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European tar sands imports set for steep rise, US study says

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 15:55

A new study by the US Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) today (23 January) warns that imports of tar sands into Europe are likely to skyrocket if the block does not take measures.

Tar sands imports to Europe are set to rise dramatically, to over 700,000 barrels per day (bpd) by 2020, up from 4,000 bpd in 2012, according to the study. This, it says, would result in an emission increase in transport equivalent to six million additional cars on European roads.

The EU’s current Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) aims to reduce greenhouse gas intensity by 6% by 2020, but the NRDC report suggests that rising tar sands imports will lead to a 1.5% increase of greenhouse gas intensity, which is equivalent to “adding around 6 million cars on European roads today”, the report warns.

Tar sands are considered 23% more carbon intensive than conventional oil, experts say. An EU review of the FQD currently underway will soon decide exactly what carbon intensity label should be applied to tar sands. But under a new climate package unveiled yesterday, the FQD's writ will run out in 2020, a development that will please Canada.

Canada searching for new markets

While the United States is currently the biggest oil market in the world, Canada is actively looking for new trade opportunities, notably with Europe, the second biggest energy market.

With the growth of US shale oil taking up a large part of US refineries’ capacity and Canada's tar sands production planned to increase by 5.8 million bpd by 2030, new export markets are deemed essential for Canada's unconventional oil industry.

The building of the Energy East pipeline, recently proposed by TransCanada, is designed for such exports and “oil company executives have mentioned Europe, and in particular Spain,” the report notes.

Although Europe as a whole lacks refining capacity, Spanish oil companies are an exception. According to the study, “a number of refineries in Spain can process heavy crudes, including diluted bitumen. In addition, the Spanish oil company Repsol has existing ties with TransCanada’s key partner Irving oil.”

“According to the International Energy Agency, European refineries are investing in additional capacity to refine heavy crude, which is expected to increase by 70% between 2008 and 2018. Many refineries, such as Repsol’s Cartagena and Bilbao refineries, are already configured to maximise the input of heavy crudes,” the NRDC paper adds.

“These refineries can take either Venezuelan or Canadian tar sands oil and the capacity is sufficient to absorb all the crude that would come via the Energy East pipeline.”

Another 'pathway to Europe' identified by NRDC is the Keystone XL pipeline, “which could add another 830,000 bpd of capacity from tar sands to the Gulf Coast adding to 110,000 bpd currently received. This means that the volume of tar sands processed in Gulf refineries could grow to nearly 24% of all crude by 2020".

EU FQD’s implementation 'crucial'

The NRDC study is also challenging the results of the European Commission’s studies into tar sands.

Unlike the EU’s figure of 0.2% of unconventional oil supply from Canada, the US NGO has calculated that, due to changes on the North American market, Canadian exports to the EU would amount to between 5.3% to 6.7% of EU transport fuel consumption in 2020, citing International Energy Agency (IEA) oil consumption estimates as evidence.

This in turn would “increase the greenhouse gas intensity of European transport fuels by around 1.5%," the paper says. "This represents a quarter of the 6% reduction target.”

Nuša Urbancic from the NGO Transport and Environment (T&E) said of the contrast between the two sets of figures, “one of the factors may be that the construction of the Energy East pipeline only became public after the Commission’s study".

Whatever the reasons, environmental NGOs call on the European Commission to strengthen and properly implement the Fuel Quality Directive. If it is abolished, it is unclear yet what, if any, EU fuel policy would follow.

The FQD is “one of the key instruments to reduce future demand for tar sands and drive the fuel market in a cleaner direction. Studies have shown that a proper implementation of the directive would lead to global GHG emissions reductions of 19 million tonnes per year,” a T&E statement read.

The FQD was adopted in 2009 and has set a 6% GHG emission reduction target to be achieved by 2020 through the use of biofuels, renewable electricity and a reduction in the flaring and venting of gases during the extraction of fossil fuels.

An increased use of tar sands would make the 6% target more difficult to achieve.

Holding suppliers accountable

Two options are on the table to reduce the extra emissions caused by the use of tar sands:

  • The first is to make each supplier report on their tar sands fuels, which can only be done if they are correctly labeled for their carbon intensity. This is privileged by environmentalists and would “discourage the imports”.
  • The second one is for fuel suppliers to reduce their emissions by blending in more biofuels, although the NRDC paper says that greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels “continue to be underestimated despite scientific evidence”. If the directive does not oblige companies to individually report their emissions, the industry would go for this option.

The NDRC has calculated that an extra 3% biofuels that deliver around 50% GHG savings would be needed to offset the 1.5% increase caused by tar sands. Today’s biofuels volume (estimated at around 5%) costs Europe €6 to 8 billion a year. Supplying 3% more biofuels would therefore cost up to €4.8 billion more.

“This means that the cost of meeting the higher FQD target with biofuels alone would increase by around €4 billion a year, whilst also increasing environmental pressures. This cost would ultimately be borne by European drivers and taxpayers,” the study said.

Kategorije: Okolje

GMO activists stage protest outside Greenpeace’s Brussels office

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 14:56

GMO activists have launched a campaign to get EU approval for genetically engineered crops, staging a protest outside the Brussels office of environmental group Greenpeace today (23 January).

The protesters gathered outside the Greenpeace offices in the heart of Brussels’ political centre at 11 a.m. and held up banners describing the environmental group’s position against GM crops as a “crime against humanity”.

The protest was led by Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of Greenpeace. Moore argues that the potential for GM crops such as 'Golden Rice', a vitamin A enriched form of the dietary staple, could prevent millions of deaths as well as blindness from malnutrition in the developing world.

Moore is a controversial figure among some environmental circles. He left Greenpeace 28 years ago though he still refers to his ties with the organisation in speeches about the benefits of GM crops. Moore has denied that humanity has played a large role in climate change and has advocated the logging of tropical rainforests.

Yesterday, the British environment minister, Owen Paterson, Moore and members of the GMO industry said that the EU was missing out on the potential of GM crops at a conference in Brussels.

“I firmly believe in the benefits of GM crops to the consumer, farmers and the environment,” the conservative minister said, while he conceded that they were “not a panacea”.

At the conference hosted by the bio-tech industry association EuropaBio, Paterson said the EU risked “sending a message that we’re anti-science, anti-innovation” by not approving GM crops for cultivation.

Paterson has said that the EU risks becoming a “museum of world farming” without making use of genetic engineering.

The minister condemned the destruction of Golden Rice test crops in the Philippines by people associated with Greenpeace last August.

“Scientific trials must be allowed to continue,” he said. “They trashed a genuine scientific trial. That was wicked.”

Moore told EurActiv that “every GM has to be treated on its own merits … you could have a bad GM. It would be easy to make one that would harm people”.

As part of the campaign, EuropaBio has launched a website to “highlight the broad based and growing constituency of interest in genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe”.

No people with a position against GM crops, including members of green NGOs, were present on the panel at the conference.

Genetic engineering ‘crude and old fashioned’

In emailed comments to EurActiv, Greenpeace’s food and agriculture director, Marco Contieri, said: “GM ‘Golden’ rice is, in fact, an expensive and risky experiment that for the past 20 years has failed to deliver a real solution for Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) and diverts necessary funding from effective solutions that already exist and work.”

