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Internet guide to health care abroad - 8 February 2007

Health Care in EuropeThe EU has launched a new website outlining the rights of Europeans to medical treatment in other member states.

More and more people receive health care in European countries other than the one where they live or are insured – for example emergency treatment while on holiday or so-called “health tourism” where people travel specifically in order to have an operation.

This new site informs citizens about the conditions for meeting the financial costs of health care abroad through their national social security or health systems.

The information includes examples of reimbursement levels for health care costs abroad in different situations, with the aim of giving people a broad idea of their rights.

While the information given is as accurate and complete as possible, it is nevertheless subject to confirmation and clarification by the relevant social security institution or national health system depending on the individual case. This complex situation reflects the shared responsibilities between the EU and Member States, who have exclusive competence for defining, organising and financing their national health and social security systems.

Click here to visit the health care website.

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Call to step up action against female genital mutilation inside and outside EU - 7 February 2007

Increasing numbers of girls in the European Union are threatened by female genital mutilation (FGM), European Development Commissioner Louis Michel warned in a call to step up action to eradicate the practice worldwide. In a statement to mark the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, he said: 'Most people still think this mutilation is something that happens only in Africa, the Middle East and some Asian countries. In fact, increasing mobility of populations from those parts of the world means we are seeing growing numbers of women cut in the European Union.' He called for a drive to educate mothers about the dangers of mutilating their daughters, and for better enforcement of laws against the practice. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, External Relations Commissioner, said: '"We must not close our eyes to the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation. An estimated 150 million women suffer throughout their lives from the consequences of this particularly harmful practice. And they are the ones who survived it. Each year, some two million girls undergo this ordeal. This can not be justified by any so-called tradition. It must end, and it must end now.' In the UK, the Department of Health estimates that about 74,000 women have undergone FGM, with long-term risks to health and wellbeing, and that a further 7,000 girls are at risk. The British Medical Association strongly supports a campaign launched last year to eradicate the practice, both inside and outside the UK.

Read Louis Michel's statement.

Read the British Medical Association's statement.

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UK 'Setting good example in seeking international cooperation in R&D' - 7 February 2007

The UK is setting a good example in linking up with other countries to innovate successfully, Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik said at a conference in London to launch the EU-wide Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technical Development. 'As a European Union, we need to get organised vis-a-vis the rest of the world…I am pleased to say the UK is a good example to many others.' The UK's Office of Science and Innovation hosted the conference to explore the new programme's potential opportunities for the UK research community.

Read pdf - 82 KB [82 KB] Commissioner Potocnik's speech in full.

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Call for safer internet - 6 February 2007

Organisations in more than 40 countries including the UK today celebrated Safer Internet Day – an international campaign to protect children using the online environment.

The day, intended to raise awareness among parents and teachers as well as youngsters, has been organised by the EU's Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding.

One UK event as part of the campaign sees the launch of a training scheme to give those working with children experience of the risks associated with net use.

Commissioner Reding said the internet offered tremendous opportunities for all but many still remained unaware of the darker side: "I am calling upon all decision-makers in the private and in the public sector to help make the internet a safer place for the most vulnerable of our society."

As part of the day, 20 of Europe's leading mobile operators - including Vodafone and Orange, signed an agreement intended to offer greater protection for youngsters using mobile phones, which are now increasingly being used to download material from the internet.

To mark the event, which takes place this year for the 4th time, the Commission published the results of an assessment of 30 current filtering software and services.

The assessment showed that while good tools were now available to filter pornography, improvements were needed for other types of harmful content. For example, when less obvious but equally harmful content was expressed in languages other than English, the assessment found that all of today's tools were inadequate. All products tested got it wrong in more than one quarter of the cases.

For the full calendar of events see http://www.saferinternet.org.

The Safer Internet Day is an annual event (see IP/06/126, IP/05/148, IP/04/171) organised by the European internet safety network INSAFE, and co-funded by the Commission’s Safer Internet Programme (see IP/06/1512 and MEMO/07/44).

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'Britain should work harder to make EU manage globalisation effectively’ - 2 February 2007

Peter MandelsonEuropean Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson called on British governments to work harder to make the European Union effective in managing the challenges of globalisation. Speaking at the launch of the Global Policy Institute at London Metropolitan University, he said: 'One of the biggest political challenges for Britain … and for this institute is to explain how the European Union must continue to adapt to be an effective part of the answer to globalisation…. While some European countries have failed to make the case for globalisation, British Governments have not worked sufficiently to make the case for the European Union's essential role.'

Read the speech

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Strong UK showing for science prize – 2 February 2007

A total of four UK projects or individuals have been nominated for the annual Descartes Prize recognising excellence in communicating science.

Previous Descartes Prize laureates include broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, and this year sees, once again, a strong showing from UK candidates competing for a share of the €275,000 prize fund.

The 33 nominations from 17 countries cover a wide variety of areas ranging from books, TV documentaries, films, youth magazines, newspaper columns, interactive events and multimedia products.

