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Erasmus turns 25!

Lundi 30 janvier 2012

The world’s most successful student exchange programme, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Nearly three million students have benefited from a study period or work placement abroad since the creation of the Erasmus programme in 1987. Under the slogan, ‘Erasmus: changing lives, opening minds for 25 years’, the silver anniversary celebrations will be launched today by Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. Erasmus mobility is at the heart of the Commission’s strategy to combat youth unemployment by focusing more on skills development – an issue which will be discussed by heads of state and government at today’s Informal European Council.

“The impact of Erasmus has been tremendous, not only for individual students, but for the European economy as a whole. Through its support for high-quality teaching and a modern higher education system, with closer links between academia and employers, it is helping us to tackle the skills mismatch. It also gives young people the confidence and ability to work in other countries, where the right jobs might be available, and not to be trapped by a geographic mismatch,” said President Barroso.

Commissioner Vassiliou added: “Erasmus is one of the great success stories of the European Union: it is our best known and most popular programme. Erasmus exchanges enable students to improve their knowledge of foreign languages and to develop skills such as adaptability which improve their job prospects. It also provides opportunities for teachers and other staff to see how higher education works in other countries and to bring the best ideas home. Demand for places strongly exceeds the resources available in many countries – one of the reasons why we plan to expand opportunities for study and training abroad under our proposed new education, training and youth programme, Erasmus for All.”

In the 2011/2012 academic year, more than 250 000 students will benefit from the Erasmus programme. The most popular destinations for students are expected to be Spain, France, United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, while the countries sending the most students abroad are expected to be Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Poland. The EU has allocated around € 3 billion for Erasmus for the period 2007-13.

Erasmus for All would bring together all the current EU and international schemes for education, training, youth and sport, replacing seven existing programmes1 with one. This will increase efficiency, make it easier to apply for grants, as well as reducing duplication and fragmentation. Under the new programme, the aim is for up to 5 million people, almost twice as many as now, to get the chance to study, train or teach abroad. The Commission’s proposal is currently being discussed by the Member States and the European Parliament, which decide the future budget.

Events marking the celebration
The celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Erasmus programme will be launched in Brussels today with a conference which will evaluate the programme’s impact and discuss its future. Denmark, which holds the EU Presidency in the first half of 2012, together with the European Commission, will also organise a follow-up conference in Copenhagen on 9 May. The anniversary will also be celebrated at events organised in the Member States.

“Erasmus ambassadors” from the 33 countries participating in the scheme will be present at many of these events. The ambassadors, one student and one staff member, have been chosen to represent each country, based on the impact that Erasmus has had on their professional and private lives; their role is to encourage other students and staff to take advantage of the opportunities it offers to change lives and open minds. During the conference in Copenhagen in May, they will present the ‘Erasmus Manifesto’ which will set out their vision of how the scheme can develop in future.

Background
The Erasmus programme was launched in 1987 with 3 244 young, adventurous students who took part in learning experiences in one of the 11 countries which initially participated in the programme. Now, 33 countries take part in the scheme - the 27 EU member states, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

In the past 25 years, the programme has seen a constant rise in both the number of students and in the quality and diversity of the proposed activities. Teachers and other staff, such as university international relations officers who are often the first point of contact for potential Erasmus students, can also benefit from EU support to teach or train abroad – nearly 40 000 did so in 2010/2011.

Work placements in companies abroad have been supported through Erasmus since 2007 and are increasingly popular. Up to now, grants have already been awarded to nearly 150 000 students for this purpose. In 2009/10, 35 000 students (one in six of the total) chose a work placement, which was a 17% increase on the previous year.

Cohesion spending increase

Vendredi 27 janvier 2012

The budgetary constraints currently faced by Member States mean that the EU’s structural funds are an ever more valuable source of growth-enhancing investment especially in the regions that need it most.