Contieri referred to a statement by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which said “it has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice does improve the vitamin A status of people who are vitamin A deficient, and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness.” The institute says it plans further research on the matter.

IRRI also added that Golden Rice would only be made available in the Philippines “if it is approved by national regulators and shown to reduce vitamin A deficiency in community conditions. This process may take another two years or more.”

Contiero countered Paterson’s assertion that without GM crops the EU risked becoming a “museum."

"Genetic engineering is a crude and old fashioned technology belonging in a museum. The science of plant breeding has moved on," said Contiero, adding that it would be wiser for governments to pursue alternatives.

“More modern biotechnologies such as Marker Assisted Selection are providing brilliant results. Drought tolerant wheat varieties and flood resistant rice varieties are already in farmers’ fields,” he argued.

The debate about GMOs has flared recently in Brussels, with a majority of members of the European Parliament voting against the market approval of a form of GM maize, Pioneer 1507.

Kategorije: Okolje

The EU needs to ask Russia the tough questions

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 12:34

As the European Union and Russia prepare to meet next week (28 January) at their biannual summit, EU leaders should prepare to address the tough questions about Moscow’s assertive diplomacy is overshadowing Brussels’ strategies in the east, writes Bruno Lété.

Bruno Lété is a senior program officer for foreign and security policy with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Brussels.

The European Union and Russia are set to meet on 28 January for their biannual summit. These events, usually box-ticking affairs, have rarely served as venues for honest debate about tough issues. But this time frustrations seem to have exceeded courtesies and the planned two-day summit has been cut to a restricted three-hour meeting. While relations between Europe and Russia have matured significantly in technical areas such as trade, energy, tourism, and education, Europeans were never prepared for Russian President Vladimir Putin plunging them into a vicious zero-sum game over the fate of Central and Eastern Europe. Europeans are angered at Russia’s role in dissuading post-Soviet states from seeking a rapprochement with Brussels. Russia’s probing of Europeans’ weaknesses, and Europe’s difficulties in dealing with it, has led to stagnation and much mistrust.

Moscow’s assertive diplomatic use of energy security, punitive trade measures, moneylending, and military might has successfully weakened EU strategies aimed at offering greater economic integration with many post-Soviet states in return for good governance. And with plans in the making for a Eurasian Union between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and potentially also Ukraine, Armenia, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, Putin might become even more successful at keeping Europe out of what he considers Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence. As a result, Europe’s eastern neighbourhood is not transforming into a region of liberal, well-governed countries, but into a collection of economically weak nation-states ruled by semi-authoritarian regimes loyal to Moscow.

Brussels’ response to this challenge has been minimal. But the EU is not completely to blame for being at risk of losing its East. The responsibility lies with the member states who have found it difficult to stick together and provide Brussels with the necessary tools to act like a serious geopolitical actor. In the long run, the failure to adopt a credible neighbourhood policy will probably mean more difficulty in managing tensions with Russia.

An immediate priority for European leaders should be taking a fresh look at how they deal with their eastern neighbourhood. The Vilnius Summit last November gave the final blow to an EU policy that too closely followed the enlargement process without giving partner countries the prospect of actual EU membership. Moreover, the benefits that the EU offers in exchange for political reform are dwarfed by some of the sums pledged by Moscow to aid certain countries’ financial woes. But despite setbacks, the EU must make clear that it remains committed to the region’s modernization and development. An important signal would be to redesign and launch an updated Ostpolitik. Measures could range from helping countries diversify their sources of energy to opening up the European single market for specific products, without necessarily having to tie countries to a comprehensive trade agreement.

Another priority is to keep pushing for socio-political change within Russia. Here Germany could play an invaluable role. Even as the cosy camaraderie between Berlin and Moscow has come to an end, Germany’s value-based foreign policy combined with its leading investment position in the Russian economy can help spur the modernization of Russian society and pressurize elites to respect civil rights and the rule of law. At the same time, Chancellor Angela Merkel should hold firm to her position that countries in Europe’s neighbourhood must be able to decide about their own future. Germany has the strength to mobilize European support and resources to assist countries like Moldova and Georgia that seek to sail a more independent course from Moscow. In that respect, Germany will find committed allies in countries like Poland and Sweden that can help Berlin embed efforts into a wider EU strategy.

Finally, the EU must find the guts to put economic and hard security on top of the bilateral agenda with Moscow. It cannot shrug its shoulders to the routine violations of Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Polish, Finnish, Swedish, or British airspaces by Russian warplanes. And now that Russia is a member of the World Trade Organization, the EU can call out Moscow for its suspicious trade blockades, like Russia did with European meat, fish, and milk exports. Moreover, as Europe’s neighbourhood has become Russia’s near abroad, Europeans must work to stabilize this region, which is important for energy supplies or immigration challenges. But Moscow’s refusal to reduce its military presence in the region’s frozen conflicts has kept certain countries in dysfunction for over a decade. And in the cases of Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South-Ossetia, Russia’s growing military and diplomatic presence in these breakaway provinces seems to be a direct challenge to Moldovan and Georgian aspirations to seek closer ties with the European Union.

For Europe, maintaining dialogue and cooperation with Russia is important, but it cannot do so by resorting to its usual laissez-faire attitude. A failure to address the tough questions would only lead to more stagnation.

This commentary was first published on the GMF Blog of the German Marshall Fund of the US in Brussels.

Kategorije: Okolje

China's president comes to Brussels to meet top EU officials

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 12:22

Xi Jinping will pay in March his first visit as China's president to Brussels, as part of a European tour which will partially coincide with US President Barack Obama's stay in Europe.

Xi is expected to meet EU leaders on 29 March, as it emerges from an internal calendar of EU meetings. It would be the first time Xi comes to Europe since his appointment as Chinese president. He came already in 2009 when he was China's vice-president.

"He will meet the three European leaders in Brussels," confirmed a Chinese source.

Xi's meeting with EU leaders outside the framework of the annual EU-China summits, also represents an unconventional move. Moreover, usually the Chinese prime minister participates in these bilateral summits, not the president.

Topics to discuss at the top level are certainly not lacking.

The EU and China announced in November the beginning of talks for an investment pact, which is expected to favour access of Chinese firms to Europe, and of European companies to the growing Chinese market.

The deal would increase the interdependence of the two blocs, potentially reducing the risk of new trade disputes. Indeed, by increasing investment in each other's territory, the controversial issues of dumping or worker rights may be circumvented.

Leaders are also likely to discuss the current bilateral pending issues, starting with a wine row involving French and Spanish exports to China.

The situation of the telecoms equipment giants Huawei and ZTE is also expected to be addressed in the EU-China meeting, as the two Chinese companies face the risk of high duties on their products.

Xi and Obama  

Xi's European tour is likely to start with the participation to the Nuclear Security Summit on 24 and 25 March in the Hague, Netherlands, where world leaders will discuss how to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the risks of nuclear terrorism.

Barack Obama is also expected to participate in this summit. He will then go to Brussels for an EU-US summit on 26 March, while Xi will continue his European trip visiting Germany and France.

Xi's last stop should then be in Belgium where he is expected to meet EU leaders on 29 March.

