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Top stories
 Stability, job, growth - Ireland unveils presidency priorities in the European Parliament in Strasbourg

Enda Kenny addressing the European Parliament earlier this weekCreating jobs and tackling the crisis in Europe will be Ireland's top priorities as it embarks on its six-month stint at the helm of the EU Council. Taoiseach Enda Kenny presented Ireland's plans in the European Parliament on 16 January.

The Taoiseach said unemployment, especially among the young, needs to be urgently tackled, including using a youth guarantee programme, that would entitle the under 25s to an offer of work, training or education after having been unemployed for at least four months. He also singled out establishing banking union for the eurozone and reaching an agreement on the long-term EU budget as important priorities, citing Parliament as "an important partner". In addition the Taoiseach said Mali, Somalia, Syria and free trade agreements with global partners such as the United States would be vital issues.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso agreed on the need to lay the foundations for lasting growth and job creation. "The Irish people have had to make great sacrifices and so have other countries which carry out difficult but indispensable reforms," he said. "The Irish case shows that if there's a political will to accompany the sacrifices, programs can and do work and reform can go hand in hand with social cohesion."

 Tougher credit rating rules confirmed by European Parliament's vote

Internal Market Commissioner Michel BarnierNew rules on when and how credit rating agencies may rate state debts and private firms' financial health were approved by the European Parliament yesterday (Wednesday).

Under the new rules, credit rating agencies will have to be more transparent when rating sovereign states and will have to follow stricter rules which will make them more accountable for mistakes in case of negligence or intent. They will allow agencies to issue unsolicited sovereign debt ratings only on set dates, and enable private investors to sue them for negligence. Agencies' shareholdings in rated firms will be capped, to reduce conflicts of interest.

Welcoming the vote, Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier said: “The new rules will contribute to increased competition in the rating industry dominated by a few market players. Furthermore, the new rules will reduce the over-reliance on ratings by financial market participants, eradicate conflicts of interest and establish a civil liability regime. This matters because ratings have a direct impact on the financial markets and the wider economy and thus on the prosperity of European citizens.”

 EU Justice ministers meeting in Dublin

EU Justice ministers are meeting in Dublin today (Thursday) and tomorrow Friday. The Commission is represented by Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, and by Cecilia Malmström, EU Home Affairs Commissioner.

The main items on the agenda of this informal Council are:

  • Reform of EU data protection rules - The European Commission proposed a reform of the EU's data protection rules on 25 January 2012. The package contains a Regulation setting out a general EU framework for data protection and a Directive on protecting personal data processed for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of criminal offences and related judicial activities. The Presidency has identified three issues for discussion at this Informal Council, namely: the so-called "household exemption" (to what extent data protection rules apply to individuals processing data for exclusively personal activities); the "right to be forgotten" and the exemptions from it; and administrative sanctions to be imposed by data protection authorities for breaches of data protection law.
  • Cross-border insolvency law - The Commission, on 12 December 2012, proposed to modernise the current EU rules on cross border insolvency. The new rules will 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. The Irish Presidency considers cross-border insolvency law to be a key area in justice policy which can contribute to supporting economic recovery and stimulating growth. The Presidency aims to launch discussions on the proposal amending the cross-border Insolvency Regulation.
  • Lunch debate on countering hate crime and intolerance - The Irish Presidency has proposed a lunch discussion with ministers on “Protecting citizens' fundamental rights: action to counter hate crime and intolerance, including racism and anti-Semitism,” at the initiative of Justice Minister Alan Shatter. The EU Fundamental Rights Agency published two reports in November 2012 on victims of hate crimes which show that hate crimes are a daily problem across the EU but that many of these crimes remain unreported, unprosecuted and unpunished.
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 Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn congratulates winners of BT Young Scientist 2013

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn with Edel Browne, winner of the best individual awardEuropean Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn congratulated Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow from Kinsale Community School, Cork, this year's winners of the 2013 BT Young Scientist Award.

