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Press Release Archive for January 2013
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Irish top EU table seeking ‘legal highs’ (31 January 2013)

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.

For more country detail see here: Case studies

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.

"This report shows the increasingly joined-up nature of the modern European drug market, one of the most complex and invasive criminal phenomena of our times. Drug trafficking is also diversifying, both in terms of the complexity of the routes chosen and the drug types moved along them. This all calls for increased cooperation at EU level. National measures are simply insufficient, no matter how robust they are", said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, presenting the findings today.

Also detailed in the report is Europe’s role as a key global source of the precursor chemical used to manufacture heroin (acetic anhydride) and as an important player in the packaging, marketing and promotion of products containing new psychoactive substances.
 
"For synthetic drugs, and increasingly cannabis, the EU remains an important drug-producing region", notes EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz. "The trend for producing illicit drugs close to their intended consumer markets, where they are less likely to be intercepted, is a growing one. We are now paying an increasing cost for this development in terms of community safety, public health and the burden placed on already stretched police resources".

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According to the report, globalisation is an important driver of developments, with more countries now used as transit, storage or production points. Furthermore, the Internet is having a profound impact, both as communication tool and online marketplace. But innovation is also seen in the area of production: the EU is cited as a key ‘source of expertise and know how’ regarding intensive cannabis cultivation, synthetic drug production and cocaine concealment.

Other findings of the report include the connections between cocaine and cannabis resin trafficking networks, the increasing importance of Africa as a transit and storage area, and how crime gangs based in North-West Europe play a pivotal role in the distribution of virtually all types of drug across the EU. Among the action points proposed are that law-enforcement actors, to a larger extent, should prioritise intelligence gathering on high-value individuals and high-profile criminal groups. Also, the speed of developments in the area of synthetic drugs means that Europe needs to scale up its early-warning capacity for new substances on the market.

The report highlights how coordinated actions at EU level can make a difference. Adopting an approach which is both pragmatic and applied, the agencies identify key conclusions and learning points to inform future policies and actions (MEMO/13/51 and case studies).

Police images available for download, from investigations into drug smuggling and production: http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/events/2013/drug-markets

For more information

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EU rolls out new international university ranking in Dublin (30 January 2013)

A new international university ranking, aiming to present a more balanced picture of higher education performance, is being launched at a conference in Dublin today. 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.

Background

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

Follow Androulla Vassiliou onTwitter @VassiliouEU

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Irish journalist scoops EU Prize (30 January 2013)

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.

Speaking from the award ceremony, Commissioner Borg said: "All four journalists awarded tonight pull no punches both in the topics they raise and the style in which they raise them. Though on diverse topics such as mental health, cancer screening, cord blood banking and tobacco control, the common thread in the winning articles is that they confront uncomfortable issues for which debate is needed at EU level".

1st place: Petr Třešňàk writing for Respekt magazine (Czech Republic) for his article "Adventures in ward 14", which tells the story of a psychiatric hospital ward dealing with the most difficult cases, and a dedicated nurse who made a difference.

2nd place: Ailbhe Jordan writing for the Medical Independent (Ireland) for her article "Is screening a waste of cash?" which takes a stark look at the debate on the value and cost-effectiveness of cancer screening, especially breast cancer.

3rd place: Daniela Cipolloni writing for Oggi Scienza magazine (Italy) for her article "All those lies spread by umbilical cord banks", which as its title suggests, looks at the controversial subject of conserving a baby's umbilical cord for future medical treatment.

Winner of the special prize: Tobias Zick writing for NEON magazine (Germany) for his in-depth article "Thick Air" which explores how smoking has gone from being 'cool' to 'uncool', in Germany by giving an overview of the historical, political, legal and philosophical angles of tobacco control.

Background

The EU Health Prize for Journalists, now in its fourth run, aims to raise awareness on important health issues affecting the lives of people from across the EU – issues that the European Commission addresses through legislation or other initiatives. It also sets out to encourage and award excellent health journalism across Europe.

The main theme of this edition of the Prize was once again the 'Europe for Patients' campaign, which comprises a wide range of healthcare and patient safety-related topics. Active and healthy ageing was added to the list of topics, in light of 2012 being the European Year for active ageing and solidarity between generations. In addition, for the second year running there was a 'special prize' on smoking cessation, a topic linked to the Commission's priority work to fight tobacco.

The selection of the winners was a two-step process. National juries selected a national finalist for the main theme and, in some cases, a finalist from the special category smoking cessation. The EU jury, composed of European Commission officials, public health experts and journalists then convened in Brussels to decide on the 4 winning articles. All finalists were invited to Brussels to attend a Media Seminar and Award Ceremony.

The winner and two runners-up of the 4th edition of the EU Health Prize for Journalists receive prizes with a value of:
• First prize € 6,000
• 2nd prize € 2,500
• 3rd prize € 1,500
• Special prize on smoking cessation € 3,000.[1]

For more information about the EU Health Prize for Journalists and to read the winning and shortlisted articles, please refer to the dedicated website:
http://ec.europa.eu/health-eu/journalist_prize/index_en.htm

 

_________________________

[ 1] The Prize is funded with the budget of the EU Health Programme.

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EU PEACE programme in NI can inspire other divided communities (30 January 2013)

Have 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 tomorrow (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, will join 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.

Commenting ahead of the event, Commissioner Hahn said: "The EU PEACE  Programmes have touched the lives of around a million people in Northern Ireland and Ireland's Border Region, and helped to create the conditions in which peace and reconciliation could take root. This is an opportunity to celebrate the work of many brave and committed individuals from both communities – and to consider how far others may learn from their experience."

He added, "Recent events in Northern Ireland have shown there is still work to be done but also that the vast majority desire peace.. EU funds have an important role to play in helping to lay the groundwork for a shared society in which every community benefits from the fruits of the peace. Regional policy is there to make investments that make a difference to people's lives – and I trust that the PEACE programme will continue whatever the outcome of the current budget discussions".           
    

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The projects present are:

Groundwork NI managed two projects focusing on contested physical areas, attempting to overcome sectarianism and segregation within local communities in Northern Ireland and the border area. As well as providing a practical use for derelict or unused sites, good relationships were built between communities, with joint decision making on local areas for regeneration and transformation, contributing to a shared vision of peace for the future.

Theatre of Witness is based on performance: the true life stories of people from diverse backgrounds are performed by the people themselves, Theatre of Witness productions are performed in spoken word, music, movement and cinematic imagery. Some recent Theatre of Witness programmes have brought survivors of violence together with perpetrators and witnesses to explore issues of accountability, guilt, forgiveness and redemption.

Football for All is committed to tackling sectarianism and racism through football with a number of grass-root level education measures, such as working with Irish league clubs and with community groups, fans and volunteers.

Background:

The PEACE III Programme for Northern Ireland and the Border Region of Ireland is part-funded by the European Union (€225 million from the EU with further national contributions of €108 million) through its Regional Policy funds. The main aims of the PEACE III Programme are to reinforce progress towards a peaceful and stable society and to promote reconciliation by assisting operations and projects which help to bring communities together and contribute towards a shared society for everyone. The launch of the PEACE Programme in 1995 was the direct result of the European Union’s desire to respond positively to new opportunities in the Northern Ireland peace process during the paramilitary ceasefire announcements. Since then the EU has provided additional financial assistance through the PEACE II Programme as well as the current PEACE III (2007-2013), with a total of €1.3 billion. The programme's strong emphasis is on community inspired initiatives to create a shared vision of society, to work together on shared projects and to acknowledge and deal with the past.  Footage available and event will be covered.

Further information

Stockshots for Broadcasters of current PEACE III Projects in Belfast Available on EbS

PEACE Programme: summary

Event programme

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Search committee invites nominations for next President of the European Research Council (28 January 2013)

The independent search committee set up by the European Commission for the selection of the future President of the European Research Council (ERC) is consulting the scientific community on potential candidates. The ERC President will chair the ERC Scientific Council and will be the voice and public face of the ERC.  As such, s/he is expected to be a prominent advocate of frontier research and ambassador of European science within and beyond Europe, with the aim of strengthening further the ERC's performance and prestige and Europe's science base in frontier research.

The Commission has set up an ad hoc search committee of independent and highly regarded persons, with the mandate to conduct the selection of the future ERC President and submit to the Commission a shortlist of potential candidates.

The ERC President will chair the ERC Scientific Council, ensure its leadership and its liaison with the ERC Executive Agency and represent the ERC in the world of science.  S/he should be:

  • A senior and internationally renowned and respected scientist; 
  • An innovative research leader, combining wisdom and experience with vision and imagination and acknowledged openness towards all fields of science and scholarship; 
  • A personality that has the trust and confidence of the scientific community and is renowned for her/his independence and commitment to research;
  • A prominent figure of European Science, able to defend the case of frontier research in Europe and to communicate effectively.

