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  Graphic element MEDICINE, HUMAN TISSUE: EU seeks to flesh out human tissue regulations (24/02/03)  
    Human tissue and cells play a crucial role in modern medicine, but there are insufficient controls to ensure they are always used safely and ethically. That looks set to change as a draft proposal for EU-wide regulations moved a step closer to fruition.  
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  Graphic element QUANTUM PHYSICS, COMMUNICATION: Beam me up! (24/02/03)  
    Six years ago, when physicists successfully teleported photons for the first time, the world wondered what would be next. Could people or large objects be teleported? Would quantum communication become a reality?  
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  Graphic element ENERGY, ITALY: Italians split over nuclear issue (24/02/03)  
    Over 50% of Italians are against any initiatives to build nuclear power plants, according to a new report monitoring the relationship between citizens, institutions and research.  
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  Graphic element EARTHQUAKES, SPACE: New study sheds light on earthquake behaviour (17/02/03)  
    European Commission researchers have surveyed the surface effects of an earthquake that hit remote regions of the Indian subcontinent. They hope their findings will help scientists learn more about how these devastating natural phenomena behave.  
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  Graphic element TRANSPORT, CARS: MOSES says car-sharing could part sea of traffic (17/02/03)  
    More Europeans need to be part of car-sharing initiatives if congestion on our roads is to be reduced and sustainable transport patterns established, a special committee studying the issue told the European Parliament at a recent seminar.  
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  Graphic element CLIMATE, CHANGE: Global warming upsets weather patterns (17/02/03)  
    Last year sizzled in as the second-warmest year on record and, while the high temperatures brought flooding in Europe, they triggered Australia's worst drought, a new report has revealed.  
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  Graphic element NANOTECHNOLOGY, INVESTMENT: French lead in nanotechnologies under threat (10/02/03)  
    France needs to invest more in the emerging 'revolutionary' science of nanotechnologies if it is to remain competitive in this promising field, a French parliamentary committee has recommended.  
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  Graphic element ENVIRONMENT, LAW: EU gets tough on 'green' crime (10/02/03)  
    The Council of Ministers has approved measures to protect the environment by encouraging Member States to crack down on green crimes by making them punishable offences in their criminal codes.  
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  Graphic element MEDICINE, INVESTMENT: European Parliament joins fight against poverty-related diseases (10/02/03)  
    The European Parliament has approved a resolution to boost research efforts and aid dedicated to combating communicable diseases - AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis - that afflict millions around the world and sap the economic potential of developing countries.  
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  Graphic element SPACE, COLLABORATION: EU and Russia explore ways to take joint space research to new frontiers (03/02/03)  
    Hundreds of top-level representatives from the European Union and Russia recently gathered in Moscow to draw up a road map for enhancing joint space research within the context of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme.  
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  Graphic element ENVIRONMENT, LEGISLATION: Polluters to pay for environmental damage (03/02/03)  
    As Europe continues to mop up the legacy of the stricken oil tanker Prestige and other recent environmental disasters, a draft EU directive that would ensure polluters pay for the damage they cause has passed its latest hurdle.  
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  Graphic element FUTURE OF EUROPE, YOUTH: Youngsters to have their say in Europe's future (03/02/03)  
    The EU is setting up a platform to involve youth in its future of Europe debate. Under the banner of 'Spring Day in Europe', young people will be able to air their views on the Union they would like to become a part of.  
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graphical element MEDICINE, HUMAN TISSUE: EU seeks to flesh out human tissue regulations (24/02/03)
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  Human tissue and cells play a crucial role in modern medicine, but there are insufficient controls to ensure they are always used safely and ethically. That looks set to change as a draft proposal for EU-wide regulations moved a step closer to fruition.
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The European Parliament’s Environment Committee discussed last week a Commission proposal setting standards to ensure that human tissue and cells are used to the same consistently high quality, safety and ethical levels in medical therapy across Europe.

Despite the rapid and impressive progress in tissue engineering, no EU-wide regulatory framework exists, raising questions of public health. The proposal seeks to rectify this by harmonising and strengthening the requirements related to the suitability of donors and the handling of donated samples.

It also establishes standards for screening and tracing collected tissue, and a system for regulating imports from third countries. Although bone, skin and other tissue can be supplied commercially, all donations must be voluntary and unpaid, the Committee recommended.

More than skin deep
Tissue engineering is becoming increasingly important in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. Bone marrow, for example, is transplanted into patients suffering from leukaemia, and skin cells can be cultivated in the laboratory and grafted onto burns victims.

Research is currently underway to develop a cellular therapy to treat damaged heart tissue, as well as to find a way to harness the body's immune system to fight cancer.

The promise this field holds for public health and improving the quality of life of many EU citizens makes a compelling case for proper regulation to be rapidly put in place. The Greek Presidency has said it will give special attention to the issue.

The Environment Committee will vote on the proposal on 25 March. It is then expected to be voted on by the Parliament at its plenary session in April and will go before the Council of Ministers by June.

