Archive pour novembre 2011

The European Commission is funding robotics

Lundi 28 novembre 2011

The European Commission has funded a project of robotic neurosurgery

The ROBOCAST project, has developed a new type of robot that gives two important advantages to surgeons: 13 degrees (types) of movement, compared to the four available to human hands during minimally invasive surgery, and “haptic feedback” the physical cues which allow surgeons to assess tissue and perceive the amount of force applied during surgery. The robot has performed accurate keyhole neurosurgery on dummies, and when ready for humans, could ease the suffering of millions of Europeans diagnosed with tumours, and conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and Tourette syndrome.

In keyhole neurosurgery a probe enters a tiny hole in the skull called a burr hole, and manipulates tissue or collects blood and other fluids. Robots can reduce surgeon’s tremor 10-fold, making them especially useful in protecting the delicate and important brain matter. Until now, robots have not been successfully tested for such sophisticated surgery.

Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said: “If any activity requires precision, it’s neurosurgery, so I am delighted this EU-funded research is helping surgeons and patients to be safer. If we can cut waiting lists and deliver better results for patients as Europe’s population ages, I think EU-funded technology projects like this will pay us back many times over.”

A follow-up project, called ACTIVE, is beginning parallel research into robotic neurosurgery for patients who are to remain awake during surgery. Up to three robots (two equipped with sensors and end-effectors to operate and one to actively smooth head movements) are expected to cooperate and assist the surgeon to perform the operation.

Research in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on medicine is strongly supported by the Digital Agenda for Europe which aims at easing the difficulties of illness and supporting active and healthy ageing (see IP/10/581, MEMO/10/199 and MEMO/10/200).

Background
28 November to 4 December is European Robotics Week

Robots are a vital part of Computer-Aided Surgery which improves surgery through use of three dimensional displays, real-time intra-operative monitoring and other tools.

The global demand for robots and robot-related products was worth around €15.5 billion in 2010, including around €3 billion in Europe.

Under the R&D 7th Framework Programme, the European Commission has provided around €400 million to around 100 robotics research projects.

The ROBOCAST project started in 2008, leading to trial surgeries on dummies in 2011. The ACTIVE project started in April 2011 and will last for four years. It received € 5.77 million out of total € 7.62 million from Commission funding. The consortium of ACTIVE involves 6 of the ROBOCAST partners.

UN Climate Conference

Lundi 28 novembre 2011

The COP17 conference starts today in Durban, South Africa

The UN Climate Conference (COP17) opens in Durban on 28th November. The Polish Presidency will be coordinating the EU negotiating position and actions of EU representatives at the event.

The participants in COP17 will discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol and also – looking further into the future – ways of attaining a new international agreement that will assign reduction targets to the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (including China and the US).

The first period of Kyoto Protocol commitments ends next year. The absence of an accord on a second period would amount to the expiry of legally binding commitments concerning greenhouse emissions by developed countries. That would also mean the end of the global emissions market in its present form. The European Union and Poland are receptive to the introduction of the second Kyoto Protocol period, provided it is made more effective and a road map is nailed down for attaining a new global deal on climate protection. These two issues will be of key importance at COP17 in Durban.

Towards the end of the conference (7th-9th December) climate and environment ministers will join in to affirm the results reached by experts and negotiators and to take crucial decisions on any contentious issues.

EU-US summit

Lundi 28 novembre 2011

At the invitation of Mr. Obama, the presidents of the European Council and the Commission will be in Washington today

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and the European Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht will also accompany the Presidents.

EU and US leaders will discuss, among other matters, global economic issues, bilateral relations and opportunities to promote growth and jobs. They will also share views on foreign policy issues, including how best to contribute to the development of democracy and prosperity in European neighbourhood, including north Africa and the Middle East and the promotion of common values in other regions of the world.

The summit in Washington will also take stock of progress achieved since the previous summit in Lisbon in 2010, including, among others, on how best to address global challenges and strengthen the security of their citizens.

