Archive pour mai 2011

Presidents of Commission, Parliament and European Council bring together religious leaders to discuss democratic rights and libertie

Mardi 31 mai 2011

Brussels, 30 May 2011 - Today around twenty senior representatives from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim religions as well as from the Buddhist communities met in Brussels on the invitation of President José Manuel Barroso and co-chaired by Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament and Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council. They discussed effective ways of rights and liberties with a view to build a Partnership for democracy and shared prosperity between Europe and its neighbourhood.

This was the seventh in a series of annual meetings launched by President Barroso in 2005. This is the second time that the meeting takes place in the context of the Lisbon Treaty which foresees in its Art 17 that the Union maintains an “open, transparent and regular dialogue” with religion, churches and communities of conviction. Today’s meeting testifies once again of the importance that European institutions give to this dialogue.

José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President said: “Our task and ambition is to promote democracy, pluralism, the rule of law, human rights and social justice not only in Europe but also in our neighbourhood. I strongly believe these challenges cannot be met without the active contribution of the religious communities. Today’s discussion confirmed our common commitment to the promotion of democratic rights and liberties, including freedom of religion and of belief.

Jerzy Buzek, the President of the European Parliament added: “Religious communities are of paramount importance for the social fabric in EU countries. This is also true for the dynamic changes in our neighbourhood. The European Parliament always stressed that the freedom of religion or belief is one of the most fundamental human rights. In order to be fully effective, as part of its neighbourhood policy, the EU needs to cooperate on the ground with religious groups on issues ranging from education and health care to rebuilding post-conflict societies.”

Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council said: “Let us not forget history. It is on the march in North Africa and the Arab world. This long march to freedom and justice. Precisely the values that are rooted in the European Treaties. This is not then the time for us Europeans, to become less open, less tolerant, more selfish or materialistic, even more racist. Values can not survive without spiritual, religious or ethical impetus. This is where you can play a major role. Nobody has a monopoly on the great human values which give meaning to our lives and our societies. But without this impetus and without this drive, everything may collapse. We must be conscious of this.”

Since the beginning of the year extraordinary events have been unfolding in the Europe’s closest neighbourhood that remind us of the waves of democratization in Central and Eastern Europe in the late 80s and early 90s. We share common future with our neighbours. Back in April the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy launched an ambitious Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean. The EU is by far the biggest donor and investor in the countries in the neighbourhood, but Europe is above all determined to promote and protect democratic rights and liberties, not only in our continent, but also beyond. Democracy has been the key for peace and prosperity in Europe, the EU is resolved to share these benefits with all partners, particularly with our neighbours.

The discussions took place in a frank and open spirit. The faith leaders from thirteen EU Members States (United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Hungary, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Poland, the Netherlands) and from third countries (Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina) welcomed the EU’s determined and renewed engagement with its nearest neighbours. They expressed their readiness to work side by side with the European institutions to promote democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms which are indispensable in the building of pluralist and democratic societies.

Vice-President of the European Parliament László Tökes, Vice-President of the European Commission Viviane Reding, Commissioner John Dalli, Commissioner Štefan Füle and Commissioner Cecilia Malmström also participated in the meeting.

Syrian uprising: a spring not in bloom

Mardi 31 mai 2011

The violent crack-down against the Syrian pro-democracy uprising continues, with human rights activists claiming more than 1000 have been killed since the start of the protests in mid-March. Is the EU doing enough to put an end to the violence? During a hearing on 26 May, human rights activists called for tougher measures.

British Conservative Charles Tannock said the Syrian regime has “learnt the lesson from the Arab spring” and deplored the ineffectiveness of EU sanctions, calling them “window-dressing”. He warned that Europe could easily be accused of applying double standards with regards to military intervention in Libya and the very different response to Syria.

Sanctions are not enough

The Human Rights Committee hearing came a few days after EU foreign ministers agreed to extend sanctions, including an arms embargo against Syria. In addition President Assad’s assets have been frozen and a travel ban imposed and bilateral EU-Syria cooperation programmes have been suspended.

Parliament had already called for “serious and targeted sanctions against the Syrian regime with the aim of achieving a change in the regime’s policies” on 11 May following a human rights debate with Catherine Ashton.

