Archive pour décembre 2011

Europe has got memory !

Jeudi 22 décembre 2011

A new project funded by the FP7 aims to create RAM chips of 100Gbit/s

This article is only available in french

The European Commission guarantees gender equality for insurance premiums

Jeudi 22 décembre 2011

In its decision of 1 March 2011 in the case of test-purchases, the Court of Justice gave insurers until 21 December 2012 to provide equal treatment between men and women in regard to premiums and benefits of insurance.

Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner, met with leading EU insurers in September 2011 to discuss how the industry should adapt to the Court’s ruling (MEMO/11/624).

Following consultations with national governments, insurers and consumers, the new Commission guidelines respond to the need for practical guidance on the implications of the ruling. They aim to benefit both consumers and insurance companies.

The guidelines adopted today cover a series of issues which emerged from in-depth consultations with Member States and stakeholders. For example, they clarify that the ruling applies only to new contracts, in particular to contracts concluded as from 21 December 2012. They also give specific examples of what is considered a “new contract” to ensure a comprehensive application of the unisex rule at EU level from the same date.

In addition, the guidelines provide examples of gender-related insurance practices which are compatible with the principle of unisex premiums and benefits, and therefore will not change because of the Test-Achats ruling. These practices are very diverse, ranging from the calculation of technical provisions to reinsurance pricing, medical underwriting or targeted marketing.

Background
The implications of the judgment were discussed on 20 June with Member States and stakeholders at the Forum on Gender and Insurance set up by the Commission in 2009. European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding also met leaders of European insurance companies on 21 September.

The Test-Achats ruling does not mean that women will always pay the same car insurance premiums as men.

At the moment, a careful young male driver pays more for auto insurance just because he is a man. Under the ruling, insurers can no longer use gender as a determining risk factor to justify differences in individuals’ premiums. But the premiums paid by careful drivers – male and female – will continue to decrease based on their individual driving behaviour. The ruling does not affect the use of other legitimate risk-rating factors and price will continue to reflect risk.

Gender is a determining risk-rating factor for at least three main product categories: motor insurance, life insurance/annuities and private health insurance. In all three categories, it is likely that a transition towards unisex pricing will have consequences on premiums and/or benefits at the individual level for men and women. Depending on the product concerned, premiums might increase or decrease for certain categories of consumers.

The insurance industry is competitive and innovative. It should be in a position to make these adjustments and offer attractive unisex products to consumers without unjustified impact on the overall price level. Price reductions resulting from unisex pricing should be passed on to consumers with the same level of fairness as price increases.

The Test-Achats case (C-236/09), which was referred by the Belgian Constitutional Court, concerned gender discrimination in insurance pricing. On 1 March 2011, the Court of Justice of the European Union declared invalid as from 21 December 2012 an exemption in EU equal treatment legislation which allows Member States to maintain differentiation between men and women in individuals’ premiums and benefits.

Council Directive 2004/113/EC on equal treatment between men and women in regards to the access to and supply of goods and services (adopted unanimously by the EU Council of Ministers) prohibits direct and indirect gender discrimination outside of the labour market.

Article 5(1) of the Directive says that “Member States shall ensure that in all new contracts concluded after 21 December 2007 at the latest, the use of sex as a factor in the calculation of premiums and benefits for the purpose of insurance and related financial services shall not result in differences in individuals’ premiums and benefits.”

Before the ruling, Article 5(2) of the Directive gave Member States a right to derogate from the unisex rule with regard to insurance contracts: “Member States may decide before 21 December 2007 to permit proportionate differences in individuals’ premium and benefits where the use of sex is a determining factor in the assessment of risk based on relevant and accurate actuarial and statistical data. The Member States concerned shall inform the Commission and ensure that accurate data relevant to the use of sex as a determining factor are compiled, published and regularly updated.”

All Member States made use of this derogation for some or all insurance contracts. Belgian law includes a derogation for life insurance in its national legislation. A dispute about the legality of Belgium’s derogation led to the Court of Justice’s Test-Achats ruling.

The Court found the exemption to the unisex rule in Article 5(2) incompatible with the purpose of the Directive as laid down in Article 5(1) and, therefore, with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Court ruled:

“Article 5(2) of Council Directive 2004/113/EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services is invalid with effect from 21 December 2012.”