Kategorije: Okolje

Access to data and your car

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 11:05
Kategorije: Okolje

EU elections: Latest across Europe

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 10:50

On 22-25 May, all 28 EU member states will hold elections for the European Parliament. Across Europe, parties are gearing up to go head-to-head on unemployment, euroscepticism and the future of the union. Follow the latest news on what's happening in the member states, sourced from our EurActiv Network across 15 European countries.

[View the story "Latest: EU Elections 2014" on Storify]
Kategorije: Okolje

Chizhov: EU-Russia summit will not be about Ukraine

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 09:51

The Russian ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, said yesterday (22 January) that Moscow expected the European Union to agree to three-way talks with Kiev on the future of Ukraine.

Chizhov, who has attended almost all of the 31 EU-Russia summits held so far, met with the Brussels press to discuss the expectations of the 28 January meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the EU institutions.

The Russian diplomat dismissed reports that the EU side had cancelled a dinner traditionally held with Putin at the summit in Brussels to send a message to the leader after a tug-of-war with Moscow over Ukraine.

“There has been some speculation in the media about some downsized summit, which is not the case. We had longer summits, shorter summits, wider summits, narrower summits. Some included all member states, others didn’t”, said Chizhov, who took care to add that the current format (a half-day summit) was not “creating a precedent”.

“This is not going to be a summit about Ukraine. This will be a summit about Russia-EU relations”, Chizhov insisted.

“We are not planning to discuss Ukraine or to take decisions on Ukraine" behind the back of the Ukrainian people and government, he added, saying that the EU had turned down an offer by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to hold a trilateral dialogue between Ukraine, the EU and Russia a few weeks ago.

“President Putin immediately accepted that. The EU swiftly turned it down and has consistently been reconfirming that negative position. Whether the upcoming summit will allow the EU to change its position, we’ll have to see," Chizhov said.

However, acccording to reports, in one such meeting on 9 November Putin asked Yanukovich to freeze the EU-Ukraine association deal and instead begin trilateral negotiations with Moscow and the EU.

The EU has so far said that association agreements are of bilateral nature and that there is no room for third countries.

‘Termination of violence’

Chizhov added however that he had seen the “alarming TV coverage from central Kyiv” and that this was “a source of serious concern both for Russia and the EU”.

“How to address the situation? Our position is that this should be addressed only through termination of violence and certain measures to pull the country out of deep political crisis,” he said.

The Russian diplomat appeared to use the term “violence” only referring to actions by the demonstrators. According to media reports, the so-called “titushki”, infiltrated among the demonstrators who attack police forces are provocateurs paid by the authorities.

Chizhov offered his analysis on how events in Ukraine had evolved. According to him, the current dramatic events initially started when the Ukrainian leadership took the decision to postpone the signing of the Association Agreement (AA) with the Union.

“There has been some upsurge of emotions on Ukraine, but the decision that the Ukrainian president took to postpone the signing of the AA was his decision, not Moscow’s, not Putin’s. The same applies to a similar decision taken a bit earlier by Armenia,” Chizhov said. Last September Armenia announced that it would join the Russia-led Customs Union, abandoning plans for EU association.  

“Whether that resulted in a less than spectacular success of the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit, I don’t know who’s fault is it. Perhaps it’s the fault of those who have been pumping up the historic value of that particular gathering”, he said, in a direct reference to the host country Lithuania and its major supporters, Poland and Sweden.

“What we saw lately is that the situation has degenerated into violent clashes by extremists, fringe groups of extreme nationalists, with forces of law and order,” Chizhov said, clearly taking the side of the Ukrainian authorities in the conflict. Conversely, yesterday Commission President José Manuel Barroso said the EU would consider possible “actions", which diplomats explained may be a euphemism for sanctions.

Chizhov made use of his trademark dry humour to hint that the protests were not about “European values”.

“During the last few days nobody among those involved in the clashes refer to European values, it seems that nobody remembers them. And the leaders of the opposition, who had been fuelling this dissent, have disappeared from the scene. This is a very troubling development,” he said.

The Russian envoy also hinted that Ukrainian society was in fact divided, repeating earlier statements claiming he doubted that the majority of Ukrainians wanted to be associated with the EU.

“In the broader picture of the entire Ukraine, there is a certain degree of polarisation in the society. We have seen rallies criticising the government for not doing enough to put an end to the violence. We have seen meeting of local legislative bodies, including in Crimea, where people have been publicly speaking about the need to protect their autonomy against the advancing forces of nationalism and intolerance”, he said.

Defending sovereignty

Chizhov also argued in favour of the principle of sovereignty. He said that Russia, a country which is culturally and historically very close to Ukraine, wished that Ukrainian people make rational choices and get out of this crisis without further violence.

Regarding sanctions, he said that this was a measure which could only be imposed by the United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC).

“Whatever is done unilaterally, by the USA, or the EU in other cases, are unilateral restrictive measures. As far as Ukraine is concerned, I believe that the language spoken to Kyiv should not be a language of sanctions, but a language of support and assistance,” Chizhov said.

As he used frequently the term “violence” with respect to the protestors, the ambassador was asked if he referred also to the violence that killed the protestors. He said that those cases should be investigated, and that according to his information the two people that were killed last night were not shot, but “hit by something”.

“It’s only up to the investigative authorities to produce a verdict”, the Russian envoy said.

Asked whether he believed the recently adopted anti-democratic laws had fuelled the violence, he insisted that those laws had been adopted by a democratically-elected government.

“Ukrainian laws are Ukrainian laws, I’m not responsible for them … But democratically installed laws should be respected”. However, the EU criticised the way the laws were adopted, by a show of hands in Verhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament.

“When the day after a law is passed a foreign government issues an appeal that it should be revoked, I think this is unacceptable with any country which has a certain degree of dignity”, Chizov said, in a direct reference to the EU position that the new laws should be revised.

Blaming the press

Chizhov also argued that Russia-EU relations were much better than generally assumed and blamed the press for overplaying the differences between the two sides.

“Actually it’s you guys that turn up or play up the differences between Russia and the EU on a regular basis. I think overall Russia-EU relations are in fact better than occasionally portrayed by some of your less scrupulous colleagues,” he told those present at the media briefing.

Kategorije: Okolje

Bermuda and Jersey no longer considered tax havens in France

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 09:22

The French government’s decision to remove Jersey and Bermuda from the tax havens blacklist has angered a large part of the French political class, from left to right.

Officials at the French finance ministry are breathing a sigh of relief, hoping that telephone calls from distressed bankers and insurers enquiring about the "Jersey" file will cease.

The ministry made its final decision regarding Jersey. The small island will no longer be considered a tax haven, according to a decision published in the official journal on 19 January. Money transfers between France and Jersey will no longer be taxed at 60% or more as of September 2014.

Paris blacklisted Jersey and Bermuda last August, only to remain there for four months, as EurActiv France wrote at the beginning of January.

The creation of “black lists” for tax havens is an answer to a European recommendation made in 2012. In May 2013, the European parliament’s economic and monetary committee also requested that the European Commission establish a common EU list of tax havens. In the meantime, each country is preparing its own list.

