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27/03/2013

Top stories
 Ireland top in EU at putting innovation to work

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn launching the 2013 ScoreboardThe European Commission’s Innovation Union Scoreboard (IUS) 2013 places Ireland as the No. 1 performer in the EU for innovation with 'Economic effects' - meaning that Ireland is top of the EU in making knowledge and innovation work for the real economy.

The 'Economic effects’ category uses 5 indicators for economic success:

  • employment in knowledge-intensive activities, 
  • the contribution of medium and high-tech product exports to the trade balance, 
  • exports of knowledge-intensive services, 
  • sales due to innovation activities and licenses, and 
  • patent revenues from selling technologies abroad.

Overall, Ireland continues to improve its performance across the innovation scoreboard, while it is categorised as an innovation follower with an above average performance in research and innovation.

According to the latest report, Ireland's relative strengths are in Human resources and Economic effects whereas its relative weaknesses are in Finance and support and Firm investments.

 
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 EU Employment and Social Situation: Quarterly Review analyses deepening social crisis

Cover of reportThe employment and social situation in the EU remained critical in the fourth quarter of 2012 with employment receding overall and unemployment rising further, while households' financial situation remained serious according to the European Commission's latest Employment and Social Situation Quarterly Review. The adverse effects of public budget cuts and tax increases on employment and living standards are increasingly apparent in certain Member States. The Review also notes that net immigration from outside the EU has slowed down and that the crisis has adversely affected fertility.

Unemployment rose further in January 2013, to 26.2 million in the EU (19 million in the euro area), or 10.8% of the economically active population (11.9 % in the euro area). The unemployment rate gap between the south/periphery and the north of the euro area reached an unprecedented 10 percentage points in 2012. In the EU, GDP shrank by 0.5% during the fourth quarter of 2012, the largest contraction since early 2009. Overall employment in the EU fell by 0.4% in 2012, with positive developments only noticeable in part-time work. In the fourth quarter of 2012 alone, it fell by 0.2% compared to the previous quarter.

Eurostat also published this week a report on demography in the EU. This report looks at the age structure of the EU population. It shows that Ireland had the highest young age dependency ratio in the EU in 2012 at 32.5% (EU average 23.4%) and the second lowest old age dependency ratio at 17.9% (EU average 26.8%). Only Slovakia was lower at 17.8%.

The Eurostat report also shows that Ireland had the second lowest rate of divorce in the EU at 0.7‰ after Malta at 0.1‰ (on average there were 1.9 divorces per 1,000 people in the EU in 2011). Ireland's marriage rate was just below the EU average at 4.3 marriages per 1,000 people in 2011 (EU average of 4.4).

Figures are also given for births outside marriage where Ireland is below the EU average with 33.7% of live births taking place outside marriage in 2011 compared to an EU average of 39.5%.

 
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 Irish 'Walled Towns’ network picks up European cultural heritage award

Visit of the old city walls in KilkennyThe Irish Walled Towns Network (IWTN) has been announced as one of the winners of the 2013 EU Prize for Cultural Heritage /  Europa Nostra Award. The initiative, connecting Irish medieval towns, North and South from Derry to Youghal, was recognised for its educational programme which aims to develop a more tangible link between people living in medieval towns and the heritage that surrounds them.

Of the 30 winning projects, six will be unveiled as ‘grand prix laureates’ at an award ceremony in Athens on 16 June. Greek President, Karolos Papoulias, EU Culture Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, and the world-renowned opera singer and Europa Nostra President, Plácido Domingo, will present the prizes.

Almost 200 projects were nominated for the awards which recognise outstanding heritage achievements in four categories: conservation, research, dedicated service, and education, training and awareness-raising.. All 30 winners will receive a plaque, with the six grand prix winners also picking up €10,000 each.

 
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 Safeguarding media freedom and pluralism

Commissioner Neelie KroesSpeaking in Dublin last Friday, EU Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes underlined the challenges of safeguarding media freedom in a world where content crosses borders and where there are increasing concerns about concentration of ownership. "The solution may lie in action from the EU or Member States; from the sector itself; or from a mix. But whatever the answer, I am clear that freedom of speech is a fundamental EU value; and the EU has a duty to ensure it is safeguarded," she said.