The European Union is launching a European network for health services

Jeudi 22 décembre 2011

The European Commission today launched the network “Health online” to facilitate the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare.

For the first time, EU legislation includes provisions on eHealth with clear objectives to find modern, innovative solutions for providing better and safer healthcare for all Europeans.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda said The new eHealth Network promises to bring the health benefits of the digital economy to citizens across Europe. Interoperable eHealth can help improve the safety and efficiency of care of millions of Europeans who travel within the EU every year.

The Network’s mission
The Network will bring together the national authorities responsible for eHealth on a voluntary basis to work on common orientations for eHealth. The aim is to ensure EU wide interoperability of electronic health systems and wider use of eHealth. The eHealth Network is expected to translate the results of numerous research projects and pilot projects into real-life accessible services for European citizens.

Background
eHealth is healthcare practice supported by electronic processes and information communication technologies (ICTs) .

eHealth can play a central role in making health systems more efficient and effective by allowing for example remote diagnosis, remote monitoring of patients’ conditions and secure sharing of patient records between healthcare professionals. The eHealth Network will play a key role in facilitating the future development of such services across Europe.

Council Conclusions in 2009 called for an alignment of eHealth with health strategies both at EU and at National level. In 2010 a Joint Action and Thematic Network were launched under the Health Programme and the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme.

To ensure coordination, coherence and consistency of work on eHealth at EU level and to avoid duplication of work, article 14 of the Cross-border Healthcare Directive (2011/24/EU) of 9 March 2011 sets up the voluntary eHealth Network adopted by today’s Decision.

The eHealth network is mandated to draw up guidelines on a minimum set of common data to be included in patients’ summaries; on methods to enable the use of medical information for public health and medical research; and on common identification and authentication measures to ensure transferability of data in cross-border healthcare.

The European Commission selects the Capitals of Culture for 2017

Jeudi 22 décembre 2011

Nicosia and Paphos are competing for the title of European Capital of Culture 2017

The selection panel appointed to assess the cities applying to be European Capital of Culture in 2017 has recommended that Nicosia and Paphos are preselected as the Cypriot contenders for the 2017 title. The panel’s decision was announced in Cyprus today by Androulla Vassiliou, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. The preselected cities will now flesh out and complete their applications by next summer for the second and final selection round.

In accordance with the Decision of the European Parliament and Council of Ministers which sets the criteria for the European Capital of Culture event (1622/2006/EC), Cyprus and Denmark are the two Member States entitled to host a European Capital of Culture for 2017.

Cyprus invited applications from interested cities at the end of 2010. Three cities applied: Nicosia, Limassol and Paphos.

The selection panel meeting in Denmark took place on 25 November, with the panel recommending Aarhus and Sønderborg be preselected for the title.

Background
The selection panel which makes the pre-selection recommendation consists of 13 members, seven appointed by the European institutions and six by the Member State concerned. The members selected by the European institutions are:

- Appointed by the European Commission: Manfred Gaulhofer (Austria), Director-General of Graz 2003 and manager of many European projects; Sir Jeremy Isaacs (UK), television producer and former director of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

- Appointed by the Council: Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (Luxembourg), former Minister for Culture, MEP and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, currently chairwoman of many national and international cultural organisations; Constantin Chiriac (Romania), former vice-chairman of Sibiu 2007 and currently director of the national theatre Radu Stanca.

- Appointed by the European Parliament: Andreas Wiesand (Germany), consultant and researcher in cultural policy; Danuta Glondys (Poland), director of the Villa Decius Association and of many other activities in the field of international culture.

- Appointed by the Committee of the Regions: Elisabeth Vitouch (Austria), a member of the Committee of the Regions’ Commission for Culture and local councillor in Austria.

The process for designating the European Capitals of Culture involves two selection rounds: a preselection, in which a shortlist of candidate cities is drawn up, and a final selection round nine months later. The two selected cities are then officially named by the Council of Ministers of the EU.

Future European Capital of Culture
Following Turku (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia) this year, the next Capitals of Culture will be Guimarães (Portugal) and Maribor (Slovenia) in 2012, followed by Marseille (France) and Košice (Slovakia) in 2013, Umeå (Sweden) and Riga (Latvia) in 2014, then Mons (Belgium) and Plzeň (Czech Republic) in 2015.

