Danes will vote in May next year on whether or not to join the EU's Unified Patent Court, the Danish government confirmed on Thursday evening (19 December).
As Denmark has an opt-out from EU legislation on justice, more than 80% of MPs have to support Denmark joining the patent court, or the government must call a referendum.
While the Danish centre-left government is in favour of joining the patent court next June, the anti-EU parties in the parliament, the semi-communist Red-Green Alliance and the right-wing nationalist Danish People's Party, have been blocking an agreement.
The Danish People's Party had demanded that the government either set up new rules for EU migrants in an attempt to avoid 'benefits tourism' or promise a referendum on the banking union, which Denmark, as a non-euro country, still has to decide on, in return for backing the patent court.
In August, Danish opposition leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen told Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to give the Danish People's Party "whatever it takes" to get the party to support the patent court.
However, on Thursday evening Danish Minister for EU Affairs Nick Hækkerup confirmed that a referendum would take place on 25 May, the same day as the European Parliament elections in Denmark.
"Of course it would have been easier if the Danish People's Party or the Red-Green Alliance had said that they agree that this [the patent court] is a really good idea. But now we will get a referendum and a good debate," Hækkerup told Danish Broadcasting.
A common European court is supposed to make patent applications easier and cheaper within the EU as companies would only have to apply in one place, instead of in several EU countries. It is thought that such an arrangement would boost Europe’s competitiveness against other world regions.
After 30 years of discussions about where the headquarters of a new potential patent court could be located, EU leaders finally agreed during the Danish EU presidency in June 2012 to set one up in Paris, with two departments in Munich and London. All EU countries signed up for this, except for Croatia, Poland and Spain.
Hækkerup added that he hoped for a Danish 'yes' in May.
"This is about protecting the ideas we come up with in Denmark. When Danish companies produce something, we don't want other countries to steal these ideas. We need to avoid copies," he stated.
Pia Adelsteen, EU spokesperson of the Danish People's Party, said she was "delighted" that the Danish government had "given up" in the negotiations.
"When we give up sovereignty, we need to ask the Danes first. There have been many times where we wanted a referendum but couldn't get it because we weren't giving up sovereignty to the EU," she said.
MEPs reached on Friday (20 December) an agreement with member states on the clinical trials directive.
Under the new agreement, pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers will be obliged to upload the results of all their European clinical trials to a publicly accessible database.
The deal also include that a publicly accessible EU database will be set up and run by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which will contain a register of all trials carried out in the EU, a summary of results for all trials, uploaded one year after the end of the trial at the latest.
A summary understandable to a layperson would also have to be included from the pharmaceutical companies as well as clinical study reports for all trials used in a marketing authorisation request, whether it is approved, rejected or withdrawn.
The pharmaceutical industry has come under fire over recent years over lack of transparency on clinical trials. Those accusations were epitomised in a book, Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre, a research fellow of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a co-founder of the transparency campaign All Trials.
Earlier this year, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) made new commitments, which include improving data sharing with researchers, enhancing public access to clinical study information, sharing results with patients who participate in clinical trials, certifying producers for sharing clinical trial information and publishing clinical trial results.
But EFPIA emphasised that full transparency would hurt the industry, which relies on protection of trade secrets to compete in Europe and across the world.
Under the agreement, member states and MEPs say that Clinical Study Reports should, in general, not be considered commercially confidential and member states can impose fines over non-compliance with the transparency requirements.
The amount of fish that can be caught in Europe within scientifically recommended levels inched upwards under a deal made in Brussels on Wednesday, but campaigners said the agreement still marked only "tepid" progress towards sustainable fishing.
European ministers who have been negotiating since Monday on fish quotas agreed that 27 of the 50 stocks that scientists provide advice on would be fished at sustainable yields in 2014, up from 25 in 2013. It is the last time quotas will be agreed in this way, with new reforms coming into force next year.
"I would like to say to you that I'm really very happy, because this year the ministers they have decided to implement the reform in advance," said Damanaki. "So the new fisheries policy is already here. All the components of the new reform are already here.
"When the [population] trend is stable or positive, we will be able to have small increases [in catch limits]. When the trend was going down I have insisted that we need to reduce the quotas and the council has done that."
Green groups said the results from the meeting showed improvement, but there was little to indicate member states had voluntarily embraced sustainability.
Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe, described the council's stance as "tepid".
"Whereas the council has made progress by adopting certain catch limits that will increase the number of stocks exploited at MSY [maximum sustainable yield] levels to 30, it is regrettable that 46% of stocks will remain exploited beyond the sustainable limits recommended by scientists, a figure similar to 2013."
The annual meeting on catch quotas, designed to ensure Europe's stocks are sustainably fished, has typically seen fish populations losing out to economic and political interests. Between 1987 and 2011, the average total allowable catch (TAC) set by the EU was 33% higher than levels recommended by scientists.
