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Top Stories
 European Commission wants zero roaming charges by 2015

Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie KroesThis week the Commission said phone companies still have "outrageous profit margins" on roaming services. Commissioner Neelie Kroes, in charge of the Digital Agenda, is now proposing a directly binding Regulation to shake up the industry.

Up to now, the caps on roaming prices have been set year to year, every July. This week’s proposals would see a long-term solution.Under the new law, from 1 July 2014, customers could sign up for a cheaper mobile roaming contract, separate from their contract for national mobile services, whilst using the same phone number.

The proposal would also give mobile operators (including so-called virtual mobile operators, who do not have their own network) the right to use other operators' networks in other Member States at regulated wholesale prices, and so encourage more operators to compete on the roaming market. The Commission's aim is that the new levels of competition would make the difference between national and roaming tariffs close to zero by 2015.

 European Parliament agrees new Regulation on Food Information

Food labelThe European Parliament this week voted to accept new rules for food labelling, with the exception of alcoholic drinks. The new rules mean:

  • minimum font size for mandatory information to improve legibility for consumers 
  • mandatory nutrition information to help consumers identify foods that meet their personal preferences or dietary requirements.
  • Mandatory information on allergens on pre-packed foods, non-pre-packed foods and foods sold in restaurants to enable consumers to better protect their health
  • compulsory country-of-origin labelling for meat from pig, sheep, goat and poultry.
 Barbara Nolan, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, responds to comments about the proposed spending on Agriculture in the new EU 2014 to 2020 budget

Barbara Nolan, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland"While countries such as Ireland and France have always been strong supporters of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), not all Member States share the same view and the maintenance of the CAP at current levels must be negotiated with governments who are strong net contributors to the EU budget.

The key point to note in the Commission's proposals for the new EU 2014 to 2020 budget is that Agriculture remains at the heart of the EU budget, because it is a true common European policy of strategic importance. The objective is to allow this strategic sector to respond to the major challenges of tomorrow: food security, the preservation of our natural resources and the balanced development of rural areas.

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 European Commission clarification concerning interest rates charged by the European Financial Stability Mechanism

Euro notes on printing pressThere appears to be some confusion regarding the calculation of interest rates being charged on some of the loans to Ireland from the EU/IMF Programme for Financial Assistance.

  • Ireland has received two tranches of money from the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM), one in January and one in May.
  • The one in January was €5 billion for 5 years at 2.59% + the fixed margin of 2.925% agreed by governments = 5.51%.
  • The one in May was €3 billion for 10 years at 3.5% + the fixed margin of 2.925% = 6.43% (more expensive because for 10 years not five and because rates charged on the international markets have gone up.)

The difference in the interest rate being charged is simply because longer term money is more expensive and, in addition, international borrowing rates have gone up since December 2010.

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 Road safety: EU crackdown on drivers committing traffic offences abroad

MotorcyclistDrivers will be punished for traffic offences they commit abroad, including the four "big killers" causing 75% of road fatalities - speeding, breaking traffic lights, failure to use seatbelts and drink driving - following a vote in the European Parliament today.

EU figures suggest that foreign drivers account for 5% of traffic but around 15 % of speeding offences. Most go unpunished, with countries unable to pursue drivers once they return home. 

The proposal for a Directive on cross border enforcement in the field of road safety aim to remedy that situation.

 Road safety: EU road fatalities fall by 11% in 2010 and by 16% in Ireland

Traffic on motorwayThe European Commission this week published new statistics showing that EU road fatalities decreased by 11% in 2010 compared to 2009. When compared to 2001, the number of road deaths in the EU had fallen by 43%.

Road deaths in Ireland fell by 16% in 2010 compared to 2009 and by 51% when compared to 2001. This translates to 107 road deaths per million inhabitants in 2001 and 45 road deaths per million inhabitants in 2010, the fifth lowest in the EU.

The countries with the lowest number of road deaths in 2010 were: Sweden (28 per million inhabitants), the United Kingdom (31) and the Netherlands (32). The countries with the highest numbers of road fatalities were: Greece (116 deaths per million inhabitants), Romania (111), Poland and Bulgaria (both 102).

News in brief
 Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland addresses Committee on European Affairs

Barbara Nolan, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, met today (Thursday) with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs.

