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Top stories
 Horse meat: Commission adopts control plan to tackle food labelling fraud

Two horses in a fieldThe European Commission on Tuesday adopted a coordinated EU control and testing plan to investigate fraudulent practices and enhance consumer confidence following the recent mislabelling of beef products containing horse meat.

Controls (to be financed at a rate of 75% by the EU) will start immediately across member states. The two-pronged programme, to run initially for one month with the possibility of extension for a further two months, introduces:

  • Controls to detect the presence of unlabelled horse meat in food;
  • Testing to detect possible residues of phenylbutazone in horse meat.
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 EU Commission approves Risk Equalisation Scheme for health insurers

Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín AlmuniaThe European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules the state compensations to be granted through the new risk equalisation scheme (RES) for the provision of private medical insurance in Ireland for the period 2013 to 2015. The objective of the scheme is to promote intergenerational solidarity by ensuring better risk sharing between health insurers in the Irish PMI market. The Commission has found that the RES is in line with EU rules on services of general economic interest (SGEI).

Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: "The risk equalisation scheme, which aims to ensure solidarity between generations, is a pillar of Ireland's health policy. The Commission's decision, which is consistent with its previous decisions concerning the Irish system, finds that the aid to insurers is both justified and proportionate in light of the public service obligations they fulfil."

The RES concerns the private medical insurance (PMI) market, which is subject to special regulation in Ireland. Almost half of the population in Ireland has voluntary health insurance in the form of PMI cover, as a complement to the public health system.

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 Commission urges greater spending on early childhood education and care

László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Social Inclusion.The European Commission has called for EU countries to spend more on early education and pre-school care to help “break the cycle of disadvantage”. In new recommendations proposed yesterday (Wednesday), the Commission urges member states to channel more of their budgets into high-quality, accessible and inclusive pre-schooling as “the best way for ensuring that children achieve better and earn more later in life”. The recommendations form part of the ‘Social Investment Package for Growth and Cohesion' aimed at improving economic growth through social policy.

There is a large divergence between EU countries in terms of investment and participation in pre-primary education. For instance, enrolment in education at the age of four is 100% in France, while only slightly over 50% in Greece. At just under 70%, Ireland sits below average among countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The new Social Investment Package calls on EU countries to prioritise social investment and increase the effectiveness of their social protection systems. It urges more targeted social spending, focused on policies which yield “high returns” throughout people's lifetimes, such as childcare, education, training, active labour market policies, housing support and accessible health services.

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 EU Internal Market Scoreboard: Ireland tops the table

Despite challenging times, Ireland ranks top in the EU for getting Internal Market Directives into national law. According to a report out today, Ireland is an example of best practice for other Member States to follow. The latest EU Commission "Internal Market Scoreboard" shows which countries are actually getting EU Directives onto the national statute book and which ones are lagging behind. Ireland comes out top, with a score of 0.0%meaning Ireland has managed to transpose all internal market directives on time.

The EU average "transposition deficit" – the percentage of Internal Market Directives that have not been transposed into national law – has gone from 6.3% in 1997 to a record new level of 0.6% today. However, Ireland's record, at 0.0%, is second to none, meaning that it has transposed all directives in due time.

Internal market directives include such things as measures to simplify paperwork for exports and imports around the EU, common standards of health and safety for consumer goods, a level playing field for e-commerce and many more.

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 Agreement on Unified Patent Court signed

Richard Bruton, Irish Minister for Jobs Enterprise and Innovation and President of the Council, with EU Ministers participating in the signature ceremonyOn the sidelines of the Competitiveness Council on 19 February, 22 member states (including Ireland) signed the international agreement for establishing a Unified Patent Court (UPC). Once the agreement enters into force, the signatory countries will form a unified area in terms of patent law.

So far, the same patent case had often to be heard in multiple courts in different member states. The findings of the new court, however, will be applicable and thus achieve legal security across the territories of all signatory countries. By the same token, the UPC will prevent contradictory rulings and reduce the cost of patent litigation.

The agreement will enter into force as soon as it has been ratified by 13 member states.

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 Commission to launch bioeconomy observatory

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn speaking at the Bioeconomy Conference in Dublin last weekThe European Commission will establish an observatory to map progress and measure the impact of the development of the European Union's bioeconomy, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn announced last Thursday (14 February). The observatory will gather data to follow the evolution of markets, to map EU, national and regional bioeconomy policies, research and innovation capacities, and the scale of related public and private investments. The observatory will be coordinated by the Joint Research Centre, the Commission's in-house science service.

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn said: "It's now one year since we launched our bioeconomy strategy. We are now seeing Member States seize the opportunity offered by the transition to a post-petroleum economy based on smart use of resources from land and sea. It's essential that they do because it will be good for our environment, our food and energy security, and for Europe's competitiveness in the future. This observatory will help keep the momentum going."

The observatory, which is a three year project, will start in March 2013 with the aim of making the data it will collect publicly available through a dedicated web portal in 2014.

News in brief
 EU Commission welcomes the latest measures on septic tanks

The Commission earlier this week welcomed the adoption of the National Inspection Plan by the EPA earlier this year.  These measures relate to rulings by the European Court of Justice that Ireland was in breach of EU waste legislation in relation to septic tanks and imposing fines.

