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Top stories
 Ireland: Commission publishes eighth Programme review

Euro notesThe European Commission has completed its eighth review of the EU-IMF financial assistance programme for Ireland and has published the technical report by the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (ECFIN) which assesses programme implementation by the Irish authorities.

The completion of the review enables a disbursement of EUR 0.8 billion from the European Financial Stability Fund / European Financial Stability Mechanism, bringing total disbursements from the EU, IMF and bilateral partners to EUR 56.6 billion. This represents 84% of the total international assistance of EUR 67.5 billion available under the programme. Through EFSF/EFSM, the EU contributes some 60% of this funding. The report highlights the fact that Ireland's programme implementation remains on track. All fiscal targets have been met and progress on financial sector reform continues apace. Key legislative changes - including new personal insolvency legislation - complement progress on deleveraging and operational restructuring which will bring banks closer to a return to profitability. Furthermore, important structural reforms – including on labour activation and water charging – are underway.

However, the report notes that the policy environment is still challenging. On the fiscal side, overruns in the health sector still pose a threat to the consolidation effort, while on the financial side persistent mortgage arrears represent a challenge for banks' return to profitability. Structurally, the increasingly long term nature of unemployment needs to be addressed, along with efforts to open up certain sectors of the economy in order to increase competitiveness. The presence of such risks underscores the importance of continued strong programme implementation.

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 Irish journalist scoops EU Prize

Ailbhe Jordan on the left with the other prize winners and Commisioner Borg (centre)Irish journalist, Ailbhe Jordan, has finished in the top three for the EU's annual health journalism prize. She came second in a Europe-wide competition for her article "Is screening a waste of cash?" which takes a stark look at the effectiveness of cancer screening, especially for breast cancer.

The prize was set up to raise awareness of important public health issues in the EU and to encourage high quality journalism around the issues. Ailbhe, who writes for the Medical Independent, is the first Irish journalist to have ranked so highly in this annual competition and takes home a prize of €2,500.

Ailbhe, from Portmarnock Co. Dublin, said: "It's been a fantastic thrill to do so well against tough international competition. It just shows that Irish journalism can compete with the best of them."

The winners of the fourth EU Health Prize for Journalists were announced by Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy at an award ceremony in Brussels yesterday evening. The winning articles, selected from 557 submissions from journalists across the EU, cover issues related to healthcare and health services - with an additional "special prize" on smoking cessation.

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 EU PEACE programme in NI can inspire other divided communities

Commissioner Hahn with Minister Brendan Howlin, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinnessHave EU funds really helped to lay the ground for peace in Northern Ireland? Recent events show that there is still work to be done but today (Thursday 31st) the European Commission is holding up the EU’s PEACE Programme as a model for other divided communities at an international event in Brussels.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, joined Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness at a conference examining the impact of European peace money on bridging the divide between communities in Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland.

Following the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU, the Commission wants other divided communities to look at how they could draw on the experience of the EU's PEACE Programme in Northern Ireland and Ireland's Border Region.

EU Regional Policy Commissioner, Johannes Hahn, is hosting the event which will be attended by representatives from other EU countries, prospective member countries and beyond. Participants from three peace-building projects in Northern Ireland will be at the gathering to share their experiences.

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 Irish top EU table seeking ‘legal highs’

Joint press conference by Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, Rob Wainwright and Wolfgang Götz

While cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines continue to be the main substances of choice for those taking stimulants across Europe, they are now competing with a growing number of emerging synthetic drugs. The surge in new drugs is a particular problem in Ireland which recently topped the European league table for use of ‘legal highs’ with 16 per cent of 15-24 year recorded as having used these substances. This was more than three times higher than the EU average of 5 per cent.

This is according to the first joint report published today by Europol and the EU’s drugs agency, the European Monitoring  Centre for Drugs and Drug Addition (EMCDDA), which takes a stark look at the state of the illicit drugs market in Europe.

The report shows a huge increase in new drugs with a record 73 new substances, commonly known as ‘legal highs’ detected in 2012, driven by an explosion in the number of online retailers in Europe. The report also reveals the ‘changing face of organised crime in Europe’: while, historically, the EU drug market has focused on specific drugs trafficked by specialised operators along well-defined routes, today’s market is more ‘fluid’, with new routes and multi-substance consignments becoming more common. It The report also showed that international drug trafficking remains the core business for most organised crime groups across Europe today and warned that crime gangs are changing smuggling methods and routes to evade law enforcement and taking advantage of internet technologies to push sales.

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 Dublin schoolgirl scoops EU translation prize

Juvenes Translatores logoCongratulations to Maeve Walsh of Loreto High School Beaufort in Dublin who has been announced today as the Irish winner of the European Commission’s annual translation competition for 17 year old secondary school pupils. More than 3,000 pupils from 750 schools across Europe took part in the competition in November last year when they translated a one-page text from any one EU official language into another.

