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July 24, 2011

Commission strongly backs local role in integration of migrants

On 20 July the European Commission adopted a 'European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals', intended as a contribution to the debate on how to understand and better support integration in European countries.
The Agenda puts the emphasis on migrants' full participation in all aspects of collective life - principally employment, education, better social inclusion, and active citizenship - and highlights the importance of close cooperation between national governments, responsible for integration policies, and local or regional authorities and non-state actors, who are responsible for a wide range of services and activities and are implementing integration measures on the ground.

According to this paper, future integration policies should be formulated and implemented with the active involvement of local authorities who would then roll-out specifically designed strategies. It goes on to propose that the next version of the European Fund for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals should focus primarily on promoting integration in a bottom-up and more targeted manner at local level. The Commission is also developing a set of adaptable coordination and knowledgeexchange tools to support Member State policies and practices.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at July 24, 2011 01:36 PM

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July 20, 2011

Air quality consultation

As part of a comprehensive review of Europe's air policies intended to set new long-term objectives beyond 2020, the European Commission has launched an online public consultation on its current policy in this area. Views are being sought on the strengths and weaknesses of the existing legislative framework and progress on its implementation. This is part of a broader process of reflection that will feed into a review due no later than 2013. A recent survey determined that almost half of Europeans are living in, mainly urban, areas where EU air quality objectives are not being met - making air pollution one of the main environmental worries facing EU citizens.
The consultation is divided into two parts - a short questionnaire for the general public and a longer section for experts and practitioners from national administrations, regional or local authorities, researchers, businesses, health interests, environmental groups and other stakeholders involved in the implementation of EU air quality legislation.

Deadline: 30 September
Further details

Posted by iroronan at July 20, 2011 10:53 AM

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July 17, 2011

European Week of Cities and Regions (OPEN DAYS) - registrations open

Registration to attend the seminars and workshops of OPEN DAYS 2011 in Brussels from Monday 10 until Thursday 13 October is now open. This year, a total of 111 events are being organised by 206 Brussels-based regional offices and their officials back home according to three broad themes:
• The contribution of Cohesion Policy and the Structural Funds to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth ('Europe 2020 Strategy');
• Improving on the delivery of Cohesion Policy now and beyond 2013; and
• Good practice in the field of urban development and territorial cooperation.

…Irish Regions' Atlantic Strategy event:Among the events planned, the Irish Regions are collaborating with partner regions in Portugal, Spain, France and UK to organise an 11 October seminar entitled 'the Atlantic: a source of opportunities for sustainable growth'. Discussion will centre on the European Commission's forthcoming integrated European Strategy for the Atlantic Region (expected to be published in September) and will include high-level contributions from the Directorates-General for both Regional and Maritime Policy. This will be balanced by observations and reactions from national and regional representatives on how the ambitions as set out in the strategy stack up against ongoing activities and potential for cooperation. Among the issues to be discussed are transport, marine renewable energies, coastal environmental protection, innovation, as well as what forms of governance arrangements are required in order that the strategy should deliver.

The Association of Irish Regions (AIR) formally responded to the original Commission draft on the Atlantic Strategy in October 2010 and held a stakeholder conference on marine spatial planning in Wexford at the end of that month to highlight areas of potential direct significance for the local and regional levels. As a follow-up, and in association with Open Days, this year's AIR conference will be on the theme 'Maximising the Value of our Maritime Resource' and will deal with the evolving policy framework at EU and national levels and best practices examples at local/regional level. Further details will be carried in September's Bulletin.

Registration for OPEN DAYS will remain open until 28 September.

Posted by iroronan at July 17, 2011 04:38 PM

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July 15, 2011


As mentioned briefly in last month's Bulletin, on 29 June, the European Commission published its proposals for the EU's 2014-2020 budget - the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF). The MFF translates into financial terms the European Union's priorities up to 2020. It sets out spending limits for each category of expenditure and is intended to provide a predictable flow of resources for EU programmes and certainty for programme managers, projects and beneficiaries.

A 4.8% increase from the current budget of EUR976 billion to EUR1,025 billion has been proposed. The EU budget currently represents 1.12% of its Member States' Gross National Income (GNI) and is funded mainly through direct national transfers (on the basis of their GNI) but also from 'own resources', which include levies from agricultural and customs duties and a portion of VAT collected at national level. In 2011, about 76% of the EU budget came from national contributions, 12% from customs duties and 11% from VAT.

For the 2014-2020 budget, the Commission is proposing to reduce the proportion of national contributions to an average 1.05% GNI in order to help garner support from Member States opposed to increases in the overall budget. To compensate, the Commission is proposing a new own resource system to include a new tax on financial transactions and an EU VAT.