The ERC President will reside in Brussels for the duration of the appointment and devote most of her/his time (in principle at least 80%) to ERC activities. S/he will be appointed and remunerated as a Special Adviser to the Commission. The term of office is four years, renewable once. No age limit applies. Nominees must be citizens of an EU Member State.

Nominations are invited from organisations representative of the various segments of the research community at national and European level. The Committee expects that the nominating bodies, before submitting their nominations, will have established the willingness of candidates to serve.  The Search Committee will itself also search actively for candidates.

Nominations, accompanied by curriculum vitae (and a one-page summary CV), should be sent to: rtd-erc-seco@ec.europa.eu by 22 March 2013. The Committee will treat the names and personal details of nominees in strict confidence.

The Search Committee is composed as follows:

Lord SAINSBURY of Turville, FRS, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (Chair)
Catherine CESARSKY, Haut Conseiller scientifique, Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique
Suzanne FORTIER, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Michal KLEIBER, President of the Polish Academy
Jadran LENARČIČ, Director of the Jozef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana
Erwin NEHER, Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
Salvatore SETTIS, Former Director, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa

Useful links

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Ireland: Commission completes eighth Programme review (28 January 2013)

The 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.

Economic Adjustment Programme for Ireland Autumn 2012 Review

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Dublin schoolgirl scoops EU translation prize (28 January 2013)

Congratulations 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.

The Juvenes Translatores (Latin for ‘young translators’) competition is organised annually by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Translation, whose translators mark the entries received from secondary school pupils from all over Europe and select a winner from each country. Marking and evaluating the translations was no easy matter as the quality was very high and competition really tight. The aim of the competition is to promote language learning in schools and give young people a taste of what it is like to be a translator.

"The contest is an excellent way to promote language learning and translation as a possible career," explained Androulla Vassiliou, the EU's Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. Adding: "Language skills are a fantastic asset: they broaden the mind and can boost employability, something which is especially important in the current economic environment."

The translation texts focused on solidarity between generations - the theme of the 2012 European Year – and ranged from stories about young people teaching older generations how to use computers to history lessons given by elders to children. The contest has created its own network, enabling students, teachers and professionals to interact through Facebook, Twitter and a blog. It also gives schools an opportunity to learn from each other and try out different methods of language teaching.

More information:

Full details about the contest, as well as the winning translations, can be found on the contest website

Facebook

Twitter

JT blog for teachers

Directorate General for Translation

Androulla Vassiliou's website

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No change for Ireland as Europe sees more women on boards (25 January 2013)

Mid-term figures released by the Commission today show that while the share of women on company boards is steadily increasing in most EU countries, Ireland has recorded no change since January 2012.

The new figures show an increase in women on boards during the last year in all but three EU countries (Bulgaria, Poland and Ireland), with the average share across the EU now sitting at 15.8%, up from 13.7% in January 2012. This breaks down into an average of 17% of non-executive board members (up from 15% in January 2012) and 10% of executive board members (up from 8.9%).

Bulgaria is the only country where there was a notable decline (down by four percentage points), while Poland and Ireland show no change at 12% and 9% respectively.

The new figures represent a 2.2 percentage point increase as compared to October 2011 - the highest year-on-year change recorded to date. This boost follows the "Women on Boards" proposal that the Commission brought forward in November 2012 (IP/12/1205 and MEMO/12/860) to introduce a 40% gender target for women on boards, with the aim of accelerating progress towards a better gender balance on the corporate boards of Europe.

Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding presented the new figures at the World Economic Forum in Davos today when speaking at a session on "Women in economic decision making" with IMF Chief Christine Lagarde.

"The proof is in the pudding: regulatory pressure works. Companies are finally starting to understand that if they want to remain competitive in an ageing society they cannot afford to ignore female talent: 60% of university graduates are women," said Vice-President Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner.

"The example set by countries such as Belgium, France and Italy, who have recently adopted legislation and are starting to show progress, clearly demonstrates that time-limited regulatory intervention can make all the difference. The Europe-wide law we have put on the table will make sure existing talent is used, boosting gender balance evenly across all company boards throughout the single market."

Today’s mid-term figures were collected in October 2012 and are being set against data from January 2012.

More detail and graphics below

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The figures also show that the most significant progress has been made in those countries which have introduced gender quotas laws. The largest percentage point increases were recorded in Italy (up by 4.9 percentage points to reach 11%), which recently adopted a quota law that requires listed and state-owned companies to appoint 1/3 women to their management and supervisory boards by 2015. France, which introduced a quota law in 2011, has become the first EU country to have more than one woman on the top-level board of all of its largest listed companies. Women now represent 25% of CAC 40 company boards in France – a 2.8 percentage point increase in the space of just 10 months (January – October 2012).

Today's figures are promising but there is still a long way to go. A quarter of the EU’s largest companies (25%) still have no women on their top-level board. The European Commission published its last annual report on women in economic decision making in March 2012. The next full report will come out in April 2013. Today's mid-term figures were collected in October 2012 and are being compared to the data set from January 2012. The full data are accessible online.

BACKGROUND

On 14 November 2012, the Commission brought forward proposed legislation which sets a minimum objective of 40% of women among non-executive directors of listed companies in Europe by 2020, or 2018 for listed public undertakings (see IP/12/1205 and MEMO/12/860).

Main aspects of the proposal:

  • If a publicly listed company in Europe does not have 40 per cent of women on its supervisory board, the new law would require them to introduce a new selection procedure for board members which gives priority to the qualified female candidates. 
  • Qualification and merit remain the key criteria for a job on the board. Nobody would get a job just because they are a woman. But equally no woman would be denied a job because of their gender.
  • The law would only apply to the supervisory boards or non-executive directors of publicly listed companies, given their economic importance and high visibility. Small and medium enterprises would be excluded.
  • Individual member states would have to lay down appropriate and dissuasive sanctions for companies in breach of the Directive. 
  • The proposal also includes, as a complementary measure, a "flexi quota": an obligation for listed companies to set themselves individual, self-regulatory targets for the representation of both sexes among executive directors to be met by 2020 (or 2018 in case of public undertakings). Companies would report annually on the progress made.

Next steps: The Commission's proposal now needs to be adopted by the European Parliament and EU member states in the Council. The Council held first discussions on the draft proposal in December, with further discussions due to be scheduled in June under the Irish EU Presidency.

For more information

European Commission database on women and men in decision-making 

Press pack – Women on boards 

Eurobarometer survey on gender equality

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner

Figure 1 – Gender balance on the boards of the largest companies around the EU, Oct-2012

Women on boards - figure 1

Source: European Commission, Database on women and men in decision-making

Figure 2 - Change in the share of women board members, January-October 2012 (percentage points)

Women on boards - figure 2

Source: European Commission, Database on women and men in decision-making

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New Strategy for more clean cars on Europe's roads (24 January 2013)

The European Commission wants to break up the vicious circle that hampers the use of clean fuels in European cars: Refuelling stations are not being built because there are not enough vehicles. Vehicles are not sold at competitive prices because there is not enough demand. Consumers do not buy the vehicles because they are expensive and the stations are not there.

The Commission is therefore proposing a package of binding targets on Member States for a minimum level of infrastructure for clean fuels such as electricity, hydrogen and natural gas, as well as common EU wide standards for equipment needed.

For Ireland the Commission is proposing to increase the number of charging points from the current 640 points to 2,000 by 2020 which should serve 350,000 electric cars by then.

EC Vice President Siim Kallas responsible for Transport said. "Developing innovative and alternative fuels is an obvious way to make Europe's economy more resource efficient, to reduce our overdependence on oil and develop a transport industry which is ready to respond to the demands of the 21st century.  Between them, China and the US plan to have more than 6 million electric vehicles on the road by 2020. This is major opportunity for Europe to establish a strong position in a fast growing global market."

The main measures proposed are:

Electricity: the situation for electric charging points varies greatly across the EU. The leading countries are Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK. The aim is to put in place a critical mass of charging points so that companies will mass produce the cars at reasonable prices.

A common EU wide plug is an essential element for the roll out of this fuel.  To end uncertainty in the market, today the Commission has announced the use of the "Type 2" plug as the common standard for the whole of Europe.

Hydrogen: Germany, Italy and Denmark already have a significant number of hydrogen refuelling stations although some of them are not publically accessible.  Common standards are still needed for certain components such as fuel hoses. Under this proposal, existing filling stations will be linked up to form a network with common standards ensuring the mobility of Hydrogen vehicles. This applies to the 14 Member States which currently have a Hydrogen network.

Biofuels: already have nearly 5% of the market. They work as blended fuels and do not require any specific infrastructure. A key challenge will be to ensure their sustainability.

Natural Gas (Liquefied (LNG) and Compressed (CNG):
LNG: Liquefied natural gas is used for trucks, but there are only 38 filling stations in the EU. The Commission is proposing that by 2020, refuelling stations are installed every 400 km along the roads of the Trans European Core Network.

CNG: Compressed natural gas is mainly used for cars. One million vehicles currently use this fuel representing 0.5% of the fleet - the industry aims to increase this figure ten-fold by 2020. The Commission proposal will ensure that publically accessible refuelling points, with common standards, are available Europe-wide with maximum distances of 150 Km by 2020.