Maeve chose to translate from Irish into English and her translation was judged to be the best from all entries received from the 12 Irish schools taking part. She will be invited to Brussels in March to receive a prize from the EU Commissioner responsible for multilingualism, Androulla Vassiliou. Maeve will also get to meet the national winners from all the other EU countries at the prize-giving ceremony and have a chance to see the Commission’s translators at work.

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 'Bioeconomy in the EU: achievements and directions for the future', Dublin, Ireland

The EU Bioeconomy 2013 Stakeholders Conference, entitled 'Bioeconomy in the EU: achievements and directions for the future,' will take place from 14 to 15 February 2013 in Dublin.

With an ever increasing worldwide population, Europe has decided to shift its economy towards a greater and more sustainable use of renewable resources. It will do so by developing new technologies and processes for the bioeconomy; developing markets and competitiveness in bioeconomy sectors; and pushing policymakers and stakeholders to work more closely together.

Within this context, the European Commission - in collaboration with the Irish Presidency of the European Union - is hosting this Stakeholders Conference. The objective is to engage civil society in a public debate on the European Commission's strategy and action plan entitled 'Innovating for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe'. The action plan was adopted in February 2012.

The aim is notably to ensure a secure, healthy food and feed supply, as well as producing bio-based materials, energy, and other products. This will enable a more innovative and low-emissions economy - reconciling demands for sustainable agriculture and fisheries, food security, and the sustainable use of renewable biological resources for industrial purposes while ensuring biodiversity and environmental protection.

The conference will bring together various stakeholders active in this field to exchange views. 

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News in brief
 House prices: Ireland records second largest drop in Europe in Q3 2012 compared to Q3 2011

Eurostat has just published, for the first time, a News Release on the evolution of house prices in the EU. The House Price Index (HPI) shows that Ireland had the second largest decline in house prices in the third quarter of 2012 compared with third quarter of 2011 at 9.6%.  Overall, house prices fell by 2.5% in the euro area and by 1.9% in the EU in the third quarter of 2012 compared with the same quarter of 2011. The highest annual increases in house prices in the third quarter of 2012 were recorded in Estonia (+8.4%), Luxembourg (+7.1%) and Finland (+2.1%), and the largest falls in Spain (-15.2%), Ireland (-9.6%), the Netherlands (-8.7%) and Portugal (-7.7%).

However, Ireland also recorded the fourth highest quarterly increase in house prices in the third quarter of 2012 at 1.6%. The highest quarterly increases in the third quarter of 2012 were recorded in Estonia (+2.6%), Latvia (+2.3%), the United Kingdom (+1.7%) and Ireland (+1.6%), and the largest falls in Romania (-4.2%), the Netherlands (-3.9%) and Spain (-3.7%). For the EU as a whole prices fell by 0.4% in in the third quarter of 2012.

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 A boost to your mobile signal

Mobile phoneWhen using your mobile phone, it doesn't take much to lose that precious signal - just turning a corner or riding on a train can be enough.

EU-funded research is developing new technologies to eradicate those annoying 'black holes' in wireless coverage, while freeing up some mobile network capacity at the same time.

The principle is quite simple. Instead of mobile operators having to invest millions in powerful long-range base stations to extend coverage over a wide area, they can move mobile connections to more localised small cells. However, significant research is still required to turn these practical ideas into reality.

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 Commission calls for EU-wide ban on amphetamine-like drug '4-MA'

The European Commission today (Thursday) proposed an EU-wide ban on ‘4-MA’, a synthetic substance with similar physical effects to amphetamines. The Commission asked EU Member States to prevent the drug spreading freely across Europe by submitting it to control measures. 4-methylamphetamine – or 4-MA – is already illegal in 10 EU countries (Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom). It has been associated with 21 deaths in four EU countries in 2010-2012 alone. At least 21 fatalities have so far been reported in four Member States (Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) where 4-MA was detected in post-mortem samples, either alone or in combination with other substances, especially amphetamines.

The Commission’s proposal would ban the manufacturing and the marketing of 4-MA, making it subject to criminal sanctions all over Europe. EU governments must now decide on whether to put these measures into force, voting by a qualified majority in the Council.

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 NANOPORATION – Targeted cancer treatment shows real promise

Latest Eurostat figures show cancer is still a major cause of death across the EU-27, with about 167 fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants in 2010.

Fortunately, cancer treatments are continually improving, and while the risk remains unacceptably high, a diagnosis of cancer no longer means the end of the road. But today's cancer treatments still present problems, including unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects.

Coordinated by the Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSaT) at the University of Dundee, the EU-funded Nanoporation project is developing a new treatment method that solves some chemotherapy-related problems, by concentrating drug delivery only where it is needed.

