suggested, be no point in developing new products if the market is closed to selling them.

"If you look at the nano debate, after three years of encouraging retail to be more upfront, the industry is still keeping their secrets," he said.

The forthcoming Food Supply Chain Forum – which will begin work by Easter – could look at the role of retail in innovation, Madelin revealed.

However, senior retail industry figures were hesitant to commit themselves to any political agenda, preferring to adopt a neutral stance unless it affects their balance sheets.

Lars Olofsson, CEO of the Carrefour Group, said retailers would not promote any particular technology. He noted that with GM foods, customers were clearly unconvinced that the innovation in question was safe and necessary. Carrefour banned GM ingredients in its own-brand products and other produces followed.

Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC, the EU consumer group, said it was important not to promote "innovation for the sake of innovation," adding that technological advances must be geared towards societal needs.

She said the public was not science-averse, as evidenced by the fact that consumers snap up new high-tech products every day. The question customers ask themselves with all innovations is what the risks and benefits of a new technology are. This, she said, is the problem with nanotechnology, as more work needs to be done in the area of risk assessment. source

My comment: I didn't know the products in Carrefour are GMO free. That is great. Too bad in Bulgaria we don't have such supermarket. I wish we had, because I would pay more to buy clean products. But anyway, it's funny to expect from retailers to lead the fight for innovation. What do they mean by that? To happen like in the USA - all the products on the shelves to be GMO so that nobody has a choice. Is this what the EU wants? As we saw, Barroso didn't shy away from approving new GMOs on the moment he was properly elected. It is interesting how the new commissioner made the safety assessment so quickly. But even if we believe in the loyalty of the EC , still, isn't it funny watching how the EC try to find accomplices in the crime they try commit against European citizens. I think that the CEO of Carrefour is right. Retailers should sell what people want. If people don't want GMO and want better regulations of nanotechnology then that's what thy have to get! That's it, market economy.

EU rules out binding green criteria for biomass

26 February 2010
The European Commission yesterday (25 February) ruled out binding EU-wide sustainability criteria for biomass, offering member states recommendations for national action instead.

The European Commission said the wide variety of biomass feedstocks make it impossible to devise a harmonised scheme, which would require taking into account their varying potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It also said that the environmental risks related to domestic biomass production "are currently low" and do not require specific EU rules.

The question has divided the EU executive and member states alike. The Commission's environment department, backed by a group of member states including the UK and the Netherlands, favoured binding sustainability criteria in order to ensure the environmental integrity of biomass energy production.

But the Commission's energy and transport department prevailed, saying no additional environmental safeguards are necessary. This led to criticism that the EU executive was seeking to reduce the European Union's dependence on fossil fuels at any cost.

Nevertheless, the Commission said it would reassess the situation by the end of 2011 and consider introducing mandatory measures to address sustainability problems in the event that land-use change and deforestation issues are not dealt with at international level.

It set out a common methodology for calculating the greenhouse gas performance of different biomass feedstocks, to ensure that their use delivers at least 35% greenhouse gas savings, rising to 50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018 for new installations. However, member states should not impose greenhouse gas performance criteria on waste, which is covered by environmental rules laid down in waste legislation.

The report recommended that biomass should not be sourced from land converted from forest or other areas of high biodiversity or carbon stock. Member states were also urged to retain records of the origin of biomass and communicate these to the Commission for the purposes of monitoring potentially vulnerable areas. source

My comment: Recommended? Recommended!!! Forests are disappearing even now, they will continue to disappear in order to help our idiotic biofuel plan, but they only recommend! I don't understand, why most of the decisions the EC takes recently make me so utterly miserable. I used to be proud of the EU and what it represents and how it is different from other "unions". Not anymore. It seems like the corruption is all around us, it looks like nobody actually cares what the EC is doing and they use the moment to abuse us any way they can! I hope each and every reader of this blog will spend some time to consider how s/he feels about the work of the Commissions. Is this what we voted for? They vote money for CCS and gas interconnections, but the renewables are always last on their list. They vote to ban normal light bulbs, but they do not care for building efficiency. It's like a nightmare. The EU was the last place safe from GMO, and now, they are just letting them on the market. Not because anything changed, but because WTO requested it! That is shame. We have to change it one way or another. I still believe in the EU, but we have to change it! Please, consider it and then let's figure out what we can do about it. And in case you think the EU don't think about forests - oh, they do: EU targets action on forests. They do care about forests IN Europe. Just not for the forests outside it. How noble!

