EU Report shows that effective implementation of single market in telecoms still a cause for concern
29 March 2007 - The last market assessment before the reform of the EU telecom rules scheduled for summer 2007 has just been published. The 12th EU telecom markets report shows that while much progress has been made, the full benefits of the single market in telecoms are still not being fully exploited in European countries, including Ireland.
“The opening of telecom markets to competition is certainly one of the EU’s success stories as can be seen by the downward trend in tariffs and better services. However, whilst 2.3% growth of the sector and 5% additional investment are good, they are not good enough in times when Europe’s competitiveness is a stake.” commented Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Telecommunications. “This is why this year’s reform of the EU's telecom rules must focus regulation on those key bottlenecks where competition is still not effective. In a sector where technology transcends national borders, regulators should pave the way for pan-European economies of scale that are in the interests of both operators and consumers.”
The Commission report takes a snapshot of Europe's telecom markets, worth almost €290 billion in revenues, just prior to the reform of the EU telecom rules. It includes individual chapters covering the situation in each EU Member State.
Overview for Ireland:
“The Irish electronic communications market saw competition intensify in the mobile sector in 2006. Broadband penetration is still below the EU-25 average, but has improved substantially, partly driven by the uptake of alternative platforms such as wireless local loop. In the fixed market, alternative operators have succeeded in acquiring a visible market share of fixed calls. In an effort to speed up broadband uptake, the national regulatory authority (NRA), ComReg, continued to tackle local loop unbundling related problems. However, effective implementation of remedies in practice remains an issue. While ComReg has taken a number of regulatory initiatives spectrum management and consumer protection, the expected and long delayed reforms of the Wireless Telegraphy Act would appear to be more than necessary.”
See: Fact sheet for Ireland [168 KB] [168 KB]
See: Full report for Ireland [61 KB]
European highlights of this year’s report:
Lower prices and more consumer choice
Prices for a 3 minute national fixed telephone call have gone down from around 41.8 €-cent in 2000 to 25 €-cent today. The prices of domestic mobile services have decreased by up to 13.9% in the past year.
Moreover, more than 31.4 million mobile customers (up by 6.3 million) made use of their right under EU law to keep their number, when changing subscription from one operator to another. Of all Member States, Spain has the highest number of consumers choosing to do this (9.21 million). For fixed-line telephones, more than 15 million customers in the EU also switched operators in this way (compared to 7 million in 2005). In Sweden, it is already possible for consumers to retain their number, when switching to VoIP services.
Mobile markets are maturing
Revenue growth was 4.6% in 2006. With 478.4 million mobile phones in use, penetration in Europe is now at 103% of population (up from 95% in 2005). Penetration is highest in Luxembourg (171%), Italy (134%) and Lithuania (133%).
Fixed voice telephony: operators' revenues decline
Revenues decreased by between 4.5 and 5.1% in 2006. Competition continues to drive the market shares of the incumbents down; they are now on average at 65.8% of retail revenues in the EU25.
Competition drives fast broadband growth
Revenue growth was between 7.8% and 8.5% in 2006. More than 20 million additional broadband subscriptions were taken up in 2006, bringing penetration in the EU25 to 15.7%. The Netherlands (29.8%) and Denmark (29.4%) now have the highest broadband penetration rates in the world topping South Korea while seven Member States have higher broadband penetration rates than the US. Countries where regulators have imposed access obligations on the incumbent operator’s networks and where infrastructure based competition has started to unfold, are seeing the highest growth rates.
Lack of a level-playing field for operators
The Commission’s report also points to some of the most burning regulatory issues that are still unresolved:
- Lack of truly independent national regulators: In some Member States, political influence over the day-to-day work of the national regulator continues to be cause for concern.
- Delays in imposing remedies to competition problems: in some caused by lengthy legal appeals against the decisions of national regulators.
- Very different remedies for similar competition problems: Broadband bitstream-access offers remain inconsistent across the EU, and call termination charges vary significantly from country to country.
- Inefficient and fragmented management of radio spectrum: Radio spectrum supports services worth over €200 billion. An EU-wide approach to managing radio spectrum could generate up to 0.1% of additional GDP growth.
- Incomplete deployment of the 112 emergency number: In 2006, the Commission had to start infringement proceedings against 13 Member States.
Cross-border competition, economic growth and consumer benefit could be enhanced substantially if the EU moved from 27 different national systems to a more consistent regulatory approach throughout Europe. Market players already generate today around 1/3 of their revenue in Member States other than their own.
The Commission will address these issues with the reform of the EU Telecom rules, planned for summer this year.
The Commission has done such a report every year since the opening up of national markets to competition by means of EU rules. It is the yearly "Convergence Report" of the EU's Telecom sector.
Starting point 12 years ago: EU decision to open national markets, formerly dominated by state-owned monopolies, to competition by means of ex-ante regulation.
Main questions to be asked each year:
- Has effective competition been achieved?
- Have the effects of the former state-owned monopoly been eliminated
- Has the telecom sector become a normal market like any others, with no structural advantages for the former incumbents?
If the answer is yes, then ex ante-regulation can and must be phased out. The sector can be deregulated and left to competition law only.
Other issues looked at in the report:
- the overall economic situation of the sector (growth, investment, competition),
- consumer benefits.
Good news for farmers as the European Commission moves to improve Cross Compliance, says Territt
29 March 2007 - The European Commission is proposing a raft of measures to improve and simplify the system of Cross Compliance, said Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, today.
The changes aim, among other things, to improve information, introduce a certain level of tolerance in minor cases of non-compliance, harmonise control rates and introduce advance notice of certain on-farm checks, he said.
This proposal does not water down the concept of Cross Compliance, which was a key part of the 2003 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, but takes into account experience gained so far to make the system work better for the benefit of farmers and administrations. It forms the latest stage in the Commission's ongoing efforts to simplify the CAP.
“The European Commission is determined to help farmers meet their obligations under Cross Compliance, while ensuring that the high standards of food production demanded by consumers are upheld,” said Territt.
Cross Compliance means that farmers have to respect a set of standards to avoid cuts in payments from the European Union. These cover protection of the environment, public, animal and plant health, animal welfare and the maintenance of the land in good agricultural and environmental condition. Cross Compliance has the dual aims of helping to make farming more sustainable and making the CAP more compatible with the expectations of consumers and taxpayers.
"Cross Compliance is a central part of our reformed CAP," said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. "Direct payments will only be acceptable to the public if people can see that our farmers are being rewarded for carrying out vital tasks in the countryside. I am well aware that many farmers are very unhappy with Cross Compliance. But it is right and it is necessary and it is here to stay. However, this does not mean that we cannot make changes to make it work more effectively."
Cross Compliance was a major component of the 2003 CAP reforms. It includes the possibility to reduce, either fully or partially, the direct payments to the farmer if the standards are not respected. It is made up of two components, the "statutory management requirements" (SMRs) and "good agricultural and environmental condition" (GAEC). The SMRs are made up of 19 laws, while Member States have to define minimum standards for GAEC based on an EU framework.