She went on to announce the launch of two public consultations which will run until 14 June 2013.

  • The first looks the regulators: National regulatory authorities oversee audio-visual services under existing EU rules; we are asking whether and how to revise the EU law that applies to them, in particular to strengthen and to better guarantee their independence from governments.
  • In a second consultation we are asking for views on each of the other recommendations of the expert group's report (see below). Whether you agree or disagree or whether you have other ideas – this is your chance to say so and help shape the future of media policy. (see below for details)

Vice-President Kroes was speaking at the Institute for International and European Affairs in Dublin. Her visit also took in visits to the Digital Hub and Telefonica Ireland where she viewed some of the innovative digital projects taking place in Ireland.

 
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 EU Justice Scoreboard: European Commission broadens the scope of its analysis of Member States' justice systems

Vice President Viviane Reding launching the ScoreboardThe European Commission has just unveiled a new comparative tool to promote effective justice systems in the European Union and thereby reinforce economic growth. The ‘European Justice Scoreboard’ will provide objective, reliable and comparable data on the functioning of the justice systems in the EU’s 27 Member States. Improving the quality, independence and efficiency of judicial systems already forms part of the EU’s economic policy coordination process under the European Semester, which is aimed at laying the foundations for a return to growth and job creation.

“The attractiveness of a country as a place to invest and do business is undoubtedly boosted by having an independent and efficient judicial system,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “That is why predictable, timely and enforceable legal decisions are important and why national judicial reforms became an important structural component of the EU’s economic strategy. The new European Justice Scoreboard will act as an early warning system and will help the EU and the Member States in our efforts to achieve more effective justice at the service of our citizens and businesses.”

Unfortunately there is no data available for Ireland for some of the areas covered. However, the Scoreboard does show that:

  • Ireland has the shortest time needed to resolve company insolvency at less than six months compared to Slovakia which tops the table at 4 years;
  • Ireland is above the EU average in terms of the number of lawyers per 100,000 inhabitants at approximately 240. This compares to over 370 in Luxembourg (top of the scale) and fewer than 40 in Finland (bottom of the scale);
  • Ireland is 3rd highest in terms of perception of judicial independence after Finland and the Netherlands. Slovakia and Romania are at the bottom of the table.
 
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 Trade marks: Commission proposes easier access and more effective protection

The European Commission has today presented a package of initiatives to make trade mark registration systems all over the European Union cheaper, quicker, more reliable and predictable. The proposed reform would improve conditions for businesses to innovate and to benefit from more effective trade mark protection against counterfeits, including fake goods in transit through the EU's territory.

As regards fees, the Commission is proposing a principle of "one-class-per-fee" that will apply both for Community trade mark applications and for national trade mark applications. This will enable any business – particularly SMEs – to apply for trade mark protection according to their actual business needs, at a cost that covers those individual needs only. Under the current system, the fee for registering a trade mark allows for the registration of up to three product classes. Under the revised system, a trade mark can be registered for only one product class. So at EU level, businesses will pay substantially less when they seek to obtain protection for one class of product only.

 
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News in brief
 New interactive map of research infrastructures in the EU and

Screengrab of mapAre you a researcher? Then you might be interested in this new interactive map of 800 research infrastructures that open their doors to all researchers in Europe!

This map shows the location of the research infrastructures funded under the Seventh Framework Programme that provide transnational access to researchers. These infrastructures are part of networks supported through Integrating Activity projects with a view to making the most of existing facilities by optimising their use for the benefit of the scientific communities.

 
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 Ireland records 3rd largest trade surplus with Japan in 2012

Ireland's exports to Japan were worth €2.1bn in 2012 (up from €1.7 bn in 2011) while imports from Japan were worth €548 m in 2012 (down from €607 m in 2011) giving Ireland a €1.5 bn trade surplus with Japan. This was the third largest in the EU after Italy (+2.4 bn) and France (+2.2 bn).

Japan was the EU's seventh most important trading partner in 2012. The EU exported €55.5 bn (3% of EU exports) worth of goods to Japan in 2012 and imported €63.8 bn (4% of EU imports) leaving a trade deficit of €8.3 bn. This deficit has dropped from €46.6 bn in 2000 as a result of an overall rise in exports and a drop in imports.