EU lawmakers call for stricter green rulebook

26 February 2010
The European Parliament's environment committee has called on the European Commission to distribute lists of member states that fail to properly implement EU legislation on waste, water and nature protection, arguing that the situation had become "absurd".

It is a "sobering fact" that member states are trying at all costs to avoid implementing the legislation they themselves adopt, she argued.

During an exchange of views with the Commission on the implementation of EU green laws, MEPs on the Parliament's environment committee said they have the right to know who is failing to transpose the various EU laws and suggested that the EU executive should hand out country lists on the matter. Some even suggested establishing an early-warning system to identify those who are not on track.

In a resolution adopted earlier this month, the Parliament called on the Commission to provide the House with more and quicker information on all infringement procedures if requested.

Pia Bucella, director of legal affairs at the Commission's environment directorate-general, said the EU executive is "bound by the existing rules on what we can say and transmit, what access-to-documents is allowing us [...] and we obey the rules".

She also said the Commission tries to issue press releases on the "big infringements" at every stage of the procedure, which gives its allegations in different cases "publicity".

Bucella also said various infringement scoreboards are found in the Commission's annual reports and that the environment department publishes every year its annual statistics on infringements. The latter show how quickly or slowly the EU executive is moving with different infringements.

MEPs also pointed out that late implementation in the member states does not seem to affect the Commission's agenda on reviewing legislation.

For example, while statistics show that a number of countries have done next to nothing to implement the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), the Commission has already tabled a recast version.

She said the EU executive had identified four priority areas on which it would improve enforcement. These include lack of transposition, non-respect of European Court of Justice rulings, systemic breaches of EU law, such as tolerating illegal landfills and multiple failures to treat urban waste water, and breaches of infrastructure, such as failure to conduct proper environmental impact assessments.

To bridge the gap between adoption of legislation and its implementation, the Commission has developed "implementation action plans," which should help member states "from day one when the legislation is adopted," Bucella said. The EU executive is also establishing transposition plans with member states to help check how far they have come and where there are gaps to be foreseen.

She acknowledged that the Commission has problems checking that the transposition measures are in line with EU legislation, as the measures are submitted by regions and checking them takes time. source

My comment: Anyone surprised? Not me. And Bulgaria is one of the countries with illegal (or unecological) landfills, so I'm not sure if I want really serious sanctions, but there must be another way. Meaning, there must be a way to make the country to change its attitude, without paying fines. Though fines are fine, so to say. When you make a promise (or sign something), you have to take responsibility to do what you promised. You can't just wave your hands and pretend everything is fine. So, I hope someone will do something, but I doubt. The "crisis" is so convenient for everyone. But out convenience won't change anything. Our life on Earth will still require some serious reconsidering and actions. The more we wait - the worst. And instead of working on the implementation of the directives they already signed, they prefer to think of a new directive! Check out here: "Commission tempers ambitions on EU biowaste law".


Saturday, March 6, 2010

The fight for the maternity leaves, 03, 2010

Today:

  1. Parliament pushes for all EU documents to be made public
  2. Parliament sees crisis as 'opportunity' for tax harmonisation
  3. EU pushes for rules on body scanners
  4. EU online library needs 'more and better' content
  5. Maternity leave battle set to continue after EU vote
Quote of the day: We cannot tolerate decisions like the recent approval of GMO potato even though there is sever opposition trough out Europe. This is absolutely unacceptable and I hope people will soon realise that just like their governments are elected to serve to people's needs, the very same way European institutions are there to serve the public needs of Europe. Barroso may elect and re-elect himself as many times as ministers tolerate him, but that doesn't make him or anyone invincible.

Parliament pushes for all EU documents to be made public

Fri, 2009-12-18 08:35

EU access to documents laws should be widened to cover all European institutions, bodies and agencies following the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs said yesterday (17 December), criticising the European Commission for failing to update the rules.

In a resolution adopted at its Strasbourg plenary yesterday, the European Parliament expressed concern that "in spite of the clear requests" it made last spring, "the Commission has not put forward a modified version of its draft law".

