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25/04/2013

Top stories
 European Court of Justice rules in favour of Waterford Glass workers

Illustrative image: European Court of JusticeIn a ruling published this morning, The European Court has said that Ireland has not fulfilled its obligations under an EU Directive designed to protect the pensions of workers in the event of the insolvency of their employer.

The ruling provides that Ireland has failed to properly implement Article 8 of the Directive:

  • As the court stated in the Robins case (C-278/05), provisions of domestic law that may, in certain cases, lead to a guarantee of pension benefits of less than half of the entitlement, cannot be considered as a protection in the meaning of Article 8 of the Directive.

The judgment is a preliminary ruling which was referred to the Court of Justice by the High Court of Ireland. There is no opinion of an advocate general.

 
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 Austerity and growth debate: What President Barroso actually said at the Brussels Think Tank Dialogue

President Barroso addressing the Brussels Think TankEuropean Commission President Barroso addressed the Brussels Think Tank Forum 'State of the Union 2013 – Federalism or Fragmentation: Spelling out Europe's F-Word' on 22 April.

Responding to a journalist's question on "austerity policies", the President commented: "Politically and socially, one policy that is only seen as austerity, is of course not sustainable. That is why we need to combine the indispensable, I underline indispensable, correction of the disequilibria in public finances, namely huge deficits, huge public debt, fiscal rigour, this is indispensable, we need to complement this with proper measures for growth, including short term measures for growth, because we know that some of those reforms take time to produce effect.

What is going on in Greece, in Portugal, in Spain is amazing in terms of correction of the external imbalances. It is amazing what some of these countries have been doing, for instance Portugal and Ireland, Ireland even more, in terms of recovering the confidence of markets and the investors.

Let's not forget that the programmes that were designed were basically for this purpose, because those countries could not by themselves find the necessary funding for the functioning of the state. That is why they have asked for the Euro area's support. Now, this is indispensable, but it has to be complemented by a stronger emphasis on growth and growth measures in the shorter term. We have been saying this, but we should say it louder and clearer. If not, even if the policy of correction of the deficit is basically correct, we can always discuss the fine-tuning, the rhythm or the pace, but that will not be sustainable politically and socially."

On Ireland, the President also said: "Ireland is going back to growth, it has positive growth. It is one of the very few countries that has positive growth today in Europe and they have been implementing one of the toughest programmes of adjustment and they are also already now in positive territory in terms of employment. So, can you say that the programme is not working? It is a painful programme certainly, but you cannot say it is not working."

 
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 Eurostat publishes figures on government deficit and government debt in the EU and the Eurozone

Eurostat figures released earlier this week show that Ireland had the third highest government deficit to GDP ratio in the EU at 7.6% in 2012 and the fourth highest ratio of government debt to GDP at 117.6%.

The highest government deficits to GDP ratios were recorded in Spain (-10.6%) and Greece (-10.0%) and the lowest in Estonia (-0.3%), Sweden (-0.5%), Bulgaria and Luxembourg (both -0.8%) and Latvia (-1.2%), while Germany (+0.2%) registered a government surplus.

The highest ratios of government debt to GDP were recorded in Greece (156.9%), Italy (127.0%) and Portugal (123.6%) and the lowest in Estonia (10.1%), Bulgaria (18.5%) and Luxembourg (20.8%).

In 2012, the government deficit of both the euro area and the EU27 decreased in absolute terms compared with 2011, while the government debt rose in both zones. In the euro area the government deficit to GDP ratio decreased from 4.2% in 2011 to 3.7% in 2012, and in the EU27 from 4.4% to 4.0%. In the euro area the government debt to GDP ratio increased from 87.3% at the end of 2011 to 90.6% at the end of 2012, and in the EU27 from 82.5% to 85.3%.

 
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 €1.5 million EU support for Bord Bia to promote Irish agricultural products

Girl carrying basket of vegetablesThe European Commission today approved a three year programme to promote the consumption of more mushrooms. "Just add Mushrooms" will see Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, promote the nutritional benefits of eating the popular food accessory across Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is worth more than €2.7 million of which almost €1.4 million will be paid from EU money. In addition Bord Bia is to get funding of around €150,000 to promote dairy products in Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany.