Member States will be able to implement these changes without necessarily involving public spending by changing local regulations to encourage private sector investment and behaviour. EU support is already available from TEN-T funds, cohesion and structural funds. 

Please see also: MEMO/13/24 - Clean power for transport – Frequently asked questions

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Research and Innovation: Commission widens search for expert advisors for Horizon 2020 (24 January 2013)

The Commission has today launched a call asking experts from all fields to participate in shaping the agenda of Horizon 2020, the European Union's future funding programme for research and innovation. This marks the first time that the Commission has launched such a call for its research programme.

Advisory groups will provide high quality and timely advice for the preparation of the Horizon 2020 calls for project proposals.  Groups will be set up on topics of major concern for European citizens, such as climate change, making renewable energy more affordable, ensuring safe food or coping with the challenges of ageing. The groups will encourage dialogue between all levels of government, civil society and business from all EU Member States, and influence the direction of EU research and innovation funding from now until 2020.

European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "Our aim is to reach the broadest range of experts who will help us to deliver innovative ideas, sustainable growth and new jobs. Introducing this transparent and inclusive call for Horizon 2020 means we are reaching out to the entire European research and innovation community. I would in particular like to encourage women and individuals with the right expertise but who have not been involved in the past to show their interest."

The expert advisory groups will start their work during spring of this year to provide advice in time for the first Horizon 2020 calls, which are expected to be launched by the end of 2013. Individuals and actors wishing to be considered for the first advisory groups have until 6 March 2013 at 5 p.m. Brussels local time to register. The call for expressions of interest will stay open for the lifetime of the Horizon 2020 programme in order to accommodate the renewal of groups at the end of each mandate.

Individuals can express their interest, acting either in a personal capacity, as representatives of collective interest groups or as representatives of organisations. Details of the criteria on which selection will be based, including the profile of experts, are set out in the call. The full text and guidance on how to register can be found through the following link: http://ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020/index_en.cfm?pg=h2020-experts

Background

Horizon 2020 aims to foster ideas, growth and jobs for Europe's future. It breaks from the past by bringing together all existing support for research and innovation, including the innovation-related activities of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and the activities of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), into one single funding programme. Smart investment in research and innovation provides a direct stimulus to the economy, secures our excellent knowledge base and makes our businesses more competitive in a globalised world. The Commission is proposing a budget of €80 billion for Horizon 2020, which will run from 2014 to 2020.

Horizon 2020

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€200m from EIB to support 23 Water Projects across Ireland (24 January 2013)

A total of 23 individual projects included in the Water Services Investment Programme (WSIP) will benefit from the EIB investment. The water investment initiative also includes replacement of over 300km of old water mains in Dublin City, South Tipperary, Galway and Limerick. In addition the project will increase drinking water supply through two new reservoirs in Kerry and North Tipperary

Waste water treatment will be enhanced through six new treatment plants in Kildare, North Tipperary, Kerry, Galway and Roscommon. Three local schemes will specifically ensure safe drinking water supply and 28km of new water mains will be laid in Kildare and 13km in Longford.

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The European Investment Bank loan will provide €200 million to support improvements in Ireland’s Water Services Investment Programme (WSIP) by financing 23 projects in Dublin and 10 counties around the country to provide new water mains, water and wastewater treatment facilities and reservoirs, as well as measures to improve water conservation.
 
Minister for The Environment, Community and Local Government  Phil Hogan TD said: “I am delighted that the EIB has decided to support my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme with a loan of €200 million which will assist in funding 23 water projects.  It is an indication of the Bank’s confidence in the Irish State and our recovery programme and is a good signal for securing third party financing in the future.”
 
“A programme of water sector reform is currently underway in Ireland, which will see the responsibility for water services delivery moving from local authorities to a new public utility.  This will fundamentally change the approach to funding capital investment in the sector in the years ahead including access to third party financing to address the considerable investment requirements of the sector.  These reforms will benefit individual householders, but will also attract industries with high water usage like agri-food, pharma-chem and IT. With global demand for water due to rise by 40% in just 20 years, Ireland will be well positioned to attract foreign and indigenous investment, creating real potential for new jobs within the country.”
 
“Investment in the Irish water infrastructure will significantly enhance water conservation measures, improve drinking water quality and reduce risks of pollution. The European Investment Bank recognises the considerable challenges and investment needed in the sector and is pleased to provide the first EIB support for investment in water infrastructure in Ireland for over a decade.” said Jonathan Taylor, European Investment Bank Vice President.
 
A total of 23 individual projects included in the WSIP will benefit from the EIB investment. The water investment initiative also includes replacement of over 300km of old water mains in Dublin City, South Tipperary, Galway and Limerick. In addition the project will increase drinking water supply through two new reservoirs in Kerry and North Tipperary.
 
Waste water treatment will be enhanced through six new treatment plants in Kildare, North Tipperary, Kerry, Galway and Roscommon. Three local schemes will specifically ensure safe drinking water supply and 28km of new water mains will be laid in Kildare and 13km in Longford.
 
Four of the projects relate to water conservation with the primary objective being to reduce water loss in the distribution networks.  Seven of the projects relate to improvements in water supply infrastructure. A particular focus of investment in this area is addressing risks to public health by the improvement of the quality and supply of drinking water. The remaining twelve projects relate to the improvement of wastewater infrastructure. Investment in this area supports compliance with with statutory requirements and priorities identified in River Basin Management Plans (as required under the EU Water Framework Directive). 
 
The European Investment Bank will provide a 25 year loan and enable quicker implementation of the investment programme. As for all EIB Irish sovereign lending the loan is signed with National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) acting on behalf of the Irish state.  Following agreement of the EUR 200 million loan a first tranche of EUR 100 million will support immediate investment and a second tranche will follow as the investment programme progresses.
 
During 2012 the European Investment Bank provided EUR 504m for long-term investment in Ireland. This included support for Irish schools, renewable investment projects and lending to small businesses.

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Two researchers in Ireland win top European awards (23 January 2013)

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the names of two senior researchers – Professor Peter Humphries and Professor Robert Kitchin - who will each receive a prestigious 'Advanced Grant' of up to €2.5 million to develop ideas at the frontiers of knowledge and build their own research teams. 

Professor Humphries, from Trinity College Dublin, was awarded the grant for his project exploring and developing new avenues for the prevention of glaucoma - a leading cause of blindness if left untreated.  And Professor Kitchin, from the National University of Ireland Maynooth, was awarded the grant for his project analysing the creation of smart cities, using Dublin as one of his case studies.

Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: "The ERC continues to identify the very best researchers. ERC funding is leading to an increasing number of scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, as well as more publications in recognised scientific journals. Promoting frontier research at the highest level is vital for Europe's competitiveness, and this is why we have proposed to increase the ERC budget as part of our Horizon 2020 programme."

The two researchers are among 302 top researchers awarded €680 million in EU funding by the European Research Council (ERC).

Professor Humphries whose project is entitled 'Oculus: A radical approach to improved glaucoma treatment' said "It is an exceedingly great honour to have been given an ERC award and a testament to the dedication of the outstanding researchers with whom I have the privilege to work. Glaucoma in its various forms is one of the most prevalent causes of global visual handicap – most of us will know someone with glaucoma.  While pharmacological medications exist, a significant proportion of sufferers do not respond or become resistant to them.  With ERC support, we will explore and develop new avenues for prevention of this hugely prevalent disease."  Figures for the UK and Ireland suggest some form of glaucoma affects about two in 100 people over the age of 40.

Discussing his project entitled "Softcity: The Programmable City", Professor Kitchin said: “I am delighted to be awarded the ERC grant which enables us to continue and expand our research work. The Programmable City project will provide an analysis of the creation of smart cities by examining how the city is translated into software and how software in turn reshapes the city.  It will examine these processes in relation to four key urban practices – how we understand, manage, work and live in the city.  Software is now essential to the functioning of cities, a vital element in the operation and governance of travel, the built environment, consumption, work, home life, services and utilities, and our project will address a serious gap in social science research by answering key questions concerning the nature of software and the changing production and management of cities and citizens.   To date, analysis has focused on the technologies that software enables, rather than the actual code that renders the city programmable and knowable in new ways. We have thus failed to appreciate and understand a key mediator of urban change and city life. Our research will address this issue, using two case study sites, Dublin and Boston.”

The ERC is awarding a total of €680 million to 302 senior research leaders in 24 different countries across Europe, in the latest competition for its prestigious 'Advanced Grants'. With up to €2.5 million per project, the funding allows these scientists to pursue their most ground-breaking ideas at the frontiers of knowledge together with their own teams. The projects selected cover a wide range of topics. As well as the two described above, a scientist and his team in France will develop new models to explain certain physical phenomena like superconductivity. A team based in Latvia will bring together computer science, physics and mathematics to assess the advantages and limits of quantum devices. Another grant goes to a researcher in Italy who will look at how economic actors form and change their beliefs about their environment and about each other, by adding emotional and psychological features to the existing models.