Germany (17.1 bn euro or 31% of EU exports) was by far the largest exporter to Japan in 2012, followed by France (7.5 bn or 13%), Italy (5.6 bn or 10%) and the United Kingdom (5.5 bn or 10%). Germany (16.4 bn or 26% of EU imports) was also the largest importer, followed by the Netherlands1 (11.4 bn or 18%) and the United Kingdom (9.8 bn or 15%).

 
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 Limerick Institute of Technology making sustainable use of Europe's marine wealth

Health-care products, cosmetics and infant formulas are just a few everyday products that use molecules derived from marine organisms. A ground-breaking EU project led by Limerick Institute of Technology has discovered several new sources of these compounds and developed a new method of sustainably manufacturing them. The benefits for Europe, from major pharmaceuticals to regional development, could be immense.

Farming these molecules in a sustainable and efficient manner could prove to be highly lucrative, and create innovative and environmentally friendly business opportunities. This would be especially welcome in isolated coastal regions, which is why the EU is part-funding the international BAMMBO project focusing on the sustainable production of biologically active molecules of marine-based origin.

The project is coordinated by Dr Daniel Walsh at Limerick IT with partners from Belgium, Brazil, Spain, France, Italy and Russia. “One very interesting finding has been made in the cold waters off Antarctica,” says Dr Walsh. “Yeast and fungi associated with sea stars and urchins have been cultured and isolated, and have demonstrated an ability to produce wood-digesting enzymes active at temperatures less than 15˚C. The potential of these enzymes as new agents for use in energy-saving detergents, environmental clean-up products and the biotechnology industries are immense.”

 
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 Eurostat: Asylum applicants in the EU rise in 2012 but fall in Ireland

In 2012, there were 332,000 asylum applicants registered in the EU27, up from 302,000 in 2011. It is estimated that around 90% of these were new applicants and around 10% were repeat applicants. By contrast the number of asylum applicants in Ireland dropped from almost 1,300 in 2011 to 955 in 2012. Germany, France, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Belgium accounted for more than 70% of all applicants registered in the EU27 in 2012.

Compared with the population of each Member State, the highest rates of applicants registered were recorded in Malta (5,000 applicants per million inhabitants), Sweden (4,600), Luxembourg (3,900), Belgium (2,500) and Austria (2,100), and the lowest in Portugal (30), Estonia and Spain (both 55) and the Czech Republic (70). Ireland was well below the EU average (660 per million inhabitants) at 210.

For the EU as a whole, the largest proportion of applicants came from Afghanistan, Syria and Russia. The largest proportion of the applicants in Ireland came from Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.

In 2012 in the EU27, 73% of first instance decisions made on asylum applications were rejections, while 14% of applicants were granted refugee status, 10% subsidiary protection and 2% authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. In Ireland 90% of first instance decisions were rejections,  7% of applicants were granted refugee status while less than 3% were granted subsidiary protection.

 
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 Croatian accession on track, claims first report on administrative preparations

The Commission today (Wednesday) adopted its first report setting out the state-of-play of administrative preparations for the accession of Croatia to the EU.

The report concludes that preparations are on the right track, and that all measures will be in place before Croatia accedes on 1 July 2013.

 
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Agenda
 Agenda

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

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

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

Thursday 18 April: "Euro Crisis Roundtable", Trinity Long Room Hub, TCD

Wednesday 24 April: Public lecture - "EU enlargement in Central and Eastern Europe: Happy Ever After?" by Dr Vera Sheridan and Dr Sabina Stan (DCU), Trinity Long Room Hub, TCD

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

 
 
 
 
 
Public consultations
 Public consultations on media freedom and pluralism and audiovisual media regulator independence

The European Commission last Friday launched two public consultations. The consultations formalise a debate started by recommendations made in January 2013 by an independent High Level Group (HLG) on Media Freedom and Pluralism convened by the Commission.

The first and wider consultation invites comments on issues such as the scope of the EU's competence to act in order to protect media freedom, the respective roles of public authorities and self-regulation or protection of journalistic sources in Europe. The consultation's findings will allow the Commission to identify if broad support exists for European or national action in areas covered by the EU Treaties.

