May 28, 2010
Budget Commissioner ''open'' to local & regional input
EU Budget Commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski expressed his willingness to work with the local and regional government tiers in the context of the EU Budget Review and beyond during a 17 May meeting with representatives from EUROCITIES, the Assembly of European Regions (AER), the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR).
Recognising the vital role of local and regional authorities in ensuring efficient EU programming the Commissioner commented that ''Europe needs to concentrate on how to improve the delivering mechanism of Cohesion Policy, but I am sure of the fact that this must be done through a decentralised management system and multi-level governance. Local and regional authorities must feel a sense of programme and policy ownership, so as to help close the gap between distant Brussels and European citizens''.
For their part the various representative bodies used the occasion to reaffirm their collective opposition to any prospect of either the renationalisation of Cohesion Policy (on the grounds of the need for all regions to maintain access to funding) and to an over emphasis on larger-scale projects to the detriment of smaller authorities' participation.
Posted by iroronan at May 28, 2010 06:46 PM
May 28, 2010
Urban-Rural Land-use linkages
The seventh newsletter of the PLUREL project to develop strategies and sustainability assessment tools for peri-urban land use linkages was published in May. This issue’s contents include articles on planning instruments to control urban growth as well as on new impact analysis tools for sustainable urbanisation. The consortium involved as partners includes the School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Policy at the University College Dublin.
Posted by iroronan at May 28, 2010 02:04 PM
May 28, 2010
No further bio-waste law from Brussels
Biodegradable waste from gardens and foodstuffs (household and processing) amounts to an annual 88 million tonnes in Europe, equivalent to approximately 40% of all municipal solid waste generated. This entails major environmental impacts including dangerous methane release from landfill dumps.
On 18 May the European Commission presented a policy paper outlining actions to improve the management of bio-waste and to tap into its significant environmental and economic benefits as a source of energy and recycled materials. Spin-offs aside from the reduction in carbon emissions are expected to be generated in terms of soil quality, biodiversity protection, and the production of compost and bio-gas.
While the Landfill Directive imposed targets to channel most bio-waste away from landfill by 2016, alternative treatment options have not been specified in EU legislation. Consequently national systems vary widely across Europe and lean towards either incineration or high-recovery methods such as anaerobic digestion. Some countries in the latter group had been pressing for a specific 'Biowaste Directive' but the report instead outlines recommendations to achieve the objectives while maintaining Member States' discretion to choose the waste management options best suited to their individual environmental and economic circumstances.
Its analysis reveals that the body of EU waste legislation, though lacking in terms of its implementation efforts to date, already provides a sufficient basis to enable Member States to take the necessary action without the further imposition of additional and separate legislation. In this vein, the issues the Commission hopes to see more rigorously enforced nationally along with the targets on diverting bio-waste away from landfill include proper application of the waste hierarchy and other provisions of the Waste Framework Directive to introduce separate collection systems as a matter of priority. The report identifies the operation of particularly efficient separating systems in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and certain Italian and Spanish regions.
In tandem with national actions the Commission is also emphasising the need for supporting initiatives at EU level - such as developing standards for compost - in order to accelerate progress and ensure a level playing field across Europe. This will involve specific guidance and indicators for bio-waste prevention with possible future binding targets, as well as compost standards and guidelines on the application of life cycle thinking and assessment in the waste sector.
Posted by iroronan at May 28, 2010 12:49 PM
May 27, 2010
European Network for Rural Development
The newly revamped website of the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) aims to provide the necessary tools to ensure direct up-to-date access to effective information sharing and communication on EU rural development issues. Notable new features include:
* Clickable maps allowing easier access to country-based information and resources;
* A Fast-access gateway to all National Rural Networks; and
* An enlarged thematic section on key topics;
* A Local Action Groups (LAG) database and Partner Search tool (available shortly).
The website will be gradually expanded to include new features and regularly updated with new information.