Under the reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy passed last week, ministers will in future be required to adhere to advice from conservation scientists when setting quotas. The reforms also banned fish discards – the practice of throwing back fish caught in excess of their quota.
Britt Groosman from the Environmental Defence Fund said: "This year's council meeting results are not a good indicator of the likely success of the reformed CFP. First of all because the new CFP is not yet in place, and it is thus to be expected for member states to try and continue their short-sighted battle to lobby for higher TACs for their own fleets."
UK fisheries minister, George Eustice, had gone into the meeting saying that to avoid excessive discarding, many stocks would need to be fished above MSY until the discard ban comes into effect in 2015.
Eustice was also under pressure from the fishing industry to ensure fishing fleets' days at sea were not cut. He said the negotiations had been "difficult".
"I am pleased that we were able to secure the best possible deal for ensuring sustainable fisheries and a strong UK fishing industry. It was my top priority to ensure that days at sea for fishermen would remain the same next year and that is exactly what has been achieved."
Having learned the bitter lesson of procrastinating with Ukraine, which has put its EU association agreement (AA) on ice, EU leaders decided today (20 December) to put Georgia and Moldova on a fast track to sign theirs by August 2014.
“The European Council reconfirms the European Union's readiness to sign these agreements as soon as possible and no later than the end of August 2014,” read the Conclusions of the two-day EU summit, which ended today (20 December).
Speaking to the press after the summit, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that EU leaders had seen the pro-European protests in Kyiv as “a yearning for a better future”.
“This aspiration to come closer to the European Union is shared also by the people of Georgia and of Moldova. And the European Council's message this morning is that we will stand by the side of these countries in their choice, and that we are willing to speed up the signing of the agreements with them, next August at the latest,” Van Rompuy said.
August: a symbol?
Analysts noted that August, when little happens in the EU institutions, is remembered chiefly for the August war of 2008 between Georgia and Russia, which started with a Georgian offensive against South Ossetia to try to reclaim the territory, which is de facto under Russian control.
EU leaders may also have wanted to ensure that the signatures take place before attention shifts to other issues, such as the top European jobs that will be up for grabs after the May European elections.
Both Georgia and Moldova initialled their AA at the 28-29 November Vilnius summit of the Eastern Partnership. The AAs are coupled with Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTAs). The signing ceremonies in Vilnius went some way to compensate for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s announcement at the same summit that his country would not sign the AA in the foreseeable future.
As with the Ukraine, Moldova has been threatened by Russia with dire consequences if it follows the EU track. Last September, Russia banned wine exports from Moldova citing “food safety concerns”. But a much more serious blow to the Moldovan economy, experts say, would come from a Russian ban on products such as fruit or vegetables, as well as restrictions on Moldovan migrant workers.
Some Russian statements suggest that Moscow could impose restrictions on Moldovan nationals working in Russia. Seasonal workers abroad contributed €2 billion to the Moldovan economy this year. And 60% of that amount came from migrants working in Russia.
EU diplomats generally believe, however, that given Moldova's relatively small size it would not be difficult for the Union to help Chisinau if needed it. Last week the European Parliament voted to lift import duties on Moldovan wine from this week onwards, in an effort to make up for lost exports to Russia.
In relation to Georgia, the new development is likely to calm internal political in-fighting between the camps of former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili and former President Mikheil Saakashvili. The country now has a new president, Giorgi Margvelashvili and a new prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili. Georgia has had no diplomatic relations with Russia since the 2008 war.
Days ago, Georgian Prime Minister Garibashvili was asked if events in the Ukraine would impact on his country. He replied that Georgia was less dependent on Russia, adding that Ukraine and Moldova were more dependent on Moscow.
Speaking after the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the signature of an AA with Moldova and Georgia required a rapid procedure, but that EU leaders were ready to adopt this procedure. Germany was seen for years as the country putting the heaviest brakes on Ukraine’s EU rapprochement.
Although they disproportionately affect young people and impact many lives negatively, allergies are still neglected by medical specialists and few countries have adequate programmes in place to deal with them, writes Claudio Ciprian Tănăsescu.
Claudiu Ciprian Tănăsescu is a Romanian MEP in the S&D group and a member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee in the European Parliament.
What are allergies? An allergy is defined as an exaggerated response of the human immune system to substances that should be harmless. While these may be manageable for some people, for many others they can have a serious impact on their lives.
Around 150 million people in Europe suffer from allergies, making them Europe’s most common chronic disease. Patients who have one allergic disease are at risk of developing another, particularly children. Yet while allergies are often treatable, they are more commonly ignored.