Syrian Iyas Maleh told the hearing that since 15 March more than 1000 people have been killed and 11000 detained in prisons and even sport stadiums. “No real dialogue is possible with this regime,” he said. Sanctions are not enough, he added, suggesting it is time to start expelling Syrian ambassadors and pushing for more accountability via a UN resolution or referral to the International Criminal Court.

Role of global communications

Mr Tannock said global communications had changed the way revolutions were fought. “It’s very difficult to stop, mobile phone pictures, all these sort of things that weren’t around 30 years ago so dictatorships are struggling now to contain the evidence being shown that could be held against them.”

The EP was able to take advantage of global communications to hear from 80-year old human rights activist Haytham al-Maleh (a 2010 Sakharov nominee and father of Iyas Maleh) via Skype, who spoke about arbitrary arrests, torture and the killings of innocent people. The regime is “a fascist dictatorship that must go and there is no other way and we need your help.”

Via video conference from Beirut, Human Rights Watch’s Nadim Houry said a key problem is the lack of a trusted intermediary between the government and the protestors to launch a national dialogue. He suggested the EU could put pressure on regional partners, like Lebanon and Turkey to play that role

He also said human rights activists who have fled Syria to neighbouring countries need help to find “a safe haven”, a possible solution being resettlement programme.

Review of recent events

The protests began in mid-March, inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. However, Syria hasn’t seen the kind of “critical mass” of hundreds of thousands of protestors on the streets. Protests have occurred in several towns, the hotspot being Daraa, with the capital Damascus relatively quiet so far.

In May the protests lessened following a crackdown by the Syrian army and police forces. Nevertheless, 20 May saw the biggest protests since April and became one of the bloodiest days of the uprising as police and security forces shot demonstrators. Human rights organisations claim 40–50 casualties.

Invest more at EU level to counter crises, says Financial Crisis Committee

Mardi 31 mai 2011

Shifting policy making and spending in cross-border areas such as energy and transport from national to EU level would improve investment returns and cut costs by generating economies of scale. It would also give an urgently-needed boost to EU competitiveness, says a draft resolution voted by the Financial Crisis Committee on Monday. The committee’s final report also proposes introducing Euro-bonds and a financial transaction tax.

“Tackling the public debt crisis and increasing the EU’s competitiveness, convergence and solidarity require a shift of competences and spending towards the Union”, stresses the committee’s non-legislative final report on the financial, economic and social crisis, as drafted by Pervenche Berès (S&D, FR), and approved with 32 votes in favour, 9 against and 2 abstentions.

This shift in policy making would be accompanied by a proposed increase in the EU budget beyond 2020 - to 5-10% of EU GDP - which should come partly from fresh own resources, but also from shifting a larger share of the EU Member States’ spending to EU level, in order to fund investment in, inter alia, energy, transport and R&D. These plans should create added value for citizens without increasing their tax burden, add MEPs.

Parliament’s special committee on the next long-term budget, the Policy Challenges Committee, last week voted for an increase in the EU budget after 2013 of at least 5% over the 2013 level (i.e. 1.11% of GDP), for the next long-term budget. This figure will be put to a plenary vote in Strasbourg next week and, if approved, will become Parliament’s input to the Commission proposal.

Eurobonds, European Treasury and financial transaction tax

Crisis committee MEPs stress that both EMU and the single market need a stronger co-ordination of national tax policies, and call on the Commission “to carry out an investigation into a future system of Eurobonds”. They also ask it to develop the concept of a European Treasury, and point out that revenues from a financial transaction tax “could be used in part for financing the Millennium Development Goals” and to meet climate change commitments.

FOOD Conference at the European Parliament,

Mardi 31 mai 2011

Welcome assists Edenred for building the “FOOD”project. A conference is held today on the subject at the European Parliament

Why is it important to encourage healthy eating habits for employees during their lunch break ? How can we help employees with their everyday diet? What messages and what tools do they expect? How are restaurants responding to the new and growing demand for balanced food?

The FOOD (Fighting Obesity through Offer and Demand) will be held under the high patronage of the Hungarian Presidency of the European Union on 31st May 2011 at the European Parliament in Brussels. The main results of the project will be presented at this conference which will mark the beginning of a new implementation phase in other member countries.

Experts from all over Europe will join 25 partners from the public and private sector in order to share their experience and to contribute to the next phases of this programme. The conference will also provide the opportunity to sensitize new partners with the aim of fine-tuning the tools and the recommendations and to further develop the FOOD programme within the 6 countries in which the pilot has been undertaken – and beyond their borders.