Three of the six nominees in the category for “professional scientists engaged in science communication to the public” are from the UK. They are: Professor Fran Balkwill of Barts and Queen Mary’s Medical School; Professor Stephen Rose, professor emeritus from the Open University; and Ms Wendy Sadler from Science Made Simple. In addition, “Critical Mass”, by UK author Philip Ball, has been nominated in the category for “popularising science through the written word”.

The winners will be announced on 7 March 2007 at a ceremony in Brussels, together with winners of the Descartes Prize for research which recognises the pioneering work of research teams.

Click here for more information.

Click here for the nominees for the Descartes Prize for Science Communication.

Click here for the nominees for the Descartes Prize Research.

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Kroes to get tough over 'rip off' credit card fees - 1 February 2007

Consumers are being 'ripped off' by credit card issuers charging exorbitant fees, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said. She was presenting the findings of an inquiry on retail banking, and measures to address concerns. 'In quite a few member states, the users of those services are being ripped off. We will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action,' she said.

Read Neelie Kroes' opening remarks at press conference.

Frequently asked questions

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“Cleaner” fuel = “cleaner” air - 31 January 2007

carsNew standards to cut transport fuels’ contribution to climate change and air pollution were proposed by the European Commission today.

The proposed standards, which revise the 1988 fuel quality directive, will not only make fuels themselves 'cleaner' but will also allow the introduction of vehicles and machinery that pollute less.

Stavros Dimas, the EU environment Commissioner said: "These measures underscore our political commitment to leadership on climate policy and our capacity to translate political priorities into concrete measures." 

He added: "They will also help achieve a significant reduction in the noxious pollutants from transport that can harm the public's health, as well as opening the way for a major expansion in the use of biofuels."

To encourage the development of lower-carbon fuels and biofuels, the proposals will oblige fuel companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production, transport and use of their fuel by 10% between 2011 and 2020. This will result in a reduction of 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020 – equivalent to the combined emissions of Spain and Sweden today.

A new petrol blend will also be established allowing higher content of the biofuel ethanol.  Whilst Sulphur levels in diesel and gasoil will be cut to reduce emissions of dangerous dust particles.

More >>>

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Have your say on plans for a smoke free EU - 30 January 2007

Smoking kills Cigarette smoke can kill you even if you never light-up yourself. That is why the European Commission has launched a public consultation on the best way to promote smoke-free environments across the EU.

The Green Paper – “Towards a Europe free from tobacco smoke: policy options at EU level” – examines the health and economic burdens associated with passive smoking, public support for smoking bans and takes stock of measures taken at national and EU level are all examined.

The paper presents the pros and cons for five options ranging from maintaining the status quo to binding legislation. In conclusion, the Commission believes that a comprehensive smoke-free policy would bring the greatest health benefits to European citizens.

EU’s health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "Passive smoking kills more than 79,000 adults each year in the EU. The evidence from European countries with comprehensive smoke-free policies is that they work, produce results and are popular. A Eurobarometer survey found more than 80% of EU members of the public in favour of a ban on smoking in workplaces and indoor public places. The question is, how can we build on the trend towards smoke-free environments in member states, and what should be the extent of the EU's involvement?"

If you wish to comment, post your contributions by 1 May 2007.

Click here for further information

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New EU law set to improve medicines for children - 30 January 2007

A new EU law that has just come into force will improve the range and quality of medicines designed specially for children.

Over half the medicines currently used to treat children have not been tested on them or authorised for use with them in mind. So a doctor writing a prescription for a child can not be sure the medicine will work, what the dose should be, or whether there may be side effects an adult would not experience.

The new regulation on medicines for paediatric use includes incentives which should boost prospects for high-quality research, development and medicines for children.

Cancer Research UK welcomed the new law, saying it was a massive boost to drug discovery programmes across Europe.

Click here for further background information

Text of legislation

 

 

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Blood diamonds: how a coalition of the willing has made a difference - 30 January 2007

European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-WaldnerEuropean Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner writes:

Buy a ticket to the latest Hollywood thriller Blood Diamond for a crash course in how diamonds, the world's most glamorous jewels, have fuelled some of the world's dirtiest wars.

No-one wants to wear a ring with a stone extracted amid bloodshed, misery and human rights abuses. Diamonds may be 'a girl's best friend', as Marilyn Monroe had it, but they have been a bad friend to millions of civilians caught in Southern Africa's wars....More>>>

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'Stop exposing environment to whims of changing governments' Dimas - 29 January 2007

The environment is now too vulnerable to leave it exposed to the whims of changing governments, European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas warned participants at a conference on renewable energy.

'Progress [on renewable energy] has generally been patchy and highly uneven…national policies have proven too vulnerable to the whims of changing governments,' he told the European Renewable Energy Policy Conference in Brussels.

He called for binding obligations for renewable energy -- 'the only way through which results can be achieved'. The Commission is proposing a mandatory European-wide target of 20% renewable energy out of the EU's total energy consumption by 2020. 'Industry and governments must play a part…the citizens of the EU expect us to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.'