The Council of the EU strengthens energy policy of the Union

Lundi 28 novembre 2011

The Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council adopted conclusions on strengthening the external dimension of the EU energy policy.

These conclusions aim at improving the coordination of the external dimension of the EU energy policy and EU cooperation with third countries, deepening energy partnerships and supporting developing economies.

While acknowledging that the respective competences of the EU and the member states have to be respected and that the negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) must not be prejudiced, ministers stress that the EU external energy policy should contribute to ensuring a safe, secure, sustainable energy and be consistent with the EU 2050 energy and low carbon policy perspective. For this policy to be effective, a fully functioning, interconnected and integrated energy market is essential, and regulatory cooperation and convergence with our neighbours will have a key role to play.

The Commission is invited to present a report on the implementation of these conclusions at the latest in 2013.

Last February, the EU’s heads of state or government set out orientations on energy which were later developed by the TTE Council. In September, the Commission submitted a communication on security of supply and international cooperation; this communication provides the basis for the comprehensive conclusions adopted by the TTE Council.

A new platform to improve health research and education in Africa

Lundi 28 novembre 2011

A new platform was set up by the European Commission with researchers from Belgium, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Mali, Spain and Switzerland

Titled ‘AFRICA BUILD’, the project aims to set up excellence centres supported by advanced information and communications technologies (ICT) with the overall aim of building research networks between cooperative health projects based in Africa.

The project is funded in part with almost EUR 2 000 000 as part of the ‘Building sustainable capacity for research for health in Africa’ sub-programme of the Seventh Framework Programme’s (FP7) ‘Health’ Theme. From August 2011, AFRICA BUILD partners have been laying the groundwork for setting up these sustainable networks of health researchers, educators and workers.

The project will run until 2014, and the hope is that ICT can provide support for building an open and collaborative platform. The excellence centres set up as part of AFRICA BUILD will be focal points for sharing best practices and new methods of education and training. They will be the hubs of the project, employing specialised workers and purchasing ICT equipment that will be used for initiating e-learning courses on health, medical informatics and ICT.

The project also aims to encourage the use of advanced ICT developments such as cloud and mobile computing. The thinking is that African countries should be able to gain access to supercomputers and large software systems to store information and to access and use open source software.

Pilot projects born out of the AFRICA BUILD initiative will also use advanced ICT to deal with some of the most pressing health problems beleaguering many African countries, such as AIDS.

Collaboration is also a cornerstone of the project; AFRICA BUILD will set up a volunteer network that can participate in medical informatics research and development (R&D) projects and offer distance learning courses in partnership with existing African aid projects.

To kick things off, the researchers have already carried out a series of ambitious cloud computing experiments, namely clinical database integration, and supercomputing for bioinformatics and access to open source software tools or medical image processing.

Using just a laptop and a mobile phone connection, researchers in Burundi, a central African country with little ICT infrastructure, have already managed to access databases and perform complex bioinformatics calculations on MAGERIT, a supercomputer based at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain.

This early result bodes well for the future of the project and indeed for the future of collaboration between Europe and Africa, not to mention the potential for the use of ICT to foster better health care.

Waste in the European Union

Vendredi 25 novembre 2011

While 79 million Europeans living below the poverty line, half of healthy food is wasted in Europe.

The Agriculture Committee called on Wednesday for urgent measures to halve food waste by 2025 and to improve access to food for needy EU citizens.

Since food is wasted at all stages - by producers, processors, retailers, caterers and consumers, the Agriculture Committee called for EU and national measures to improve the efficiency of the food supply and consumption chains, sector by sector, e.g. by promoting direct relations between producers and consumers and to tackle food wastage as a matter of urgency.

