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Top stories
 Agriculture Ministers agree on reform of the Common Agriculture Policy

CowOn Tuesday evening last, EU Agriculture Ministers meeting in Brussels reached political agreement on the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

"This is a really significant step forward for the process of agreeing on a final cap reform so that we can give certainty to our farmers, to our agro-food industry, to NGOs and to rural communities across the European Union of the support system that the European Union can offer, and what it is going to look like for the next seven years", said Minister Simon Coveney, current chair of the Agriculture Council. "It will support competitive, productive, sustainable, environmentally responsible food production in the EU and keep rural communities intact."

The agreement comprises proposals for regulations on:

  • direct payments to farmers. This regulation seeks to ensure better target support for specific actions, areas or beneficiaries and pave the way for convergence through equal distribution of direct support within and across member states.
  • a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products. This regulation aims to streamline, expand and simplify the current provisions on public intervention, private storage, exceptional or emergency measures and aid to specific sectors, as well as to facilitate cooperation through producer and interbranch organisations.
  • support for rural development. This regulation covers voluntary measures for rural development, adapted to national and regional specificities, whereby member states will draw up and co-finance multiannual programmes under a common framework in cooperation with the EU.
  • financing, management and monitoring of the CAP. This horizontal regulation lays down rules concerning expenditure, the farm advisory system, management and control systems to be put in place by member states, cross-compliance and clearance of accounts.
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 Irish Presidency secures landmark deal on single bank supervisor

On Tuesday (19 March), the Irish Presidency reached provisional agreement with the European Parliament on the single EU bank supervisor.

The creation of this supervisor is a major step towards banking union, restoring confidence in the European banking system and building stability across Europe. The setting up of the supervisor will also pave the way for the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to take on the direct recapitalisation of banks.

The Single Supervisor is the core element of banking union and a vital step in breaking the vicious link between the banks and the sovereigns.

The provisional agreement includes strengthened democratic accountability and a greater role for the European Parliament in the appointment of the Chair and Vice Chair of the Supervisory Board. The agreement also confirms the unanimous position of the Council, agreed in December, on the core balance of rights between participating and non-participating member states.

The provisional agreement the Presidency reached this week with the European Parliament will now have to be endorsed by all Member States.

 “Startup Europe” campaign puts tech entrepreneurs in the limelight

Vice President Kroes meeting tech entrepreneurs in Brussels todayWith help from the creators of Spotify, Angry Birds, Tuenti, Skype, SeedCamp, HackFwd, London's Tech City and TheNextWeb, the European Commission is creating a platform for home-grown star entrepreneurs to tell their stories and inspire young Europeans and leaders to the potential of entrepreneurial technology careers.

Developing tech start-ups will also be very much in focus tomorrow when EU Digital Agenda Commissioner, Vice-President Neelie Kroes who is spearheading the campaign, visits Dublin. As part of her visit she will meet with young Irish digital entrepreneurs and participants from the ‘Future Creators’ programme at the Digital Hub – which helps young people from disadvantaged backgrounds learn how to build and launch their own digital products and services.

"Europeans need to be creative and fearless. That's how dozens of the world's most exciting web and tech companies were born in the EU, and I want the world to know it," said Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President, "I want young entrepreneurs to have role models, and for them to have a real digital single market to grow their ideas in."

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 Reduced fees for SMEs to register chemicals

Test tubesThe European Commission has lowered the fees and charges that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have to pay to register chemicals. This step should help SMEs that produce or trade chemicals to remain competitive during the current difficult market situation.

Depending on the size of the company, SMEs could benefit from reductions from 35% to 95% in relation to standard registration fees, and from 25% to 90% in relation to standard fees for authorisation requests. Registration makes companies responsible for the safe use of chemicals under REACH, the EU’s chemicals legislation. It was recently identified by SMEs as the most burdensome piece of EU legislation, and a recent review of REACH indicated it poses a disproportionate burden on SMEs, relative to larger companies.

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 EU reports lowest ever number of road deaths and takes first step towards an injuries strategy

Road traffic accidentIreland in line with EU target to cut road deaths in half by 2020

Road fatalities across the EU decreased by 9% in 2012. In Ireland the figures are even better, showing a decrease of road deaths by 12% in 2012. According to new figures published by the European Commission earlier this week, 2012 saw the lowest number of people killed in road traffic in EU countries since the first data were collected.

Country by country statistics show that the number of road deaths still varies greatly across the EU. The countries with the lowest number of road fatalities remain the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark, reporting around 30 deaths per million inhabitants. In Ireland there were 36 road fatalities per million inhabitants in 2012. This compares to 124 deaths per million inhabitants in Ireland in 1965.