Expressing the EU executive's willingness to contribute to reaching an agreement "as in other legislative processes," Joe Hennon, spokesperson for Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström, told EurActiv that "further progress in the legislative process leading to the adoption of an amended Regulation 1049 [on access to documents] is in the hands of the legislator," referring to the Parliament and the Council.

"We are still at the stage of the first reading. At this stage we do not have a legislative resolution and we do not have the position of the new Parliament," Hennon added.

The scope of EU access to documents legislation should be widened following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty "to cover all EU bodies, offices and agencies, including the European Central Bank, the European Court of Justice, Europol and Eurojust," the European Parliament demanded yesterday in its resolution.

MEPs want to grant citizens access to legal service opinions, Council documents – including positions and votes cast – and files related to international agreements, protection of personal data and the content of institutions' registers.

Yesterday, the European Parliament again refrained from taking a final vote on the legislation, preferring instead to wait for the Commission to respond to its demands. source

My comment: I completely agree with that. Even more, I think that audio recordings of all the meetings that are not classified should be available for the citizens. In what other way could citizens monitor and control the work of the EU institutions?

I get the nasty feeling that some people in the EC consider themselves to be above the law. This cannot be tolerated. We cannot tolerate decisions like the recent approval of GMO potato even though there is sever opposition trough out Europe. This is absolutely unacceptable and I hope people will soon realise that just like their governments are elected to serve to people's needs, the very same way European institutions are there to serve the public needs of Europe. Barroso may elect and re-elect himself as many times as ministers tolerate him, but that doesn't make him or anyone invincible. He will be held responsible and he better stop considering European interests first.

Parliament sees crisis as 'opportunity' for tax harmonisation

Thu, 2010-01-07 12:50

The economic crisis could present an opportunity to harmonise taxation policy across EU member states, according to officials at the European Parliament who contributed to a major report on the future development of the EU.

Policy experts advising the Parliament are predicting deeper integration of European economies and potentially closer ties on direct taxes – a suggestion likely to raise the hackles of several Anglo-Saxon and Eastern European finance ministers.

The comprehensive document, released with minimal fanfare at the end of 2009, was prepared by researchers in the EU assembly's five policy departments.

Unified corporate tax rates, a long-standing target of European federalists, is set out as an objective.

The policy advisors also suggest other forms of "fiscal coordination" could be in the offing, although this could mean a eurozone bond – a common eurozone public debt market – rather than an EU-wide tax.

The Stability and Growth Pact has taken a battering since the outbreak of the crisis and risks becoming no more than a "shallow pact with no real impact" unless it is reformed, it says.

Despite the 'no-bailout' clause in the European treaties, the experts fully expect EU governments to come to the assistance of any de facto bankrupt country in the euro zone.

The thorny issue of corporation tax raises its head again when the report looks at ways of facilitating SME access to the single market. It says a longer term option to boost market access would be a common corporate tax rate or "home state taxation," whereby small businesses would be taxed only in their home country, independent of where the income was earned.

Officials said the documents are meant to be "food for thought" rather than the official view of the Parliament.

Meanwhile, MEPs are pushing for a new system of inter-institutional forecasting which will help Europe plan for future tensions and threats.

UK Conservative MEP James Elles has tabled an amendment to the Parliament's 2010 budget which would earmark €1 million for a system akin to the United States National Intelligence Council (NIC).

Elles said the implications of climate change, demographics and competition from Asia need to be rigorously examined if Europe is to prepare in a proactive manner. source

My comment: I don't see how could tax be harmonized across Europe when they are so different in each country. And that may be regarded as a good thing, since it offers more opportunities for the business to find an environment that suits them. Or maybe not. And in any case - the unique levels of the taxes are a great tool in the hands of each government to handle the economy of the country. I don't think this tool should be taken away from them. But in the end, the really confusing part is exactly where the taxation should occur - if that gets figured out, it would be a great victory for the business in Europe. And the taxes will be harmonized enough without taking away sovereignty of the member-states.

EU pushes for rules on body scanners

Wed, 2010-01-06 08:40

In response to an attempt to blow up a US plane on Christmas Day, the European Commission will host talks in Brussels with aviation security experts on body scanners tomorrow (7 January).

The Commission is "convinced that body scanners can play a very useful role as a complementary means of screening".