In this Advanced Grant competition, some 2,300 applications were submitted to the ERC, which is a slight rise from that of the last year (4.5%). The call budget of €680 million also saw a minor increase. The number of researchers selected for funding rose slightly, from 294 to 302, while the rate of successful applications remains steady at 13%. Advanced grants are awarded to well-established top researchers of any nationality or age, who are scientifically independent and with a recent research track-record and a profile which identifies them as leaders in their respective field(s).

Background

ERC grants target top researchers of any nationality who are based in, or willing to move to Europe. In this Advanced Grant call, the selected candidates hold 32 different nationalities, with British, German, French, Dutch and Italian researchers being the most numerous. They will conduct their research projects in over 160 institutions across 24 different European countries. As the largest countries in the EU, the UK, France and Germany host the greatest number of successful candidates. However, relative to population size the most successful researchers are based in the Netherlands, Denmark, UK and Cyprus of the EU countries, and Switzerland and Israel of the countries associated with the EU research programme. This reflects the high quality of the research in these countries, which generally follows from long-term investment in research.

Of the senior scientists receiving grants in this call, 11 applied from outside the European Research Area (EU Member States plus countries associated to the Framework Programme for Research). This is an increase from the last Advanced Grant call. The majority are Europeans returning to their home countries; most were based in the United States, one in Canada and one in Lebanon. There are three Americans amongst the selected scientists moving from the US to carry out their ERC-funded research at a Host Institution in Europe. In addition, 21 of the selected researchers hold a non-European nationality, but were already based in Europe.

Just over 15% of selected researchers are women, which is a rise from last year's 12%. The average age of the researchers to be funded is 51 years.
In this call, 45% of selected proposals were in the 'Physical Science and Engineering' domain, 37% in 'Life Sciences', and 18% in 'Social Sciences and Humanities'. The grantees were selected through peer review evaluation by 25 panels composed of renowned scientists from around the world. 

Set up in 2007 by the EU, the European Research Council is the first pan-European funding organisation for frontier research. The ERC, which is the newest, pioneering component of the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme ('Ideas' Specific Programme), has a total budget of €7.5 billion from 2007 to 2013. The European Commission has proposed a significant boost of the ERC budget to over € 13 billion in the new framework programme "Horizon 2020" (2014-2020).

For more information:

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Vice-President Rehn's remarks at today's ECOFIN (22 January 2013)

At the press conference following today's meeting of EU Economic and Finance Ministers, Vice President Olli Rehn said: "we need to support Ireland and Portugal as they move into the concluding phase of their respective programmes and prepare to return to full market financing. Today's ECOFIN reaffirmed the growing confidence in both countries' prospects for a successful return to market financing. This confidence stems from the determined implementation of the economic reform programmes that we have seen in both Ireland and Portugal."

The full text of the Vice President's statement is reproduced below.

Vice-President Rehn's remarks at the ECOFIN Press Conference

Brussels, 22 January 2013

Good afternoon. I'm very happy to be here with Michael Noonan following the first ECOFIN meeting of the Irish Presidency.

We have begun this year significantly more advanced in our efforts to tackle both the symptoms and causes of the crisis than we were one year ago. The bold decisions taken at both the national and European levels have meant that tail risks related to the integrity of the euro have all but disappeared. Market tensions have eased and confidence has begun to return.

But with more than 26 million Europeans unemployed and businesses still struggling to obtain the credit they need to invest and grow, it is clear that we still have a great deal of work to do to ensure that Europe can move from stabilisation to sustained recovery. Against this background, I will highlight three key priorities that were discussed today, and that will be predominant during the Irish Presidency.

First, we need to reinforce the competitiveness of European industry. Several of our Member States have seen their export shares for goods and services in the global market decline over a number of years – a trend that poses a grave threat to Europe's future prosperity. We must reverse this trend by tackling the bottlenecks for growth. That's why we need more competitive labour markets and product and services markets.

That's why we need to restore the flow of credit to households and businesses. And that's why we need to enhance public and private investment. These will be key themes of this year's Country-Specific Recommendations, which the Commission will prepare in the coming months during the Irish Presidency in the context of the European Semester.

Second, we need to support Ireland and Portugal as they move into the concluding phase of their respective programmes and prepare to return to full market financing. Today's ECOFIN reaffirmed the growing confidence in both countries' prospects for a successful return to market financing. This confidence stems from the determined implementation of the economic reform programmes that we have seen in both Ireland and Portugal.

I want to underline that a successful return to the markets for these two countries is both in the interests of themselves and, indeed, certainly in the interests of the entire European Union. In the coming months, the ECOFIN and Eurogroup will explore, together with the European Commission, how to further facilitate this successful return to market financing.

Third, we need to take forward the rebuilding of Economic and Monetary Union with urgency and determination. This means that, in the coming weeks, we should see the conclusion of negotiations on the Single Supervisory Mechanism and new capital requirements rules (CRD IV). And before the summer, as my colleague Michel Barnier confirmed this morning, the Commission intends to come forward with our proposal for a single resolution authority.

In parallel, following yesterday evening's discussion in the Eurogroup, work will continue at technical level on the modalities for direct bank recapitalisation by the European Stability Mechanism, with a view to reaching agreement as soon as possible in the first half of the year.

All of these elements will contribute to the strengthening of our economic and monetary union, and help break the vicious circle between banks and sovereign risk, in line with the commitment of the euro area summit of 29 June last year.

Finally, the two Regulations for enhanced budgetary surveillance and policy coordination for the eurozone should be adopted by the Council and Parliament without delay. They are an essential step towards further progress in rebuilding the EMU. Because we cannot build the walls of this structure until we have finished laying the concrete foundations – and that is what the adoption of the two-pack will achieve.

That's why I appealed, both last week to the European Parliament, and again today to the Council, that both would now work out a solution so that we can adopt the two-pack legislation as soon as possible.

Thank you.

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83 per cent of Irish people think Ireland has benefitted from EU membership (18 January 2013)

A new poll suggests that 83 per cent of Irish adults believe that Ireland has, on balance, benefitted from EU membership and 85 per cent of respondents believe Ireland should remain part of the European Union. Furthermore, only 1 in 4 Irish adults (25 per cent) believe Ireland should leave the Euro currency.

According to a Red C poll commissioned by European Movement Ireland (EM Ireland) there is also a two-thirds majority (66 per cent) who held the view that Ireland should remain in the EU even if the UK leaves the Union.

Further results show that almost half (45%) of all adults in Ireland claim they think of themselves as both Irish and European while 47 % see themselves as Irish only.

The poll also held good news for the Irish Presidency, with a high level of awareness among respondents that Ireland currently holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU – with 76 per cent of those polled aware of Ireland’s current role.  Interestingly, awareness is strongest amongst men (82 per cent vs. 71 per cent women) and with the Connacht/Ulster region ranking highest (79 per cent).  However, within this statistic; a contrasting indicator showed that just over half (52 per cent) of the 18-24 year old demographic were aware that Ireland currently holds the Presidency.

European Movement Ireland commissioned Red C to carry out this poll among a representative sample of 1,003 people aged 18 and over from across the country. It was carried out between the 7th and 9th January 2013.

For more information:

European Movement Ireland: http://www.europeanmovement.ie/ 

Download the full report with detailed findings and regional, gender and age profile breakdowns here: http://www.europeanmovement.ie/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/EM-Ireland-Red-C-Presidency-Poll-Report.pdf

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New European Driving Licence from 19 January 2013 (18 January 2013)

From tomorrow 19 January, all new driving licences issued in Ireland will be in the form of a plastic "credit card". The new format is part of an EU wide harmonisation of driving licenses that brings a standard European format and tougher security protection. All driving licences will be issued according to this new format with a photo and standard information requirements - easy to recognise and read across the EU.

However, the Member States still have options when it comes to implementing the EU rules. The licence can be adapted to incorporate national symbols and it's up to the Member State to decide how and where the licences are issued and how much it will cost. Whereas in Ireland the new licence will cost €55, it's only around €30 in Germany but £62.50 in Northern Ireland.

The main change for people living in Ireland – apart from the format – affects Motorbikes and Mopeds: There will be a new AM licence category for Mopeds that people can hold from the age of 16. However, moped licence candidates will from now on be required to pass a theory test. Also the age limit for direct access (via practical and theory testing) to category A licences for the most powerful motorbikes goes up to 24 years.

Existing licences are not affected, but will be changed to the new format at the time of renewal or at the latest by 2033. The new European licence will progressively replace the more than 100 different paper and plastic models currently in use by more than 300 million drivers across the EU.  The goal is to enhance free movement, tackle driving licence fraud and improve road safety across the EU. 

"Traffic police across Europe are currently expected to recognise more than 100 different types of paper and plastic driving licence. ID photos may be long out of date, the categories for which the driver is licenced unclear and the document may be easy to forge. Fake driving licences are a licence to kill, that is why we need licences which are easy to read, easy to understand and very difficult to falsify", EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said.