The Commission notes that the recent measures will mean Ireland meets the requirements of the Court of Justice judgments and the fines will stop.

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 Enhanced safety of offshore gas and oil production

Offshore stationToday (Thursday), the European Parliament and the Council reached a political agreement on the Commission's legislative proposal on the safety of oil and gas operations in the EU. It includes, amongst others, rules with regard to safety controls, environmental protection and public participation.

In the aftermath of the "Deepwater Horizon" accident in the US Gulf of Mexico in May 2010 the Commission reviewed the existing Member States' safety frameworks for offshore operations and proposed new legislation to guarantee that the world's highest safety, health and environmental standards apply everywhere in the EU.

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 Irish SME heads up research into the development of a vaccine for Helicobacter Pylori

Irish biopharmaceutical company Sigmoid Pharma has developed a vaccine for the helicobacter pylori infection, which is highly prevalent worldwide and is a contributory factor in gastritis, peptic ulcer disease, and gastric cancer.

The HELICOVAXOR project led by DCU-based Sigmoid Pharma involves a consortium of 11 partners (4 of whom are Irish) including leading academic, industrial and regulatory groups. If successful in pre-clinical studies, the consortium will work with vaccine companies to progress human studies and launch the product as a vaccine against H pylori infection. The project is being funded by the EU's research programme FP7 to the tune of €1.3 million over 2 years. 

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 EU Commission increases pressure on Ireland to enforce group housing of sows

Two pigsToday (Thursday), the European Commission, via a letter of formal notice, called on Ireland to take action to address deficiencies in the implementation of EU legislation concerning the group housing of sows.

The political decision to switch from individual sow stalls to group housing was taken in 2001. Member States have had twelve years to ensure a smooth transition to the new system and to implement the rules. However, so far, and despite repeated calls by the Commission, Ireland has failed to adequately comply with EU law.

In order to improve their welfare EU legislation requires that, as from 1 January 2013, pregnant sows are kept in groups instead of individual stalls during part of their pregnancy.

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 EP seats after 2014 elections: Ireland to lose one seat

After the 2014 elections the European Parliament must have 751 members, i.e. 15 fewer seats, so as to comply with the Lisbon Treaty. To keep member state's losses to a minimum, 12 EU countries would each lose one seat, while the others would gain none, under a "pragmatic solution" proposed by the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee on Tuesday (19 February).

The committee's proposed solution would mean that Romania, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Bulgaria, Ireland, Croatia, Lithuania and Latvia would each lose one seat at the next European elections. This plan was approved with 21 votes in favour and one abstention. The remaining 3 seats in the 15-seat reduction would come from Germany.

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 Transport emissions: Joint Research Centre to lead development of a new test procedure for cars

CarEU research has revealed that current tests for the compliance of emissions from diesel cars with regulatory standards are not accurate. Following the findings of a report by a working group set up to look into other test methods, it was decided in December last year to primarily develop on-road testing with portable emissions measurement systems (PEMS) as the main real-driving test procedure. To this end, an extensive vehicle test campaign will be conducted in cooperation with car manufacturers and European technical services in 2013. The real-driving test procedure may be implemented gradually together with more stringent regulatory standards in 2014, but will only become fully effective from 2017 onwards.

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 New EU initiative to fight organised crime and human trafficking at EU borders

Trafficking - generic imageA new €1.5 million project that will boost the fight against organised crime and human trafficking in Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Moldova and Turkey has been launched by the European Union. This innovative pilot project will help countries to be better equipped to deal with human trafficking, for example through sharing data on trafficking and providing training for law enforcement agencies on how to deal with the issue more effectively. At the same time, it will promote regional cooperation on this issue through sharing information and best practice between countries and regions. This is essential given the fact that most trafficking cases take place across several countries.

Human trafficking is a particularly lucrative form of organised crime which generates profits of dozens of billions of euros each year. Millions of women, men and children are being trafficked every year for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour or even organ removal. Ireland is mainly a destination country for trafficking with women from Eastern Europe and elsewhere being trafficked to Ireland for forced prostitution. Data collected in 2010 shows that 69 cases of alleged trafficking in human beings involving 78 alleged victims were reported to An Garda Síochána.


Friday 22 February: Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, Brussels

Monday 25 February: Agriculture and Fisheries Council, Brussels

Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 February: European Intersectoral Summit on Research and Innovation, Trinity College, Dublin

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: Council for Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs, Brussels

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

Monday 4 March: Eurogroup meeting, Brussels

Tuesday 5 March: Economic and Financial Affairs Council, Brussels

Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 March: Atlantic Forum Workshop (workshop aimed at raising awareness of the Atlantic Forum and EU funding processes), University College Cork

Tuesday 5 to Wednesday 13 March: Slovenian Fashion and Product Design Showcase: 'Between Sense & Sanity', European Union House, Dublin 2

Thursday 14 to Friday 22 March: Exhibition - 'EU-Ireland(at)40: Looking back over 40 years', European Union House, Dublin 2

Public consultations
 Public consultation on the Proposal for a revised competition regime for technology transfer agreements

The European Commission has launched a consultation on a proposal for new competition rules for the assessment of technology transfer agreements, through which a licensor permits a licensee to exploit patents, know-how or software for the production of goods and services. The proposal aims to update the current regime in order to strengthen incentives for research and innovation, facilitate the diffusion of intellectual property and stimulate competition. In light of stakeholders' submissions, the Commission will adopt a new regime before April 2014.