According to the EU executive, member states are free to use body scanners, provided that the security checks do not contradict national or EU legislation. But a previous draft EU regulation on body scanners issued in 2008 was heavily criticised by the European Parliament and withdrawn over privacy and health concerns.

At the time, the Commission decided that further technical analysis was required before EU-wide rules could be adopted.

Full body scanners will be introduced at Heathrow airport in the UK within three weeks, and the UK government will consider profiling passengers.

There was broad consensus among security experts and industry insiders that the measures could help to protect aircraft from terrorist attack, but that their success or failure would depend on exactly how the changes were implemented.

In Germany, the government has made clear it is not against the scanners in principle but is trying to guarantee privacy rights.

Italy aims to install full-body scanners at the main airports of Rome and Milan for flights considered at high risk of terrorist attack.

The introduction of full body scanners, however, raises questions about privacy, cultural sensitivity and personal freedom. source

My comment: I was thinking, is the scanner more offensive than a full body pat down and I still cannot decide. Whatever they call it, the scanner is stripping you naked in front of someone. It's your body and it's naked. They can see everything you have on it. And I'm not sure to what extent "in it". So, let's see - the scanner will make someone happy watching my naked body. The pat down, if it's gentle will make me happy. It seems that the pat down is the better option.

As long as there is any option at all. I mean, what do you do if they want to make a cavity search on you? Can you say : "No, thank you, I prefer not to board on the plane", or you simply don't have a choice. I mean, can you even imagine how utterly humiliating is a cavity search. I can't believe someone expect people to simply put up with this and accept it in their lives. Privacy? It's not even about privacy, it's about rights over my body. Nobody should be able to do an intrusive procedure on me against my will. It's like legal rape! I have no idea why nobody cries out because of this. How would anyone feel if his/her child is a subject of a cavity search? Or if his/her spouse is a subject of the same? Or his/her mother/father? And the same goes for the scanner as well - there were already reports of naked pictures of celebrity that leaked. What more one does need to see this is wrong?! I understand the producers of those scanners that they need to sell them, but they better sell them to military bases where people know each others bodies anyway. This is not something you should use on public places!

EU online library needs 'more and better' content

23 February 2010

Europeana, the EU's online library, needs more and better content if it is to be a success, EU lawmakers said yesterday (22 February), calling for more cooperation between governments and cultural institutions in contributing to the archive.

A report, drafted by German MEP Helga Trüpel (Greens/EFA) and adopted unanimously by the European Parliament's culture committee, calls on member states to provide more books, maps, film clips and photographs for the portal, while at the same time warning that intellectual property rights must be respected.

MEPs "seriously regret" member states' "very uneven" contributions to Europeana, which aims to make Europe's cultural and scientific heritage available to all free-of-charge on the Web but at present only hosts 5% of all digital books.

Of these, almost half come from France (47%), with 16% coming from Germany and 8% from the UK and the Netherlands respectively.

Legal restrictions prevent the portal from hosting out-of-print books (90% of the content of national libraries) or 'orphan works' whose authors cannot be identified (10-20% of national collections).

Governments and cultural institutions should work together to fill up the site, MEPs said, urging member states "not to restrict availability to the territory of their country" and to put more audio and digital material online, "paying special attention" to works that deteriorate easily.

The report "urges the [European] Commission and member states to take all necessary steps to avoid a knowledge gap between Europe and non-EU countries, particularly the USA, stressing the importance of making Europeana "one of the main reference points for education and research purposes".

Europeana should "respect intellectual property rights, especially authors' and performers' rights," states the report, suggesting that extended collective licensing could be one way of giving users access to copyrighted material.

Europeana faces commercial competition in the form of US giant Google's plans to create a Book Rights Registry, where authors and publishers can register works and be compensated by institutional subscriptions or book sales.

The European Parliament report warns that the dissemination of knowledge on the Internet should not be left to private commercial firms.

Indeed, the European Commission is adamant that the Google registry will not serve as a blueprint for a European equivalent, and only works from the US, UK, Australia and Canada will be included in Google's project at present (EurActiv 16/11/09)

.MEPs yesterday endorsed "the Commission's intention to establish a simple and cost-efficient rights clearance system". They also called on the EU executive to propose legislation on the digitisation, preservation and dissemination of orphan works, and develop a single European database.

