Mandelson and Coughlan agree on need for balanced Doha outcome
29 April 2008 - EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has today met Irish Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan. The two discussed the Doha WTO world trade talks. Both agreed on the imperative of achieving a balanced outcome in the talks.
After the meeting Commissioner Mandelson made the following statement:
"I assured Minister Coughlan that the European Commission recognises Ireland's concerns and shares its insistence on a balanced outcome in the Doha talks, while taking into account the development dimension of the DDA. A successful outcome of the Doha talks is far from certain, and while we will continue to work for a deal, there is no question of bringing home a deal that is not balanced. That means a deal that has clear gains for Ireland.
Ireland benefits from an open trading system and a global economy. It is how a country with 4 million people can dominate 4% of global services market and become a leading global exporter. Ireland's economy is dominated by industrial goods and services and Ireland would benefit from a successful and balanced Doha outcome along with the rest of Europe.
The Commission will continue to reject extreme agricultural demands from some of our trading partners in the Doha Round. Everyone is committed to helping Irish farmers meet these challenges and to ensuring that trade policy contribute to growth and jobs in Ireland. There is no question of abandoning European or Irish farming in the course of these negotiations."
For more information EU trade policy please see http://ec.europa.eu/trade
Sudanese children visit Dublin and Ratoath
29 April 2008 - The sound of traditional African singing was heard in Dublin's Dawson Street today as a group of Sudanese children paid a visit to the offices of the European Commission.
The children are guests of Ratoath National School, Co Meath, and the visit was organised by the European Commission as part of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.
The Sudanese children performed lively traditional dances and songs from their region and the Ratoath children replied with a display of Irish dancing. Guests at the event included Minister of State for Overseas Assistance, Michael Kitt TD, representatives from the Africa Centre, the Children's Rights Alliance, UNICEF, Oxfam, Concern and other NGOs.
Speaking after the dancing display, Minister Kitt said:" Ireland's development in the past was helped by outside assistance, for example from the EU. Now we are in a position to help in the fight against global poverty and inequality."
Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland said:" The Treaty of Lisbon provides for the first time a defined legal basis for humanitarian aid. This provision emphasises the application of the principles of international humanitarian law, in particular impartiality and non-discrimination. The Treaty of Lisbon clearly states that the reduction and the eradication of poverty is the primary objective of the Union’s development cooperation policy."
The European Commission Delegation in Sudan is one of a network of delegations in over 120 countries and its priority is promoting education and human rights. The EU has committed 79 million euros to education in Sudan, 8.6 million euros to promote human rights, working together with local NGOs. With enormous cultural diversity, 600 tribes and 400 languages, Sudan has suffered from war in recent years. While peace agreements have resolved conflicts in much of the country, violence continues in Darfur.
And Ratoath National School who are hosting this week's visit is an excellent example of diversity in modern Ireland with 22 nationalities represented. Later this week, the children will visit Newgrange and try out some Gaelic Games as well as visiting Dublin Zoo.
See here for Martin Territt's speech.
EU growth expected to slow to 2% in 2008
28 April 2008 - GDP growth in the European Union is expected to ease to 2% in 2008 and 1.8% in 2009 from 2.8% in 2007 (1.7% and 1.5% in the euro area from 2.6% in 2007) according to the European Commission's Spring Economic Forecast published today. The moderation in growth results from the persisting turmoil in the financial markets, the marked slowdown in the US and soaring commodity prices, all of which are taking their toll on global activity.
"Economic growth is moderating in the EU and euro area and the current, imported inflationary pressures are a matter of concern. Whilst our economies have proved resilient to the external shocks so far, and we expect continued, albeit slower, job creation, we need to stick to sound macro-economic policies and carefully avoid starting an inflation spiral that would particularly affect low income families", said Joaquín Almunia, Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner.
The EU economy is holding up relatively well thanks to sound fundamentals and is expected to create 3 million new jobs in 2008-2009 on top of the 7.5 million in 2006-2007. But consumer price inflation is expected to surge temporarily to 3.6% this year in the EU against 2.4% in 2007 due to soaring energy and food prices, before coming down to an expected 2.4% in 2009 (equivalent figures for euro area are 3.2% and 2.2% versus 2.1% in 2007).
Ireland: Housing market adjustment tames Celtic tiger
Ireland's GDP growth is expected to slow to around 2.25% in 2008. The Commission reports that Ireland's robust economic performance during 2007 masked a significant deterioration over the course of the year, mainly due to a severe correction in the housing sector. In 2007 house completions fell by one tenth from their 2006 peak.
To read the full forecast for Ireland see:
To read the complete Spring Economic Forecast see:
European Commission sets up European network of TV stations
25 April 2008 - The Commission has proposed a European network of TV stations to complement the network of radio stations already launched on 1st April 2008. The Commission will also increase the amount of raw audiovisual material which it already provides free of charge to audiovisual media professionals and will increase its own production of videos to illustrate or explain EU policies.
Margot Wallström, Commission Vice-President for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, said: "This is the final step in a series of proposals on communication by the Commission. Citizens have the right to know what goes on at EU level and to engage in a democratic debate. Research shows that people want information on European issues that concern them but that they prefer to receive it through their favourite TV and radio stations and their favourite websites. There is also a demand for EU-produced audiovisual material - this is clear from the success of our channel on YouTube (EUtube), which has had over 10 million video views since its launch in July 2007".
Studies have shown that European citizens are not very well informed about the EU although most of them (64% according to the Eurobarometer of March 2007) are interested in news about the EU. Furthermore, TV and radio channels remain the preferred medium of information for most people. Media research shows that EU-related information provided by the national audiovisual media currently takes up less than 10% of the time allocated to national news.
Today's announcement is the last in a series of policy initiatives in the Commission's communication strategy, including the "Communicating Europe in Partnership" paper from October 2007.