In 2005, 240,898 on-the-spot checks were carried out on 4.92 percent of farmers affected by Cross Compliance. Reductions in payments were applied for 11.9 percent of farmers subject to on-the-spot checks. Most detected cases of non-compliance related to the identification and registration of cattle, with the remaining cases mostly concerning the GAEC and the Nitrates Directive.
The Commission has already issued seven guidance documents since 2005 to help the Member States and has encouraged sharing of best practice. It will continue to encourage such discussions in the future. However, a number of specific practical measures can also be proposed to simplify the operation of the system:
- The Commission will create the possibility to give notice of checks up to 14 days in advance as long as the purpose of the controls is not jeopardised. Controls on feed and food law, animal health and animal welfare and identification and registration of animals will remain unannounced.
- Member States should be allowed not to pursue cases of non-compliance which would not trigger the minimum reduction. However, a warning letter should still be sent to the farmer concerned and follow-up ensured.
- It is also proposed to establish a de minimis rule to exempt from reductions any penalty falling below €50. A warning letter would be sent and follow-up ensured also in this case.
- The Commission intends to introduce a single control rate, of 1 percent minimum, for on-the-spot checks for Cross Compliance.
- In cases where checks have revealed a significant degree of non-compliance, checks are increased. In future, this increase should focus only on the areas of risk and not on all standards, as is currently the case.
- National authorities will be required to identify the optimal time of year to check most of the obligations, while ensuring that no obligation is ignored in the control system.
- Checks need only be made on half of the land parcels, rather than the whole farm.
- Farmers must receive the control report at the latest three months after the checks.
- There will be an improved selection of the control sample, including a random element.
- The Commission will clarify the information the Member States are required to provide to farmers.
- It is proposed to simplify the so-called "10-month rule", which obliges farmers to keep at their disposal for 10 months any land parcels declared to activate the single payment scheme.
- New Member States which apply the SAPS scheme of direct aid will have to implement the SMRs from 2009. It is proposed to allow a three-year phasing-in period for this. For Bulgaria and Romania, this phase-in period would begin in 2012.
EU poll shows Irish public endorses recent changes in European agricultural policy
29 March 2007 - One of the main findings of a new poll examining attitudes to agriculture and the Common Agricultural Policy, published today, is that the European public strongly supports recent reforms to EU farm policy. In Ireland, more than 70% of those polled supported the idea that farmers’ payments are now linked to the requirement to comply with certain rules regarding the environment, food safety and animal welfare. In the EU overall, 8 out of 10 people support such measures.
When asked about the CAP reform which has brought in lower subsidies for agricultural products but gives more money for development of rural areas as well as direct support to farmers, 53% of Irish people polled though this was a good thing. The EU average for this question was 49%.
There is also distinct evidence of views on the future direction of agricultural policy, with the public envisioning agriculture and the rural areas continuing to play a central role in the EU: Almost 9 in every 10 Europeans (88%) say that these are key issues for the future of Europe. In Ireland, this figure was 75%.
This is reflected in opinions on the proportion of the EU budget devoted to the CAP, which is currently around 40%. Fifty-one percent of Irish people believe that this should either stay the same or increase in years to come, compared to a figure of just 12% who think this should decrease. The corresponding European average was 58% who believe that it should either stay the same or increase in years to come, and 17% who think it should decrease.
More specifically, the factors people around Europe believe the EU should prioritise within agricultural policy are:
- Ensuring farmers supply them with healthy and safe food (mentioned by 41%)
- Ensuring both farmers (37%) and consumers (35%) get a fair deal in the market
- Respect for the environment (33%) and the welfare of farm animals (27%)
The CAP is currently perceived as fulfilling its role well, with a good share of favourable ratings on the supply of healthy/safe food (+14 points more positive ratings than negative), environmental respect (+7) and animal welfare (+6). The balancing act between ensuring a fair standard of living for farmers (-5%) and a good price level for consumers (-6%) is amongst the few areas where the CAP is perceived as performing less well.
The results show a predominantly favourable reaction to two of the key elements of the 2003 agreement on CAP reform. The survey, conducted by TNS Opinion on behalf of the European Commission Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development, was carried out between the 17 November and the 19 December 2006. Using the methodology of the standard Eurobarometer survey, around 1000 face-to-face interviews were conducted in each of the (at that time) 25 EU Member States.
For more details, follow the links below:
Commission proposes to end waste of fisheries resources
28 March 2007 - Today, the European Commission proposed reducing unwanted catches and eliminating discards in European fisheries. Discarding is the practice of dumping overboard unwanted fish or other marine organisms which have been caught unintentionally. Discard rates in European fisheries vary widely, from negligible in some small-scale coastal fisheries, to up to 70-90% of the catches in some trawl fisheries.
The proposed approach represents an innovation for the Common Fisheries Policy. It involves the adoption of a progressive fishery-by-fishery discard ban and the setting of standards for maximum acceptable by-catch. This will provide an incentive to industry to devise ways to meeting the by-catch targets, rather than through series of measures to regulate landings.
In short, the incentive would be for fishermen to take from the sea only what can be marketed. The debate on achieving these aims will continue till the end of 2007 and the first proposed measures could be tabled in 2008.
"Discarding is wrong because it represents a waste of precious marine resources. Therefore, it makes no ecological, economic or ethical sense. The sooner we bring this wasteful practice to an end, the better for fish stocks, the marine environment and the fishing industry." European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, commented.
Discarding has been addressed in the EU before, mainly through measures regulating fishing gear, such as net mesh sizes or the use of escape panels in, or acoustic devices on nets. Some types of fishing gear have had considerable success but the application of the related measures is already complicated to apply and control.
Instead, the Commission believes that a management system based on outcomes, defined in terms of maximum acceptable by-catch, together with an obligation to land all fish caught, will provide a strong incentive for fishermen to devise the technical solutions that are most appropriate to their own activities.
Such a system would also be far simpler for all parties to implement and enforce. Flanking measures would include encouragements to improve the selectivity of fishing gear, area closures and obligations to switch fishing grounds when there are aggregations of young fish, for example.
The exact structure of such a management system, and its impact on related measures, such as total allowable catches and quotas, will need to be worked out in some detail, as will the arrangements to be put in place for landing what would previously have been discarded. The Communication is intended to initiate a debate which will continue through to the end of this year. A plan for implementation in specific fisheries will be drawn up, and the first regulations for specific fisheries could be proposed as early as 2008.
Discarding threatens sustainability
Unwanted catches and discards represent a direct threat to the sustainability of European fisheries as most of the fish and organisms discarded do not survive. Discarding affects particularly young fish which are below the authorised minimum landing size (MLS). MLS are designed to ensure that young fish are not targeted so that they stay in the sea to replenish the stocks. However, discarding also hits stocks of adult fish. This can be the case in fisheries where several species are caught together (for example, cod, haddock and whiting). The vessel may have quota remaining for one species (say haddock), but not for the others (cod or whiting). Fishers can also choose to retain only the most valuable fish, thus dumping marketable fish of lower value.