Meanwhile, a network of databases for out-of-print and orphan works called ARROW is in the project phase, according to the Federation of European Publishers (FEP). source

My comment: European interests? Not at all! The only interest here is that of publishers who will get public funds for books they can't sell anyway. As much as I like the idea of public digital library that offers free books for everyone, I don't think this is the way to do it. After all, Google would at least pay something to the authors - a percentage of the money generated by ads and subscriptions. What would Europeana pay to authors? Sure, the publishers will get paid. And they will give 15% to the authors? While electronic book-sellers give 70% to the author. Isn't this strange? Like seriously?! I'm totally for a public library, but when it comes to orphan books or out-of-print books, I want to see them in that library as well. If not - then it's almost useless. The only good part of it is the idea to include audio and video material. That could be priceless for ethnographic studies for example.

Maternity leave battle set to continue after EU vote

24 February 2010

The European Parliament is pushing hard to bring in longer EU minimum standards for maternity leave. But MEPs are likely to face stiff resistance from some EU member states, particularly the UK.

There was a feeling of déjà vu in the Parliament yesterday (23 February) as the Womens' Rights Committee backed a report by Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrela to increase minimum compulsory EU maternity leave to 20 weeks.

In June last year, a coalition of centre-right and liberal MEPs had already rejected Estrela's plans in a June vote in Strasbourg.

Estrela does not believe history will repeat itself, however, and claimed she was "confident" Parliament would back her plans this time around.

Responding to a question from EurActiv following yesterday's vote, she argued that last year's rejection was for political reasons, as centre-right MEPs did not want to touch upon this sensitive issue ahead of June's European elections.

"A new parliament means a new situation," she said, adding that "we are legislating for the future" with this progressive proposal.

However, even if a majority of MEPs endorse the report, it seems likely that further political battles are inevitable.

The UK, for example, is worried about the costs involved in this latest plan, and would likely block it when it reaches ministerial level.

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) warned that the proposed changes would be costly during an economic downturn.

A European Commission source told EurActiv that "we feel this report is going a bit too far," both in terms of the 20-week minimum and the paternity leave clause.

However, Estrela hit back by saying that she had received no response from the Commission when she repeatedly asked what decisions would be made regarding paternity leave.

"19 EU countries already have paternity leave legislation," she told EurActiv, adding that "we believe we should enshrine in EU law what most member states already have".

Estrela's report also favoured the introduction of two weeks minimum paternity leave, a measure opposed by the Commission and a number of member states. Indeed, the proposal was also opposed by centre-right MEPs, who blocked it in June 2009.

The Estrela report proposes the following changes:

  • That minimum maternity leave in the EU be extended from 14 to 20 weeks, six weeks of which would be taken immediately after childbirth.
  • These maternity leave rules also apply to domestic workers and self-employed workers.
  • Workers on maternity leave must be paid their full salary, which must be 100% of their last monthly salary or their average monthly salary.
  • Member states must give fathers the right to fully paid paternity leave of at least two weeks within the period of maternity leave.
  • This legislation on maternity and paternity leave should also apply to parents who adopt a child of less than 12 months old.
  • Female workers cannot be fired from the beginning of a pregnancy to at least six months following the end of the maternity leave.
  • After maternity leave, women must be entitled to return to their jobs or to "equivalent posts", i.e. a position with the same pay, professional category and duties as before.

Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, a French MEP from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest in Parliament, welcomed the "good intention" behind the Estrela report.

But the vice-president of the Parliament's women rights committee also stressed that rather than longer maternity leave, she said additional measures should be adopted to reconcile work and family life, including more daycare facilities and greater flexibility of working hours. source

My comment: I support this report entirely. All of the measures. Because let's get real - the maternity time is very difficult period for every working woman (or even for the not working ). And being pregnant and delivering a baby are not exactly a day on the beach neither. Women are put in great disadvantage because of those reasons and if we want our society to stop aging and to get younger we have to support those measures. I mean, I am a young woman, I have to start thinking about this sooner or later, how I am supposed to do it, if I know how hard will be after the happy day arrives? You have to be able to get the leave, to be well paid and to be able to rely on your partner's support. I mean, why a father shouldn't have a complete paternity leave (minus the time that is for recovering from the pregnancy, of course)? Both partners should be able to decide who to take care of the babe and who to work. If the mother wants to get back to work, the father should be able to stay home and get paid for that. Everything else is discrimination! I so hope the EP will think about this seriously. Because Europe is getting so old. Nobody wants to have a baby, because it's so damn difficult. We have to change that.