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 Education budgets under pressure in Member States – mixed picture in Ireland

Image from cover of reportInvestment in education fell in eight out of 25 Member States assessed as part of a European Commission study on the impact of the crisis on education budgets since 2010. Cuts of more than 5% were imposed in Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania and Portugal, while Estonia, Poland, Spain and the UK (Scotland) saw decreases of 1 to 5%. However, five Member States increased education spending by more than 1%: Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg, Malta and Sweden, as well as the German speaking area of Belgium. In Ireland the education budget was increased by 3.7% in 2010-2011, but reduced by 3.8% in 2011-2012.

The study also analysed funding at all levels of education, from pre-primary to tertiary level, in 35 national and regional education systems. It shows that, in 2011 and 2012, teachers' salaries and allowances were reduced or frozen in 11 countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Spain). Teachers' pay accounts for more than 70% of education budgets.

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 Ireland: at the heart of European ICT

Ireland may sit on the geographic edge of the EU, but when it comes to ICT, the country is at the very heart of Europe's digital industry. According to the industry association ICT Ireland, the ICT sector is a thriving and growing industry; 9 of the top 10 global companies maintains a presence in Ireland. But the country also has a robust and highly successful home-grown ICT sector, built on the substantial knowledge and research base of numerous Irish universities and ICT research institutes. And it is this domestic strength in ICT research and innovation that Ireland is hoping to develop, through its participation in EU-funded programmes, to make Irish ICT a driver for future economic growth.

The Tyndall National Institute at University College Cork is particularly renowned for its ICT research and expertise. It has an impressive track record of involvement in and coordination of numerous FP7 projects. With expertise in microsystems and nanoelectronics, for example, Tyndall is currently coordinating three FP7 projects:

  • The ARROWS project is working to develop a chip-scale 'Capillary-electrophoresis/liquid-chromatography mass spectrometer' capable of analysing food, drink and healthcare samples.
  • The Heart-e-Gel project is developing novel actuators that use the ability of certain materials to expand and contract several times their volume when subjected to a small voltage. The technology could be used to repair blood vessels or in devices to regulate the dilation of arteries.
  • The SQWIRE project is developing silicon quantum-wire transistors.
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News in brief
 New website for teachers on Consumer Policy

Image of consumer classroom homepageThe European Commission has just launched the Consumer Classroom - a new website for teachers at

Consumer Classroom is a community website for teachers bringing together an extensive library of consumer education resources from across the EU, along with interactive and collaborative tools to help prepare and share lessons with students and other teachers. The website is EU funded and aims to stimulate consumer education in secondary schools.

Consumer Classroom is aimed at teachers of 12-18 year old students throughout the EU.

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 Eurogroup statement on Portugal and Ireland (16 March)

The Eurogroup ministers are determined to support Ireland's and Portugal's efforts to regain full market access and successfully exit their well-performing programmes, in the context of continued strong programme implementation and compliance. They have agreed to an adjustment of the maturities of European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) loans to both countries in order to smooth the debt redemption profiles of those countries. The technical details will be put forward to the Eurogroup by the Troika and the EFSF at the same time as the MoU underlying the Cypriot adjustment programme.

As regards the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), any extension of the maturities of the loans is for consideration and decision by ECOFIN Ministers.

 Making citizens' rights a tangible reality: 500 Information Centres inform citizens across Europe

On Monday last, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and Othmar Karas, Vice-President of the European Parliament launched a new generation of "Europe Direct Information Centres". The new network will extend possibilities for citizens to get practical information and advice on exercising rights in the European Union. There are now 500 centres in Europe, for the 500 million people in the European Union.

There are 9 Europe Direct Information Centres in Ireland which are run in cooperation with the Library Service. They are located in libraries in Blanchardstown, Ballinasloe, Dundalk, Gaoth Dobhair, Letterkenny, Mallow, Mountmellick, Tubbercurry and Waterford.

The new centres were selected by the European Commission for a five-year period on the basis of an open competition.

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 How European researchers are building biofuels with bacteria

An EU supported research project led by NUI Galway has looked into engineering bacteria to provide alternative energy sources to replace fossil fuels. The MicroGen project was led by NUI Galway who worked with the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Germany, the University of Minho in Portugal and Wageningen University in the Netherlands to provide advanced training to seven PhD-level researchers while investigating the fuel-making abilities of bacteria.

MicroGen achieved some key breakthroughs, including the development of novel low-temperature anaerobic digestion technology from wastewater. The researchers also showed that both biogas and electricity could be produced from biomass sources like ryegrass by combining anaerobic digestion and microbial fuel cells. This has opened up new potential routes for sustainable bioenergy production.

