16 May 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The tragedy, perhaps, for the well-meaning designers of Europe is that the groups most likely to take advantage of these flexibilities - the young, the adventurous, the footloose, and the unsettled, often ethnic, are not a powerful bloc at the ballot box. It is precisely because they are not so established in their home society that they move in the first place.
The few percent who are mobile in the European sense do not provide a lobby national politicians need cater to. Unlike the grumbling, settled, hard working stay-at-homes who stay a fixed address for long enough to get onto the local electoral roll.
If Britain left the EU, about which there is much debate at the moment, will, in the future, the last thirty years be seen as an unusual period of free movement? That is one way of looking at it. To be fair to the grumblers, this freedom of movement was always likely to have asymmetrical effects given that, while EU mobility is international, the welfare state is still a national project. Taxation is a national affair. So is most politics. And those with a fixed address, and on the electoral roll, are more easily taxed...and therefore have something to grumble about.
You can see this in higher education. The EU's freedom to settle also means the freedom to study on the same terms as locals, and residents of those countries where higher education is free or low cost could reasonably ask why they should be subsidising the flocks of young Europeans coming from countries where higher education is of poor quality and/or is not subsidised by the local taxpayer. It is sort of a problem in England.
It is true that English universities charge tuition fees. Unlike Germany and Scandinavia, where it is mostly free, or France and Belgium, where the costs are a in the hundreds of euros. These countries are therefore more generous to EU students than the UK. On the other hand, an English university education remains highly in demand, and EU students pay the same capped tuition fees as domestic students, and are eligible for student fee loans on the same terms as English students. The fees are only repayable once they have got a job. The BBC reported a few days ago that foreign EU students owe £50m to the Government in non paid fees. Hard to track down when they have returned home...And who is to know, when they are back home, that they do have a job that compels repayment? So it is sort of a subsidy to EU students.
A benefit if Britain leaves the EU is that it could free up university places for domestic students as the number of EU students arriving on UK shores is likely to fall. The reason: with Britain outside the EU, fees for EU students would rise to the levels currently paid by overseas students, those from India and Saudi Arabia, and the like, and they would not be eligible for loans.
A researcher at the LSE, Gill Wyness, has looked at the costs and benefits to British education if the UK leaves the EU. She thinks there would be less competition and easier for British students to get into the university of their choice. There are currently 74,000 EU students studying here, the equivalent of seven medium-sized British universities.
In addition, university funding shouldn't suffer. If you went by current demand, at 1.3 students per place, UK students could easily fill the places vacated by the EU students, paying the same rates - and the money might more easily be chased up.
On the other hand, there are costs too, argues Gill Wyness. The EU students who displaced British students presumably got their places because they were more academically able. Their absence would lead to a "fall in the quality of the student intake", argues Wyness. Since EU nationals make up not a small proportion of the teaching and research staff at UK universities, the university environment as a whole would lose out if it was made harder for them to work here. Three of Britain's last five Nobel prizes went to Europeans active at British universities.
One of Britain's few remaining areas of true excellence is its science base, which surely draws on its culture of openness to international recruitment. Britain has the best universities in Europe, a reputation that continues to make Britain the destination for the brightest minds in research. It is the envy of other EU countries, and in fact Germany, Britain's main science competitor in Europe, has just launched a new research initiative, Zukunftspakt 2022, aimed at, by additional funding, getting a couple of universities to the top of the European league, currently occupied by Imperial and Cambridge.
The recommendations, apparently backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, tipped to win this autumn's German national election, include the funding of 250 additional professorships at German universities. A scientist herself - unlike the arts graduates at the top of British political life - she seems to understand the value of science spending. George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, is cutting British public science spending in real terms, but that's another, and sad, story..
It's a hard call, Britain receives many thousands of EU students a year. Some of these may be a net drain to the tax payer - although it must be emphasized they are not eligible for maintenance loans, only fee loans. On the other hand, among those many, a large minority raise the academic tone by virtue of the greater competition they introduce. And there are a few who go on to make a great contribution to British life. Hard to know which ones, in advance, will do so.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 16 May 2013 at 01:19 PM by Pelle Neroth
UKIP has the earnest Germans crying into their pastries
9 May 2013 by Pelle Neroth
In the local elections in England on 2 May, they achieved nearly a quarter of the vote, If they achieved anything like that figure on the much higher turnout of the general election in 2015 it would obviously revolutionise British politics. Michael Heseltine dismissed it as a mid term protest vote. The old Tory bruiser said protesters used to exercise their protest vote through the LibDems but, as the party was now in government, UKIP became the beneficiary instead. The Tories are obviously running scared, just as anti elitist parties across Europe are taking heart
The main theme that resonated with voters was mass immigration, not euroscepticism, which came a bit further down the list. In a sense, though,the issues are conjoined, in that EU member states are obliged to let any EU citizen come and settle in their country with a minimum of bureaucratic hassle. Half a million Poles took the chance to come to England. A large number of Romanians may be on their way. Southern England now has a population density higher than the Netherlands.
The Ukippers' fortunes have waxed and waned in my time in Brussels are clearly waxing again. One early casualty of the system was their MEP Robert Kilroy Silk, the daytme television personality, who seemed to set out to prove that daytime television was a good training ground for demagoguery. A number of fresh faced Ukippers got embroiled in scandals involving expenses. It may be that everyone is at it, only continentals finesse it better.
A satirical magazine associated with UKIP called the Sprout was the most read and also the most hated publication in the European parliament. It saw itself as the Private Eye of Brussels. It did not, you may surmise, did get any grants from the European commission. It was a forum where British MEPs from all parties backstabbed each other and exposed the system in anonymous contributions. Now defunct, it was a welcome break from the incessant political correctness of Bruusels, and sometimes scored real hits, but I don't know if its humour travelled well.