Posted by iroronan at May 27, 2010 04:05 PM
May 25, 2010
'Digital Agenda' outlines
The European Commission unveiled its new 'Digital Agenda for Europe' on 19 May. Reflecting the fact that information and communications technologies (ICTs) are recognised as having been the most significant driver of productive growth in Europe over recent years and that ICT research is consequently the largest single research element of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), this action plan for the digital economy is the first of the seven 'Flagship Initiatives' announced in March under the 'Europe 2020' Strategy to be fleshed out in detail.
The Agenda proposes to remove current obstacles to maximising the long-term potential arising from adequate investment in research and development (R&D) and use of ICT. It outlines seven priority areas: creating a digital Single Market; greater interoperability; boosting internet trust and security; much faster internet access; more investment in research and development; enhancing digital literacy skills and inclusion; and applying ICT to address society's major challenges - notably climate change and ageing demographic. In each case a set of key actions are to be put into place or proposed over the next 2-3 years.
Major barriers to research investment reaching the levels needed to compete globally are highlighted. These include ineffective public sector R&D efforts, market fragmentation and slow consumer uptake of ICT innovations. In order to address these issues the Commission's intention is to concentrate efforts on policies such as leveraging more private investment; pooling resources between Member States and industry; easing access to funding; supporting joint ICT research infrastructures and innovation clusters; and developing a new generation of web-based applications and services in cooperation with stakeholders.
A series of performance targets have also been included in the strategy:
* Basic DSL broadband availability for all EU citizens by 2013; fast broadband (30 Mbps or more) for all and ultra-fast (above 100Mbps) for 50% of households by 2020;
* Digital inclusion measures to increase regular internet use among the general population (75%) and among disadvantaged people (60%);
* 50% of citizens using eGovernment public services by 2015;
* A doubling of annual public investment in ICT R&D across Member States to EUR11 billion by 2020;
* At least 20% overall reduction in energy use on lighting by 2020.
In addition, the Member States are being urged to engage in large-scale pilot projects to test and develop innovative and interoperable solutions in areas of public interest.
Posted by iroronan at May 25, 2010 01:44 PM
May 24, 2010
'Europe 2020' - Institutions urge strong regional focus
The May Plenary session of the European Parliament included the adoption of a resolution on the contribution of Cohesion Policy to the achievement of the 'Europe 2020' Strategy objectives of turning the EU into a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy delivering high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion.
The key messages of the Resolutio, which expresses dissatisfaction with aspects of the manner in which the (outgoing) Lisbon Strategy was designed and deployed in relation to regional development, are:
1) the rejection of attempts to renationalise Cohesion Policy coupled with support for the need to take the regional dimension into consideration when reviewing the EU Budget post-2013;
2) ensuring sufficient flexibility to accommodate regional specificities, support the weaker regions in overcoming their socio-economic difficulties and reducing disparities between regions; and
3) the importance of involving local and regional authorities as well as stakeholders from civil society in an improved multi-level governance system to ensure that the strategy objectives are realised.
MEPs also called for a strengthening of the territorial dimension of Europe 2020 and requested the Commission to prepare an assessment of the territorial impact of the allocation of Structural Funds to the Lisbon Strategy goals and whether this has actually contributed to balanced and coherent regional development.
In a very similar vein, the ability of the 'Europe 2020' Strategy to achieve its ambitious goals is in some doubt if responses to a recent survey of European cities and regions are to be believed.
The overwhelming majority of the 90 local and regional authorities from 21 Member States who responded to the 'Your Voice on Europe 2020' consultation organised by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in March/April believe that the initiative as currently incarnated lacks the means to deliver on its promises. Widespread concerns are raised as to how well thought-out, inclusive and flexible its design process, governance arrangements and proposed delivery mechanisms are in order to account adequately for very differing socio-economic realities on the ground across the EU.