Legal issue

Pierre Moscovici, French finance minister, claims the issue has to be seen from a legal standpoint.

“The criteria of the French list are legal criteria based on fiscal co-operation with France: it would be illegal to keep on this list states that do not fulfill the criteria anymore,” Moscovici said.

But not everyone in France shares this opinion, notably Elisabeth Guigou, the president of the French parliament's foreign affairs committee, and Christian Eckert, general rapporteur for the finance committee.

They issued a common statement: “The inclusion on this list entails a hardened tax regime for operations from France with people and companies established there [in the islands].”

“In the view of the recent work of the OECD’s Global Forum on Transparency … such a withdrawal is not justified. Neither Jersey nor Bermuda have obtained an overall rating justifying withdrawal,” the MPs stressed, adding that “the list of non-cooperative states established by decree automatically excludes any member country despite the reality of fiscal particularities in the EU.”

The Green party said it was “surprised” that in times of austerity this “important source of income” could be ignored.

For the Greens, Jersey and Bermuda should be brought back to the list. They also want the anti-fraud provisions that were introduced by the MPs in the draft law and then withdrawn by the Consitutional court be reintroduced as soon as possible in a proper law.

'Surreal' decision

Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a hardline right-wing French conservative, “wonders whether they’ve gone mad”.

“It is surreal to consider Jersey as something other than a tax haven. It makes you wonder if it’s not the banks that govern,” the MP said, adding that he wanted to make tax evasion a central topic of the EU elections in May.

The anti-corruption association, Anticor, sent a letter to the finance minister requesting that the ministry expose the motives of its decision.

“In the period of economic and social tension such as the one we are experiencing, French citizens are extremely sensitive to tax justice issues. Laxity against non-cooperative jurisdictions would be unacceptable and even more if it is linked to the intervention of banks, which everyone knows are well established in those territories,” their letter says.

Kategorije: Okolje

2014 will test Franco-German alliance, analysts predict

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 09:15

Three prominent political analysts spoke with EurActiv.de on the 51th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty, evaluating the Franco-German partnership in 2014 and challenges for the years ahead.

Frank Baasner, director at the Franco-German Institute in Ludwigsburg (Deutsch-Französisches Institut Ludwigsburg), said the time had come for renewed reflection, fifty-one years after the Élysée Treaty was signed (see background).

2014 would be a historical year, Baasner said, with Germany, France and the rest of the EU putting the bloc to the test as they tackle the still unfinished eurozone crisis and military intervention in Africa. It is also an EU election year, when citizens will cast their vote for prospective MEPs.

For France, Baasner said, the year began with the beat of a drum, referring to the announcement by French President François Hollande of a "responsibility pact" between trade unions and employers and a supply-oriented economic policy.

>> Read: Hollande brings Europe back to top of France's priority list

By making this political shift to the right, the expert on France said Hollande was hoping to unburden companies in exchange for more jobs, while also reducing government spending to €50 billion by 2017.

After the speech, commentators were already pointing out the parallels with former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Agenda 2010 plan, Baasner said.

If Hollande's plans are carried out, it would be "very good news for the entire EU", a convinced Baasner told EurActiv.de.

But MEP Andreas Schwab from Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), pointed out that France still needed comprehensive reforms, dampening the hopes of a rapid transformation. The country has had significant difficulties with economic growth and improving the situation on its jobs market, Schwab said.

"The explanation from Hollande has not pushed aside these problems", the CDU politician added.

He said he did not share the idea, which is widespread in France, that tax cuts would automatically create new jobs. Flexibility must continue to increase in the job market, above all for SMEs, Schwab said.

Concerning Schröder's Agenda 2010, the CDU politician said France could use it as an example of economic transformation, but could not simply copy the plan. The differences between the French and German economies was too great for that, Schwab explained.

"The French government must take French measures", he said.

Junior partner role not acceptable to France

The assessment of prescribing a uniquely French-solution for France was shared by Georg Walter, director of the division for Franco-German relations at the Asko Europa-Stiftung in Saarbrücken.

In a statement to EurActiv.de, he emphasised that political and socio-cultural differences between France and Germany should be considered alongside the economic differences.

In 2014, Germany stands unchallenged at the tip of the European economic area and is pushing France to make reforms in line with the German model. This will only resurrect the age-old fear in France over German dominance, Walter predicted.

If Hollande seeks to shift too far towards a German-style economic course, he will come up against strong domestic opposition, said Walter.

A role as junior partner to Germany is not imaginable for France, said Walter. For this reason, the Franco-German expert said, it still remains to be seen whether France will actually satisfy German demands during the reform process.

Cause for political horsetrading?

While Germany may be dominant economically, the situation is completely different for defence policy, Walter said. France is the Grand Nation that acts alone militarily, for example in Mali or now in the Central African Republic.

Due to its colonial history, France has a presence in Africa and likewise a feeling of responsibility in stabilising francophone crisis states, the Franco-German expert explained. In contrast, he pointed out, Germany traditionally tends to avoid foreign interventions – also for historical reasons – as can currently be seen in Africa.

In that case, Walter wondered if there was potential for political horsetrading. France could make concessions to Germany in economic policy and in return Germany offers more support for France in military interventions, Walter suggested, calling it a win-win situation.

"Theoretically," replied Schwab regarding the prospect, "this idea could be expanded". Still, he said he believed that the historical differences between the two countries were too deeply rooted.

Germany does not send troops until it has made a lengthy evaluation, the MEP pointed out. So instead of rapid action, he said more preliminary planning on the part of France would give Germany more room for involvement in foreign interventions.

"There is a fundamental readiness for greater [military] cooperation," Schwab said.

Restoring the 'engine of European integration'

According to the three experts, it seems 2014 could be the right time to pinpoint steps for greater security and economic policy integration in the Franco-German partnership.

"It remains crucial that Germany and France stand united behind the European project and, despite differing approaches and rationales, continue to come to an understanding on moving forward in the unification process", said Walter.

"In 2014, Germany and France must become the engine of European integration again", said Baasner along the same lines.

Even amid rising nationalist trends in many member states, Walter said he was optimistic that the heads of state and government would work things out, adopting a proactive and forward-looking mentality.

"Cooperation in Europe is not just about euros and cents, not only about the single market and the banking union," said Schwab, "it also includes a human dimension that holds people together".

Kategorije: Okolje

Greece tells Macedonia it must 'accept European values'

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 08:43

Evangelos Venizelos, the foreign minister of Greece, which holds the Council of the EU's rotating presidency, said on Tuesday (21 January) that the main obstacle to Macedonia’s EU membership was the country’s lack of respect for European values.

“The obstacle for the beginning of accession negotiations especially between the EU and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is not the so-called name issue," said Venizelos, who was speaking at the EU-Serbia conference in Brussels on Tuesday (21 January).

"The problem is the acceptance of European values and the fulfillment of the political criteria of Copenhagen,” Venizelos said, adding he was speaking in his “capacity as the president of the Council of the EU,” representing the 28 EU member states.

Macedonia has been an official EU candidate since 2005 and received a positive recommendation by the European Commission to start accession talks but has failed to actually initial them due to a lack of consensus among the EU member states.