As a Romanian MEP with a medical background, I am particularly concerned about the situation regarding allergies there. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) for the period 1999–2004 found that 14.3% of Romanian 13-14 year-olds showed symptoms of allergic rhinoconjunctivitis; for asthma, the figure was 22.7%. The same study showed that Romania had one of the highest rises in prevalence of these two diseases between the period 1992–1998 and the period 1999–2004. A eurobarometer survey conducted in September 2012 found that 85% of Romanians identified allergies and asthma as a serious problem for the country.
Although allergology is recognised as a full medical specialty in Romania, this has low recognition in comparison to other specialties. There are only around 200 certified allergists for a population of 23 million – that is to say, only one for every 115,000 people. This is reflected in the reimbursement policies, with many effective treatments not being reimbursed, even for children.
The allergy awareness in the general Romanian population is low, and there are frequently huge delays before proper diagnosis and treatment is available. Patient associations also have low visibility. This is a worrying public health scenario.
More disturbing than the rise in the number of allergy sufferers at the European level is the aggravation of allergic diseases. As I recently explained to the European Parliament’s plenary session, allergies disproportionately affect children and teenagers, impacting on their school performance, social life and quality of life in general. Despite this, teachers are often not prepared when facing a child with a severe allergic reaction during school hours.
In relation to this, I am helping EAACI, the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, to organise a medical test for allergies in the European Parliament, just opposite the entrance to the cafeteria in ASP building, level -1, during the period 7-9 January. This will be conducted by a team led by Dr. Peter Hellings, Professor at the Catholic University of Leuven and a Member of the Royal Academy of Medicine of Belgium. It will be open to anyone who works in the Parliament and will involve a quick diagnostic test for allergic sensitisation to the most common allergens in Europe, namely house dust mites, grass pollens, tree pollens, animal danders (cat and dog) and alternaria.
The procedure is very straightforward. It involves placing a tiny drop of an allergen extract on a simple medical implement and then very slightly, and painlessly, puncturing the skin of the forearm. This is repeated for each allergen in a different part of the forearm. The allergens are then allowed 10-15 minutes to react (also painless!), after which a reading is performed by the medical team by assessing the resulting papule and redness to see whether any of the allergens have cause a reaction.
If you have ever wondered why you often suffer from unexplained symptoms such as nasal obstruction, a runny nose, sneezing or itching, then this is your opportunity to find out. At the end, you will be given a results sheet noting your reactions to various allergens, which you can then present to your own doctor.
I therefore urge you to take part in the test, and to call on your MEP to sign the Written Declaration before the deadline of 21January.
Across the Atlantic, a shale gas revolution is sweeping the United States, helping re-vitalise the economy, while Europeans are held back by environmental concerns. Such concerns are not to be taken lightly but each can be addressed, writes Hubert Mandery.
Hubert Mandery is Director General at CEFIC, the European Chemical Industry Council.
Competitiveness now attracts as much attention here in Brussels as climate and environment policy. For the first time, the European Council will hold a summit devoted exclusively to industrial competitiveness, and rightly so.
The debate over shale gas will be a part of that. The European Commission is poised to release a framework for the extraction of unconventional gas locked in the region’s sub-strata. Getting the right answers on these issues is crucial to re-energizing a continent paralysed by feeble growth.
Across the Atlantic, a shale gas revolution is sweeping the United States, helping re-vitalise an economy where gross domestic product (GDP) expanded at an annualised rate of 2.8% in the third quarter and unemployment has eased to 7.3%. Pioneering exploitation of unconventional gas reserves has put the New World back on course for energy self-sufficiency, lowered the cost of energy and industrial feedstock, and unleashed $100 billion of investment in new chemical industry capacity, not to mention the billions worth of investment in other sectors.
Meantime the European economy is only now slowly emerging from recession. Eurostat predicts no growth in 2013 and an uptick of only 1.4% in 2014, whilst unemployment hovers at 11%. Chemicals are the start-point for a swathe of industrial value chains, from automotive to construction and cleaning products. Hampered by high energy and feedstock costs, there is a growing risk that to stay competitive, European producers will be obliged to invest where inputs are cheaper, or watch others gobble their markets, destroying European jobs.
Europe needs to give itself a chance to compete. Exploration of Europe’s undoubted shale gas potential has been hesitant, held back by environmental concerns, the reluctance of citizens to have drilling rigs for neighbours, and legal regimes that fail to reward landowners and communities for aiding the development of reserves.
Yet a newly-completed study by independent consultants for the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers suggests that extracting shale gas could add 1.1 million new jobs in Europe by 2050 and bolster GDP by up to €3.8 trillion. Shale gas could replace declining output from Europe’s conventional fields, reducing dependence on imports, improving security of supply and putting downward pressure on prices.
Sceptics argue that pumping chemical-laced water into bedrock to fracture it and release gas can pollute ground-water, trigger minor seismic shocks, and blight the lives of those who live near wells. Such concerns are not to be taken lightly.