Full text of speech

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Holocaust commemoration: Commission condemns denial attempts -- 27 January 2007

The European Commission has condemned attempts to deny the Holocaust. In a statement to mark the International Day of Commemoration of victims, European Commissioner Franco Frattini said on behalf the College: 'I want to restate the Commission's firm condemnation of any attempt to deny, trivialize or minimise the Shoah, war crimes and crimes against humanity. These views constitute an unacceptable affront not only to the victims of that tragedy and their descendants, but also to the whole democratic world. The Commission welcomes educational activities aimed at informing the current generations about the horrors of the past.'

Full statement:

On behalf of the European Commission, I want to join in today's universal commemoration of the six million Jews and all the other victims of the Holocaust.

On 27 January 2007, sixty-two years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the inherent abjection of the very design of the Holocaust, together with the horrors, suffering and death it caused, still defies human understanding. As human beings, we remain shaken by the barbarity that took place.

Today, we pay tribute to the victims, we remember facts and events. I also believe that remembrance must go beyond the ultimate abyss of extermination camps; we must remind ourselves of how it all became possible. We must remember how entrenched hatred and prejudice was spread through speech, and how it became official State policy, law and practice. We must remember how, at the bottom of the stairs leading down to utmost human indignity, there were ghettoes, camps, torture, abject experimenting with human beings, torture, death by exhaustion and hunger, mass executions and genocide.

In this International Day of commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust, I also want to restate the Commission's firm condemnation of any attempt to deny, trivialize or minimise the Shoah, war crimes and crimes against humanity. These views constitute an unacceptable affront not only to the victims of that tragedy and their descendants, but also to the whole democratic world. The Commission welcomes educational activities aimed at informing the current generations about the horrors of the past

The Commission firmly condemns and rejects all manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. The Commission is determined to make full use of the powers conferred by the Treaties to fight these repugnant phenomena. This is why I very much welcome, and fully support, the German Presidency's endeavours for the Council to finally adopt a Framework Decision on Combating Racism and Xenophobia.

Freedom of expression is part of Europe’s values and traditions, one of the fundamental, non-negotiable pillars of our democratic systems. Simultaneously, in our democratic societies, it is possible to fight racist speech through penal law in full respect of the European Convention of Human Rights. It is in this context that today, on the 2007 International Commemoration Day of the victims of the Holocaust, I salute the German Presidency's commitment to make sure that the future Framework Decision makes the intentional denial of the holocaust and of the other crimes against humanity, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin, a crime in all EU Member States.

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Middlesbrough unveils spectacular new arts centre - 26 January 2007

Mima Middlesbrough today unveiled a spectacular new modern and contemporary art gallery for the Tees Valley and North East region, built with European support. Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima) is a £14.2 million project to which the European Regional Development Fund contributed £4.8 million. 'This is a great project that really puts Middlesbrough on the European map,' said Reijo Kemppinen, head of the European Commission's office in London. Now mima will provide a new home for a civic collection that includes works by David Hockney and Bridget Riley. The inaugural exhibition features works by Picasso, Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys, along with contemporary British artists including Damien Hirst and Chris Ofili.

Further information

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Commission backs major conference on renewable sources - 26 January 2007

Wind turbines A drive to encourage the development of renewable energy sources gets a boost next week at a major conference in Brussels 29-31 January. European Commissioners Andris Piebalgs (Energy) and Stavros Dimas (Environment) will both speak at the conference, organised by the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), with the backing of the German presidency of the European Union.

'Renewable energy, together with energy efficiency and savings will be a major contributor to our future energy strategy,' Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said in his foreward in the conference programme.

A EREC-Greenpeace report launched ahead of the conference says renewable energy could account for half of global energy by 2050 without eroding economic growth prospects.

Conference programme

EREC-Greenpeace report on renewable energy

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Pension protection criticised – 25 January 2007

The European Court of Justice has criticised the level of protection in the UK for occupational pension schemes but has ruled that governments are not required to finance such schemes in the event of insolvency.

The Court was ruling on the claim by workers from the UK company Allied Steel & Wire (ASW) who want government compensation for pensions lost when the company went out of business in 2002.

On the issue of the level of protection of pension rights, the Court said  that the UK system, which can lead to situations where the guarantee of benefits is limited to 20 or 49 % of the expected entitlement, does not provide the level of protection required by the European law.

The judgement makes it clear, however, that where a pension scheme is not fully reimbursed following insolvency of the company, there is no obligation on the Member States themselves to fund the right to benefits or to ensure that there is a full guarantee of these rights.

On the issue of liability, the Court states that it is up to the national court to determine whether there has been a manifest and grave disregard by the state for the limits set out on its discretion. However, the Court also pointed to what it described as a “lack of clarity and precision” in the wording of the relevant European directive.

The Commission is examining the contents of the judgment and will take the appropriate steps, if necessary.

Click here for the full ECJ judgement

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EU steps up campaign to get children to eat more fruit and veg

P-008491-00-2The European Commission plans to boost spending on campaigns to get young people to eat more fruit and vegetables. Advertising campaigns aimed at children will qualify for a 60% contribution from the EU budget in future, AgricultureCommissioner Marianne Fischer Boel said today.