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 EU cooperation positively perceived by its neighbours

Citizens in the European Neighbourhood area are generally positive about the relations their country has with the European Union according to the findings of the EU Neighbourhood Barometer, released yesterday (Wednesday). This opinion is strong in the Southern Neighbourhood, where more than half of those surveyed describe them as good.

In fact, the EU has a positive image for citizens from 16 partner countries in the European Neighbourhood area, with people citing ‘human rights’ and ‘solidarity’ as the characteristic which best represents the EU in the Eastern and Southern partner countries.

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 Eurostat publishes regional GDP figures for 2010

In 2010, GDP per capita, expressed in terms of purchasing power standards, in the EU27's 270 NUTS-23 regions ranged from 26% of the EU27 average in the region of Severozapaden in Bulgaria, to 328% of the average in Inner London in the United Kingdom.

Ireland's two regions also differed greatly with the Southern & Eastern region enjoying GDP of 145% of the EU average while the Border, Midland and Western region was at 85% of the EU average.

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- December 2013: Exhibition: EU-Ireland at 40: Looking back over 40 years, EU House, Dublin 2 and venues around the country

Thursday 21 March: Public lecture - "The Balkans as a region of EU Growth, Conflict and Hope" by Dr Silvija Jestrovic (University of Warwick), Trinity Long Room Hub, TCD

Friday 22 March: Public talk - "Ireland and Europe: a marriage on the rocks?" by economist Jim Power followed by Q&A session, Waterford

Friday 22 to Saturday 23 March: Informal meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Dublin Castle

Monday 25 March: Public lecture - "Europe in Search of Itself, in Search of the other" by Professor Joep Leerssen (Amsterdam), Trinity Long Room Hub, TCD

Tuesday 26 March to Friday 5 April: Exhibition - A European Canvas (exhibition of paintings celebrating Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU by the lin Painting and Sketching Club), EU House, Dublin

Wednesday 27 to Thursday 28 March: European Parliament plenary session, Brussels

Wednesday 3 April: Public lecture - "The Cultural Environment: The case of Germany and Ireland", by Professors Mary Keating and Gillian Martin (TCD), Trinity Long Room Hub, TCD

Public consultations
 Public consultations on how to improve access to justice for consumers and small businesses in small-scale cross-border disputes

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on how to improve access to justice for consumers and small businesses in small-scale cross-border disputes.

The European Small Claims Procedure offers a cheap and easy way to resolve cross-border disputes for amounts below €2,000, without complicated legal procedures. It can be used in cases where consumers need to enforce their rights, for example because of non-delivery of goods ordered from another EU country. But a report last year from the European Consumer Centres Network found that this user-friendly procedure is not yet widely known and is often under-used.

The European Commission is now asking for input from consumers, businesses and the general public on how the Small Claims Procedure currently operates and how it could be improved, simplified or modernised. The aim is to improve confidence in cross-border shopping, helping consumers and businesses make full use of Europe’s Single Market.

The consultation will run until 10 June 2013, after which time the Commission will assess the contributions received. The Commission will then report back before the end of 2013 on how the Small Claims Procedure is operating after its first five years. The report will be accompanied, if necessary, by a proposal to revise the Small Claims Regulation. The consultation will ask for input about how the Small Claims Procedure is currently being used and how it can be improved, asking questions such as whether the threshold for claims should be raised above EUR 2,000, whether legal documents used in the procedure should be able to be sent electronically or whether the Procedure should address the issue of Court fees.

 Public consultation on the first draft of the new de minimis Regulation replacing Regulation No 1998/2006

The European Commission invites stakeholders' comments on the first draft of its proposal for a new de minimis Regulation, replacing Regulation No 1998/2006. This Regulation sets the de minimis ceiling at EUR 200 000 of state aid per undertaking granted over any period of three fiscal years. It will expire on 31 December 2013.

In the context of the Commission's State Aid Modernisation initiative the draft proposes to gradually introduce a central register of all de minimis measures. A sufficient transitional period is foreseen for the set up. Following repeated requests from stakeholders, the draft also substantially clarifies and simplifies the rules. This is expected to reduce considerably the administrative burden for small aid measures.

The consultation will run until 15 May 2013. 

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 Marie Curie Actions: Commission invites bids for €227m in research grants

The European Commission is inviting bids for the final tranche of Marie Curie fellowship grants allotted under the current seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7, 2007-13). Some €227 million, the highest single amount made available through the Marie Curie Actions fund, will be awarded to around 1,000 experienced researchers this year. The application process runs until 14 August 2013.