In her address to the Committee, Barbara spoke about the role of the European Commission in Ireland and the ways in which the Committee and the Representation can work more closely together. She also spoke about the European Commission's proposals for the EU budget for the period 2014 to 2020 and underlined the benefits to Ireland of working with the Commission to ensure that the outcome is a budget which equips Europe and its citizens for the challenges ahead - recalling that 94% of the EU budget funds policies and projects in the Member States and beyond.

See here for the full text of her address.

 Women in business: Parliament calls for quotas

Women should make up 30% of top management in the largest listed EU companies by 2015 and 40% by 2020, MEPs believe. MEPs urge the Commission to "propose legislation including quotas by 2012 for increasing female representation in corporate management bodies of enterprises to 30% by 2015 and to 40% by 2020", if voluntary measures do not manage to increase the proportion of women. 

 Mad cow disease: EU must maintain strict controls, says Parliament

The sharp fall in bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) cases in the EU must not lead to a slackening of surveillance, say MEPs in a resolution passed on Wednesday. Any change to BSE safety rules must maintain high animal and public health standards, but the ban on feeding animal protein to non-ruminants, such as pigs, could gradually be lifted if further safeguards are put in place, they add.

 E. coli outbreak: EU withdraws Egyptian seeds from the market and temporarily bans their import

The European Union is withdrawing from the market, and temporarily banning the import of, certain types of seeds from Egypt after Egyptian fenugreek seeds were linked to the E. coli outbreaks (O104 strain) in northern Germany and Bordeaux, France. The decision follows a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) report, published earlier today, establishing a link between the outbreaks and seeds from Egypt.

 New emergency funding to reach Horn of Africa refugees

Drought stricken areaMore than five million euro in aid will be sent immediately to the world's largest refugee centre by the European Commission, increasing this year's contribution to alleviating the drought crisis in the Horn of Africa to nearly €70 million.

The Commission is giving €5.67 million to address the upsurge of refugees arriving at the Dadaab camps in Kenya. At least 61,000 Somalis have sought refuge there since the beginning of this year, fleeing hunger, thirst and conflict. Dadaab's refugee population now stands at more than 370,000 in three camps - Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley. More aid to the stricken region from the European Commission will be announced in the coming days.

 Poland takes over the Presidency of the European Council

Logo of the Polish PresidencyPoland took over the Presidency of the European Council last Friday, 1 July and will hold it until 31 December 2011 when Denmark takes over.

The focus of the Polish Presidency will be on economic growth, a more secure Europe, and closer relations with the EU's eastern and southern neighbours.

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Details of all EU-related events happening in Ireland, or of interest to Ireland but happening elsewhere, as well as European institutional events and other EU-agenda activities can be found on

Today (Thursday 7 July): Friday, July 8: Informal Employment and Social Policy Ministers' Meeting, Sopot, Poland

Monday 11 July: Eurogroup meeting, Brussels

Monday 11 July – Tuesday 12 July: Informal meeting of Environmental Ministers, Sopot, Poland

Tuesday 12 July: ECOFIN (Finance Ministers), Brussels

Thursday 14 July: EU/ECB/IMF Press Conference on Review Mission to Ireland

To be webstreamed live from

Thursday 14 July: Informal Meeting of Development Ministers, Sopot, Poland

 Discover E-volunteering competition

The ‘Discover E-volunteering’ Competition is aimed at promoting organisations that work with volunteers to help others via the Internet. The competition is open to any organisations in the EU that engage in e-volunteering. E-volunteering is conducted via the Internet. Examples include: free web counseling, forming assistance and self-help groups, promoting partnership, searching for information, or on-line language courses.

Applications for the European edition of the ‘Discover E-volunteering’ Competition will be accepted until 31 July, 2011.

The winners will receive attractive financial prizes. The total value of the prizes in the competition is €5,000. The prizes are funded by the Polish Fundacja Orange and by Fondation Orange from France.

 EU Health Prize for Journalists

Competition logoThe deadline for submitting entries to the 3rd EU Health Prize for Journalists (Sunday 24 July 2011) is fast approaching.

The aim of this prize is to raise awareness on health issues by showcasing the talents of the best health journalists from across the 27 Member States.