She was presenting the EU’s new package of reforms for the fruit and vegetable sector. The move was announced amid growing concern about obesity. Only Italians and Greeks currently eat the World Health Organisation recommended 400 grams of fruit and veg a day, said the Commissioner. The Chinese eat at least 1000 grams.

"Fruit and vegetables can play a key role in a healthy diet," she said. "Regrettably, every day we see increasing evidence of a growing problem of obesity, particularly among the young "That is why we need to redouble our efforts to stimulate consumption."

The plan is part of a package that also aims to bring fruit and veg producers into the ‘single payment’ scheme that is the keystone of Common Agricultural Policy reform. Cutting red tape and making more funding available to stimulate sustainable fruit and veg production are among its other features. 

Click herefor more on the reform. 

 

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New airport package marks future direction of airport regulation - 24 January 2007

The European Commission has today proposed an ambitious regulatory package on airports. The package aims to make airport charges more transparent and tackle airport congestion. It also reports on how the liberalisation of groundhandling services has started in EU member states.

See the press release and more information.

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"European Year of Equal Opportunities for All" launched - 23 January 2007

European Year of Equality for All - 2007 Because most Europeans believe that a person's ethnic origin, religion, disability or age can be an obstacle in finding a job, even when qualifications are equal; because women still only occupy less than a quarter of parliamentary seats in the EU or because more than 50 million EU citizens have a disability, 2007 has been designated the "European Year of Equal Opportunities for All".

The Year will play a key role in helping to raise awareness about the benefits of diversity and to inform the wider public about their rights to a life free of discrimination.

Click here to visit the official website.

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EU recognition for UK singer

Singer Corinne Bailey Rae has been awarded a top prize in recognition of her cross-border success throughout Europe.

She was one of ten European artists to win a “Border Breakers” award at Cannes yesterday on the opening day of the international music festival, Midem.

Ján Figel', European Commissioner for education, training  and culture said:  "These awards are a testimony to the diversity of European music and to the way it brings people together, especially young people".

The singer-songwriter has been widely tipped for worldwide success following the successful launch of her first album. She became only the fourth female British act in history to have her first album debut at number one.

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"2007, a year of delivery" for agriculture - 18 January 2007

"This will be a decisive year for European agriculture, with crucial reforms to two major farm sectors and reflections due to start on what can be done to make the Common Agricultural Policy work more effectively in future." This was the message of Mariann Fischer Boel, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, at the start of the 2007 Green Week, a major international exhibition for the food, agricultural and horticultural industries, which takes place in Berlin from 19 to 28 January 2007. Proposals to reform the €1.5 billion Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetables are due to be adopted on 24 January and legislative proposals on wine will follow before the summer. Simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy is also high on Commissioner’s priorities for 2007. This year will also see the start of intensive work behind the scenes to prepare for the so-called "Health Check" of the CAP reforms.

IP/07/58

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New President of the European Parliament - 16 January 2007

Hans-Gert Poettering German MEP Hans-Gert Poettering has been elected the 26th President of the European Parliament. Mr Poettering will lead the Parliament through to the 2009 European elections. Northern Ireland MEP Jim Nicholson has been re-elected a Quaestor, one of a group of six MEPs responsible for administrative and financial matters relating to the Parliament and its members

Click here for further information.

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Commission TV campaign highlights dangers of passive smoking for children - 12 January 2007

TV channels around Europe will air the European Commission’s new anti-smoking advert, starting from 15 January. The advert is part of the Commission’s campaign 'Help – for a life without tobacco' and it will be broadcast on 80 television channels in 22 languages across all 27 EU member states.

The campaign focuses on the negative health effects of passive smoking. The clip depicts a teenager who has breathing difficulties in her daily activities, and shows her watching her parents smoking in the living room. The television campaign ties in with an email and web based campaign where smokers can get help and advice to stick to their new year's resolution to quit smoking.

European Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "Every year, passive smoking kills 19,000 Europeans who don't smoke. This latest advertising campaign aims to remind smokers that their habit harms their children's health as well as their own."

Watch the advert here: http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_determinants/life_style/Tobacco/help_en.htm

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Tributes to single market driving force Lord Cockfield - 11 January 2007

Lord Cockfield Leading political figures in the UK and Europe have been paying tribute to the life and career of former EC vice president Lord Cockfield who died this wee

Lord Cockfield, previously Trade Secretary under Margaret Thatcher, is widely regarded as one of the key architects of the European Single Market while serving as one of the UK’s Commissioners in the Delors Commission during 1984-89.

President of the Eurpean Commission José Manuel Barroso described Lord Cockfield as "the man who turned the single market from paper to practice."

The leader of the UK House of Lords, Baroness Amos, said: “He was considered to be one of the greatest authorities of his generation on taxation, as well as being a statistician of renown.”