The effective use of these funds gathered pace in 2011, with payments to Member States from last year’s cohesion policy budget hitting a record €32.9 billion, an 8% increase on the €30.5 billion paid out in 2010. This higher payment rate from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Cohesion Fund for 2011 also reflects the fact that we are well into the second half of the 2007-2013 financial framework, which is when most invoices are submitted. EU structural funds in 2011 helped to further the Single Market through investments in a broad range of strategic and growth-enhancing areas, including broadband connections, research and development infrastructure, innovation projects, new Small- and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and education.

In addition, the European Commission has taken measures to prioritise growth-enhancing investments. For example, temporary “top-up” payments worth €374 million were made in 2011 to Greece and Romania, following the entry into force of new rules to support the economies of Member States experiencing difficulties in terms of financial stability.

In Greece, a total of €11.5 billion will be invested in around 180 priority projects, leading to the creation of between 90,000 and 108,000 jobs.

For Italy, an action plan for the southern or Mezzogiorno regions will enable €3.1 billion of EU and national funding to be invested rapidly in regional projects in education and school infrastructure, broadband, railways and supporting SMEs. This is the result of a reprogramming of funds, in cooperation with the national and regional authorities, to trigger much-needed growth in crucial sectors.

The Commission has also called on Member States to use €22bn of European Social Fund money not yet committed to projects to improve job opportunities for young people. Today one in five youngsters looking for work cannot find a job. The new ‘Youth Opportunities Initiative’ is pleading for Member State to work on preventing early school leaving; helping youngsters develop skills relevant to the labour market; ensuring work experience and on-the-job training and helping young people find a first good job. The European Commission has also set out concrete actions to be financed directly by EU funds.

Background

At the end of 2011, the average payment rate for all three funds (European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund and Cohesion Fund) in the EU was 33.4% of the amounts allocated for the 2007-2013 period. These rates vary significantly between countries, from 16.5% to 48.3%; while the analysis per fund reveals that the ERDF payments increased by 55% year-on-year from 22.3% at end 2010 to 34.3% at end 2011. For ESF, the payment rate has increased by 52%, from 23.25% at end 2010 to 35.43% at end 2011 (total advanced and interim payments). There are still differences between countries that vary from18.68% to 60.43%, but in all member states an improvement can be noticed.

The European Union believes in growth based on trade

Vendredi 27 janvier 2012

A range of proposals to make trade and development instruments work hand-in-hand to ensure real poverty reduction across the world are presented by the European Commission today.

The proposals aim at reinforcing the trade capacities of developing countries by making trade part of their development strategy. And to ensure we hit our target, the EU is currently looking into better ways of differentiating between developing countries to ensure the world’s poorest countries receive our biggest help. The role of trade is underlined in the proposal as one of the key drivers to support development, stimulate growth and to lift people out of poverty. Furthermore, today the EU calls for all developed economies to match its significant levels of market access to developing countries.

While the EU already provides more trade-related development assistance than the rest of the world put together, the Communication “Trade, growth and development” assesses the main next steps. For example: the traditional group of “developing countries” is outdated amid the rise of emerging economies. More tailor-made trade and development policies are needed that go beyond reducing customs duties at borders (tariff reductions), and tackle the major problem of improving the ‘business environment’.

To achieve this goal, the proposal underlines that developing countries’ leadership must also face up to their responsibilities. Developing countries need to undertake domestic reforms to ensure that the poor do indeed benefit from trade-led growth.