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Source: EU sources

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graphical element QUANTUM PHYSICS, COMMUNICATION: Beam me up! (24/02/03)
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  Six years ago, when physicists successfully teleported photons for the first time, the world wondered what would be next. Could people or large objects be teleported? Would quantum communication become a reality?
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Working out of the University of Innsbruck in Austria in 1997, Jian-Wei Pan was part of a team of physicists using quantum teleportation processes to take a photon, or any other quantum-scale particle, and transfer its properties to another photon. But there was a catch. To do this, they had to destroy the photons to ensure successful teleportation. Reporting in Nature this month, Pan and colleagues at the University of Vienna have gone one step further, teleporting photons without having to destroy them first. They think their breakthrough could be the first step towards long-distance quantum communication.

Not everyone agrees. Observers of the 1997 experiment felt that quantum teleportation would never allow for faster-than-light communication. “Although the teleported particle attains the polarization [sic] value instantly, the people at the sending station must convey the fact that teleportation was successful by making a phone call or using some other light speed or sub-light-speed means of communication,” according to the American Institute of Physics. So, what has changed to make it possible now?

Living next door to Alice
In quantum teleportation, the sender – oddly named ‘Alice’ – instantly transfers the quantum state of the particle to a receiver, called ‘Bob’. Until recently, complications in this experiment, causing what Physicsweb calls “spurious events”, meant that certain detectors destroyed the photon in the registration process. The Vienna team used filters to reduce the intensity of the photons being transported, significantly reducing these spurious events and increasing the teleportation accuracy to 97%.

With such precision, according to Physicsweb, “the teleported protons could be used in ‘quantum repeaters’ for long-distance communication”. Used in combination with what Pan’s team call “entanglement purification”, quantum communication could yet become a reality. But for science fiction buffs hoping to be beamed up, the American Institute of Physics offers this reality check.

“[Schemes like this] are intended only for quantum-scale particles, such as photons and atoms. Although no existing laws of physics prevent quantum teleportation from being carried out in humans and automobiles, it is extremely unlikely that this scheme could be carried out in such macroscopic objects...”

Depiction of the experimental set-up for achieving quantum teleportation in 1997.
Photo: Malcolm Tarlton, American Institute of Physics
Depiction of the experimental set-up for achieving quantum teleportation in 1997.

Photo: Malcolm Tarlton, American Institute of Physics

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Source: Physicsweb, American Institute of Physics, University of Vienna

Contact: Research DG contacts

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graphical element ENERGY, ITALY: Italians split over nuclear issue (24/02/03)
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  Over 50% of Italians are against any initiatives to build nuclear power plants, according to a new report monitoring the relationship between citizens, institutions and research.
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The heated debate over whether to build new nuclear plants has reached Italy. This comes almost 10 months after another EU member, Finland, approved plans to build a new nuclear facility, effectively breaking the 17-year-old moratorium on such construction.

This month’s study by the ‘Science and Society Observatory’ and carried out by Observa – a non-profit research centre – shows that 56% of Italians oppose any new nuclear facilities. A further 22% of the 876 people surveyed felt Italy should invest in the production of nuclear energy, with the remaining undecided.

Advocates of nuclear power cited several reasons for their position. Topping the list, according to 30% of the supporters, was the belief that current energy sources are “insufficient”. Respondents also remarked on the pollution caused by the present thermo-electrical plants, as well as the need to be less dependent on imported oil. They also argue that nuclear facilities exist in neighbouring countries anyway.

Those opposing new nuclear plants in Italy felt that alternative energy sources should be further explored. They were concerned about radioactive waste management, safety issues, and the difficulty of finding regions prepared to host such facilities.

Community approach to nuclear safety
Last month, the European Commission adopted two proposals for directives designed to pave the way for a “Community approach” to nuclear power plant safety and radioactive waste processing. The first proposal sets out basic obligations and general principles on the safety of nuclear installations, from design to decommissioning. The second seeks answers to the problem of managing radioactive waste.

"While we can be proud of having an excellent level of nuclear safety in the EU,” said Loyola de Palacio, Commissioner for Energy, “the shortcomings in nuclear legislation, in the run-up to enlargement, need to be overcome." These proposals for directives, announced in the Commission’s Communication (6 November 2002), and endorsed by the Nuclear Experts Committee, should contribute to redressing these shortcomings.


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Source: : Observa, EC sources

Contact: info@observanet.it

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graphical element EARTHQUAKES, SPACE: New study sheds light on earthquake behaviour (17/02/03)
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  European Commission researchers have surveyed the surface effects of an earthquake that hit remote regions of the Indian subcontinent. They hope their findings will help scientists learn more about how these devastating natural phenomena behave.
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No instrument like MISR has flown in space before. Viewing the sunlit Earth simultaneously at nine widely spaced angles, MISR provides ongoing global coverage with high spatial detail.
Credit: NASA/JPL, MISR Team
No instrument like MISR has flown in space before. Viewing the sunlit Earth simultaneously at nine widely spaced angles, MISR provides ongoing global coverage with high spatial detail.