Discarding results in reducing the number of mature fish which could be caught and sold, by fishing them when they are too young and reducing the number of mature fish which survive to reproduce. In both cases, discarding directly reduces the future productivity of the seas. Discarding also affects other species taken as unwanted by-catch, not only non-commercial species of fish, but also other marine organisms such as some sea birds, turtles and mammals. It thus not only undermines the biological and economic sustainability of the fisheries within which it is practiced but it can also have a wider negative impact on the marine environment, on the integrity of marine ecosystems and on the conservation of biodiversity.
Discarding, therefore, is contrary to both the aims of the Common Fisheries Policy, and to specific commitments made by the European Union, such as those under the UN Convention on Biodiversity, or the commitment to manage fish stocks for sustainable yield given at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development.
A 2005 study published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated the amount of discards in the North Atlantic at 1,332,000 tonnes per year – 13% of the catches. The estimated discards for the North Sea ranged from 500,000 to 880,000 tonnes. To the west of Ireland and Scotland, discards ranged from 31 to 90% of catches depending on the fleets, target species and depth. In the Mediterranean and Black Seas, discards amounted to 18,000 tonnes or 4.9% of the catches. In the Baltic, this rate was estimated to be low at an average of 1.4%.
Names of beneficiaries of EU funds to be made public under new financial rules
28 March 2007 - Under new financial rules for EU spending decided today, the names of the beneficiaries of all EU funds will soon have to be made public. In order to have better transparency and public accountability, the European Commission has decided that the names of beneficiaries of structural funds and external aid programmes (as of 2008) and agricultural subsidies (as of 2009) will have to be disclosed to public view in all Member States.
The decision comes as part of an overall package of new financial rules for EU spending from 2007-2013. The New Financial Regulation will accompany a new generation of EU programmes worth € 975 billion over a seven year period and enter into force from 1 May 2007. The new rules greatly simplify access to funding and reduce administrative procedures to a minimum.
Dalia Grybauskaitė, European Commissioner for Budget and Financial Programming, said: "Simpler, more practical solutions in the modernised financial rules give the opportunity to better use EU funds. Greater transparency and accountability will increase the effectiveness of spending and protect EU taxpayers' interest".
Simplification of the procedures
Practical improvements for both grants and public contracts will be most important for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), schools, universities, researchers, development agencies and municipalities:
- Grants of up to €25,000 require less documentation.
- Work done by staff may replace cash co-financing for grants.
- The financial guarantees required for grants below €60,000 prior to initial payment may be waived, after having assessed the financial risk.
- Purchases of up to €60 000 using grant money may be made with the minimum of rules to be respected, only the principle of sound financial management and the absence of conflict of interests will be required.
- Higher threshold (€60,000 instead of €50,000) for award of public contracts with simplified purchasing procedures.
- Higher threshold to allow organisations competing for low-value EU contracts to make a simple declaration on their honour, replacing complex evidence showing no previous malpractice convictions.
- Simplifications for award of public contracts in the field of external aid with much higher thresholds (up to €5,000,000 for works).
The Commission also will gain more flexibility in budget management to react in end-of-year humanitarian or crisis management situations by immediately using unspent funds without asking prior consent of the Council and the Parliament.
Better public control
As well as publication of the names of beneficiaries of EU funds, the Commission will a have an expanded tool to prevent fraud and corruption: the central database of organisations excluded from EU funding will be shared between all EU Institutions and Member States authorities. This database will contain all relevant information on entities condemned for fraud or corruption in the Member States and third countries involved in the implementation of EU programmes.
The new financial rules will improve Member States' reporting on the implementation of the part of the EU budget managed by them (three-quarters of the total EU budget).
The Financial Regulation provides general principles and rules for all transactions entered into by the European Institutions. The detailed step-by-step rules are laid down in the Implementing Rules, adopted today by the Commission.
The previous Financial Regulation entered into force in January 2003. A review in the light of experience was required after three years, the Commission made its first proposal for revision on 3rd May 2005, aiming at increased simplification, transparency and accountability. The Court of Auditors delivered a broadly favourable opinion in December 2005, the European Parliament and the Council completed their first examination in March 2006 which resulted in an amended proposal by the Commission on 18th May 2006.
The revised Financial Regulation was finally agreed by the European Parliament and Member States on 29th of November and adopted unanimously by the Council on 13th of December 2006. Now that the Implementing Rules have been adopted, translating the revised Financial Regulation into practice, the new rules will apply as of 1st May 2007.
European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy celebrates 50th anniversary of the EU
23 March 2007 - European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy blew out the candles on a giant birthday cake for the European Union today, March 23, at the European Commission Representation in Ireland.
He was celebrating the 50th birthday of the EU, which takes place on 25 March 2007. The date marks the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the EU by creating the European Economic Community (EEC). This paved the way for people, goods and services to move freely across borders. The Treaty was signed by France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. Ireland joined in 1973 and the Union now counts 27 Member States.
Commissioner McCreevy said: “I salute those who had the vision fifty years ago to create the EU. I salute all of those Irish people and Europeans who have contributed to its success, and I greatly look forward to another caoga bliain le chéile.”
Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, said: “We are celebrating enormous achievements over 50 years in Europe this weekend. Yet, paradoxically, the challenges confronting us are growing. I am confident that, as our leaders gather in Berlin on Sunday, they will shine a strong beam of light into the future and that the Declaration they make on 25th March will give that inspiration and impetus so badly needed to ensure that our future path is well mapped.”
EU leaders will meet in Berlin on 24 and 25 March to celebrate the EU’s 50th birthday. They will issue a political declaration setting out Europe’s values and ambitions for the future. The ‘Berlin Declaration’ will mark 50 years of European integration, recall EU achievements and look ahead to the next 50 years.
On Sunday, March 25, Commissioner McCreevy will present an EU flag to the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, the Very Revd. Robert MacCarthy, before attending a special inter-faith service to mark the anniversary. The service starts at 3.15pm and all are welcome. A special ‘Prayer for Europe’ will also be said in churches across Ireland.
The European Commission Representation in Ireland is opening its doors to the public from 11am to 4pm on Sunday, March 25. Drop in for a coffee and croissant and watch a live satellite link-up with the commemorative events taking place in Rome and Berlin and historic video archives.
Lyric FM will broadcast a recital of the European Union Baroque Orchestra to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome at 10.30am on Sunday, 25 March. It will be followed with a live broadcast of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony from Berlin.
An Post is issuing a special commemorative stamp next week and the Central Bank will issue special €2 coins to mark the anniversary later this year.