But each can be addressed. At EU and national level, we have sound regulations already in place and best industry practices that build on decades of US experience. In reality, though much water is used, fracking 100 wells, as being talked about in the United Kingdom, would require a volume of water equal to just 0.03% of that used there annually. Seismic shocks can be contained by prudent operation. The volumes of chemicals used are tightly-controlled. And consents can require protection of aquifers and the wellbeing of neighbours.
The economic health of Europe and its citizens should not, as so often in the past, be sacrificed to fear. The commission’s shale gas framework must require high standards, but it must also be enabling.
José Manuel Barroso, president of the commission, has promised recommendations on competitiveness to the European Council in February. For jobs and growth to be delivered, industrial competitiveness must be integrated within every policy initiative whether it concerns the environment, climate, energy or any other field. Renewing Europe’s industrial competitiveness, like everything in the political and business world, will take resolution and courage.
It is up to European leaders to take the lead and show they are serious about competitiveness. What they do with shale gas will show whether they are willing to walk – or merely talk.
Dual vocational training can be an effective way to tackle youth unemployment, but programmes have to be adapted to fit country contexts, Clemens Wieland writes.
Clemens Wieland is senior project manager at the Bertelsmann Stiftung research institute.
In the European Union, there are currently 7.5 million young people under the age of 25 who are not engaged in any kind of education, training or work. The countries most affected by this problem are looking for ways to improve the transition between school and employment. They are increasingly turning their sights toward the dual vocational training system – the German, as well as the Swiss, Austrian and Dutch systems. Countries with this model – in which theoretical training in vocational schools is combined with practical in-company experience – have the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe. The dual vocational training system does not only ensure that the business world will have access to skilled workers with real-world training, but also facilitates young people’s transition into the labour market.
The European Union and its member states recognize the benefits of dual vocational training. Indeed, their interest in the training model is greater than ever. In its strategy paper “Rethinking Education,” the European Commission makes the compelling statement “Work-based learning, such as dual approaches, should be a central pillar of vocational education and training systems across Europe, with the aim of reducing youth unemployment”. Furthermore, the European Alliance for Apprenticeships is heading in the same direction. According to the Commission, the Alliance will help to fight youth unemployment by improving the quality and supply of apprenticeships across the EU through a broad partnership of key employment and education stakeholders. Countries such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy, Slovakia and Latvia are today considering adaptations in their vocational training systems to bring them in line with Germany’s dual system.
The empirical importance of practical work experience for job opportunities has been highlighted recently by a comparative quantitative study published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) examining causes of youth unemployment in Europe. The most interesting finding is that there is a strong inverse relationship between work-based learning and the risk of unemployment. In other words, practical experience acquired alongside vocational or academic education lowers the risk of future unemployment. This is also reflected in the recent Quality Framework for Traineeships that was proposed by the European Commission.
Thus, it makes sense to incorporate practical work experience in all vocational education programs. Adding on-the-job training to an existing vocational program is easier than introducing a new, German-type dual system. Germany’s dual system is suitable as a model but not as a blueprint for other national contexts. A country wishing to adopt a foreign system of vocational training must first completely adapt it to the new context. It must implement the dual vocational training in line with the country’s own educational, social and economic objectives. Thus, it may be better to incorporate elements of another country’s system, but not copy it exactly.
Reforming education systems is a complex undertaking. This is true in particular for vocational training, which is positioned between a society’s education system and the labour market, and must interact with a diverse set of actors and institutions. For example, vocational training intersects the responsibility of ministries and public administrations, social partners and companies, where training and learning take place. The diverse reasoning brought to the table by these actors should be considered in the reform process.
Despite the worldwide hype about the dual vocational training system as the ideal model to fight youth unemployment, such a system will always have to be adapted for each country. There isn’t a one-size fits all blueprint for vocational training.
Standard & Poor's cut its long-term credit rating on the European Union budget to AA-plus from AAA on Friday (20 December), dealing a blow to EU leaders who had congratulated themselves the day before for agreeing the last elements of their banking union plans.
S&P cited rising tensions on EU budget negotiations to explain its move, which follows cuts to the ratings of several EU member states in recent months.
"In our opinion, the overall creditworthiness of the now 28 EU member states has declined," S&P said in a statement.
"In our view, EU budgetary negotiations have become more contentious, signalling what we consider to be rising risks to the support of the EU from some member states."
S&P said cohesion among EU members had lessened and that some might baulk at funding the EU budget on a pro-rata basis.
The rating agency expressed concerns about the commitment of some member states to continue funding their portion of the budget pro-rata. Later in the statement it mentioned the UK, which had fought to keep the EU budget down, although it never suggested it may not pay its portion.