"I would like to congratulate Ciara, Emer and Sophie for their success today and to wish them the very best for the future. Today I have had the opportunity to tour the exhibition and talk with many of the finalists who have explained their remarkable projects to me.  Ensuring that we have a skilled workforce starts in school – therefore it's encouraging to see such enthusiasm and know-how from the students here today, many of whom I hope will become Europe's much needed next batch of young career scientists".

Today's winners of the BT Young Scientist Competition will now go forward to represent Ireland in the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) to be held later this year.

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 Ireland ranked high for Innovation and business opportunities

At a recent 'Destination Europe' event in San Francisco, it was revealed that Ireland is now ranked 3rd in the world in immunology research, 8th in materials research and 11th in computer science – demonstrating why so many fast-growth companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Zynga have chosen Ireland as a location to expand and internationalise their businesses.

Showcasing the most exciting areas in research and innovation in Europe is the premise behind the 'Destination Europe' events, which take place several times a year. The events help researchers from around the world discover the opportunities available for working in Europe, why Europe is an ideal place for career development and the funding opportunities for scientists. The next 'Destination Europe' event takes place in Boston on 22 February.

At the San Francisco event, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) provided a practical overview on why Ireland is a world-class research and business destination, and gave an overview of its funding schemes to support academic scientists and engineers working in the fields of science and engineering that underpin biotechnology, ICT, and sustainable energy and energy-efficient technologies.

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 Eurofound publishes new report on active inclusion of young people with health problems or disabilities

Image from the cover of the Eurofound reportYoung people with health problems or disabilities are currently being missed by both employment policy and practice according to a report just published by Eurofound. The study examines the situation of young people with health problems or disabilities in 11 countries (Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom) and at EU level. The main aim of the research is to examine how policies have been implemented to move young people with health problems or disabilities from inactivity into employment. The report showcases 44 innovative case studies, including a number in Ireland, across the member states.

The report notes that inactivity rates are almost 80% higher for young people in the EU with a health problem or disability in the 25–34 years age range compared to their non-disabled peers. In Ireland where 39.1% of people aged 25-34 with a disability are inactive it's almost 200%. There are approximately 91,000 people with disabilities aged between 16 and 34 years in Ireland.  The most common disability in the 18–34 age group is related to mobility and dexterity (56%). Emotional, psychological and mental health difficulties account for 34%.

The report notes that there has been little official concern in Ireland for people with disabilities in the 18–30 years age range, unlike unemployed young people in general, in terms of specifically targeting them with measures. However it points out that the restriction on funding for social and employment services due to the economic crisis has been a particular challenge in Ireland.

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News in brief
 Haiti earthquake three years on: EU gives an additional €30.5 million in humanitarian aid

Image of devastation caused by Haiti earthquake in 2010Three years after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, taking more than 200,000 lives and making 1.5 million people homeless, the EU continues to help the struggling country with an additional €30.5 million in humanitarian funding announced last Friday (11 January).

This new money will mainly help those still homeless as a result of the earthquake, cholera victims and those badly affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Haiti is the largest beneficiary of the European Commission's humanitarian aid in Latin America and the Caribbean, with more than €260 million in humanitarian aid since 1995.

 European Commission publishes brochure analysing the importance of promoting senior entrepreneurship

The European Commission and OECD have joined forces to produce “Policy Brief on Senior Entrepreneurship”, a brochure which emphasises the importance of a shift in entrepreneurship policy to encourage older people to become more active.

The publication examines a range of different initiatives and schemes that could be implemented to promote business start-ups by older people. Helping older people remain economically active has the potential to have important economic and social benefits for society on the whole.

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 Self-cleaning walls... a graffiti artist's nightmare!

Imagine walls that clean themselves simply by spraying on a special nano-fibre which reacts to sunlight and literally eats away at organic pollution, dirt and even some types of graffiti. The savings on cleaning for municipalities worldwide could be huge.

The EU-funded CompNanoALD project has been working on just that. Dr Imre MiklósSzilágyi of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics has worked on the development of visible light-active photo-catalysts which would bring clean walls without having to scrub them manually.