Photo: NASA/JPL, MISR Team

Scientists at the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) have just completed a survey of the surface effects of a major earthquake that hit the Indian province of Gujarat, near the Pakistani border, in 2001. Researchers now hope to use the study to help validate earthquake models and document the relationship between the magnitude of a tremor and the extent of its impact.

"This is key information, especially when considering the humanitarian and economic impacts of such disasters," said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin.

Measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale, the devastating tremor claimed nearly 20 000 lives and left 600 000 people homeless. The earthquake also triggered 'liquefaction', which causes ground sediment to behave like a liquid, and reactivated ancient river beds that formed into shallow lakes.

Space-eye view
The survey used data provided by NASA's state-of-the-art Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR). MISR offers the unique ability to view the sunlit face of the Earth at nine different angles and four spectral bands.

Researchers from JRC, along with US, French and German scientists, exploited this wealth of data using a new method of detecting and monitoring the sudden appearance of surface water over a wide region around the earthquake's epicentre.

"The successful collaboration at EU and international level illustrates the benefits that can be expected from co-ordinated approaches," Commissioner Busquin noted. "Europe is a major player in space. We are currently building… a space policy for the EU so that space-based intelligence can be put to the service of our different policy objectives."

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Source: EU sources and news services

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graphical element TRANSPORT, CARS: MOSES says car-sharing could part sea of traffic (17/02/03)
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  More Europeans need to be part of car-sharing initiatives if congestion on our roads is to be reduced and sustainable transport patterns established, a special committee studying the issue told the European Parliament at a recent seminar.
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Europe currently boasts some 150 000 car sharers, the majority of whom live in Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, Belgium and Hungary. This is a reflection of the growing recognition that car sharing is an essential and convenient way of trying to make our roads safer and less polluted.

Nevertheless, the system is still vastly underused, according to Mobility Services for Urban Sustainability (MOSES). The Commission-backed research project estimates that car-sharing schemes can viably reduce the number of vehicles on European roads by 10% within a decade.

MOSES has been working since 2001 to help make this goal a reality. In collaboration with eight European cities and regions, the project team has been focussing on developing services to reduce dependence on the private car, without restricting mobility.

It has also been active in communicating the benefits of car sharing, disseminating best practices, and building partnerships with public transport services and local policy-makers.

Gridlocked dreams
Anyone who has endured gridlock or spent an hour finding a parking space in town can tell you that the dream of liberation and independence that is still associated with the motor car can sometimes feel more like a nightmare. Cars, often carrying only one person, occupy a lot of space while parked vehicles clog our roads.

The main principle of car sharing, says MOSES, is to offer the freedom an automobile can bring without the hassle of ownership. Members of such schemes can pick up (and later drop off) a vehicle whenever they need to at one of the car-sharing stations dotted around their town. For people driving up to 15 000 km per year, car sharing is actually cheaper than car ownership.

Users of car-sharing networks are more inclined to vary their travelling behaviour and use the most appropriate mode of commuting, research has shown. Freed from the restrictions associated with private vehicle ownership, they walk more, take public transport or cycle to their destinations, using cars only when other alternatives are inconvenient.

In addition to being healthier, the system is better for the environment. Fewer vehicles on the road means a more efficient transport infrastructure, lower exhaust emissions and less energy consumption. The average car, according to MOSES, is an idle hulk of steel and plastic for 22 hours a day. By putting them to better use, we can reduce the need for new ones.

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Source: EU sources and news services

Contact: Research DG contacts

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graphical element CLIMATE, CHANGE: Global warming upsets weather patterns (17/02/03)
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  Last year sizzled in as the second-warmest year on record and, while the high temperatures brought flooding in Europe, they triggered Australia's worst drought, a new report has revealed.
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The World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) report says that, in 2002, human-induced global warming helped bring about Australia's worst drought and put the country at higher risk of devastating bush fires, as was demonstrated recently when emergency services battled to keep the flames from engulfing the capital, Canberra.

Between March and November, the island continent recorded its highest-ever average daytime maximum temperature, 0.8°C higher than the previous record, the report shows.

Rain or shine?
Last year's warm weather brought with it higher rainfall and some of Europe's worst flooding, leaving dozens dead. The continent also suffered billions of euros worth of damage. Among the worst hit areas in the EU were Germany, which incurred more than €15 billion of damage, and Austria (€2 billion).

The EU launched a wide-scale effort to get aid to the hardest hit areas. The Union is also involved in research into long-term forecasting and rainfall prediction. The DEMETER project (Development of a European Multimodel Ensemble System for Seasonal to Interannual Prediction) is close to completing the development of the first ever worldwide modelling system.

DEMETER shows great promise in providing predictions of the probability of particular weather regimes and patterns, seasons to years ahead, including their impact on agriculture (e.g. crop yields) and health (e.g. malaria risks in Africa).

In addition, the EU supports longer-term efforts to cut pollution - thought to be one of the prime causes of climate change - by promoting sustainable energy and transport policies across Europe.

Other initiatives include the EU's commitment to Kyoto, its push at the World Summit in Johannesburg for greater use of renewable energy to ensure sustainable development, and its efforts to improve environmental standards in Accession Countries.