In the same way, party leader Nigel Farage, the saloon bar former City trader with colourful socks and sharply amusing banter, is one of the big draws for UKIP. He is the kind of Englishman Europeans simply don't understand. There they are, these earnest German system builders, inviting ridicule with their legislation. Farage operates in the traditions of no nonsense English popular liberty, suspicious of waffly ideals.
He thinks the European parliament should operate like the House of Commons. At least his idea of how the House of Commons should operate. The overwhelming dominance of the English language in the EU institutions since the mid nineties has helped his cause. To command the lingua franca of Europe is a huge advantage in arguments and confrontations.
It is difficult to muster devastating put downs in English if your first language is not English. Like Helmut Kohl with Margaret Thatcher, I suspect some German MEPs seek solace in cream cakes.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
London in the dock for exceeding EU air pollution limits
2 May 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The figures come from the European Environment Agency. And their publication coincides with a British Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday that has found the UK government to be in breach of EU air quality laws. The supreme court is now referring the case to the European Court of Justice, which may take 18 months to make a final ruling on what the UK government must do.
What the air quality directive focuses on is breaches in specific pollutants, And London has been ajudged as exceeding EU limits on emissions of NO2, nitrogen dioxide, a colourless, odourless gas whose principal polluter is diesel engines and which has a negative effect on health in high concentrations, particularly dangerous for those with heart and lung problems. According to one UK government committee, Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP), air pollution leads to 29,000 excess deaths in the UK every year. In another study, authored by two academics at MIT, pollution caused by road vehicle was estimated to kill 5,000 Britons a year, twice as many as are killed by traffic accidents. The reason why the two figures don't quite add up is because the 29,000 includes pollution from factories and other forms of transport, such as aviation.
The initial deadline for new, lower limits of NO2 pollution was set in 2010, but the EU allowed an extension for five years if member states came up with a credible actions plans to reduce emissions to EU limits. Defra, the UK department responsible, has credible action plans to reduce NO2 limits for dozens of high emissions areas in other parts of the UK, but said it would not be able to bring down levels to EU standards in London until 2020 to 2025. Back in 2010, the UK was found to be in breach of the air quality directive in 40 out of 43 zones.
For 24 of these zones in the UK regarded as being in breach of the law, the government presented action plans to the commission over pollution reduction. For another 16 zones, in cluding greater London, the levels could not be realistically met by January 2015, the UK government told the commission.
The Supreme Court ruling came after a legal challenge from the environmental charity ClientEarth over the date of the European air pollution directive. The ECJ's decision could lead to fines on the British government, organised by the Commission, unless it enforces drastic measures to cut down NO2 emissions. If it is one consolation, several other countries are in breach of the air quality directive, and the commission has hinted they may all be fined together.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Mobile phone operators hit out at Apple
25 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Very few operators have dared talk about the issue with their names in
public. One of the few that has done is the chief executive of Tele2, one of the leading Swedish mobile companies. Tele2 sells the iPhone on contract at prices starting around the equivalent of £40 a month
Mats Granryd, the mobile company's boss, said this week that he has "had enough" of Apple. "It would be fantastic if people stopped buying Apple's products. It is extremely difficult for us to earn money on Apple's products."
"I hope the 'apple goes rotten'. It is really difficult to do business with
them," he told a technology conference in Sweden..
He is the most prominent figure to have spoken publicly but a number of European carriers have, in confidence, called on European regulators to look at the contracts Apple strikes with them, claiming the contracts violate competition laws.
The European operators claim Apple squeezes out other handset makers by the conditions they place on operators. At the moment the complaints are highly confidential, according to the New York Times, which has recently looked at the issue at a pan-European level, and formal protests have not yet been entered. But French operators are said to be in the vanguard of the complaints, though other countries may also be involved, according to the New York Times.
The commission is not obliged to act until a formal complaint has been brought. So it may be that operators - under the guise of confidentiality - are seeking to put pressure on the American company by leaking through the media of a possible challenge Apple could face if it doesn't "mend its ways". The commission is said to be hesitant to intrude on such a dynamic sector
Apple's spokesman says the company complies with EU and local laws.
European operators say Apple's conditions, which do not appear to apply to US operators, are tougher on smaller European operators and are such that it makes it difficult for other handset firms to compete with Apple.
One of the key complaints appears to be the quotas Apple imposes. Each operator gets a quota of iPhones that it has to sell each period.
If the figure is not achieved, the operator has to pay Apple back for the handsets it did not sell. This is not a problem at the moment - with iPhones flying off the shelves at an unprecedented rate - but the complaints the commission has heard centre on the allegation that most companies' marketing budget being spent on the iPhone, in order to avoid that potential financial penalty.
Another problem is that, while operators feel obliged offer the latest iPhone at the same price, Apple charges the operator more for each latest iteration of the iPhone. gradually squeezing operator profits.
It is not clear what the commission will do next, says the New York Times. If a complaint went ahead - and if the commission has the appetite to open a case, and there is a case to make - it could end up with Apple being fined ten percent of its turnover. But such an outcome is just a remote possibility at the moment..
Not all operators agree that the negative picture is uniquely one that
pertains to Apple - Nokia could be just as bad when it dominated the mobile phone market - and some operators say the company has become a little less arrogant since the death of Steve Jobs and the recent rise of Samsung in the smartphone stakes. Apple's shares have, after all, fallen more than a third since last September.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
EU sees heavy lobbying over tar sands legislation
18 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Actually, Canada has the second largest reserves of oil in the world - reserves estimated at 165 billion barrels, behind only Saudi Arabia - if this relatively novel form of oil resource, tar sands, is successfully exploited.
Tar sands are bitumen-saturated sand and clay deposits that require more energy than conventional oil to extract, and the resource, which modern technology allows the exploitation of, is Canada's big new bonanza.
