November 30, 2009
Ministers agree to strengthen local autonomy and democracy
Ministers from across Europe with responsibility for local and regional government have agreed to strengthen local autonomy despite economic pressures to achieve savings across the public sector. At a Council of Europe summit entitled 'Good local and regional governance in turbulent times: the challenge of change', held in Utrecht in November, the ministers signed a declaration recognising the importance of municipal and regional governments and the need for national governments to undertake to guarantee their future financial stability, especially when faced with the challenge of dwindling public finances in the coming years.
The ministers also signed a new protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government giving citizens a legal ''Right to Participate in the Affairs of a Local Authority'' including to be consulted on matters of local policy. This is especially aimed at those facing particular obstacles to participating in democratic procedures. The Charter, which was signed by the Irish Government in 1998 and ratified in 2002, commits signatories to the principle of subsidiarity whereby decisions are taken at the appropriate level closest to the citizen.
Posted by iroronan at November 30, 2009 07:02 PM
November 27, 2009
Flood Relief from EU?
The devastating flooding across parts of Ireland has brought the issue of EU funding into stark perspective. Each year the EU sets aside EUR1 billion for the Solidarity Fund (EUSF) to retrospectively meet a small proportion of the costs associated with emergency operations undertaken by public authorities to alleviate damage caused by major natural disasters.
The following activities may qualify:
- Immediate infrastructure restoration;
- Temporary accommodation and emergency services;
- Securing of prevention infrastructures
- Protection of cultural heritage;
- Clean-up operations.
This is limited to non-insurable damage.
The fund (proper) only kicks in once damage entails costs above a certain threshold having been incurred. For Ireland (based on reported national income), this figure is set at EUR972.729 million. Eligible damage costs below this may be aided at a 2.5% rate while costs beyond that can be reimbursed at 6%.
However, even if this level of expense is not reached, EUR75 of the annual budget has been ring-fenced for circumstances ''where a region has been affected by an extraordinary disaster, mainly a natural one, affecting the major part of its population, with serious and lasting repercussions on living conditions and the economic stability of the region''. This mechanism has been deployed in relation to severe flooding on a number of occasions in recent years: providing aid (at the 2.5% rate) to a value of EUR11.78m for Romania (2009), EUR8.25m for Slovenia (2008), EUR9.3m for Greece (2007) and EUR20.35m for Bulgaria (2007).
Crucially the application, which is tabled by the national government, must be made within 10 weeks of the first reported damage occurring. According to available figures, having dealt with the June Italian earthquake and January's hurricane damage in France, EUR385m remains in the 2009 reserve including EUR63.22m for extraordinary regional disasters.
Posted by iroronan at November 27, 2009 04:35 PM
November 25, 2009
Future of EU Transport
To mark the closing of a period of consultation that the Commission launched in June with its 'A Sustainable Future for Transport' Communication and its Green Paper 'Trans-European Transport Network: A policy review', a high-level stakeholders' conference was held on 20 November in Brussels on the future of the European transport system.
The discussion themes included an alternative fuels policy; the deployment of innovative technologies for clean vehicles; and traffic management; responding to the needs of transport users and workers.
Identifying practical and desirable policy measures for the next decade is the first step towards the drafting of a renewed Transport White Paper, expected to be completed in the second half of 2010. Further definition on the form that this should take will be known after the December European Council delivers its conclusions. Commission priorities currently centre on the decarbonisation of transport and using the sector to boost new sources of growth and competitiveness. Particular emphasis is being put on the creation of green corridors, the formation of a core network of Trans-uropean Transport (TEN-T) projects; and the creation of a sizeable dedicated fund for transport and related issues. Already the new Barroso Commission has allocated transport its own Directorate-eneral: until now it had shared with energy.
Posted by iroronan at November 25, 2009 07:59 PM
November 21, 2009
New energy standards in buildings
2021 will almost certainly signal the cut-off point after which all new buildings in the EU will have to be powered largely from renewable sources, including by means of on-site production, and meet tougher energy-efficiency standards. This follows a 17 November deal between MEPs and EU Member States, pending approval early next year from the European Parliament as a whole, that what's being termed a 'nearly zero emissions' standard should apply from that time onwards.