The Food Conference to be held on 31st May 2011, at the European Parliament offers the opportunity to go beyond theoretical concepts and take practical action!
The day will be organized around a plenary conference in the morning and practical workshops in the afternoon.

The conference will be attended by high-level participants, among them the Vice President of the European Commission, Antonio Tajani, Despina Spanou, DG SANCO, President of the EU Action Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, the European representatives Elisabetta Gardini and Mario Mauro, Jacques Stern, President and Managing Director of Edenred, as well as Professeur Ambroise Martin of the Faculty of Medicine at Claude Bernard University in Lyon.

The conference is aimed at scientists, political decision-makers, national and local government representatives, and health professionals, but also at HR managers, managers of sustaina

Ombudsman asks Commission to clarify permitted food contamination levels after Fukushima nuclear accident

Mardi 31 mai 2011

EO/11/12 30 May 2011 The European Ombudsman, P.Nikiforos Diamandouros, has asked the European Commission to provide citizen-friendly information about the maximum permitted levels of radioactive contamination of foodstuffs in the EU before and after the …

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The European Commission promotes democracy and growth with its African Union partners

Lundi 30 mai 2011

The African Union (AU) Commission and the European Commission are meeting in Brussels for their 5th annual College-to-College session. They will move forward on a joint agenda of the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership and focus their discussion on two pressing issues of present concern: democracy and growth.

The profound democratic transformations that are currently taking place in Northern Africa deserve the whole-hearted support of all international actors, with an aim of strengthening political and economic governance across the African continent. At the same time, as the world is emerging from the economic crisis, a crucial common challenge for both Africa and Europe is to kick-start growth and focus on inclusive and sustainable development for Africa, eyes firmly on achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said prior to the meeting: “The encouraging historical changes on the African continent present tremendous opportunities to enhance the relations between our continents. Our two Commissions will continue to serve as the engines of the ambitious Joint EU-Africa Partnership. Together we can achieve real progress for the people of Europe and Africa, by tackling global issues, by creating more opportunities for trade, investment and inclusive development, and by addressing the people’s aspirations for democratic reforms and social justice.”

The Strategic Partnership between Africa and the EU pursues common objectives beyond the traditional donor-recipient focus, in a dialogue of equal counterparts. The EU is the biggest trading partner for the African continent. In 2009, 36% of total imports to Africa originated in Europe. The European institutions are also the second biggest donor worldwide for Africa. The European Commission has committed €24.4 billion through its various financial instruments for the period 2007-2013 in support of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy and its thematic partnerships.

Discussions aim at strengthening the political and technical cooperation between the two institutions, provide fresh impetus to the implementation of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy and elements for the future political agenda.

One year in: Caribbean Joint Action Plan (CJAP) ahead of schedule

Lundi 30 mai 2011

Caribbean Development Bank, DEG, European Investment Bank, FMO, IFC and PROPARCO have committed more than US$960 million, surpassing pledged three-year amount

Through unprecedented collaboration, six leading development finance institutions have committed more than US$960 million in the past year to sustainable private and public sector projects in the Caribbean. Last year, in response to the impact of the global financial crisis on the economies of the region, six development institutions agreed to a Caribbean Joint Action Plan (CJAP) to commit up to $950 million to the Caribbean over a three year period.

The CJAP includes the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the German development finance institution Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft mbH (DEG), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Netherlands Development Finance Company (FMO), the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – the private sector arm of the World Bank Group — and PROPARCO, the private sector arm of the Agence Française de Développement Group.

In the first year of the three-year CJAP, the partner institutions have committed over 100 percent of the $950 million pledged three-year amount, including loans and equity investments. The CJAP aims to enable more effective use of financial and technical assistance by encouraging better coordination among the participating institutions and a stronger focus on each one’s experience and strengths.

While the CJAP commitments covered many countries and sectors, not surprisingly infrastructure accounted for about half of such commitments, with 47 percent, and is also the area where the CJAP partners collaborated the most. Financial markets, with focus on promoting access to finance for small and medium enterprises and trade, are also benefiting significantly from the initiative, with about a quarter or 28 percent of commitments going to this sector. On the other hand, commitments were spread throughout the region, with Jamaica receiving 33 percent, regional transactions representing 20 percent of commitments and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) receiving 18 percent of commitments.