The Commission proposes a number of ways to improve the effectiveness of EU trade and development policy including:

reforming the EU’s preferential trade schemes to focus more on the poorest countries,
stepping up negotiations on free trade agreements with our developing country partners. These must look beyond tariffs to tackle the real barriers to trade,
increasing the use of EU instruments to promote foreign direct investment, including relevant provisions in free trade agreements to enhance legal certainty and combining EU grants with loans or risk capital to support the financial viability of strategic investments,
facilitating developing country exporters, especially small operators, to enter the EU,
assisting developing countries to improve their domestic business environment, meet international quality, labour and environmental standards and take better advantage of trade opportunities offered by open and integrated markets,
using trade measures to help mitigate the effects of natural disasters and tackle conflict catalysts, including in mining activities.
It also calls on emerging economies to assume more responsibility for opening their markets to LDCs through preferential schemes but also on a non-discriminatory basis towards the rest of the WTO membership, of which four-fifths are developing countries. At the same time, the EU offers emerging economies a more mature partnership that includes regulatory cooperation and engagement on global issues which are essential for development such as food security, sustainable use of natural resources, green growth and climate change.

Background
The EU leads the way in providing trade support to the developing countries:

- The EU imports more goods from developing countries than any other market. It is also the biggest market for developing world agricultural exports. Almost 70% of all agricultural imports to the EU comes from developing countries;
- developing countries benefit from EU preferences in the form of eliminated or significantly reduced tariffs for their goods (under the “General System of Preferences”);
- the Everything But Arms initiative offers duty free and quota free access to our markets for all Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and for all products except arms and is the most generous preferential import regime in the world;
the EU is leading world efforts for a package for LDCs in the multilateral trade talks;
- the EU supports the domestic reforms in developing countries needed for trade to fully contribute to development;
- The EU and its Member States are the world’s largest provider of Aid for Trade, which helps partners develop trade strategies, build trade-related infrastructure and improve productive capacity. The EU combined annual Aid for Trade reached €10.5 billion in 2009, maintaining the all-time high registered the year before;
- A substantial increase was also reported for EU Trade-Related Assistance (which is a sub-category of Aid for Trade that focuses on strategic trade issues such as policy development, regulation or regional integration). This brings the collective amount to nearly €3 billion, well above the target to spend €2 billion per year on Trade Related Assistance from 2010. Sub-Saharan Africa is the main beneficiary of EU Trade Related Assistance, with its share of collective EU Trade Related Assistance increasing from 15% to 28% between 2008 and 2009.

Charlemagne Youth Prize 2012

Mardi 24 janvier 2012

The deadline for the submission of applications has been postponed to 13th February.

Role models for young Europeans

The Charlemagne Youth Prize, which is jointly organised by the European Parliament and the Foundation of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen, is awarded to projects undertaken by people between 16 and 30 years old and helping to promote understanding between peoples of different European countries. The winning projects should serve as role models for young people living in Europe and offer practical examples of Europeans living together as one community. Youth exchange programmes, artistic and Internet projects with a European dimension are amongst the projects selected.

Total prize money of 10,000 Euros

The three winning projects will be awarded funding of €5,000, €3,000, and €2,000 respectively. They will also be invited to visit the European Parliament. Representatives of the best projects from each of the 27 EU Member States will be invited to Aachen, in Germany, on 15th May 2012, to participate in the award ceremony.

2011 winners

In 2011, the UK online lifestyle magazine “Europe & Me” created by young Europeans for young Europeans in 2007 was awarded the first prize in the European Charlemagne Youth Prize competition. The second and third prize went to “Balkans Beyond Borders”, a short-film project from Greece, and to the “Escena Erasmus Project” (Spain), a project addressed mainly to Erasmus students, encouraging cultural and linguistic exchanges, respectively.

Application forms, which are easily filled in, are available in 22 languages on the European Parliament’s Charlemagne Youth Prize website

The European Economic and Social Committee wishes an integration of energy policies.

Mardi 24 janvier 2012

The EU advisory body has today championed the idea of setting up a European Energy Community (EEC), creating an EU-wide internal energy market and shaping a common, strategic approach to energy issues.

The idea was first mooted by Jacques Delors, a former European Commission President. The Committee is very much behind the proposal and has expanded on it in its own-initiative opinion entitled Involving civil society in the establishment of a future European Energy Community adopted at today’s plenary session.