This updating of the 2002 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, had become the subject of prolonged and difficult negotiation between the two institutions and was being seen as a test of the EU's credibility ahead of the UN climate summit in Copenhagen. The heating, cooling and lighting of buildings accounts for around 40% of the EU's carbon dioxide emissions. Governments will be responsible for defining the vague 'nearly zero' standards nationally but will also be required to draw up plans to promote the conversion of existing buildings to energy performance compliance over the coming years through such means as smart meters and high-efficiency heating,plumbing and air-conditioning systems. By mid-2011 they will also need to provide a list of national incentives including grants, technical assistance and loan schemes to assist with the transition. EU support will also be forthcoming.
A very significant further stipulation is that publicly owned (or rented) buildings will need to comply with the new standards by the end of 2018. While Ireland's Building Energy Rating (BER) system would appear to cover the new requirements for certification of all new build and market/rental properties, once national law is brought into line with the Directive (probably by 2012) the threshold at which this would apply for public buildings - if frequently visited by the public - will fall from the current 1000m2 to 500m2 and then as low as 250m2 by 2017. Some protected historic buildings, small houses (under 50m2), temporary buildings, holiday homes, industrial sites, low energy demand workshops and agricultural buildings, and places of religious worship are to be exempted from the terms of the Directive.
Posted by iroronan at November 21, 2009 09:45 AM
November 18, 2009
Integrated Local Development for EU-wide challenges?
Could Integrated Local Development (ILD) strategies - tackling economic, social and physical environment issues ogether - provide the most effective way of addressing strategic EU-wide challenges? A Eurocities network seminar on 3 November explored the potential for the Union to embrace and support this approach in the post 2013 funding period.
Over 60 representatives from member cities, senior officials of the European Institutions, and external experts shared their views and overwhelmingly came to the conclusion that this approach presents unquestionable benefits and efficiencies. A key added value aspect was felt to be the breaking down of 'silo thinking' in policy development, governance and service delivery by encouraging synergies, pooling of resources and joint initiatives between sectors and across administrative boundaries. A second was that it offers an informed means to optimise the effectiveness of interventions thanks to local expertise and experience of needs and opportunities.
From a purely EU perspective, this localised character was considered to offer great visibility to actions which could in turn improve public understanding of strategic European objectives if clear links were made to the means of delivery. Delegates also pointed out that the norms of EU funding coordination (relatively long-term timescales; stakeholder participation in planning and implementation; impact monitoring and evaluation etc.) naturally lend themselves to ILD approaches and have already contributed to capacity-building in many local and regional administrations. Interesting examples profiled from cities with experience in this field included Malmo's strategic combination of different EU funds to address different aspects within the same overall plan and the Hungarian approach of using the design of integrated city plans as a prerequisite for receiving Structural Funding.
A full proposal for a pan-European ILD approach to addressing common challenges in a coordinated yet distinctive way will be developed by Eurocities and transmitted to the Commission over the coming months.
Posted by iroronan at November 18, 2009 10:09 AM
November 16, 2009
South Dublin Libraries on shortlist for European eGovernment Award
Two projects developed in Ireland are amongst the finalists competing for the 4th European eGovernment Awards 2009 - an initiative of the European Commission to stimulate innovation by identifying best practice examples using information and communication technologies in public sector organisations.
South Dublin Digital Book Service (SDDBS) - an initiative of South Dublin Libraries - was developed to streamline and ensure 24/7 access for visually impaired citizens to the world of books and information. It is the first digital book service in Ireland and one of very few worldwide. Users can download eBooks and eAudio books for free to their MP3 players and portable devices using their library card for authentication. The project is a finalist in the 'empowering citizens' category.
The Citizens Information Board website losingyourjob.ie is also in contention for the same award. Meanwhile the Property Registration Authority are involved in EULIS, a pan-European project to provide reliable, direct and easy access to land and property information in participating European countries has been shortlisted for the 'Supporting the Single Market' category.
The winners will be announced on 19 November at the Ministerial eGovernment Conference 2009 in Malmo. For the first time the finalists' projects are accessible online through a virtual exhibition.
Posted by iroronan at November 16, 2009 05:38 PM
November 06, 2009
Mandatory 'Green renovation' plan?