The European commission cites studies that show that,
according to well-to-wheel calculations, tar sands oil generates 23%
more green house gases than regular crude. The commission therefore wants to put oil from tar sands into its own polluting category.
The Canadian federal and Albertan regional goverments dread this. They have made common cause with oil firms active in Alberta's tar sands fields and have sympathy from some European governments - notably Britain's and the Netherlands's, with their concerns for Shell Oil - because the European policy approach may set a precedent for other policymakers around the world to put tar sands oil in its own category. It will also make it harder for European oil firms to comply with the Fuel Quality Directive the EU is legislating on to force oil companies to bring considerably less polluting fossil fuels to market.
Canadian lobbying has been intense. At times in the past three years,
Canadian government ministers have been visitng Brussels to lobby MEPs on almost a monthly basis, and Canadian embassy officers around Europe are well briefed on the merits of tar sands oil.
It is a big issue for Canadian interests, even if as yet European imports of tar sands oil are minuscule. It is a public relations battle which the
Canadian government fears could impact on Canada's exports of their product to the far more important United States market. Canada knows that tar sands oil appeals to America's need for "energy security". It is a source of transport fuel that does not derive from the Middle East nor is in any danger of being "used to fund terrorist movements".
Consultancy studies cited by the tar sands lobby claim that the green house gas emissions claims cited by the European commission are slightly exaggerated - that the difference is more like 10 to 15% - not the 23% cited by the EU - which puts it at the same emissions levels as some normal crudes from Nigeria and Venezuela.
Further, these figures will get steadily better as extraction methods
improve. Canada is a highly advanced technological society, unlike some oil producing countries.
The tar sands lobby also claims that if the Europeans don't buy Canadian oil other countries will, so global emissions still will not be much reduced. The Canadians can claim to have had some success. The final decision to categorise separately tar sands oil has been put off by the EU several times, though a final decision is expected this autumn.
Several MEPs on the right - many British - and on the industry
committee are said to be persuaded by the Canadian arguments. For their part, Green lobbyists in Brussels claim Canadian greens and indigenous groups say their voices are never heard when MEPs are taken on PR trips to tar sand areas like Fort McMurray in Alberta.
The bitter discussions taking place in Brussels between the EU and Canada may be a bit technical for members of the public, but it is an illustration of the increasing desperation to exploit the world's dwindling fossil fuel resources. And this situation will be with us for a time yet. There will remain for the forseeable future a need for oil for transport purposes unmet by other forms of supplies.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Europe at odds over fracking
12 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The positive news for putative shale gas exploiters came on 27 March, when the EU published a green paper on Europe's climate and energy claims for 2030. Gunther Oettinger, the energy commssioner, Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the commission, and, importantly, Anne Glover, the chief scientist to the president of the commission, have all spoken favourably about shale gas in Brussels in recent days.
Natural gas prices have dropped dramatically in the United States in the last three years since that country starting large scale "fracking", as the exploitation of shale gas is called. "Fracking" involves bringing natural gas to the surface from rockbeds by using a mixture of sand, chemicals and water at high pressure pushed through hoses inserted deeply into the bedrock.
The global energy shortage and better technology is leading to more and more previously inaccessible forms of fossil energy becoming available and become commercially worthwhile exploiting. Tar sands oil is one of these, and I will be writing about this here next week.
Shale gas, then, is another, The cheap energy has been instrumental in the revival of the American economy, say experts. At this rate, the US will overtake Russia as a producer of natural gas by 2015, and will become energy self sufficient by 2035. Understandably Europe would like to emulate this growth phenomenon. For European gas prices remain stubbornly high. And the European economy remains in
Antonio Fernando Correia de Campos, the Portuguese MEP who heads the European parliament's Science and Technology options panel, is another EU figure who has come out in favour of shale gas.So have the British and Polish governments, which have carried out test drillings in their respective countries. George Osborne, the British chancellor of the exchequer, has announced tax breaks for domestic shale production. A number of other countries are said to eyeing the potential of shale gas.
But, this being Europe, there was bound to be divided opinion, and strong opposition to fracking comes from France, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, all of which have announced moratoriums on fracking.
Francois Hollande, the French president, has said the moratorium will last as long as he is in office. France can fall back on nuclear, but the main argument is that Europe presents challenges to the exploitation of shale not found in America.
The think tank AJ Kearney, quoted in the business daily La Tribune, cites just one example. The boring machines used in the States are too big for Europe's roads: an example of how US technology and expertise is not so easily transferrable. Some US scientists have found heightened levels of some toxic chemicals in the air in the vicinity of US fracking sites, and a worrying number of fracking efforts that break through to the ground water. Europe is much more densely populated, so the risks to human populations are that much more acute.
Planning laws may be tougher and may mitigate the chance of these things happening - but that just means Britain's and the commission's hopes for a gas bonanza are over optimistic. So why even go down the route? Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a consultancy, estimates that, when legal, planning and development costs are taken into account, shale gas extracted in Britain would cost between two and three times as much as shale gas extracted in the US.
A bit cheaper than the gas it imports at the moment, but not as
inexpensive as the US operations. Further, it will take 15 years to achieve a fully developed infrastructure, the consultancy predicts.
Of course, the legal hurdles could always be eased up, but then there is public opinion to contend with.
The commission and the parliament (to some extent) may more or less have rallied around to the idea of fracking, but I expect they expect a big battle to sway the European publics. They must be aware that, even if fracking were to prove more or less safe, and less expensive to develop, than feared, that is no guarantee the European public will comfortable about it. Look at the very low levels of adoption of safe GM crops in Europe compared to the United States.