The second consultation is specifically limited to the High Level Group's recommendation that audiovisual regulatory bodies should be independent. Audiovisual media are already subject to EU regulation. The consultation asks whether independence could be better ensured if Article 30 of the Audiovisual and Media Services (AVMS) Directive were revised.

Both consultations are open until 14 June 2013.

 
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 Public consultation on proposal for simplifying procedures under the EU Merger Regulation

The Commission is inviting the public to comment on a proposal to simplify certain procedures for notifying mergers under the EU Merger Regulation. The proposal aims to make EU merger control even more business-friendly by cutting red tape and streamlining procedures. The proposed changes could allow up to 70% of all notified mergers to qualify for review under the Commission's simplified procedure, i.e. about 10% more than today. This could result in savings for the merging companies concerned, cutting lawyers' fees by up to one half and reducing preparatory in-house work. In addition, the Commission proposes to reduce the net amount of information required to notify all mergers, which will significantly lessen the administrative burden. This initiative is part of the Commission’s overall effort to make administrative procedures less burdensome for business, thereby stimulating growth and making Europe more competitive.

The public consultation runs until 19 June 2013.

 
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 Public consultation on the long-term financing of the European economy

The European Commission yesterday (Tuesday) adopted a Green Paper that launches a three-month public consultation on how to foster the supply of long-term financing and how to improve and diversify the system of financial intermediation for long-term investment in Europe. Long-term investment represents spending that enhances the productive capacity of the economy. This can include energy, transport and communication infrastructures, industrial and service facilities, climate change and eco-innovation technologies, as well as education and research and development. Europe faces large-scale long-term investment needs, which are crucial to support sustainable growth. To fund long-term investment, governments, businesses and households need access to predictable long term financing.

Responses to consultation questions will contribute to further assessment by the Commission of the barriers to long-term financing, with a view to identifying possible policy actions to overcome them. Possible follow-up could take several forms: for example, in some areas a regulatory approach may be needed, while in other areas the role of the EU level could be in encouraging stronger coordination and the promotion of best practices, or in the form of specific follow-up with individual Member States in the context of the European semester.

The consultation runs until 25 June 2013.

 
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 Public consultation on how best to design a new international agreement to combat climate change

The European Commission this week adopted a consultative paper that launches a public debate on how best to design a new international agreement to combat climate change. The Consultative Communication raises key questions and invites the views of stakeholders on the new agreement, which is to be completed by the end of 2015 and to apply from 2020.

The Consultative Communication invites input from stakeholders, Member States and EU institutions on how best to design the 2015 agreement, which will lay down the international regime for fighting climate change post 2020.

The public consultation runs online until 26 June 2013. A stakeholder conference will be held on 17 April in Brussels.

 
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 Public consultation on conflict minerals

The European Commission has just launched a public consultation on so-called 'conflict minerals'.

The aim of the consultation is get interested parties' views on a potential EU initiative for responsible sourcing of minerals coming from conflict zones and high-risk areas – for example, war zones, post-war zones, and areas vulnerable to political instability or civil unrest. The Commission wants to deepen its understanding of issues such as the sourcing and security of supply of minerals, supply chain transparency and good governance.

The Commission will use the results to help it decide whether and how, in a reasonable and effective manner, to complement and to continue on-going due diligence initiatives and support for good governance in mineral mining, especially in developing countries affected by conflict.

The consultation is open until 26 June 2013.

 
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 Public consultation on 'A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies'

The European Commission today (Wednesday) adopted a Green Paper (consultation) on "A 2030 framework for climate and energy policies".

This document launches a public consultation allowing Member States, other EU institutions and stakeholders to express their views; for example on the type, nature and level of potential climate and energy targets for 2030, but also on other important aspects of EU energy policy in a 2030 perspective. Those views will feed into the Commission's on-going preparations for more concrete proposals for the 2030 framework which will be tabled by the end of 2013.

The consultation runs until 2 July 2013. On the basis of the views expressed by Member States, EU institutions and stakeholders, the Commission intends to table the EU's 2030 framework for climate and energy policies by the end of this year.