Other commonly shared misgivings expressed include the need for the Strategy to employ new evaluation indicators to complement GDP with broader measures of sustainability and quality of life in order to better mobilise local resources and stimulate growth; to be used as a basis for better focusing existing EU funding instruments towards a limited set of priorities; to serve as a framework towards achieving a coordinated implementation of EU, national, regional and local policies; and to be aligned with a strengthened Cohesion Policy for the entire EU.
This grassroots feedback has been communicated to the EU's key decision-makers ahead of the European Council on June 18 which is due to discuss the Strategy. As part of this, the CoR has now formally asked the European Council to invite all Member States to involve their sub-national tiers in their countries' contributions to the overall EU target-setting and flagship initiatives as well as in the draft National Reform Programmes.
Posted by iroronan at May 24, 2010 02:13 PM
May 23, 2010
Cities and towns assume low carbon lead
More recognition of the role local and regional authorities can play in the creation of smart, sustainable local economies was the key message arising out of the recent 6th Sustainable Cities and Towns Conference - Europe's largest local sustainability event - this year held in Dunkerque from 19-21 May.
After three days of debate, analysis and discussion exploring how sustainable development can help local governments to face the current economic, social and climate challenges, the 1,800 participants ratified two political declarations intending to identify the changes needed to our political frameworks and to explore how different sectors can cooperate to advance sustainable development in Europe. A particular aim was to create a system of governance that integrates local and regional governments more actively and coherently into how EU policies and resources on sustainability are managed over the coming years.
The Dunkerque 2010 Local Sustainability Declaration states that the transition to a sustainable, green and inclusive economy is now inevitable, as current models are resource and energy intensive and cannot stand up to a changing economic climate. The Dunkerque 2010 Call on Climate Action insists that local governments send strong messages to national governments in order that future international agreements can exceed what was achieved by the Copenhagen Accord at last December's United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Posted by iroronan at May 23, 2010 11:43 AM
May 22, 2010
Accessible Cities for the Disabled
A competition to promote accessibility in European cities to persons of reduced mobility is to be launched by the Commission according to a 19 May announcement by the Spanish Minister for Health and Social Policy, Trinidad Jimenez, following the informal meeting of European disability ministers in Zaragoza. Every competing city nominated for what will be known as the 'European Capital of Accessibility' will receive an evaluation rating based on four criteria:
* The condition of buildings and public spaces;
* Transport and infrastructure;
* Information and communications (including new technologies); and
* Services open to the public.
The inaugural award will be announced in December during the European Day of People with Disabilities.
Posted by iroronan at May 22, 2010 10:09 AM
May 20, 2010
Anti-discrimination directive stalls
The proposed directive to combat discrimination on the grounds of religion, disability, age or sexual orientation failed to progress at the May Council meeting of Social Affairs Ministers. Despite backing in principle from most Member States, a number instanced concerns over the draft legislation’s possible erosion of national competences.
The directive's intended extension of protection against discrimination would incorporate social protection (including healthcare), education and access to goods and services, including housing. However, work remains on clarifying matters such as the applicability of disability accessibility provisions to individual cases.
Common ground also remains elusive for now on various concepts, including striking a balance between protection against discrimination and individual rights in the private sphere (including freedom of speech and religion). A lack of coherence with existing legislation is also being cited as a stumbling block. The proposed directive has been intended to complement three existing directives: one on general discrimination based on racial or ethnic origin, another on discrimination specifically within the labour market and the third on equal treatment between men and women.
Posted by iroronan at May 20, 2010 10:53 AM
May 16, 2010
Publication: Best practice in local social inclusion
ELISAN, the European Local Inclusion and Social Action Network, has recently launched a call for collecting local and regional best practices on social inclusion to be included in an online database. The database will be organised by themes and will be available on the ELISAN website.
