Category Archives: Education, Science and Culture

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.

Racial Discrimination Rampant in the EU

The European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that discrimination on the basis of ethnicity is a major problem for many minorities in the EU.

Employment is the main domain where minorities experience the greatest levels of discriminatory treatment.

The Roma, Sub-Saharan Africans and North Africans face very high levels of discrimination in their everyday lives.

EU Digital Library Launched

This is some good news – the EU Bookshop Digital Library is launched. It provides free access to 12 million scanned pages in more than 110 000 EU publications.

My Blog on Climate Change

I now participate in TH!NK2 Climate Change – a 3 month blogging competition with a focus on UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) in December 2009.

You can check my posts on this topic here.

The Unfinished Business of the Fifth Enlargement

There is a new comparative report by the European Policies Initiative under the project “The Unfinished Business of the Fifth Enlargement”.

The report finds that the “unfinished business” in the new member states from Eastern Europe concerns mainly the policy areas of national competence (political systems, social, educational, health reforms and sustainable economic development) that have been relatively neglected by decision-makers in the pre-accession period for the sake of the accession agenda.

The report further claims that the deficiencies in the political domain have predetermined a framework of very fragile political systems where fragmented political parties with short-term political lives are unable to commit to long-term and consistent reforms.

An interesting claim is that the membership leverage is very limited with regard to its impact on the “unfinished business” of the transition agenda in the post accession period. In this sense the only potentially effective membership leverage on the NMS can be the Euro area accession.