More:

EU mulls extending 'Erasmus for Entrepreneurs' - good news but why only 24 countries are covered? Isn't this discrimination toward the new members?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Climate and energy in EU, 03, 2010 - CCS do it again

Today:
  1. Carbon capture to win EU funding before renewables
  2. Commission to tackle 'chemical cocktails'
  3. EU urged to prioritise tackling energy poverty
  4. France plans transitional CO2 tax for big emitters
  5. Germany, France cut support for solar power
More:
Greens embrace enzymes in climate change fight
UN climate panel admits Dutch sea level flaw - they said 55% is below sea level, when only 26% actually was, the rest was susceptible to river floods.

Quote of the day: "According to the report, scientific research demonstrates that the effects of a mixture are considerably more pronounced than the effects of each of its individual components, and that "environmental pollution results from chemical mixtures," not individual chemicals. "

Carbon capture to win EU funding before renewables

18 December 2009

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects will likely be first to benefit from funding out of the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), with support for renewables to follow later, a draft European Commission proposal suggests.

The draft text, sent to member states last week, sets out the rules on allocating the 300 million allowances that were set aside from the 'new entrants reserve' of the EU ETS to CCS and renewable projects.

At a carbon price of €20 a tonne, the revenue would amount to about €6 billion, the EU executive estimates.

The draft proposes to award the allowances through two rounds of calls for proposals. This would "allow, on the one hand, for mature projects to receive financing already in the first round, and on the other hand, to provide for a possibility to adjust any technical or geographical imbalance in the second round," the text reads.

The Commission seems to take "mature projects" to mean CCS at this point. Its impact assessment accompanying the draft decision argues that in the case of renewables, it would be "preferable" to wait until the second call to allow for a "maximum number of technologies to come to maturity".

The EU executive refers to comments by several member states that the funds for the second round should be substantial in order to stretch to funding technologies, particularly renewables, which will not be in a position to take advantage of the first call.

However, the draft stresses that there should be a balance between CCS and renewable energy projects. It lists the technologies eligible to receive funding for at least one project in order to ensure that only technologies that are not yet commercially viable but ready for large-scale demonstration qualify.

Germany has been advocating opening up all renewable categories to proposals, instead of limiting the projects to a closed list of technologies.

To ensure even geographical coverage, the Commission chose an approach whereby each member state is allowed to host a maximum of two projects. The draft states that the second round of proposals can be used to adjust any technical or geographical imbalances.

The draft text requires member states to co-finance the projects by matching the EU ETS investment.

Countries will send their proposals to the European Investment Bank (EIB), which assesses the financial and technical viability of the projects before making recommendations to the Commission.

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) argued that the European renewable energy industry is already ready to submit high-quality projects for the first call, and expects to receive funding for them.

source

My comment: It's not exactly a surprise that CCS are considered for the first call, but still it leaves a bitter taste reading this. I don't understand how policy-makers have no even a trace of decency in their proposals. Because it's already clear for everyone that CCS isn't a green project. It's basically a project to take home the money the country produced. But not back to the taxpayers, back to the corporations that will "develop" CCS. And everytime I see this, I will ask, why the taxpayers should help companies develop CCS and then be charged a green tax, because of the use of the new technology. Because it's pretty clear that will happen when CCS get developed. And all those cute drafts that favor CCS most than anything else, do not mention this little detail. Of course, it must be clear to us, that the EU with its absurd lack of political will cannot count on anything else to decrease the emissions and bring us back into the game, but on CCS, but why this is not well regulated? I don't quite mind giving my money to any project that has scientific value and CCS has (if it's done properly and not just superficially). But i want to be sure that my money will be returned to me in the form of better or cheaper services. So far nothing guarantee this to me. The only guarantees go to the oil companies that will benefit from my money for something they should have funded themselves. Not very fair, right?

Commission to tackle 'chemical cocktails'

5 January 2010

EU environment ministers have asked the European Commission to assess the need for EU legislative action to protect human and animal health from exposure to multiple chemicals.

