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Top Stories
 State aid: Commission approves second restructuring plan of Bank of Ireland

Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín AlmuniaThe European Commission found the second restructuring plan of Bank of Ireland (BoI) to be in line with EU state aid rules. In particular, the restructuring plan contains a major restructuring effort ensuring that BoI will refocus its business model and will considerably reduce its dependence on wholesale funding. The plan ensures a sustainable future for the bank without continued state support and includes appropriate measures to minimise distortion of competition.

Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia commented: "Bank of Ireland has embarked in an ambitious plan to downsize and refocus its activities to better serve the Irish economy. This plan has attracted private investors and significantly reduced the need for public support. Thanks to the fruitful collaboration between the Irish authorities, the bank and the Commission, the plan includes the necessary safeguards to ensure that competition in the Irish financial markets will be enhanced in the coming years".

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 State aid: Commission approves Irish resolution scheme for credit unions

The European Commission found a resolution scheme for distressed credit unions in Ireland to be in line with EU rules that allow aid to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State. In particular, the measure is limited in time and scope, ensures adequate burden-sharing and contains safeguards to avoid undue distortions of competition.

“A resolution scheme must bring swift and efficient support when a failing entity needs to be resolved in order to safeguard financial stability and minimise economic losses. At the same time, moral hazard and distortions of competition need to be limited in the interest of European consumers and taxpayers. I am satisfied that the Irish scheme fulfils these conditions." said Joaquín Almunia, Commission Vice President in charge of Competition Policy.

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 Modernising the Professional Qualifications Directive will make it easier for professionals to find skilled jobs across Europe

Health professionalsAs the working age population in many Member States shrinks, demand for highly skilled people between now and 2020 is projected to rise by over 16 million jobs. If Europe is to meet this demand, gaps in labour shortages need to be filled – for example through mobile and well qualified professionals from other EU Member States. They can be a key source of growth, but only if they can easily go to where jobs are and this requires their qualifications in the EU to be recognised in a fast, simple and reliable way. That is why the Commission has this week adopted a proposal for modernising the Professional Qualifications Directive.

The proposal aims at simplifying rules for the mobility of professionals within the EU by offering a European Professional Card to all interested professions which would allow easier and faster recognition of qualifications. It also clarifies the framework for consumers, by inviting Member States to review the scope of their regulated professions and by addressing public concerns about language skills and the lack of effective alerts about professional malpractice, notably in the health sector.

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 EU calls for immediate action to drive down youth unemployment

Group of young peopleAgainst the backdrop of Europe's persistent jobless youth rate of 21%, the Commission is pleading for Member States, workers' representatives and business to join forces and take decisive action to tackle youth unemployment. The new 'Youth Opportunities Initiative', adopted by the Commission yesterday (Tuesday), calls on Member State to work on preventing early school leaving; helping youngsters develop skills relevant to the labour market; ensuring work experience and on-the-job training and helping young people find a first good job.

The Commission is also urging Member States to make better use of the European Social Fund which still has €30 billion of funding uncommitted to projects. In addition, the Commission has put forward a set of concrete actions to be financed directly by EU funds, as follows:

  • using €4m to help Member States set up 'youth guarantee' schemes to ensure young people are either in employment, education or training within four months of leaving school. 
  • dedicating € 1.3 million to support the setting up of apprenticeships through the European Social Fund. An increase of 10% by the end of 2013 would add a total of 370,000 new apprenticeships.
  • using €3m of the European Social Fund Technical Assistance to support Member States in the setting up of support schemes for young business starters and social entrepreneurs;
  • gearing funds as much as possible towards placements in enterprises and targeting at least 130,000 placements in 2012 under ERASMUS and Leonardo da Vinci;
  • providing financial assistance in 2012-2013 to 5,000 young people to find a job in another Member State through the 'Your first EURES job' initiative
  • reinforcing the budget allocation for the European Voluntary Service in order to provide at least 10,000 volunteering opportunities in 2012;
  • presenting in 2012 a framework for high quality traineeships in the EU;
  • ensuring around 600 further exchanges under Erasmus for entrepreneurs in 2012.
 €35.7 million from EU Globalisation Fund to help 5,987 redundant workers in Ireland

Construction workersThe European Commission has paid out €35.7 million to Ireland from the European Globalisation adjustment Fund (EGF). This money will help 5,987 dismissed Irish workers back into employment, following their redundancy due to crisis in three separate sectors of the construction industry (construction of buildings; specialised construction activities; and architectural and engineering activities, technical testing and analysis).

The Irish redundancies covered by the three applications occurred throughout the whole Ireland, in a total of over 3,200 enterprises. Among the 5,987 targeted workers are 4,470 redundant apprentices who will be helped to complete their apprenticeships so as to gain recognised qualifications.

These payments follow approval of the amounts by the Budgetary Authority - the European Parliament and the Council - on 16 November 2011. The relevant proposal was made by the Commission on 5 October 2011 (see IP/11/1151).

 The European Union easily explained: Commission launches website dedicated to children

Banner of Kids' Corner websiteThe European Commission has today launched a special website – 'Kids' Corner' – for children and young people.

The website includes information about children's rights – e.g. EU rights for teenage workers, what are the EU emergency numbers if you are a child in danger - as well as games, quizzes and information about the EU and its Member States.

The Kids' Corner is specifically written in a style children can understand. Children can easily learn important facts and figures about the EU, its history and its countries through games and quizzes in 22 EU languages.

The Kids' Corner also links up and integrates the existing website 'Teachers' Corner', which contains material so that teachers can explain how the EU was founded and how it functions.