The main changes which will come into force tomorrow (January 19th 2013) are as follows:

Enhanced security

The new driving licence includes a number of security features to make it "tamper proof" and to avoid falsification. 

In addition, it is backed up by the creation of a European electronic data exchange system to facilitate the exchange of information between national administrations. This will simplify the process for managing driving licences for people changing residence from one Member State to another. It will also significantly help to prohibit "driving licence tourism" and fraud, for example, to enforce the new, more stringent prohibition, of a Member State issuing a licence to someone who has already had their licence withdrawn, suspended or restricted by another Member State. 

The Regular Renewal of Licences 

Central to tackling fraud and improving road safety is the need for a regular renewal of licences across the EU.  Under the new rules, licences must be renewed, for car drivers and motorcyclists, every 10-15 years. In Ireland there is no change to the existing rules, which means that the licence has to be renewed every 10 years. For buses and lorry drivers licenses must be renewed every five years and a medical check-up will be necessary for renewal. 

This is an administrative renewal, and does not require any additional testing. It ensures that licencing information, photos etc. are kept up to date, security features on cards can be regularly updated to new technology and Member States have constantly updated information about the licences in circulation.

Protection of vulnerable drivers

The European driving licence regime strengthens protection for the most vulnerable categories of road users. This includes:  

  • A higher age limit for direct access (via practical and theory testing) to licences for the most powerful motorbikes, up from the existing 21 to 24 years. 
  • Raising the age limit, as well as introducing extra steps along the way for progressive access. The new regime requires driving experience of a minimum of four years (instead of two) with less powerful motorcycles before a licence is issued to drive the most powerful ones.  
  • Mopeds constitute a new vehicle category and moped licence candidates will from now on be required to pass a theory test. Member States may also introduce skill and behaviour tests and medical examinations. The EU sets a minimum recommended age of 16 years at which licences are mutually recognised by all Members States (Member States may go to  14 in their own country).  Prior to this there were no minimum EU requirements for mopeds.

More information about the new European driving licence

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Viviane Reding: Justice for Growth makes headway at today's Justice Council (18 January 2013)

In Dublin for the Informal Justice Council, Vice-President Viviane Reding said:

"Today, we have had a very important discussion on how justice policies can help to reinforce stability, jobs and growth in Europe – the Justice for Growth agenda."

"Good progress has been made on our proposals to reform the EU’s data protection rules under the Cypriot Presidency and we now need to further intensify the pace of discussions. That is why I welcome the Irish Presidency’s very strong commitment to furthering the negotiations on this crucial reform."

"A modern and uniform set of data protection rules is good for growth: companies which want to use Europe's goldmine, a single market of 500 million consumers will get a single law for every EU country which can save them costs of up to 2.3 billion EUR per year."

The full text of the Vice-President's speech is available here.

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Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn congratulates winners of BT Young Scientist 2013 (12 January 2013)

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn congratulated Ciara Judge, Emer Hickey and Sophie Healy-Thow from Kinsale Community School, Cork, this year's winners of the 2013 BT Young Scientist Award.

"I would like to congratulate Ciara, Emer and Sophie for their success today and to wish them the very best for the future. Today I have had the opportunity to tour the exhibition and talk with many of the finalists who have explained their remarkable projects to me.  Ensuring that we have a skilled workforce starts in school – therefore it's encouraging to see such enthusiasm and know-how from the students here today, many of whom I hope will become Europe's much needed next batch of young career scientists".

Today's winners of the BT Young Scientist Competition will now go forward to represent Ireland in the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) to be held later this year(1).
 
The winning project from Kinsale Community School in Cork focused on plant germination.  The students carried out a detailed statistical study of whether a certain type of bacteria, rhizobium, could affect the germination of important crops such as wheat and barley.
 
The EU stand at the BT Young Scientist gave students, teachers and parents a chance to meet Irish scientists working on EU funded research projects. With hands-on career advice, the message to students was clear: science can offer you a fascinating career which uses your ideas, your inspiration and your passion – and science needs YOU! 
 
The EU stand also had a special focus on biodiversity and maritime affairs. Visitors could use an interactive fishing game "eco Ocean" to learn about sustainable fishing and how to avoid the depletion of our fish stocks, as well as pick-up valuable reference material.
 
 
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Ireland has an excellent track record for scooping prizes in the EUCYS having won 13 first prizes as well as many other top prizes since the contest began in 1989.   In Bratislava last year first prize for the EUCYS went to two Irish students Eric Doyle and Mark Kelly for theirproject on "Simulation accuracy in the gravitational many-body problem".
 
Young scientists from all over the island of Ireland took part in the 49th BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition. The event, which is the final stage of a competition and which is open to all second level students from Ireland, showcased 550 student projects in exhibition halls filled with science and technology based exhibits and entertainment.

 

________________
 (1) European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) is the successor to the Philips contest, which ran from 1968-88 and brought together the winners from National Contests. The then President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, was approached in 1987 about the European Commission taking on the running of the Contest. After consulting with the competent bodies and Committees, the Commission decided to support the Contest.  More information on EUCYS: http://ec.europa.eu/research/youngscientists/index_en.cfm

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EU Commissioner for tax speaks in Dublin "Towards more fairness and greater competitiveness" (11 January 2013)

EU Commissioner for Tax Algirdas Šemeta addressed the Institute of International and EU Affairs in Dublin today (Friday). The topic of his address was "Making progress on European Tax Policy: Towards more fairness and greater competition".

The Commissioner closed his address saying: "Taxation has a major role to play in ensuring smart consolidation and sustainable growth in the EU."

He added: "Our goal must be to make the Single Market the best place in the world to do business; to become a benchmark for competitive and efficient tax systems.

The European Union is currently designing the deepening of the Euro and the forging of a genuine Economic and Monetary Union. Taxation cannot be avoided in this debate. The day of isolated tax policy is over.

Coming closer together as a Union on tax matters reinforces every Member States' capacity to offer a sound and competitive business environment. It helps our businesses, and attracts investment. And it strengthens our common position when addressing international challenges and spreading the principle of fair taxation abroad.

I therefore strongly believe that for taxation, as for other policy areas, the answer to our current challenges lies in more Europe, not less. And I am confident that the Irish presidency will push this agenda forward."

The full text of the Commissioner's address is reproduced below.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Magnitude of the crisis and responses

The crisis that we are going through is the biggest economic crisis since 1929.

The European Union has reacted to this crisis by promoting fiscal discipline in Member States through the creation of the European Semester.

We also worked on the stability of financial markets by creating financial backstops, proposing a supervisory role for the European Central bank and launching the European Stability Mechanism.

In addition, and as a necessary companion to fiscal discipline, we put forward the EU 2020 Strategy and the Growth Compact to promote growth and jobs.

We now have the governance tools and rules to ensure that the EU as a whole can forge ahead on the path to recovery and growth.

Nonetheless, the outlook for this year is still weak and

2013 will continue to be challenging. We must sustain our commitment to recovery, deploy all necessary instruments and pull tighter together as a Union to emerge strong from this crisis.

Where does tax policy stand in this context?)

In this context, we must look at how tax policy can contribute to the consolidation and smart growth agenda of the EU.

In the Single Market, we should strive towards world class tax systems, which would put the EU at a decisive competitive advantage in the global economic arena.

We must create a tax environment which allows businesses to expand and create jobs, and attracts foreign investors.

We must cut compliance costs and red tape, so that businesses can invest what they save in bureaucracy in research, innovation and training.

We must also create a fair tax environment. One where it pays to work and where labour and capital, across all the sectors of the economy, would contribute a fair share to financing our European social and economic model.

So, how to progress on this road towards making the Single Market the best place in the world to do business? I believe that the answer is twofold:

  1. First, we need to push, through the European Semester process, for appropriate tax reforms in Member States.

  2. Second, Member States should speed up the adoption of the initiatives proposed by the Commission to strengthen the Single Market, which should become a reality also from the tax perspective.

Using the European Semester to improve the quality of tax systems in the Member States

An assessment of last year's exercise

Let me start with a few words on our experience so far with taxation in the European Semester.

Over the last few months, there has been a general trend observed in the Member States towards fundamental tax reforms.

However, there is still scope to shift the overall tax burden towards tax bases that are less detrimental to growth and job creation.

Such a shift requires a package approach which ensures equitable redistribution and is adapted to the circumstances of the individual Member State.

This is why the Commission recommends that:

  1. First, the tax burden on labour should be substantially reduced in countries where it is comparatively high and hampers job creation. To ensure that reforms are revenue neutral, taxes such as consumption tax, recurrent property tax and environmental taxes should be favoured.

  2. Second, revenue should preferably be raised y by broadening tax bases rather than by increasing tax rates or creating new taxes;

  3. Third, tax compliance should be improved by reducing the shadow economy, combatting tax evasion and ensuring greater efficiency in the tax administration.