The winners will receive cash prizes of €6,000 for first place, €2,500 for second place and €1,500 for third place. New this year is a special prize of €3,000 that will be awarded for an article that highlights the health dangers of tobacco.

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Calls for tender/proposals
 Call for tenders for a Synthesis of Mid-Term Evaluations of Rural Development Programmes 2007-2013

The purpose of this synthesis is to summarise and analyse the mid-term evaluations of the 2007-2013 Rural Development Programmes organised under the responsibility of the Member States.

The maximum budget attributed to this evaluation project is € 550,000.

The deadline for submitting offers is 22nd August 2011.

Spotlight on:
 New EU Budget 2014 to 2020, or Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF): Questions and Answers

Definition, historical background and procedures

What is the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF)?

The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) translates into financial terms the Union's political priorities for at least 5 years. Article 312 of the Lisbon Treaty provides that the MFF is laid down in a regulation adopted unanimously by Council after obtaining the consent (adopts or rejects the whole package, no amendments) from the European Parliament. It sets annual maximum amounts (ceilings) for EU expenditure as a whole and for the main categories of expenditure (headings). It is not as detailed as an annual budget.

Why do we need a Multiannual Financial Framework?

By specifying the spending limits for each category of expenditure, the MFF imposes budgetary discipline and ensures that the Union's expenditure develops in an orderly manner within the limits of its own resources and in line with Union's policy objectives. In addition, this system ensures a predictable inflow of resources for the Union's long-term priorities and gives greater certainty to beneficiaries of EU funds, such as SME's, regions catching up, students, researchers, civil society organisations.

The MFF sets the cornerstones for the annual budgetary procedure. It considerably facilitates agreement on the yearly budget between the European Parliament and the Council which are the two branches of the Union's budgetary authority. At the same time it ensures continuity towards achieving the priorities set for the benefit of Europe. The financial framework also lays down any other provisions required for the annual budgetary procedure to run smoothly.

Have we always dealt with budget through multiannual frameworks?

The MFF is part of the European Union's functioning since 1988 and has covered periods varying from 5 to 7 years.

  • The first Financial Framework, the so called Delors Package I, covered the years 1988-1992 and focused on establishing the Internal Market and consolidating the multi annual research and development framework programme.
  • The second framework 1993-1999, the Delors Package II, gave priority to social and cohesion policy and the introduction of the euro.
  • The "Agenda 2000" covered the period 2000-2006 and focused on the enlargement of the Union.
  • Finally, the MFF 2007-2013 gave priority to sustainable growth and competitiveness, in order to create more jobs.

The next MFF will present the budgetary priorities of the Union for the years 2014 to 2020.

How does the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 affects the MFF 2014-2020?

Prior to the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, MFF was the result of an interinstitutional agreement. Yet, the article 312 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union also confers a legally binding value to the Multiannual Financial Framework to determine "the amounts of the annual ceilings on commitment appropriations by category of expenditure and of the annual ceiling on payment appropriations". Besides, under the new treaty, the decision on the MFF will have to be taken by the Council deciding unanimously after receiving the Parliament's consent.

Why should the Financial Framework be agreed no later than 2012?

It takes 12-18 months to agree on the legal bases for all the multi-annual programmes and projects which will be financed under the MFF, in areas such as research, education, cohesion, development aid, neighbourhood policy etc. In order to allow these programmes to start in January 2014, a political agreement on the ceiling in the MFF should be taken no later than one and a half year before the framework enters into force. Furthermore, the political agreement will need to be translated into a Council Regulation requiring the consent of the European Parliament.

What happens if there is no agreement?

If there is no agreement before the end of 2013, the 2013 ceilings will be extended to 2014, plus a 2% inflation adjustment. The Treaty also foresees the extension of the "other provisions" corresponding to the last year of the financial framework. This means that all the provisions on the adjustments and revisions of the financial framework and instruments outside the financial framework would be extended.

Whether or not there is an agreement on the next MFF, there will be financial framework ceilings in place for 2014 and the budget could thus be adopted in conformity with the Treaty.

The absence of an agreed financial framework 2014-20 would considerably complicate the adoption of new programmes. And in the absence of new legal bases, including their indicative financial envelopes, no commitments could be made for those multiannual spending programmes for which the legal base expires in 2013.