S&P has had a negative outlook on the EU since January 2012 and has since cut its ratings on members countries France, Italy, Spain, Malta, Slovenia, Cyprus and The Netherlands.
The credit-rating agency said its downgrade of The Netherlands last month left the EU with six 'AAA'-rated members. Since 2007, revenues contributed by 'AAA'-rated sovereigns as a proportion of total EU revenues nearly halved to 31.6%, it added.
The announcement by S&P came as EU leaders meeting in Brussels hailed an agreement on a pan-European banking union, the final details of which were ironed out by finance ministers meeting the day before.
However, unlike the downgrading of France in 2012, which was felt like a trauma and whose impact on interest rates was obvious, the European Union's downgrade has less significance.
Indeed, the European Union does not have the ability to issue sovereign debt as countries can do to finance their budget. It only borrows in its own name on an exceptional and strictly regulated basis, primarily as part of the European Stability Mechanism, which lends money to countries in difficulty. Ireland and Portugal have borrowed from that fund up to €22.5 and €26 billion respectively.
The European Commission may also lend money to non-EU countries but only for relatively small amounts. It is this mechanism that could have been used to lend money to Ukraine.
The S&P degradation is therefore more symbolic than anything else, and mainly reflects the worsening financial health of its member countries, which is not a surprise.
The EU currently has outstanding loans of €56 billion, according to S&P.
The approach so far of the EU towards Ukraine has been unbalanced, with too many political requirements and too little economic support. It is not surprising that Russia took advantage and made a more attractive financial and economic offer, writes Volodymyr Tsybulko.
Volodymyr Tsybulko is a political expert and former member of the Ukrainian parliament.
The end of this year has brought new arrangements between Kyiv and Moscow instead of the signature of the Association Agreement (AA) between Ukraine and the EU. This was a surprise for many European states. But is the new format of relations in the EU-Ukraine-Russia triangle accidental?
Let us have a look at the whole year of 2013 from the point of view of the development of relations between Ukraine and the EU, and also the positions of the Russian Federation towards Kyiv and Brussels. This will allow seeing tendencies which led to the present results.
Following the EU Foreign Affairs Council in December 2012, which formulated the list of the main criteria which Ukraine needed to fulfill to sign the AA, Kyiv started to work dynamically in the field of euro-integration. Progress was achieved almost in all benchmarks. What was not done was only the final adoption of the law on public prosecution, the electoral code, and also the full solution of the Yulia Tymoshenko issue.
Moreover, representatives of various EU countries, in particular Germany and France, raised the Tymoshenko issue as the key condition for signing of the AA by Ukraine. Thus, all capitals of the countries-members of the EU were perfectly aware of the difficult economic situation in Ukraine and drastic measures of Russia on closing up of its borders and markets for the Ukrainian production. The initial approach of the European Union towards Ukraine was unbalanced, with too many political requirements and too little economic support. It is not surprising that in the similar situation Russia took advantage of the weakness of the European position and made a more attractive financial and economic offer. This allowed Russia to win the first round of battle for Ukraine.
In Moscow on 17 December Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych signed a whole package of agreements in different spheres. But the most important ones concern the reduction of the Russian gas price for Ukraine from 400 to 270 dollars per one thousand cubic meters, and granting of a credit by the repurchase of the Ukrainian government bonds for the sum of 15 billion dollars. These two questions together managed to outweigh all preferences which were promised by Brussels in exchange for the signing of the AA.
In terms of the financial assistance, Europe and the USA had an opportunity to offer an alternative to Ukraine in the form of a new credit from the IMF. But Brussels and Washington did not choose to use it, as the Fund laid down extremely severe conditions for Ukraine, such as rising gas prices for the population and devaluation of the national currency. If Kyiv agreed on these conditions, and also signed the AA with the EU, the next couple years would become extremely difficult for the welfare and social security of the majority of the population of Ukraine. And this is on the eve of the presidential elections in 2015. Thus, the IMF tool was not effectively used by the EU and the USA for the support of Ukraine. Why then is the West so much surprised, that Kyiv accepted the deal with the most favorable conditions (the credit deal with 5% annual interest)?
And when we come to the gas deals, we should look for a broad balance of interests of Ukraine, the European Union and Russia in this question. After signing the addition to the gas contract establishing a new price, Moscow has openly brought up a question of the gas consortium on the Ukrainian Gas transportation system (GTS) management. And now we are talking about a tripartite format with Germany's participation. Considering the last rapprochement between Russia and Germany in the question of removal of the OPAL gas pipeline (and also Nord and South streams) out of the jurisdiction of the Third Energy Package, we should not doubt that a compromise version of arrangements between Kyiv, Berlin and Moscow will be found.