Marie Curie individual fellowships support the mobility of researchers within and beyond Europe - as well as helping to attract the best foreign researchers to work in the EU.

To apply please visit

 Photo competition: 'Europe, I have something to tell you...'

Image of poster advertising competitionIn the framework of the 2013 European Year of Citizens, the PES Group in the Committee of the Regions (CoR) launched on 1 March the sixth edition of its annual photo competition.

"Europe, I've got something to tell you" challenges amateur photographers to capture in a photo their expectations from Europe. It might be about building Europe together, being a European citizen, or showing us how you envisage your place in Europe.

The competition runs from 1 March until 30 June 2013.

The following prizes will be awarded to the best entries:

  • First prize: A 3 days trip for two persons to Brussels, capital of Europe, and photographric/electronic equipment worth €2,000.
  • Second prize: A 3 days trip for two persons to Brussels, capital of Europe, and photographric/electronic equipment worth €1,500.
  • Third prize: A 3 days trip for two persons to Brussels, capital of Europe, and photographric/electronic equipment worth €500.
  • Prize of the public - NEW: A 3 day trip for two persons to Brussels, the capital of Europe, and photographric/electronic equipment worth €500.
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 Multimedia competition: 'Migrants in Europe'

The European Commission’s Directorate-general for Home Affairs is organising a multimedia competition under the theme “Migrants in Europe”. Students over 18, who are attending art, journalism, audiovisual and communication schools from the European Union and Croatia are invited to enter an artwork into the competition. It should depict the role migrants that come from outside of Europe, play in European societies.

There are three different categories in which works will be judged:

  • Posters
  • Photos
  • Videos

Each school can present one or several works in one or several categories. The works will be judged at the national level and the best works will be forwarded to a European jury that will decide on European winners. A public internet vote will also take place on this website.

The authors of the 30 European finalist works will travel to Brussels to attend a prize-giving ceremony with expected participation by Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Home Affairs.

The schools whose students win first prizes in the three categories and the first prize in the public vote will also receive an award of €10,000 each.

The deadline for submission of artwork is 21 June 2013.

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Spotlight on: European Commission Statement on Cyprus
 European Commission statement on Cyprus

Since the autumn of 2011, the possibility of assistance to Cyprus under a programme has been under discussion by the Cypriot authorities with the Commission. In July 2012, Cyprus formally asked for assistance under a programme. The need for assistance comes essentially from problems in the Cypriot banking sector which was unsustainably large for the size of the Cypriot economy. However, it was not possible to conclude negotiations on a programme with the previous Cypriot government.

Finally, last Saturday, in the Eurogroup, there was a unanimous agreement between the Member States including Cyprus on a programme that met the conditions fixed by the Member States, the ECB and the IMF, agreeing to lend EUR 10 bn to Cyprus.  These conditions included reaching an acceptable level of debt sustainability and the corresponding financing parameters.

Whilst this programme did not in all its elements correspond to the Commission's proposals and preferences, the Commission felt the duty to support it since the alternatives put forward were both more risky and less supportive to Cyprus's economy.

This programme was not accepted by the Cypriot parliament.

It is now for the Cypriot authorities to present an alternative scenario respecting the debt sustainability criteria and corresponding financing parameters.

The Commission has done its utmost to assist Cyprus and to work for a Constructive and managed solution. However, decisions are taken by the Member States and no decision can be taken without their cooperation including Cyprus itself. The Commission continues to stand ready to facilitate solutions and is continuing contacts with Cyprus, the other Member States in the Eurogroup, the EU institutions and the IMF.  

Regarding the one off levy on deposits BELOW 100.000 €: The Commission made it clear in the Eurogroup BEFORE the vote in the Cypriot parliament, that an alternative solution respecting the financing parameters would be acceptable, preferably without a levy on deposits below 100.000 €. The Cypriot authorities did not accept such an alternative scenario.

In a wide-ranging speech to the Russia-European Union – Potential for Partnership conference today (Thursday) in Moscow, President Barroso said: "I'm very concerned with the latest developments in Cyprus, namely because of the consequences for the citizens of Cyprus. Consequences that are the result of an unsustainable financial system that is basically eight times bigger than the GDP of that country - a system that certainly has to adapt. And as you know, there was not the possibility to implement the agreement reached unanimously in the Eurogroup between Cyprus and the other countries in the eurozone. The European Commission stands ready to assist finding an agreement, and in fact, as you know, consultations are going on between Cyprus and the other members of the Eurogroup to find a solution. We have in the past solved bigger problems; I hope that this time a solution can also be found. "