Concerned about the dismal progress being made in completing an internal market for electricity and gas, the EESC bleakly pointed out that only 10% of electricity transited between countries, consumers were unable to choose an operator established abroad possibly offering more attractive terms, energy poverty was increasing, network planning was largely a national business, and the EU did not negotiate with supplier countries as a single bloc, putting member states and the EU at a disadvantage.

In a bid to build an integrated EU energy market, the EESC stressed the importance of a joint approach to energy production, transmission and consumption, and said Member States should act “responsibly” in this field. It vented its frustration with some countries’ unilateral decisions on energy choices, saying that “in a spirit of solidarity and efficiency” such decisions should have been taken “by common accord at EU level” instead. It also warned against prematurely ditching any low-emission energy source as that might jeopardise the EU’s energy policy objectives.

As a first step towards a European Energy Community, the EESC endorsed the idea of creating regional energy blocs within which countries and operators would coordinate their key decisions on energy mix and network development. “Not only would this generate considerable economies of scale and industrial development linked to new energy sources,” said Pierre Jean Coulon (France, Workers Group), rapporteur of the opinion. “It would also lead to a gradual integration of hitherto separate markets and cause prices to align.”

As budgets are squeezed and the development of new energy sources becomes ever more expensive, it was crucial to pool national resources and channel them towards projects that are in keeping with the EU’s objectives, said the EESC. It also favoured using bonds to finance these projects.

The EESC backed Mr Delors’ idea of creating “a European gas purchasing group” to strengthen the bargaining power of Member States and companies. It suggested establishing a common supply structure for gas and other fuels that would ensure consistency in negotiations and contribute to reducing prices. The EESC was adamant that the European Commission was best placed to negotiate energy agreements with third countries on behalf of Member States, should they have an impact on several EU countries. The Commission should also be allowed to ensure national energy deals with third countries are in line with EU internal market rules and security of supply’s objectives before they enter into force, said the Committee.

Given the all-encompassing impact of energy decisions, the public could not be left out of the debate, said the EESC. It thus proposed setting up a European civil society forum tasked with monitoring energy issues. The forum would work closely with European institutions and establish dialogue mechanisms with civil society representatives in Member States. “Energy policy is an area where winning public acceptance is of crucial importance and that can only be achieved through fair and transparent information,” said Mr Coulon.

The European Commission calls for fiscal discipline still.

Lundi 23 janvier 2012

For the second consecutive year, Brussels urges Member States the utmost restraint.

Today, EU financial programming and budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski sent a letter to the heads of all EU institutions stating that numerous Member States are operating cuts in their administrative expenditure due to the current economic and financial crisis. “Therefore, adds Commissioner Lewandowski, it is of the utmost importance to continue to demonstrate that the EU institutions are acting responsibly in the current climate of austerity”.

The Commission wants to lead by example: in 2013, it intends to reduce the number of posts in its establishment plans by 1%, as the first step towards a 5% staff reduction over the next five years. This is in line with its proposal for the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) calling for a cut across all EU institutions.

In 2012, the Commission voluntarily froze its own administrative expenditure, i.e. a 0.0% nominal increase compared to the 2011 budget. This was achieved by significantly reducing expenditure linked to buildings, information and communication technology, studies, publications, missions, conferences and meetings.

Background
- During the first months of each year the European Commission establishes the draft EU budget based on estimates of expenditure sent by all EU institutions.
- Article 314 of the Lisbon Treaty states that “the Commission shall consolidate these estimates in a draft budget which may contain different estimates”.
- Last February (2011), Commissioner Lewandowski issued a similar letter to the heads of all EU institutions urging them to cut expenditures in such areas as IT, publications, travel…
Administrative expenditure (functioning costs of the EU institutions) represents about 5.8% of the total EU budget.
- In 2012, the European Commission froze its administrative expenditure due to the current economic and financial crisis.
- Within the 5.8% of administrative expenditure the Commission’s share is about 40% as compared to other EU institutions. Therefore, the overall evolution of administrative expenditure depends also on budgetary requirements from other EU institutions.