And in terms of other Ukraine-Russia arrangements we should expect the deepening of cooperation between Kyiv and Moscow in nuclear power, oil processing and transit, development of infrastructural projects (for example, the bridge through the Strait of Kerch), deepening of cooperation in the sphere of aviation, space and defense technologies. This will, certainly, strengthen economic and political positions of the present Russia. Ukraine will thus get economic stability and preservation of access to the markets of Russia.
On the other hand, the package of the last arrangements between Ukraine and Russia did not include talks about Kyiv joining the Customs Union. This aspect allows speaking about the preservation of the "window of opportunity" for Ukraine in terms of the AA signing with the EU. Formally Ukraine has not yet closed this "window", and now the European Union has time to determine its further strategy of interaction with Ukraine.
The course on the AA signing in 2014 would be the most optimum line of Ukraine-EU interaction. But for this purpose, frank negotiations between Kyiv and Brussels, and also not less frank dialogue between Brussels and Moscow regarding the search of a compromise of interests in Kyiv-Brussels-Moscow triangle would become an important condition of success of new negotiations and guaranteeing the practical signing of the AA. Thus, EU concessions in the form of transferring Ukraine under the full influence of Russia will be a heavy strategic and economic loss of the European Union. Because it will be much more difficult for the EU defend its interests towards a strengthened Russia.
In this regard, the results of the Vilnius summit and new agreements of Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin in Moscow are only the end of the first round of the political game and transition to the following one. What's left is only to hope that the relations between participants in it will be more transparent, pragmatic and deprived of "double standards".
In 1988, the United States' Women's Business Ownership Act enabled women for the first time to have a level playing field when it came to setting up in business. Flo Clucas makes the case for a similar act for Europe.
Flo Clucas OBE was elected President of the ALDE Party Gender Equality network on a two-year mandate at the Party Congress in Dublin in November 2012.She is and advisor on EU Funding to the Mayor of Liverpool.
Jobs, businesses, economic activity and all that it means are vital to Europe's future. Ideas on how rapid improvement in all of those areas can be made is taxing minds across the Union.
Are there any lessons that can be learnt from elsewhere to speed up the much needed and desired economic growth? Perhaps there are and from an unexpected source.
2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the United States' Women's Business Ownership Act of 1988. It was a landmark piece of legislation as, for the first time it enabled women to have a level playing field when it came to setting up in business. Astonishingly, it had been the case that in many states, no woman could start a business without a man to sign for her to do so!
The Act was brought in under Ronald Regan's Presidency and through it, a number of barriers to women's enterprise including access to areas finance and training that had existed at the time, were overcome.
The law established the National Women's Business Council, a bipartisan panel that advises the president and Congress on economic issues important to women business owners. It also created Women's Business Centres, a national network of centres across the country which assist women in starting and growing their businesses.
For the first time, women who wished to be entrepreneurial, were provided with long overdue access to capital, education and technical assistance offered in specific gender based facilities.
The law also extended the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to protect women against discriminatory lending practices.
Nor was it just existing practice that was challenged. Evidence across all business sectors and business sizes from sole proprietors to corporations was gathered. The importance of using real, rather than imagined data has meant that women owned businesses have grown dramatically showing where actual progress has been made. Where gaps still exist, they can at last be open to examination and action.
The result has been a surge in women owned business, currently at 8.6m (America Express Open Report 2013) and the number is growing at one and a half times the national average. Jobs generated stand at some 7.8m with in excess of one trillion dollars of income generated.
A key to this change was the establishment of Women's Business Centres, which grew from a hand full to more than 100 across the US.
So, if the change can be so dramatic should Europe follow suit? If the answer is yes, then how?
Any opportunity to create the kind of economic impetus that the Women's Business Ownership Act did, must be welcomed. The potential for women to access finance, train both as entrepreneurs and have assistance should be welcomed by all.
So, how might we achieve a similar result to that seen in the US?
First, Europe must use those tools at its disposal to begin the process of change. It must learn from innovative projects that have taken the US model to heart and made it happen here.
The Women's International Centre for Economic Development in Liverpool is such an innovation. Financed partly through EU Structural Funds it is already seeing major gains in the effort to rebuild the Liverpool economy.
Helping create hundreds of new businesses, growing others, providing training and facilities through gender specific assistance and it is making real change to the economic lives of women and often their families too. Nor is age any discrimination to success and participation.
Having the ability on draw on international expertise in assessing possible new routes to success is significant. The academic board, drawn from internationally recognised experts in their field, advises on new opportunities backed by research which are shown to be effective.
It has already helped hundreds of women - many of whom have been long term unemployed - to find employment or start a business.
If it has been shown to work both in the US and here in Europe, isn't it time that we looked at a wider application of schemes such as this?
So, come on Europe, let's look at ways of making this happen! If we do, then it isn't only individual who will benefit, but families, communities and member states too.
The upcoming European elections require a change of gear from Europe’s politicians, who need to campaign aggressively, not with posters and advertisements, but face-to-face, with citizen, says Christoph Leitl.