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Energy for a changing world - 10 January 2007

Logo: energy for a changing worldThe European Commission today proposed a comprehensive package of measures to establish a new energy policy for Europe to combat climate change and boost the EU's energy security and competitiveness. The package of proposals set a series of ambitious targets on greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy and aim to create a true internal market for energy and strengthen effective regulation.

The Commission believes that when an international agreement is reached on the post-2012 framework this should lead to a 30% cut in emissions from developed countries by 2020. To further underline its commitment the Commission proposes that the European Union sets an autonomous target to achieve at least a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, in particular through energy measures.... more>>>>

All the documents can be found at the following addresses:

http://ec.europa.eu/energy/energy_policy/index_en.htm

See also: The EU's Contribution to Shaping A Future Global Climate Change Regime

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Commission calls for end to oil supply disruptions to EU - 9 January 2007

The Commission had decided to convene a meeting of its Oil Supply Group this Thursday morning to prepare EU member states for impacts of the recent cuts in oil supplies from Russia via Belarus (see press release from yesterday here). Commissioner for energy Andris Piebalgs said:

“It is unacceptable that energy suppliers or transit countries do not inform their counterparts about decisions that may affect their supplies. We call upon the two parties involved to rapidly find a mutually acceptable solution to the current situation and to restore oil supplies to the European Union immediately. It is also important to ensure that ways are found to avoid this kind of disruption to energy supplies occurring again.”

Unresolved issues between Russia and Belarus resulted in recent days in repeated and prolonged disruptions of crude oil deliveries from Russia via Belarus through the Druzhba pipeline. Since Monday, several EU member states have reported complete cuts in supplies that are still ongoing. Crude oil processing in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic has been affected and refineries relying on deliveries through the Druzhba pipeline have started to draw on their operational stocks. Although the available oil stocks and the coordination mechanisms in place guarantee no disruption of supply of petroleum products to consumers in the EU, the Commission is taking the ongoing dispute between Russia and Belarus seriously. The Commission is in continuous contact with the Russian and Belarus authorities to monitor the situation. Emergency oil stocks of crude and petroleum products, maintained in the Union in accordance with EU legislation for these occasions stand at present at over 120 days of EU average consumption.

 

What is the composition and role of the Oil Supply Group?

The Oil Supply Group is set up by the applicable EU legislation dealing with measures to alleviate the effects of difficulties in the supply of crude oil and petroleum products and all EU members states are members of the group. The group’s role is to carry out the necessary consultations to ensure coordination of the measures taken by the member states in the event of difficulties in supply of crude oil and petroleum products. The meeting scheduled for Thursday will be devoted to necessary consultations to ensure coordination of the possible releases of stocks and other measures taken as necessary in the face of the current situation.

More information on the Commission’s energy policy and oil can be found here.

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Improved protection for animals in transit – 5 January 2007

New rules to reduce the stress and harm that animals experience during land and sea journeys come into force across the EU today.

Among the new safeguards laid out in the regulation are higher standards for vehicles and equipment, and stricter requirements for those dealing with the commercial transport of animals. The regulation also includes provisions to ensure better enforcement using satellite navigation systems.

The regulation does not include measures on travelling times or stocking densities, envisaged in the Commission’s original proposal, as member states failed to reach a compromise on this issue ( IP/04/1391).

However, Commissioner Kyprianou has committed to bring forward proposals on these two important aspects of animal transport before the end of 2009.

Click here for further details.

Key points:

  • vehicles used to transport animals for 8 hours or more will have to be upgraded and officially approved;
  • new equipment in vehicles will ensure that the microclimate in the vehicle is adapted for the animals;
  • new vehicles used for the long distance transport of animals (over 8 hours) must be equipped with a satellite navigation system. Older trucks which are already in use have until 2009 to install this equipment;
  • stricter watering requirements;
  • special attention is paid to young animals and new born animals and females within 1 week of giving birth may not be transported at all;
  • better rules for the handling of animals during loading and unloading, as well as new requirements for loading and unloading facilities; 
  • drivers and those that handle animals in transit will be subject to compulsory training, and from 2008 certified to care for the animals;
  • the chain of responsibility for animals is extended from transport operators to include traders, drivers, and staff at each point of the journey.

 

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Bulgaria and Romania join the EU - 1 January 2007

Signature of the Treaty of Accession to the EU by Bulgaria and Romania (25 April 2005)           Bulgaria and Romania have become full members of the EU, whose membership now stands at 27. After seven years of preparation, their accession marks the completion of the sixth EU enlargement.

The entry of Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January 2007 marks an historic achievement, with the EU welcoming 30 million new citizens. "This enlargement has consolidated peace and brought more prosperity to Europe. This is the right decision for Bulgaria and for Romania, and this is the right decision for Europe," declared Commission president José Manuel Barroso in September.

Despite far-reaching reforms which lasted until they joined, Bulgaria and Romania still have some way to go in tackling organised crime and corruption, adapting their legal systems and guaranteeing food safety. To ensure this work continues beyond accession, the Commission has put forward a package of transitional measures to prevent or remedy any persistent shortcomings and ensure the smooth integration of both countries.