In total the Commission has approved 22 programmes to promote agricultural products in the European Union and in third countries. The total budget of the programmes, the large majority of which will run for a period of three years, is € 71,94 million, of which the EU contributes € 35,97 million.

 
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 EU Commission calls on Ireland to comply with electricity internal market rules

Electric power stationToday (Thursday) the Commission sent an additional reasoned opinion to Ireland urging it again to fully transpose the Electricity Directive of the third energy package. This Directive should have been fully transposed already by 3 March 2011. If Ireland does not comply with its legal obligation within two months, the Commission may decide to refer the case to the European Court of Justice.

It contains key provisions for a proper functioning of the electricity markets, such as new rules on unbundling of networks, rules strengthening the independence and powers of national regulators and rules on the improvement of the functioning of retail markets to the benefit of consumers.

The additional reasoned opinion sent now complements the reasoned opinion that was already sent to Ireland in June 2012 and clarifies the Commission's views with regard to the transposition of the unbundling provisions in the Electricity Directive.

 
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 EU Commission statement on mortage directive agreement

Internal Market Commissioner Michel BarnierOn Tuesday, discussions on EU mortgages rules between the Commission, the European Parliament and EU Members States government officials ("Trilogue") resulted in agreement.

Welcoming the agreement, Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier said: "This Directive will help put an end to these excesses and foster responsible lending practices. Consumers will finally get the protection they deserve. They will be better informed so they can choose the mortgage product which best meets their needs, at the best price, and fully aware of the risks they are taking."

The Mortgage Credit Directive will introduce for the first time European-wide standards for the conduct of the credit worthiness assessment in the mortgage credit area. Where the result of such assessment is negative, the creditors will no longer be allowed to hand out mortgage credits.
 
The Directive will not only put a brake on the excesses of the past, but will also offer the mortgage credit providers new opportunities to take full advantage of the Single Market with its 500 million consumers. Provided that credit intermediaries are properly authorised, registered and supervised at national level, they will receive a European passport and can look for new business opportunities in any of the 27 Member States.

But above all, the new Directive will include a number of important elements that go beyond a mere crisis response, for the benefit of consumers.

 
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 EU-US trade partnership: building a motor of recovery

Commissioner de Gucht addressing the IIEA in Dublin last Friday"We have the prospect of expanding our economies over time by 0.5% of GDP, with gains of almost 200 billion euro in total. If the two largest trading powers take a decisive step towards opening their markets that will go a long way to reducing the risk of a protectionist spiral in response to the crisis. So that is what we are trying build here. A motor of recovery."

"We should be clear on one thing here – this agreement will not form some sort of back door for wholesale de-regulation. We are not going to lower standards of protection – but we will be flexible and creative enough to find solutions."

So said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht in Dublin last Thursday. He was speaking at the EU-US Business Leader's Round Table in Dublin Castle.

 
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 Girls in ICT day!

Promotional image for Girls in ICT DayToday (25 April) is International Girls in ICT Day, an initiative backed by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the International Telecommunication Union with the aim of finding new ways of encouraging girls to take up careers in ICT and to show them the opportunities on offer:

  • 7 million people work in the information and communication (ICT) sector in Europe. Out of the ICT workforce, only 30% are women.
  • The ICT sector is rapidly growing, creating around 120 000 new jobs every year
  • There will be up to 900,000 unfilled ICT-related vacancies in 2015.
  • Of every thousand women with a bachelor's degree in Europe, only twenty nine hold a degree in IT.
  • Out of those twenty nine, only four work in the ICT sector.
 
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News in brief
 One-third of part-time workers in Ireland willing and available to work more hours

According to the Eurostat Labour Force survey published last Friday, 33.6% of the 147,000 part-time workers in Ireland are willing and available to work more hours. Part-time workers in Ireland represented 23.9% of the workforce in 2012.

There were 43 million part-time workers in the EU in 2012, or just below 20% of the workforce. Over twenty-one per cent of these (or 9.2 million) were willing and available to work more hours, and can therefore be considered to be underemployed. Since the start of the economic crisis the proportion of part-time workers in the EU wishing to work more hours and available to do so has grown steadily, from 18.5% in 2008 to 20.5% in 2011 and 21.4% in 2012.