The Euro-bonds to stabilize the Euro

Mercredi 21 décembre 2011

A resolution passed Tuesday by members of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs proposes the establishment of Euro-bonds in addition to measures more urgent.

At the same time the committee also approved a question to be put to the Commission at Parliament’s next plenary session on the progress of play of its green paper on Eurobonds and asking for an analysis of the reactions received so far.

Questions still open on green paper

The resolution welcomes the Commission’s consultative document on the introduction of “stability bonds” but also notes that further work is required on some issues. These would include specific ways of addressing potential moral hazard, making the system attractive for AAA countries as well as heavily indebted ones, increasing competitiveness, and introducing enforceable debt reduction systems, among others.

Eurobonds for Eurozone longevity

The resolution does not claim that Eurobonds are a quick fix for the current difficulties. It does however argue that they should be considered an important component of medium-term solutions. The resolution also acknowledges that a “necessary precondition” for the common issuance of bonds is stronger fiscal coordination aimed both at better economic governance and growth.

To tackle immediate difficulties, the resolution calls on the Commission rapidly to table proposals “to decisively address the current crisis, such as the European redemption pact proposed by the German Council of Economic Experts (…), the finalisation and ratification of a European Stability Mechanism treaty (…), eurobills as well as joint management of sovereign debt issuance”.

Next steps

This resolution and question to the Commission are expected to feature on the next plenary session agenda. With a view to this, the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee is also preparing an own-initiative resolution, under the stewardship of Sylvie Goulard (ALDE, FR), providing a more detailed reaction to the Commission’s green paper.

The “roaming” on the radar of the European Parliament

Mercredi 21 décembre 2011

The goal is for Parliament to reduce prices and promote competition for communications made ​​abroad.

Ms Niebler backs the two-track approach proposed by the European Commission in July 2011, i.e. to set new caps on retail prices (charged to clients) and wholesale prices (split between operators) as of 1 July 2012 on one hand, and to introduce structural measures to boost competition on the other..
One proposed “structural” solution would be to require operators to offer clients domestic and international roaming services separately, so that they are able to choose a different supplier of roaming services if they so wish, with effect from July 2014.
The new retail and wholesale price caps proposed by Mrs Niebler go beyond those proposed by the European Commission.

Reducing roaming prices
According to Tony Shortall, Director at Telage, a telecoms consultancy, the structural problem is at the wholesale level: wholesale costs are extremely high and must drop significantly.

Boosting competition
Emmanuel Forest, of Bouygues Telecom, argued that the “structural” solution, i.e. enabling clients to buy roaming services separately, would be complex and probably inefficient in terms of competition, because the costs of doing so would be higher for smaller operators.
He suggested that an alternative solution would be to oblige operators to offer customers a genuine European tariff, close to domestic prices.
However, Jacques Bonifay, of Transatel, warned that setting roaming price caps too low would reduce competition.

Transparency and consumer protection
Industry Committee rapporteur Angelika Niebler also backed an amendment proposed by Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee rapporteur Eija-Riita Korhola (EPP, FI), that would require operators to notify customers when they approach a €50 “safety cap” on roaming charges.

The European Union is committed more than ever to the Millennium Development Goals

Mercredi 21 décembre 2011

Additional support was given to 36 ACP countries in the fight against hunger, child mortality, maternal health and providing access to water.

This additional funding will focus on reducing hunger and child mortality and securing better maternal health and drinking water and sanitation facilities. With today’s decision the EU is delivering on its €1 billion MDG initiative, announced in September 2010, at the UN MDGs Summit in New York.

Examples of actions to be financed under the MDG initiative include:
- ensuring better access to food for the poorest households in Haiti
- providing milk to children in nurseries and primary schools in Rwanda
- increasing the number of healthcare professionals in Ghana to reduce maternal mortality
- improving access to save water in Samoa, mainly through rainwater harvesting and better sanitation facilities
The MDG initiative focuses on those African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries that have designed projects of high quality to achieve results in the areas where progress is most needed: hunger, water and sanitation, maternal health and child mortality. Today’s allocation amounts to 700€ million. Project proposals have been identified in partnership with the respective countries and are fully results-oriented: they put clear and measurable indicators in place to secure the benefits of the additional money.