The European Commission launches public debate on corporate restructuring.

Mardi 17 janvier 2012

European Commission launches until March 30, a major campaign of public consultation and a Green Paper on the subject.

The aim is to identify successful practices and policies in the field of restructuring and adapting to change. The results will feed into the upcoming employment package and should help to improve further cooperation between workers and employers’ representatives, government, local and regional authorities and the EU institutions. The consultation will also help identify specific restructuring measures that could help deal with employment and social challenges, and help European companies improve competitiveness through innovation and a fast, but smooth adaptation to change.

Restructuring is part of business life and one of the important ways of helping a company stay competitive. The economic and financial crisis has put an extra strain on business: from 2002 to 2010, over 11,000 cases of restructuring were recorded by the European Restructuring Monitor, with a ratio of almost two jobs lost for every one created (1.8:1). Between 2008/2010, this ratio has increased to 2.5:1. Many companies and their workers have developed innovative arrangements to limit job losses. Here, social partners have played a key role. These initiatives have varied from working hours, to more social dialogue, to adjustment measures or the intervention of public employment services. However, these may be less effective in a context of persistently weak demand.

László Andor, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion presented the new Green Paper saying: ‘To be able to react better in the future, we have to understand the reasons behind the success of some measures in some countries, or sectors during the crisis. We have to look at how measures, like for example short-time work, can be used to deal with the challenges we are likely to face in the coming period”. He added “We also want to see how we can best anticipate the employment and skills needs of the future, especially in the light of new challenges and growing social inequalities across Member States. And last, but not least, we want to see how the social impact of restructuring can be limited.’

The Commissioner also stressed how the EU stands ready to help and support Member States through the cohesion policy in particular the European Social Fund as well as the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund.

Content of the Green Paper:
The Green Paper includes several questions. In particular, it addresses the following issues:

- Lessons from the crisis – are existing policy measures and practices adequate? What are the success factors and future challenges? How have short time working schemes functioned during the crisis and how have they coped with a persistently weak demand?
- Economic and industrial adjustment – what are the relevant framework conditions and existing good practices on access to finance, to accompany structural adjustment?
- Adaptability of business and employability of workers – an anticipative approach best? Is there a possible need to update existing guidelines on restructuring and the means to ensure their implementation?
- Creating synergies in the process of industrial change – how to improve the synergies between companies, local authorities and other local actors? How to develop training as a permanent feature of human resources management?
- Role of regional and local authorities – how to encourage a supporting role of public authorities taking into account different national traditions?
- Impact of restructuring operations - what can be done by companies and employees to minimise the employment and social impact of restructuring operations and what role can public policies play in facilitating these changes?

The Green Paper is supported by the staff working document “Restructuring in Europe 2011″ Restructuring in Europe 2011, which draws on the main lessons learned in recent years on anticipation and management of change and restructuring.

The consultation period will run until 30 March 2012. During this period, anyone with an interest in the subject can submit their views via email or by post.

Background
Restructuring has been raised by the European Commission in its industrial policy flagship of October 2010, the flagship initiative ‘An Agenda for new skills and jobs’, as well as the Single Market Act. The Commission wishes to renew the debate on restructuring in the light of the lessons learned from recent experience.

The outcome of this consultation will feed into the upcoming employment package and the revived flexicurity agenda. It could lead to a renewed debate at EU level on a possible new framework for restructuring.

The employment is created thanks to SMEs

Lundi 16 janvier 2012

Between 2002 and 2010, 85% of new jobs were created in SMEs.

This figure is considerably higher than the 67%-share of SMEs in total employment. During this period, net employment in the EU’s business economy rose substantially, by an average of 1.1 million new jobs each year. These are the main results of a study on the essential contribution of SMEs on job creation presented by the European Commission today.