The message is that EU membership isn't an end in itself for the two countries. While decisive, joining the EU is only one stage in a process of integration based on European values, which began 15 years ago.

The two new commissioners, Romania's Leonard Orban (handling multilingualism) and Bulgaria's Meglena Kuneva (consumer protection) will serve until the end of the present Commission's term of office - 31 October 2009.

Final monitoring report on Bulgaria and Romania.

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Fishing deal agreed - 21 December 2006

The EU has agreed new fishing quotas for the North Sea in a bid to both protect stocks and ensure fishermen can continue to make a living.

The agreement at the Council of Ministers in Brussels was welcomed by UK fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw who said British fishermen could look forward to healthy incomes for the third year in a row.

A 14% cut in the North Sea cod quota and a reduction in the number of days boats are allowed to go fishing was agreed, but some other quotas were increased. Mr Bradshaw said that high prices for fish meant the industry could look forward to increased incomes in 2007.

Head of the European Commission in the UK Reijo Kemppinen said it was important to reach a balance between the need to protect stocks and the interests of fishing communities.

Other highlights for the UK include:

  • 20% quota increase for South West England hake
  • 17% quota increase for Irish Sea prawns
  • 13% quota increase for mackerel
  • 10% quota increase for North Sea and West of Scotland
    monkfish
  • 6% quota increase for South West England monkfish
  • A six-fold quota increase for Rockall haddock

 

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Emissions Trading Scheme Extended to Aviation - 20 December 2006

The European Commission has unveiled legislation to bring greenhouse gas emissions from civil aviation into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

The proposed directive will cover emissions from flights within the EU from 2011 and all flights – including international ones - to and from EU airports from 2012. Both EU and foreign aircraft operators would be covered.

Like the industrial companies already covered by the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) airlines will be able to sell surplus allowances if they reduce their emissions and will need to buy additional allowances if their emissions grow.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “Aviation too should make a fair contribution to our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Bringing aviation emissions into the ETS is a cost-effective solution that is good for the environment and treats all airlines equally.”

Emissions from aviation currently account for about 3% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, but they are increasing fast – by 87% since 1990 – as air travel becomes cheaper without its environmental costs being addressed.

For example, someone flying from London to New York and back generates roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year

Without action, the growth in emissions from flights from EU airports would by 2012 cancel out more than a quarter of the 8% emission reduction the EU-15 must achieve to reach its Kyoto Protocol target.

Click here for the full press release

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European Values - 18 December 2006

The most important values for Europeans are peace, respect for human life and human rights, according to a new poll of the 25 member states.

Margot Wallström, vice-president of the European Commission responsible for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, said the survey showed that on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Rome Treaties, citizens clearly identified the Union with a number of universal values.

She said that support was also growing for the reform of the way the Union worked and people had high expectations for the EU.

The survey, carried out during September and October this year, dealt with a wide range of attitudes towards issues including the perceived benefits of EU membership, constitutional change, and enlargement.

Click here for the full press release

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Praise for Chemicals Vote - 14 December

The European Parliament’s vote in favour of a comprehensive new approach to the way we deal with chemicals has been praised by UK Government Minister Jeff Rooker.

The REACH (registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals) legislation puts in place measures promoting the safer use of chemicals and includes incentives for the use of low-risk substitutes where possible.

Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen, who is responsible for enterprise and industry policy, and Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas, also warmly welcomed the vote.

Mr Rooker, UK Minister of Sustainable Farming and Food, said the UK had always been a strong supporter of the move: "REACH contains some good news for business - it removes 40 existing pieces of law, it will encourage innovation, and make the market work better.” 

Once in force, REACH will require the registration, over a period of 11 years, of some 30.000 chemical substances in use today - a process that will fill information gaps on the hazards of substances and identify appropriate risk management measures to ensure their safe use.

The day-to-day management of the new requirements will be carried out by the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) which will be established in Helsinki.

More information about REACH can be found under:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/reach/index_en.htm

http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/reach/reach_intro.htm

A short explanation of REACH is available on:

http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/reach/docs/reach/reach_in_brief_revised_061212.pdf

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Green light for Euro Licence - 14 December 2006

The European Parliament has voted in favour of a new European-wide driving licence to replace the 110 different paper and plastic permits currently in use across the EU.

From 2013, all newly issued or replacement driving licences will be in a single EU-wide credit card format.

The plastic photocard, bearing the EU flag of 12 gold stars on a blue background with the initials of each issuing country inside, may if member states wish, bear a microchip to make them computer readable.

Member states can decide the length of validity – either 10 or 15 years for car drivers and motorcyclists. For trucks and buses the licence will be valid for five years.

The new directive will harmonise the existing classes of vehicles. For motorcycles, a "step-up approach" will become obligatory in all member states.

This means that riders must accumulate experience on smaller motorcycles before moving up to larger engines. The age for direct access to the most powerful engines will be raised to 24 years. To improve safety for the youngest riders, a theory test for moped drivers will become compulsory.