In 2012, the largest proportions of people wishing to work more hours and available to do so among part-time workers were found in Member States where the share of employed persons working part-time is relatively low: Greece (66%), Spain (55%), Latvia (53%) and Cyprus (50%). On the other hand, the smallest proportion was found in the Netherlands (3%), where part-time working is the most common, followed by Estonia (8%) and the Czech Republic (10%).

 
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 Have your say about science!

Atomium Culture is asking you to have your say about science.  According to a recent EU survey, young people have a clear interest in science and maths. Yet they are less keen on studying these subjects. Why is this? 

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said "Science matters now more than ever. It defines and shapes human progress and helps us tackle the big challenges we face today such as climate change, better healthcare and energy security.   Research and Innovation also make our economies more competitive, and secure jobs now and in the future". 

The launch of this initiative is a pilot involving five countries including Ireland, Austria, Germany, Spain and Italy.  The results will be sent to the European Commission ahead of Horizon 2020 - the EU’s new programme for research and innovation that begins in January 2014.

 
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 UK and Ireland ask to join EU Insolvency Rules

Both the United Kingdom and Ireland have announced their decision to join the Commission’s proposal to modernise current EU rules on cross border insolvency, which date from 2000. The new rules aim to shift focus away from liquidation and develop a new approach to helping businesses overcome financial difficulties, all the while protecting creditors' right to get their money back. They will also increase the efficiency and effectiveness of cross-border insolvency proceedings, affecting an estimated 50 000 companies across the EU every year.

 
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 EU research project develops new malaria test tool

An EU-funded research project aims to start testing a new diagnostic tool for malaria one year ahead of schedule. The pioneering smartphone-like device uses cutting-edge nanotechnology to detect not only the malaria infection but also any drug resistance from a pinprick of blood, taking just 15 minutes. The Nanomal project partners say if field trials later this year are successful the device could be deployed in developing countries from 2015.

European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "Half the World's population is at risk from malaria. Rapid and accurate diagnosis is essential to fight the disease as are new vaccines, drugs and methods to control its spread. That is why since 2002 the EU has invested more than €209 million in malaria research."

The €5.2 million Nanomal project is led by St George’s, University of London. It received €4 million in funding from the EU's seventh research framework programme.

 
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 New online market intelligence tool for fisheries and aquaculture

Screengrab from EMOFA homepageA new European Market Observatory for Fishery and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA) was launched this week. The Observatory is an EU-wide interactive web-tool offering up-to-date data on volume, value and price of fisheries and aquaculture products throughout the supply chain, from when they land to port to when they are displayed on supermarket shelves.

The Observatory will provide information on market trends and market drivers for wild or farmed seafood products. It will be updated daily with production information from the local to the EU-wide level and includes data on imports, exports and consumption trends

 
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 EU Commission seeks feedback on commitments offered by Google to address competition concerns

The European Commission invites comments from interested parties on commitments offered by Google in relation to online search and search advertising. The Commission has concerns that Google may be abusing its dominant position in the markets for web search, online search advertising and online search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA). Google has made proposals to try to address the Commission's four competition concerns. Interested parties can now submit their comments within one month. The Commission will take them into account in its analysis of Google's commitment proposals. If the Commission concludes that they address its four competition concerns, it may decide to make them legally binding on Google.

 
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 Hydrogen storage for energy efficient buildings

The building sector accounts for about 40% of all energy consumption. As the vast majority of this power comes from fossil fuels, increasing energy efficiency, reducing CO2 emissions and using renewable energy sources has become a priority in recent years.

An Italian-led initiative, the H2SusBuild project, received EU funding to research how integrating a hybrid energy system, where the storage of hydrogen provides the energy supply in instances where renewable sources are lacking, could be used to create a zero-CO2-emission building.