Spending Priorities
The breakdown of the MFF among the expenditure categories is seen as conservative, with the two main areas – Agriculture and Regional Policy - continuing to receive the largest portions of the budget. There are some new areas: the EU’s External Action Service (introduced under the Lisbon Treaty) and Home Affairs - border control, security and immigration. However, with the established categories there are also some new proposals and new priorities for existing programmes.

• Heading 1 - Smart & Inclusive Growth (EUR490.9 billion)
• Heading 2 - Sustainable Growth (EUR382.9 billion)
• Heading 3 - Security & Citizenship (EUR18.5 billion)
• Heading 4 - Global Europe (EUR70.0 billion)
• Heading 5 - Administration (EUR62.6 billion)
The following is an overview of some of the key proposals:

Heading 1 - Smart and Inclusive Growth
This is the largest heading in the budget and includes significant policy areas such as: Cohesion Policy; Research and Innovation; a new 'Connecting Europe' facility for infrastructure; and other policy areas such as SMEs, education, training, youth and sport. There are a number of important aspects under this heading for Ireland.

Cohesion Policy - EUR336 billionCohesion Policy has been allocated 36.7% of the budget, which represents a slight increase on the 2007-2013 period. The structure of the policy has been changed slightly, with the creation of a new category of ‘transition regions’, regions with levels between 75-90% EU GDP. The budget for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is broken down as follows:
• Convergence Regions (below 75% EU GDP) - EUR162.6 billion (48.5%)
• Transition Regions (between 75-90% EU GDP) - EUR38.9 billion (11.6%)
• Competitiveness Regions (above 90% EU GDP) - EUR53.1 billion (15.8%)
• Territorial Cooperation (INTERREG programmes) - EUR11.7 billion (3.5%)
• Cohesion Fund (for Member States below 90% EU GDP) - EUR68.7 billion (20.5%)
European Social Fund (ESF) - The ESF will make up at least 25% of the total Cohesion Policy budget (i.e. EUR84 billion) and must comprise a minimum of 40% of Transition regions' allocation and 52% of a Competitiveness Region's allocation.

As present, both Irish Regions (NUTS II - Regional Assemblies) qualify as Competitiveness Regions. However, given the impacts of the economic crisis, both regions' GDP levels are in sharp decline, with the latest available figures for the BMW being 93% EU GDP (for 2008). Depending on the outcome of negotiations, when decisions are taken (and what figures are available) and the political will to make a case, it may be possible for the BMW region to qualify for additional funds under the new Transition category. Significantly, this may also be important for the region, when the regional State Aid provisions are negotiated.

Other important changes in Cohesion Policy will be a strengthened focus on results and the effectiveness of spending. To help achieve this, the Commission is proposing:
• A Common Strategic Framework (CSF) for all Structural Funds (to include ERDF, ESF, EAFRD, and EMFF (see below);
• Partnership Contracts between the Commission and each Member State, setting out national and regional objectives and indicators to assess performance;
• Funding will be targeted on a more limited number of priority themes;
• There will be increased conditionality, with certain provisos having to be met before funds are allocated;
• A reserve of 5% of the Cohesion budget will be set aside and allocated following a mid-term review.

Connecting Europe facility (new)
-- EUR40 billion
Allied to Cohesion Policy is the establishment of a new 'Connecting Europe' facility which will fund pre-identified transport, energy and ICT infrastructure of priority EU interest. Under the proposal, 'Connecting Europe' is being allocated EUR40 billion: EUR9.1 billion for the energy sector; EUR21.7 billion for transport (plus EUR10 billion under the Cohesion Fund); and EUR9.2 billion for ICT.

The Facility will be centrally managed by the European Commission, with implementation by project promoters. The co-funding rates will depend on the type of project and geographic location - whether investments take place in Convergence or Competitiveness Regions. The 'Connecting Europe' facility will also be linked with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to use innovative financing tools and the concept of EU project bonds may also feature in realising some projects. The annexes of the proposed MFF set out the preliminary list of pre-identified projects, with some projects of significance to Ireland.

As part of the 'core network corridors' for transport, the Dublin-London-Paris-Bruxelles Corridor is identified, with the rail connection from Belfast to Dublin identified as a route where on-going works will be financed until 2018. However, there is no specific mention of the section from Holyhead to Birmingham/London, as some had hoped. Also in the transport section, the Shannon-Cork-Dublin rail connection is identified as an 'other core network' which could be financed.

On the energy corridors, the 'Offshore Electricity Grid in the Northern Seas' is a priority, which includes submarine grid solutions and connections to interconnectors in the North Sea, Irish Sea and Channel region to link renewable energy sources with the main consumption centres. The North-South Gas Corridor in Western Europe is also identified, which includes further infrastructure to increase capacities in Ireland.

On ICT and Broadband, actions will apply to all Member States but under more competitive bidding processes through various Calls. There may be opportunities here for local/regional authorities in partnership with telecom companies and other utilities to invest in passive broadband networks.