For a full list of events in Ireland, see: http://ec.europa.eu/ireland/press_office/events_ireland/50thanniversary_en.htm
Single Market needs to be extended to retail financial services to really help citizens
23 March 2007 - European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said today in Dublin that the Single Market needs to be extended to areas where it can genuinely help citizens. He said priorities for the future would be everyday retail products and reducing barriers to practicing professional services in another Member State.
Commissioner McCreevy said: “We are looking closely at areas where the Single Market can genuinely help citizens. One obvious area is retail financial services – everyday products such as mortgages, insurance and credit cards. Europe has a central role in promoting choice and competition while maintaining consumer confidence. Another priority is professional services where barriers reduce competition, push up prices and restrict citizens’ rights to practice their profession in another Member State.”
The Commissioner went on to say that he also wanted to at look ways of involving ordinary people more in the governance of the Single Market. This would mean finding ways to involve consumers more closely in shaping policies and improving problem-solving and redress systems in the Member States.
Commissioner McCreevy was speaking at a briefing on the Single Market to stakeholders which was held at the European Commission Representation in Ireland today (23 March). Represented at the briefing were consumer organisations, small and medium enterprise representatives, trade unions and employers’ groups, academics and the diplomatic community as well as members of the public.
Click here for the full text of the Commissioner's speech.
European Commission sends Ireland final written warning on drinking water
22 March 2007 - The European Commission is sending Ireland a final written warning for failing to comply fully with a 2002 European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling requiring drinking water supplies to be kept free of E.coli bacteria.
It is sending Ireland a similar warning for failing to comply with a 2005 ECJ ruling requiring greater controls on polluting discharges to surface water by local authorities. If the responses are unsatisfactory, the Commission may ask the ECJ to impose financial penalties on Ireland.
The Commission is also referring Ireland to the ECJ for failing to give adequate rights to citizens to legally challenge decisions in cases involving environmental impact assessments and integrated pollution prevention and control.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “I am concerned that, more than four years after a court ruling, and despite substantial Government investments, a significant number of local authority and private water supplies still show a presence of e.coli. This needs to be resolved without further delay."
At the same time, action taken by Ireland to ban drift-netting of Atlantic wild salmon at sea has allowed a case to be closed.
Polluted drinking water
On 14 November 2002, Ireland was condemned by the European Court of Justice over the microbiological contamination of hundreds of public and private water supplies. The EU's Drinking Water Directive requires an absence of e.coli in drinking water supplies in order to protect human health. These bacteria point to a high risk of human pathogens being present.
Despite substantial Government investments, a significant number of local authority and private water supplies still show a presence of e.coli. More than half of private group water supplies in Counties Cavan, Kerry, Leitrim, Mayo, Donegal and Sligo breached the e.coli standard in 2005. Causes include sources polluted by animal wastes and defective septic tanks, absence of treatment, inadequate treatment and failure to maintain treatment equipment properly.
Controls on local authority polluting discharges
On 2 June 2005, the Court found against Ireland for not having an authorisation system for local authority water discharges of dangerous substances under an EU directive on control of water pollution.
Lack of or inadequate treatment of the urban wastewater discharges of towns and villages is one of the main causes of surface water pollution in Ireland. This pollution harms fish habitats and makes it more difficult to provide safe drinking water.
Ireland's environment ministry has committed itself to a new licensing system for local authority treatment plants and collecting systems to be managed by Ireland's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Drafts have been presented to the Commission but adopted legislation is still not in place twenty-five years after it became due.
The ECJ ruling also requires new pollution controls on fish-farms, a matter under the responsibility of Ireland's marine ministry. The ministry has failed to provide any clear details of how and when the ruling will be satisfied.
Right of citizens to bring legal challenges without prohibitive expense
The Commission has decided to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failing to adopt and provide correct information on measures to give effect to the EU's Public Participation Directive. The Directive implements an international agreement, the Aarhus Convention, which promotes public participation in environmental decision-making.
Ireland, the only Member State not to have ratified the Aarhus Convention, has argued that the Irish courts already uphold the right through a system of judicial review and that additional legislation is unnecessary. However, although not informed of this by the Irish Government, the Commission has learnt that, during 2006, the Irish High Court expressly refused to apply the Public Participation Directive.
Case on wild salmon closed
The Commission has decided to close a case concerning drift-net fishing at sea for wild Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar. It had sent Ireland a final written warning in 2006 for breaching the EU Habitats Directive, which gives protection to the salmon. The Irish marine ministry has since banned drift-netting at sea and introduced more rigorous requirements for the assessment of different forms of exploitation of salmon stocks.
Consumers in focus on European Consumer Rights Day (March 15)
14 March 2007 - To mark European Consumer Rights Day on 15 March, the European Consumer Centre and the European Commission Representation in Ireland have jointly welcomed the Commission’s new strategy to strengthen consumer confidence in the EU.
European Commissioner for Consumer Protection Meglena Kuneva has outlined 20 actions to boost consumer confidence which include the following;
- Tackling cross-border scams by implementing the new Consumer Protection Co-operation Regulation
- Overhauling of existing consumer legislation such as the timeshare directive, consumer credit directive and so on
- Enhancing co-operation with US and Chinese authorities to ensure safe products
- Increasing support to the European Consumer Centre Network which advises consumers on their rights and assists in cross-border disputes
“The EU offers huge choice and value for money which consumers can see when visiting another country or shopping online. But work still has to be done to create a safer shopping environment. The Commission’s new consumer strategy is a step in the right direction,” says Tina Leonard, Manager of the European Consumer Centre in Dublin.
Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, says: "With this strategy we aim to awake a sleeping giant, the retail side of the Single Market. The new tools are there for a dramatic evolution in the cross border market, but consumer behaviour is lagging behind. The European Commission wants to build trust in the market and give people more choice and value for money."
To find out more about the consumer strategy, click here:
European survey shows Irish are top binge drinkers in EU
14 March 2007 - A Eurobarometer survey out today shows that 34% of Irish respondents say they usually binge drink. This compares to about one in four respondents from Finland (27%), the UK (24%) and Denmark (23%). On the other hand, only 2% of respondents in Italy and Greece and 4% in Portugal usually binge drink. Binge drinking is defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks in one session. Overall across the EU, binge drinking is highest among the 15 to 24 age group (overall 19%) though with sharp national differences.
The survey also shows that almost eight out of ten Europeans (77%) agree with putting warnings on alcohol bottles and adverts in order to warn pregnant women and drivers of the dangers of drinking alcohol. And almost three quarters of Europeans (73%) would agree to a lower blood alcohol limit for young and learner drivers of 0.2 g/l.
EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "It is clear from this survey that EU citizens support measures to protect specific groups in society, such as pregnant women, drivers and young people from the harmful effects of alcohol abuse and misuse. I am deeply concerned about the data showing that one in five young Europeans regularly binge drink."
It is estimated that alcohol abuse and misuse kills 195,000 people a year in the EU. Harmful alcohol consumption is responsible for one in four deaths among young men aged 15-29.