Posted by iroronan at May 16, 2010 07:03 PM
May 16, 2010
Unlocking the potential of cultural and creative industries
The Commission has recently launched an online consultation aimed at unlocking the full potential of Europe's cultural and creative industries. The consultation is linked to a Green Paper, which highlights the need to improve access to finance, especially for small businesses, as a key to enabling the sector to flourish and to contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth. The consultation aims to gather views on various issues, including business environment, the need to open a European common space for culture, capacity building, skills development and promotion of European creators on the world stage. The Commission welcomes contributions from public authorities, private and third sector organisations, as well as citizens. The results will also be analysed and summarised in a report to be published in September. The responses to the consultation will inform the Commission on how to ensure that EU policies and programmes are fit for the active involvement of the cultural and creative industries.
Deadline 30 July
Posted by iroronan at May 16, 2010 03:29 PM
May 16, 2010
The case for environmental taxation & incentives
The European Commission, together with the UN Environmental Programme, has launched a major new report highlighting the need for radical changes in the way economies are using scarce resources. 'Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials' evidences the growing link between economic activity, prosperity and environmental degradation - mainly in relation to increased energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. To counter this worrying trend, the report recommends that taxes and other incentives should be used to encourage more eco-friendly practices, particularly in agriculture.
The report is the latest in a series from the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management and provides science-based priorities for world environmental efforts, ranking products, materials and economic and lifestyle activities according to their environmental and resource impacts. Using life-cycle analyses, it catalogues the materials and energy required for production, consumption and disposal, and identifies the processes, products and materials most responsible for environmental harm around the globe. The following pressures on the environment are cited as priorities for reduction: climate change, habitat change, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, overexploitation of resources such as fisheries and forests, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, household combustion of solid fuels, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.
Posted by iroronan at May 16, 2010 12:17 PM
May 12, 2010
EP seeks to broaden Less-Favoured Areas status
A comprehensive strategy to harmonise the way Less-Favoured Areas (LFAs) are classified to determine levels of farming aid is being sought by the European Parliament. MEPs adopted a report on 5 May as their collective response to the April 2009 European Commission Communication on the revision of the traditional criteria to define areas of natural disadvantage. That Communication had placed an emphasis on the use of fewer but more objective and measurable soil and climate factors in order to better target assistance towards areas where the sustainable practice of farming is severely hindered. The LFA scheme involves compensatory payments for productive farming as opposed to other EU agri-environmental measures related to land management.
According to its deliberations, the Parliament considers that the strict application of the 8 proposed 'biophysical' criteria alone is insufficient in determining the true extent of natural handicaps; that an integrated strategy taking account of specific national and regional characteristics is needed; and that there are major ''social implications'' to a reclassification meaning that certain socio-economic criteria such as remoteness from markets, lack of services and depopulation should be re-opened for consideration on a purely objective basis.
Posted by iroronan at May 12, 2010 11:25 AM
May 11, 2010
Fisheries Policy reform
On 2-3 May a conference on the future reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy took place in La Coruna, Spain. The event provided the Commission and the current Spanish Presidency with an opportunity to get an insight into the general positions of stakeholder groups including industry, NGOs and national administrations. At an Informal Council meeting in Vigo over the following days, Maritime Affairs Commissioner Maria Damanaki presented this overview to Fisheries Ministers and sought clarification on each government's stance on each of the topics addressed so far.
Posted by iroronan at May 11, 2010 02:41 PM
May 08, 2010
Report on renewable-based Europe
A pathway towards a 100% renewable energy system as the only truly sustainable option for Europe is set out in a new report from the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC). 'RE-thinking 2050' assesses how different renewable energy technologies can contribute to a fully sustainable energy supply over the next generation, but only provided strong political, public and economic support is in place. In addition to CO₂ emission reductions, the report shows how making the European economies and societies fully renewables-based will result in major benefits, including large scale job creation.
Posted by iroronan at May 8, 2010 07:06 PM
May 06, 2010
Local energy support pledges: EUR115 million for CO2 reduction
Climate change mediation is increasingly being seen in EU terms as an area where the local level is best placed to deliver informed grassroots solutions which also touch on other policy areas such as regeneration and the environment. This priority was underlined in a speech by energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger at the Covenant of Mayors Ceremony in the European Parliament on 4 May.