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Source: : WWF and EU sources

Contact: Research DG contacts

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graphical element NANOTECHNOLOGY, INVESTMENT: French lead in nanotechnologies under threat (10/02/03)
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  France needs to invest more in the emerging 'revolutionary' science of nanotechnologies if it is to remain competitive in this promising field, a French parliamentary committee has recommended.
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Under the microscope: the weird and wonderful Nanoworld
Under the microscope: the weird and wonderful Nanoworld

Although the French government invests only €50 million a year in nanoscience R&D, the country has managed to remain at the forefront of this emerging sector, France’s Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Choices noted in a recent report. A review of nanotechnology patents registered in the United States showed that France was at the top of the league from 1975-2000.

The report notes, however, that the transatlantic investment gap is growing to alarming proportions. The US government currently pumps more than €2 billion a year into nanosciences.

Similarly, Japan has not been caught napping. It has created a higher council for scientific and technological research to oversee the research efforts in this field and report directly to the prime minister – an initiative France should follow, the report says.

There is real danger that France will lose its lead in nanotechnologies unless the government bolsters investments, the report cautions. It recommends that industrial research should be stimulated and the role of research foundations strengthened. 

A quantum leap in European research
Nanoscience is the revolutionary new field that adopts a ‘bottom-up’ approach, taking atoms as the point of departure from which to ‘artificially’ create molecular nanosystems with very specific properties. It operates at the nanoscopic level – one billionth of a metre.

Research in this area has amazing potential for molecular and quantum computers that will take processing power to previously undreamt of heights. It also has major applications in biomedicine and in the creation of environmentally friendly materials.

Under its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), the EU has dedicated some €1.3 billion to help Europe achieve a critical mass in nanotechnologies and nanosciences.

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Source: News services and EU sources

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graphical element ENVIRONMENT, LAW: EU gets tough on 'green' crime (10/02/03)
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  The Council of Ministers has approved measures to protect the environment by encouraging Member States to crack down on green crimes by making them punishable offences in their criminal codes.
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European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels recently adopted a Framework Decision on the protection of the environment through criminal law. "Each Member State shall take the necessary measures to ensure that [environmental crimes are] punishable by effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties," they agreed.

The Council's decision is based on a Danish proposal tabled in 2000 to create a system for penalising green crimes under the Union's Third Pillar, where competence lies with intergovernmental co-operation between Member States. The Commission had favoured a stronger EU role in its own parallel proposal.

Nipping crime in the bud
Through the adopted instrument, the EU hopes to combat environmental degradation by imposing legal penalties, such as fines or even imprisonment, for serious environmental offences.

The decision requires Member States to define as criminal intentional conduct that causes harm to the environment. Offences that should be classified as criminal include the unlawful discharge of polluting substances into the air, soil or water.

They also include the handling of radioactive materials that can cause substantial environmental damage, injury or even death.

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Source: EU sources

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graphical element MEDICINE, INVESTMENT: European Parliament joins fight against poverty-related diseases (10/02/03)
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  The European Parliament has approved a resolution to boost research efforts and aid dedicated to combating communicable diseases - AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis - that afflict millions around the world and sap the economic potential of developing countries.
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MEPs voted at the end of January by an overwhelming majority to back the Commission's proposal for new regulations to combat preventable communicable diseases.

The draft regulations aim to bolster research into neglected diseases, especially malaria and tuberculosis, and enhance access to affordable medicines in the developing world, particularly to AIDS drugs. "A co-ordinated approach is needed between co-operation, research and health policies to fight the diseases effectively," a Parliament communiqué stated.

MEPs expressed their hope that, given the urgency of the situation, the proposed regulation would be adopted at its first reading under the co-decision procedure.

Medicine for all
The objective of the new regime is to improve access to affordable medicines in the developing world by promoting local production of drugs in accordance with the World Trade Organisation's Doha declaration on Trips (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) and public health.

It should also address the lack of resources being devoted to developing drugs to treat diseases that do not register on the commercial 'radar screen' because they afflict the world's poorest citizens. At present, only 10% of pharmaceutical research activity is devoted to the ailments that make up 90% of the world's disease burden.

Campaigners called on world leaders meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month to provide an extra €6 billion over the next two years to combat these preventable diseases.

The Commission's proposal envisages that, under the Sixth Framework Programme, the EU can provide €200 million to back efforts in this field. It projects that Member States' research programmes and the private sector will provide a further €200 million each. This is the equivalent of €600 million, compared with €100 million under the Fifth Framework Programme.

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Source: : EU sources

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graphical element SPACE, COLLABORATION: EU and Russia explore ways to take joint space research to new frontiers (03/02/03)
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  Hundreds of top-level representatives from the European Union and Russia recently gathered in Moscow to draw up a road map for enhancing joint space research within the context of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme.
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The ESA hopes to crack the secret of comets -the oldest building blocks of our Solar System- with its Rosetta mission.
 Photo: ESA
The ESA hopes to crack the secret of comets -the oldest building blocks of our Solar System- with its Rosetta mission.