Meanwhile, European businessmen, entrepreneurs, engineers and energy companies may well be looking at the American cheap energy boom, and thinking enviously. Wish this could be us.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 12 April 2013 at 12:46 PM by View from Brussels Moderator
Technology smuggling in the Cold War
4 April 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The German-Swedish historian Christoph Andersson's Operation Norrsken (Operation Northern Lights) tells us some new things about East German Swedish relations by digging in Stasi archives and talking to ageing protagonists on both sides of the iron curtain. Some of his findings are new; others are better known but put here into a better context, Most of the material came from the Stasi archives BStU In Berlin. The Swedish archives have not been quite so open.
The context was Reagan's campaign to win the Cold War one of whose aspects was strangling Soviet Union's and its allies' access to western high technology without which the USSR would even more rapidly lose the economic race with the West.
Sweden's background was that, as part of policy of neutrality, it had one developed one of Europe's most powerful military defences from the 1950s to the late 1970s, with a surprisingly large arms industry developed as a measure of independence from the two opposing blocs, NATO and Warsaw Pact. The Social Democrat governments which totally dominated Swedish politics for thirty years after the war were quite hawkish, right wing and anti-Communist. All that changed with the election of the left wing Social Democrat Olof Palme in 1969. He was pacifist and did not believe in military expenditure, which the faltering Swedish economy hit by the oil crisis of 1973 anyway found increasingly hard to afford. Through Olof Palme's defence procurerment cuts, the large domestic arms industry was left without a domestic market and desperately cast abroad for new customers while abiding by Sweden's policy of "moral" arms exports - which excluded countries at war or belonging to a military bloc. Which left rather a narrow field.
Then you had the middle men, Germans, Swedes, or German Swedes (some of who had been anti Nazi exiles who fled Germany before 1939) looking to make a fast buck through helping Swedish arms companies circumvent export restrictions by using East Germany as a conduit or secret destination in return for generous commissions. And then you had the East German state, desperate for western and Swedish technology and arms as well as hard currency to be earned from reexporting Swedish materiel to regimes like Iran.
In some cases, the ruses seem transparent to us now. Leading defence firm Bofors transported trainloads of gunpowder from Sweden via West Germany to neutral Austria, which was legal. But the rail carriages were then redesignated with a new destination - Finland, via East Germany this time. The rail carriages got "lost in transit" through East Germany, courtesy of Stasi in a secret deal agreed with Bofors. The gunpowder cargo was shipped out of Rostock to Iran, which was an illegal destination for Swedish arms exports because it was at war with Iraq at the time. The smuggling was exposed when West German customs officers got suspicious that the same railway carriages returned to West Germany from Austria, the fake destination, with full cargoes and a new destination only an hour after leaving the country. Still, the smuggling went on for three years.
More serious for Sweden's relations with the United States was how, in the 1980s, Swedish businessmen took advantage of Sweden's freedom to import American high technology, Vax super computers, and re-exported them to the East bloc. When the Swedish authorities found out, unpaid taxes on the enormous commissions from Communist regimes seemed to bother the Swedish authorities much more than illegal smuggling of American high technology to the East bloc. Sweden famously, in those days, had the world's highest taxes.
How many of these cases were unknown to the Swedish government? It is still unclear.
But one final instance of goods transfer worth mentioning was legal, indeed sanctioned, by the Social Democrat government of Olof Palme. The Swedish engineering firm ASEA was allowed to export isostatic presses to East Germany, ostensibly for making tape machine recording heads, but the presses also had a dual use as nuclear weapons production technology.
Twenty years on, the author, Christoph Andersson, tracks down one of the presses to an abandoned factory in former East Germany, complete with posters of East German nudes and dusty coffee cups. But the other three presses he is not able to trace. The author thinks the Palme government was too trusting of Erich Honecker, the East German leader
Andersson shows that both overt and covert relations between Sweden and East Germany were closer than suspected. Sweden's neutrality in the Cold War was more complex - and less pure - than thought.
The Americans took Swedish technology smuggling to the East bloc very seriously indeed. And the whole story affected relations between the right wing Reagan administration and the left wing socialist one of Olof Palme which "preached peace in the morning " but which seemed to have a cavalier approach towards American security and technology interests at the same time.
Whether the factual Swedish East German revelations will lead us any nearer the solution to Olof Palme's murder is anyone's guess. The investigation is said to have been reinvigorated by the renewed public interest. The fictional TV series, penned by a former academic at the Swedish police academy, said the killing was carried out by the Swedish security forces, who thought Sweden's relations with the East bloc were far too close. Of course, that is just fiction.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 12 April 2013 at 11:31 AM by Pelle Neroth
Cyprus's energy 'bonanza' might not amount to much
30 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth
will be closed down.
Many of these account holders were well off Russians. The media calls them oligarchs to ease the guilt over Cyprus's expropriation action at the EU's behest.
Their deposits will be moved into a so called "bad bank", while those with deposits under 100,000 euros will find their deposits moved to the bank of Cyrpus and reconstructed. It is not clear how much the high end depositors will eventually get to keep of it, but at least the European tax payer, unlike in previous bail outs, will be spared any outlay. Politically, it was an easy sell to the European publics.
There is a complicated energy angle to all of this. Large amounts of natural gas have been found in the East Mediterranean basin. Only Cyprus - which has become rather prosperous in recent years, thanks to banking activities - and Israel gave been able to take advantage of this. They struck a deal over their mutual sea border to facilitate prospecting. Israel's Leviathan and Tamar fields are set to begin production in April. Cyprus is a bit further behind. Other countries in the area are nowhere. Syria is in the grip of a civil war. Some EU officials seem to think gas from the East Mediterranean basin could be a substitute for the slightly humiliating dependence in many EU states on Russian gas. That was another reason not to "lose" Cyprus. Before the EU deal was struck, Cypriot leaders had travelled to Moscow to seek to solve its financial problems by getting a loan in return for Russia getting a future share of Cyprus's hydrocarbons.
The deal, seemingly, was not attractive enough to the Russians, and fell through. But the overture seemed to have a desired effect on the EU, which offered a more generous bailout deal than an original offer made earlier..
