Midday Express of 2009-03-23
European Commission - MEX/09/0323 23/03/2009
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EXME09 / 23.03
News from the Communication Directorate General's midday briefing
Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Direction Générale Communication
23 / 03 / 09
Almost two out of three of Europeans consider that the quality of water in their country is a serious problem, according to a special Eurobarometer survey on Europeans' opinion on water issues published by the European Commission this week-end. The report also shows that Europeans see the quantity of available water as an equally serious problem. More than a third of Europeans feel that over the last five years the quality of rivers, lakes and coastal waters has deteriorated. Industry and agriculture are seen as having the biggest impact on the quality and quantity of water in their country and an overwhelming majority of Europeans think climate change will have an impact on water resources.
The juries selecting the award winners of the 2009 European Union Prize for Literature have been established in the 12 countries participating in the first round of the prize, which will be granted in September 2009. The aim of the Prize is to put the spotlight on the creativity, diversity and wealth of Europe’s contemporary literature and to promote the circulation of literature within Europe.
The European Commission has authorised, under EC Treaty state aid rules, an Austrian measure to help businesses to deal with the current economic crisis. Aid of up to €500 000 per firm may be granted in 2009 and 2010 to businesses facing funding problems because of the current credit squeeze. The scheme meets the conditions of the Commission’s Temporary Framework for state aid measures, which gives Member States additional scope to facilitate access to financing in the present economic and financial crisis (see IP/08/1993). It is therefore compatible with Article 87(3)(b) of the EC Treaty, which permits aid ‘to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State’.
Following invitations from the Ecuadorian Government and the electoral authorities, the European Commission is deploying an European Union Election Observation Mission (EOM) to Ecuador to observe the general elections of 26 April. These elections complete an intensive electoral process which started in 2007 when the Ecuadorians approved a Constituent Assembly mandated to draft a new Constitution, approved by referendum in September 2008. April's general elections will elect a new President for the country and the National Assembly as well as provincial, regional and local representatives. The EU EOM will be led by José Ribeiro e Castro, Portuguese Member of the European Parliament, who also led the EOMs that the EU deployed for the 2007 elections and 2008 referendum.
In the construction sector, seasonally adjusted production rose by 1.3% in the euro area (EA16) and by 1.8% in the EU272 in January 2009, compared with the previous month. In December 2008, production fell by 2.8% and 1.8% respectively. Compared with January 2008, output in January 2009 dropped by 9.1% in the euro area and by 7.3% in the EU27. These first estimates are released by Eurostat.
The first estimate for the euro area (EA16) trade balance with the rest of the world in January 2009 gave a €10.5 billion deficit, compared with €-11.1 billion in January 2008. The December 2008 balance was € -1.7billion, compared with €‑4.5 billion in December 2007. In January 2009 compared with December 2008, seasonally adjusted exports fell by 10.7% and imports by 7.3%.The first estimate for the January 2009 extra-EU27 trade balance was a deficit of € 26.3 billion euro, compared with € -30.3 billion in January 2008. In December 2008, the balance was € -11.0 billion, compared with € -17.7 billion in December 2007. In January 2009 compared with December 2008, seasonally adjusted exports fell by 16.7% and imports by 8.1%. These data are released by Eurostat.