  4. Finally, the corporate tax bias towards debt-financing should be reduced and tax schemes which increase the debt bias of households should be reviewed to avoid financial risks.

Looking at the national tax reforms proposed so far, it is fair to say that, in general, Member states are following the recommendations made by the Commission.

In this context, I am aware that Ireland continues to make good progress, having met all the quarterly fiscal targets so far under the economic convergence programme.

I also note that most of the tax related elements of the budget presented by the Irish Government last December are well in line with what the Commission recommends for quality tax reforms, which is a good sign for the future.

But let me stress that, whether in Ireland or anywhere else in the EU, success relies on tax reforms which take into account two essential elements: competitiveness and fairness.

A more ambitious trend towards tax shifts and equity

For competitiveness, we know that job creation is fundamental. Therefore, the shift to more growth-friendly taxes is particularly important at a time where we need to use every possible measure to boost employment.

Our analysis of Member States' tax reforms shows that more can be done to shift taxes away from labour towards consumption, environment or property taxation.

It is also time to put the emphasis on fairness.

The public acceptability of tax reforms depends greatly on how fair they are perceived to be. I will speak in a minute about what we are doing at EU level to this end.

But at national level, more efforts to address fraud and evasion will certainly contribute to fairer burden sharing for honest taxpayers.

The current pressure on public finances could also be turned into an opportunity for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the public administrations. In these difficult times, we need to get value-for-money, less expensive and more resilient administration.

A lot is to be done at national level and taxation reforms should benefit more from the e-government programmes in Member States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, in the European Union, the main responsibility for tax reforms lies with the Member States. As long as they comply with EU law, they retain their full sovereignty to adapt their tax systems and tax rates to their national preferences and objectives. However, with our extremely interconnected economies, working in isolation doesn't pay off.

I truly believe that there is immense added-value to tax coordination at EU level.

This can support national reforms and complement the actions of each country by, for example, tackling cross border bottlenecks and simplifying the tax environment for businesses.

Offering new opportunities for growth in the Single Market

This leads me to the second point I would like to raise today. For our common recovery, we must create a more business-friendly environment.

One in which companies can expand beyond their national markets and are not hindered by a patchwork of divergent national approaches to taxation.

(Fragmentation of the Single Market and competitiveness of the EU)

Improving the business tax environment is a central issue for competitiveness of the EU: Investors need stability, legal certainty, less administrative burden and less compliance costs. That is why I proposed a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base.

Its purpose is to offer cross-border businesses cheaper and easier access to the Single Market, not to introduce any tax rate harmonisation.

I also proposed a review of the directive on taxation of energy products. It would introduce a formula putting all fuels on an equal footing taxing them on the basis of their energy content and CO2 emissions.

This should avoid double taxation for businesses subject to the Emission's Trading System and encourage the development of the green economy.

My contacts with the business community also confirm that one key element for a business-friendly environment is to cut red tape, decrease compliance costs and improve business cash flow.

We have taken all this into account in the VAT reform which I presented at the end of last year. Certain important measures have already been delivered. On 1 January, new EU invoicing rules came into force, which will make a big difference to the lives of business – both large and small.

They establish equal treatment between paper and electronic invoices, facilitating the uptake of e-invoicing. And they enable all Member States to authorise cash accounting for micro-businesses, which will make a huge difference to many SMEs in terms of cash-flow.

In other words, we are making sure that VAT rules do not leave the smallest businesses out of pocket, or struggling to make ends meet. The Commission will continue on this route this year, by presenting a proposal for standardising the VAT return.

Ensure fair taxation

Fairness is also an issue which we fully take into consideration in our initiatives at EU level. Our European social model is about combining economic dynamism with social fairness. And taxation plays a part in this model.

The essence of fairness lies in Member States being able to collect the taxes that are due, and all taxpayers paying their legitimate share.

I have briefly mentioned that Member States need to increase their efforts to tackle fraud and evasion at home. Likewise, more European coordination could substantially improve our fight against this problem.

Tax evasion and avoidance deprive Member States of up to €1 trillion every year.

This not only means the loss of much needed revenue, it also undermines fairness. Those who do pay their taxes must pay more, to compensate for the evaders. And competition between tax compliant businesses and their non-compliant counterparts becomes distorted.

With this in mind, in December, the Commission adopted an action plan to fight against tax fraud and tax evasion, along with recommendations to Member States for action. Allow me to briefly mention some of the actions which need quick progress:

  1. First, Savings taxation: Member States must urgently agree on the reinforced Directive and mandate the Commission to review the related Agreement with Switzerland and other non EU European Countries;

  2. Second, tax havens: Member States should implement a common definition of tax havens and black-list uncooperative jurisdictions;

  3. Third, aggressive tax planning. Loopholes and mismatches in the Single Market should not lead to situations of “de facto” non-taxation. Member States should apply common measures to block opportunities for aggressive tax planners. They should reinforce their Double Tax Conventions and adopt a uniform General Anti-Abuse Rule, which would allow them to tax on the basis of real economic substance, and ignore artificial tax arrangements.

I can't finish on this topic without mentioning a fundamentally fair tax which the Commission proposed last year and which currently is the source of much attention: the Financial Transaction tax.

We all know that Member States and the EU intervened massively to rescue the financial sector.

Meanwhile, this same sector carries a disproportionately lower tax burden than other sectors in our society.

The FTT will redress the balance, and ensure that the financial sector makes a fair contribution to public finances.

In addition to this, it will deliver significant new revenues that could be channelled into growth-promoting measures, for the benefit of all.

Agreement on the FTT has not been possible at 27. However, last year, the Commission received requests from 11 Member States to move ahead with a common FTT, under what we call the enhanced cooperation procedure.

Although Ireland is not one of these 11 Member States signed up to move ahead with the FTT, I am confident that it will facilitate progress during its Presidency. The European Council and our citizens have high expectations for quick results.

Conclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Taxation has a major role to play in ensuring smart consolidation and sustainable growth in the EU.

Our goal must be to make the Single Market the best place in the world to do business; to become a benchmark for competitive and efficient tax systems.

The European Union is currently designing the deepening of the Euro and the forging a genuine Economic and Monetary Union.

Taxation cannot be avoided in this debate. The day of isolated tax policy is over.

Coming closer together as a Union on tax matters reinforces every Member States' capacity to offer a sound and competitive business environment.

It helps our businesses, and attracts investment. And it strengthens our common position when addressing international challenges and spreading the principle of fair taxation abroad.

I therefore strongly believe that for taxation, as for other policy areas, the answer to our current challenges lies in more Europe, not less. And I am confident that the Irish presidency will push this agenda forward.

Thank you for your attention.

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Irish citizens tell the Commission what they think (11 January 2013)

In a packed City Hall in Dublin, 200 Irish citizens from across the country, and many more online via Twitter, took their opportunity to tell Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding and Minister for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton just what they think about the EU.

Moderated by Pat Kenny of RTE, the 'Citizens’ Dialogue' gave members of the public a chance to air their views and concerns on the economic crisis, citizens’ rights in the EU and the kind of Europe they want to live in. Lively discussions saw participants question the politicians on a range of topics from the unfairness of the bailout and soaring youth unemployment, to the gender pay gap and improving EU accountability.

Ms Reding recognised that too many people are still unaware of their rights as EU citizens and that the EU needs to engage citizens better than it has done to date. "We want to change the way we do politics. We want citizens to know who and what we are voting for in the next election," she said.

Proceedings kicked off earlier in the day with the official launch of the European Year of Citizens by Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Responding to questions about whether the EU is doing enough to address the economic crisis, President Barroso said that while a lot has been done to restore stability to the financial sector, greater integration is needed in several major areas. He highlighted the plans for the banking union - where significant progress is being made - as a crucial  step for severing the link between bank debt and public debt.

“In future it should be the banks and their shareholders who pay to clean up the banks, not the taxpayer,” said President Barroso.

Yesterday’s debate was just the first in a series of similar events that will be held around Ireland and the EU in 2013 to mark the European Year of Citizens. Vice-President Reding and other key EU figures will team up with national and local politicians in public discussions across Europe to highlight the rights of EU citizens, and give ordinary people a chance to speak directly to politicians and make their voice heard on EU issues. Views expressed will feed into future Commission proposals on strengthening rights in a Union of Citizens.

Videos of the event are available at the following links:

• Opening of the European Year of Citizens

• Extracts from the launch of EYC

• Citizens’ Dialogue (full debate)

• Vox pops 

Other videos of the event are available at: http://webcast.ec.europa.eu/eutv/portal/archive.html

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Commission approves €11m of regional funds for update of rail cars on Dublin commuter belt (11 January 2013)

The European Commission has approved an investment of over €11 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for the acquisition of 33 Inter City type diesel railcars by Iarnród Éireann on the Athlone-Portlaoise-Dublin commuter belt. The high seat intensity rail cars allow the transport of a greater number of passengers in this region. The project will also improve transport connections across the Midlands region.