Better education to avoid excessive waste

To achieve a drastic reduction in food wastage by 2025, new awareness campaigns should be promoted at both EU and national levels to inform the public how to avoid excessive wastage of food, says the resolution. Member States should introduce food education courses in schools and colleges explaining how to store, cook and dispose the food and exchange best practices to this end.

Local authorities and media should also be involved in providing information and support to citizens on preventing and reducing food waste. To popularise the idea using food sustainably, MEPs called for 2013 to be designated as the European year against food waste.

Proper labelling and packaging

To avoid situations in which foods are being offered by retailers too close to their expiry date, thus increasing the potential for wastage, dual-date labelling could be introduced to show until when food may be sold (sell-by date) and until when it may consumed (use-by date), says the resolution, adding that the European Commission and Member States should nonetheless first ensure that customers understand the difference between currently used labels within the EU such as the quality-related “best before” and safety-related “use by” dates.

To prevent unnecessary waste, food packaging should offered in a range of sizes and designed to conserve food better. Out-of-date and damaged food products should be sold at discounted prices, MEPs say.

Public institutions should favour responsible caterers

Rules for public procurement on catering and hospitality should be updated to ensure that where possible, contracts are awarded to catering companies that use local produce and give away or redistribute leftover food to poorer people or food banks free of charge rather than disposing of it.

Leftovers to feed people in need

MEPs also welcomed existing initiatives in some Member States to recover unsold food and offer it to needy citizens and called on retailers to take part in such programmes.

Next Steps

The resolution drafted by Mr. Caronna was approved in committee with 38 votes in favour to one against. The vote in plenary is scheduled for the next Strasbourg session (12 - 15 December 2011).

Eurobonds

Vendredi 25 novembre 2011

The European Parliament skeptical of proposals from the European Commission on the Eurobonds

Whereas a number of MEPs tried to press the Commissioner Rehn for more details on the content and timing of its proposals, others expressed concern over a possible lack of democratic legitimacy as a result of the Commission’s insistence on the need for stronger budgetary discipline and surveillance to go with Eurobonds.

Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, BE), called for all Eurobond measures proposed by the Commission to be submitted for approval to the European Parliament, while national governments should submit their commitments to their national parliaments for approval, a view shared by Pervenche Berès (S&D, FR).

Sophie in’t Veld (ALDE, NL), also wanted the Commission to involve national parliaments when taking sometimes unpopular measures, perceived as “Brussels dictats”. Rodi Kratsa (EPP, EL), also voiced concern over the “democratic legitimacy” of the Commission proposals. Nikolas Chountis (GUE, EL), protested against “meddling” by the Commission in national politics.

Elisa Ferreira (S&D, PT), was worried by the lack of Commission proposals for stimulating growth, inter alia in the “six pack” legislation on economic governance, which is to enter into force by the end of this year. Diogo Feio (EPP, PT), wondered how Eurobonds could ensure a combination of economic growth with economic discipline.

Sylvie Goulard (ALDE, FR), who will steer a resolution on Eurobonds through Parliament, was informed by Mr Rehn that the consultation of the various players would be completed on 8 January. The Commission would then decide how to proceed further.

Marianne Thyssen (EPP, BE), said she would prefer the Commission to come forward with a concrete proposal for introducing Eurobonds, which would spur Member States into putting their house in order faster.

Financial transaction tax

The independence and reliability of statistical data and the proposal for a EU tax on financial transactions were the main points raised by MEPs in a subsequent debate with taxation Commissioner Algirdas Semeta on plans to improve the quality of Eurostat.

The possibility of actually introducing a financial transaction tax (FTT) as part of the proposals for new own resources for the EU was questioned by Anni Podimata (S&D, EL) , although she admitted the need for such an EU-wide tax.

Kay Swinburne (ECR, UK) stressed that three Member States had already stated their opposition to an FTT, which she said meant that any further work was useless, as unanimity among Member States was required. The Commissioner, however, felt that the positions of Member States were converging, and especially of those in the euro zone, although the UK remained “quite sceptical”.