So, as in the case of late agreement, the 2014 budget would probably only cover the agricultural payments and the payments on outstanding commitments. In other terms, citizens benefiting from EU-funds, such as researchers, students, civil society organisations, would face severe drawbacks.

Novelties on expenditure side of the MFF

What is new for Common Agriculture Policy?

The Commission proposes to allocate 36,2% of the MFF to CAP as compared to 39.4% in the previous exercise (41.5% in 2013).

The basic two pillar structure of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be maintained.  The main changes proposed by the Commission are as follows:

  • Greening of direct payments: to ensure that the CAP helps the EU to deliver on its environmental and climate action objectives, 30 % of direct support will be made conditional on "greening". This means that all farmers must engage in environmentally supportive practices which will be defined in legislation and which will be verifiable. The impact will be to shift the agricultural sector significantly in a more sustainable direction, with farmers receiving payments to deliver public goods to their fellow citizens.
  • Convergence of payments: the levels of direct support per hectare will be progressively adjusted (while taking account of the differences that still exist in wage levels and input costs) in order to ensure a more equal distribution of direct payments.
  • The allocation of rural development funds will be revised on the basis of more objective criteria and better targeted to the objectives of the policy. This will ensure a fairer treatment of farmers performing the same activities.
  • Capping the level of direct payments by limiting the basic layer of direct income support that large agricultural holdings may receive, while taking account of the economies of scale of larger structures and the direct employment these structures generate. The Commission proposes that the savings be recycled into the budgetary allocation for rural development and retained within the national envelopes of the Member States in which they originate.

The Commission proposes to allocate €281.8 billion for Pillar I of the Common Agricultural Policy and €89.9 billion for rural development for the 2014-2020 period.  This funding will be complemented by a further €15.2 billion.

What is new for Cohesion policy?

The Commission proposes to allocate 36,7% of the MFF to Cohesion policy as compared to 35% in the previous exercise.

The main changes proposed by the Commission are as follows:

  • The proposal foresees the creation of a category of intermediate regions whose GDP is between 75% and 90% of the average EU GDP. This new category will complement the two existing ones (convergence regions and competitiveness regions).Those "transition regions" should retain two thirds of their previous allocations for the next MFF period. The poorest regions and Member States of the European Union would then be helped in priority in order for them to catch up with the more prosperous Member States.
  • Introducing conditionality in cohesion policy: it will be based on results and incentives to implement the reforms needed to ensure effective use of the financial resources. In addition, 5% of the cohesion budget for each Member State will be set aside as a performance reserve and allocated, following a mid-term review, to those Member States whose programmes have contributed most to progress in meeting agreed milestones set in the development and investment partnership contracts.
  • The Commission proposes the creation of a common strategic framework for all structural funds to translate the Europe 2020 objectives into investment priorities. In operational terms, the Commission proposes to conclude a partnership contracts with each Member State. These contracts will set out the commitment of partners at national and regional level to utilise the allocated funds to implement the Europe 2020 strategy.
  • The European Social Fund (ESF) will continue to play a key role in fighting unemployment and high rates of poverty, and delivering headlines targets of Europe 2020. The ESF will represent 25% of the budget allocated to cohesion policy, i.e. €84 billion.

The Commission proposes to allocate €376 billion to Cohesion policy instruments in general (including the Connecting Europe facility – see below).

What is new for Infrastructure and Interconnection of Internal Market?

The Commission proposes the creation of a Connecting Europe Facility to accelerate the infrastructure development in transport, energy and ICT across the EU to the benefit of all. Experience shows that national budgets will never give sufficiently high priority to multi-country, cross-border investments to equip the Single Market with the infrastructure it needs. EU budget can secure funding for the pan-European projects that connect the centre and the periphery.

This Facility will be centrally managed and will be funded from a new section of the budget. Co-financing rates from the EU budget will be higher when the investments take place in 'convergence' regions than in 'competitiveness' regions. Local and regional infrastructures will be linked to the priority EU infrastructures, connecting all citizens throughout the EU, and can be (co-) financed by the structural funds (cohesion fund and/or ERDF, depending on the situation of each Member State/region).