Christoph Leitl won the presidential election of the Österreichischer Wirtschaftsbund, the economic branch of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party in 1999, before becoming president of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, a position to which he was re-elected in 2005 and 2010. Leitl is also the honorary president of the European Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Eurochambers).
He spoke to EurActiv’s Jeremy Fleming
How do you assess the current state of the economy in Europe?
There is far too little growth, we need more growth. More growth will bring more employment and especially youth employment, which is the biggest problem Europe is facing. That way we will also be able to reduce the welfare elements of national budgets. I know there are some who say we do not need growth, but I am not of that opinion. So long as one billion people are going hungry worldwide no one can doubt the need for global growth. In Europe we are concerned about climate change and innovation, and growth in these directions is what is needed.
But Austria is enjoying greater growth than other eurozone countries, is that your impression?
Set against a Eurozone average of around -0.4% growth, Austria is set for 0.4% growth at the moment, but no figures that have a zero-point something in front of them are anything to be proud of. The US has already cleared the crisis with around 2% growth and the Chinese talk of recession when they have growth of 7%.
If you could ask the Commission to do two things to promote growth, what would those be?
If the framework of the EU budget between 2014-2020 could be made more flexible by increasing guarantees for loans then that would have a huge advantage for business.
The second would increase the combination of academic and vocational training as quickly as possible. It can take time and be difficult in those countries where there is less of a tradition for this, but one can very quickly implement ‘training-on-the-job’ policies which give young people practical opportunities to be mixing their academic and vocational training.
Is this an issue which Austria can teach something go other European countries?
Can Austria teach other countries a lesson? No, but we can share our experiences in common with other countries such as Germany, Switzerland, northern Italy, Denmark and Luxembourg. These have implemented good systems with an average of 8% youth unemployment, where the average is much higher, and where in some countries youth unemployment has reached shocking levels.
What is your impression of banking union?
In general it is positive and the larger part of dangerous speculation affecting the eurozone has been stopped. But there is still a Sword of Damocles hanging over us: there remains too much international high frequency trading and derivative trading and at the same time national regimes seem powerless. So long as this situation continues things will remain difficult. When we see how the prices of commodity prices are fluctuating in comparison to former years – with very sharp highs and lows – that is a poison on the real economy, and can lead to worryingly high inflation on staple products.
What do you make of the current EU-Ukraine situation especially with regard to the damaging effect it seems to have had on EU-Russia relations?
We have a great relations with Russia as Austrians, we understand their souls well because the Slavic element in our own history. I would prefer to see this crisis as an opportunity. Why not take the opportunity to get Russia, the EU and the Ukraine together around the same table. I believe that if we think in our national interests rather than short-term interests, we have the opportunity to have an EU with a wider free-trade or economic area which both Ukraine and Russia could be invited to join. That would give Europe amazing clout in the global economy. It would tie European know-how with Russian resources and I would say: ‘Let’s do it’.
Next year is a big year with parliamentary elections, how do you see those going in Austria?
I do not know how it will work out but I think there needs to be more offensive campaigning, not with posters and flyers and adverts but with dialogue with the citizens. We have several offices in Austria where we open an umbrella with the European flag and two people sit under it answering questions, explaining what true and false. Once the emotional arguments have been displaced then we can motivated the 500,000 people of Europe. But when Europe remains distant that does not get the message across.
Do you think Austrian Johannes Hahn will or should continue as commissioner next year?
I have known Hahn for more than three decades and we have a good relationship and I believe he has done a very good job here and he should stay.
Do you have any other wishes of the next European administration?
I think when talking about the positions in the Parliament and Commission I would like to see Jean-Claude Juncker continue in a leading role. He is one of the best European leaders. In considering leadership candidates we should not think of compromise candidates, of whether someone comes from a small or large country, whether they have a right- or left-wing background, but of who is a person with the confidence to take Europe forward with optimism. That is my opinion.
I also would also like to see the next Commission appoint a permanent advisory committee representing the social partners. Social partners have a great expertise and this should be brought to bear in the policy-making process. I believe a standing committee of social partners ought to be created which means that when suggestions are made they are able to react quickly, which I believe would bring skills in innovation, trade and educational issues to bear on the policy-making process.
Over the past weeks, Olli Rehn has put himself on the map as potential liberal candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. But now the man known as 'bailout commissioner' has to beat the most well-known liberal across Europe, Guy Verhofstadt. In an interview with EurActiv, Rehn reveals his plan for a winning campaign.
Olli Rehn is European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs and nominee to become the frontrunner for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the campaign towards next May’s EU elections. He spoke to EurActiv's Laurens Cerulus.