Steps to be taken include:
- Proposals for a network of TV channels in 2009-2010;
- Continuance of the European radio network – EuRaNet, extending its reach and language coverage;
- Continuance of support for Euronews which will start a service in Arabic in July 2008;
- Increasing the news content of Europe by Satellite (EbS) and doubling its capacity;
- Reinforcing the role of the audiovisual library as the memory of the Commission and the central access point for all the Commission's audiovisual productions;
- Increasing the Commission's production of audiovisual content and improving distribution via different technological platforms, such as EUTube.
- Launching an online EU events calendar in June 2008 and promote its use by professionals.
Useful web addresses:
Website of Margot Wallström, Commission Vice-President for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy
Website of the European Commission Audiovisual Service
Website of the European Commission Directorate General for Communication
EUtube on Youtube
3 more countries ratify Lisbon Treaty
24 April 2008 - The Lisbon Treaty has been ratified by Denmark, Austria and Portugal this week. Denmark and Austria gave the green light to the text earlier today. Portugal ratified the Treaty yesterday.
This brings to 11 the total number of Member States which have given their approval to the text of the Treaty. Others include Hungary, Slovenia, Malta, Romania, France, Bulgaria, Poland and the Slovak Republic. This means that ratification has been completed by one third of EU national parliaments.
For more information on the Lisbon Treaty and ratification see the following website: http://europa.eu/lisbon_treaty/index_en.htm
Ireland one of four EU countries to have banned violent video games
23 April 2008 - A new EU report shows that Ireland is one of only four EU countries to have banned violent video games like "Manhunt 2". Ireland is also one of 20 EU countries applying the PEGI (Pan European Games Information) system of age ratings and warnings for content such as violence or bad language.
PEGI labels were introduced in 2003 and the system is supported by the major console manufacturers in Europe. PEGI Online was launched in 2007, co-funded by the EU's Safer Internet Programme (IP/08/310), in response to the rapid growth of online video games.
Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for the Information Society and Media said, "PEGI, as an example of responsible industry self-regulation and the only such system with almost pan-European coverage, is certainly a very good first step. However, I believe it can be greatly improved by fully implementing PEGI Online. I also call on Member States and the industry to govern the sale of video games in shops to respect the fundamental need to protect minors."
The new report covers age/content rating systems, the sale of video games in shops, bans on certain video games, the effectiveness of current measures for the protection of minors, on-line video games and the idea of a pan-European rating system.
In its report the Commission has called for several measures:
- Increased investment in, regularly updates to and better advertising of the PEGI system by the video games industry.
- The integration of the PEGI system into Member States' own classification systems and increased awareness of PEGI, particularly among parents and children.
- Increased cooperation between industry and public authorities to make classification and age rating systems more widely recognised
- The establishment of a Europe-wide Code of Conduct on sales of video games to minors for retailers within two years.
Apart from Ireland only 3 other countries in the EU (Germany, Italy, UK) have banned certain violent video games. "Manhunt 2" was banned by the Irish Film Censor's Office in June 2007. Germany and Lithuania are the only EU countries which have specific legislation on age and content rating for video games. 4 Member States - Cyprus, Luxembourg, Romania and Slovenia - have no age or content rating system in place and no related legislation. 15 Member States have legislation covering the sale of video games with harmful content to minors in shops.
The European video games sector has a forecast revenue of €7.3 billion by the end of 2008. Video games are increasingly accessible via internet and mobile phones, which are expected to make up 33% of total revenue for video games by 2010. The European video gaming sector is already worth half as much as the entire European music market and exceeds the cinema box office. However school shootings such as in Columbine (USA, 1999) or Helsinki (Finland, November 2007) have heightened concerns of potential correlation between violent video games and aggressive behaviour.
The full text of the Commission's report "On the protection of consumers, in particular minors, in respect of the use of video games": http://ec.europa.eu/avpolicy/docs/reg/minors/video_en.pdf
More information on the report:
The EU's Safer Internet programme: http://ec.europa.eu/saferinternet
PEGI: http://www.pegi.info/ and http://www.pegionline.eu
New EU directive on mediation in cross-border disputes
23 April 2008 - Four out of ten Irish people feel that they would be at a disadvantage in legal proceedings in another EU country. That's according to an EU-wide survey published today to coincide with the adoption of a new EU directive on mediation in cross-border disputes.
For half of those polled, the main worry would be not knowing the rules of procedure in the other country. And Irish people are concerned about the language barrier (41%) and the cost of legal proceedings in another country (31%).
The vast majority of Europeans would like to see additional measures introduced to help them access civil justice abroad. Almost half of all those polled across the 27 EU Member States would like to see the introduction of common EU rules. However the Irish would prefer measures to be taken at a national level rather than at EU level. When buying goods from a person of a company based in another EU country, half of all Irish people would prefer that the terms of the contract were based on harmonised EU legislation. However one in five said that they would prefer Irish law to apply.
Vice-President of the European Commission Jacques Barrot pointed out that: "Europeans are concerned about their ability to access civil justice abroad, or to see a civil court ruling enforced in another country. They look to the EU to ease their path. Our work is to ensure that citizens and companies in one Member State can exercise their rights in another Member State, even in the event of a dispute that crosses national borders."
Today's survey coincides with the adoption of a new EU directive on mediation in civil and commercial matters. The purpose of the Directive is to facilitate access to cross-border dispute resolution and to promote the amicable settlement of disputes by encouraging the use of mediation and by ensuring a sound relationship between mediation and judicial proceedings.
The key components of the Directive are as follows:
- The Directive obliges Member States to encourage the training of mediators and the development of, and adherence to, voluntary codes of conduct and other effective quality control mechanisms concerning the provision of mediation services.
- The Directive gives every judge in the EU, at any stage of the proceedings, the right to suggest that the parties attend an information meeting on mediation and, if the judge deems it appropriate, to invite the parties to have recourse to mediation.
- The Directive enables parties to give an agreement concluded following mediation a status similar to that of a court judgment by rendering it enforceable. This can be achieved, for example, by way of judicial approval or notarial certification, thereby allowing such agreements to be enforceable in the Member States under existing EU rules.
