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September 30, 2011

Landscape fragmentation: lessons for planning


Which part of Ireland has best maintained its natural landscape intact in the face of pressure from urban development and transport infrastructure - thereby lessening the negative impacts on its wildlife populations? According to a new European Environmental Agency scientific report on 'landscape fragmentation' the South-West takes this plaudit narrowly ahead of both the West and Border regions. Due to their relative remoteness and low population densities, these regions are in turn a good deal less fragmented than the others, including highly urbanised Dublin which, not surprisingly, trails in a distant last. Northern Ireland is adjudged to be significantly more fragmented than all Irish regions bar the capital.

All told, the verdict on Ireland from this first pan-European report on the topic is positive by comparison with the high fragmentation in evidence across Benelux, Malta, Germany and France. In these countries, development (sometimes in common with other human impacts such as intensive agriculture) has had widespread and very serious impacts on wildlife in terms of noise, pollution, subdivision of habitats and isolation. Changes to ecology are described as having a slow-burner effect on animal populations, indicating that further species decline across Europe is highly likely to result for ongoing steady increases in landscape fragmentation. The report also points out that the process facilitates the spread of invasive species and reduces the ecosystem services that human society relies on. The EU recently adopted a Strategy on Biodiversity and Ecosystems where green infrastructure features prominently.

The study purports to provide a foundation for environmental monitoring and protective measures for those landscapes that remain intact. It also makes the point that decision-making on infrastructure and development continues to fail to account for the value of landscapes and that considerations such as biodiversity and landscape quality are often marginalised whereas fragmentation analysis should be integrated into transport and regional planning so that cumulative effects are considered more effectively in the future.

'Landscape Fragmentation in Europe' report

Posted by iroronan at September 30, 2011 05:48 PM

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September 26, 2011

Future shape of Rural Development leaked


A leaked copy of the draft Rural Development regulation, not officially due for release until 12 October before being debated by agriculture ministers on 20 October, contains details of the proposals for the post-2013 policy. These represent only a marginal change from the current status quo while emphasising such issues as innovation, demographic change and renewal, a better upstream-downstream balance in the agri-food sector and support for local agri-produce.

Chief among the changes is the abolition of the current four axes approach along with the requirement for Member States to devote a minimum share of their national allocation to supporting competitiveness of agriculture and forestry; environmental improvements; and quality of life and economic diversification. Instead, six investment priorities are proposed:
1) fostering knowledge transfer in agriculture and forestry;
2) enhancing competitiveness of all types of agriculture and of farm viability;
3) promoting food chain organisation and risk management in agriculture;
4) preserving and enhancing ecosystems dependent on agriculture and forestry;
5) promoting resource efficiency and the transition to a low carbon economy in agriculture and forestry; and
6) realising the jobs potential and development of rural areas.
These will be reflected by a reduced number of more broadly-focussed measures with greater combination between them being allowed in order to achieve flexibility.

LEADER will no longer represent a separate fourth axis but local development actions to a value of 5% of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) contribution to each national programme will again be possible and could potentially apply across all 6 Priorities.

Overall, Member States are to be granted a good deal of flexibility to decide on how to spend their allocated rural development funds. However, greater coordination will be imposed to ensure complementarity of actions and synergies with those supported by the EU funds for Regional Development (ERDF), Social Affairs (ESF) and Maritime & Fisheries (EMFF). This is to be based on Partnership Contracts at national level (see article above on cohesion policy).

The distribution of funds across Member States has yet to be decided. This will be determined on criteria linked to the objectives of competitive agriculture, sustainable management of natural resources and balanced territorial development of rural areas, as well as taking past performance into account. Each programme may benefit from a performance reserve amounting to 5% of its EAFRD allocation plus assigned revenue which will be allocated in 2019 on the basis of a review by the Commission.