 
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Calls to Tender
 Call for tenders for European Economic Policy seminars in Ireland

The European Commission Representation in Ireland has today (Wednesday) issued a call for tenders for 3 Regional Seminars on European Economic Policy to take place in Ireland during the second half 2013.

The estimated maximum budget attributed to this project is €18,000 (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.eu before 30 April 2013.

 
 
 
 
 
Spotlight on: Eurogroup reaches an agreement with Cyprus
 Eurogroup reaches an agreement with Cyprus

On Monday 25 March Euro Area Finance Ministers (the Eurogroup) reached a political agreement with the Cyprus authorities on the key elements paving the way for the future economic adjustment programme. The aim of the programme is to form the basis for restoring the soundness of Cyprus' public finances and the viability of its financial sector. The programme's financial assistance envelope is estimated at up to 10 billion euro.

The conditions agreed on Sunday night focus on addressing imbalances in Cyprus' large financial sector. The aim is to reduce the size of the sector to the EU average by 2018.

At the Eurogroup press conference on Monday morning (25 March), European Commission Vice-President Olli Rehn said: "It's clear that the depth of the financial crisis in Cyprus means that the near future will be very difficult for the country and for its people. The Commission will do everything possible to alleviate the social consequences of this economic shock and help to protect the most vulnerable people. Cyprus is part of the European family, and Europe will stand by the Cypriot people.

In this context, I can inform you that President Barroso intends to create a Commission Task Force for Cyprus, in agreement with President Anastasiades.  The Task Force for Cyprus will provide technical assistance to the Cypriot authorities, with a strong focus on employment, competitiveness and growth. It will be necessary for the Cypriot people to build their economy on a new basis and the Commission is ready to mobilise all the resources at its disposal to help them face that challenge."

Conditions relating to the financial sector

Two of Cyprus' largest banks – Laiki and Bank of Cyprus – will undergo restructuring right away. Laiki will be resolved immediately. This will be done by splitting it into a "good bank" and a "bad bank".

While the bad bank will be run down over time, the good bank will be integrated into Bank of Cyprus. Bank of Cyprus will be recapitalised through a conversion of uninsured deposits (above €100 000) to equity and with the full contribution of equity shareholders and bondholders.

"I would like to emphasise that none of these measures will affect deposits below 100 000 euro. There should be no doubts about that. We reaffirmed today the importance of fully guaranteeing these deposits in the EU", said Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

Next steps

The Cyprus authorities and the European Commission, in liaison with the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were requested to finalise the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the programme in early April.

The MoU will contain ambitious measures in the areas of structural reforms, fiscal consolidation and privatisation. The Cyprus government is committed to taking further fiscal measures, such as an increase in the withholding tax on capital income and the statutory corporate income tax rate.

In addition, the Eurogroup welcomed Cyprus' resolve to carry out an independent evaluation of how the anti-money laundering laws are being implemented in its financial institutions. If any problems are identified in this area, the future economic adjustment programme will contain measures to correct them.

Euro area member states will begin the national procedures that are required to approve the financial assistance to be provided by the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) under the future adjustment programme.

The aim is to approve the financial assistance facility agreement by the third week of April.

Background

Cyprus submitted its request for financial assistance from the euro area and the IMF in June 2012.

Its large financial sector has been severely exposed to spill-over effects from sovereign market turbulence, while the economy has been facing serious macroeconomic imbalances. All this made the task of the Cyprus authorities to ensure sustainable public finances particularly challenging.

When a member state is facing financing difficulties, the euro area may provide financial assistance in order to safeguard financial stability in the monetary union. This is done under strict conditions, which are laid out in an adjustment programme. The programme sets out measures that the beneficiary country must take to address financial, fiscal and structural challenges.

Preparatory work started back in autumn 2012. The new Cyprus government, appointed after the presidential elections that took place in February, is committed to finalising the agreement on the programme as soon as possible.

More information:

Eurogroup Statement on Cyprus (Eurozone portal)

Support to member states in financial difficulty (Eurozone portal)

Remarks by Vice President Rehn on Cyprus at the Eurogroup Press Conference on 25 March 2013

Statement by President Barroso on Cyprus, 25 March 2013

European Stability Mechanism

 
 
 
 
 
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