- The Directive ensures that mediation takes place in an atmosphere of confidentiality and that information given or submissions made by any party during mediation cannot be used against that party in subsequent judicial proceedings if the mediation fails. This provision is essential to give parties confidence in, and to encourage them to make use of, mediation. To this end, the Directive provides that the mediator cannot be compelled to give evidence about what took place during mediation in subsequent judicial proceedings between the parties.
- The provision of the Directive on periods of limitation and prescription will ensure that parties that have recourse to mediation will not be prevented from going to court as a result of the time spent on mediation. The Directive thus preserves the parties’ access to justice should mediation not succeed.
Member States will be given 36 months to convert the new rules into national law.
The survey on civil justice was conducted face-to-face in the 27 EU Member States, between 9 November and 14 December 2007.
For more information on the survey see: press release on the Special Eurobarometer 292 – Civil justice
For more information on the new directive see: information memo on Mediation in civil and commercial matters
Increase in age limit for removal of vertebral column from slaughtered cattle
22 April 2008 - The European Commission today adopted a Regulation raising the age limit at which the vertebral column of slaughtered cattle must be removed from 24 to 30 months. The Regulation is based on scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority. Today's move is one of the measures set out by the Commission in 2005 to tackle BSE in the short, medium and long-term (see press release of 15 July 2005).
Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Health, said: “Today's decision is a further reflection of the progress Europe has made in the battle against BSE. The Commission took into account the latest scientific knowledge, and discussed this extensively with Member States and the European Parliament. We are confident that the high level of consumer protection provided by our BSE rules over the past decade will be maintained.”
Since October 2000, the vertebral column has been part of the EU list of Specified Risk Material (SRM), considered to pose the greatest risk of BSE transmission. Under EU BSE legislation, all SRM has been required to be removed and destroyed in bovine animals over a certain age, to prevent it entering the food and feed chain. As a result, there has been a significant decline in the number of positive BSE cases detected in the EU over the past few years, and the age of those positive cases has steadily increased. These positive developments led the Commission to reflect on possible amendments of certain TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) measures in place, with a view to updating them in line with the improved situation.
In April 2007, the European Food Safety Authority issued a statement supporting an increase in the age limit for bovine vertebral column removal. EFSA suggested that even up to 33 months could be considered a considerably safe limit. On the basis of this statement, and taking into account the views of Member States and the European Parliament, the Commission proposed 30 months as the most practical age limit to allow the highest safety margin against BSE.
The higher age limit for vertebral column removal is expected to have a positive impact on the competitiveness of farmers and meat industries, and to reduce the amount of SRM waste generated in the EU and therefore to reduce the costs for its destruction. It also brings EU legislation in line with the international standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
“Why the Lisbon Treaty is good for Ireland”- President Barroso addresses UCC students
18 April 2008 - This morning European Commission President José Manuel Barroso visited University College Cork, and spoke to students on ““Why the Lisbon Treaty is good for Ireland”. Following the address, President Barroso took questions from students on a range of European issues and urged them to vote in the upcoming referendum.
Summary of President Barroso's speech at UCC:
President Barroso said:“The Treaty of Lisbon is designed to modernise the European Union. It will make the European Union more democratic, more efficient and give it a stronger voice in external relations. The Treaty will make a Union which works well work even better, particularly now that it has grown to 27 Member States."
Commenting on Ireland’s economic policy President Barroso said, “Ireland will be able to preserve the Irish economic model. I know that, in a crucial area of this model, taxation policies, there is a wide debate in Ireland. Let me make three points: first, the Treaty of Lisbon makes no changes to the rules on tax policy; secondly, with unanimity needed for any new laws, nothing can be imposed against Irish will; thirdly, this is not a question of "Ireland vs the rest"; other Member States share the Irish position (or Member States have different positions). And as I have said, far from going against the grain, your economic policies are rather something that other parts of Europe want to follow."
Regarding tackling climate change President Barroso also explained, “The Treaty of Lisbon will also offer the tools to tackle climate change. A large majority of Europeans see climate change as a major threat. They are right, and that is why Europe is taking action. Again, on their own, European countries cannot do it all. Together, we have the critical mass to be the global leaders, showing others that you can have clean, smart economic growth which does not damage our planet."
President Barroso is on a two-day visit to Ireland finishing today. Earlier in the morning, he visited Cork Dockland and City Chambers.
Click here for the full text of the President's speech.
St Conleth's College wins trip to Arctic prize
18 April 2008 - One lucky pupil from St Conleth’s College in Ballsbridge, Dublin, will witness climate change firsthand by participating in an expedition to the Arctic in September 2008. The school has just won an all-Ireland Cape Farewell Local to Global Video competition.
Schools from Northern Ireland and Ireland have been using their video and editing skills over the past few weeks preparing their entries for the video competition organised by the British Council and the European Commission.
St Conleth’s College, Dublin and Banbridge High School (winner for Northern Ireland) will now form ‘Ground Crews’ of 5-6 pupils who will develop a range of climate change projects and events for their schools and communities. Ultimately, two lucky explorers, one from each of the winning schools, will be chosen to take part in an international expedition from Iceland to Greenland and Baffin Island in co-operation with the Cape Farewell Arctic Voyage programme. On the expedition they will join leading international scientists and artists and work in close collaboration with their winning school on a curriculum project.
Cape Farewell Arctic Voyage 2008 is an innovative arts and science project focused on climate change. Workshops, resources and support will be provided to the winning schools. St Conleth’s College and Banbridge High School will work with schools from Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Brazil and Mexico as they prepare for the Arctic Voyage.
Speaking at the announcement at the school Tony Reilly, Director British Council Ireland, said “Increasing understanding of the case for tackling climate change is a core strand of the British Council’s work. We are delighted with the winning entry form St Conleth’s College, which outlined in a fun way how we can each take practical steps at the local level to contribute to this global issue. As the two schools now prepare for their Arctic Voyage, we are confident that they will be great climate change ambassadors for the island of Ireland.”