 
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Agenda
 Agenda

Thursday 25 to Friday 26 April: Conference - The European Banking Union - A Turning Point?, Law Society of Ireland, Blackhall Place, Dublin

Monday 29 to Tuesday 30 April: Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Presidency Conference incorporating EU OSHA (Bilbao Agency) Good Practice Awards, RDS, Dublin

Monday 29 to Tuesday 30 April: Gender Equality Conference 'Women's Economic Engagement and the Europe 2020 Agenda', Dublin Castle

Monday 29 and Tuesday 30 April: Conference: Fostering Innovation and Strengthening Synergies within the EU, TCD, Dublin

Wednesday 1 to Friday 3 May: Informal Competitiveness Council, Dublin

Thursday 2 May: Conference on the Social Investment Package, Institute for Ireland in Europe, Leuven, Belgium (to be addressed by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton TD)

Friday 3 May: Conference - The Future Role of the EU Structural Funds to Assist the Transition to Community Living for Older People and Persons with Disabilities, Centre for Disability, Law and Policy, NUI Galway

Tuesday 7 and Wednesday 8 May:  Strategic Energy Technology Plan Conference 2013, Dublin

Thursday 9 May: Europe Day 2013: A Taste of Europe, EU House, Dublin

Monday 13 to Wednesday 15 May: High Level e-Health Conference, Dublin Castle

Tuesday 14 May: European Brain Research Conference, Brussels

Tuesday 14 to Wednesday 15 May: Researcher Careers & Mobility Conference, Dublin Castle

Thursday 16 May: InterTradeIreland: Collaborate to Innovate Conference, Croke Park, Dublin

Monday 27 to Tuesday 28 May 2013: Conference - Healthy brain: healthy Europe, Dublin

 
 
 
 
 
Public consultations
 Public consultation on third pillar retirement products

The European Commission has today (Thursday) launched a public consultation on third pillar retirement products (individual pension plans).

The consultation focusses on consumer protection, more specifically on the pre- and post-contractual information given to consumers as well as the selling practices covering marketing, inducements and advice given in the sector.  Pension funds are a very important and fundamental choice in the life of a consumer. Currently there are no specific EU rules for such products which may take on various legal forms ranging from "life insurances" to "investment products". This results in legal fragmentation which does not allow the consumer to be protected in a consistent way in all EU countries.

The results of the consultation will be taken into account for the preparation of possible future initiatives in this field.

The consultation runs for 12 weeks until 19 July 2013.

 
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 Public consultation on Preparing for a Fully Converged Audiovisual World: Growth, Creation and Values

The European Commission yesterday (Wednesday) launched a public consultation on Preparing for a Fully Converged Audiovisual World: Growth, Creation and Values.

Stakeholders and the wider public are invited to share their views on issues such as:

  • The rules of the game. Fostering the right conditions for dynamic EU businesses to deal with international (especially US) competition; especially given that competing players may be subject to different rules;
  • Protecting European values (including media freedom) and user interests (e.g. protecting children, accessibility for users with disabilities). Do people expect higher protection for TV programmes than for internet content; and where is the line to be drawn?
  • Single market and standards. Seemingly, some devices do not work the same way across Member States. How can we promote the right technological environment?
  • Financing. How will convergence and changing consumer behaviour influence how films, TV shows and other content is financed? How are different actors in the new value-chain contributing?
  • Openness and media pluralism. Should pre-defined filtering mechanisms, for example in search engines, be subject to public intervention? Are the existing practices relating to premium content – for example, major sport events and successful recently released films - at wholesale level affecting market access and sustainable business operations? Are platforms sufficiently open?

The consultation runs until the end of August 2013.

 
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Competitions
 Generations@school competition - win a camera or a trip to Brussels!

Promotional image for the competitionThe generations @ school competition invites teachers to organise an activity that brings pupils together with seniors from their communities to explore how dialogue between generations can contribute to a better understanding of each other. This encounter can be a debate on issues of concern to both generations or the launch of a joint project in which old and young cooperate on a more regular basis.

Prizes include:

  • A camera!
    Photos or videos of the activity should be uploaded to: www.generationsatschool.eu and three projects from across the EU will be selected as prizewinners and each winning school will receive a camera. One of last year's three winners was Millstreet Community School in Cork.
  • A trip to the EU institutions in Brussels!
    In addition, secondary school students (aged 15 years and older) have a chance to win a trip to Brussels for a group of up to 35 people. To enter, they should arrange a discussion with senior citizens on themes of the European Year of Citizens 2013, such as EU rights, citizenship or the future of Europe, then create a message based on the discussion for policy makers in the EU institutions.
    All participating schools will receive a diploma.