Commenting on the decision, Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn said “Connecting our towns and cities is a vital part of reinforcing growth in Europe's regions. Safe and reliable transport infrastructure is fundamental, not only for the smooth operation of the Union’s internal market, but also for the economic and social wellbeing of EU citizens.”

The project will improve the south-west corridor route in terms of passenger comfort and capacity.  It will also help to get rid of transport bottlenecks in the region. These railcars replace the existing 25 MK3 Push Pull sets. The project is expected to result in an increase of 7 daily services in the Border, Midlands, Western region alone.

The investment is part of the EU co-financed "Border, Midland and Western Regional Operational Programme", under the priority axis 'Urban Development and Secondary Transport Networks'. The EU will finance €11 million through the ERDF out of a total investment of €22 million.

Background

The project is part of a wider programme to purchase 183 diesel Intercity railcars to upgrade Iarnród Éireann‘s rolling stock fleet, with a potential cost of up to €70 million.  This is, as such, a so-called "major project", of which the total investment (VAT included) is above €50 million and thus subject to a specific decision by the European Commission, whereas other types of projects are approved at national or regional level.

Ireland has been allocated €900 million in cohesion policy funding from 2007 to 2013, of which €750 million is split equally between the ERDF and the European Social Fund. A further €150 million goes towards cross-border and transnational cooperation programmes.

More information:

EU cohesion policy in Ireland

EU-funded 'Major Projects'

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Launch of the European Year of the Citizen 2013 (10 January 2013)

“Ireland is fighting its way through an economic crisis with remarkable resilience and resolution…… The EU is supporting Ireland and other countries in difficulties through these hard times. And solidarity, fairness, this has to be a crucial part of European Union principles. In the coming months, Ireland has a unique opportunity to help other Member States on the shared path back to growth.”

European Commissioner President Barroso was speaking today at the launch of the European Year of the Citizen 2013 in Dublin City Hall today, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Full text of speech below

Speech by President Barroso on the launch of the European Year of Citizens

Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Lord Mayor,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dia duit. At the end of the six months I will be able to say a few more words.         

2013 is the European Year of Citizens. It is also the fortieth anniversary of Ireland's accession to the European Union. And for the first six months of this year, the Council of the European Union will be presided over by Ireland. So I am delighted to start the year with you here in Dublin and to open this afternoon of dialogue and debate and also to have with me my colleagues from the Commission Viviane Reding and also the Irish Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

We have a lot to discuss.

2013, the last full year before the European elections, will be another crucial year for Europe.

The financial and economic crisis has demonstrated just how interdependent we all are in today's globalised world. A problem like the collapse of Lehman Brothers or a housing bubble can have a lot of impact on other countries. Even countries that are large by European standards find it hard to solve global problems on their own.  So, European integration provides an effective response to this changed reality: together we are big enough to tackle issues that can no longer be solved only at national level.

The European Union needs to go further down the path of integration in several major areas.

  • A lot has already been done to restore stability to the financial sector. Now we need to put a banking union in place so that we can finally break the vicious link between bank debt and public debt. In future it should be the banks and their shareholders who pay to clean up the banks, not the taxpayer. The Commission is determined to put the rules in place that will make this happen, we are making progress in this direction;
  • We need to do more to support our single currency.  We need to have a more co-ordinated policy making so that action taken in one country has positive effects in another – and that we try prevent the negative spillovers from one country to the other.
  • All of this must be accompanied by greater accountability and democratic legitimacy. Those who take decisions at EU level should be accountable at EU level, just as governments and parliaments are at national level. 
  • And at the same time we must keep a firm focus on the most pressing challenge of all: getting our economy growing again so that we can provide jobs and the prospect of a decent standard of living for all of Europe's citizens.

We cannot do any of these things without the support of our citizens. More European unity is our best answer to globalisation. And more unity has to be accompanied by more democracy.

Irish support for Europe has always been driven by voluntary groups, by businesses and by engaged citizens. We need to earn their trust more than ever. We need to engage them more than ever.

Ireland is fighting its way through an economic crisis with remarkable resilience and resolution. You are demonstrating that with political will and a shared sense of solidarity, reform and social cohesion can go hand in hand. Coming myself from Portugal – I was just there now for Christmas holidays -, a country that is facing many similar problems, I just want to say to you how I appreciate the efforts and how difficult it is the situation for so many of our families, in Ireland and in Portugal. 

I respect and admire the efforts that are being made here – and we owe it to the people who are suffering the hardships to fix the problems now so that we can build a better future together. The EU is supporting Ireland and other countries in difficulties through these hard times. And solidarity, fairness, this has to be is a crucial part of European Union principles. In the coming months, Ireland has a unique opportunity to help other Member States on the shared path back to growth.

We have agreed an economic reform agenda, Europe 2020, that sets out Europe on course towards what we believe it can be sustainable growth, inclusive and smart growth.

And I will only quote one example, the activation of young people on the labour market. This is one of the priorities also for Ireland, where youth unemployment has increased from 13% before the crisis to just below 30%.

Last month, the European Commission proposed that all Member States introduce a youth guarantee scheme to ensure that all young people up to age 25 receive a quality offer of a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or, if they are unemployed, after becoming in that situation. And I am pleased that the Irish Presidency is working to get this agreed already in February.

Together we will do everything we possibly can not to let our younger generations go to waste.

Over the past forty years, both Europe and Ireland have changed and benefited as a result of our relationship. Membership of the EU has opened markets for Irish business and created jobs for Irish citizens.

Ireland has also been influential in shaping European policies – from the single market, to trade, from enlargement and common agriculture policy to employment. And at times the Irish people have also voiced a more critical view.

I believe constructive criticism does not pose a threat to the European project.

But pessimism and indifference do.

The European Union is not a perfect construct. It is in constant evolution.  It is what we decide to make of it. There are many things that can and should be done better and this year of citizens offers new opportunities for helping to shape the European Union of the future.

I want to see a real debate on how the European Union should evolve in the years to come, both in the economic and in the political sense. A debate which engages every citizen. That is why we are here today. And that is why I really want to engage with you in this debate.

I thank you for coming. I wish we have a good, open debate.

Thank you.

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Statement by President Barroso following the meeting of the European Commission with the Irish Presidency (10 January 2013)

Please see below the statement made by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso at the press conference following the meeting of the Commission with the Irish Presidency in Dublin today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Taoiseach, Tánaiste, dia duit. I aim to speak better Irish by the end of this presidency!

I am very pleased to be here in Dublin on the occasion of Ireland's seventh Council presidency, which also marks the 40th anniversary of Ireland's accession to the European Union. Since 1973, Ireland has shown itself to be an enthusiastic and cooperative member of the EU. I look forward to continuing this good cooperation during this Irish presidency.

And indeed I share your analysis; we had a really good fruitful meeting. I can say that Ireland and the Commission are likeminded. We agree on the priorities, we agree on the need to combine ambition with realism, we are focused on results, on the delivery of results.

Indeed, I am convinced that having Ireland at the helm of the rotating presidency of the Council at this juncture will be good for Ireland and good for Europe.

This morning, the college of commissioners met with the Irish cabinet to discuss our shared priorities. After that, I also had a very productive bilateral meeting with the Taoiseach, where I stressed the need to lay the foundations for lasting growth and job creation. Growth and jobs: this is our priority.

We have now entered a new phase of the crisis, where restoring confidence is key. And I said earlier, I believe that we are today in a better situation than one year before. One year ago the question mark we were asking was about the implosion of the euro. This question is a little bit there, but we need to answer the question of growth, namely the question of employment. We know very well that we are still in a crisis, namely an economic and social crisis. And we need to put our resources together to fight that crisis and also increase confidence as a way of solving the crisis.

I believe the time for taking emergency decisions should be over. The doomsday scenario of a break-up of the euro area has not come to pass. We have shown the naysayers that we are willing to do all that is necessary to ensure the stability of the single currency.

But again we cannot be complacent. There is still very important work to do. We must complete the repair of the financial sector, pursue fiscal consolidation, enact economic reforms for competitiveness and make targeted investments. And we need to be particularly attentive to the very serious social situation that we have in several of our Member States.

I welcome the fact that Ireland has placed stability, growth and jobs at the heart of its presidency. I particularly welcome the fact that the Irish presidency is prioritising an agreement on the Commission proposal on youth guarantee schemes.

We need to avoid a lost generation by promising all those under 25 that they will have a job, a place in further education, a traineeship or an apprenticeship when they leave school or become unemployed.

We should also finalise an agreement on the single supervisory mechanism for banks before the end of January.

After that, the Commission will make further proposals for a bank resolution mechanism, to ensure that in the future, it is the banks themselves who pay for their own failures, and not the public purse.

We must reach an agreement on the multi-annual financial framework, the European Union's next seven-year budget. I'm hopeful we can do this in the next few weeks.