By combining different properties, or adding brand new functionality, Dr Szilágyi has found innovative ways of creating and using nano-patterns to develop consistent, controllable structures. These include materials with fine-tuned properties to detect hazardous gases, harvest solar energy and copy surfaces found in biology or nature (i.e. lotus leaves). Other promising avenues for the Hungarian scientist's work include the ability to grow functional coatings on cellulose fibres to help incorporate them in biodegradable plastic materials, which can be used in car body parts, for instance.

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 EU to open Delegations to Myanmar and to the United Arab Emirates

Following a decision of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, the EU is to open a Delegation to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) and a Delegation to the United Arab Emirates.

Until now the Delegation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, was the EU's only permanent diplomatic representation in the six GCC member countries, covering relations with the GCC as well as with Bahrain, Kuweit, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The decision to open a Delegation in Myanmar reflects the significant departure from authoritarian rule taken since early 2011, along with the country's commitment to reforms and the significant steps taken to establish a more open society.

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Thursday 17 to Friday 18 January: Informal Meeting of Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs, Dublin Castle

Sunday 20 to Monday 21 January: Informal Meeting of Ministers for European Affairs, Dublin Castle

Monday 21 January: Eurogroup meeting, Brussels

Monday 21 January to Friday 8 February: Birdwatch Ireland exhibition - "Nature creates prosperity", European Union House, Dublin

Tuesday 22 January: Meeting of Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN), Brussels

Thursday 24 January: Public lecture - "Do we need Growth to Emancipate Vulnerable People?" by Professor Jean Philippe Plateau (Namur) in the Trinity College Long Room Hub, Dublin starting at 7.30 p.m.

Monday 28 January: Meeting of Agriculture and Fisheries Council (AGRI FISH), Brussels

Wednesday 30 January: Public lecture - "Multiculturalism and Muslims in Europe" by Dr Erkan Toguslu (KU Leuven) in the Trinity College Long Room Hub, Dublin starting at 6.15 p.m.

Thursday 31 January:  Meeting of Foreign Affairs Council (FAC), Brussels

Wednesday 30 and Thursday 31 January: Higher Education Conference - "Rankings and the Visibility of Quality Outcomes in the European Higher Education Area", George's Hall, Dublin Castle

Tuesday 5 February: Public lecture - "Does Europe need an Asia Strategy", by Professor Philomena Murray (Melbourne) in the Trinity College Long Room Hub, Dublin starting at 6.15 p.m.

Wednesday 6 February: Book Launch: "Life in Post-Communist Eastern Europe after EU Membership", EU House, Dublin

Thursday 14 February: Public lecture - "How to think of Ethno-Linguistic nationalism in Central Europe" by Professor Tomasz Kamusella (St Andrews) in the Trinity College Long Room Hub, Dublin starting at 6.15 p.m.

Monday 18 February: Public lecture - "European Identity and the Crisis" by Professor Ettore Recchi (UNICH) in the Trinity College Long Room Hub, Dublin starting at 6.15 p.m.

Wednesday 27 February: Public lecture - "Performance, Identity and Memory in Europe: Trauma, Ethics, Politics" by Professor Milija Gluhovic (Warwick) in the Trinity College Long Room Hub, Dublin starting at 6.15 p.m.

Thursday 28 February to Friday 1 March: Europe 2020 Conference - Agenda for new skills and jobs, organised by the Committee of the Regions, Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin

Public consultations
 Public consultation on the future of organic production

The Commission is looking at ways to improve the EU’s organic rules and boost demand for organic products. As part of this process, it launched on 15 January an online consultation aimed at all citizens interested in organic production in Europe.

Your views are sought on:

  • simplifying the rules – while ensuring standards are not watered down
  • ensuring genetically modified organisms (GMOs) – which are prohibited under the rules – do not accidentally enter the organic food chain
  • promoting organic products through labelling rules (especially the compulsory use of the European logo on all EU-produced organic products)
  • updating the Commission’s 2004 action plan for developing organic farming
  • tightening controls, to prevent fraud
  • addressing shortcomings in current import rules

The consultation will run from 15 January to 15 April 2013.

 Public consultation on the cross-border transfers of registered offices of companies

The Commission has launched a public consultation on the cross-border transfer of registered offices of companies.

The purpose of the consultation is to get more in-depth information on the costs currently faced by companies transferring their registered offices abroad.