Posted by iroronan at September 26, 2011 03:31 PM

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September 26, 2011

Volunteering: breaking down national barriers


Plans to boost the profile of volunteering in Europe and to improve the recognition of skills gained through participation were unveiled by the Commission on 21 September. Set against a backdrop of the current European Year of Volunteering, the Communication on EU Policies and Volunteering outlines a range of measures by which Member States could better tap into the potential of this sector whose activities are seen as making a direct contribution to the key objectives of EU policies such as social inclusion, education, skills development, employment, and promotion of citizenship.

This represents the first time the Commission has devoted a policy document exclusively to an issue which has traditionally struggled for the lack a clear legal framework. The Commission's commitment to overcoming these obstacles is particularly evident on a cross-border basis where it calls for a greater opening up of national schemes in order to foster linkages between Member States. Among the main proposals outlined is the creation of a 'European Skills Passport' to ensure straightforward recognition across Europe of professional qualifications earned through voluntary activities as well as establishing a European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps.

Communication on EU Policies and Volunteering: Recognising and Promoting Cross-border Activities in the EU

Posted by iroronan at September 26, 2011 03:16 PM

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September 25, 2011

MEPs call for homelessness strategy


Building on prior work carried out at EU-level on the issue, the European Parliament reiterated its call for a European strategy to fight against homelessness on 14 September. MEPs voted by a large majority to adopt a resolution from the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs asking Member States to end the problem in Europe over the coming years.

On the basis that the EU has already launched the 'European Platform Against Poverty and Social Exclusion' initiative as a cornerstone of its Europe 2020 growth strategy with a target of taking 20 million Europeans out of poverty by that date, the Parliament is calling for concrete progress on the development of an ambitious and integrated European approach to guide national and regional homelessness strategies. As well as creating an informed framework by which to monitor the development of strategies at these levels, the resolution calls for an EU strategy to deliver a package of activities which will have practical effect on the ground:
* improved knowledge and understanding, including mutual learning and transnational exchange, on key issues in the fight against homelessness;
* a specific focus on ‘housing-led’ approaches (under the social innovation strand of the Platform against Poverty) in order to strengthen evidence-based practice and policy development on effective combinations of housing and floating support; and
* stronger links with EU funding streams for housing marginalised groups – particularly the Structural Funds.

The national and regional strategies, it argues, should be founded on a combination of five priorities: 1) defining concrete objectives (including prevention); 20 reducing the time that the homeless are without shelter, 3) reducing the worst forms of homelessness, 4) improving the quality of services for the homeless, and 5) improving access to a supply of affordable housing.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at September 25, 2011 07:11 PM

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September 24, 2011

Resource-efficient economy plans tabled

Back in January the Commission published 'a Resource-efficient Europe' - one of the seven flagships underpinning the Europe 2020 strategy. This established a framework for policies to support the shift towards a low-carbon economy and to help ensure that long-term strategies in areas such as energy, climate change, research and innovation, industry, transport, agriculture, fisheries and environment policy produce results which decouple economic growth from natural resource consumption.

As a further step, the Commission unveiled its 'Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe' on 20 September. This sets 2020 as the target date for a smarter use of those resources considered to be under the greatest pressure (ecosystem services, biodiversity, minerals and metals, water, air, land and soil, and marine) and lists a series of actions and initiatives to be taken at EU and national level in order to reach these objectives. These include proposals to change consumption patterns by creating more supply and demand for 'green' products; to use economic incentives to reward investments in efficiency; and to introduce voluntary and mandatory measures to help optimise efficiency and reward green products.

Although the paper does not yet set any legally-binding targets, it does suggest introducing joint resource efficiency indicators and objectives across the 27 EU Member States by the end of 2013, and to continue to measure progress in this area in the meantime.

Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe

Posted by iroronan at September 24, 2011 05:54 PM

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September 22, 2011

New state aid rules for Services of General Economic Interest


On 16 September the Commission’s DG Competition published detailed draft legislation on state aid rules for Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI). The new proposals aim to simplify and make existing rules more flexible for controlling aid provided by public authorities to companies supplying SGEI, such as utilities, waste collection, postal services, healthcare and transport. They are intended to allow for a greater number of exemptions from the notification requirement for the supply of services on a small, and often local, scale, and for specific services (hospital and local social services) which have little impact on Single Market competition.