Photo: ESA

European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Frank De Winne’s recent high-profile voyage to the International Space Station is the latest in a string of joint space efforts between Russia and the EU. Close to 100 space-related projects have been implemented jointly in over three decades of collaboration.

“We are not building an EU science and technology fortress,” insists EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “Our interest is to build a European Research Area… and co-operation with Russian scientists and industry on space matters is of undeniable mutual interest.”

A recent workshop in Moscow organised by the European Commission, ESA and the Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos drew more than 300 high-level delegates from across Europe and the Russian Federation.


Finding new common space
Although both the EU and Russia have impressive track records in space, the complexity and multi-disciplinary character of space activities underscores the strong need for Euro-Russian collaboration in these areas to exploit the two parties’ diverse specialities to the full.

Delegates at the conference discussed ways of taking collaboration in space to new frontiers under the Sixth Framework Programme, which has earmarked over €1 billion to promote integrated European aerospace research. On the agenda were the GALILEO satellite navigation system, Global Monitoring of the Environment and Security (GMES), satellite telecommunications, scientific research in space, and the intriguing field of human and robotic exploration.

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Source: EU sources

Contact: Hartwig.Bischoff@ec.europa.eu

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graphical element ENVIRONMENT, LEGISLATION: Polluters to pay for environmental damage (03/02/03)
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  As Europe continues to mop up the legacy of the stricken oil tanker Prestige and other recent environmental disasters, a draft EU directive that would ensure polluters pay for the damage they cause has passed its latest hurdle.
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The European Parliament's Environment Committee has just approved a tough new draft directive based on a Commission proposal submitted last year that, if passed, would make polluters directly accountable for the environmental damage they cause. Although the 'polluter pays' principle is enshrined in EU treaties, no workable mechanism for its implementation exists yet.

The draft directive focuses on prevention rather than cure. Assigning liability at source, it argues, will make polluters take all possible precautions, failing which they should pick up the bill for clean-up operations. "The costs of environmental restoration should be borne by the polluter, not the taxpayer," said MEP Mihail Papayannakis of the Environment Committee. "A set of clear and strict rules on who pays the bill for cleaning up should certainly make industrial operators think a little bit more carefully about the risks they take."

Costing the earth?
Industry and farmers have objected to the draft directive saying that it will unfairly increase the legal and economic pressure on them. "The environmental liability directive goes too far and will create major legal and economic uncertainty for European companies," Eurochambres, the association of European chambers of commerce, said. Eurochambres would like to see the draft toned down to ensure enterprises working within existing legal frameworks and not acting negligently are exempted from liability.

Some environmentalists, on the other hand, believe that the Commission's proposals do not go far enough to stop environmental degradation. "These proposals on environmental liability are completely inadequate," Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth charged in a recent press release. "If business pollutes the environment, surely it should pay for the damage it has caused? If this legislation is passed, the environment will pay the price and the taxpayers will foot the bill."

For its part, the Environment Committee has proposed certain amendments to tighten the draft legislation more in line with environmentalists' concerns. These include the removal of the "compliance with permit" clause and the introduction of mandatory environmental insurance within five years of the directive's entry into force.
The draft is now with the Legal Affairs Committee which is due to adopt its official report on the directive on 20th February. It is then expected to be voted on by the Parliament at its plenary session in May.

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Source: EU sources and news services

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graphical element FUTURE OF EUROPE, YOUTH: Youngsters to have their say in Europe's future (03/02/03)
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  The EU is setting up a platform to involve youth in its future of Europe debate. Under the banner of 'Spring Day in Europe', young people will be able to air their views on the Union they would like to become a part of.
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More than 1 500 schools across the EU and in candidate countries have already signed up for the 'Spring Day in Europe' on March 21. Launched by the Convention on the Future of Europe, the event aims to spark discussion among young people (aged 14-19) and give them a voice in this crucial debate.

Participating schools will be organising special debates and other events on the day and special on-line forums have been set up to permit a wider interaction between schools and EU institutions. Young people will get the opportunity to express their opinions on what Europe should do in all areas, including research and technology development.

Since the future of Europe is their future too, it is only natural that young people can have their say, argues the Commission. The EU also hopes to address the apparent political apathy among youth who feel alienated from government. "It is now high time to involve young Europeans more closely in the European project by means of dialogue and discussion," said Regional Policy Commissioner Michel Barnier, who was one of the originators of the idea.

EU goes back to school
Term has begun for several Commissioners who will be heading back to school for the day on March 21. Barnier, along with Education Commissioner Viviane Reding and Justice Commissioner António Vitorino, will be joining the debate in European classrooms and answering students' questions.

"While there is plenty of information in the press and on the web concerning this important debate, nothing can replace a direct exchange of views between politicians and students," explains Reding, who will be standing before blackboards in her native Luxembourg.