The original proposal would have hit anyone with savings of over 20,000 euros in Cypriot banks, not 100,000 euros as is the situation now. Cyprus accepted this latter, better deal.
But is the EU deluded about how much gas there actually is? The deal, after all, wasn't good enough to tempt Russia.
Some media outlets have talked about gas as Cyprus's meal ticket. Maybe not; there is enough there for 50 years of domestic consumption, true, but that is because Cyprus is a small country.
The reserves are a tiny fraction of Qatar's, for example. Ironically, now
that its banking system has shrunk, Cyprus may lack the investment capital to develop the fields as well as build LNG terminals. The alternative would be to build a cheaper pipeline to nearby Turkey for onwards sale, but Turkey - which supports the rogue Turkish Cypriot Republic in the northern half of the island - is Cyprus's arch enemy.
Andrew Duff, a libera lmember of the European parliament, said this could be an opportunity for a Turkey-Cyprus rapprochement, just as Germany and France were united after the second world war over coal and steel. Sounds doubtful, but who knows.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Study alleges manipulation of fuel consumption figures
22 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth
This week, an influential parliamentary committee voted to implement a tougher limit of 95gm of CO2 per kilometre for 2020, and made the recommendation to set tougher rules still for 2025.
What's more, the European parliament wants to crack down on car makers' testing methods that allow them to post what one study* alleges to be manipulated figures for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. These "massaged" figures make their models appear more appealing to customers and put the cars in a lower tax bracket than might otherwise have been the case. (Since many cars are taxed on the basis of their CO2 emissions.)
The proposed solution - rigorous EU-wide standardisation of testing methods - would make it even more challenging for car makers to achieve the stricter CO2 emissions goals being proposed at the same time.
The European parliament's Industry Committee's decisions have to pass through several other European parliament committees and the full parliament, and then be approved by the member states. But it may be significant that the Industry Committee is usually the most industry friendly and "green" sceptical body in the European parliament. Votes that it passes that favour greening the economy are likely to pass the other committees with even greater probability.
On the member state side, Germany, protective of the challenges facing its makers of large cars, may resist the legislation. But, if it lacks other countries' support, it is likely to be outvoted in the Council of Ministers - the voting forum of member states - when the legislation gets that far this year or next.
The report that alleges "manipulation of figures" for emissions finds that fuel consumption - and therefore CO2 emissions - is, in some models, an astonishing 50% higher than the figures carmakers officially claim and which appear in their promotional material.
That is because the tests that measure fuel use doesn't look at real world conditions, but are carried out in special, favourable conditions. For instance, the car makers tape over cracks in doors and grilles to reduce air resistance, overinflate the tyres, disconnect the alternator to prevent the car battery from charging while tests are carried out, push the brake pads fully into the calipers to reduce rolling resistance, The tests are carried out at high altitude on specially-constructed smooth racing tracks, which gives lower fuel usage statistics. Finally the cars when tested are not run with their air conditioning or car stereo on, both of which increase fuel consumption. The result, say MEPs, is often a rude shock to car buyers, who find their fuel costs far exceed what they had been led to believe by car manufacturers.
The EU hopes to follow a standardised international procedure being worked out by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
So what is the problem? The EU puts forward the usual arguments: that the legislative challenges the EU throws up forces manufacturers - not just of cars - into greater innovations of efficiency and thus ultimately makes them more competitive on the world market, as well as producing better products for consumers. But you do wonder. The European car makers' association ACEA says customers' responses may be hard to predict. Even if a car with new technology might be cheaper to run once on the road, its initial sales price, boosted by having new technology built in, might be too high - and the customer may then choose to stick with his old car or buy a polluting, old second hand car. And that leaves no one any better off.
Looking at the bigger picture, there is the argument that as long as India and China keep increasing their emissions, the restrictions put on European manufacturers may not make a huge difference to saving the planet - and that European manufacturers will thus be pointlessly handicapped when facing countries that do not wear self-imposed environmental hair shirts.
All this at a time when Europe is suffering the worst economic crisis in a generation.
*Mind the Gap
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 27 March 2013 at 03:25 PM by View from Brussels Moderator
ECJ case could change the way Google polices the net
14 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The Spanish data protection authority is presenting a number of cases before the European Court of Justice where damaging information about Spanish citizens appear on the net, affecting their careers or livelihoods. In one case, a surgeon complained that a malpractice charge in a local newspaper appeared high up in the search results when his name was googled, when the news that he was in fact acquitted of the charge didn't appear at all. Guess what potential clients are likely to think as they google him?
Another case relates to the auctioning of a man's property relating to non payment of social security charges. In this case, the information was not wrong, but old, and likely to haunt the man's reputation.
The Spanish data protection authority Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) sided with these complainants - and about 200 other cases of embarrassing or misleading information. After being through the Spanish courts, with Google at the losing end, the issue has now been referred upwards to the European level.
Google's argument is it is merely a conduit of the information which it indexes and that it is up to the publishers to remove the information from their website. The search engine's lawyers told the 15 judge panel at the ECJ last month that the world's largest search engine isn't a "data controller" but just an "intermediary in terms of the data which it indexes".
Requests to remove information from Google when it was put online by a newspaper would mean a big shift in responsibility from the publisher to the search engine and that would amount to censorship.
Google's lawyers added that "Only the publisher can take the view to remove content. Once removed from the source webpage, content will disappear from a search engine's index. Of course, there will be times when information is published online that is subsequently found to be incorrect, defamatory or otherwise illegal, Such content can be removed from the source website and from search engines. But search engines should not be subject to censorship of legitimate content for the sake of privacy or for any other reason."
A preliminary decision from the EU's advocate general comes in June,and a full decision by the ECJ later. Its decision will apply to the entire 27 nation bloc. The European Commission will be looking at the decision closely when framing its "right to be forgotten" privacy directives later this year. The Commission's lawyers argued to the ECJ that Google does control data, thereby contradicting a conclusion by the group comprising the EU's national data watchdogs, saying it doesn't.