During the first year, the development institutions that partnered in the Joint Action Plan demonstrated continued support to Haiti following last year’s devastating earthquake. This included technical assistance and reinforced coordinated financial engagement that focused on rebuilding the private sector and strengthening its role in Haiti’s economic development.

In Haiti, CJAP partners have committed to ten projects under the initiative so far, making significant investments to improve Haiti’s power generating capacity, health service delivery and primary education, as well as creating more than 5,000 new jobs and preserving 5,000 existing jobs. IFC and FMO commitments to E-Power S.A., which will operate a 30MW power plant, will help aid the restoration and enhancement of Port-au-Prince’s electricity supply. Partners have also invested in the health and human capital of Haiti’s neediest by helping 45,000 poor children attend primary school (CDB’s Education for All grant) and by co-financing construction of a new 114-bed surgical hospital where Haitians can receive medical services free of charge (EIB’s grant to Medecins sans Frontieres in Tabarre).

Additional collaborative investments under the Joint Action Plan include an IFC-DEG joint financing of the expansion of the Caucedo Port in the Dominican Republic and a joint IFC, EIB and PROPARCO financing to the extension of the TransJamaican Highway with a total cost of US$205.4 million..

“CJAP’s commitment of an estimated $960 million in only its first year of operation is remarkable and testament to the potential contribution that continued collaboration between the member institutions of CJAP can bring to the development in the Region,” said Dr. Warren Smith, CDB President. “The Region’s public and private sectors both require considerable resources if they are to play a role in growth and development of the Caribbean; and CJAP offers a unique opportunity for its members to participate collaboratively in that process.”

“The aim of CJAP is collectively to boost private enterprise in one of the most unstable regions of Latin America and contribute towards sustainable growth. This involves every institution bringing forward its own geographical, product- and sector-specific knowledge,” said Justus Vitinius, First Vice President Latin America of DEG. “The particular aim of DEG is to finance small and medium-sized companies in the region as well as projects that aid climate protection.”

“In only a year, the Caribbean Joint Action Plan has demonstrated the clear value of enhanced cooperation between development finance institutions to support projects essential for economic growth across the Caribbean and our engagement in the region has surpassed targets. Through the CJAP, the European Investment Bank has been able to work with experienced counterparts to fund infrastructure projects in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and enable a new start for the financial sector in post-earthquake Haiti,” said Plutarchos Sakellaris, European Investment Bank Vice President for Africa, Caribbean and Pacific.

“CJAP’s unparalleled results in this first year show just how committed the participating DFI partners are to providing access to finance in the Caribbean region,” said Jurgen Rigterink, Chief Investment Officer of FMO. “The action plan is certain to make its mark in the region’s long-term economic development, which continues to be imperative to current and future generations there.”

“This collaboration among international financial institutions bodes well for the future development of the Caribbean,” said Thierry Tanoh, IFC Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa and Western Europe. “IFC strongly supports development of critical sectors such as infrastructure and financial markets in the Caribbean, and the strength of this partnership has provided IFC with the opportunity to provide more than double our original pledge to this important initiative.”

“Increased collaboration between DFI’s is critical for unlocking the development impact of our actions. We are especially pleased to be part of this effort in the Caribbean, a region whose specific problems have long been overlooked by the development finance community. We also hope to foster, through this effort, a better cooperation between the French departments and the various islands,” said Laurent Demey, PROPARCO Deputy CEO.

European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2011: award ceremony on Tuesday

Lundi 30 mai 2011

The European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2011 will be awarded in Aachen on Tuesday 31 May. The Prize is awarded to youth projects that encourage the development of a shared sense of European identity. The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and the Chairman of the Charlemagne Prize Foundation, Michael Jansen, will participate in the ceremony.

Mr Buzek, Mr Jansen, and Ernst Schmachtenberg, Rector of the RWTH Aachen University will welcome participants. Marcel Philipp, Mayor of the City of Aachen, will present the third prize, Martin Schulz, German MEP and leader of the European Parliament’s Socialists and Democrats Group, will hand over the second prize, then Mr Buzek will present the first prize.

Role models for young Europeans

The prize is awarded to projects undertaken by people aged between 16 and 30. The aim is for the winning projects to serve as role models for young people living in Europe and offer practical examples of Europeans living together as one community. Youth exchange programmes, youth conferences and internet projects with a European dimension are among those selected.