All entries must be submitted by 30 June 2013.

See herefor further information about the competition. 

 
 
 Reminder: Deadline approaches for the Frontex Photo Competition 2013

Poster advertising competitionThe deadline for submitting entries to the Frontex Photo Competition 2013 is 30 April 2013.

This year the competition's theme is: "Ties that Bind: Bridging borders in modern Europe". To enter, all you need to do is email a photo that illustrates the meaning and impact of frontiers in their role as connectors in a variety of forms: physical, psychological, social, cultural, economic and ethnic. The aim of the contest is to reflect the distinctive nature of European borders across the continent and to gather inspiration from the beauty of European landscapes

Chosen winners will receive a cash prize of 500 euros (1st place), 250 euros (2nd place) or 200 euros (3rd place), an opportunity to participate in ED4BG in Warsaw, Poland as well as publication of their photo in The Border Post magazine. All photos will also be on display at the ED4BG conference, which is expected to host well over 700 people from across Europe.

Full details of how to enter and the terms and conditions of the competition are available here.

 
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Calls for tender
 Call for tenders for the provision of an educational DVD/film

The European Commission Representation in Ireland issued on 23rd April 2013 a call for tenders for the provision of an educational DVD/film

The estimated maximum budget attributed to this project is €45,000 (excl. VAT).

If you are interested in this tender, please ask for the tender documents by sending an email to COMM-IE-TENDERS@ec.europa.eubefore 10th May 2013

 
 
 
 
 
Spotlight on: Ninth review of Irish programme
 Commission concludes 9th review of Irish programme and begins 10th review mission

The European Commission has completed its ninth review of the EU-IMF financial assistance programme for Ireland and has published the associated technical report.

The completion of the review enables a disbursement of EUR 1.6 billion from the European Financial Stability Facility, bringing total available disbursements from the EU, IMF and bilateral partners to EUR 60 billion. This represents just under 90% of the total international assistance of EUR 67.5 billion available under the programme. Through EFSF/EFSM, the EU contributes some 60% of this funding.

The report highlights Ireland's continued strong record of programme compliance. At 7.6% of GDP, in 2012 the general government deficit was well within the programme ceiling. The 2013 Budget is consistent with the programme deficit ceiling for this year (7.5% of GDP).

Other key reforms, such as the broadening of the tax base through the introduction of a Local Property Tax, remain on track. The replacement of the promissory notes with longer-dated government bonds following the liquidation of IBRC is expected to significantly reduce financing needs in the post-programme period and to improve the general government deficit and debt paths over time.

As a result of the strong programme performance, there has been a significant steady improvement in market sentiment towards Ireland, culminating in the successful issuance of a new ten-year benchmark bond by the government, a key step towards durable market access. Banks have also been able to raise market funding secured on Irish assets, and should see their profitability improve following the removal of the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee scheme for new issuances from end-March.

The report also notes areas where further efforts are needed and a number of implementation risks going forward. Progress in resolving non-performing loans has been slow, and banks need to step up their efforts to find durable solutions for borrowers with unsustainable mortgage debts. The introduction of public targets for the banks to offer durable restructurings to customers in arrears is a welcome initiative and it is essential that the banks fully engage and find credible lasting solutions for distressed cooperative borrowers. At the same time, the commitment to remove legal impediments to the recovery of loan collateral as a last resort will, once implemented, help to restore a properly functioning mortgage market. On the fiscal side, it is essential that health overruns experienced last year are not repeated. From this perspective, the report underscores the importance of the dedicated monitoring system with enhanced reporting requirements which has been set up to track the implementation of health consolidation measures on a monthly basis. Also, a further adjustment of government expenditure, including in particular the public sector wage bill, is needed to keep fiscal consolidation on track. Finally, unemployment remains high, constituting an urgent policy priority. Emerging bottlenecks, especially in relation to the activation of the long-term unemployed, need to be tackled resolutely in the months ahead.
 
The next review mission to Ireland will begin on 23 April 2013.
 
The report is available on http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/publications/occasional_paper/2013/op131_en.htm

 
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