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.

The Report of the Reflection Group for the Future of the EU

The European Council in December 2007 decided to establish a ‘reflection group’ of no more than nine people, selected from across the Union on the basis of merit, to identify the key issues which the European Union is likely to face in the future and how these might be addressed.

Now the group, led by Felipe González, has issued its report “PROJECT EUROPE 2030: Challenges and Opportunities” (via Ralph Grahn).

There are some concrete proposals that I find interesting:

Economy:

  • Further developing the internal market, e.g. in the area of services;
  • Social security rights should, once and for all, be readily transportable between Member States;
  • Extension of the availability of e-infrastructure to houses, schools and businesses;
  • Development of healthcare, well-being and age-related industries and services;
  • Giving leadership for economic coordination to the European Council;
  • Reinforcing procedures for supervision of national budgets to ensure transparency as well as the sustainability of public finances.

Education and Innovation:

  • Developing flexible and open curricula capable of nurturing curiosity and creativity among children;
  • Building a network of top-level higher education establishments able to rival the best in the world;
  • Ensuring that universities have greater exposure to the real economy in Europe and the rest of the world;
  • More funding is needed for applied research that would benefit SMEs.

Demographic Challenges:

  • Family-friendly policies aimed at stabilising or increasing fertility levels should be put in place;
  • Provide the conditions in which people, in particular women with young children, and older workers, can remain in the workforce;
  • Removing the legal, administrative and cultural barriers to promote greater intra-EU labour mobility;
  • Retirement should become an option for individuals rather than an obligation;
  • A common immigration policy for the EU should set out a specific medium- to long-term strategy for targeting skilled immigrants;
  • A common approach to irregular immigrants.

Energy Security and Climate Change:

  • The headline target for energy efficiency should be raised to 50 per cent by 2030, from the currently agreed 20 per cent by 2020;
  • Move away from oil as the primary source of fuel for transport by encouraging bio-fuel standards and electric and hybrid vehicles;
  • Develop intelligent energy networks (smart grids);
  • Recourse to nuclear energy;
  • Develop unconventional energy sources such as tight gas and shale oil.
  • Internal and External Security:
  • Increasing the powers of existing agencies and instruments, such as Europol, Eurojust, the Situation Centre, Frontex and the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator;
  • Create a European civil reserve team of specially trained units ready to be deployed at short notice;
  • Develop a more integrated external border management system;
  • Agree on a workable strategic concept for the EU defence.

Foreign Relations and Enlargement:

  • Build a global economic strategy that takes into account the euro as the world’s second reserve currency;
  • Stay open to potential new members from Europe;
  • Develop an enhanced role in stabilising its immediate surroundings by building on the existing ‘European Neighbourhood Policy’, ‘Eastern Partnership’ and ‘Union for the Mediterranean’;
  • Manage a strategic co-existence, modernisation and region-building policy with Russia;
  • Pull the EU’s diplomatic, military, trade, and development policies together with the external dimensions of its common economic policies;
  • Develop an EU approach to global governance reform.

The European Citizens:

  • More transparency and accuracy in the way we communicate EU policy-making;
  • Avoid rhetoric and explain in plain language how EU adds value to its citizens’ lives;
  • Encouraging Member States to grant voting rights in national elections to nationals of other Member States after a certain period of residence and tax payments;
  • “Europeanising” European Parliament elections through the introduction of cross-border lists;
  • Create a specific administrative instrument that would provide proof of European citizenship for individuals to use on a voluntary basis in order to access residence, employment and social security rights;
  • Establish a system for evaluating the impact of EU law.

Whither Biodiversity in the EU?

The Council conclusions on biodiversity reveal a disparaging truth: we have failed to reach our own targets for prevention of biodiversity loss. The document says that both the EU and the global biodiversity 2010 targets have not been met and that biodiversity loss continues at an unacceptable rate entailing very serious ecological, economic and social consequences.

According to the conclusions the main reasons are incomplete implementation of certain legal instruments, incomplete and poor integration into sectoral policies, insufficient scientific knowledge and data gaps, insufficient funding, lack of additional efficiently-targeted instruments to tackle specific problems, and shortcomings in communication and education to enhance awareness.

So what does the Council do – it devises a new headline target of halting the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. The idea is to develop a EU post-2010 Biodiversity Strategy, including an impact assessment, which should establish the baseline for measuring the halt of biodiversity loss and its restoration, propose sub-targets and also identify the necessary, feasible and cost-effective measures and actions for reaching them.

I do hope that this new approach will be successful. I am also encouraged by the understanding of the Council of the need to advance work on the economic valuation of biodiversity and ecosystem services and to incorporate it into policy making and implementation.

Let’s hope that appropriate action follows.

EU Achievements in 2009

The European Commission has issued its annual multimedia yearbook presenting some of the European Union’s most important achievements of the past year.

The main achievements according to the Commission are:

Paving the way towards economic recovery – The EU and its Member States have mobilised huge resources to put the economy back on its feet and to protect the citizens.

Staying in touch for less – Europeans can stay in touch via mobile phone more easily and more cheaply, thanks to the EU’s efforts to ensure cheaper costs and connections.

Pooling resources to fight dementia – the EU’s €2 billion ‘innovative medicines initiative’ brings together industry and academia to ensure the rapid transition from new science to new medicines.

Tackling climate change – The EU has made it possible to prevent 32 million tonnes of CO2 emissions at the flick of a light switch.

Fighting hunger in the world’s poorest countries – As its €1 billion Food Facility clearly showed in 2009, the EU is tackling poverty and hunger across the globe.

Caring for the environment – To keep the environment as clean as possible, the EU has brought in new rules to cut down on harmful pollutants from petrol or pesticides.

Rebuilding Europe when disaster strikes – EU countries have acted rapidly to support one another, by sending aid to areas affected by natural disasters, as was the case for the Abruzzo earthquake in 2009.

Giving bank customers value for money – The EU created the single market for the benefit of citizens as well as companies; now it is making sure that banks give their customers a fair deal.

Protecting animals on land and in the oceans – the EU has made it illegal to put seal products on the market and proposed a new action plan to save sharks.

Keeping online shopping hassle-free – the EU has cracked-down on websites that were not giving consumers the rights they are entitled to under EU laws.