My prediction is that the ECJ, steeped in the more limited Continental European tradition of free speech and more extensive concern for privacy than the US where Google is based, will side with the Spanish data protection authorities. In that case, it would appear that Google becomes responsible for the information it indexes.
It is a tricky and hugely important question, and I am conflicted..
While one fully sympathises with people who can't live down their pasts because of something published on the net they can't persuade the publishers to take down - perhaps because the publishers have a legal obligation to list it, or is out of jurisdiction, for example - it would place a huge onus on Google to police the net. And it may pave the way for an avalanche of claims from powerful actors and individuals to remove information about them which they find disobliging.
Where to draw the line between unfair harm to a vulnerable individual's reputation and just censoring free expression of opinions actors happen not to like? The internet has been a revolutionary and very free place, Now it may become more reined in - and that may not be a good thing.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 14 March 2013 at 09:52 AM by Pelle Neroth
European parliament to vote on pollution allowances
7 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The parliament's industry committee, packed with conservatives who argue the pollute-and-pay scheme hampers European economic growth, already dire - and among whom global warming scepticism is rife anyway - voted against it in January. Then, two weeks ago, the European parliament environment committee, whose tendencies are more liberal/ left wing, voted in favour of the backload. Now the issue will be decided in plenary, the full parliament, probably in April, and since the conservatives - the EPP, or European People's Party - dominate, they have a fair hope of winning.
While in fact several large polluting companies are in fact supportive of carbon trading, the whole issue though highlights the fact that many analysts and political actors have started to see the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), introduced in 2005 to drive low carbon investment, as a bit of a failure.*
Some environmental groups complain the ETS scheme is wide open to fraud - there have been several scandals and jail sentences involving fake allowances - and that the supposedly impeccably "green community" offsets companies can buy in developing countries in return for allowances have unintended consequences such as deforestation and local community displacement.
Equally damningly, some actors are saying that even if the backload went ahead, and scarcity of free pollution permits driving up the price of carbon emissions, it is not nearly enough. Yvo de Boer, the former head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, says the prices would rise from the €5 a tonne to €15 a tonne. That is just a tenth of the €150 a tonne he believes is needed to really make a difference. Chris Davies, a liberal MEP, agrees, saying the current backloading proposal won't make much difference to the cost of polluting, but at least it would inject some credibility into the market.
The vice chairman of the European parliament's environment committee said recently he had actually wanted an alternative scheme. a simple carbon tax, but that this suggestion was overwhelmed by heavy lobbying from industry. One of the chief advantages of a carbon tax, says one of its advocates, prof Dieter Helm of Oxford University, is that it deals with the fact that the important thing is carbon consumption, not carbon production, Europe, not least the UK, has been posting emissions falls but that is partly due to the deindustrialisation of Europe and the outsourcing of carbon emissions to the countries that increasingly provide Europe with its manufactures, such as China. Since we all share one planet, there is no point in just shifting emissions elsewhere.
He proposes a carbon tax on Chinese imports, to make Europe bear the cost of the invisible pollution for which it is really responsible. Europe spends lots of money on being a world leader in wind farms and solar rooftop panels but, says prof Helm, this has almost no effect. Global emissions are rising, and the main reason is the - and this may surprise many - growing use of the most polluting of energy sources: coal, in China in particular (but also in Germany, which is raising its coal consumption after its - some say disastrous - decision to abandon nuclear.) Coal now makes up 30% of the world's energy mix, up from 25% in the mid 1990s. Too much of that coal is used to make in the manufacturing products - toys, electronic goods, clothes - the Chinese make for Europeans to consume.
One advantage with a border tax on carbon intensive products is that it helps meet one of the European right wing objection-s to climate change policy - such as those sceptics in the EPP party in the European parliament. That burdening European industry with ETS costs just gives a local competitive edge to China and other countries.
By taxing Chinese imports instead with a carbon tax, European industry won't be so disadvantaged. The dangers are it might spark a global trade war. But it might be worth exploring further, might it not? It would not end with taxes on Chinese imports. Eventually it could be extended to European industry. Prof Helm sums it up: taxes on carbon emissions is what is needed to slow the warming of the planet.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 10 March 2013 at 07:49 PM by Pelle Neroth
'Green deal' housing efficiency measures threatened by Brussels
28 February 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The Green Deal is also under threat from Brussels, which has threatened to take the British Government to the dreaded European Court of Justice.
The Green Deal programme unveiled a few weeks ago grants loans of up to £10,000 to homeowners to improve their homes. The government claims the eventual total savings on the energy bills will make the renovations a worthwhile outlay for most homes..
So what is the fuss? As part of its plan, the British Government has set a lower VAT rate for "green" building materials to lower the costs further for the homeowners. They will be charged at a VAT rate of 5% rather than the usual 20%.
The European Commission is objecting. In retaliation, Tory MEPs think the EU is mad, in its worst prawn-cocktail-crisp-ban mindset. After all, isn't the commission devoted also to greening the planet? The EU says that lowering VAT rates for products for socially redistributive purposes -for instance, on baby foods to help young mothers - is okay under single market rules, But not building materials, Because they come under environmental regulations.
Moreover, its officials argue, it won't actually have the desired effect, Most buyers of building materials are not private consumers but the construction industry, and the EU says, in effect, "we all know they never pass on their lower costs to the customers".
Ironically, two weeks ago one EU regulator approved the Green Deal, saying that there is no distortion to competition in the single market. But the tax directorate overruled this, saying building materials are outside the list of goods and services that can be eligible for a reduced rate VAT drawn up by EU governments in 2009. If Britain starts breaking the rules, who knows where it will end?