Price matters for young people
The survey indicates that higher prices would not reduce alcohol consumption for most people. 62% said they would not buy less alcoholic drinks if the price went up by 25%. However, younger respondents react more sensitively to alcohol price increases: 44% of the youngest respondents believe that they would buy less alcohol with a 25% price increase. Most Europeans (68%) believe that higher prices for alcohol would not discourage young people and heavy drinkers from consuming alcohol.
On October 24 2006, the European Commission adopted a Communication setting out an EU strategy to support Member States in reducing alcohol related harm. The priorities identified in the Communication were: to protect young people and children; reduce injuries and deaths from alcohol-related road accidents; prevent harm among adults and reduce the negative impact on the economy; raise awareness of the impact on health of harmful alcohol consumption; and help gather reliable statistics.
The Commission has proposed an Alcohol and Health Forum of interested parties setting out areas where industry can make a contribution, notably in the area of responsible advertising and marketing. The European Commission is holding preparatory meetings with interested parties with a view to convening the first meeting of the Forum on 7 June.
The special Eurobarometer on Alcohol is available at:
For more information, please visit:
Commissioner tells Dublin conference that EU energy proposals mark a fundamental change in direction
12 March 2007 - European Commissioner for Energy Andris Piebalgs said in Dublin today that the new European Energy Policy agreed last week will mean the most wide-ranging reform of Europe’s energy policy ever attempted, fundamentally changing the direction in which Europe is heading.
The Commissioner said: “The 20% target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is a huge challenge: it means nothing less than the EU taking global leadership in catalysing a new industrial revolution, accelerating the change to low carbon growth and dramatically increasing the amount of local, low emission energy being produced and used…There are no longer any easy energy choices and the challenge we face is enormous.”
The Commissioner went on to welcome the Irish White Paper published today by Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Noel Dempsey, TD, and said that it was time for all Member States to meet the massive energy and environmental challenges facing the EU.
The Commissioner was visiting Ireland to meet Minister Dempsey and to speak to the Energy and Climate Groups of the Institute of European Affairs in Dublin.
The European Council agreed last week to a set of headline political targets and set out how they would be realised:
On climate change: an independent EU commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, plus a commitment to extend this to 30% if other developed countries commit to comparable reductions;
On the internal market for gas and electricity: the need for effective unbundling of supply and production from network activities, based on independent, well regulated systems which guarantee equal and open access;
On renewable energies: a binding target of 20% by 2020 with a minimum of 10% biofuels in EU transport consumption.
There will be a clear mechanism for allocating and monitoring the national contributions which will be agreed by the Commission with each Member State.
Click here for the full text of Commissioner Piebalgs' speech.
European Council Conclusions of 9 March: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/cms3_applications/applications/newsRoom/loadBook.asp?BID=76&LANG=1&cmsid=347
European Commission’s Integrated Energy and Climate package:http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/index_en.htm
Manchester United play Europe XI to celebrate 50 years of the EU
12 March 2007 - The best of European football will be on show in Manchester tomorrow, 13 March, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which set up the modern-day European Union.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of their participation as the first English team to play UEFA’s European club competition, Manchester United will play a Europe XI to be coached by Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi.
The Europe XI squad includes many of the Italian World Cup winning squad and Barcelona and Liverpool Captains Carles Puyol and Steven Gerrard. Three Brazilian stars, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Juninho Pernambucano will also play as guests for the Europe XI.
The game will televised on BBC Three from 8pm.
European integration and European football are two success stories that hand gone hand in hand over the last 50 years, opening new horizons for millions of people. Football is the most popular sport in the world and the last World cup showed that Europe is the undisputed world leader in the game. Tomorrow’s celebration match is an opportunity to enjoy and reflect on that achievement.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “Throughout my childhood, I had the pleasure to watch the great Manchester teams play in Europe. It is a great way to mark the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the European Union through the great game of football. It inspires Europeans in a unique way, through a shared passion and a language understood by all.”
Michel Platini, President of UEFA, Europe’s governing body said: “Football brings people together. In a continent so proud of its cultural diversity, football offers a common language. It helps to integrate different communities. At its best, our sport conveys some of Europe’s basic values: the rule of law, respect for others, freedom of expression, teamwork and solidarity. I feel very proud that UEFA has been able to organise this special match.”
Representing Manchester United, Sir Bobby Charlton said, “The history of Manchester United is tied up with that of Europe. Some of the club’s greatest moments have been played out on a European stage. I look forward to welcoming so many stars and friends to Old Trafford to celebrate these two significant anniversaries.”
The Europe XI squad for the match currently includes Olivier Kahn, Grégory Coupet, Iker Casillas, Paolo Maldini, Jamie Carragher, Eric Abidal, Lilan Thuram, Carles Puyol, Marco Materazzi, Fabio Grosso, Gianluca Zambrotta, Steven Gerrard, Juninho Pernambucano, Florent Malouda, Luis Miguel, Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Alessandro Mancini, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson.
The 25th March 2007 will mark the 50th anniversary of the signature of the Treaty of Rome that founded the modern-day European Union. The football match in Manchester will be the event with the highest profile planned in the UK to celebrate the date and will attract interest audiences throughout the 27 Member States of the EU and the world. Fittingly it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first time an English club entered European football club competitions under the auspices of European Football’s governing body, UEFA.
This special initiative further develops the cooperation between the European Commission and UEFA. The two organisations intend to work together, where they can, to promote the values that have made European sport such a success.
All proceeds from the event will go to the Manchester United Foundation which is a registered charity funding local community projects. It has benefited more than one million people since its creation in 1992.
For further information, see:
EU’s 50th Anniversary website: http://europa.eu/50/index_en.htm
UEFA website: http://www.uefa.com/
Further details on tickets for the match: http://www.manutd.com
Boosting the Diversity of European TV- and On-Demand services
7 March 2007 - The European Commission has unveiled a consolidated text of the modernised ‘Television without Frontiers’ Directive. After a first reading in the European Parliament and the Council, there is now broad agreement with the Commission about the future legal framework for Europe’s audiovisual sector.
The new rules, which have been called for especially by the European Parliament, are a response to technological developments and create a new level-playing field in Europe for emerging audiovisual media services (video on demand, mobile TV, audiovisual services on digital TV).
European TV- and filmmakers will be given more flexibility to produce digital content which they can then make freely available to consumers thanks to advertising. The new Directive reaffirms the pillars of Europe’s audiovisual model, which are cultural diversity, protection of minors, consumer protection, media pluralism, and the fight against racial and religious hatred. The Commission also proposes to ensure the independence of national media regulators. The consolidated text of the new Directive will now go into a second reading by the European Parliament and Council.
“Thanks to the ambitious work of the European Parliament and the intense efforts of the German Presidency over the past months, Europe’s new legal framework for a more competitive, more diverse and more pluralistic audiovisual media sector is now within reach,” said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “I am confident that we will now achieve political agreement on the new “Audiovisual Without Frontiers” Directive by the end of May. Europe’s internal market would then be truly open for providers and consumers of audiovisual services by the end of 2008 at the latest.”