To Skopje, the only reason for the blockade is Greece's refusal to accept "Macedonia" as country's name. The internationally recognised name is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) but Skopje would prefer the country to be called simply Macedonia, which is also the name of a northern Greek province.

The reasons appear to be deeper, however. The last Council conclusions Commission assessment both expressed serious concerns over the country’s democratic progress. The reports cited blurred distinctions between the party and state, assault on media freedom and lack of independency from the judiciary, leading some EU diplomats to say the country had taken steps “backwards”.

>> Read also Macedonia’s ethnic Albanians lose patience over EU accession talks

Although the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia had undermined relations since 1995, Skopje was nonetheless accepted as a fully-fledged member of the United Nations. And unlike for the start of EU talks, Athens did not block the country’s official EU candidate status in 2005.

Opinion is divided over why Greece decided to block Macedonia’s EU path as of 2008, but many see the actions of Macedonia's right-wing government coalition of VMRO-DPMNE, which came to power in 2006, as “sheer provocation” towards Greece.

The building of a statue of Alexander the Great in the centre of Skopje, the renaming of roads after the controversial warrior or the use of a map of “Great Macedonia” in presence of the Macedonian premier, Nikola Gruevski, were all considered by Athens as irredentist claims over its territory and history.

Serbia as facilitator?

Asked by EurActiv whether Belgrade could act as a facilitator in relations between the Skopje and Athens dispute now that Serbia was a negotiating country, Ivica Dačić, the Serbian prime minister, said: “You want us to help in that dispute? Don’t involve us in that, please,” Dačić said jokingly in his native Serb.

“But of course we want an acceptable solution. We have enough of our own problems but I’m pleased you’re asking us to get involved, it shows a change. Earlier nobody would have asked us to help anything, they would just tell us to stay away,” he continued, amusing the Serb-speaking audience and hinting at Serbia’s former status of “pariah state” under Milošević’s regime.

As soon as the translation went back, Dačić said however more seriously that if their “friends and brothers”, pointing at the Greek minister, “ask us to get involved, of course we can offer our good will.”

Kategorije: Okolje

EU advisory body calls for more collaborative consumption

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 08:19

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), a consultative body of the EU, called for new collaborative opportunities for consumers and businesses within the single market.

Collaborative consumption, such as car-sharing, room rental, and digital communities for learning languages, represents great alternatives in times of crisis, according to the EESC.

Therefore, the EU should identify barriers to these activities, regulate practice within these forms of consumption and also set up a database to pool experience.

Bernardo Hernández Bataller, the EESC member who drafted the report, said that there was a clear need for the EU to raise awareness about collaborative consumption.

"Collaborative consumption can meet social needs in situations where there is no commercial interest and it can help, as a for-profit activity, to create jobs," he said.

The EESC noted that consumers sometimes purchase products they do not use often enough to justify the price they paid, but collaborative consumption is an alternative to last century's over-consumption which has lead to inequality and unnatural extremes such as obesity and hunger, as well as waste and precariousness.

The benefits of collaborative consumption are among other things access to high-quality products for lower-income groups, lower resource consumption and CO2 emissions, eco-design and community development.

"Moving towards more rational consumption also addresses market dysfunctions such as built-in obsolescence, since many designers in the field of collaborative consumption base their work on the development of hard-wearing products that can be used by many people or last individual consumers or users a lifetime, which also makes them powerful allies in the war on waste," the EESC said in a press release.

Kategorije: Okolje

EU sets out ‘walk now, sprint later’ 2030 clean energy vision

EurActiv - Okolje - Čet, 23/01/2014 - 08:09

The European Commission set out its goal Wednesday (22 January) of a Europe which, by 2030, emits 40% less carbon dioxide than it did in 1990, uses renewables for 27% of its energy, and employs a reserve mechanism to regulate its carbon market.

The last wrangle in the target-setting was ironed out yesterday morning, with accord on a 27% target for renewables in 2030 that would be binding at the EU level but voluntary for member states.

The issue had become inter-linked with haggling over whether the greenhouse gas reduction target should be 35% or 40%, and the final fudge left some environmentalists privately breathing a sigh of relief.  

The EU’s climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, told a press conference in Brussels that unlike the EU’s 2020 target of a 20% CO2 reduction, the 40% target for 2030 could not be met by ‘carbon offsets’ and would require real emissions reductions.

Such offsets could though, be used to meet any pledges made in international climate talks, the commission's communication makes clear.

“If we go from 20% [greenhouse gas reductions] in 2020 to 40% in 2030, I am sure everyone realises that this is a very ambitious goal,” the Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, told the same press briefing. “Lets hope that our member states will accept it,” he added.

Within minutes, the proposal was being applauded by industry groups for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness, but chastised by many environmentalists for being a betrayal of Europe’s climate ambition.

The employers confederation BusinessEurope described it as “positive,” while environmentalists dubbed it a “walk now, sprint later” package that would require the EU to decarbonise twice as fast in the last two decades to 2050, as in the four decades before – with diminishing access to ‘low hanging fruits’ in the energy efficiency field.

Politicians hope that such a herculean task will allow Europe to contribute to a world warmed by less than 2 degrees Celsius this century. “We remain committed to the 2 degrees Celsius target,” Barroso said. “There is no ambiguity about that. This is a global goal and it is for that that we’re working.”

Short-term hedonism

But scientists were divided about the chances of the EU’s strategy's success. Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, described the EU package as “a sad day for science, rationality and humanity” that would lock high carbon-emitting infrastructure into the continent’s economic future.

“The EU’s dishonesty over its greenhouse gas target may be politically palatable today but our children will reap the repercussions of our short-term hedonism,” he told EurActiv.

“Given the EU’s importance as a leader in international climate change negotiations, a 40% target would condemn many millions of poor people to a dangerous future,” he said. “If we stick to this 40% target we will by 2030 have reneged on our international commitments to avoid dangerous global warming of 2 degrees centigrade.”

Kevin Trenberth, a lead author for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that the EU seemed to be “backing away a little bit after the 2020 goals” and leaving a gap in ambition.

Hedegaard confirmed at yesterday's press conference that the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive – which mandates a 6% cut in the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels by 2020 – will end in that year, so giving a boost to the tar sands industry and a setback to the biofuels'.

As EurActiv previously reported, shale gas exploration and exploitation will both be subject to new recommendations under the new proposals but any binding directive will have to wait until after a review in July 2015.

Energy efficiency

On energy efficiency, “the Commission's analysis shows that a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 40% would require an increased level of energy savings of approximately 25% in 2030,” the EU’s communication says.

But no such target is mandated, or will even be discussed until after a June 2014 review of the energy efficiency directive. Ironically, an EU strategy roadmap released on the same day as the climate package confirmed that member states are only on track to make 17% energy savings by 2020, rather than the indicative (non-binding) goal of 20%.

As the final package still needs to be discussed by a European Parliament that has proposed a much stronger climate package and member states, which the Commission says favour a weaker one, no final decision is expected on the 2030 goals until at least June.

The energy commissioner Günther Oettinger said it would be “an infringement of people’s trust in current procedures” to prejudge member states' progress towards the 2020 goals.

Low carbon leakage

But Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, which has just announced its first European factory closure due to ‘low carbon leakage’ this month was not impressed. 