With 1% annually, the employment growth for SMEs was higher than for large enterprises with 0.5%. A clear exception is the trade sector, in which employment in SMEs increased by 0.7% annually, compared to 2.2% in large enterprises. This is due to the strong increase of large trade enterprises, in particular in sales, maintenance and repair of motor vehicles.

Within the SME size-class, micro firms (less than 10 employees) are responsible with 58% for the highest proportion of total net employment growth in the business economy.

Secondly new firms (younger than five years) are responsible for an overwhelming majority of the new jobs. New enterprises operating in business services create more than a quarter (27%) of the new jobs, while the new firms in transport and communication contribute least (6%).

Main effects of the crisis: smaller enterprises report negative impacts more often
According to the results of the survey, the economic crisis has left its mark on enterprises from all size-classes, with micro firms being particularly vulnerable. As a result of the 2009/2010 economic crisis the number of jobs in the SME-sector has on average decreased by 2.4% annually, as against 0.95% annually in the large enterprises sector. Employment developments are still negative in 2010, but expectations for 2011 were improving at the time the survey was held. The share of firms that expected to lay off employees in 2011 was smaller than the share of firms that actually laid off employees in 2010.

Besides the employment effects, by far the most important negative effect of the crisis on firms is the overall decline of total demand for their products and services (mentioned by 62% of companies), followed by the increase in customer payment terms (mentioned by 48% of firms) and finally the shortage of working capital, which affected 31% of the respondents.

Innovativeness is a weapon against the crisis
Innovation seems to have a positive effect: innovative enterprises, as well as enterprises from more innovative countries, more often report employment growth and have higher employment growth rates.

The survey underlines that innovative SMEs or companies operating in more innovative economies suffered less from the economic crisis. For example, while the decline in overall demand is mentioned by 70% of enterprises in countries that are considered modest innovators2, the corresponding figure is 45% for countries which are innovation leaders.

Job quality in SMEs
The study distinguishes two broad dimensions of the job quality: employment quality and work quality. On average it is true that jobs in small enterprises are less productive, less remunerated, and less unionised than jobs in large enterprises. However, microenterprises report that they have a competitive advantage over their competitors as far as ’soft’ aspects of the human resource aspects of an enterprise are concerned: working climate, work-life balance, working-time arrangements.

Background
The study is part of the SME Performance Review project and based on a survey of enterprises conducted at the end of 2010 and covering the 27 EU member states and 10 other countries participating in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme, namely Albania, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Iceland, Israel, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, and Turkey.

The European Parliament debate on the Hungarian law

Vendredi 13 janvier 2012

Concerns as to whether the laws implementing Hungary’s new constitution are compatible with EU rules and values were raised by Civil Liberties Committee MEPs in a debate on Wednesday.

The Commission’s Director General for Justice, Françoise Le Bail, said that the Commission’s evaluation of the compliance of the Hungarian laws with EU law was focusing on three issues: measures to retire judges and prosecutors at 62 years old, rather than 70, the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the data protection authority.

Replying to MEPs’ questions, Ms Le Bail explained that the retirement age measure was being checked against an EU directive on non-discrimination in employment, the independence of the judiciary one against Charter of Fundamental Rights Article 47 and the data protection authority one against the 1995 data protection directive.

Ms Le Bail said that the compatibility of some of these measures with EU law was “questionable”, and promised that the Commission would complete its analysis in time for the College of Commissioners to decide on 17 January how to proceed with respect to Hungary. The Commission is prepared to make full use of its prerogatives, which could entail the launching of infringement procedures, she added.

Risk of breach of EU values?

“We don’t have to wait to see what the Commission is doing. Parliament is entitled by the Lisbon Treaty to take action”, said Renate Weber (ALDE, RO). She recalled issues such as the Hungarian media law, the Roma in France, upon which the Commission had begun very bluntly but lost momentum thereafter, and voiced concern over Hungary’s cardinal laws, which she said “would allow legislation to be cemented for the next hundred years”.