The Connecting Europe Facility offers opportunities for using innovative financing tools to speed up and secure greater investment than could be achieved only through public funding. The Commission will work closely with the EIB and other public investment banks to combine funding of these projects. In particular, the Commission will promote the use of EU project bonds[1] as a means of bringing forward the realisation of these important projects.

The Commission proposes to allocate €40 billion to this priority, to be complemented by an additional €10 billion ring fenced to related transport investments inside the Cohesion Fund. This amount comprises €9.1 billion for the energy sector, €31.6 billion for transport (including € 10 billion inside the Cohesion Fund) and €9.1 billion for ICT. 

What is new for Research policy?

The creation of a common strategic framework in research and development (to be called Horizon 2020), which means that the existing three research and innovation instruments (7th framework programme, Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology) will be brought together. It will be closely linked to key sectoral policy priorities such as health, food security and the bio-economy, energy and climate change. The European Institute for Technology will be part of the Horizon 2020 programme and will play an important role in bringing together the three sides of the knowledge triangle – education, innovation and research – through its Knowledge and Innovation Communities. 

On the financing side, innovative financial instruments will help leveraging private investments. Public Private Partnerships, as well as Public to Public Partnerships, will be promoted. Funding schemes will be standardized and simplified. Likewise, there will be one single set of rules for participation, audit, support structures, dissemination of results and reimbursement schemes, across all funding schemes.
The Commission proposes to allocate €80 billion for the 2014-2020 period for the Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation. This funding will be complemented by important support from the Structural Funds (€60 billion for 2007-2013).

What is new for Environment and Climate action policies?

Environmental policy and Climate change Action priorities will be 'mainstreamed' into all the major EU funding instruments, including cohesion, agriculture, maritime and fisheries, research and innovation, as well as into external aid programmes. The Commission intends to increase the proportion of climate related expenditure to at least 20%, with contributions from different policy fields subject to impact assessment evidence. This approach will maximise synergies between environmental policies and other areas, recognising that the same actions can and should pursue a variety of complementary objectives. This approach will also help to avoid a proliferation of programmes and to minimise administrative burden.

In addition to mainstreaming, the Commission proposes the continuation of a dedicated environmental programme as successor to the current LIFE+ programme. The Commission considers that the future programme should remain centrally managed, but that management tasks could to a large extent be delegated to an existing executive agency, such as the Executive Agency for Competitiveness & Innovation. The Commission proposes to allocate €3.2 billion for 2014-2020 to the LIFE+ programme (0.8bn on climate and 2.4bn for environment).

Is there something new for Education and Training?

A simplification of the current structure to one main programme is foreseen in order to avoid fragmentation, overlapping and/or proliferation of projects lacking the critical mass necessary to a lasting impact. The New Education Europe programme will include three key priorities. First, it will support trans-national learning mobility. Strict quality conditions for mobility, concentration on key policy objectives where critical mass can be achieved and complemented with other EU programmes will be instrumental in ensuring very high European added value. Secondly, it will foster co-operation between education institutions and the world of work in order to promote the modernisation of education, innovation and entrepreneurship. Thirdly, it will provide policy support to gather evidence on the effectiveness of education investments and help Member States to implement effective policies.

The Commission proposes to allocate €15.2 billion in the area of education and training. This funding will be complemented by important support from the Structural Funds (€72.5bn for 2007-2013).

Is there anything for the challenges of migration and home affairs?

The Commission proposes to reduce the number of programmes to two: Migration and Asylum Fund and an Internal Security Fund. Both funds will have an external dimension ensuring continuity of financing, starting in the EU and continuing in third countries (for example concerning the resettlement of refugees, readmission and regional protection programmes). They will simplify the expenditure instruments and ensure the smooth creation of an area without internal borders, where EU citizens and third-country nationals with legal rights of entry and residence may enter, move around, live and work.

The Commission also foresees a move away from annual programming towards results-driven, multi-annual programming, thus reducing workload for the Commission, the Member States and the final beneficiaries.

The Commission proposes to allocate €8.2 billion for the 2014-2020 period in the area of home affairs.

What about Enlargement, Neighbourhood and External relations?

Several important changes are to be noted including the establishment of a single integrated pre-accession instrument.

The Commission proposes to allocate €70 billion for the 2014-2020 period for traditional external instruments. This will be complemented by funding out the budget and the MFF for the European Development Fund (€29.9 billion).