Research & Innovation - EUR80 billion
The current research and innovation instruments - 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7), the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology - will be brought together in a common strategic framework, to be called 'Horizon 2020'.

This will be linked to policy priorities such as health, food security and the bio-economy, energy, and climate change, with a focus on excellence in the science base, tackling societal challenges and creating industrial leadership and boosting competitiveness. There will also be an emphasis on simplifying how the programme works, with a single set of rules for participation across all schemes and streamlined implementation rules.
The Commission proposes to allocate EUR80 billion to 'Horizon 2020', a significant increase of EUR25 billion on the 2007-2013 figures. This is to be complemented by measures funded through the Structural Funds.

Other Aspects of Smart and Inclusive Growth
There are two other aspects of this budget heading which are of interest. These are:
• Competitiveness & SME Programme (improving access to finance; working towards the objectives of the Small Business Act for Europe (SBA), developing competitiveness in the tourism sector and other supports) Total Budget: EUR2.4 billion;
• Education Europe Programme (a continuation of education programmes such as Erasmus but also Sport, including support for grassroots sports organisations addressing societal challenges). Total budget:EUR15.2 billion.

Heading 2 - Sustainable Growth - natural resources
This is the second largest budget heading, dominated by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) but also including maritime and fisheries and environment and climate action policy programmes.

Common Agricultural Policy
The Commission is proposing to allocate 36.2% of the budget to the Common Agricultural Policy (down from 39.4% under the current budget) with EUR281.8 billion provided for Pillar I (direct payments to farmers and market measures) and EUR89.9 billion for Pillar II (rural development). This is to be complemented by spending under other budget headings, such as Research & Innovation, food safety and the European Globalisation Fund.

The basic structure of the CAP remains, but the changes are being driven by: (a) a move towards a more equitable distribution of direct payments; (b) a greening of payments, linking agriculture and environment policy; and (c) agriculture’s contribution to a vibrant rural economy. The changes in the system of direct payments will have potentially significant impacts on Ireland. It is proposed that 30% of direct support will be conditional on 'greening', while direct payments would be determined on a per hectare basis across the EU. This is something of a priority issue for the Romanian Commissioner, as well as the current Polish EU Presidency which backs an altering of the historical payments model to essentially shift resources towards the newer Member States.

The rural development funds will be subject to the same performance-based conditionality as will apply to Cohesion Policy, with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) being part of the Common Strategic Framework (see above on Cohesion Policy) - combining all available EU funds in a single contract (between the Commission and the Member State). The contract will be linked to the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and the relevant National Reform Programme. The allocation of aid for rural development will also be changed, with shares determined on the basis of a series of territorial and economic criteria.

To enable the CAP to respond more effectively to challenges, it is proposed to permit flexibility between the two pillars. What this means in effect has yet to be elaborated by the European Commission.

The Commission is also proposing to make up to EUR4.5 billion from the European Globalisation Fund (EGF) available to assist farmers whose livelihoods may be affected by globalisation. This is the first time that the EGF will apply to the agricultural sector.

Maritime and Fisheries PolicyA reformed maritime and fisheries policy will be centred on a new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to be structured around four pillars:
• Smart, Green Fisheries (proposals have been tabled earlier this month on reforming the Common Fisheries Policy);
• Smart, Green Aquaculture;
• Sustainable and Inclusive Territorial Development - to reverse the decline of coastal and inland communities dependent on fishing, bringing added-value to fishing and related activities and diversification to other sectors;
• Integrated Maritime Policy - marine knowledge, maritime spatial planning, integrated coastal zone management, maritime surveillance and adaption to climate change in coastal areas.
The EMFF is being allocated EUR6.7 billion for 2014-2020. As mentioned above, it will also be covered by the Common Strategic Framework and the partnership contract between the Commission and Member State, covering the Structural Funds.

Other Aspects of Sustainable Growth
There is one other aspect of this budget heading which is of interest:
• Environment and Climate Action - while environment and climate actions are mainstreamed into the other major funding programmes, it is proposed to continue the LIFE+ Programme and allocate it a total of EUR3.2 billion (EUR2.4 billion for environment, €800m for climate). This is an increase on the EUR2.14 billion budget for the current period.

Heading 3 – Security and Citizenship
This heading is relatively small and comprises a number of diverse programme categories, including migration management, justice, rights and citizenship, civil protection, food safety and others. It does contain a number of programmes that may be of interest to various authorities/agencies in Ireland:
• Migration Management Fund - a multi-annual fund to support actions on asylum and migration and integration of third country nationals. Total Budget EUR3.6 billion
• Civil Protection Instrument - preparedness for natural and man-made disasters with internal EU and external dimensions. Total Budget: EUR455 million (EUR245m. for internal aspects).
• Creative Europe Programme - unlocking the job creation potential of cultural and creative industries. Total Budget: EUR1.6 billion

ReactionsInitial reactions to the MFF were predictable. The UK Government immediately criticised the proposals, labelling them as unrealistic; the German Government considered the proposals for an EU tax as unnecessary; while the French Government said it was open to discussions on new sources of funding but vowed to fight to maintain CAP spending at current levels.