Contributions are particularly sought from companies, notaries, national authorities, universities and business organisations.

The consultation runs from 14 January to 16 April 2013.

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Job opportunities
 Reminder: Deadline approaches for Open Competitions for Assistants and Technicians

Please note that the deadline for the open competitions for assistants and technicians announced last December is 12.00 (CET) on 22 January 2013.

Information on the Open Competition for Assistants in fields of Audit, Finances/Accountancy, Economics/Statistics is avalable here.

Information on the Open Competition for Engineering technicians and laboratory technicians in scientific research fields is available here.

Spotlight on: The new European Driving Licence
 The new European Driving Licence


From Saturday 19 January 2013, all new driving licences issued across the EU will be in the form of a plastic "credit card," with a standard European format and tougher security protection. (Existing licences are not affected.)

The new European licence will progressively replace the more than 100 different paper and plastic models currently in use by more than 300 million drivers across the EU.  It is part of a broader package of measures (3rd EU Driving Licence Directive) coming into force designed to enhance free movement, tackle driving licence fraud and improve road safety across the EU. 

"Traffic police across Europe are currently expected to recognise more than 100 different types of paper and plastic driving licence. ID photos may be long out of date, the categories for which the driver is licenced unclear and the document may be easy to forge. Fake driving licences are a licence to kill, that is why we need licences which are easy to read, easy to understand and very difficult to falsify".

The main changes which will come into force on January 19th 2013 are as follows:

  1. A standard European format similar to a plastic credit card 
  2. Enhanced tamper proof security 
  3. The Regular Renewal of Licences  
  4. Protection of vulnerable drivers
  5. Minimum standards for driving examiners


1. All new European driving licences will be issued according to a new format, a plastic "credit card", with a photo and standard information requirements - easy to recognise and read across the EU (see photo below).  All new licences will be issued in this format from January 19th 2013.

Existing licenses are not affected, but will be changed to the new format at the time of renewal or at the latest by 2033. The European driving licence can be adapted to incorporate national symbols as decided by each Member State.

2. The new driving licence includes a number of security features to make it "tamper proof" and to avoid falsification. 

In addition, it is backed up by the creation of a European electronic data exchange system to facilitate the exchange of information between national administrations. This will simplify the process for managing driving licences for people changing residence from one Member State to another. It will also significantly help to prohibit "driving licence tourism" and fraud, for example, to enforce the new, more stringent prohibition, of a Member State issuing a licence to someone who has already had their licence withdrawn, suspended or restricted by another Member State. 

3. Central to tackling fraud and improving road safety is the need for a regular renewal of licences across the EU.  Under the new rules, licences must be renewed, for car drivers and motorcyclists, every 10-15 years, depending on the Member State. For buses and lorry drivers licenses must be renewed every five years and a medical check-up will be necessary for renewal. 

This is an administrative renewal, and does not require any additional testing. It ensures that licencing information, photos etc. are kept up to date, security features on cards can be regularly updated to new technology and Member States have constantly updated information about the licences in circulation.

4. The European driving licence regime strengthens protection for the most vulnerable categories of road users. This includes: 

  • A higher age limit for direct access (via practical and theory testing) to licences for the most powerful motorbikes, up from the existing 21 to 24 years. 
  • Raising the age limit, as well as introducing extra steps along the way for progressive access. The new regime requires driving experience of a minimum of four years (instead of two) with less powerful motorcycles before a licence is issued to drive the most powerful ones.  
  • Mopeds constitute a new vehicle category and moped licence candidates will from now on be required to pass a theory test. Member States may also introduce skill and behaviour tests and medical examinations. The EU sets a minimum recommended age of 16 years at which licences are mutually recognised by all Members States (Member States may go to  14 in their own country).  Prior to this there were no minimum EU requirements for mopeds.

5. Driving examiners will have to comply with minimum standards as regards their initial qualification and periodic training.  This measure will provide quality control in the new system.
Directive 2006/126/EC on driving licences was adopted by Member States and the European Parliament in 2006. It had to be transposed by Member States by 19 January 2011 and it becomes fully applicable on 19 January 2013.