A one-month stakeholder consultation period was opened with the publication of draft legislation. The finalised texts are due to be officially unveiled in February 2012.

Deadline: 16 October

Consultation

Draft texts

Posted by iroronan at September 22, 2011 11:03 AM

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September 22, 2011

Globalisation Fund: EUR55 million support package for unemployed Irish construction workers

An application for assistance from the European Globalisation adjustment Fund (EGF) with dealing with the effects of the economic downturn on the Irish construction industry has led to a European Commission proposal to fund 65% of a EUR55 million package of measures to boost the reemployment prospects of redundant workers in small and medium sized enterprises associated with this sector. The proposal will now go to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers for their approval.

The funding, announced on 5 October, is to be directed towards 5,987 affected workers deemed to be experiencing the greatest difficulties re-integrating into the labour market. It must be used over the next 2 years to provide occupational guidance, vocational training and education programmes, enterprise/self-employment assistance, and training allowances and income supports. This is to include the provision of on- and off-the-job training for 2,258 redundant apprentices by means of alternating temporary employment and college education. Overall, ex-workers from 3,348 firms are to be targeted.

The three applications which covered ''construction of buildings'', ''specialised construction'' and ''architectural and engineering'' collectively represent, far and away the largest scheme sanctioned by the EGF since 2007 and brings the amount of assistance provided to Ireland by the fund to over EUR60 million from a total of EUR357.7 million to date. It is also one of the first occasions where EGF will be pressed into action on the basis of an entire industrial sector experiencing difficulties relating to broad economic circumstances rather than as a consequence of a single large employer closing business and relocating to a less expensive location elsewhere.

Further detailsGlobalisation Fund will be available to more workers in future

Meanwhile, on 6 October the Commission published its proposals for the new EGF Regulation. The planned changes to the fund are intended to improve its scope of operation from 2014 onwards. These include making its support available to additional categories of workers - those on fixed-term contracts, temporary agents, the self-employed and the managers of micro or SMEs - whose collective scale of redundancy satisfies the general eligibility criteria.

A more radical departure relating to the notion of dealing with the effects of ''structural changes in world trade patterns and unexpected major crises'' is the proposal to allow Farmers to benefit from transitory support to facilitate their adaptation to a new market situation resulting from the conclusion by the EU of trade agreements affecting agricultural products. This would be through a differentiating of their circumstances from those of other workers and a requirement for more easily fulfilled conditions.

Henceforth there will also be more emphasis placed on active measures as opposed to allowances. Time periods for approving Member States' applications will also be shortened by imposing new deadlines and streamlining procedures. An indicative amount of close to EUR420 million will be made available for EGF each year.

Regulation proposal

Posted by iroronan at September 22, 2011 10:44 AM

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September 20, 2011

'SME test' on new laws moves nearer. New financing instrument for promising small firms under development.


A high-level task force charged with championing the cause of SMEs in national and European policy-making has given its approval to calls for an 'SME test' to ensure that draft laws do not impinge on the prospects of smaller companies. The inaugural meeting of the SME Envoy network of Member State representatives (including Minister John Perry) on 14 September revealed a shared ambition among members to compel legislators at both EU and national levels to factor potential impacts on this sector into their thinking in all cases. Such a system applies in 12 Member States as of now.

The network, which has responsibility for monitoring the implementation of commitments such as this made under the Small Business Act for Europe (SBA), has reached agreement to pursue two further points over the next year in a bid to facilitate and boost enterprise: making it possible to start a business within three days at a cost of no more than EUR100; and putting in place measures to improve SMEs' access to finance through increased availability and use of loan guarantees, together with micro-credit for start-ups and micro-companies. This latter ambition is already leading the Commission to propose an action plan to improve access to finance for SMEs before the end of the year and to work on breaking down national barriers to the venture capital market.