The reactions in Ireland were generally more restrained and tended to focus largely on changes in the direct payments to farmers, while an official Irish position is likely to emerge later and be based on pragmatic concerns on financial draw-downs that the country can expect across all budget lines. In this regard, the CAP (including rural development) and Cohesion Policy provide the only certainties in terms of financial allocations over the seven year period 2014-2020, with dedicated national allocations. In nearly all other budget headings, the process is more competitive and Irish interests need to be willing and prepared to compete.

From a regional perspective, the proposed MFF is generally seen as positive. The proportion of the budget allocated to Cohesion Policy is seen as a success given that there was some disagreement within the College of Commissioners on this. Despite being supported by the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions, the proposed establishment of the new category of Transition Regions is likely to come under pressure, especially from Member States that want to reduce the overall size of the budget and want Cohesion Policy to focus only on the poorest regions and countries.

The Connecting Europe Facility is also regarded as controversial, with many seeing it as giving too much influence to the Commission and undermining existing programmes and the 'place-based' approach of Cohesion Policy.
It is worth underlining at this stage that these are just proposals from the European Commission and will now be subject to extensive debate and intense negotiations in the coming months.

What Happens Now?
The Polish Presidency is expected to organise a conference on the EU Budget towards the end of the year, with participation from Member States and EU Institutions. Poland is hoping that a consensus on the EU's long-term budget will emerge during the Danish EU Presidency in the first half of 2012. However, on previous experience, negotiations are likely to be protracted and may well drag on into the Presidency of Cyprus (2nd half 2012) or even Ireland (1st half 2013).

In terms of Cohesion Policy, the points expected to be contentious are the new category of regions in transition and the new Connecting Europe infrastructure fund. However, the Territorial Cooperation strand (INTERREG) has in the past been a victim of negotiations between the Member States and its proposed EUR11.7 billion budget will also come under pressure, as some states seek reductions. Should a more radical approach be taken, then the EUR53.1 billion Competitiveness strand may be vulnerable.

The treaties stipulate that the Council adopts the regulation laying down the MFF unanimously after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. Concerning the own resources proposal, the Parliament can only express a non-binding opinion. However, the Lisbon Treaty gives it a greater say in the decisions on the regulations of the various programmes and this new dimension adds a certain unknown quantity into the negotiation process over the next two years.

On 28-29 July the Polish Presidency held an initial exchange of views on the MFF with Ministers for European Affairs.

Some of the key next steps include:
End September:
Commission to unveil the legislative package on Cohesion Policy including general regulation and individual regulations on the Social Fund, Cohesion Fund, Regional Development Fund and Territorial Cooperation.
Before end 2011:
Other legislative proposals for the various programmes should be published.
End 2011:
Commission to propose a Common Strategic Framework for all EU funds.
Member States and European Parliament to discuss and amend Commission's budget proposals.
By end 2012:
Desired deadline for approving EU's long-term budget for 2014-2020, in order to allow sufficient time to prepare programmes for implementation to commence in January 2014.

Posted by iroronan at July 15, 2011 07:42 PM

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July 14, 2011

Cashel at heart of European rural communities

The first week of July saw Cashel, Co. Tipperary welcome the 2011 conference of the 'Charter of European Rural Communities'. Some 300 delegates, representing 26 other small towns or districts, one for each of the other EU Member States, attended the duration of the 5-day socio-economic event which was launched by Minister for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton TD. The objective of the Charter, under the motto ''people meet people'', is to make the concept of European integration relevant at the level of the smallest territorial units by facilitating a deep and practical sense of exchange and understanding among citizens and families from the different countries.
By signing the Charter through their local authorities, the communities affirm the principle of unity and commit to work together on different projects of shared interest. Cashel, through its (then) Urban District Council, in response to an open invitation from the Department of Foreign Affairs, was designated as Ireland’s representative and a founding member of the Charter when it was established as a pan-European venture in 1989. The town previously played host to this conference in 1995.

This year's core theme for formal discussion was 'the effects of Demographic Development on the Rural Economy', including different approaches to combating business closures, job losses and outward migration of local young people to cities. A separate theme - 'What is needed to keep you connected to your Village in terms of Education and Housing?' - was applied to the very sizeable youth delegation. Additionally an extensive programme of hospitality, activities and site visits was put in place to showcase civic, community and cultural aspects of South Tipperary.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at July 14, 2011 11:29 AM