The need to ensure complete reliability of statistics was stressed by several MEPs. In reply, Mr Semeta said that Eurostat is already well-equipped to avoid any political interference when delivering data, and that he was committed to ensuring that Eurostat data are also perceived as reliable, especially by markets.

MEPs debate credit rating agencies and bank recapitalisation with Almunia and Barnier

On Tuesday, draft EU rules on credit rating agencies and plans to recapitalise banks were took centre stage in an Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee debate with Commissioners Joaquin Almunia (competition) and Michel Barnier (internal market).

The many problems created by credit rating agencies include conflicts of interest, opaque methodology and possible market abuse, but there is no anti-trust issue with them, said Commissioner Almunia in reply to a question by Antolin Sànchez Presedo (S&D, ES).

Jean Paul Gauzès (EPP, FR), welcomed the fact that credit rating agencies are finally going to be supervised. Rapporteur on the future CRA Directive Leonardo Domenici (S&D, IT), noted that the measures originally proposed had been weakened, and said that Parliament would seek to restore their bite.

Commissioner Barnier stressed that rating agencies are needed to measure risks, but accepted that their evaluations should be exact, transparent and credible, and that they should be able to explain their ratings. Clear rules will reduce the risk of them causing serious problems, he added.

Recapitalising banks

Banks must recapitalise without harming the real economy and resume lending to businesses, said Commissioner Barnier, adding that financial markets must accept the new rules, but will also benefit from having a stable framework to work in, he added.

Threat to the Single European Sky

Vendredi 25 novembre 2011

This set of ambitious proposals to establish a pan-European air traffic management by 2030, may be delayed.

2012 is a critical year for the Single European Sky – there are four key deliverables:

- the performance scheme, setting key air traffic management (ATM) targets (to start early in 2012);
- the nine “functional airspace blocks” (to be operational by end-2012);
- the ATM network manager (already designated as Eurocontrol);
- the launch of the deployment phase of SESAR, the technological arm of the Single European Sky (from 2014), moving from the R&D phase to the rollout of new equipment and technology.
The “traffic light” assessments published today by the Commission – based on two progress reports – highlight serious cause for concern in relation to two major elements which go to the heart of the Single European Sky project: the performance scheme and the functional airspace blocks.

1. On the performance scheme:
The result: Only 5 out of 27 Member States (Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) get a “green light” and are on track to meet both targets (for cost and capacity/delays) for the period 2012–14. The Commission has today issued recommendations asking Member States to revise these targets. If necessary the Commission could adopt a binding decision requesting the Member State(s) concerned to implement specific corrective measures, although a short time remains available for the targets to be met without recourse to this action.

Existing plans by Member States would fail to meet the EU-wide capacity target of 0.5 minute delay per flight in 2014. If this target were achieved, some €920 million would be saved over 2012–14 due to fewer and shorter delays.

In addition, national performance plans would miss the EU-wide target for ATM cost efficiency by 2.4% in 2014. This would have a a major impact, both on airspace users and on the credibility of the Single European Sky. To meet the target, additional measures are needed to achieve a €250 million saving over the entire three-year reference period (2012–14).

2. On the functional airspace blocks (FABs)
The result: All FAB blocks, except for one, the Danish/Swedish FAB, are in the orange or red zone and give serious cause for concern. The Commission is urging Member States to step up their actions. Failure to take measures at national level could oblige the Commission to re-open the SES legislative packages to introduce a more radical solution.

For detailed information on the two progress reports, performance targets and FABs see: MEMO/11/831.

Key Facts and figures: the Single European Sky
European skies and airports risk saturation. Without substantial investment to modernise Europe’s air traffic management system (the Single European Sky), our skies and airports will be jam-packed.