Further details
DG Enterprise & Industry ‘SME Test’ webpage


Future financing fund for firms with growth prospects

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with the EurActiv news agency, EU SME envoy coordinator Daniel Calleja Crespo confirmed that a new financing instrument for small firms is under development with the post-2014 landscape in mind. The 'Business Competitiveness & SME programme' is envisaged as comprising two complimentary elements. An equity facility would support funds that provide venture capital and mezzanine finance, and invest in enterprises with growth potential, in particular in their expansion stage. Meanwhile a loan guarantee facility would provide schemes to assure credit and also support the securitisation of SME debt finance portfolios. Importantly, these measures are being aimed towards SMEs that demonstrate growth potential in any sector, and not only at those engaged in hi-tech research and innovation activities or working on themes that the Commission has prioritised.

Interview

Posted by iroronan at September 20, 2011 12:54 PM

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September 18, 2011

Landfill compliance key to cutting greenhouse gas

National-level policies on municipal waste management to adhere to the terms of the Landfill Directive have even more of a role in curbing European greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than previously thought, according to a newly published European Environmental Agency (EEA) report. 'Waste opportunities - Past and future climate benefits from better municipal waste management in Europe' takes a life-cycle approach to calculating emissions from the biodegradable element of municipal waste - thereby demonstrating the potential impacts of various waste management strategies - by considering processing and transport factors as well as accounting for emissions avoided through replacing the displacement of fossil fuels with energy recovered from waste.

As waste generation volumes continue to rise across the EU - municipal solid waste standing at 524 kg per person across the EU (2008 figures) - the study calculates that even reaching a state of compliance by all Member States with the Directive’s waste diversion targets (mainly towards anaerobic digestion to produce biogas) offers the potential of reducing methane escape from decomposing organic matter by an annual 62 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) by 2020. In context this represents almost half as much more of a reduction than a ‘business-as-usual’ approach, based on the current regime of 40% of municipal waste being recycled and a similar amount going to landfill, would achieve over the same period (44 million tonnes). Were an all-out ban on landfill to take place with immediate effect, this is calculated to eliminate an additional 16 million tonnes of emissions annually.

EEA Report

Posted by iroronan at September 18, 2011 02:25 PM

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September 17, 2011

Raw materials strategy adopted by European Parliament

A report adopted by MEPs on 13 September on a European raw materials strategy goes beyond a Commission proposal presented earlier this year by urging greater coordination between all 27 Member States on this policy field, and specific decision-making mechanisms to deal with related issues at the EU level. In particular, it calls for the setting up of an EU raw materials task force to draw up, monitor and review policies to ensure strategic coherence. The report also stresses the importance of setting more ambitious EU objectives for future raw materials policy, in order to guarantee a reliable and sustainable supply for European industry.

Resolution on ‘'An effective raw materials strategy for Europe'.

Commission communication on ‘Tackling the challenges in commodity markets and on raw materials’

Posted by iroronan at September 17, 2011 06:51 PM

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September 13, 2011

Ports package in pipeline


On 8 September, EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas signalled an intention to launch a comprehensive legislative package to help European seaports to remain competitive and to support the sector’s huge potential for growth. This will aim to bring forward measures to not only safeguard ports as key engines of economic development and relatively untapped sources of employment potential but also to tackle major challenges in terms of productivity, investment needs, developmental bottlenecks, significantly contributing to reducing transport-related CO2 emissions, and enhanced integration with adjacent cities and regions.