A major proposal whereby 15 million buildings across Europe would undergo 'green renovation' over the next decade, in a bid to help meet EU energy-efficiency targets, is being considered by the Commission as part of a broader plan due for release in November. Draft versions of '7 measures for 2 million new EU jobs' - a scaled-back but more tightly focused revision of the Commission's 2006 Energy-Efficiency Action Plan - extols the employment-creating potential of energy-efficiency, suggesting the green buildings initiative alone would create 1.4 million jobs (300,000 directly and 1.1 million indirectly) annually.
Under the plan, it is thought EU Member States would face binding energy-saving targets (either sector-specific or across the entire economy) in line with the objective of achieving 20% greater energy efficiency by 2020. Already a voluntary commitment to this aspiration is in place but this is looking increasingly unrealistic on current national performances. In fact, little energy savings have yet been achieved in the buildings sector which is responsible for 40% of Europe's consumption.
Specific additional EU funds are not likely to be set aside for this initiative (beyond European Investment Bank loans and, perhaps, Economic Recovery Fund money unused by 2013). Instead, National Energy Efficiency Funds would be established and revenues from emissions trading used. Nonetheless, the Commission's ambitions may well correspond with likely Irish Government plans to bring forward retrofitting schemes for residential housing and public buildings over the coming years. Other measures contained in the plan include the Smart Cities initiative (see September's Bulletin), efforts to boost the energy-efficiency of utilities, and tapping into the potential of SMEs which could equally be in line with Ireland's recent shift towards embracing the green economy.
Posted by iroronan at November 6, 2009 11:50 AM
November 05, 2009
2010 Year against Poverty launch
A conference on 'Poverty: Perceptions and Reality - he Communication Challenge' took place in Brussels on 28-29 October to launch the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. The purpose of the Year is to promote solidarity, equality and tolerance while combating stereotypes and stigmatisation through a Europe-ide campaign including hundreds of events to raise public awareness and draw national governments' attention to specific issues. An estimated 80 million EU citizens live in a state of poverty and social exclusion. A recent Eurobarometer survey revealed that 89% of Europeans want urgent governmental action to tackle the issue.
Posted by iroronan at November 5, 2009 09:11 AM
November 04, 2009
IRO delivers EU Funding workshops
During October, the staff of the Irish Regions Office, Brussels, delivered a series of workshops on EU funding across Ireland. This initiative, in association with the Regional Authorities, was undertaken to raise Local Authority awareness of the possibilities for direct funding offered by the Community Action Programmes and to assist them in competing proactively and successfully - thereby providing some relief to deteriorating public finances.
Over 80 officers representing 31 local authorities attended at the four venues – the Custom House, Dublin; South-East Regional Authority, Clonmel; Athlone Town Council; and Clare County Council, Ennis. The presentations, which address general aspects of transnational funding and project development; the EU funding programmes and some project examples, and other (non-funding) initiatives of relevance to Local Authorities are available from the Funding Tracker section of the IRO website.
Posted by iroronan at November 4, 2009 10:03 AM
November 04, 2009
Life+ project approvals: Ireland fails to feature
The process to approve applications to last year's annual call for proposals under Life+, the European financial instrument for the environment, concluded in late October. Funding to the value of EUR207.5 million has been approved for 196 new projects (from over 600 bids) to cover actions in the fields of nature conservation, environmental policy, and information and communication.
None of the (three) Irish applications were deemed to be of adequate quality, meaning that the indicative national allocation from the EU for 2008 of almost EUR4 million has been lost to this country and reallocated. Only Lithuania, Luxembourg and Malta are similarly unrepresented on this occasion. This poor performance by Irish applications forms part of a continuing trend following the approval of just a single project under the 2006 call and two for 2007. Meanwhile countries of comparable population such as Finland (11 approvals) and Denmark (10) have been much more competitive over the last 3 year period. The next opportunity to compete is likely to open in May 2010.
Posted by iroronan at November 4, 2009 09:24 AM
November 03, 2009
Local Sustainable Energy Action Plans template
The European Commission has unveiled an online interactive instrument to help Local Authorities to better manage their energy performance by turning good intentions into action. The Sustainable Energy Action Plans (SEAP) template and guidelines is intended to help cities and municipalities to bring together the relevant information for establishing their own baseline inventory of emissions, to structure their overall energy strategy, and to detail concrete measures foreseen in delivering upon objectives.