There will also be EU-wide harmonisation of the rules for training and retraining of driving examiners, setting out basic qualifications, quality assurance and regular retraining programmes.

EU transport commissioner Jacques Barrot said the changes were vital to fight fraud, especially the practice of "driving licence tourism'', which allowed those disqualified in one country to move to another, and obtain a new licence there.

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Budding Journalists Quiz Brussels - 13 December 2006

Four aspiring journalists from the UK are visiting the European Commission in Brussels to put the European political system under the spotlight.

The winners of an essay competition for 11-18 year-olds are on a three-day trip to see for themselves the workings of the Commission, European Parliament and Council of Ministers.

Head of the EC Representation in the UK Reijo Kemppinen said the programme was an excellent example of “democracy in action”. “We expect these young people to have some searching questions,” he added.

The competition, run in association with the British Council and the Hansard Society is in its second year. Students had to write an 800 word essay on “What has the EU done for me?" This year, to mark the end of the Finnish EU Presidency the UK group will be joined by winners of a parallel competition run in Finland.

The students will attend the European Summit and take part in a programme of activities organised by the British Council Brussels. They will interview UK Ministers, EU Commissioners and MEPs, as well as attending press conferences.

The UK students are: Jack Candeland, Thorpe St Andrew’s School; Elizabeth Sreeves, The Ridgeway School; Clare Burke, Bradford Grammar School; and Matthew Jowers, Billericay School.

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Climate change: Commission takes legal action - 12 December

Emissions Trading Four member states have been warned by the European Commission today that they will face Court action unless they submit national allocation plans for the second period of the EU emissions trading scheme.

Final written warnings were issued to Austria, Denmark, Hungary and Italy for failing to submit their plans for the period 2008 – 2012,

The countries received a first warning in October this year after missing the June 30th deadline October ( IP/06/1364).

Stressing that member states must meet their obligations, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "The European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) plays an important role in fighting climate change and for reaching the EU Kyoto targets. For the good functioning of scheme we will have no choice but to take them to court if they do not send their allocation plans soon."

What happens next: If a Member State does not respond to a final written warning, or if the Commission is not satisfied with its response, the Commission can take it to the European Court of Justice.

For more see:  IP/06/1763

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State aids rules relaxed for SMEs - 12 December

Some small subsidies for businesses are being exempted from the state aids rules in a bid to help SMEs.

Head of the EC in the UK Reijo Kemppinen said: “Around 99% of all UK businesses employ fewer than 50 people. The change in the current rules means that less red tape will be involved when they get government assistance.”

Under the relaxation, aid of up to €200,000 (£136,000) over any period of three year will no longer be considered as state aid. Loan guarantees for up to €1.5m (£1m) will also be exempt. SMEs are the main beneficiaries of grants and loans in this range.

For road transport companies, where even small sums can distort trade, the limit for grants will be €100,000 (£68,000).

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: “This new regulation will allow member states and the Commission to save time and resources by outlining how small support schemes can be designed to avoid the need to be notified for clearance by the Commission and at the same time prevent distortions of competition.”

Click here for more information.

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False alarm over 999 calls - 12 December

The European Working Time directive has come under fire for allegedly preventing ambulance crews from answering emergency call-outs during breaks.

A number of national newspapers got this one wrong (e.g. today's Sun: “999 Crew on the way ... after tea break"), by incorrectly saying that under the directive ambulance crews could not be interrupted during breaks.

In fact the Working Time Directive specifically permits breaks to be deferred in an emergency or even skipped altogether. The situation described was an issue for health service management or unions to address not a "Brussels diktat" as some commentators suggested.

 

See also: 'EU Breaks Were Not To Blame For 999 Failure' - Jean Lambert MEP

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Britons ‘need language skills to thrive as EU expats’ - 11 December

Britons planning to live in another EU country should invest in a language course if they want to thrive, said Reijo Kemppinen, head of the European Commission office in the UK. ‘Spain is one of their favourite destinations, but many find life there much more difficult than they imagined because of the linguistic barrier. If they want to thrive rather than just survive, they should take a language course – at home, or on the spot,’ he said.

Kemppinen, who is Finnish, was commenting on a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published Monday on BBC Online. This showed that almost one in 10 Britons are living abroad – at least 5.5 million of them.

‘The scale of emigration from the UK in recent years has been staggering,’ says IPPR, which undertook the study in a bid to balance what it calls intense academic, media and political focus on immigration into the UK. The number of Britons who chose to go abroad permanently doubled from 53,000 in 2001 to 107,000 last year. Australia and Spain are the top locations.

Most expats slip easily into their new communities, but some find the experience much more challenging than expected, says IPPR. ‘Often these Britons come up against linguistic and cultural barriers that they have not prepared for, and have, in response, clustered together away from the host community.’

‘It’s never too late to start learning another language, but of course it’s best to start young. It’s a shame that so few British students take up the opportunity to go and study abroad with a grant from the Erasmus scheme,’ added Kemppinen. Finnish is his mother tongue. He also speaks French, Swedish, German, Italian as well as English, which is his third language.