In their last meeting in 2009, EU-27 environment ministers adopted conclusions on the combined effects of chemicals.

Ministers said that assessments for individual chemicals are not sufficient to evaluate risks and asked the Commission to adapt EU legislation to take into account so-called 'chemical cocktails'.

Under REACH, the EU's chemicals legislation, risk assessments are made on a chemical-by-chemical basis and not much consideration is given to the harmful combined effects of chemicals.

However, this "deficiency" is mainly due to the fact "there has been insufficient knowledge of the matter to date – a situation which is now changing," said Ulf Björnholm Ottosson, environment counsellor at the Swedish Representation to the EU.

EU-27 environment ministers highlighted the results of a recent Danish study, which measured the substances to which two-year-old children were exposed via food, water, air and objects in the home. The results show "serious combined effects that can cause as much harm as too high a dose of one chemical," Ottosson said, stressing the need for more research on the matter and possible adjustments to current legislation.

Ministers were particularly concerned about the combined effects of endocrine disrupters . Endocrine disrupters are substances suspected of interfering with human and wildlife hormone systems and which can influence the development of the brain and reproductive organs, for example.

The Commission is set to finalise a study that scientifically assesses the risks related to exposure to multiple chemicals. It is also expected to recommend, in 2010, how exposure to combinations of endocrine disruptors should be dealt with in existing legislation. source

My comment: More recent report - here:

"There is sufficient know-how to assess risks to human health and the environment resulting from combined exposure to multiple chemicals, a European Commission report argues.

According to the report, scientific research demonstrates that the effects of a mixture are considerably more pronounced than the effects of each of its individual components, and that "environmental pollution results from chemical mixtures," not individual chemicals.

As there is currently no guidance available for assessing chemical mixtures, the study concludes that EU guidelines on the matter would prove "extremely helpful"."source

As we see, this is an absolutely critical issue which the Commission should deal with as soon as possible. I disagree that it's not possible to know how the substances react with each other - they don't do it at random, after all, it's guided by physical principles. And this will make a quite cool project to fund - to make a theoretical model under which one could asses risks of accumulation and reaction of chemical cocktails. After all, USA and Russia developed codes tracking shockwaves and radiation pollution for a decade or something during the Cold War. Now computers are I don't know how many more times quicker and better. It is doable at least to some preliminary level - we don't need to know all, we need to be able to spot risks for human health. It shouldn't be that hard. I hope someone thinks like me, because the EU and human kind needs it badly. It's absurd how much poisons we get into our bodies.

EU urged to prioritise tackling energy poverty

6 January 2010

To help households struggling to pay their energy bills, a group of NGOs has urged the EU to create strategies to combat fuel poverty in its energy legislation by improving efficiency and building social support structures.

The European arm of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE-Europe) published a list of recommendations in late December to address fuel poverty, as more and more households struggle to heat their homes during the winter months. Difficulties in affording basic energy services - which arise from poverty and poor housing - are exacerbated by rising energy prices, calling for energy-related solutions, it said.

The NGOs claimed that energy poverty is triggered when a household's energy costs are greater than 10% of its disposable income. This is the definition used in the UK, where fuel poverty is considered to be a significant social issue, but not every European country uses a clear definition.

As the problem is common to many European countries, with the worst symptoms seen in new member states in Central Europe, it should be made an EU priority, the NGOs argued.

Vulnerable households should be given financial assistance to make energy-saving improvements, the NGOs said. In addition, they should have access to free advice on reducing energy bills, they added.

Moreover, lower tariffs for basic consumption and limited price increases could provide further solutions, the organisation said.