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Source: : EU sources and Spring Day website

Contact: context@euronet.nl

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graphical element MANAGEMENT, INFORMATION: Survey confirms UK managers love to hate e-mail (13/01/03)
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  Management in the UK is suffering acute stress from 'information overload', according to a survey of senior IT managers conducted by the British Computer Society (BCS).
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UK managers are suffering acute stress from information overload. Photo: PhotoDisc
UK managers are suffering acute stress from information overload
Photo: PhotoDisc

Despite its obvious utility, the main culprit behind this information overload, managers complain, is the deluge of e-mails taking up an average of almost two hours every working day. Particularly frustrating, explains the newly published report, 'Information Overload: Organisation and Personal Strategies', is that almost a third of the e-mails received are deemed to be irrelevant and often rated as poor quality. Three out of four respondents to the survey - co-researched by BCS, a chartered engineering institution for information systems, and Henley Management School - felt the volume of information in their inboxes had a negative impact on the effectiveness of the staff. It also reduced productivity and the quality of company communication. Most telling, however, was the detrimental effect it is viewed as having on individual stress levels. Yet, despite these results, the perception by an overwhelming majority of managers surveyed is still that e-mail - alongside Internet and mobile phones - has had a positive impact on the way they work.

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Out of seven common management tasks, respondents reported spending an average of 2.8 hours a day in meetings. In second place, dealing with e-mails took on average 1.7 hours, while assessing Internet information required a further 0.75 of an hour. Altogether, these three accounted for over half of the average working day of 8.5 hours. BCS chief executive David Clark said, "While there is a growing recognition within corporate Britain of the problem of information overload, initiatives to reduce its impact are still not widespread." Managers received on average 52 e-mails a day, only 42% warranting a response. The remaining were read for information only (35%) or, in the case of nearly a quarter of all mails, deleted immediately. Perhaps most alarming was management's perception of e-mail quality: nearly 70% responded that under half of the mails they received were good quality - identified as concise writing, clear action requested, attachments explained, relevant previous correspondence, etc.

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Source: British Computer Society, PR Newswire

Contact: info@prnewswire.co.uk

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graphical element TECHNOLOGY, EUROPE: WANTED! Talented European researchers (13/01/03)
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  Time is running out as the deadline for receiving nominations for M.I.T.'s Technology Review of the world's top 100 young innovators draws ever nearer. The 2003 edition of TR100 could be Europe's year. But help is needed.
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Phil Janson, who is a senior technical staff member of the IBM Academy of Technology in Zurich, and documented inventor himself, asks the question: "Could you recognise a gifted European researcher and inventor?" Because he has been asked to do just that. He is one of a panel of judges responsible for choosing 100 of the world's top young innovators in M.I.T. Technology Review's now annual TR100. Mr Janson feels it is up to him to bear the European flag owing to the fact that most of the other judges are North American. What he needs from Research DG's on-line visitors is a list of talented, especially European, scientists under 35 years old who exemplify the spirit of innovation, and whose work looks set to leave its mark on the 21st century. But he needs this information fast as the submission deadline for nominations to appear in the 2003 edition is 31 January.

Hot spots in technology
The theme for this year will be: transforming existing industries and creating new ones. M.I.T. say they are looking for technology's impact on the 'real economy', as opposed to the now moribund 'new economy'. They identify some major hot topics where a fundamental transformation is in progress, including information technology, biotechnology and medicine, nanotechnology and materials, energy, and transportation. But the final list is not restricted, in principle, to any field of research. As in the 1999 and 2002 Special Editions, the finalists will be honoured at an exclusive conference and awards ceremony. Several hundred key technology stakeholders will be invited to participate. The event will include a gala dinner and recognition programme, where Technology Review also will present its coveted 'Innovator of the Year' award.

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Source: M.I.T., European Union sources

Contact: pj@zurich.ibm.com

More information on this subject:
Website 1 | Nominations (doc) | Website 2

 
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graphical element SPECIAL NEEDS, IT: 2003 - Making disability less of a handicap (20/01/03)
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  One in ten EU citizens has a disability of some sort, but this need not be a handicap to becoming independent, productive members of society. To address the special needs of this important group, 2003 has been designated as European Year of People with Disabilities.
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Throughout 2003, the European Commission, in association with the European Disability Forum, will work to raise awareness of the rights of disabled people to full equality and participation in all areas of life. Although disabled people have long been a priority at both EU and national level, there is still much that needs to be done to improve their quality of life. The aim of the Year's activities will be to inform the general public and Member States of the key issues facing people with impairments, such as discrimination in education and the job market, and access to technologies. People with impairments will be the driving force behind the Year's activities and will act as their own envoys through such initiatives as 'Get on Board' - a bus that will leave Athens this month and carry representatives from the disabled community across the 15 Member States.

Access for all
The Commission has been and aims to continue playing a role in establishing better co-operation between Member States in this important area. It can act as a bridge to promote the exchange of best practices, identify key policy areas and promote joint research. EQUAL, set up in Germany last year with assistance from the European Social Fund, is one such project. Aiming to help disabled people stand on an equal footing in the job market, EQUAL has already crossed borders and has partners in Austria and Holland. Research into ways of enhancing the accessibility of technology has also been a key factor of the Commission's work. Activities in this field include the development of Intelligent Systems for Independent Living (ISIL), 'Design-for-all' products and Intelligent Assistive Systems and Technologies.