Background
The MDG Initiative

The MDG initiative mobilises money from one of the EU’s main instruments of development aid, the 10th European Development Fund (EDF). It envisages a total extra financial effort of €1 billion. Regarding today’s allocation of €700 million, the European Commission and the EU delegations, in coordination with EU Member States representations and national authorities in the partner countries, will soon start working on the preparation of detailed project designs and specific financing proposals for all the actions to be supported by the MDG initiative, with a view to starting the implementation of most projects by the end of 2012. (For a full list of countries and targeted MDGs, see MEMO/11/930).

In parallel to today’s decision, approximately €300 million of the MDG initiative are in the process of being allocated as a reward to 18 well-performing countries, in the framework of the 10th EDF Mid-term Review.

Progress on the MDGs
The UN Millennium Goals Report 2011 confirms that the world has made significant progress on some of the goals. By 2015, global poverty is currently expected to fall below 15%, which is well below the target of 23%. Increased funding and intensive control efforts have led to a reduction of 20% of global deaths from malaria; HIV infections have been declining steadily and the availability of retroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS has increased massively in recent years. Important steps have been made globally towards providing universal primary education.

The European Commission announces the resources allocated to Eurostat for the next 5 years.

Mercredi 21 décembre 2011

Good statistical studies are essential for European democracy.

In order to ensure reliable, comparable and cost-effective statistics in the years ahead, the Commission today adopted a proposal for the European Statistical Programme 2013-17. With a budget of €299.4 million, the programme will run for 5 years from 1 January 2013. European Statistical System (Eurostat and national statistical institutes) will be responsible for implementing the multiannual programme, in accordance with the European Statistics Code of Practice and respecting the principles of independence, integrity and accountability. A large proportion of the budget will be allocated to the Member States in order to support the implementation of the Programme at national level.

The European Statistical Programme sets out 3 overriding objectives for 2013-17, namely:

- To provide high quality statistics to better design, monitor and evaluate EU policies.

- To implement more efficient methods of producing European statistics-

- To strengthen the leading role of the European Statistical System in official statistics worldwide

The Programme breaks these general objectives down into more specific headings, with details on how they will be implemented. An annual work programme will be drawn up each year with concrete actions to meet these objectives. The need for information must be weighed against the resources available and the burden placed on businesses and citizens in responding to the necessary questionnaires and surveys to compile statistics. Therefore, the European Statistical Programme highlights certain areas which will be given priority focus. These follow the EU’s broader priorities, such as Europe 2020, strengthened economic governance, climate change, growth and social cohesion, people’s Europe and globalisation.

While EU policy-making will largely influence the work of the European Statistical System in the coming years, any statistics produced under the new Programme will also be available to other decision-makers, researchers, businesses and European citizens on an equal basis.

Background
The European Statistical System (ESS) has been faced with a number of challenges in recent years. The demand for high-quality, timely, and ever more complex statistics is increasing, while the resources available to produce and disseminate these statistics have become more limited. Increased efficiency and flexibility are required of the ESS, to respond to these challenges and contribute to the successful development and implementation of EU policies. These challenges were addressed in the Commission Communication on the production method of EU statistics and the ESS strategy for its implementation. Implementation of the Communication and strategy are the core of the European Statistical Programme.

The European Statistical Programme starts already in 2013 because it will follow up the current programme which will finish in 2012. Under the current rules, the European statistical programme can not exceed a period of five years and will therefore end in 2018.

Next Steps
The draft Regulation will now be discussed by the Council and the European Parliament, with a view to adoption by the end of 2012, so that the new programme can start on 1 January 2013. Negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework for the whole EU budget will continue in parallel.

The FP7 supports a project of German biofuel

Mardi 20 décembre 2011

Europe supports research on renewable energy produced from waste.

Supporting this objective is the BIOBOOST (’Biomass-based energy intermediates boosting biofuel production’) project. Set to kick off at the start of 2012, BIOBOOST will develop novel energy carriers, generating energy-rich intermediate products from biogenous residues, assess environmental compatibility and optimise logistics chains. The BIOBOOST partners will ultimately boost biomass and residues use across Europe. The project is funded under the Energy Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) to the tune of EUR 5.1 million.