Martin Territt, Head of the European Commission Office in Ireland, said, “I would like to congratulate St Conleth’s College on winning this competition which challenged young people across Ireland to reflect on what can be done locally to cut global warming. I am sure that the pupils will represent the island of Ireland proudly as they get involved with the Cape Farewell programme as it unfolds over the coming months.”
This competition has been organised and sponsored by the British Council and the European Commission. The EU is currently considering what more needs to be done to tackle global warming and boost renewable energy use. The competition seeks to stimulate discussion and debate in schools about climate change and how we can get involved locally and, at the same time, make an impact globally.
Schools from Ireland, North and South, were invited to submit a 2-3 minute video which presented innovative ways of reducing their carbon footprint by taking direct action in schools and/or local communities. The purpose of the short video was to encourage people from the wider school/community to get involved in tackling climate change by acting locally.
The competition was independently judged by the Environmental Education Forum, who also congratulated two runner-up schools, Our Lady’s Grammar School, Newry, Northern Ireland and Mercy Secondary School, Kilbeggan, Ireland, for their excellent videos.
Sharp rise in dangerous products taken off market in EU in 2007
17 April 2008 - "Shrek" ear headbands, certain cordless jug kettles and toothpaste are among the dangerous products which the National Consumer Agency reported to the European Commission during 2007. The Commission today published its annual report on the EU alert system for dangerous consumer products (known as RAPEX). The report reveals that 2007 saw an increase of 53% in the number of dangerous products taken off the market in the EU compared to 2006.
The EU Commissioner for Consumer Protection Meglena Kuneva said "Today's RAPEX report shows that more and more products are being detected and destroyed before they can harm EU consumers. Public authorities are clearly stepping up to their responsibilities when it comes to consumer protection. The point of RAPEX and our other safety mechanisms are to ensure that EU citizens can shop in peace, without having to worry about distinguishing safe products from dangerous ones."
The European Commission was notified of 1,605 dangerous products in 2007 (compared to 1,051 in 2006). Of these, 32 notifications came from Ireland's National Consumer Agency. Germany was the country that submitted most notifications (163 notifications, amounting to 12% of the total).
Toys (417), motor vehicles (197) and electrical appliances (156) accounted for more than half of all products reported to the Commission in 2007. China was the country of origin for more than half of all risky products reported. This can be partly explained by the very large proportion of all EU imports which come from China (for example, 80% of all toys) and the intensified focus of market surveillance authorities on Chinese products following a high number of recalls last year. The Commission has significantly intensified its cooperation on product safety with China in the last year.
RAPEX is the EU rapid alert system for dangerous consumer products (although it does not include food, pharmaceutical and medical products). The system allows EU Member States and the European Commission to exchange information on measures taken to prevent or restrict the marketing or use of dangerous products.
The National Consumer Agency is the national product safety authority in Ireland. When a product (for example, a toy or a household appliance) is found to be dangerous, the National Consumer Agency can withdraw the product from the market, recall it or issue warnings. The Agency then informs the European Commission, which in turn passes this information on to consumer protection agencies in all other EU countries. The Commission publishes weekly overviews of dangerous products and the measures taken to eliminate the risks on the following website - http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/dyna/rapex/rapex_archives_en.cfm.
See here for a list of FAQs on the alert system.
For more information on RAPEX see http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/safety/rapex/index_en.htm
President Barroso says no change to tax veto under Lisbon Treaty
17 April 2008 - Speaking in Dublin today, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said that there would be no change to taxation rules under the Lisbon Treaty.
President Barroso said: "I would like to underline the fact that the Lisbon Treaty does not change the rules on taxation. They remain subject to unanimity, giving each Member State a veto. Nothing can be agreed on taxation issues without Ireland's consent and nothing can be imposed on Ireland".
President Barroso went on to praise the role of Ray McSharry in launching the reform of the CAP and said the modernised CAP had huge potential. He also underlined that the Commission was sticking to its mandate at the WTO negotiations and remained within the 2003 CAP reform. President Barroso was speaking at the National Forum on Europe in Dublin where he gave an address entitled: "At the heart of an open Europe: Ireland and the Lisbon Treaty".
See here for the full text of President Barroso's address.
President Barroso to visit Ireland 17/18 April
15 April 2008 - The President of the European Commission, Mr José Manuel Barroso, is to visit Ireland on Thursday 17 April and Friday 18 April. During his visit, he will meet with an Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD.
An Taoiseach and President Barroso will hold a joint press conference at Government Buildings at 12.30 on Thursday 17 April. That afternoon, President Barroso will address the National Forum on Europe and meet with the Social Partners steering group.
On Friday, he will go to Cork where he will visit City Hall and Cork Docklands. Later, he will address students and guests at UCC. He leaves Ireland from Cork on Friday afternoon.
Consolidated EU Treaties Published
15 April 2008 - The Council of the European Union has today published a consolidated text version of the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon.
This document can be accessed from the link below.
Top prizes in EU photo competition
15 April 2008 - European city breaks and digital cameras are up for grabs in an EU photography competition. The theme is "intercultural dialogue" and the photos should capture meetings between different cultures.
The competition has been organised by the European Commission as part of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008. The competition is open to all European citizens.
The deadline for entries is 30 June 2008. Entries must be submitted through an online form on the following website - http://www.street-cultures.eu/
Entries will be judged for their interpretation and portrayal of the topic of "intercultural dialogue", creativity and originality of expression, clarity of message, universal appeal of the image and ability to catch the viewer’s attention.
Three winners will be selected by jury and a fourth winner will be selected by an online public vote on the competition website.
The 1st prize is a professional digital EOS 5D Canon camera with a 24-105mm zoom lens and a trip to three European capital cities (2 days per city, for 6 days in total).
(Equivalent value of approx. €5,000)
The 2nd prize is a professional digital D300 Nikon camera with a 18-200mm zoom lens and a trip through two European capital cities (2 days per city, for 4 days in total).