“Consumers across the EU are crying out for governments to bring down energy bills,” he said. “It is inexcusable that the Commission has proposed a way forward that will drive costs up while ignoring energy efficiency – the only guaranteed, cost neutral way to drive competitiveness through reduced energy costs.”

The nature of the final compromise though was such that it left everyone in the Commission’s Berlaymont building able to claim a victory.

Barroso, for example, noted that the final compromise would offer "exemptions" and loopholes for industry considered vulnerable to ‘carbon leakage’.

Oettinger too said: “I have pleaded for a less ambitious objective of 35% [greenhouse gas reductions] but I am a democrat.”

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate commissioner, said that without concessions that she had made to get the package agreed, it would have been “dead, politically speaking”.

The renewable energy target is based on a business-as-usual figure set out in a ‘Trends’ document, but member states will have to draw up national plans for review by the commission which could be made more stringent if Brussels decides that the EU is off course to meet it.

Kategorije: Okolje

Barroso threatens Ukraine rulers with sanctions

EurActiv - Okolje - Sre, 22/01/2014 - 19:19

Concerned about the alarming, violent crackdown on the pro-European protests in Kyiv, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said today (22 January) said the EU would consider possible “actions," which diplomats explained was an euphemism for sanctions.

As development in Kyiv increasingly look like the beginning of a civil war, Barroso issued a stern warning to Ukraine’s authorities, departing from earlier statements which used to say that the EU door for Ukraine to sign an Association Agreement remained open.

At least two people have died since last night from gunshot wounds, according to a statement by Ukraine's general prosecutor.

Fifty people were detained overnight and 29 of them were officially charged with taking part in mass unrest, police said. A total of 167 police have been injured. There was no immediate number of injured civilians.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov called the protestors 'terrorists' and accused opposition leaders of inciting 'criminal action' by calling for anti-government protests.

Barroso appeared in front of the Brussels press, saying that he was “shocked” to hear the latest news from Ukraine about death of protestors.

“We deplore in the strongest possible terms the use of force and violence and call on all sides to refrain from it and start taking steps to help deescalate the situation,” he said.

Barroso added that the overall environment in Ukraine had been worsening for some time and stressed the responsibility of the Ukrainian authorities to stop the escalation of the crisis and to engage in genuine dialogue with the opposition and civil society, with the aim of overcoming it.

He also said that the EU was following with great concern the recent restriction on fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

Indeed, on 16 January supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich hastily pushed new law through parliament in an attempt to curb anti-government protests (see background). The controversial new laws, branded as "dictatorship" laws by the pro-EU opposition came into effect today.

“We are generally concerned about these developments in Ukraine and will continue to follow them closely, as well as assessing possible actions by the EU and consequences for our relations with that country.”

Diplomats told EurActiv that although Barroso did not use the term 'sanctions', the EU and the United States had agreed that immediate sanctions should be introduced against Yanukovich and leading oligarchs, in the case of a crackdown on the protests on Maidan square [more].

Washington imposed today sanctions against a number of Ukrainian citizens.

"In response to actions taken against protestors on the Maidan in November and December of last year, the US Embassy has revoked the visas of several Ukrainians who were linked to the violence," the US embassy in Ukraine said in a statement posted on its website.

However, the embassy said that "because visa records are confidential under U.S. law, we cannot comment on individual cases".

Any EU sanctions on Ukraine may take a while to come as the bloc's decision-making process for such actions takes some time.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Russia told European governments yesterday to stop meddling in Ukraine's political affairs, warning that events could be spinning out of control.

Kategorije: Okolje

Commission issues positive monitoring report on Romania

EurActiv - Okolje - Sre, 22/01/2014 - 18:47

The European Commission made public today (22 January) its monitoring reports on the progress of Bulgaria and Romania in reforming their deficient law-enforcement systems. The report on Romania appears to be much more positive than the one concerning its southern neighbour, with the EU executive noting “real commitment to reform”.

The reports were presented by Mark Gray, a familiar face in Bulgaria and Romania, as in his spokesperson capacity he has been conveying messages to those countries governments over the last seven years. Romania and Bulgaria are the only EU members to be monitored under a so-called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, or CVM, in reforming their law-enforcement (see background).

The report on Romania covers a 12-month period, while Bulgaria’s report covers 18 months. The reason is that 2012 for Romania was described as “annus horribilis”, due to the power struggle between the country’s president Traian Băsescu and the leftist government of prime minister Victor Ponta.

At that time, Commission President José Manuel Barroso went as far as saying that Romania had shaken EU’s trust. So the Commission issued one more report on Romania in January 2013, skipping the effort vis-à-vis Bulgaria.

But now the situation looks reversed, with Bulgaria being told that it broke its EU partners confidence over the attempt to appoint a controversial businessman as chief of the country’s State Agency for National Security (DANS), while Romania’s effort to reform received appraisal.

In a communiqué, Barroso is quoted as saying that the new report shows that Romania has taken “some significant steps”.

‘Real commitment’ 

“Many people in the key judicial and integrity institutions have shown a real commitment to reform,” the Commission president said, adding that the report also shows a “not straightforward” progress and that “advances in one area can be negated by setbacks elsewhere”.

“I hope this report will clearly highlight what still needs to be done to pursue and consolidate reform and ensure a positive and sustainable trend," Barroso continued.

In comparison, the Commission president diplomatically regretted the lack of commitment to enforce the rule of law in Bulgaria, and added that “a political commitment to this approach, as well as concrete and practical measures in the short term, is the best way to bring the process forward”.

In the past, the Commission has been much more generous to Bulgaria, stressing in 2010 that it saw “political will” and a “strong momentum of reform”.

Asked by EurActiv to explain how the Commission made those political assessments about the presence or the lack of “political will”, European Commission spokesperson Mark Gray noted there was a discrepancy between the evaluation done five years after Bulgaria and Romania’s EU accession and the one that done more recently.

He added that the report cannot be seen as an assessment of the current government as it covers a period of 18-months, as three different cabinets have been in office in Bulgaria.

Regarding Romania, Gray stressed that the country had made progress in many areas and that the track record of the key judicial and integrity institutions had remained positive, “even in sometimes difficult circumstances”.

Gray alludes to an attempt of the Romanian parliament last December to amend the country’s criminal code, by introducing a so-called “super-immunity bill”, sheltering MPs from corruption charges. Although the attempt did not succeed, as it proved unconstitutional, it raised eyebrows in Brussels.

The spokesperson also said that necessary and long-awaited legislative changes have remained on track and the spirit of cooperation between judicial institutions and the Ministry of Justice was helping managerial issues to be tackled.

“In this sense, the situation is benefitting from the calmer political atmosphere since spring 2013”, Gray said.

However, the Romania report expresses concerns about judicial independence and the appointment of key figures in law-enforcing show a mixed picture, Gray said.

The next Commission reports will come in one year’s time.

Kategorije: Okolje

Advancing women's participation in politics is a work in progress

EurActiv - Okolje - Sre, 22/01/2014 - 16:56

The principle of equal access for women and men to electoral mandates and elective functions has been a constitutional principle since 1999 in France, but the country is lagging behind. Time to legislate and ensure women’s representation in leadership positions, writes Tokia Saïfi.