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Source: European Union sources

Contact: Research DG contacts

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Website 1 | Website 2 | Website 3 | Website 4 | Website 5

 
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graphical element SCIENCE, ASTRONOMY: Joint European space research reaches the stars (20/01/03)
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  Three teams of European astronomers have released the deepest wide-field colour image ever of the southern sky that penetrates far into the distant cosmos and is providing scientists around the world with useful data to shed light on the dark early history of the universe.
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Chandra Deep Field South (CDF-S)
(MPG/ESO 2.2-m + WFI) 

ESO PR Photo 02a/03 (10 January 2003) 
© European Southern Observatory
Chandra Deep Field South (CDF-S)
(MPG/ESO 2.2-m + WFI)

ESO PR Photo 02a/03 (10 January 2003)

Working under the umbrella of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a 10-member intergovernmental body, the European astronomers were able to produce an image that covers Chandra Deep Field South (CDFS), a chunk of the night sky larger than a full moon. The product of more than three years' work, the inter-galactic snapshot contains over 100 000 galaxies, several thousand stars and hundreds of 'quasars' (quasi-stellar radio sources believed to be powered by super-massive black holes). The composite image was obtained from nearly 50 hours of exposure with a state-of-the-art wide field imager camera at the ESO's La Silla observatory in Chile.

Global effort for a universal insight
Three European teams undertook the painstaking task of collecting and compiling the data to form the image, which lasted from 1999-2002. Combo-17, a team of scientists led by the Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie; the ESO's own in-house imaging team, the EIS; and the European arm of GOODS (the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey). The exciting potential of the area of sky under study, which is relatively "empty" by astronomical standards, has sparked massive interest in the scientific community around the world and astronomers hope that this stretch of uncluttered space will open up a window on the early evolution of the universe. Nevertheless, it is a huge undertaking and scientists are coordinating their efforts on a global scale to make the best use of their finite resources. This latest image, which is 200 times larger than that obtained by the Hubble programme, provides a more representative view of the universe that will aid researchers. Under an international data sharing agreement, astronomers are already using the data from the image to help them peer back billions of years into the universe's past.

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Source: European Southern Observatory

Contact: esonews@eso.org

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Website 1 | Website 2 | Website 3 | Website 4

 
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graphical element SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, HUMAN RESOURCES: EU needs new cadre of researchers to pave way to knowledge-based economy (20/01/03)
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  As shown by Research Directorate-General's 'Key Figures 2002', the EU still has proportionately much fewer researchers than the United States and Japan. If the Union is to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010, action must be taken to address this disparity.
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The EU produces significantly more science and engineering graduates than the United States and Japan, statistics compiled by the Research Directorate-General show. Yet, paradoxically, its two major global competitors employ a larger proportion of their workforce in the research sector. According to the report, 'Towards a European Research Area: Science, Technology and Innovation Key Figures 2002', human resources - particularly in the field of applied research - are a major driving force behind growth in the knowledge-based economy. While the EU average is 5.4 researchers per thousand workers, Japan boasts an impressive 9.26 and the United States a respectable 8.08. Nevertheless, the aggregate figures belie the huge disparity among Member States. Finland, for instance, leads the global league with a staggering 13.08 researchers per thousand, while G7 member Italy props up the table with only 2.8.

Boosting EU brain power
There is much the EU can do to sharpen the competitive edge of its research sector to become a leading knowledge-based economy. The EU business sector, which currently invests less in R&D than its transatlantic counterpart, should be encouraged to employ more researchers and pump more resources into tertiary education. Research should be made a more attractive career option for women, who are currently under-represented in the sector. While these structural adjustments are being made, the Union could, in the short term, try to attract more researchers from abroad.

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Source: : European Commission, Research Directorate-General

Contact: fotini.chiou@ec.europa.eu

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graphical element RESEARCH, CANDIDATE COUNTRY: A shot in the arm for Turkish R&D (27/01/03)
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  Turkey is gearing up for EU accession talks, which have been pencilled in for 2004. But research is an area where enlargement has already taken place. Headlines takes a closer look at Turkey's position in FP6.
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Istanbul's Aya Sofia, a symbolic Turkish landmark on the edge of two Continents
 Photo: Turkish Ministry of Tourism
Istanbul's Aya Sofia, a symbolic Turkish landmark on the edge of two Continents

Photo: Turkish Ministry of Tourism

Turkey, along with twelve other Candidate Countries, has signed on for the Sixth Framework Programme on Research and Development (FP6). Although Turkey was involved on a project-by-project basis in the Fifth Framework Programme, this marks the first time it has entered the European research fold as a full member. Turkey and other Candidate Countries will have the same rights and obligations under FP6 as Member States, making it the first area in which EU enlargement has become a reality for the hopeful future member.