(Equivalent value of approx. €3,000)
The 3rd prize is a digital K10 D Pentax camera with an 18-55mm zoom lens and 55-200mm zoom lens and a two-day trip to one capital city in Europe.
(Equivalent value of approx. €2,000)
The winner of the online vote will win a professional digital E3 Olympus camera with a 14-54mm zoom lens and a trip to three European capital cities (2 days per city, for 6 days in total).
(Equivalent value of approx. €5,000)
All winners will also be invited to the official competition awards ceremony, which will take place in September 2008.
For more information see the competition website http://www.street-cultures.eu/
For information on the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008 see http://www.interculturaldialogue2008.eu/
EU regional policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner in Belfast today
14 April 2008 - European Commissioner for regional policy, Danuta Hübner is in Belfast today to launch new EU investment programmes to boost growth and jobs in Northern Ireland.
The Commissioner will meet Northern Ireland's First Minister, Ian Paisley, an Tánaiste, Brian Cowen, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness and Minister for the Northern Ireland Department of Finance, Peter Robinson. The Commissioner will formally present the European Commission's Northern Ireland Task Force's report on the region which identifies a range of opportunities for Northern Ireland to benefit from EU programmes.
Commissioner Hübner said: “I have always been impressed by the resilience and determination of the people of Northern Ireland in making a break with the past and in moving forward to an era of stability and renewed prosperity. Our objective in the Task Force report, supported by three 2007-2013 investment programmes, is to help remove the obstacles facing Northern Ireland in taking part in a range of European programmes and initiatives to create growth and jobs. Northern Ireland is now ready to change status from a region receiving EU aid to that of a player in the development of the EU policy agenda.”
Commissioner Hübner will launch three new European Cohesion Policy programmes for the period up to 2013. These will address different dimensions of the social an economic challenges facing the region:
Northern Ireland Regional Competitiveness and Employment programme
This programme aims to promote investment in the development of a knowledge-based, innovative and business-friendly region with a highly skilled workforce supporting a high quality of life. It has a total budget of € 614 million, with € 307 million of investment from the EU. The programme includes setting up six new centres of excellence in research and development, and contributing to starting up 250 new businesses (link live on http://europa.eu/rapid/showInformation.do?pageName=recentPressReleases&guiLanguage=en from 11.00am).
PEACE III programme
This will carry forward key aspects of the PEACE I and II programmes, covering the period 1995-2006. It will benefit from a total budget worth € 333 million, with € 225 million of investment from the European Union. The overall goal is to reinforce progress towards a peaceful and stable society, and to promote reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border region, by supporting projects that bring communities together (see MEMO/08/229). The programme lasts until 2013.
Cross-border programme: Northern Ireland-Ireland-Scotland
This programme, with a total budget of € 256 million, includes € 192 million of investment from the European Union. It will build on previous cross-border programmes between Ireland and Northern Ireland under the INTERREG Community Initiative. For the first time, parts of Western Scotland have been included in the programme, bringing a new dimension to co-operation, for example, in relation to maritime issues. (see MEMO/08/93).
Northern Ireland Task Force Report
This report, agreed on 7 April, takes stock of how Northern Ireland used EU funding from 2000 to 2006 and suggests ways in which Northern Ireland's authorities can reap maximum benefit from the EU programmes and initiatives. Suggestions include greater participation in the EU’s research and development projects, more student exchanges, the promotion of quality labelling in the agri-foodstuffs sector and staff exchanges between the European Commission and the Northern Ireland administration. The report confirms that Northern Ireland's economy is on the mend, and has performed very well over recent years compared to the rest of the UK and to Europe as a whole.
2007-2013: Northern Ireland remains a significant beneficiary of European investment. In addition to the three programmes launched today and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the region will also receive aid from a labour market programme (EU support of €165.7 million) and a rural development programme (€171 million). The EU also contributes to the International Fund for Ireland, an international body established by the UK and Irish governments in 1986. Total EU support, taking all programmes into account, is about €1.2 billion for the new funding period.
2000-2006: Northern Ireland was a major beneficiary of European aid under the structural funds. In total, the region received EU aid of some €2.2 billion over this period. Today, Northern Ireland no longer ranks among Europe’s poorest regions. Its GDP per capita (in PPS) is just below the EU-27 average (according to the latest Eurostat figures). To qualify for priority status, the rules require that GDP per head should be below 75 % of the EU average.
Further information on European regional policy is available at: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/index_en.htm.
Further information on EU programmes in Northern-Ireland: http://www.seupb.org
Air quality to be enhanced by EU directive
14 April 2008 - Today the European Commission has introduced measures to improve air quality throughout Europe. A new directive sets binding targets for reducing concentrations of fine particles which can cause asthma, chronic bronchitis and reduced life expectancy.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "The European Union has today taken a decisive step in tackling a major cause of environmental and health problems. The new directive on air quality addresses this concern by providing ambitious but realistic standards for fine particle PM2.5 pollution in the European Union."
Under the directive EU Member States are required to reduce exposure to PM2.5 in urban areas by an average of 20% by 2020 based on 2010 levels. It obliges them to bring exposure levels below 20 micrograms/m3 by 2015 in these areas. Throughout their territory Member States will need to respect the PM2.5 limit value set at 25 micrograms/m3. This value must be achieved by 2015 or, where possible, by 2010.
Air pollution is caused by the emission to the atmosphere of certain substances. The pollutant which causes the most damage to human health is ground level ozone and airborne fine dust, known as particulate matter (PM). Ozone is not emitted directly but is formed through the reaction of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunshine. Fine dust can be emitted directly to the air (primary particles) or can be formed in the atmosphere by certain gases (secondary particles) such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia.
Air pollution has impacts on human health ranging from minor effects on the respiratory system to reduced lung function, asthma, chronic bronchitis and reduced life expectancy. Air pollution in the European Union, notably from fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone, causes the premature death of almost 370,000 citizens every year, reducing average life expectancy by an average of 9 months.