Tokia Saïfi is a member of the European Parliament for the European People’s Party (EPP) and a former French minister for sustainable development.

"France remains in mid-league in terms of women’s representation in its elected assemblies. The country is lagging behind Rwanda (in first position) Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Angola and Italy.

These figures demonstrate that it is still necessary to legislate to ensure true representation of women within economic, political, institutional leadership positions at both national and European level; as these areas often remain men’s hunting ground.

In consequence, the completion of the Directive adopted by the European Parliament on 20 November, which sets out that large companies must aim for 40% of women on their boards of directors by 2020, should be among the priorities of the current Greek Presidency.

Yet this is not the case and it will probably have to wait for the renewal of the European Parliament and the European Commission this year, to be put back on the agenda.

I often note the dichotomy between the political will for the greater involvement of women and the implementation of existing legislation.

Still it is not, in my opinion, a fatality: there are laws on which women can rely. And most importantly, they must learn to make the best of the existing tools. My role, as MEP, is precisely to design, promote, and provide help on how to use these tools.

Numerous studies show that in politics as well as in business, women have less of a networking culture than men, and are less likely to put forward their assets.

It is precisely the purpose of informal bodies such as the Women's Forum for the Economy and Society that I will welcome next week in the European Parliament. It promotes sustainable and operational business networking for women from all sectors and all horizons.

The other major advantage of this forum is that it sets up a public space for women to assert their skills, their know-how, in one word, to defend their methods as well as their achievements.

My actions as an MEP are channelled towards emphasising the positive socio-economic impact of a strengthened representation, rather than relying on texts which can be condescending and lacking practical impact.

Thus, early last year, in the framework of the Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean which I chair, I created a workshop for elected Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan women who participated in historic elections in their respective countries.

My aim was to organise very concrete workshops, for instance on how to develop a budget, how to effectively participate in the legislative process or how to communicate its political activities to citizens.

At a time when most of those Southern neighbourhood countries were seeking the broadest possible political consensus to fulfil the promises of the Arab Springs., the experience at the European Parliament was extremely rewarding for all the participants.

Women's participation in politics worldwide is rather taking a step forwards than a step back at this point in time. We must now realise that we are no longer concerned with initiatives, but rather with the consolidation of these initiatives. Therefore, it is up to women themselves to seize opportunities and develop new ones."

Kategorije: Okolje

Brussels unimpressed with Turkey's internal struggles, sticks to principles

EurActiv - Okolje - Sre, 22/01/2014 - 16:50

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan explained to the European Union’s top officials yesterday (21 January) why he hastily tried to push through sweeping changes in the Turkish judicial system, something which raised alarms in Brussels. But he seemed unable to convince EU officials, who seemed more concerned about the bill's compliance with EU principles than the motives behind them. 

Erdoğan’s visit to Brussels yesterday (21 January), the first in five years, came against a background of a recent thaw in relations between Turkey and the EU.

Turkey opened a new chapter in its accession negotiations with the EU last November, the first in three and a half years. The country began EU membership negotiations in 2005.

It also began visa liberalisation talks with the EU in December, something which Ankara had been aspiring to for a long time.

But the visit also came against a backdrop of an even more recent strain in relations, triggered by the Turkish government’s hasty push for sweeping rearrangements of the judicial system. The attempt, which followed a graft scandal that erupted last month and engulfed its several top officials, raised concerns in the EU and the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights and rule of law watchdog.

Despite the three leaders underlining the need to keep the newfound momentum in the relations alive, issues about the rule of law and the separation of powers stole the show during the joint press conference held by Erdoğan, EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy and the Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, after their meeting.

Van Rompuy said "that Turkey as a candidate country is committed to respect the political criteria of accession, including the application of the rule of law and separation of powers" during their meeting with the Turkish premier.

"It is important not to backtrack on achievements and to assure that the judiciary is able to function without discrimination or preference, in a transparent and impartial manner,” he added.

He welcomed the further dialogue on this issue between Turkey and the EU.

Barroso also said that he "relayed the European concerns to Prime Minister Erdoğan, as an honest friend and partner" and that the Turkish leader gave them reassurances of his intention to "fully respect the rule of law, the independence of judiciary and, generally speaking, the separation of powers”.

The president of the Commission said he was confident that the "Turkish government will swiftly address the issues they have raised", adding that structural reforms were a challenging process and not a straightforward one.

Erdoğan complains about “state of the judiciary”

For his part, Erdoğan maintained that Turkey had no problems with the issues of separation of powers or the rule of law, but his government’s push for change was merely aimed at better ensuring the impartiality of the judiciary.

"If the judiciary tends to enjoy its independence by moving away from the principle of impartiality, serious problems arise. It is then the legislature's duty to overcome these problems by ensuring both the independence and the impartiality of the judiciary, and put these on certain fundamentals. If you disregard the legislative and the executive branches, if you recognize the judiciary as completely unaccountable; then it becomes a state of the judiciary, not a democratic state," he said.

Erdoğan holds that the corruption probe targeting top government officials is initiated by circles among the judiciary and law enforcement units loyal to Fethullah Gülen, an influential Turkish preacher living in self-imposed exile in the United States. Gülen is a former ally of Erdoğan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), but relations between supporters of the two men have gone sour in recent years.

The Turkish prime minister accuses a “parallel structure,” a barely veiled reference to the followers of Gülen, with organising a “judicial coup” against his government in the run up to the local elections in March and the presidential elections later this year.

Controversial draft to be discussed further

Europe’s concerns focus on the changes that the AKP wants to make to the structure of High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HCJP), the highest body in Turkey responsible for appointing judges and prosecutors. Currently, the Turkish minister of justice also holds the title of the HCJP presidency, but the draft bill introduced by the government aims to give this largely symbolic post a greater administrative power.

When a journalist asked if putting the justice minister in charge of the judiciary and prosecution services was compatible with the separation of powers, Erdoğan appeared to try to avoid the question simply by playing on an error in the interpretation during the press conference.

“Unless there is a problem in the interpretation services, some ministry of tahkikat ('inquiries' in Turkish) was mentioned. There is no such ministry [in Turkey], nor [any plans] to form one," he said, going on to reiterate that neither executive, legislative or judicial branches should wield power on each other.

The draft bill, which caused brawls in the justice committee of the parliament, goes to the plenary this week for further discussions. The government had earlier proposed to suspend the work on the draft if the opposition parties agreed to work on a change of constitution regarding the issue. But the opposition parties, who suggest that the government is trying to cover up the graft scandal which troubles itself, were cool towards the idea.

AKP lacks enough seats to make constitutional changes without support from the opposition, but could easily pass the changes as a piece of legislation with its comfortable majority in the parliament. The draft will then move on to the president, who holds the power to veto the bill and send it back to the parliament for further discussions.

Turkish president Abdullah Gül, an ally of Erdoğan who has also served in previous AKP governments, voiced his reservations about the draft bill last week. He said that he considered making changes to the constitution rather than introducing new legislation on HCJP to be more appropriate, and also that he would like the changes in the constitution to be made according to EU criteria.

Even if the draft bill becomes law, it will almost certainly be referred to the constitutional court by the opposition.