The Commission has passed on the case to the European Court of Justice. If the Court rules against David Cameron, the UK will face a growing series of weekly fines unless he withdraws the legislation. That would be a blow to his environmental ambitions. .
In this typical Brussels spat, green lobby groups are insisting the UK stand its ground and argue that, of course, double glazing your home could be regarded as a social policy since low income groups are less likely to have this installed.
In an interesting development, the European Commissioner for tax issues, Algirdas Semeta, has promised to have another look at the possibility of lowered interest rates later this year, So does that mean he really is in fact okay with lower VAT on ecological building materials after all - provided the Commission and not the British Government is the body that comes up with the idea? A matter of prestige.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
EU privacy regulators put pressure on Google
21 February 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The French data protection authority, CNIL (Commission Nationale de L'informatique et des Libertes, the national commission of digital freedoms) has been taking the leading role in a bid to apply penalties (of an unspecified kind) unless Google pretty promptly starts implementing changes recommended by the European privacy authorities to protect Google users' privacy. Google is, by far, the most popular search engine in Europe, responsible for 80 percent of searches. It is even more popular in Europe than in the US, where Google is responsible for only 65 percent of searches.
The background to the spat with Europe's data protection agencies is that, in March 2012, Google combined all the separate user agreements pertaining to all its various services (Gmail, Youtube, Google plus) into a single agreement. According to CNIL and other data protection authorities, this change, carried out for commercial reasons, violated European laws on privacy, which are pretty strict by international standards.
The data protection authorities issued a warning to Google on 16 October last year and gave the American search giant four months to respond. A list of 69 questions was sent to Google's headquarters asking precisely what measures were being taken to protect customer confidentiality. Questions ranged from the length of time Google stored customer data and the level of control users had to restrict the collection of information about them. The European data protection authorities - who together form a group called the G29 - also suggested that Google allow customers to identify themselves on some services while remaining anonymous on others, if they so wished.
On Monday 18 February, the deadline being passed, the French regulator said it would set up a further enquiry as Google had not yet responded to its concerns. For its part, Google says it had already responded to CNIL on 8 January with a list of measures taken to allay European concerns.
To be fair to Google, the streamlining of Google services into one integrated system makes life easier for users. But the advantages are arguably even greater for Google. The pooling of data across its various service as it boosts its advantages when selling online ads, the company's big earner in return for which it provides its extensive range of free services.
For example, the GPS position detected by your Android smartphone (Android being heavily tied in with one's Gmail address, possession of which is a prerequisite for using Android) combined with your search history, can lead to "better" targeting of Google's online advertisements.
In the intensely competitive duke out taking place between Google internet service giants such as Amazon and Facebook, such a commercial advantage must be tempting to hold on to for as long as possible. And Google knows that its services, funded by this advertising, are much appreciated by the public.
So it will be interesting to see Google's next move.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Engineers at risk from terror in North Africa
14 February 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Ironically, as Gaddafi's departure was largely due to the efforts of the West, his regime is now regarded as having been a bastion against terrorist extremism.
The French intervention now looks to be a success. A few weeks' worth of airstrikes have apparently left the Islamic militants in disarray, and an African force from the African Union is now beginning to take over on the ground. But France also has economic interests in the region. Admittedly Francois Hollande, the French president, says France currently has no major economic interests in Mali itself. The country's chief export product is gold which France does not import. But it may soon have economic investments to protect.
Several companies, including Total, are prospecting for oil and gas in the Taoudeni basin in northern Mali. Another regional economic interest ithat France has is that Mali is a neighbour of another desert state, Niger - separated from Mali by just a line in the sand - and Niger is a key supplier of uranium, amounting to 30% of French needs. The loss of the uranium mines at Arlit and Akokan (a third is under construction) in northern Niger would be a disaster for Areva, the French-based multibillion euro energy giant. As it would be for the Nigerien government, which earns 140 million dollars a year from these mines, representing 30% of the country's export income.
The French press are reporting that French commandos are now guarding the mines at Arlit. The decision was made in the wake of the dramatic hostage incident in Algeria on 16 January, which followed the French intervention in Mali, which began on 11 January. In the Algerian incident, several hundred gas workers were taken hostage, and 69 people died, including 39 hostages and 29 Islamist kidnappers after the Algerian army intervened in a heavy-handed way. The Arlit site has also seen a hostage incident. Seven plant workers, including five Frenchmen, were taken hostage in September 2010. Four of these workers are still being held hostage somewhere in northern Niger.
French soldiers currently guard the French space port in French Guyana, and French marine soldiers are statined on ships in the Indian Ocean to protect against Somalian piracy. But the presence at Arlit marks the first time soldiers from the French army have actually been sent to guard a private installation on land.
Two young Frenchmen, Antoine de Léocour and Vincent Delory, were kidnapped in plain daylight in the centre of Niamey - the capital of Niger - on the 7 January 2011. They were then taken to the terrorist bastions in the north of Niger, just on the border with Mali. They were then killed in a failed rescure attempt by French special forces.
According to Le Monde, quoting Algerian security sources, the Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists in Mali/Niger haves earned 150 million euros in ransom for hostages in the last couple of years. The region is increasingly becoming a highly dangerous place to work
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Britain and Europe: uncertainty ahead
7 February 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The Eurosceptics have some attractive arguments. Repatriating the common agricultural and the common fisheries policy could save the UK a lot of money. Employment legislation - such as the equal rights for temporary workers - seems to have had the unintended consequence of there being a fewer jobs of that kind to go around, and temp jobs were a way into the job market for many unemployed. So that could be repealed. As could the working time directive, which has cost the NHS billions, because it bureaucratically interfered with doctors' hours,
A most important benefit would be the ability to strike deals with the emerging powers of the East to open up the market for British services with these countries in return for various levels of access to the British market. Britain is the world's second largest exporter of services. And yet, because Britain currently negotiates as a member of a bloc, the deals struck don't necessarily benefit Britain's unique strengths in this area, say Eurosceptics. The free trade agreement with Singapore struck recently concerned mostly rules of origin rules for Champagne.