This Commission-backed declaration gained another 500 adherents at its first birthday celebration with representatives of these cities and regions formally pledging to play their part in significantly curtailing CO2 emissions through local plans and actions. Covenant signatories are now set to benefit from access to a windfall of at least EUR115 million, unspent as part of the European Economic Recovery package, in order to implement their sustainable energy policies. The funding is intended to be specifically used as a leverage mechanism to raise significant further investment from financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Council of Europe Bank (EBRD) and is hoped to act as a low carbon economy and employment creating stimulation tool.
The announcement was accompanied by a series of further Commission commitments to support the Covenant and local actions in sustainable energy including heightened levels of cooperation with ''regional and national administrations, that support both in technical and financial terms the implementation of the Covenant in smaller cities''. The ELENA financing package which arose from the Covenant as a means of providing technical assistance to structure and implement viable project proposals under local/regional sustainable energy strategies has already been doubled to a EUR30 million annual fund after strong levels of uptake. ELENA has been a key factor in mobilising EUR1 billion worth of investment (much of this through EIB loans) in just a few months - and is set to be further reinforced over the coming years.
According to the Commissioner, other supportive instruments with cities particularly in mind are also under consideration including 'carbon-funding instruments'. Looking to the longer term, work is ongoing to develop a dedicated 'Smart Cities' initiative in support of urban energy technologies within the Eight Framework Programme for Research and Technology. The Commissioner also announced his intention to bring forward a new Energy Efficiency Strategy for Europe which would give particular focus to regional and local actors.
Posted by iroronan at May 6, 2010 10:36 AM
May 05, 2010
Dublin promotes its 'energy-smart' credentials
Despite being grounded by volcanic ash, video link allowed Dublin's Lord Mayor Emer Costello to fulfill her commitment to address a major EU energy event in Brussels on 4 May. The Covenant of Mayors Ceremony showcased efforts to follow through on local pledges to exceed the formal EU energy policy objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (20% before 2020). 1680 European regions and cities of all sizes have now committed to implement definite plans to reduce their carbon footprint accordingly through actions and initiatives in energy efficiency, renewable use and awareness-raising among citizens.
Dublin, which has set itself a 33% CO2 reduction target over the next decade, signed the declaration last year and has since set about implementing its long-term Sustainable Energy Action Plan (SEAP) by taking stock of current energy consumption and emissions patterns and devising means by which sectors including planning & development, transport and waste management can contribute towards improvement. In particular the Action Plan identifies retrofitting of Dublin's residential sector - insulation, boiler upgrades, glazing, low energy lighting and renewable usage - as an area of enormous potential not only in terms of curbing emissions but in providing employment and energy-efficient savings exceeding EUR1 billion in the city region by 2020.
In her address, Mayor Costello evidenced the entirely self-sustaining renewable energy production of Fr Collins Park, Clongriffin as an example of the groundbreaking energy work of the City Council. A number of activities coordinated by CODEMA, the energy management agency for the city and surrounding local authority areas were also singled out for praise. These include the Energy Smart Community scheme which clusters homeowners together to improve their domestic energy performance and the Greenov project (funded by Interreg North West Europe) which is creating a network of SMEs engaged in sustainable renovation.
Covenant of Mayors
Posted by iroronan at May 5, 2010 11:49 AM
May 04, 2010
SERA Sustainable Estuary Regions event: 20 May, Waterford
To celebrate EU Maritime Day, the South-East Regional Authority will host a conference on 'Sustainable Estuarial Regions'. The event will examine the topic of the environmental pressures faced by shared water bodies - with a specific focus on the Waterford Estuary as a significant regional resource - and how marine spatial planning can assist with consultation between competing interests, coordinated development and integrated management approaches. Representatives of UK estuary management bodies, various sectoral agencies and the European Commission will give their perspectives.