News in brief
 First estimates for 2011: EU27 real agricultural income per worker up by 6.7% and by 30.1% in Ireland

Dairy cowsAccording to estimates released by Eurostat earlier this week, EU27 real agricultural income per worker increased by 6.7% in 2011, after an increase of 12.6% in 2010. The increase real agricultural income in 2011 is mainly the result of a rise in the value of agricultural output at producer prices in real terms (+7.5%), while input costs in real terms grew (+9.7%). The falls in the real value of subsidies net of taxes (-1.2%) and in depreciation in real terms (-0.1%) have a marginal impact.

Real agricultural income per worker in 2011 is estimated to have risen in 19 Member States and to have fallen in eight. The highest rises are expected in Romania (+43.7%), Hungary (+41.8%), Ireland (+30.1%), Slovakia (+25.3%), Luxembourg (+25.2%), the Czech Republic (+23.5%), Bulgaria (+23.2%) and Denmark (+20.2%), and the largest falls in Belgium (-22.5%), Malta (-21.2%), Portugal (-10.7%) and Finland (-9.6%).

 Liechtenstein is now part of the Schengen area

As of last Monday, Liechtenstein is the latest country to become a Member of the Schengen area, the zone without controls at internal borders. Over 400 million Europeans from 26 European countries now enjoy passport-free travel across the Schengen area.

 Children in the European Union gain additional protection against international abduction

Today (Wednesday), the European Commission proposed the EU accept Russia and seven more countries as parties to an international convention designed to prevent child abduction. The 1980 Hague Convention ensures the prompt return of children abducted by one parent to their habitual country of residence and protects parental access rights. International abduction by a parent is a global problem affecting several thousand children each year. Today's move will effectively extend protection for children in the EU to eight new countries: Russia, Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Gabon, Morocco, Seychelles and Singapore. The Convention has been ratified by 86 countries to date, including all EU members.

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Thursday 22 December: Governing Council of the European Central Bank, Frankfurt

Wednesday 11 January 2012: Launch of the Danish presidency of the Council of the EU, Copenhagen

Tuesday 31 January 2012: "European Economic Policy - What's in it for Ireland",  Athlone

-  15 March 2012: Irish Successes Abroad exhibition travels around the country

Public consultations
 Public consultation on the possible revision of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 on air passenger rights

Passenger in airportThe European Commission has just launched a public consultation on the possible revision of Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 on air passenger rights.

Regulation (EC) 261/2004 introduced important new rights for air passengers in the event of denied boarding, long delay, cancellations and downgrading. The Regulation took effect in 2005 and sets a minimum level of quality standards in order to protect passengers.

The present consultation aims to gather stakeholders' views on the identification of possible shortcomings of the Regulation and their extent, and on the options to improve its application, either via non-legislative measures or via a revision of the Regulation.

The public consultation runs from 19 December 2011 to 11 March 2012.

Job opportunities
 Open Competition for Assistants in the fields of financial management/accounting, communication and project management

The European Personnel Selection Office is organising an open competition to select assistants (EPSO/AST/118/11 – Assistants (AST 3)) to work in the institutions of the European Union in the following fields:

  • Financial Management / Accounting 
  • Communication 
  • Project Management / Programme Management / Contract Management  

Applicants must have at least 3 years of professional experience in the field chosen after having obtained a post-secondary diploma (for field 1: a diploma in finance or accounting; for field 2: a diploma in communication, media studies, journalism or public relations; no particular specifications for field 3 );

OR have at least 6 years of relevant professional experience in the chosen field after having completed secondary education.

The closing date for online registration is midday (Brussels time – CET) on 17 January 2012.

Calls for tender/proposals
 European Commission (Directorate General for Justice) published two new calls for proposals

The European Commission (Directorate General for Justice) has published a number of new calls for proposals:

1) Call for proposals for operating grants for the year 2012 for Civil Justice (JCIV), Criminal Justice (JPEN), Fundamental Rights and Citizenship (FRC), DAPHNE III (DAP) and Drug Prevention and Information (DPIP).

Deadline to submit projects: 31 January 2012. Information is available here.

2) Call for proposals for specific 116000 hotline Operating Grands under the Daphne III Programme

Deadline for submission of proposals: 15 February 2012. Information is available here.  

3) Call for action grant proposals for fundamental rights and citizenship.  

The deadline for online submission of proposals via PRIAMOS is 13 March 2012, at 12:00.  Information is available here.

4) Call for proposals for action grants in the field of Daphne III Programme for the years 2011 and 2012.

Deadline to submit projects: 29 March 2012. Information is availablehere.

Spotlight on:
 €1,000 on offer for Erasmus adventurers

Erasmus students in Mainz Universityre you on Erasmus in January? You could win a €1000 grant in the "Real Erasmus" competition. The campaign is looking for a lively student to facebook, tweet, blog and youtube about life on Erasmus.

Interested students should apply to the talktoeu website by 10th January. The best entry will get a grant of €1000, in return for going online to document their life on Erasmus. The closing date is 10th January 2012. The "Real Erasmus" aims to boost the appeal of Erasmus among Irish students and raise awareness of the programme. 

As part of its "The Real Erasmus" campaign is giving away a €1,000 grant to any student taking an Erasmus semester abroad from January 2012, or anybody returning for their second semester.
The Real Erasmus is looking for a student willing to document or comment on Erasmus life and their experiences. The Real Erasmus aims to boost the appeal of Erasmus among Irish students and raise awareness of the programme. 
To give any students who are interested a push in the right direction: TalkToEU are looking for somebody outgoing, with a lively personality, and willing to take a little time tell them about their Erasmus experience. Entrants will be judged on their willingness to produce entertaining material and communicate the exciting, as well as educational, side of Erasmus life. 
Students can find out more, and submit their applications here: 

Entries close on the 10th of January. For further information, contact
TalkToEU is funded by the European Commission with a goal to communicate with 18-29 years about the benefits of EU membership.