- Already there are 1.4 billion passengers a year in 440 airports.
That’s 26 000 flights a day criss-crossing the European sky.
Each year there are 10 million flights; and that is growing by up to 5% each year.
So 16.9 million flights per year in 20 years’ time – that means in 2030 as many flights will cross Europe as there are inhabitants of Beijing.
The challenge – flights that are smooth, safe and on time.
Problem: the air traffic management system is archaic; some of the basic technologies used date from the 1950s.
Solution: modernisation of Europe’s airspace to create a pan-European air traffic management (ATM) system, modernising a fragmented patchwork of 27 national airspaces,
a) tripling the airspace capacity,
b) improving safety tenfold,
c) reducing environmental impact by 10%,
d) reducing air traffic management costs by 50%.

The European Commission is launching a new maritime strategy for growth in Atlantic

Vendredi 25 novembre 2011

The strategy identifies challenges and opportunities in the region and takes stock of existing initiatives that can support growth and job creation. The strategy will be implemented through an Action Plan in 2013. The Commission calls on stakeholders to help design concrete projects which would be able to benefit from EU funding. The Commission will facilitate the development of this Action Plan through a series of workshops and discussion groups that will be open to a wide array of participants - the ‘Atlantic Forum’. The new strategy is developed under the EU’s Integrated Maritime Policy and follows similar strategies for the Baltic, the Arctic and the Mediterranean areas. Commissioner Damanaki will present the strategy at the high-level Lisbon Atlantic Conference and Stakeholder Day, on 28-29 November, where a first discussion will take place.

The Commission invites all stakeholders - national, regional and local authorities, the industry, civil society, and think tanks – to contribute their expertise and ideas to the Action Plan through the ‘Atlantic Forum’. It will comprise a set of workshops focused on the challenges and opportunities outlined in the strategy, and an online discussion forum. The Forum will be launched in 2012 and dissolved in 2013, after it will have contributed to the Action Plan. The strategy does not foresee additional funding for its implementation: actions will be supported from existing and future EU funds.

Great potential for blue growth
The Atlantic Ocean has high potential for wind, wave and tidal energy. It is estimated that by 2020 around 20% of Europe’s offshore wind capacity could be located in the Atlantic region. Sea-bed mining could help meet some of the EU’s demand for raw materials. Offshore aquaculture is a promising sector, and one third of all the fish caught by the EU’s fishing fleet is landed in the Atlantic ports.

But most of these opportunities are still in their infancy and need to be nurtured to grow into self-sustained industries. That is where the public authorities and other stakeholders in the region step in; and the EU can help ensure synergies on a transnational level. Much is already being done, but these actions need to be streamlined and reinforced through efficient use of existing and future EU funds.

For example, maritime spatial planning can boost aquaculture, as it gives investors greater legal certainty and prevents conflicts for marine space. Marine knowledge and the European Marine Observation and Data Network (EMODNET) can provide marine data that are indispensable for taking informed decisions. Better integration of maritime surveillance can help respond faster to threats and emergencies, from natural disasters to piracy, making the Atlantic Ocean safer.

New industries, however, cannot develop without a skilled workforce. Clusters of academia and maritime industries should be supported and workers need assistance and re-training to help them move from declining industries, such as fisheries, to emerging ones. As regards tourism, the Atlantic region has a lot to offer to holidaymakers. Its culture, cuisine and natural beauty are assets to further exploit.

Background
Coasts, territorial and jurisdictional waters of five EU member states (France, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, and their overseas territories, i.e. the Azores, the Canary Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Madeira, Martinique, Saint-Barthélemy and Saint-Martin), as well as international waters fall within the strategy’s scope. The strategy does not cover the North Sea or the Arctic Ocean. A separate strategy exists for the latter.

The development of the Atlantic Strategy dovetails with the Integrated Maritime Policy for the EU, which aims to coordinate all EU policies with a maritime dimension to ensure environmental sustainability and the quality of living conditions in coastal regions while promoting the growth potential of maritime industries. Strategies have already been adopted for the Baltic Sea, the Arctic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

The European Union is more effective security measures

Vendredi 25 novembre 2011

The European Commission today presented its first report on the internal security policy initiated a year ago.

