Category Archives: Education, Science and Culture

Commission Proposal for the New Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020

The Commission has put forward its proposal for the new Multiannual Financial Framework of the European Union for the period 2014-2020. The Multiannual Financial Framework is the main budgeting document of the EU for the seven-year period, and little can be changed once it is adopted. The proposal has to be approved by the Member States and the Parliament.

The main innovations:

1. Expenses

  • A new fund for financing infrastructure, the Connecting Europe Facility that includes a preliminary list of transport, energy and ICT projects;
  • Stronger link of cohesion financing with the Europe 2020 objectives;
  • New category of ‘transition regions';
  • New conditionality provisions;
  • Partnership contracts with each Member State to ensure mutual reinforcement of national and EU funding;
  • An integrated programme of €15.2 billion for education, training and youth, with a clear focus on developing skills and mobility;
  • A common EU strategy called “Horizon 2020″ for investment in research and innovation worth 80 billion €;
  • 30% of direct support to farmers will be conditional on “greening” their businesses;
  • €4.1 billion for the fight against crime and terrorism and €3.4 billion for migration and asylum policies.

2. Revenues

  • New own resources for financing the budget- a financial transaction tax (Tobin tax) and a new modernized VAT;
  • Simplification of the existing correction mechanisms.

You can also read the critical assessment of the proposal by Charlemagne. Real Time Brussels looks at the fierce political battles that will likely emerge in the process of adoption of the Multiannual Financial Framework.

 

Politics under the (Fake) Academic Banner

Everybody has now heard about the plagiarism scandal surrounding the doctoral thesis of the German defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Meanwhile it turned out that the son of Muamar Gadaffi, Seif-al-Islam, has got a PhD from the London School of Economics that was in part plagiarized from Wikipedia.

Meanwhile to the East, Russian bureaucrats try to disguise their ignorance by acquiring doctorates or professorships while in office. It just turned out that the chairman of the Bulgarian commission in charge of seizing illegally acquired assets is not a professor, as he has claimed.

So what is it all about??? Why this struggle for academic titles? It must be linked to the status and prestige of these titles, of course. But it also signals incompetence that attempts to mask itself. In order words, these are the symptoms of both deep complacency in political life and lax academic standards.

What Can the European Union Do Against Sexual Abuse of Children?

The recent results from an independent investigation in Belgium showed systematic child abuse by the Roman Catholic clergy in the country. But what can the European Union do about it?

In March 2010 the European Commission adopted a proposal for a new Directive on combating sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children and child pornography. Many serous forms of sexual offences against children are criminalised, including sex tourism. More importantly, the proposal would ensure that abused children have easy access to legal remedies and do not suffer for participating in criminal proceedings. The proposal also foresees the establishment of special programmes for offenders to prevent them committing new offences, and prohibitions imposed on them from carrying out activities with children.

In the light of the results from the investigation in Belgium I believe that this proposal deserves serious consideration and priority treatment.

Committee of the Regions 2009 Ageing Report

The 2009 Ageing Report of the Committee of the Regions provides some interesting proposals for managing the ageing of populations in the European Union. The topic is very important given the fact that 9 out of the 10 countries with the oldest population in the world are EU Member States.

The report proposes three main priorities:

(1) healthy ageing;

(2) labour market participation and productivity; and

(3) access to services and facilities.

The idea is to merge those priorities in the Europe 2020 strategy.

The Bulgarian Problem of the European Union

The European Union has a big problem with Bulgaria, and may not know it. Here is why.

The purpose of the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study (ICCS) is to investigate the ways in which young people are prepared to undertake their roles as citizens in a range of countries. The study includes all students enrolled in the grade that represents eight years of schooling, provided the mean age at the time of testing is at least 13.5 years. The results from the study are out, and they paint a bleak picture for Bulgaria.

But here I will focus on only one particular finding. Two thirds of eighth graders in Bulgaria may prefer to live permanently in another country. Two thirds of all young Bulgarians at the age of 13-14 that is.