Suppliers should consider reducing fixed payment elements and payment models where first units of consumption are charged at higher rates, taxing poorer customers with low consumption, it suggested. The EU's Energy Services Directive could be used to require suppliers to support energy-efficiency improvements in vulnerable households, it said. source

My comment: I hardly can agree with this more. I stay on 16C in the winter, because I refuse to turn on the heating. Why? Because the prices for heating are ridiculous. 10% of the household income? To warm the apartment properly you need to pay more than 150lv/month (~70e/month). This means that a household with a single working member who gets ~700lv (~350e), this is impossible. And when people make economies, the heating and electricity companies rise the prices. To be sure they will get their money! I'm sorry but this is not normal and I refuse to be a part of it, even if I have to stay in a cold room. But not everyone can afford such mad behaviour - if have children or if you're sick or live outside of the big city, where if you don't turn on the heating, you'll have to stay on say 0C or 4C, you simply have to heat your house. And in that case, you'll spend so much money only on heating, there are hardly money left for food. Clothes or services are low on the priority list. Now, I know this isn't the case in West Europe where the food is quite cheap, but we don't all live there. So there must be a common policy about energy prices. If local governments don't care enough for their citizens, then maybe the EU should care of them. It's ridiculous, but it's not more ridiculous than the anti-market principle - the less used a commodity, the bigger the price. So I hope someone takes seriously this report.

France plans transitional CO2 tax for big emitters

2010-01-22 12:55

France has outlined plans to impose a carbon tax on large industrial installations until 2013 when they start paying for emission permits under the revised EU Emission Trading Scheme (EU ETS). The tax would come into effect in July.

French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo outlined the upcoming revised proposal on Wednesday (20 January), after the Constitutional Court rejected the government's original plan last December.

The government had originally hoped to levy a carbon tax on oil, gas and coal consumption by households and businesses. It was going to be set at €17 per tonne of carbon emissions, rising gradually (EurActiv 14/09/09).

But the Constitutional Council said the large number of exemptions from the legislation would put an unfair burden on consumers and would not fulfil the objective of fighting climate change. It said that the tax would not be applied to 93% of industrial carbon emissions, and over 1,000 of France's biggest polluters would be able to avoid it.

The court pointed out that the law exempted big emitters from power stations to oil refineries and cement works, which are covered by the EU ETS, and imposed lighter tariffs on groups like farmers, fishermen and truck drivers.

The new proposal would amend the problem by subjecting industrial installations under the ETS to a carbon tax until 1 January 2013, the environment minister said. Until now, the power sector has enjoyed free emission permits, but free allocation will be gradually phased out from 2013.

The new text would retain other aspects of the initial proposal, including the tariff of 17 euros per tonne of CO2 and green cheques designed to compensate consumers, the government said. source

My comment: I like it! That's fair. It's absolutely wrong to put the whole burden directly to consumers, while big emitters are free to do whatever they want. It's a good way to get money for the government, but it won't help those companies to invest in green techs. The new version sounds much better.

Germany, France cut support for solar power

2010-01-21 12:50

Germany said yesterday (20 January) that it would cut its subsidies for solar power in line with the rapid take-up of the photovoltaic market. The news follows a similar announcement by France last week.

German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen (CDU) announced that the government was proposing to cut feed-in tariffs for new roof-mounted solar power by 15% from April.

Open-field sites and farmland installations would follow in July with 15% and 25% cuts respectively.

People who mount solar panels on their rooftops and utilise the energy for personal use would, however, receive higher tariffs.

The environment minister said that the planned cuts were due to the success of the solar sector, which had led to over-subsidisation of the industry. The feed-in tariffs have come under pressure, as the price of solar panels has dropped by around a third due to oversupply in the past year.

But the solar industry warned that the cuts, which will come on top of annual reductions under the German Renewables Act, would lead to job losses. Moreover, concerns were raised about the wider paralysis of the global solar market, which is largely driven by Germany, by far the biggest market in the world.

France last week (13 January) also announced that it would cut its feed-in tariffs for rooftop systems by 24%, from 55 euro cents to 42 euro cents per KWh.

The move was part of a larger overhaul of renewable subsidies, which also saw adjustments to tariffs for geothermal and biomass plants.

The world's highest tariff at 58 euro cents per KWh was reserved for panels integrated into residential buildings or hospitals and schools. Other constructions like offices and industrial sites would get lower tariffs: 50 cents for existing buildings and 42 cents for newly-built ones.

The European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) stressed that it would be important for both France and Germany to follow the evolution of market prices in their feed-in tariff systems. source

My comment: Since I think that building should be self-sufficient and only then to sell energy, I support those moves. People shouldn't be over-obsessed with earning from their solar cells, it's not the point. The point is to get off-grid and be free. I know this is naive, but still, I like it. I like the idea of people getting free electricity for their needs, even if the technology and its application is far from that stage.

 

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