Jumpstarting research
The EU's 2002 'Regular report on Turkey's progress towards accession' noted that Turkey's investment in research and development (R&D) continues to be significantly below the EU norm. The proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP) dedicated to R&D is less than a third of the EU average of 1.9% of GDP, the report noted. The report attributes this to the fact that the state remains the main catalyst in scientific and research activities, with the private sector and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) playing a periphery role. "Turkey should focus further efforts on increasing the level of activity and spending… and fostering the involvement of the private sector in science and research activities," the report recommends. Turkey has been stepping up its commitment to research in recent years. According to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the country has undertaken a number of reforms since the 1990s to enhance its research capacities. These have included the setting up of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, which has the role of helping scientific institutions raise their standards to international levels, and the establishment of the Turkish Patent Office, which in conjunction with the European Patent Office, protects research efforts in the country. Last year, the Turkish National Assembly passed legislation paving the way for full entry into FP6. With its focus on promoting private sector and SME investment in R&D, FP6 is expected to provide Turkey with the impetus to become an emerging force in European research.

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Source: News services and EU sources

Contact: Maria.Kayamanidou@ec.europa.eu

More information on this subject:
- Candidate countries in FP6
- General info on FP6
- Candidate countries in FP5
- Information on Turkey

 
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graphical element SCIENCE, LEGISLATION: Parliament bans animal-tested cosmetics in EU (27/01/03)
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  The European Parliament has passed a groundbreaking law to prohibit the testing of most cosmetic products on animals by 2009, and curb the import of such products from other parts of the world.
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The new law, which took over a decade to negotiate, will see nearly all animal-tested cosmetic products phased out in the 15 Member States, extending a ban already in place in Germany, UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria. Although the ban will not apply to existing products that have already been tested on animals, the new legislation blocks a loophole currently permitting the sale of cosmetics tested elsewhere in the world. The ban fits well into the EU's three Rs - reduction, replacement and refinement - for the management of research involving testing on animals. Last year, a Commission White Paper on chemical strategy and a conference on alternatives to animal testing helped pave the way towards the new legislation.

Humanity versus vanity
The new law has been described by some MEPs as a significant advance in animal welfare. "This parliament… has made clear that it will no longer accept that animals should be made to suffer for yet another product intended to flatter human vanity," British Liberal Chris Davies told fellow MEPs. Animal rights activists, however, have given the legislation a more qualified welcome, expressing concern over its implementation timeframe. They fear that extending the grace period until 2013 for three of the 14 animal tests currently in use will cause animals to suffer unnecessarily. Legislators believe the extension was necessary to give the cosmetics industry a chance to find alternative testing methods. The new ban has prompted industry fears of a potential trade dispute with exporter countries, such as the United States and Japan, who have no such ban in place. The Commission regards such fears as misplaced. "The solution found offers a genuine benefit for animal welfare while safeguarding consumer health protection and our international commitments," Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen reassured Parliament.

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Source: News services and EU sources

Contact: Research DG contacts

More information on this subject:
- European Parliament's report on cosmetics law
- Alternatives to animal experiments

 
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graphical element ENTERPRISE, SMES: Harnessing the spirit of enterprise in an enlarging Europe (27/01/03)
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  The Commission has launched a public debate on promoting entrepreneurship to boost European economic growth. A key focus of the discussions is small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) - an integral component of the Sixth Framework Programme - as drivers for innovation and future growth.
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The spirit of enterprise is a vital pillar of European prosperity and growth. That is why the EU remains committed to stimulating enterprise-led innovation and growth. Yet independent studies last year showed a dip in global entrepreneurship, including in Europe. "Europe needs to foster entrepreneurship more effectively. New entrepreneurial initiatives… boost productivity, efficiency and innovation," explains Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen. "Entrepreneurship is relevant for firms in all sectors… and for small and large firms." On the occasion of the adoption of a Green Paper (a public consultation document) on entrepreneurship in Europe, the Commission organised two conferences in Brussels last week. The first conference 'Industrial Policy in an Enlarged Europe' sought to initiate a public debate on two key questions facing enterprise in an expanding EU: which horizontal policies are right for European industry and how to address sectoral specificities?

Small is bountiful
Although entrepreneurship is a vital ingredient for all sectors, the Commission regards SMEs as an essential driving force behind future economic growth and an incubator for innovations vital to the goal of establishing the most competitive knowledge-based economy by 2010. That is why 15% (€1.8 billion) of the main budget in the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development has been dedicated to SMEs. Under the banner of 'Entrepreneurship and SMEs', the Commission launched a public debate at a seminar in Brussels last week on ways to encourage the emergence of more entrepreneurs and stimulate the growth in smaller businesses. Towards that end, it presented five key documents as its contribution to the public consultation on SMEs. These documents gauge recent progress in SME policy across Europe, analyse how key EU players - including Member States and Candidate Countries - are implementing the Charter for Small Enterprises, and point to future SME policy areas.

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Source: : News services and EU sources

Contact: Research DG contacts

More information on this subject:
- Promoting entrepreneurship and SMEs
- Industrial policy in an enlarged Europe
- Communication on industrial policy
- Commission press release on industrial policy
- Europe's entrepreneurial future (pdf)
- Global entrepreneurship report (pdf)

 
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