Erdoğan said that the government received "some recommendations" from Europe about the draft bill and relevant changes have been already made in the parliamentary committee. The government had withdrawn some of the provisions in the bill earlier.

“If there are further developments [while the bill is being discussed in the plenary], we are open to consider these as well,” added the Turkish premier, during a separate press conference with the European Parliament president, Martin Schulz, later.

Van Rompuy said there was still room for improvement, adding: “But the important thing is that we are in close contact, and in close dialogue.”

Another concern raised by the EU earlier was the massive purge in the ranks of law enforcement and judiciary. This particular issue was less pronounced during Erdoğan’s joint press conference with EU leaders. But it was announced that a further 96 prosecutors were relocated only hours after that event, which is a new round in addition to the many since the graft probe began.

EU 'not making an analysis of the political situation'

Whatever Erdoğan’s motives behind the far-reaching readjustments in the judiciary might be, EU leaders seem to be more interested in their implications regarding fundamental EU principles.

Presidents of the Council and the Commission were repeatedly asked by journalists if Erdoğan told them about the evidences of the conspiracy against his government he had been mentioning publicly, and if they found these arguments convincing.

“I reiterated our position that whatever the problems are, we believe that the solution for those problems should respect principles of rule of law and separation of powers. Any concerns regarding the independence and impartiality of the investigations and judges can be addressed, we believe, within the limits of European standards. That was the message I conveyed prime minister Erdogan,” said Barroso, adding that he thanked the Turkish premier for his “presentation of the situation as he sees it”.

Van Rompuy echoed the same message, stressing that Brussels was more interested in whether the acts and laws in Turkey were in accordance with basic EU principles.

“Of course, the prime minister presented his analysis of the situation, and we took good note of this analysis. We are not making our own analysis. What we have to do according to the negotiating framework is to see if the basic principles of the European Union - in terms of acts, in terms of laws - are respected. That is why we shared our concerns, that is why ... the Commissioner responsible for accession is in contact with his counterparts in Turkey -  because the Commission has a role in monitoring, a role of reporting on eventual breaches of those principles. But we are not to have an analysis of the political situation. That is internally, for Turkey,  to make their own analysis. We have to deal with acts and legislative texts. That's what we are monitoring and that's what we are giving our opinion on.”

Leaders tread carefully

Both Erdoğan and the EU top officials seemed to measure their words during the Turkish premier’s first visit in half a decade, despite the visible tension in the relations.

Erdoğan, who has grown intolerant of criticism from EU in the past, used a much milder tone in Brussels than some anticipated. In June, the Turkish premier said he did not recognise the European Parliament after it adopted a resolution condemning the government for its handling of the summer protests in Turkey.

“[Relations with] the EU will not withstand a ‘one minute’ scene” warned Aykan Erdemir, an MP from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP),  during a press conference at the Turkish parliament before the premier’s visit to Brussels.

“One minute” is a reference to Erdoğan’s iconic confrontation with Israeli president Shimon Peres in 2009, which marked the beginning of decline in the relations between two countries and became a symbol in Turkey for the prime minister’s impetuous approach to foreign affairs.

Erdoğan last week said the EU “had exceeded its authority” by expressing its concerns about HCJP, because there were no uniform standards for similar bodies in the EU.

Schulz tweeted after his meeting with Erdoğan that European Parliament was a supporter of Turkey’s integration process and that was why they “flagged both progress and setbacks”.

“I consider it more appropriate to discuss these issues through our relevant ministers, rather than to discuss through the media,” said Erdoğan, during the press conference with Van Rompuy and Barroso.

Kategorije: Okolje

Free trade needs balance

EurActiv - Okolje - Sre, 22/01/2014 - 16:28

The transatlantic trade agreement TTIP, negotiated between the EU and US, could become the nucleus of an agreement on global standards for food safety, environmental protection, data protection and workers’ rights. This could be an ideal opportunity to generate a public debate on these EU values, argues Aart de Geus.

Aart de Geus is the Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, and former deputy secretary-general of the OECD and minister of social affairs and employment in the Netherlands.

"The successful completion of world trade talks on Bali last December is already considered historic. One hundred fifty-nine agreed to simplify world trade by having fewer customs regulations and more uniform trade rules. Does that make a Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, like the one the European countries and the USA are currently negotiating, superfluous? Hardly. Because a new agreement between the EU and USA could clear the way for the next major step: a thorough-going liberalization of world trade. More than just overcoming traditional trade barriers, it can become the nucleus of an agreement on global standards for food safety, environmental protection, data protection and workers’ rights.

That kind of free trade agreement would go far beyond what has so far been governed by multilateral trade agreements. There is plenty of evidence that more intensive trade cooperation between the EU and USA would promote growth and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. Even if it may be difficult to quantify its effects exactly, it is clear that there are benefits for all, even the crisis-shaken southern European countries. Calculations by the Bertelsmann Foundation show that a trade agreement is not a zero-sum game in which some EU countries win what others lose. Even if closer economic cooperation with the USA would not solve all the problems of the crisis-bound EU economies, an opportunity for growth not based on more debt is too important to neglect.

Just considering the economic outlook would however needlessly diminish the impact of a Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. The goal of the negotiations should remain the elimination of unnecessary trade barriers, but existing Europe-wide environmental and social standards must still remain secure. Besides this substantive condition, a process-based condition must be met if the EU and USA expect to gain wide popular acceptance for a broad-based Free Trade Agreement. Better information must be given to the public about the content and progress of the negotiations. So far, in early phases of the negotiation, a lack of knowledge and transparency has led to serious popular mistrust and rejection. The debate is already marked by combative terms, and harm seems to have been done to the relationship of trust between the EU Commission and European consumer protection, environment and cultural lobbies as well as unions.

That may also be due to the fact that in negotiating such a thorough-going agreement, Europe and the USA are entering unknown territory, institutionally as well as procedurally. Something of this magnitude has simply never been done before. Whereas earlier bilateral trade agreements were essentially about tariff barriers and customs duties, the focus is now on regulations that cover the most varied areas, including health, medicine, environment, culture and food, all areas that affect people directly and emotionally. What lacking public support can mean was experienced by the EU just recently, with the failure of the Transatlantic Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Backroom politics without constructive public debate simply doesn’t work anymore.

The negotiating partners quickly need to find a new balance between the justified confidentiality of sensitive information and the equally justified public interest. Otherwise, not only will the trade agreement fail but skepticism about the European project as a whole will increase. Europeans today look critically at the EU institutions, even the successful domestic market project. As a result, besides the Commission, the Council of Europe and the European Parliament - the real drivers of the initiative and the legislative decision-makers – are being questioned. The politicians, who have done little up to know to make a strong case for a Transatlantic Trade Partnership to their citizens, need to involve them and better explain to them what such an agreement really means.

The Commission wants to have completed negotiations by 2015. That is an ambitious target, because the areas to be negotiated are numerous and complex. The EU and USA won’t get there any more quickly by keeping the public in the dark. Instead, they should generate a public debate on values. The effort is worth it because a Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement that triggers growth and at the same time stabilizes social and environmental achievements can easily be a model for further progress in global free trade. There is still a lot to do, even after Bali."

Kategorije: Okolje