The new directive on air quality (see Commission welcomes EP vote on the air quality directive and Questions and Answers on the new directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe) is one of the key measures outlined in the 2005 Thematic Strategy on air pollution adopted by the Commission in September 2005. It establishes ambitious, cost-effective targets for improving human health and environmental quality up to 2020.
Statement by Commissioner Charlie McCreevy on the death of Dr Patrick Hillery
12 April 2008 - Commissioner Charlie McCreevy paid tribute to Dr Patrick Hillery today: "Paddy made an outstanding contribution to public life. Whether as government Minister, European Commissioner or President of Ireland Paddy saw his duty as first and foremost as a representative of the people."
See below for the Commissioner's full statement.
Dr Paddy Hillery was an exceptional man. Modest in demeanour but determined in striving for what he believed in. Paddy was often described as the quiet man of Irish politics. But behind this modest demeanour was a man of steely nerves with a clear view of the Ireland he wanted to see. I remember his calmness and integrity during the turbulent period of the early 1970s. A rarity in politics at that time. After the drama of Cearbhaill O Dalaigh's resignation Paddy brought his much needed calm and dignity to the office of President.
When I think of Paddy I remember a man who was more interested in policies than politics. Among his many achievements were: as Minister for Education he pioneered the reform in Irish education; as Minister for Foreign Affairs he led Ireland's accession to the EU and his ground breaking work as European Commissioner in developing the equality of rights we now take for granted
Paddy made an outstanding contribution to public life. Whether as government Minister, European Commissioner or President of Ireland Paddy saw his duty as first and foremost as a representative of the people. He was a man who was never happier than when he was in his beloved Clare ideally with a golf club in his hand. But this relaxed image belied a man who worked constantly to bring about the Ireland he wanted to see. His work rate was legendary. It is a remarkable testimony to him that 30 years since he stepped down as Ireland's first European Commissioner officials in Brussels come up to me to say how priveleged they were to know him and to work with him. His memory and achievements will always be with us.
Pre-registration of chemicals by 1 December 2008 required under new EU chemicals legislation
11 April 2008 - The European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki are calling on manufacturers and importers of chemicals to pre-register chemicals between 1st June and 1st December 2008. Some 30,000 chemicals currently in use (e.g. acids, metals, solvents, surfactants, glues) will have to be pre-registered at the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki during this period. This pre-registration requirement is part of the new EU REACH Regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals) which comes into operation on 1st June.
Günter Verheugen, EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry and Environment Commissioner, Stravros Dimas stated: "REACH is the most ambitious chemicals legislation in the world. It will enable us to drastically increase our knowledge on the use of chemicals and to use them safely. We strongly encourage every manufacturer and importer of chemicals to pre-register as soon as possible."
A pre-registration consists of the submission of basic information to the European Chemicals Agency: details of the company and the name of the chemical concerned (see here for more details). Pre-registration is free of charge and will enable companies to share data on the chemicals they will register and so reduce costs.
Registration requires that companies consolidate data regarding the health and environmental properties and risks of their chemical and are able to demonstrate that it can be used safely.
All EU-based companies that manufacture in, or import chemical substances into the EU should pre-register if the quantities of the substances are one tonne or more per year. Companies that do not pre-register a chemical cannot continue manufacturing or importing it after 1 December 2008 until they made a full registration with European Chemicals Agency.
Pre-registration is needed if companies manufacturing or importing chemicals want to benefit from the extended registration deadlines which apply to most chemicals currently on the market. Pre-registration allows companies to submit their complete registration dossiers by 2010, 2013 or 2018, depending on the case. The pre-registration process will allow companies to share data on their chemicals and paves the way to enhanced knowledge about chemicals. This is a prerequisite for improved safety and for reduced animal testing in the years to come.
Tens of thousands of manufacturers and importers will have to pre-register chemicals in 2008 if they want to continue manufacturing or importing them without interruption. It has been estimated that over 180,000 pre-registration files will be submitted.
The European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency are concerned that some companies may still not be aware of their obligations under the new legislation, either because they are not aware of specific requirements or because they believe that REACH does not affect them, especially if they are not part of the chemicals sector. The Commission is calling on Member State authorities, as well as those in non-EU countries, industry and other stakeholders to help to make the obligations known to all concerned.
REACH is an EU Regulation which requires manufacturers and importers of chemicals to systematically assess and manage the risks that chemicals may pose to the health and the environment. The first steps in this process are pre-registration and registration.
A workshop to explain the key elements of the pre-registration and registration processes under REACH will take place in Brussels on 14 April 2008. The workshop will be web-streamed live and a recorded version will also be made available – for information see http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/reach/events_en.htm.
For more information
REACH Pre-registration & Registration - Questions and Answers
European Chemicals Agency website
Proposal for EU-wide credit transfers in vocational education and training
10 April 2008 - The European Commission has made a proposal for a Europe-wide credit transfer system in vocational education and training. The system, known as ECVET (the European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training), would make it easier to have skills gained in one EU country recognised in another EU country.
The European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Youth, Ján Figel', explained the significance of this initiative: "For the first time, we are able to introduce a credit transfer scheme in vocational education and training. This scheme will make it much easier to complete training courses in different establishments and in different countries. This is an even more remarkable achievement, given that there are over 30,000 vocational training establishments around the EU."
Vocational education and training systems vary greatly across the EU. The number of different qualifications and procedures, even within one country, can make it difficult to transfer the results gained within one system to another.
The European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET) will be based on points; qualifications or periods of training will correspond to a certain number of points. Points based on qualifications gained in another EU Member State can then be transferred into national vocational training qualifications systems.
This new initiative aims to build on the success of ECTS, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System in higher education which was introduced in 1989. ECTS allows for the recognition of study components undertaken in another EU country.
ECVET is fully compatible with both the European credit system in higher education and national systems in vocational education and training. Today's proposal from the European Commission will now be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council for approval. Once approved Member States can adopt the system on a voluntary basis and implement it according to their own rules.