Now, a lot can be said about the implications of this result for the overall demographic development in Bulgaria. The trouble is that even today Bulgaria is aging at a very fast pace. In fact UN data shows that in 2050 the overall dependency ration in Bulgaria will almost double from its 2010 levels. Population will decrease from 7,5 million to 5,4 million. But that is a conservative assessment based on current demographic trends and excluding serious migration movements out of the country. Yes, the intentions of 14-year olds are probably not the best indication of future demographic development, but they certainly give us a warning signal.

Let us not forget that only in a few years all labor restrictions for Bulgarians in the European Union will be lifted. Many EU countries are aging at a fast pace, and their labor markets will welcome Bulgarian migrants.

So far, so good. But these migrants will leave behind an almost dysfunctional pension system, a rapidly ageing society and bleak economic prospects for the young people remaining in Bulgaria. At that point Bulgaria can become a real problem for the European Union due to its failing budget, expansion of poverty (especially in old age groups and the Roma population), and not least – all kind of criminogenic social disturbances.

Obviously we cannot stop young Bulgarians from emigrating if they want to. What they need is sound education and good job prospects in Bulgaria. What they don’t need is escalating government costs, and hence – escalating taxes and social security contributions. Bulgaria finds it difficult at the moment to provide quality education to its children, and is, frankly speaking, quite incapable of developing a robust, sustainable economic system. That is why external help, and probably political pressure, are needed. The prospects for the Bulgarian economy are worsening by the day, and a lot must be done to convince our few children to stay at home.

Priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the Council 2010

The Belgian presidency of the Council has started, and it has published its six-month programme. The objectives and priorities are:

  • a return to maintained, sustainable and balanced growth throughout the European Union;
  • fulfilling the objectives of the EU 2020 strategy;
  • a new regulatory and supervisory structure for the financial sector;
  • green jobs and white jobs (health and social services jobs);
  • objectives and performance indicators for social protection, social inclusion, pensions and healthcare;
  • negotiations for a European patent;
  • guidelines for better coordination of Member States’ policy for research, development and innovation;
  • securing the energy supply;
  • agreement on European legislation which would allow Member States to recover the external costs generated by road transport from users;
  • establishing a single asylum procedure and a uniform international protection statute by 2012
  • fight against terrorism, organised crime, illegal immigration and human trafficking;
  • legal migration will also be a priority for the Presidency.

Interestingly, the program uses the motto “Let’s put Europe back into action!”. I wonder if this has anything to do with the outgoing Spanish presidency.

Achievements and Omissions in the European Council Conclusions on the EU Economy

I’ll make an attempt to list the achievements and the omissions in the European Council conclusions from the meeting on the 17 June 2010 on the EU economy.

Achievements:

The Europe 2020 Strategy – it is supposed to promote a series of reforms aimed at competitiveness and employment, placing research and development at the centre of economic initiatives for the next decade. The aim is to raise to 75% the employment rate for women and men aged 20-64, raising combined public and private investment levels in research and development to 3% of GDP, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, reducing school drop-out rates to less than 10%, and aiming to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion.

Economic governance – explicit objective for strengthening both the preventive and corrective arms of the Stability and Growth Pact; introducing the concept of dynamic debt; a scoreboard to better assess competitiveness developments and imbalances and allowing for an early detection of unsustainable or dangerous trends; publication of results of ongoing stress tests by banking supervisor; introduction of systems of levies and taxes on financial institutions to ensure fair burden-sharing and to set incentives to contain systemic risk.

Iceland – start of accession negotiations.

Estonia – adoption of the euro on 1 January 2011.

Iran – new sanctions based on UN Security Council Resolution 1929.

Omissions – the European Council failed to produce any specific measures on dealing with growth imbalances and actual, serious fiscal policy coordination. In other words the European Council delayed taking painful decisions on the future of economic governance in the European Union, while setting strategic objectives that may or may not produce effective results.