Led by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany, the BIOBOOST team will convert residual biomass into energy carriers for the production of high-quality and engine-compatible fuels and chemicals, as well as for the generation of heat and electricity.

The work will complement KIT’s bioliq(R) concept, which targets the production of designer fuels for diesel and Otto engines from biogenous residues such as straw. ‘Due to its broader access to usable residues and a broader spectrum of use of the energy carriers, this project fits excellently to our bioliq(R) project in Karlsruhe,’ says Dr Ralph Stahl from the Institute of Catalysis Research and Technology (IKFT) at KIT. ‘Both projects profit from each other in an ideal manner.’

The team will use biogenous residues to produce a variety of intermediate products that are rich in energy. The researchers will also test and assess them with respect to their usability in the bioliq(R) process, for instance. Besides the BioSynCrude(R) produced by flash pyrolysis in the bioliq(R) process, BIOBOOST will focus on generating, optimising and assessing other products as well, and will evaluate the economic efficiency of the entire process. These activities will help the project partners in their quest to improve the efficiency of future biomass and residues use.

The BIOBOOST consortium will tackle this issue in a series of steps. They will initially focus their efforts on concentrating the energy, as the residual biomass (e.g. straw) materialises in a spatially distributed manner and contains a tiny amount of energy. Biogenous residues are converted into coke and oil at decentralised facilities; this is performed via pyrolysis or carbonisation. The products are mixed to form energy-rich intermediate products containing up to 90% of the energy stored in the biomass. These energy carriers can be further processed after they have been moved to a central location, where they undergo large-scale use. The transport is performed in an economically efficient way.

Apart from generating customised fuel like gasoline, kerosene or diesel, the BIOBOOST team will look into the manufacture of plastics and chemicals, namely propylene, methanol and ethylene.

Scheduled to end in 2015, the BIOBOOST project brings together experts from Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland and Finland.

Green light for the EU Patent

Mardi 20 décembre 2011

The Legal Affairs Committee has approved today the single European patent system.

In three separate voting sessions, Legal Affairs Committee MEPs backed a political deal struck last 1 December between Parliament and Council negotiators on the so-called “EU patent package” (unitary patent, language regime and unified patent court). If Parliament as a whole and the Council confirm the deal, a new EU patent will be created.

The negotiations were led, for Parliament, by committee chair Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, DE), Bernhard Rapkay (S&D, DE) and Raffaele Baldassarre (EPP, IT). MEPs inserted some provisions, among others, to tailor the proposed regime to the needs of small and medium-sized firms (SMEs).

Cheaper and more effective protection

The new patent will be less expensive and more effective than current systems in protecting the inventions of individuals and firms. The new system would provide automatic unitary patent protection and substantially cut costs for EU firms and help boost their competitiveness. The European Commission says that when the new system is up to speed, an EU patent may cost just €680, compared to an average of €1,850 for an American one.

To obtain EU-wide protection today, a European inventor has to validate a patent in each EU Member State, through the European Patent Office (EPO), a non-EU body. This procedure entails costs, especially for translation, that can make a European patent 10 times more expensive than a US one.

A unified patent court, to be set up through an international agreement currently being negotiated by Member States, will also cut costs and reduce current legal uncertainty due to differing national interpretations.

How to apply for the new patent?

Any inventor would be able to apply for an EU patent ensuring protection in all the 25 EU Member States concerned. Patents will be made available in English, French and German, but applications may be submitted in any EU language. Translation costs from a language other than the three official ones would be compensated.

MEPs for SMEs

Thanks to Parliament, specific measures were agreed to facilitate SMEs’ access to the European patent market. These range from stronger legal protection to full compensation of translation costs. Parliament’s also obtained an improvement in the rules on how patent offices share renewal fees, upon which the economic sustainability of the whole system lies.

Next steps

Before the new regulation can enter into force, it must be endorsed by the full Parliament, possibly at the February plenary session, and the Council.

The legislation is being dealt under the so-called “enhanced cooperation procedure”, which allows groups of Member States to integrate policies further, even where others do not agree. Spain and Italy have so far opted out of work on the patent proposal, but could join the decision-making process at any time. This procedure was adopted to unblock the file, long stalled over language issues.