Category Archives: Environment

Do We Need an EU Disaster Response Force?

UPDATE (16.08.2010): French President Nicolas Sarkozy has officially proposed to the European Commission to “build a real EU reaction force … that draws on the resources of the member states”.

The French junior minister for EU affairs, Pierre Lellouche,  calls for a European disaster response force in the context of Russia’s wildfires.

The question is – do we really need such a common EU force? We already have the Community Mechanism for Civil Protection which should coordinate the disaster response of Member States. But I suppose Mr. Lellouche’s point is that current coordination is not enough. Take for example the EU Strategy for Supporting Disaster Risk Reduction in Developing Countries. It is a very important document, and contains a lot of good ideas on creating a strategic framework to guide EU’s disaster risk reduction support to developing countries. However, the Implementation Plan for the strategy is still not published. The Implementation Plan should clarify the key actions, responsibilities, main instruments and the sequencing of implementation for the strategy priorities, and it was due in 2009. The delay is a clear signal that not all is well in EU cooperation on disaster response, and that probably some Member States are reluctant to step further. So even if a disaster response force is necessary, it may not be possible at the moment.

That being said, the future demand for disaster risk reduction and response services will probably grow. The EU must recognize its own important role in providing such services as an effort affecting not only humanitarian, but security issues as well. Further fragmentation of disaster response efforts will be detrimental to the common foreign and security policy objectives of the European Union.

Finally: a New Regime for GMO Approval

The Commission has finally made a proposal on a new regime for the approval of genetically modified organisms (GMO). The Commission proposes to confer to Member States the freedom to allow, restrict or ban the cultivation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on part or all of their territory. The general approval of the GMO will still be made on EU level under current rules, but once GMOs are approved, Member States will be able to decide whether to allow the introduction of the GMOs on their territory or not.

After almost 10 years after the adoption of Directive 2001/18/EC the Commission has made a positive step forward for the resolution of this very serious problem. The stalled comitology procedure for the approval of GMOs has been a rare example of systemic institutional failure of the EU (see also the excellent book by Mark Pollack and Gregory Shaffer: When cooperation fails: the international law and politics of genetically modified foods). Now, hopefully, this will change.

Given the fact that both the biotech industry and the environmentalists criticize the proposal, there may be a grain of salt to it.

Commission Decision on Carbon Emission Allowances for 2013

This is important. The Commission has stepped forward to determine the absolute Community-wide quantity of carbon emission allowances for 2013. This means that the total aggregate number of emission allowances issued by all Member States in 2013 should not exceed this number – 1 926 876 368. The Commission has the obligation under Article 9 of Directive 2003/87/EC to publish the absolute Community-wide quantity of allowances for 2013 based on the total quantities of allowances in accordance with the Commission Decisions on the national allocation plans (NAPs) of the Member States for the period from 2008 to 2012.

Now, the problem is that not all NAPs have been approved. In a few cases the Commission has rejected the NAPs, but Member states have contested those decisions before the General Court. Two of the Commission decisions (of Estonia and Poland) have already been repealed by the General Court, and four more – for Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria, are pending at the General Court. Poland has submitted a new NAP that was approved by the Commission, but that leaves five NAPs still not approved.

In that respect the Commission says that changes to the National Allocation Plans as a result of legal proceedings, may be reflected in future adjustments to the Community-wide quantity of allowances for 2013. I am skeptical. I don’t see how this Commission decision can be valid given the absolute procedural requirement for valid and approved NAPs for determining the total quantity of emission allowances for 2013. In other words I have serious doubts about the legality of that Commission decision.

The EU Retail Market Monitoring Report

The Retail Market Monitoring Report is out now, published by the Commission. The report considers all economic, social, environmental and consumer impacts of the retail sector in the European Union by accounting for the linkages that the retail sector has with its upstream and downstream markets.

The main findings:

  • Malfunctioning of commercial property markets;
  • Limited take-off of e-commerce;
  • Insufficient development of commercial communications and independent services providing information on prices and quality;
  • The number of small local grocery shops fell by 3.7% between 2004 and 2009;
  • Lack of rules or insufficient enforcement addressing unfair commercial practices ;
  • Difficulties in their cross-border use because of varying rules;
  • Negative impact of the informal economy on working conditions;
  • Lack of information to consumers as regards social performance of businesses in the retail sector;
  • Mismatch between the needs of businesses and the skills of employees in the retail sector;
  • High energy consumption;
  • High production of waste;
  • Significant contribution to the volume of traffic and congestion due to transport of goods;
  • Insufficient account taken of environmental costs in the supply;
  • Lack of a common method to evaluate environmental impact of products and services.

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.

Second Amendment of the Cotonou Agreement

The second amendment of the Cotonou Agreement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific states has been signed. The Cotonou Agreement constitutes the foundation of the special relationship between the EU and ACP nations. It is aimed at reducing and eventually eradicating poverty as well as at sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP states into the world economy.

The changes include strengthened provisions against the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, as well as provisions against organized crime and trafficking of human beings, drugs and weapons. There are new procedures for assistance to ACP states for adapting to global warming and for integrating climate change into their development strategies, as well as improved support to the aquaculture and fisheries sectors in ACP states and to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

For a critical assessment see the briefing paper of the CONCORD Cotonou Working Group.

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.