The modernisation of the “Television without Frontiers” Directive of 1989 was proposed by the Commission on 13 December 2005 (see IP/05/1573 and MEMO/06/208) and since then has made rapid progress in the European Parliament and in the Council of Ministers. The new Directive intends to help Europe’s audiovisual industry to become more competitive by allowing all audiovisual media services to profit from the internal market, regardless of the transmission technology used. It also introduces more flexible rules for traditional TV broadcasting to accommodate technological and market developments, and changing viewing habits.
At the heart of the new Directive is the country of origin principle, which was already the cornerstone of the original “Television without Frontiers” Directive of 1989. This principle has played a pivotal role in boosting cross-border satellite TV and the progressive establishment of pan-European TV channels since the end of the 1980s. It will in future also ensure that audiovisual media service providers other than broadcasters (such as providers of video-on-demand, news-on-demand, sport-on-demand or providers of downloadable audiovisual content for mobiles) will have to comply only with the legislation of the country where they are established, and not with 27 different national legal systems.
The new Directive also enhances media pluralism in the 27 EU Member States by opening up national media markets to more competition from other EU countries and by facilitating a diversified offer of TV- and audiovisual on-demand content from all over Europe.
Under the new Directive, rules on TV advertising are to be less detailed than they have been since 1989. In line with the drive for better regulation by the Barroso Commission, the decision on when and how to interrupt free-to-air TV programmes by advertising is left to broadcasters and filmmakers and not predetermined in Brussels. The overall quantity of advertising remains limited to 12-minutes in any given hour.
Films, children’s programmes, current affairs programmes and news are not to be interrupted by adverts more than once every 30 minutes. “New forms of commercial such as product placement have the potential to provide significant revenues for TV broadcasters and the audiovisual industry as a whole,” said Commissioner Reding. “I appreciate that both the European Parliament and the Council have supported the Commission’s view that here, we need to support the competitiveness of European film, while at the same time clearly excluding product placement from children’s programmes, news, documentaries, and current affairs programmes.”
The new Directive also reaffirms the common policy objectives which have been at the heart of Europe’s audiovisual policy since 1989. It requires Member States to take appropriate measures to protect minors, to promote European works and independent audiovisual productions, and to prohibit content that would incite religious or racial hatred. It also explicitly encourages industry self-regulation and co-regulation between state and non-state (see IP/07/138).
One of the open issues to be discussed in the second reading is the Commission’s proposal to guarantee that national regulatory authorities are independent from national governments and from all audiovisual media service providers, and to ensure that they work impartially and transparently. The Commission considers that the independence of media authorities is essential to democracy and crucial for ensuring media pluralism (see IP/07/52). In the first reading the European Parliament strongly supported this proposal.
On 13 December 2005, the Commission proposed the revision of the “Television Without Frontiers” directive to address significant technological and market developments in audiovisual services (see IP/05/1573 and MEMO/06/208). After a first discussion in May 2006 on the Commission’s proposal, the Council agreed a general approach on a modernised draft audiovisual services directive on 13 November 2006. The compromise prepared by the Presidency and endorsed by the Council is broadly in line with the Commission proposal. On 13 December 2006 the European Parliament completed its first reading of the Directive, showing strong convergence both with the Commission’s proposal and the general approach of Council. On 12 February 2007 in Berlin, an informal Council prepared the ground for adoption of a common position on the Directive on 24 May 2007.
The consolidated text for “Audiovisual without Frontiers” Directive (in the form of a preliminary working paper) can be consulted on the following website:
The full press package on the modernisation of the Television Without Frontiers directive: http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/newsroom/cf/itemlongdetail.cfm?item_id=2343
Irish projects win European Commission science prizes
7 March 2007 - An Irish children’s magazine and a high-tech telescope system that Irish scientists were involved in building have won this year’s EU Descartes science prizes from the European Commission.
Launched in 2000, the EU Descartes Prize for Research rewards teams of scientists for outstanding scientific or technological results achieved through trans-national research in any field of science, including the social sciences, humanities and economics. In 2004, a Descartes Prize for Science Communication was also launched. Together, these prizes bring science and society one step closer by stimulating European collaborative research and raising public awareness and understanding of science.
European Commissioner Janez Potočnik announced the winners at a special ceremony in Brussels today.
Science Communication Prize winner
Dr Sheila Donegan and Eoin Gill of Waterford Institute of Technology’s Centre for the Advancement of Learning of Maths, Science and Technology (CALMAST) have won the Descartes Science Communication prize for ‘Eureka’, a weekly magazine about science for children. The magazine won because of its unique approach in presenting scientific information in a themed and attractive way to younger children. It includes puzzles, facts, quizzes and cartoons. The winners share the €275,000 prize with four other projects.
Research Prize winner
Irish scientists linked up with collaborators in Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, France, UK, South Africa and Armenia on the H.E.S.S. project, which has won one of this year’s Descartes Prizes for Research. The High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) is an array of four massive telescopes built and operated in Namibia. They have revolutionised astronomy at the very highest energies of the electromagnetic spectrum, several orders of magnitude beyond the energy range accessible to satellite-based instruments.
The team will share €1 million in prize money with two other projects.
Martin Territt, Director of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, said: “The drive to improve scientific knowledge is vital if the EU is to compete in a globalised world. Having Irish involvement in two categories of these prestigious awards is an incredible achievement and I congratulate the winners.”
For more details of the winning projects, see IP/07/132, MEMO/07/42 on Descartes Prize for Research and IP/07/131, MEMO/07/43 on Descartes Prize for Science Communication.
Women driving EU job growth – but still face barriers to equality
7 March 2007 - Three out of four new jobs created in the EU are being taken by women, but important gaps with men remain, according to a new European Commission report, released ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March.
Despite higher educational achievements, women continue to be employed less – and paid less – than men. The 2007 'Annual report on equality between women and men' will be submitted to EU leaders at the Spring European Council on 8-9 March. The report is the first since the Commission launched its Gender Roadmap and EU leaders adopted the Pact for Gender Equality in March 2006.
"Women are driving job growth in Europe and are helping us reach our economic targets, but they still face too many barriers to realising their full potential," said Vladimír Špidla, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. "Out of eight million jobs created in the EU since 2000, six million were filled by women, and 59% of university graduates are now female. But while women are outperforming men in educational achievement and boosting Europe's overall employment rate, they are still underpaid, earning on average 15% less than men for every hour worked."
Women's employment rate now stands at 56.3% – or 2.7 points above the 2000 level – compared with a 0.1 percentage point rise for men over the same period, according to the report. Similarly, the employment rate for women over 55 has risen significantly faster than that for men, now standing at 33.7% – almost 7 percentage points more than in 2000.