The European Commission is preparing its Fifth National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and today launched a public consultation to gather relevant contributions from European organisations. All developed countries are required to submit these Communications to the UNFCCC secretariat by 1 January 2010. The Communication being prepared by the Commission will cover the activities undertaken by the European Community to implement the UNFCCC since the Fourth National Communication in 2006. Examples include legislation adopted by Council and the European Parliament, climate-relevant strategies elaborated by the Commission and developing country assistance programmes on climate change funded from the Commission's budget. The Commission's Communication will not address national activities by the EU Member States, who as UNFCCC Parties in their own right are required to submit National Communications of their own. National Communications are official reports and the Commission's Communication will take a purely factual approach, but the views of stakeholders on possible improvements are relevant. The public questionnaire put online today therefore aims to gather additional information from stakeholders that could be included. Responses are invited from European organizations with a relationship to the climate change agenda. The consultation will run for six weeks. The questionnaire is available at http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice
The European Commission launched a call for tender for a framework contract for the evaluation of CAP measures applied to the starch, sugar and cotton sectors. In 2003, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was adopted with the aim of promoting a more market-oriented and competitive agriculture. The biggest change was to remove the link between support and production, although coupled forms of direct support have continued to exist. This framework contract has the objective of evaluating the impacts of the CAP measures directed towards the sectors of starch, sugar and cotton. The evaluation projects envisaged will examine the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and relevance of the measures in question, as well as their possible unintended side-effects. The focus of the evaluation projects will be on decoupled and/or coupled direct payments, but other important drivers, in particular other CAP measures targeted at the sector concerned will have to be taken into account. The indicative maximum amount of the framework contract is € 1 600 000. The deadline for submitting offers expires on 08 June 2009. The Commission intends to award the contract in the second half of 2009, following the evaluation of the offers received. The expected period of performance of the contract is 4 years. Details are available at: http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/agriculture/tenderdocs/2009/79976/index_en.htm
Today, the Council has agreed on a mandate for the Commission to start negotiations with the Russian Federation, in order to enhance co-operation between both sides in monitoring trade and preventing the trafficking and diversion of drug precursors. "Drug precursors" are inoffensive chemical substances that are legally used in a wide variety of consumer products, such as medicines, soaps or perfumes. However, they also may be misused for the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs such as cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamines. For example, ephedrine is used in medicines for treating colds but could also be used to produce methamphetamine. The efficient control of drug precursors is highly important. Stopping 1 litre of key synthetic drug precursors avoids having to stop the sale of thousands of amphetamine pills on the street. The EU has also held negotiations with China on the issue of drug precursors, leading to a customs agreement being signed with the Chinese on 30 January 2009 (IP/09/193) .Further information on drug precursors can be found at this web link: http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/customs/customs_controls/drugs_precursors/index_en.htm
The EU has put forward a set of ambitious proposals for this year's annual meeting of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) in Tunis from 23 to 27 March 2009. If adopted, these proposals will give a major boost both to the GFCM and to the sustainable management of fisheries resources in the Mediterranean and in the Black Sea. The proposals contain measures to improve control and monitoring (introduction of a fishing fleet register, a vessel monitoring system for all vessels above 15m, data collection) and improved selectivity of trawler gears. The proposals are in line with the views of GFCM's Scientific Advisory Committee, where independent scientists from the different Mediterranean countries meet and share their data and analyses. They complement the EU's unilateral measures for its vessels in the Mediterranean. Taken together with the EU's existing rules, these international measures constitute a landmark package of initiatives to protect fish species in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and will establish a level playing field for all fishermen in these areas. Moreover, they will provide national administrations of Mediterranean and Black Sea countries with a framework, based on a precautionary approach, which will allow them to better plan the management of fishing fleets capacity in balance with fishing opportunities. 24 countries are members of the GFCM, including the European Community, see more: http://www.gfcm.org/gfcm
La Commission européenne a autorisé, en vertu des règles du traité CE relatives aux aides d'État, un plan d'aide slovène visant à fournir des prêts publics aux établissements de crédit éligibles, de manière à leur garantir l'accès à des moyens de financement et, partant, à stabiliser les marchés financiers. La Commission a constaté que ce système était conforme à sa communication d'octobre 2008 relative aux aides d'État destinées à surmonter la crise financière actuelle (voir IP/08/1495). En particulier, il est non discriminatoire et tant son étendue que sa durée sont limitées; il impose des restrictions en matière de comportement afin d'éviter les abus et il est assorti d'une rémunération conforme aux conditions du marché. La Commission a donc conclu qu'il représentait un moyen adéquat de remédier à une perturbation grave de l'économie slovène et qu’il était, de ce fait, conforme à l'article 87, paragraphe 3, point b), du traité CE.