The Commission has also put forward plans for a new reference tool that would help Member States exchange best practice in vocational education and training policies. The European Quality Assurance Framework (EQARF) will increase the transparency and consistency of policy developments in this field. Member States are invited to improve their quality management practices by applying this set of common criteria and indicative descriptors and measure their policies against it.
European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training
DG Education and Culture: European Network on Quality Assurance in VET
European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop): Quality assurance in VET
Study identifies investment projects to reduce Mediterranean pollution
10 April 2008 - A new study has identified potential investment projects to reduce pollution in the countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean. The study, which was conducted by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank, is part of the European Commission's Horizon 2020 Initiative designed to tackle the major sources of Mediterranean pollution by the year 2020.
143 million people live on the Mediterranean coast, and another 175 million visit the region each year. The decline of the Mediterranean environment threatens the health of those living along its shore and jeopardises the long-term development of key economic sectors such as fishing and tourism.
European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "It is imperative that the European Union work with its Mediterranean neighbours to safeguard the environment of one of the world's major seas. We must all cooperate to provide the appropriate resources to reserve the degradation of the Mediterranean."
More than half of urban areas on the Mediterranean with a population over 100,000 do not have waste water treatment plants and 60% of the wastewater produced in these areas is directly discharged into the sea. More than 80% of landfills in southern and eastern Mediterranean countries are not monitored. The marine environment of the Mediterranean is especially exposed to agricultural waste, airborne particles and river run-off, which carries pathogens, heavy metals, organic pollutants, oils and radioactive substances into the sea.
Rapid urbanisation coupled with increasing and unsustainable development of tourism in the Mediterranean Sea’s coast has contributed to significant environmental and health problems. Pollution from industry, shipping and households, the loss of open areas, and the destruction of coastal ecosystems for construction projects are also taking their toll.
Horizon 2020 is part of the EU's policy to tackle environmental problems in the Mediterranean. The initiative aims to address many of the inadequacies of past efforts to protect the Mediterranean by financing projects to reduce the most significant sources of pollution, support the creation or reinforcement of national environmental authorities, promote research on Mediterranean environmental issues, and develop indicators to monitor the success of the initiative.
In November 2006 a timetable of action for the Horizon 2020 Initiative was launched. One of these actions called on the European Investment Bank or World Bank to work with donor countries to identify projects which are having the largest impact on Mediterranean pollution levels - upstream and downstream pollution - across the Mediterranean Region. This is known as the Mediterranean Hotspot Investment Programme and today's study is the result of this initiative. The European Investment Bank will now proceed in finalising a list of projects under the Mediterranean Hotspot Investment Programme based on the 44 projects already identified in seven Mediterranean countries. Among the criteria for determining the potential investment in projects are the projects' importance for the country or the Mediterranean region, how significantly they reduce pollution, the sustainability of the operations, and the loan repayment capacity of the projects' promoters and the amounts required from donors.
For more information:
The Mediterranean Hot Spot Investment Programme (MeHSIP)
The Commission's Horizon 2020 webpage
.eu fourth most popular domain name in Europe
4 April 2008 - Monday next is the second anniversary of the launch of the .eu domain name. To date, over 2.8 million .eu names have been registered, making .eu Europe's fourth most popular country code top level domain, and the ninth most popular worldwide.
"The creation of a trustworthy environment with a distinct European identity is at the forefront of my vision for Europe's inclusive Information Society" said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "Early adopters of .eu understood its value, and have grasped the opportunity to promote their own pan-European outlook. It should now become the natural choice for everyone in Europe."
The .eu has now well consolidated its place among the 10 largest Top Level Domains in the world, competing with long-established identities such as .com, .net or .org. It doesn't replace the existing national country code TLDs in the EU (such as .ie, .de or .fr), but complements them and gives users the option of having an EU-wide identity for their ‘online presence’ – such as websites and email addresses.
Since 7 April 2006 any EU resident or any company or organisation that is established in the EU (e.g. has a branch office in a Member State) has been able to register a .eu domain name. Nationality of an EU Member State is not a prerequisite. The retail price for the registration of a domain name under .eu starts at around €10.
Not only large, well known organisations, but also small and medium sized businesses, NGOs and private individuals are making increasingly active use of the .eu domain names. Examples of companies actively using their .eu domain name include Bridgestone, Versace, and Dexia.
The strongest demand for .eu domain names so far has come from Germany (31%), The Netherlands (13%), the United Kingdom (13%), France (7%) and Italy (5%). Ireland accounts for just over one percent of total .eu registrations.
In terms of growth, however, a different picture emerges. With overall growth at 11% for 2007, the number of registrations for .eu from Poland increased by 48.6% in 2007, followed by Lithuania (48.4%) and Finland (39.9%).
.eu first opened on 7 December 2005 to holders of prior rights (see IP/05/1510). Since early April 2006, registration has been open to all EU residents and organisations with a registered seat in the EU (see IP/06/476). Management of the .eu registry (the database holding all .eu registrations) is entrusted to EURid, an independent not-for-profit organisation.
Posting of Workers-Statement by President Barroso and Commissioner Spidla
3 April 2008 - Today, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on posting of workers and demonstrated its readiness to take concrete action in order to remedy shortcomings in the implementation and enforcement of the posting of workers directive. The Recommendation aims at creating better administrative cooperation between Member States in order to ensure better protection of posted workers' rights and more effective cross-border enforcement.
Link to Recommendation: http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/news/2008/apr/postingworkers_en.pdf
On the occasion of the adoption, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission said: "Increasingly we see the development of a European labour market. For the sake of both fairness and competitiveness, we need a level playing field. This is especially true for service providers and their posted workers. Social aspects and competitiveness must be taken equally seriously for our societies and economies to flourish."
Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities added: "The Commission will continue to stand up against any form of social dumping. Our Recommendation will provide effective tools to fight undeclared work across borders, increase administrative co-operation between Member States and enable labour inspectorates to do their jobs more effectively. It is now up to Member States to take the necessary steps to improve the implementation of the posting of workers directive."