But while the number of women completing higher education now exceeds men, their employment rate remains 15 percentage points lower than men's and they continue to face a pay gap of 15%. The increase in female employment is mainly in sectors and jobs already dominated by women and which are generally less well paid. Women also face greater difficulties in reaching decision making positions. This is in contrast to the results of Eurobarometer survey published on January 2007 where a large majority of Europeans said that more women are needed in management positions (77%) and as Members of Parliament (72 %). Overall, the 2007 report makes it clear that more can be done to make full use of the productive potential of the workforce.
Work-life balance is pinpointed as a key area in achieving greater equality between women and men. It is striking that the employment rate for women aged 20-49 falls by 15 percentage points when they have a child, while that of men increases by six points. In addition, women have a disproportionately high recourse to part-time work (32.9%) compared with men (7.7%). The report highlights multiple barriers to a better work-life balance, including lack of childcare provision, financial factors, career setbacks, the risk of losing one's skills, the difficulties of returning to employment and the pressure to conform to stereotypes.
Since greater equality depends on a better gender balance in the distribution of private and family responsibilities, reviewing existing provisions for parental leave is crucial. Gender equality policies also need to be actively supported by Structural Funds over the period 2007-2013, says the report. In addition, the new PROGRESS funding programme contains a section dedicated to gender equality. Finally, the report underlines the importance of effectively implementing all relevant legislation.
Alongside the annual report, the European Commission is publishing two independent studies by academic experts. The first examines the gender pay gap and will be followed by a Commission Communication planned for the summer. The second looks at the position of disadvantaged women and the gender dimension of poverty and social exclusion.
In the context of International Women's Day, the issue of women in decision-making was addressed in a high-level conference organised by the European Commission in Brussels on 6 March. The event attracted more than 200 participants and brought five female Members of the Commission together with top women from the world of business.
For more information, see:
2007 report on equality between women and men
The gender pay gap – origins and policy responses (expert report)
Gender inequalities in the risks of poverty and social exclusion for disadvantaged groups in thirty European countries (expert report)
2007 European Year of Equal Opportunities for All
Commissioner Joe Borg in Dublin: the EU needs a maritime policy to retain competitive edge
6 March 2007 - European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, warned in Dublin today that challenges from economies outside the EU demanded an integrated earlier policy response at EU level. This, he said, was necessary for Europe to retain its competitive edge.
The Commissioner was speaking to delegates at a Stakeholder Conference on the European Union's Maritime Green Paper, “Towards a Future Maritime Policy for the Union". The conference marked the end of the national consultation period in Ireland.
Commissioner Borg went on to welcome the recent publication of the ‘Sea Change’ strategy for Irish marine sector development produced by the Marine Institute and launched by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Noel Dempsey.
Mr Borg said: “The European Commission welcomes the ‘Sea Change’ strategy’s exploration of the marine sector's potential as much more than a source of fish and points towards a wide variety of more market-led and business opportunities in sustainable energy, functional food products, transport, technology and environmental well-being.” He went on, “We applaud the strategy's ambition to make Ireland a world leader in renewable energy, functional foods and health products.
This afternoon, the Commissioner will address the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome which is being marked by a series of events across the EU. In Dublin, the event will be marked by an inter-faith service in St Patrick’s Cathedral at 3.15 pm on Sunday 25th March at which an EU flag will be presented to the Dean of the Cathedral. Also that day, the European Commission Representation at 18 Dawson Street will open its doors to the public.
Click here for link to the EU's Green Paper on Maritime Policy.
Click here for link to the celebrations planned for the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
Click here for link to report on employment trends in maritime sector in Irelan
Click here for the Commissioner's address to the Stakeholder Conference on the European Union's Maritime Green Paper and here for the Commissioner's address to the Joint Oireachtas Committees.
EU survey shows that Europeans support greater EU action on energy and climate change
5 Mar 2007 - An overwhelming majority of European Union citizens are concerned about climate change, according to a new Eurobarometer survey conducted by the European Commission and published today. Europeans are well aware of the impact of energy production and consumption on climate change and global warming, while most feel that the best way to tackle energy-related issues would be at EU level.
“This survey clearly shows that EU citizens expect the EU to shape a common European response to face energy and climate change challenges,” said European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. “The Commission is working to address citizens’ concerns with initiatives that will deliver an integrated energy policy for Europe that will tackle climate change and provide us with a sustainable, secure and competitive energy supply.”
Half of EU citizens are very much concerned about the effects of climate change and global warming, while a further 37% say that they are to some degree concerned about the issue. The level of concern increases significantly as we look further south: people in Spain, Cyprus, Malta and Greece are the most worried. "Climate change is happening. EU citizens expect EU leadership on this issue. The EU must use this political momentum in order to put Europe and the World on the path to a more energy secure and low carbon future" said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
Half of the Irish people surveyed said they were “very much” concerned about climate change and global warming. Another 34% said they were concerned to some degree. Some 88% believe that the way Ireland produces and consumers energy has a negative impact on climate change and global warning, with 39% of that figure saying there was a “big” negative impact.
Irish people also said that they expected to have to change their daily habits in order to help fight climate change. Some 92% (the largest percentage in the EU) said they expected to change their everyday energy consumption habits in 10 years time, while 81% said they expected to be paying more for energy in a decade.
Some 94% of Irish people surveyed (the largest percentage in the EU) said they believed that the EU should set a minimum percentage for energy that comes from renewable sources. Almost half (48%) said the Irish government should subsidise energy efficient solutions.
More than eight out of ten Europeans (82%) are well aware that the way they consume and produce energy in their country has a negative impact on climate. For a majority of EU citizens (62%) the best way to tackle energy-related issues is “through measures agreed at EU level” as opposed to “measures agreed on at a national level”, an option preferred by 32%. Several policy initiatives of the EU also enjoy the support of the majority of citizens. 83% agree that the EU sets a minimum percentage of the energy used in each Member State that should come from renewable sources.
The survey shows that EU citizens are fairly certain that energy prices will increase significantly over the next decade due to ongoing climate change. More than seven out of ten Europeans feel that they will need to change their energy consumption habits in the next decade (76%), and that they will need to install energy-saving heating, lighting, cooling and other such equipment (72%).
Europeans believe that it is essential to have a real choice of supplier for electricity and gas (85%), and that environmental concerns also play a role in their preference for free competition. Currently, 80% of EU citizens say energy efficiency influences their decision when buying household appliances. When asked what actions citizens would most welcome from authorities in helping them cope with future energy challenges, they most often indicated monetary assistance to upgrade the energy-efficiency of their living space.
When asked, 61% of the overall EU population think that the share of nuclear energy should be decreased due to concerns such as nuclear waste and the danger of accidents. At the same time, Europeans almost unanimously (92%) back the introduction of common, high safety requirements for all nuclear installations in the EU.