Posted by iroronan at May 4, 2010 06:52 PM
May 04, 2010
Sustainable integrated urban regeneration
The EU Spanish Presidency organised a high level conference on on 26-27 April in Madrid entitled 'Urban Sustainability and Integrated Urban Regeneration in Europe: Policies, Programmes and Best Practices'. The event focused on two main areas.
The first was urban sustainability, including an analysis of the progress report of the 'Reference Framework of the European Sustainable City' - the policy development and performance monitoring structure Member States' Ministers with responsibility for urban development have agreed upon as a means to realise the terms of the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities.
The second was integrated urban regeneration as an approach towards city development, with a special emphasis on climate change, the promotion of social cohesion and economic growth.
The outcomes of this event are being fed into the planning for the ministerial meeting to take place in June in Toledo where the role that urban regeneration can have on integrated urban development is to be discussed.
Posted by iroronan at May 4, 2010 03:04 PM
May 03, 2010
Local & regional authorities' role in future environmental policy
The Irish Regions Brussels Office recently attended a seminar debating the role of local and regional authorities in future environmental policy. This event was part of the research feeding into a current Committee of the Regions (CoR) Outlook Opinion on this issue.
Input from practitioners dealing with the effects of EU environmental policy is being sought by the rapporteur. As well as general thoughts about what works well and what doesn't in environmental governance, an emphasis is being placed on examples of how environmental legislation:
* can have unintended and unhelpful consequences;
* is frequently infringed/faces substantial challenges in enforcement;
* generates economic benefit as well as preventing environmental harm.
Member States' performance in involving local and regional authorities in the different phases of the policy-cycle is a further aspect under consideration.
Deadline for input: 21 May
Background to last month's seminar
Contact the IRO office for a copy of the current working document.
Posted by iroronan at May 3, 2010 01:38 PM
May 03, 2010
Late payments: public-private parity
While giving its consent to rules to penalise late payment in commercial transactions at its 28 April session, the European Parliament's Committee on Internal Market has rejected the idea of imposing an additional flat rate 5% plus interest penalty on public authorities who fall into arrears. The proposal to make an example of public sector organisations had been part of the Commission's position (set out in April 2009) for a recast of the directive - mainly intended to benefit SMEs who suffer disproportionately from cash-flow problems caused by delays.
While Parliament has voted not to differentiate between business-to-business transactions and those involving public authorities, strict payment deadlines of 30 days (possibly extendable to 60 days under certain conditions) are now set to apply to both sectors including increases in the interest penalties and administrative fee for compensation applying beyond prescribed deadlines. The dossier will now go to the Council.
Posted by iroronan at May 3, 2010 01:23 PM
May 02, 2010
Wind farm planning permissions
An EU-funded project coordinated by the European Wind Energy Association has found that the time wind farm developers must wait to receive planning permission differs very significantly from one EU Member State to another. The findings of 'Wind Barriers' reveal that it takes a wind farm application an average of three and a half years to win full administrative approval in Europe (one and a half years for offshore applications). This varies from a prompt eight months in Finland to almost 5 years in Portugal. Ireland's figure is 33.5 months - a lower mid-table ranking in terms of efficiency.
Curiously the number of organisations which need to be statutorily consulted and involved in the process is only a partial indicator of the time spans involved. This number ranges from just 5 on average in Denmark (taking 32 months) to 41 in Greece (50 months). In fact despite their highly efficient systems, Finnish and Austrian applications must pass via more than 30 different agencies prior to approval while in Portugal, as in Ireland, only 14 organisations are involved.
The report conclude that the huge lack of coherence between national systems is hampering the EU's overall potential to meet its goal of producing 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. It recommends the need for clearer guidelines and more strategic and streamlined approval mechanisms. It should be noted that the study relates only to administrative processes and does not examine the impact of public acceptance in delaying matters.
Posted by iroronan at May 2, 2010 10:29 AM