Replies to the consultations can be submitted until 17 May 2013.

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Job opportunities
 Fixed term contracts for Educational psychologists

The European Commission is looking for highly-talented and motivated educational psychologists to help manage childcare facilities in Brussels, Ispra and Luxembourg on fixed-term contracts.

If you relish the thought of working with children, parents and other childcare staff on a range of projects and tasks to ensure the quality of educational standards then this is the job for you.

To apply you must be a European citizen, fluent in an official EU language, in addition to a good level of English, French, or German. You'll need a university degree in psychology or education or an equivalent professional qualification, and at least one year's professional experience in the field. 

Tthe deadline for applications is 12.00 (CET) on 12 March 2013.

 European Enterprise Promotion Awards

The Commission recently launched the 2013 European Enterprise Promotion Awards. The European Enterprise Promotion Awards aim to recognise innovation and reward the success of public bodies and public-private partnerships in promoting enterprise and entrepreneurship at a national, regional and local level.

The competition has two stages; applicants must first compete at the national level before being eligible to compete at European level. For the national competition, each country will select two entries to be nominated for the European competition by June 2013.

A shortlist of nominees will be chosen by the European jury. All nominees from the national and European competitions will be invited to attend the awards ceremony, which recognises the winners for their efforts and gives them the opportunity to present themselves in a pan-European environment. Winners will receive their prizes during a ceremony at the 2013 SME Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 25-27 November.

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Calls for Proposals
 Call for proposals: Training of national judges in EU Competition Law and judicial co-operation

On September 2007 the European Parliament and the Council adopted Decision No 1149/2007/EC establishing for the period 2007-2013 the Specific Grant Program Civil Justice as part of the General Programme Fundamental Rights and Justice. One of the actions provided for by the Decision concerns training for national judges in European competition law, including state aid rules and private damages training. Thus, grants may be awarded to support measures taken by bodies which foster judicial cooperation and other measures aimed at promoting training in EU competition law for national judges and cooperation between them:

  • the organisation of conferences, seminars, symposia or meetings on EU competition law for national judges;
  • short or long-term training in EU competition law as part of study programmes for national judges;
  • the distribution of documentation and information on EU competition law specifically tailored to the needs of national judges;
  • cooperation, including the setting-up and/or maintenance of networks and/or databases, between judicial authorities or other public or private bodies responsible for encouraging or monitoring the proper application of EU competition law by national judges.

Projects must cover the implementation of Articles 101 and 102 of the TFEU and may include the issue of private enforcement and/or state aid rules

The deadline for submission of applications is: 30 April 2013.

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Spotlight on: The Two-Pack
 Spotlight on: Irish Presidency secures agreement on eurozone stability measures

The Irish Presidency has helped broker an agreement on behalf of EU member states on new rules to stabilise eurozone economies. The new rules, commonly referred to as the ‘Two Pack’, will improve budgetary and economic coordination among eurozone countries.

Agreement was reached after talks yesterday morning (20 February) with the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The Minister for Finance and current chair of the Economic and Financial Affairs Council, Michael Noonan said: "I very much welcome this morning’s agreement on the ‘Two Pack’. This is a key piece of the eurozone’s economic architecture and has been an Irish Presidency priority."

The agreement reached yesterday will have to be approved by member states Ambassadors, as well as by Council and Parliament before becoming law. The European Parliament vote is expected to take place in the second week of March 2013.

What is the ‘Two Pack’?

The economic crises of recent years showed that while European countries shared a common currency, their economies were not sufficiently coordinated. The ‘economic’ part of Economic and Monetary Union needed to be strengthened. The ‘Two Pack’ is the response, introducing new rules to help stabilise the eurozone.

In 2011, six new sets of rules, the so-called ‘Six Pack’, came into force to strengthen economic coordination among EU member states. European countries agreed to share information and coordinate their national economic and budgetary plans.

But the 17 eurozone countries needed further rules – these are in the ‘Two Pack’.

The ‘Two Pack’ consists of two regulations:

  • one with special measures for monitoring and assessing plans of countries with high, excessive government deficits;
  • one with special measures for countries experiencing severe financial difficulties, such as those emerging from an EU-IMF programme.

The agreement reached with the European Parliament includes a commitment by the European Commission to set up a working group to study, amongst other issues, the feasibility of creating a debt redemption fund for eurozone countries with excessive sovereign debt.

Commission Vice President Olli Rehn said the agreement on the Two-Pack should: “pave the way for a completion of the legislative process in the next few weeks so that these two key Regulations can swiftly enter into force. This will mean that the euro area can benefit from a more integrated and effective policy-setting framework already for the 2014 budgetary cycle. The rebuilding and reinforcement of our economic and monetary union is underway.”

Further information is available here