Finally, almost two thirds (65%) believe the EU is in a better position to negotiate energy supplies and prices for all Member States, against 26% who prefer their government to act independently. Europeans express a strong level of solidarity on the issue of energy: almost eight out of ten (79%) EU citizens agree that in the case of a sudden shortage of oil and gas, the affected Member State should be able to rely on the reserves of other EU countries, while only 17% is opposed to this.
Click here for the complete report: http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/doc/eurobarometer/2007_eu_energy_policy_eurobarometer_slides_presentation_en.pdf
European Commission welcomes launch of new EU Fundamental Rights Agency
1 Mar 2007 - The European Commission has welcomed the launch of a new EU Fundamental Rights Agency today in Vienna. The Agency is a key resource to advise European institutions and Member States, raise public awareness and provide information and data to support Fundamental Rights work.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "The European Commission is fully committed to promoting the respect of fundamental rights at EU level. The establishment of the Fundamental Rights Agency is a step forward in providing the European Union with the expertise it needs to successfully combat discrimination. Once the Agency is fully operational, I believe it will provide a valuable resource for the Commission and other EU institutions. I see the Agency as a complement rather than competition to work being done elsewhere.”
European Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini also warmly welcomed the creation of the Fundamental Rights Agency, "We must promote fundamental rights if we are to achieve a Europe of which we can all be proud,” he said. “A Europe which is richly diverse, where people are integrated and live side by side and gender, racial and other inequalities are overcome. European citizens support this: a recent survey found that 73% of them want more EU level decision making on promoting and protecting fundamental rights. The Fundamental Rights Agency will be one of the key resources to facilitate this.”
The Fundamental Rights Agency replaces and builds on the work of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). Going beyond the work of the Monitoring Centre, the Fundamental rights agency will have three key functions: to collect information and data; provide advice to the European Union and its Member States and promote dialogue with civil society to raise public awareness of fundamental rights.
During the course of 2007, the agency will become fully operational. Later this year the EU institutions will adopt the Multi-Annual Framework to define the precise areas of the Agency's activities. The Director of the Agency will also take up office. During the interim period, the Agency will focus its work on combating racism, xenophobia and related intolerance.
Further information on the FRA is available here: http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/fsj/rights/fsj_rights_agency_en.htm
European Commission warns Microsoft of further penalties over unreasonable pricing
1 March 2007 - The European Commission has sent a Statement of Objections (SO) to Microsoft for failing to comply with certain of its obligations under the March 2004 Commission decision (see IP/04/382). Part of that decision found Microsoft to have infringed the EC Treaty rules on abuse of a dominant position (Article 82) by leveraging its near monopoly in the market for PC operating systems onto the market for work group server operating systems. Microsoft therefore had to disclose complete and accurate interface documentation on "reasonable and non-discriminatory terms", allowing non-Microsoft work group servers to interoperate with Windows PCs and servers.
The SO indicates the Commission’s preliminary view that there is no significant innovation in the interoperability information, rejecting as unfounded 1500 pages of submissions by Microsoft from December 2005 onwards, and hence that the prices proposed by Microsoft are unreasonable. Microsoft has four weeks to reply to the SO, after which the Commission may impose a daily penalty for failure to comply with the March 2004 decision. The issue of whether the interoperability information is complete and accurate is still under consideration by the Commission.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said, “Microsoft has agreed that the main basis for pricing should be whether its protocols are innovative. The Commission's current view is that there is no significant innovation in these protocols. I am therefore again obliged to take formal measures to ensure that Microsoft complies with its obligations.”
Microsoft provides two separate licensing arrangements to companies wishing to obtain the interoperability information as foreseen by the 2004 Decision's remedy. The first is a 'No Patent Agreement', allowing licensees to use the protocols which together comprise the interoperability information, but without taking a licence for patents which Microsoft claims necessary, a claim disputed by some third parties. The second (the 'All IP Agreement') combines this first licence with a licence for these disputed patents. Companies therefore have a choice of agreement, depending on whether they consider they need a patent licence. Both licences confirm that an assessment of the reasonableness of Microsoft's prices depends on whether there is innovation in the protocols, and, if there is, what is charged for comparable technologies in the market.
For both licences, Microsoft divided the protocols into Gold, Silver and Bronze price categories based on the claimed degree of innovation. Microsoft has already agreed that there is a fourth category of protocols, not necessarily innovative, for which there will be no royalty.
The Commission's preliminary view is that there is virtually no innovation in the 51 protocols in the 'No Patent Agreement' where Microsoft has claimed non-patented innovation, and that Microsoft's current royalty rates for this agreement are therefore unreasonable. This takes into account the advice of both the Monitoring Trustee (see IP/05/1215) and the Commission's technical advisors, TAEUS, who both consider that there is no innovation in any protocol in the Gold and Silver categories. These protocols represent more than 95% of the price of the total Technical Documentation. The Trustee considers that of the total of 160 claims, only four, relating to relatively minor Bronze protocols, represent even a limited degree of innovation.
As regards each of the other claims, the Trustee advised that:
"all of the described features were considered either to have been Microsoft implementations of prior developments by others, or to have been anticipated by prior developments and to be immediately obvious minor extensions to that prior work."
TAEUS, which examined the main Gold and Silver protocols, reached the same conclusions as to lack of innovation.
For the 'All IP Agreement', the Commission has assumed that the existence of patents indicates some associated innovation, although third parties remain free to challenge Microsoft's patent claims before an appropriate court or to implement software that, in their view, does not infringe the patented technology. In any event, the Trustee's analysis is that most of the information relates only to solving problems specific to Windows, and will not improve the functionalities of the licensee's own operating systems. The Trustee has also provided evidence to the Commission that comparable technologies to these were provided royalty-free.
In a very limited number of cases, the Trustee's analysis suggests that patented technologies may go beyond merely solving interoperability problems specific to the Windows environment. But in such cases, he has again provided evidence that comparable technologies, including technologies offered by Microsoft itself, are available royalty-free.
In light of these elements, the Commission takes the preliminary view that Microsoft's current royalty rates for its 'All IP Agreement' are also unreasonable.
For further information, see: http://ec.europa.eu/comm/competition/antitrust/cases/microsoft/index.html
Conference of An Post Group of Unions, 1 March 2007
1 Mar 2007 - At the Conference of An Post Group of Unions today, Martin Territt, Head of the European Commission Representation in Ireland, spoke about the main considerations behind the Commission’s proposal to fully open markets for postal services in 2009.
“The postal sector is a key part of the EU's economic infrastructure. As with other network industries, efficiency savings achieved in this sector can be directly passed on to customers. This in turn will help to further ensure the sustainability of the postal sector itself …There are already Member States that have opened up all or substantial parts of the total postal market to competition. Market opening has proven to be feasible and those who opened more and started early have gained the most.”
Mr Territt underlined that the Commission's commitment to universal service is uncompromising. “Our proposal fully maintains the requirement of a high quality universal service at affordable prices. Citizens and small customers can be assured that they will continue to be provided with this service.”
Click here for the full text of the speech.