The Recommendation focuses on better exchange of information, improving access to information for both posted workers and service providers, and the setting up of a High-Level Committee. This Committee should directly involve social partners, who are closest to the problems on the ground, and lay the basis for a closer cooperation between labour inspectorates. This Committee could be the appropriate forum to discuss a wide range of issues stemming from the implementation of the posting of workers directive.
The Commission believes that this Recommendation sets the basis for enhanced fight against disrespect of workers' rights and undeclared work, and improves the working conditions of migrant workers across the EU. It is now for the Member States to endorse it and to put it into practice.
The adoption of the Recommendation coincides with another important ECJ ruling related to the posting of workers, the Rüffert case. On this occasion, the Commission would like to underscore that there is no contradiction between the principles of the internal market and defending workers' rights. Workers' rights are not subordinated to internal market rules. In any event, the Commission will continue to fight against any form of social dumping or disrespect of workers' rights. The Commission also wants to underline that the recent ECJ judgements such as Viking and Laval do not jeopardise Member States' choice of organisation of industrial relations, including the Nordic social model.
The initiative comes as a follow-up to the Commission's June 2007 Communication on posting of workers. Click here for the full text, including country-by-country measures in this area.
EU deepens ties with neighbouring countries during 2007
3 April 2008 - A report published today by the European Commission shows deepening ties in the EU's relations with its neighbouring countries during 2007. Through the European Neighbourhood Policy, concrete progress has been made in a number of areas including political cooperation, trade, migration and visa facilitation, energy, transport, research and innovation and students' and youth mobility.
EU External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, “Our neighbourhood policy is a success story. Progress on the ground over the last year has been remarkable in many countries and our relations with our neighbours to the South and to the East are becoming more intense and fruitful by the day.”
Examples of progress made since the end of 2006 include visa facilitation agreements with Ukraine and Moldova, training schemes for judges, prosecutors, lawyers and senior police officers in Mediterranean countries to help in the fight against organised crime, and the development of several oil and gas pipelines and interconnections linking the EU, EU candidate countries and ENP countries.
The European Neighbourhood Policy is an EU external relations initiative which allows the EU to work with a number of countries to the south and the east of the EU to support their democratic and economic reform efforts: Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.
The full text of the policy document "Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2007", 3 April 2008 is available here.
Individual country reports which assess the achievements made by 12 of the ENP countries which agreed Action Plans with the EU and a sectoral report accompany the policy paper. Country reports for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Moldova, the occupied Palestinian territory, Tunisia and Ukraine and the sectoral report are available here - http://ec.europa.eu/world/enp/documents_en.htm
Memos summarising the situation of each country are available through the following links:
MOROCCO (in French)
THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY
TUNISIA (in French)
For more on the ENP see:
World Autism Awareness Day, 2 April 2008
2 April 2008 - On Wednesday 2nd April, the Irish Society for Autism marked World Autism Awareness Day by re-launching the European Charter of Rights for People with Autism in the European Commission Representation at 18 Dawson Street, Dublin 2. Speakers at the launch included former MEP Mary Banotti, Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, and Pat Matthews, Executive Director of the Irish Society for Autism. An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern participated in a photocall after the launch with Martin Territt and Pat Matthews.
The United Nations has declared that 2 April 2008 is World Autism Awareness day and in so doing, hopes to bring the world’s attention to the condition. Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that affects tens of millions of people worldwide. The World Autism Awareness Day resolution encourages all UN member states to take measures to raise awareness about autism throughout society and to encourage early diagnosis and early intervention.
By uniting autism organisations all across the world, the UN will give a voice to millions of individuals who are undiagnosed, misunderstood and looking for help.
The United Nations is deeply concerned by the prevalence of autism in children in all regions of the world and the consequent developmental challenges to long-term health care, education, training, and intervention programmes undertaken by governments, NGOs and the private sector, as well as its tremendous impact on children, their families and communities.
Statement by Commissioner Charlie McCreevy on the resignation of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern TD
2 April 2008 - Commissioner Charlie McCreevy paid tribute today to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern: "I have known Bertie for over thirty years as a loyal friend, a tireless TD and community worker, a brilliant organiser and conciliator, and at government level, as an outstanding negotiator, healer and tactician".
See below for the full statement.
I want to pay tribute to Bertie Ahern. I have known Bertie for over thirty years as a loyal friend, a tireless TD and community worker, a brilliant organiser and conciliator, and at government level as an outstanding negotiator, healer and tactician.
His skills in negotiation and conciliation have been used throughout his political career to benefit both the country and the Fianna Fáil party. This is evidenced:
First, by his consistently successful negotiation of the successive social partnership deals – delivering the sustained industrial peace that was one of the foundation stones of Ireland's success over more than a decade.
Second, by his outstanding achievement of negotiating a successful conclusion to the near century long conflict in Northern Ireland.
Third, by his success in bringing to an end the faction fighting and divisions that bedevilled the Fianna Fáil party over the quarter of a century that preceded his leadership.
And fourth, by his skilful handling of the delicate task of managing multi-party government. This has helped to underpin economic and political stability and to broaden the appeal of Fianna Fáil to non-traditional supporters.
The consistency and scale of Bertie's electoral success in his Dublin Central constituency is testimony to his around-the-clock dedication to the people he serves and cares for – most especially the poor and underprivileged among them. Even in high office, no task was too small for him to personally undertake for a constituent in need.
At a personal level, I always enjoyed working with him. I will be forever grateful to him for appointing me as Minister for Finance, and giving me the opportunity to introduce so many changes in economic policy. Our true friendship and mutual trust was perhaps the most important key to the success of our approach in government. His even temperament and masterly inter-personal skills were such that despite all the years working with him as Minister for Finance – and our somewhat divergent political philosophies - we never once fell out. For him that is a real tribute. For me it is a lifetime record.
Nothing must be allowed to detract – now or in the future - from the rightful recognition of the scale and scope of his contribution to so many dimensions of Irish public life over so long, to his dedication to his constituents and to his commitment to the public good. In all of these respects Bertie Ahern has no peer.