As security threats emerge and evolve, the EU must be ready to respond. In July this year, a right-wing extremist in Norway carried out a devastating terrorist attack. In August, public authorities in the UK seized 1.2 tonnes of cocaine in a record haul. Across the EU, cyber attacks increasingly wreak havoc on public and private computer systems. These are stark reminders of the importance of taking action to counter threats to internal security.

A fresh Eurobarometer opinion poll shows that four out of ten Europeans want the EU to do more to tackle the security challenges outlined in the ISS. Many Europeans also believe that the threats will intensify over the next three years, with cybercrime seen as the security challenge most likely to worsen (see MEMO/11/829).

They are not far off the mark, as the ISS report shows that there are at least three emerging threats of particular concern. Firstly, the internet, now an integral and indispensable part of our everyday lives, is becoming an online facilitator for a wide range of criminal activities and a vehicle for terrorist propaganda. Secondly, the impact of the ongoing economic crises means that public authorities have fewer resources available to combat internal security threats. Thirdly, recent developments in the EU’s neighbourhood, including the overwhelmingly positive, democratic developments of the Arab Spring, have created considerable movements of people. This, in turn, puts pressure on the EU’s external border and, in some cases, creates conditions for increased criminal activity.

In 2012, as a concrete follow up to the priorities identified in the ISS, the EU Commission will, amongst other measures, adopt a package on confiscation and recovery of criminal assets, organise a high level conference on countering violent extremism and develop an overarching European strategy for Internet security.

Background
As part of the Stockholm Programme, in November 2010, the Commission adopted the Internal Security Strategy in Action and outlined five priorities for the EU for the coming four years (see IP/10/1535 and MEMO/10/598).

The first annual report, released today, highlights progress in the following areas:

- The fight against organised crime: Significant progress has been marked by the Commission’s proposal for EU legislation on the collection of Passenger Name Records on flights entering or leaving the EU and the anti-corruption package, adopted in June 2011. Further progress is needed on judicial and law enforcement cooperation, and on the development of an administrative approach to combating serious crime.
- Terrorism and radicalisation: The Commission set up a European Radicalisation Awareness Network and adopted a Communication on an EU Terrorist Financing Tracking System. Further efforts are needed in relation to a framework for administrative measures on the freezing of terrorist assets and the improvement of land transport security.
- Cybercrime: Progress has been made towards setting up a European Cybercrime Centre and Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERT). In the future, several Member States will need to take urgent action to ratify the Budapest Convention which provides a framework for international cooperation in this area.
- Border management: Significant progress has been made in 2011 with the launch of the Visa Information System (VIS); the deployment of FRONTEX operations HERMES (migration flows in the Mediterranean) and RABIT (at Greek-Turkish border); as well as Commission proposals for an improved Schengen evaluation and monitoring and for the establishment of the European Border Surveillance system (EUROSUR) by 2013. In 2012, the Commission will make suggestions on how to improve the coordination of border checks carried out by different national authorities (police, border guards, and customs).
- Crisis and disaster management. Through Europol, Frontex, the EU Joint Situation Centre (SitCen) and the Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC), the EU is able to draw on expertise in information gathering, analysis, threat assessment and emergency response in the different areas of internal security. In the future, Europe has to gradually move towards a coherent risk management policy, linking threat and risk assessment to policy formulation and implementation. Cooperation between Member States, the Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS) is essential in this respect.
- External dimension of EU security. Several initiatives were developed in 2011 to foster inter-institutional cooperation and coordination on terrorism, trans-national crime and irregular migration in the Western Balkans, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. The EEAS and the Commission also issued a Joint Paper on enhancing ties between the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and Freedom, Security and Justice (JHA) actors, including possibilities for cooperation between the CSDP police missions and Europol.