Ms Weber added that the Commission should also test Hungary’s laws against EU Treaty Article 2, which states that the EU is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

“There is every indication that Hungary will realign its legislation according to the Commission’s evaluation”, said Frank Engel (EPP, LU), adding that “I don’t see any reason for all this hysteria”. He proposed to wait until the “regular procedure is fulfilled” before coming to any conclusion “on a decision taken by a sovereign country”.

“We needed this new constitution”, said Kinga Gál (EPP, HU), adding that “it can happen that there are mistakes, but I don’t think this can give raise to any affirmation or rumour saying that there is a breach of democracy and the rule of law in Hungary”.

“The Charter of Fundamental Rights is primarily for the EU, not necessarily legally binding in this way for Member States”, said Axel Voss (EPP, DE), adding that “this should be addressed as a regular breach of the EU Treaties”. On the independence of the data protection supervisor, he said that “it should be discussed, but not in an exaggerated fashion”. “European law must be the cornerstone of our action”, he underlined.

“Let the Commission do what it has to do”, urged Ms Gál, adding that “these issues should not be politicised” and that it is “very good” that the Commission, as guardian of the treaties, “follows this and says what needs to be changed”.

“This is about the risk of breach of fundamental rights”, argued Sophie int’Veld (ALDE, NL), adding that activating Article 7 of the Treaty, in order to assess whether there is a risk of a serious breach of EU values, “would be justified”.

“I support my group’s request for the application of Article 7. These are basic rights that should be respected by all Member States in Europe”, added Sonia Alfano (ALDE, IT).

“We are facing a drift that is worrying this House”, said Rui Tavares (Greens/EFA, PT). “A dictatorial drift”, he added. “We see again and again that citizens expect us to act on fundamental rights”, he insisted, adding that “democracy means not only that majorities rule, it is also means that majorities change”. “Would a candidate country with this kind of laws have any chance to join the EU?”, he wondered.

Mr Tavares also advocated applying Article 7, in order to determine whether there is a clear risk of a serious breach of the values on which the EU is founded. This would be an “alert procedure” for Hungary, he said.

Media law, electoral law, church law

Kinga Göncz (S&D, HU), asked the Commission what it expected the Hungarian authorities to do after the legal analysis is concluded, suggesting that a more political answer would be required, and not just a legal one. In the previous year, there had been “cosmetic changes” to Hungary’s media law, she recalled, adding that this should be avoided now. Ms Göncz also asked the Commission to analyse Hungary’s electoral law and church law.

Kyriacos Triantaphyllides (GUE/NGL, CY), asked whether the infringement of labour laws and attacks against political parties were being addressed by the Commission. Krisztina Morvai (NI, HU) also urged that the Hungarian people and workers should be heard.

Csaba Sógor (EPP, RO), defended the media and religious laws passed by the Hungarian government. “There are nine Member States which recognise fewer churches than Hungary”, he said, adding that “in Hungary there is no state religion, as it happens in many other Member States”. He also claimed that the Club radio was not closed in Hungary.

Ana Gomes (S&D, PT), voiced concerns about the electoral laws, which could render the main political opposition party illegal, she said, adding that this debate “is not against the Hungarian people, it is for the Hungarian people”.

“What is happening in Hungary today is very serious for the European project and its universal values. This is a mutation of democracy”, said Louis Michel (ALDE, BE).

József Szájer (EPP, HU), called on the European Parliament to “make an investigation before passing any judgement, as the Commission is doing”. “What Fidesz inherited is something that needed to be restructured, we needed to create a new state that is functional”, he stressed, noting that the Hungarian parliament had passed 230 laws and 30 cardinal laws. “If there are only these 4 or 5 mistakes that we are discussing, I think we did a very good job”, he concluded.

It’s not only about Hungary

We are talking about “shared principles and values” and “Parliament cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening”, said Birgit Sippel (S&D, DE), stressing that “this is not a discussion between the Commission and Hungary only. As the EU we lose all our credibility if one of our Member States is not respecting fundamental rights”.