In the longer term, to reinforce the credibility of the single currency, we need to pursue further integration, especially in the euro area, whilst keeping the integrity of the Single Market and of the European Union as a whole. This is the only way we can find a lasting solution to the crisis in the euro area. The Commission is playing its role by designing a new architecture for the euro area. We have drawn up a blueprint that maps out the gradual steps we can take to build a financial, fiscal, economic and political union. Because, at the end, the euro's credibility depends on the soundness of the institutions behind it.

Together with the Presidency we will be pushing also for an ambitious trade agenda. Through trade we can boost growth and create millions of new jobs in the European Union. Trade is, alongside our Single Market, a powerful and cost free stimulus for our economies. The work for the launch of the FTA negotiations with the United States is in this context a priority for the Commission and we welcome the support of the Irish Presidency. I will be presenting to the February European Council our work to progress in this trade agenda.

Let me now say a few words about Ireland, which has shown an unwavering commitment to implementing the economic adjustment programme.

I know these last few years have not been at all easy for the Irish people, who have had to make big sacrifices to ensure the recovery.

But I believe the commitment to reform is paying off: economic growth was stronger than expected at the end of last year, the deficit is lower than predicted and Ireland has already made a tentative return to financial markets. The successful bond auction this week is further proof that investors look favourably on Ireland's efforts.

While important challenges remain – unemployment is at unacceptable levels and the deficit is still amongst the highest in the EU – Ireland is on track to completing the programme as planned at the end of the year. The European Commission will stand by you as we have been doing throughout the crisis. In general, as you know the Commission has been supporting every measure that will improve market confidence and increase public support for the adjustment programme and we have been at your side. Personally, at the European Council together with the Taoiseach, I was always making the case for the need for solidarity with Ireland and for the need for fairness in the European Union. This is the Commission position in favour of fairness

Taoiseach, Tánaiste, I wish you a successful presidency. You have the full support and the goodwill of the Commission as you face the challenges ahead.

Go raibh maith agat.

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EU steps up support for new entrepreneurs to create future growth (10 January 2013)

New plans out from the European Commission should help tackle many of the common obstacles facing budding entrepreneurs when setting up their own business. Coinciding with the publication of Eurobarometer survey revealing that 37% of Irish people aspire to be their own boss, the ‘Entrepreneurship Action Plan’ (9.1.2013) aims to boost entrepreneurship and give more support to business start-ups.

The survey, which compares attitudes to entrepreneurship in the EU and with other countries, also showed that the two greatest fears for Irish respondents when setting up a business were bankruptcy and losing their home. Ninety percent of Irish respondents (compared to an EU average of 79%) alluded to lack of available financial support and complexities of the administrative process.
The new drive seeks to tackle some of these fears and facilitate the creation of new companies by improving access to finance, making transfers of business ownership more successful and giving honest entrepreneurs a second chance after bankruptcy. As Europe struggles to deal with high levels of unemployment, the initiative stresses the importance of education and training for nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs to bring about new jobs, with a particular focus on helping young people, women, migrants and the unemployed start their own business.

New companies represent an important source of new jobs - creating 4.1 million new jobs every year in Europe -  and have a crucial role to play in driving economic growth. European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani, responsible for entrepreneurship and industry, said: "To make it very clear: more entrepreneurs mean more jobs, more innovation and more competitiveness. We want to make entrepreneurship an attractive and accessible prospect for European citizens. If we can unleash Europe's entrepreneurial potential, we can bring back growth to Europe."

More information

The plan covers six key areas where action is needed to create an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to flourish:

  • Access to finance - besides strengthening its existing financial instruments, the Commission also proposes to create a European market for microfinance and to simplify tax structures to allow SMEs to raise funds via direct private investments (such as mini-bonds, crowd funding, and angel investments).
  • Support during the crucial phases of the business lifecycle:  As about 50% of companies fail in their first five years, EU Member States should devote greater resources to help new businesses to get through this critical period, such as management training, R&D coaching, and networking with peers, potential suppliers and clients.
  • Unleash new business opportunities of the digital age: SMEs grow two to three times faster when they embrace ICT. Reinforced support for web-based start-ups and skills improvement can help both web entrepreneurs as well as more traditional businesses.
  • Easier transfers of business ownership: Every year approximately 450,000 firms with 2 million employees are transferred to new owners across Europe leading to the loss of an estimated 150,000 companies with 600,000 jobs. The Commission proposes to expand the markets for enterprises and remove barriers to cross-border business transfers. 
  • Second chances for honest entrepreneurs after bankruptcy: By far the majority (96%) of bankruptcies are due to a string of late payments or other practical problems. Yet 'second starters' are more successful. Therefore, the Commission has just proposed to shift focus away from liquidation and to helping businesses overcome financial difficulties (IP/12/1354). 
  • Administrative simplification: The Commission will continue to vigorously pursue the reduction of regulatory burden.

Full press release (9.1.2013): http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-12_en.htm

MEMO/13/7 Eurobarometer Entrepreneurship 2012: Over the past three years the share of EU citizen who want to be their own boss has fallen from 45% to 37%. This drop is caused by less promising business prospects in the context of the current crisis. The percentage of Irish people who want to be their own boss is also 37%, down from 49% in 2009.

MEMO/13/5 Entrepreneurship as a main driver for economic growth

Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan

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Irish citizens get their say with EU Commission (10 January 2013)

Today 200 Irish citizens, and many more online, have the chance to tell Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding and Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton just what they think about the EU.

The "Citizens’ Dialogue" is part of the launch of the European Year of Citizens 2013 taking place in  Dublin City Hall at 2.30 today, performed by President José Manuel Barroso with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Moderated by Pat Kenny of RTE, the special event today will provide frank and open debate on the economic crisis in Ireland, citizens' rights in the EU and the future of the EU.

Vice-President Reding said earlier: "There is a clear lack of confidence in the political class across the board and in the EU institutions. Too many people in Europe are unaware of their rights as EU citizens and we have to do something about that. The idea behind the Citizens' Dialogue is to give people from all walks of life a chance to voice their concerns and expectations for the future directly to EU politicians."

EU citizens enjoy a wide range of rights which have a real impact on our daily lives, in particular the right to move, work and live freely in other EU countries. Union citizenship also guarantees our high standards of labour and social protection and rights as consumers or passengers. Yet too many people do not fully understand or use their rights. The Year of Citizens and the series of citizens' dialogues aims to address this deficit, to make those rights better known and show their benefits.

During the dialogue in City Hall, Vice-President Reding and Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton, will debate a range of issues high on both the domestic and European agendas with the participants.

The Dublin Citizens' Dialogue is the fifth such event, following debates already held in Cadiz (Spain), Graz (Austria) and Berlin (Germany) and Naples (Italy) last year.

Background

Today’s event in Dublin is the first in a series of debates and events that will be held across the EU in 2013 to mark the European Year of Citizens. Vice-President Reding and other EU Commissioners will team up with national and local politicians in public discussions all across Europe. Follow all the debates here: http://ec.europa.eu/european-debate/. Individuals and civil society organisations are also encouraged to bring forward their own proposals to mark the Year.

The Commission will also strengthen the visibility of the multilingual Europe Direct and Your Europe web portals - 'one-stop-shop' information systems on EU citizens' rights offering practical advice and guidance, as well as problem solving tools such as SOLVIT, which helps Union citizens make better make use of and defend their rights.

Online

Watch live online from 2.30pm: http://webcast.ec.europa.eu/eutv/portal/cdirl

Twitter

The twitter feed for this event is via @emireland. To follow the debate, use hashtag: #cdIRL

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Meet the Scientists! (8 January 2013)

Want to save lives? Keen to find out more about genetic evolution? Or find out what's lurking in the nether regions of space, or in the deepest ocean trench? Dreaming of a career that offers the chance to shape the future?  Then come along to the EU stand at the BT Young Scientists Exhibition, meet the scientists and discover the many different and interesting jobs in science out there for you - the next great discovery could be yours!

What?             49th BT Young Scientists Exhibition
When?            10-12 January 2013
Where?           EU Stand 22, at the BT Young Scientists Exhibition in the World of Science and Technology, Industries Hall, RDS

Irish scientists, many of whom are working on EU funded research projects, will be on hand to answer all your weird and wonderful questions from 11am to 1pm every day and from 3pm to 5pm on Thursday and Friday.

And while you are there, why not test your fishing skills with our interactive fishing game "eco Ocean" and learn about sustainable fishing and how to avoid the depletion of our fish stocks.

Free resources on the themes of biodiversity and maritime affairs and on the European Union are available.

Staff from the European Commission Representation in Ireland, the Joint Research Centre (the European Commission's in-house science service) and the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland will all be on hand to answer your questions.

The Joint Research Centre (www.jrc.ec.europa.eu) is the scientific and technical arm of the European Commission and provides scientific advice and technical know-how to support a wide range of EU policies. The European Commission Representation in Ireland (www.euireland.ie) and the European Parliament Information Office in Ireland (www.europarl.ie) provide information to the Irish public on the European Union and its policies, and the roles the EU institutions.

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Last update: 01/02/2013  |Top