This is part of the further roll-out of the Covenant of Mayors initiative which now brings together over 700 European Local Authorities in a permanent network to make better use of energy and commit to reducing local CO2 emissions beyond the EU 20% by 2020 target. This is to be achieved by each signatory developing, adopting and implementing their own SEAP, which, thanks to the online template will be evaluable and readily usable for exchanges of experience.
The Covenant's signatories will soon be able to access flexible loans and financial engineering instruments under the newly created ELENA (European Local Energy Assistance) fund for projects contributing to the development of their respective SEAPs.
Posted by iroronan at November 3, 2009 10:27 AM
November 02, 2009
'Macro-regional' approach gains Council approval
On 30 October, the meeting of Heads of State and Government endorsed the new approach to regional development proposed in the comprehensive EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region. This integrated macro-regional framework has been drawn up by the Commission and the concerned Member States to identify collective needs and challenges and aspirations in fields such as fisheries, transport, research, energy and the environment and to set about matching them to available resources through co-ordination of appropriate policies, in order to enable the area to enjoy a sustainable shared future.
Noting the innovative nature of this Integrated Strategy and the potential it represents, the Council placed particular emphasis on the need to speed up the integration of infrastructure and markets between neighbouring Member States and for this process to be achieved through a well thought-out joint governance structure. It is felt that the Baltic example presents a blueprint for similar approaches in other parts of the EU.
With the future of the EU's Atlantic seaboard - a somewhat vaster and more open space - specifically in mind, as part of October's Open Days week of Regions and Cities, the Irish Regions Office partly organised a well-attended seminar for maritime stakeholders from nine nations and regions across Ireland, UK, France, Spain and Portugal to draw on the Baltic Sea model and reflect on experiences of and opportunities for mutually-beneficial cooperation across national frontiers. Among the contributors were representatives of the Marine Institute and the Dublin Regional Authority as part of the Irish Sea Platform.
Posted by iroronan at November 2, 2009 06:00 PM
November 02, 2009
Leaked budget reform proposals: not in line with Lisbon Treaty?
The recent leaking of the Commission's first draft Communication on the reform of the EU Budget post-2013 has provoked a storm of controversy in Brussels and beyond. Three future EU spending priority areas are identified in the 'non-paper' - sustainable growth and jobs; sustainable resource management in a low-carbon society (energy and climate); and the EU's role in the world - but at a major implied cost to other areas of current spending.
As expected, the CAP is a target for reform and significant reduction with a refocus of single farm payments on agricultural products as 'public goods', and intensify spending on climate-related challenges to allow direct support for farmers in areas such as biodiversity and sustainable farming practices.
More surprisingly, another striking message of the document is directed at Regional Policy with the Commission apparently seeing cohesion-related issues as something more suited to being managed at national government level, and as being best achieved by an almost total concentration of resources on the 12 newer Member States - an approach previously mooted prior to the 2004 Enlargement. The draft also calls for Cohesion Policy to be closely integrated with rural development and maritime policies as well as national strategies, such as the Lisbon National Reform Programmes.
The proposals leave the future of spending on Competitiveness & Employment ('Objective 2') priorities - Ireland's main source of Structural Funding - in jeopardy. The draft poses questions as to the added value achieved from providing EU aid under individual national/regional Operational Programmes for purely internal consumption within wealthier parts of the Union as opposed to what is being and can be achieved by strengthening Territorial Cooperation (Interreg - Objective 3) which brings together regions from different Member States in joint actions. It hints that the mainstay of any future scaled-down Objective 2 may lie in providing a redistributive mechanism to address pronounced regional disparities within national jurisdictions.
These proposals have drawn the collective ire of organisations representing Europe's local and regional authorities who have reacted by suggesting that if implemented, ''they would challenge sustainable recovery and development in Europe'', ''do not reflect the goal of territorial cohesion, as introduced in the Lisbon Treaty'' and would ''ignore the demonstrable potential of integrated approaches at the territorial level'' in any given Community policy field by being overly-sectoral in focus.
The European Parliament's Budgets Committee has already questioned the appropriateness of an outgoing Commission bringing forward such ''provocative content''. Parliament will undertake hearings of all newly proposed Commissioners later in November. These issues are certain to crop up when the new Regional Policy and Budgetary Commissioners, in particular, present themselves.
Posted by iroronan at November 2, 2009 12:56 PM