“This isn’t about Hungary, it is about any Member State of the EU having problems with fundamental rights. I think no other Member State would have been treated differently. The Copenhagen criteria do not disappear when a country joins the EU and Article 7 also allows the Parliament to initiate proceedings”, said Alexander Alvaro (ALDE, DE).

Sophie int’Veld (ALDE, NL), observed that “Hungary took a sovereign decision to adhere to the EU treaties” and must therefore respect them. “The situation in Hungary is exceptionally serious”, but there are other Member States not respecting fundamental rights, se said, citing the treatment of Roma people in France or that of migrants and asylum seekers in her own country.

Cornelia Ernst (GUE/NGL, DE), described the way in which the Roma issue had been handled as a “fiasco”, and called for action to prevent the treaties from being violated.

A strictly legal issue?

“We accept that this is not only a legal issue, it is both legal and political”, Ms Le Bail told MEPs after the debate. “What the Commission is expecting from Hungary is full compliance with EU laws, the wording and the spirit of the EU Treaties and with the Charter of Fundamental Rights”, she concluded.

Waste: factor of growth and deficit reduction

Vendredi 13 janvier 2012

According a study, compliance with European standards of waste would permit 72 million savings and the creation of 400,000 jobs.

Illegal waste operations in Member States are causing missed opportunities for economic growth, but stronger national inspections and better knowledge about waste management would bring major improvements.

Improved implementation leads to significant benefits
The study gives an in-depth analysis of the effects of better implementation and enforcement and shows that benefits would be significant. It analysed a number of case studies in Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands to demonstrate economic, financial and social benefits to Member States.

The EU’s waste management and recycling sector is very dynamic, but still offers economic opportunities with vast potential for expansion. In 2008, its €145 billion turnover represented around 1% of the EU’s GDP and 2 million jobs. Compliance with EU policy would help create a sector with 2.4 million jobs and a total annual turnover of €187 billion.

The underlying problem is that too many prices do not reflect the true cost of disposal of goods – if they did, this would help prevent waste in the first place. In addition, many Member States still lack adequate infrastructure for separate collection, recycling and recovery. An absence of systematic control and enforcement mechanisms is another hindrance, coupled with a lack of reliable data on waste management.

Four key conclusions
- The study concludes that we need to know more about waste. Better data and systematic monitoring of how the laws work in practice must be made available. There is progress here, with a specific Data Centre on Waste recently set up by Eurostat.
- Better use of the polluter pays principle, and wider use of economic instruments like raising the costs of disposal, could help ensure compliance and provide the necessary financial resources for waste management.
- Inspection and monitoring capabilities need to be strengthened in Member States. This could mean establishing an auditing capacity at EU level and, possibly, common inspection standards.
- One relatively cost-effective option to strengthen implementation monitoring at EU level could be to draw on the expertise and capabilities of the European Environment Agency (EEA). This option would carry lower administrative costs than creating a new agency dedicated to waste.

Next Steps
The study’s conclusions will be discussed and analysed by the Commission. They will serve as grounds for developing a balanced mix of legal and economic instruments as suggested in the Roadmap for a Resource Efficient Europe and the Thematic Strategy on Waste Prevention. These strategies encourage economic and legal incentives such as landfill taxes or bans, extending “producer responsibility” schemes and introducing “pay as you throw” schemes.

Background
The EU’s economy uses 16 tonnes of materials per person per year, of which 6 tonnes becomes waste, half of it going to landfill. Many Member States rely mainly on landfill as the preferred waste management option. This situation persists in spite of existing EU waste legislation and is unsustainable.

The Commission’s Roadmap for Resource Efficiency sets out milestones for ensuring that waste is managed as a resource by 2020 including through the revision of prevention, re-use, recycling, recovery and landfill-diversion targets, and through the development of markets for secondary and recycled materials.