The prize, which is jointly organised by the European Parliament and the Charlemagne Prize Foundation, is awarded annually. This is its fourth edition. Last year the German project ‘European CNC Network - Train for Europe’ was awarded first prize, with the second prize going to the book project ‘You are here’ (Ireland) and the third to ‘BEST Engineering Competition BEC’ (Bulgaria).

Total prize money of 10,000 Euros

The three winning projects will be awarded funding of €5,000, €3,000, and €2,000 for first, second and third prize respectively. They will also be invited to visit the European Parliament in the coming months.

Selection procedure

National juries consisting of at least two MEPs and one representative of a youth organisation have selected a national winner from each of the 27 Member States. In April, the European jury, consisting of three MEPs, the President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and four representatives of the Foundation of the International Charlemagne Prize, selected the three winners from the 27 projects.

Representatives of the 27 projects have been invited to the award ceremony in Aachen.

Practical information

The award ceremony will take place in Auditorium I of the RWTH University (Templergraben 55, 52062 Aachen) on Tuesday 31 May. The event is scheduled to start at 11.00 and finish at 13.00.

Don’t EU fragment regional spending, warns Regional Development Committee

Lundi 30 mai 2011

Fragmenting EU regional (”cohesion”) policy spending along sector-specific lines, such as climate, energy or transport, would “undermine the tried and tested principle of multi-level governance and jeopardise the regions’ contribution to the achievement of EU 2020 objectives”, warned the Regional Development Committee on Thursday, with a view to forthcoming Commission budget proposals.

The core components of the EU 2020 strategy (innovation, education and training, energy, environment, employment, competitiveness, skills and combating poverty), already form an integral part of EU regional policy, stresses an own-initiative report on the future of cohesion policy, drafted by Markus Pieper (EPP, DE) and voted by the committee on Thursday.

Keep the same budget

Regional policy under the EU’s next long-term budget (2014-2020) should get at least as much funding as it does under the present one, MEPs say, if it is to play its role in reducing development disparities (some of which are growing) among regions. Anticipating a forthcoming Commission’s proposal for a “common strategic framework”, MEPs advocate integrating spending under the various EU “structural” funds (funding regional development and social measures) by introducing common eligibility rules for funding and allowing for multi-fund planning.

New funding category for “transitional” regions

For the next long-term budget, the committee suggests setting up an “intermediate category” of regions, so that regions with the same GDP could be treated in the same way, irrespective of their past eligibility status (today, regions that were once eligible for EU “convergence” aid still get more aid than those that were not, despite having the same GDP). “Some 36 regions will benefit from this” said Constanze Krehl (S&D, DE). The measure, approved in committee with 27 votes in favour, 10 against, and 0 abstentions, would be likely to benefit regions particularly in France, Spain, Italy, Germany the UK and Belgium.

However, rapporteur Markus Pieper (EPP, DE) was puzzled that the Commission had backed the new funding category the idea. He feels that the current procedure for phasing out funding as regions become more prosperous is sufficient.

MEPs oppose macro-economic funding conditions

The committee clearly rejects conditions that would require Member States to undertake fundamental social and economic reform - “all conditionalities should fully respect the principles of subsidiarity and partnership”, they stress.

Development and investment partnership funding should nonetheless be subject to specific conditions, to be decided by the Commission and Member States, say MEPs. The committee suggests that these conditions could include a requirement to implement existing EU legislation in full (e.g. on price regulation, tendering procedures, transport, and health and the environment).

Connect regions across borders…

Cross-border, inter-regional and trans-national co-operation efforts need to be stepped up at all EU internal borders, and to this end, the share of structural funds allocated to these efforts should be increased to 7%, said the committee.

…but don’t fund relocation

The EU should support large, private firms investing in research and development, even indirectly through infrastructure financing, says the committee. However, the report also calls for clear rules to prevent the EU funding the relocation of firms within the Union. Where necessary, these rules should bar large companies from receiving direct subsidies, adds the report. Support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the EU “must be strengthened in light of the key role they can play in the implementation of the EU 2020 Strategy”, MEPs add.

OLAF Director-General in talks with the World Bank and UN to improve cooperation

Samedi 28 mai 2011

OLAF/11/10 Brussels, 27 May 2011 Giovanni Kessler, the Director-General of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), met with Executive Directors of the World Bank and UN representatives at the occasion of the 12th Conference of International Investigators …

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