The liberal manifesto was released on Wednesday (18 December), and puts forward ‘simplifying EU rules’ is key point. In your policy field as commissioner, that hasn’t exactly been the case in the past few years of economic fire-fighting. Do you fear people won’t find it credible when you make such a promise?
The manifesto is essentially a programme to reform Europe. It’s a reform agenda on how we strengthen economic recovery and pursue job creation in Europe. We have saved Europe from the existential threat; now it is essential to stay on course concerning economic reform.
I believe that in order to liberate the entrepreneurial drive in Europe, we need better regulation and a well-functioning market. In those terms, I think we need to be better at simplifying rules and [drafting] better regulation.
More in general, Europe should be big on big things and small on small things. We have to be strong on economic governance so we facilitate sustainable growth and stability. But on micro-economic level we need to avoid excessive administrative burden, or heavy regulation.
Do you feel voters will reward you for your work as Commissioner?
Well, I’m always willing to discuss my track record and achievements. When I was given the portfolio for economic and monetary affairs, four years ago, I knew it would be a difficult time. But nobody could envision it would be even tougher than expected.
Over the past four years, we have done an extensive effort to avoid the economic situation in Europe from getting worse. Now, we are on the way to recovery.
But European elections shouldn’t only be about economic issues. And that’s why we as liberals also defend civil rights in the digital age, by pushing for data protection and privacy. Also, we have to be faithful to our European values, for example in countries east and south of Europe like Ukraine or post-Arab spring countries.
Do you think your candidacy will play well in crisis-hit countries, where – if people know you – they mostly see you as the ‘bailout commissioner’?
I have always considered myself as a bridge-builder between Southern and Northern countries – and even received criticism in Northern European countries for this. I believe that we cannot afford to have big cleavages inside Europe; we should build bridges.
[Concerning the bailout programmes], several countries are concluding their programmes. Ireland will do so in December, Spain in January. This shows that these programmes have delivered results: they now have a beginning and an end. It shows that countries in which they’re implemented, benefit from it.
In case you become the liberal common candidate: will you leave office as EU commissioner?
Within the Commission, we have discussed the rules related to the electoral campaign for individual commissioners. It is up to the Commission president to set these rules. In the past two elections, the legal absence had to start after the last plenary session of Parliament, which this year is [the third week of] April.
I have discussed it with the president [of the Commission], I’ve informed him of my plans. But I will take my decision in February and then follow the decision of the Commission president.
That means that, from February to April, you’d campaign while being a commissioner. Is there a danger for people to mistake your commission agenda as being politically motivated?
I don’t think so. Let’s have a campaign for the candidacy first and as of 1 February I’ll see how to go forward.
What are your chances against the other candidate, [the president of the ALDE group] Guy Verhofstadt?
I think it is fair to say that we both have a substantial support within the ALDE family. I let other people judge the differences between us. I am good friends with Guy and I respect him. He has plenty of political energy and experience.
Are you willing to speak out on federalism, or simply ‘more Europe’?
There are different conceptions of federalism. In the political debate, certain words become so lobbied that I’d rather prefer to speak about things with correct names instead.
People might argue that the Commission president has to inspire or put forward a vision – which is more the case with your opponent.
I have an idea; I have a vision. Namely that we now have to focus on economic recovery and on job creation. That starts with a European Union that’s big on big things and small on small things. And apart from that, Europe has to defend its values.
I think it is a fact of live that Europe has to unite in order to defend its values and its economy. In the past years, we have been able to unite several voices within Europe, and convey the same message at [international] talks and negotiations.
At the same time, I feel that in order to restore economic governance of Europe, we have to have better regulation. Less restrictive burdens and a better access to finance for our SMEs.
We can’t solve the EU’s problems by some kind of central planning. We need to have stronger governance within the EU [member states] as well.
Do you fear the European alliance between eurosceptics like Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen?
I am in politics because of hope, not because of fear. And now it is essential that European political families – and our own liberals and democrats – provide a vision for Europe. That is the way we get hope and we can show the people that there are better persons to run the European Union.
There has been much discussion on the parties pushing forward frontrunners for the EU Commission presidency position – and whether this will work. How confident are you that the next Commission president will be one of the parties’ common candidates?
[Referring to the process stipulated in article 17.7 of the Lisbon Treaty:] There may be no automaticity, but there is a strong connection. Europe is fundamentally a democracy and this is the way forward in the evolution of democracy in the EU.
What you’re likely to see after the elections is the European Council on the one hand, and the European Parliament and political families on the other, approaching each other – maybe even colliding. But it can be healthy democracy in Europe .
Still, it is crystal clear that the European Council will need a strong support from the Parliament. In my view, there needs to be a post-election coalition between three to four political families. That would deliver sufficient stability in policy making in the coming five years. Because we cannot afford to have too much institutional wrangling – we must focus on providing solutions for the European citizens. And that is why you need a large support.