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 Commission adopts a European Retail Action Plan and consults on unfair trading practices

Couple food shoppingThe European Commission has today (Thursday) adopted a European Retail Action Plan and a Green Paper on unfair trading practices in the business-to-business food and non-food supply chain.

The retail and wholesale services sector is one of the most important in the EU economy and should play an important part in stimulating growth and job creation under the Europe 2020 strategy. It accounts for 11% of EU GDP and 29% of European SMEs and employs nearly 33 million people, offering job opportunities in particular for young people, women and people with lower skill levels or qualifications. However, a number of barriers remain that hinder the smooth functioning of cross-border sourcing, consumer access to cross-border retail services and market entry for retailers.

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

Friday 1 February: Defence Seminar, Dublin Castle

Monday 4 to Tuesday 5 February: COFACE and ICA conference "Vulnerable Families - What can Europe do?", Dublin Castle

Monday 4 February: General Affairs Council, Brussels

Monday 4 to Thursday 7 February: European Parliament Plenary Session, Strasbourg

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 7 to Friday 8 February: Informal meeting of EPSCO (Ministers for Employment and Social Affairs), Dublin Castle

Friday 8 February: European Council, Brussels

Monday 11 February: Seminar - 'Active Citizens Combating Social Exclusion', 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.

Thursday 14 and Friday 15 February: Bioeconomy Stakeholder Conference, "Bioeconomy in the EU: achievements and directions for the future", Dublin Castle

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

Wednesday 20 to Friday 1 March: Exhibition - 'EU-Ireland at 40: Looking back over 40 years', EU House, Dublin

Public consultations
 Consultation on gaps in the internal market for industrial products

The EU aims to allow free circulation of all products throughout the EU - the Single Market concept - but complaints from producers and distributors to the European Commission show that blockages in the trade of industrial products still exist. In order to address this issue, the Commission is working to identify and eliminate any gaps in the Single Market legislation, in particular if there are any obstacles to the trade of new products and new technologies, such as key enabling technologies or 3-D printing.

The Commission therefore launched a consultation process which asks business and interested parties to inform the Commission about regulatory issues they encounter while trading industrial products within the EU.

This public consultation is open to a wide stakeholder audience and the deadline for submissions is 17 April 2013.

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Job opportunities
 Fixed-term positions for Researchers

A selection procedure for fixed-term positions has just been launched to set up a database of over 3000 successful candidates with a research background to work in the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. They will be placed on a reserve list and called for interview according to the needs of the services (auxiliary contract staff - function group IV).  Registration is done via the EPSO website until 1 March 2013 (12:00 CET).

The selection is aimed at researchers in the following areas:

  • Natural sciences 
  • Quantitative sciences 
  • Human and social sciences 
  • Agricultural, environmental and earth sciences 
  • Health sciences

Most of the posts available will be for the JRC Institutes , located in five different countries: Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.   In addition, some positions will be offered in Brussels for other Commission Directorates-General.

 Paid Traineeships at the European Institute for Gender Equality, Vilnius

Applications are now open for five-month traineeships at the European Institute for Gender Equality in Vilnius, Lithuania. The European Institute for Gender Equality is a regulatory agency of the European Union (EU) entrusted with specific objectives related to the contribution and strengthening of gender equality promotion. The aim of the traineeships is to:

  • provide work-training experience in key areas of the Institute's work;
  • extend and apply knowledge acquired in the course of studies or working life;
  • provide practical working knowledge of the Institute;
  • enable the trainee to acquire work experience through the contacts s/he makes.

The registration of applications will close on 22 February 2013 at 23:00 Eastern European Time (EET).

Successful applicants will receive a monthly grant equivalent to €750.

 Job opportunities at the European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems, Tallinn

The Tallinn-based European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of Home Affairs is currently recruiting for the following posts:

  • Training Coordinator 
  • Administrator for Reporting and Statistics 
  • Management Board Officer 
  • Communication and Information Assistant 
  • Personal Assistant to Executive Director 
  • Assistant to Management Board 
  • Communication and Information Officer 
  • Procurement and Contracts Officer 

The application deadline for all posts is 25 February 2013.

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 Multimedia competition: 'Migrants in Europe'

The multimedia Competition "Migrants in Europe" aims to give young artists and communicators an opportunity to reflect on the contribution of migrants to the European society today. The Competition should also serve as a first step towards more debate, information and opinion exchange.

The Competition is aimed at students who are over 18 years old and enrolled in art, graphic and communication schools in all EU countries and Croatia. The schools are to present the works in three categories:

  • Poster,
  • Photography and
  • Video.

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 receive an award of €10,000 each.

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Calls for Proposals
 Government calls for applications for funding under the Communicating Europe Initiative

Applications are now being invited for funding under the Department of the Taoiseach’s Communicating Europe Initiative (CEI) from voluntary organisations, educational bodies, and civil society groups. Proposals are being sought for projects aimed at deepening public awareness of the role that the European Union plays in our daily lives. 