5.5m Britons ‘opt to live abroad’ – BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6210358.stm

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Missing children: dial a single hotline number -- 116000

EU member states will shortly approve an action to make 116000 the single EU-wide hotline number to call to report missing children. Several countries already have hotline numbers, and this initiative is intended to help parents while travelling or on holiday anywhere in the European Union.

There is already an single emergency number throughout the EU -- anyone can dial 112 anywhere to reach fire, ambulance or police services for assistance. There is also a plan to ensure that by 2009, all new cars are equipped with eCall devices that automatically call rescue services giving a location in case of accident

 

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Satellite benefits - 8 December 2006

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on potential applications for the new satellite navigation system, Galileo, which is expected to stimulate jobs and economic development throughout Europe.

One Galileo experimental satellite is already in the orbit and a second one will follow in 2007. The system, which is expected to be operational by 2011, is designed to be a more advanced, efficient and reliable than the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).

Applications are being continuously developed, covering all walks of life and sectors of the world economy. The satellite navigation market, in which Galileo will play an important role, has been forecast to €400 billions by 2025.

European Commission Vice-President, Jacques Barrot, in charge of Transport, said: "The real value linked to the costs and efforts undertaken to bring Galileo into orbit is that it presents a unique opportunity for new applications, economic growth and job creation in the European Union.“

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Erasmus @ 20: Celebrating 20 years of European study exchanges - 7 December 2006

The EU’s flagship student exchange programme Erasmus was hailed today for its leading role as a driver for modernising Europe’s higher education. President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and Ján Figel’, Commissioner for education and training, launched the celebrations for the programme’s 20th anniversary today in Brussels.

The Erasmus programme encourages student and teacher mobility and promotes international co-operation among universities across Europe. The scheme currently covers nine out of ten of European higher education establishments.

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said: “Erasmus has developed beyond just being an educational programme. It gives many European university students the chance of living for the first time in a foreign country, and it has reached the status of a social and cultural phenomenon. It is an excellent example of what co-ordinated European action in the field of education can achieve.”

The Erasmus programme started in June 1987 and 3,244 students participated in it during its first year. In 2005, the number had risen to 144,032 students. However, out of these, only 7,214 were British students taking advantage of the change to study in another European country. The figure is very small compared to e.g. the 21,561 French Erasmus students in 2005.

For more on the UK take-up, see our press release from 16 March 2006 here.

The UK Socrates-Erasmus Council has more detailed UK data on their website here.

For a press release on the 20th anniversary of Erasmus, see here.

Erasmus programme – facts and figures

FAQ – How does Erasmus work?

Erasmus - Possibly the best educational exchange system in the world

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Mental health problems affect every fourth European, EU survey reveals - 5 December 2006

Mental health problems affect every fourth European citizen at least once during life, according to an EU-wide Eurobarometer survey published today. Mental health problems are now one of the major public health challenges in the EU. The economic and social consequences are significant: mental health problems cause an estimated loss of 3-4% of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Only every fifth of those with severe mental disorders is in paid employment, compared to 65 per cent of those with a physical disability.

“The importance of mental health needs to be better recognised. Good mental health of the population is a precondition for the EU’s success in the knowledge economy. The situation of those with mental health problems is an indicator of the level of inclusiveness of EU societies”, said Markos Kyprianou, European Commissioner for health and consumer protection.

See here for more information.

The Eurobarometer on mental wellbeing is available here.

The Commission’s website on mental health can be found here.

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José Manuel Barroso puts energy policy at front and centre of EU's future agenda - 5 December 2006

José Manuel Barroso     European Commission President José Manuel Barroso today called for the establishment of an EU energy policy capable to delivering security and environmental sustainability in a keynote speech on the future of Europe to a Parliamentary meeting of the Finnish and European Parliaments in Brussels :

"Energy touches on the daily lives of every European. Energy policy it is just the kind of ambitious policy where we can only advance through a real partnership between the European institutions and key actors at national level – parliaments, regulators, planners, investors….. The Commission's goal is to establish a true European energy policy that is equal to the challenge of providing competitive, secure and sustainable energy for Europe – and of ensuring that we continue to lead the way on tackling climate change. Global demand for energy is rising faster than supply – while at the same time by 2030, Europe could be relying on imports for 70% of its energy needs. At the same time, energy causes over 80% of global greenhouse emissions. We need new targets for reducing emissions, and new policies to make this goal achievable. That should be our common goal."

For the full text of the speech go to: SPEECH/06/780

 

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Strengthening co-operation with neighbouring countries - 4 December

The Commission today proposed new ways to build on the positive lessons learnt from the European Neighbourhood Policy. The policy has been especially successful for example in Morocco, where it is an anchor-point for Morocco’s on-going reform processes.

See here for more information.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was developed in 2004, with the objective of avoiding the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and our neighbours and instead strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of all concerned. The ENP includes EU policy towards its Southern neighbours (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, West Bank and Gaza Strip) and Eastern neighbours (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine).

See here for more on the European Neighbourhood Policy.

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