The key areas of interest which are to be addressed by a set of proposals to be formulated in 2013 are: 1) a competitive and open environment in port services; 2) cutting administrative red tape; and 3) improving the transparency of port financing to avoid any distortions of competition and to encourage private investment. These are to be informed by a large-scale conference on the future of European ports which is to be held next year, following which a consultation with stakeholders will be organised. The Commission’s review of EU ports policy and the challenges and opportunities facing ports in the period up to 2030 was announced in the Transport White Paper published in March.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at September 13, 2011 03:24 PM

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September 12, 2011

LIFE and local authorities: An overview


To showcase 70 of the most successful examples of local and regional authorities who have used the EU's funding instrument for the environment as a means to drive initiatives, the European Commission and the Council of European Municipalities and Regions have recently released a publication entitled 'LIFE and local authorities: Helping regions and municipalities tackle environmental challenges'. The brochure also includes an analysis of local and regional policy challenges in the fields of mobility, climate change, waste & water management and urban planning.

Brochure

Posted by iroronan at September 12, 2011 10:23 AM

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September 08, 2011

Environmental programme review: a mixed bag


In its recently released assessment of the 6th Environment Action Programme (6th EAP), the Commission paints a mixed picture of the achievements of this decade-long strategic framework for environmental decision-making which concludes next year. The programme was formulated to promote a full integration of environmental protection requirements across all EU policies including the high-level objectives for growth, competitiveness and employment by prioritising action on climate change; nature and biodiversity; environment, health and quality of life; and natural resources and waste. Objectives set in each area were followed up with actions in seven more specific thematic strategies to either drive new policy or improve the coherence of existing measures on soil; the marine environment; air; pesticides; urban environment; natural resources; and waste recycling.

Although progress has differed across these thematic areas, overall, positive effects are evidenced in the review with greater coherence between various policy areas, particularly waste and natural resources, and with climate goals assessed as being on course - though the latter is thanks in no small part to parallel Commission-led initiatives such as the climate and energy package. Other notable achievements have included a major extension of the Natura 2000 network and the introduction of a comprehensive chemicals policy.

At the other extreme, shortcomings are cited in detail for each theme - notably an admission that the biodiversity objectives were set at overly ambitious levels. Poor standards of implementation of European environmental laws at national level remain a major factor generally while some of the programme’s perceived failings are explained as being due to external factors such as certain Member States deploying the subsidiarity principle as a means to strongly resist proposed EU action on issues including forestry, the urban environment and soil degradation.

The report warns that Europe's continuing depletion of natural resources and ecosystem services will undermine its economy if left unchecked. However, the Commission has yet to confirm whether there will be a successor programme after 2012 given the different policy frameworks that have emerged in recent years which would seem to cover much of the EAP’s natural ground such as the low carbon roadmap and the overarching Europe 2020 strategy which includes sustainable growth. Nonetheless, national Environment Ministries are thought to be supportive of a follow-on programme.

Further details

Posted by iroronan at September 8, 2011 04:40 PM

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September 06, 2011

Environmental taxation as an innovation driver


With domestic water charges seemingly on the way in Ireland, the recent Green Budget Europe Annual Conference on the potential for improving the environment using economic instruments may provide insights from the experiences of other EU Member States. The high-level event dealt with using environmental fiscal reform and associated mechanisms such as user-charges, and deposit-refund systems not only as revenue streams but as a means to drive much-needed innovation in companies. This, it is argued, could best be achieved by simultaneously encouraging both the production of environmentally friendly and energy efficient products and a decoupling of consumption from raw material depletion as part of a process of positively communicating the issue to the public. The conference also addressed the Revised Energy Tax Directive in some depth.

Conference materials

Posted by iroronan at September 6, 2011 11:19 AM

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September 02, 2011

Spatial information sharing and access


The 2007 INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) Directive aims to create an EU-wide spatial data infrastructure to allow for the sharing of environmental and spatial information amongst public sector organisations and with the public. With a view towards finding the means to facilitate and speed up such access, a public consultation on the benefits of harmonising data and introducing common standards in key policy areas such as energy, climate change, biodiversity, the marine environment, and human health has now been launched by the Commission.

Deadline: 21 October

Consultation

INSPIRE Directive>

Posted by iroronan at September 2, 2011 11:09 AM