 2013 is a significant year for Ireland and its role in the European Union.  Not only do we hold the Presidency of the EU – we’ll be running the agenda from January until June – Ireland is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of its accession to the Union.  All this in the year that the European Commission has designated as European Year of Citizens. 

The Irish Presidency sees 2013 as a real opportunity for people across Ireland to focus on what four decades of membership has brought us; the rights that European citizenship has given us and to reflect on how we see our future in Europe.

For that reason, the 2013 awards for funding under the CEI will be made to projects which encourage citizens to actively engage and participate in the debate on their future in Europe.    In awarding funds in 2013, priority will be given to proposals for:

  • events which promote public conversations and debate – at local or national level
  • cultural and media projects that explain Ireland in Europe and Europe in Ireland- at local or national level
  • projects or events designed to celebrate the European Year of Citizens
  • events that celebrate Europe Day on Thursday 9 May.

The closing date for funding applications will be Friday 15 February 2013. Successful applicants will be notified in early March. Further details and an application form are now available on the websites of the EU Presidency ( and on the Department of the Taoiseach (


Spotlight on: University ranking
 EU rolls out new international university ranking in Dublin

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn TD and Commissioner Vassiliou launching the new university ranking in Dublin this weekA new international university ranking, aiming to present a more balanced picture of higher education performance, was launched at a conference in Dublin yesterday (Wednesday). The system, called U-Multirank, has been developed with funding from the EU. It aims to correct a perceived bias towards research performance in other international rankings and offer an alternative to the more conventional ratings systems.

U-Multirank will rate universities according to:

  • Research reputation 
  • Teaching quality 
  • International orientation 
  • Success in knowledge transfer (e.g. building partnerships with business and start-ups)
  • Contribution to regional growth

Each area will be assessed with scores on up to ten indicators, such as, for teaching, student graduation and employment rates, and, for knowledge transfer, the number of patents registered and companies started.

Around 500 universities from Europe and across the world are expected to sign up to take part in the rankings, with the first results to be published in early 2014. One advantage of the system is the production of personalised rankings. A student will be able to put more weight on teaching and learning for example to produce their own list. 

Speaking ahead of the launch in Dublin Castle, Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth said: “In Europe we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to think and act more strategically to realise the full potential of our universities. U-Multirank will give students and institutions a clear picture of their performance across a range of important areas. It will also help universities to identify their strengths and weaknesses and  learn from each other’s experiences.”

The full text of Commissioner Vassiliou's address is available here.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn opened the conference. He said: “As higher education becomes ever more crucial to Europe’s social, cultural and economic well-being, the need for quality and diversity in our higher education systems grows greater. The Irish Presidency is strongly committed to helping support the roll-out of this next phase of U-Multirank. I urge higher education institutions to seize this opportunity to participate in building a ranking system which will shine a light on the many positive aspects of higher education activity across Europe for the benefit of students, institutional leaders, policy makers and other stakeholders.”

U-Multirank will also rate universities in by academic discipline. The initial fields will be business studies, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and physics. This list will be gradually expanded in coming years.


An independent consortium will compile the ranking, led by the Centre for Higher Education (CHE) in Germany and the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies (CHEPS) in the Netherlands. Partners include the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at Leiden University (CWTS), information professionals Elsevier, the Bertelsmann Foundation and software firm Folge 3. The consortium will also work with national ranking partners and stakeholder organisations representing students, universities and business to ensure completeness and accuracy.

The new ranking will be impartial, based on measurable criteria and data. Its multi-dimensional approach makes its suitable for any university or college seeking feedback on its performance. Individual users will also be able to obtain a 'personalised' ranking reflecting their particular needs; this will allow them to obtain information on the institutions or disciplines which most interest them and to weight the criteria according to their own preferences.

U-Multirank is the culmination of an initiative which originated at a conference organised under the 2008 French Presidency of the European Union, which called for a new university ranking based on a methodology reflecting a variety of dimensions of excellence in an international context.

The European Commission subsequently commissioned a feasibility study which was carried out by a consortium of higher education and research organisations known as CHERPA and finalised in 2011. The study, based on work with 150 higher education institutions from Europe and around the world, confirmed that both the concept and implementation of a multi-dimensional ranking was realistic. Online survey instruments have been developed to gather the data needed. The consortium will also work with existing national rankings to avoid having to ask the same questions to universities more than once.

U-Multirank will receive a total of €2 million in EU funding from the Lifelong Learning Programme in 2013-14, with the possibility of a further two years of seed-funding in 2015-2016. The goal is for an independent organisation to run the ranking thereafter.

For more information

European Commission: Education and training

Androulla Vassiliou's website