There is very little of an international market in services in Europe, either, incidentally, countries like France and Germany putting up barriers about special professional qualifications requirements for UK companies that wish sell their services abroad. Just try get a job as a teacher with British qualifications in France.
As in all services, there is an information barrier. (Also known as buying-a-used-car problem.) People can't be bothered to change bank accounts, so why should they go through of finding out enough about legal services being sold on the basis of another country's rules? Britain has agitated for many years about this in the EU. Since Britain can't make headway here, in an area of its greatest relative strength, it might as well bail out and try to strike deals alone with Asian countries that are willing to open up their markets.
The services argument for me, is one of the strongest reasons for leaving the EU. Euroscepticism appeals to a certain kind of young man, striking out in life, typical of the new Tory Eurosceptic intake. I agree that the argument about staying in the EU because otherwise there will be barriers to British goods is unlikely. Set aside the facetious argument that repatriation of the Common Agricultural Policy will save Britain so much money it can afford to pay the tariffs imposed upon any British exporters to Europe. Britain is likely at the very least to be able to get the "Norway solution" - access to the single market, albeit without any say-so in its formation. (Yes, as Britain cannot prevail on a single market in services, why bother one might ask?) Britain is Europe's biggest export market for goods, so if they chose to punish Britain for staying out, they would be punishing themselves. Anyway, the very worst back stop case is that British goods would pay World Trade Organisation rates for goods entry, which is four percent.
And yet I think it is too early to head for the exit, following the young rakes of the Tory party making arguments like these. The City of London is vulnerable to legislation concerning trade of the euro, while currently it has protection under the single market rules.
One thing in life to consider is what one's worst enemy or rival wishes upon you - and then do precisely the opposite to that. France wants Britain to leave. They still have hopes of shaping Europe in their own image, now that, in the wake of the euro crisis, a set of reforms are getting underway that will mean much closer fiscal, and possibly political union. Why give the French that pleasure, to enable them to reverse the humiliations of Waterloo? Plus, there is still the full opening up of the telecoms and energy markets, which Britain could push for.
I am minded to say that what Britain should do is overcome its old prejudices and take the outstretched hand offered by Angela Merkel and build a solid alliance with Germany. (Sweden has apparently offered to act as a bridge.)
She wants Britain in Europe - agrees on same free trade issues, and needs help resisting calls from Southern Europe to use Germany as a cash machine. According to press reports she is willing to give a number of concessions as long as his does not mean a painful reopening of the treaties. But the "stay in" argument has to come up with stronger concrete arguments that will appeal to the average voter. Bringing those Common Agricultural Policy expenses home would save an agreeable amount of money.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Commission proposes revolution in European rail travel
1 February 2013 by Pelle Neroth
The legislation is called the fourth railway package and the expected start date of this railway service "big bang" - provided it's passed by the European parliament - is 2019. In a speech earlier this week, transport commissioner Siim Kallas talked of the single market in rail, hoping to create an integrated European railway network where trains "would be able to run freely from Rotterdam to Genoa, from Paris to Bratislava, and from Warsaw to Marseille".
France's SNCF would be competing head to head with Germany's Deutsche Bahn, as well as any number of smaller operators, both national and private, for point to point destinations, much as Europe's airlines - think Ryanair or Air Berlin - do today. The single market in air travel which has given cheap flights to all points of the European compass is widely regarded as one of the EU's best loved and most popular "successes". Although it may not be environmentally sustainable. And maybe the EU is hoping for a similar fillip at a time, when as never before, the EU's legitimacy is coming under question
Siim Kallas cited rail travel is the environmental, efficient mode of travel of the future - but one that needed investment - and said the alternative was a Europe whose trunk roads were clogged with pollution-spewing heavy trucks. Which Europe did we want? he said dramatically. The environmental benefits of a railway network running on electricity generated from low carbon energy sources could be considerable. But rail has a long way to go to compete with road services. Only about 6% of travel journeys in Europe are by rail. There are 5 million kilometres of road, only 200,000 km of railways.
To help the liberalisation process along, the reforms presented in the fourth package were several. There would be a common EU-wide certification process, where trains and rolling stock would be certified by a single one-stop shop EU wide safety authority. At the moment, this process is carried out on a national basis.
The idea is to cite authorisation costs and allow trains to run more easily on other national networks. The separate capacities of managing tracks and running trains will also be forced apart. These deregulations have already been carried through in Sweden and the UK, but these reforms could see big changes to the nature of train travel on the continent, where unbundling is rare and where pride in large state-owned travel behemoths like France's SNCF is very great. However, the reforms did not go quite as far as the liberalisation supporters in Brussels led by Kallas would have wished.
After furious lobbying from Berlin - and Deutsche Bahn is Europe's largest train operator - unbundling infrastructure and train operation will not be mandatory. A compromise has been struck to enable Germany to keep its integrated model. The infrastructure, passenger and cargo services can still be organised into single holding companies, provided they separate management and financing. This has led to an outcry from rail freight companies, who worry that incumbents will be able to dominate the market. Critics might say it is the same monopolistic approach that some countries have played in the telecoms industry. But in a Europe of 27 nations, lobbying pressure comes from all sides, and in a way this was largely a victory for the single market approach usually favoured by northern countries like Britain. Some compromise with Germany was probably inevitable.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Germany takes up wind turbine bird death debate
23 January 2013 by Pelle Neroth
It has to be said that estimates about the number of birds killed by the 80 metre or so high wind turbine structures with 30 metre long blades vary widely. One study monitoring the migrating flock of an estimated 1.5 million eider manoeuvring past a small wind farm park recorded only a single (!) collision event. The environmental audit unit of the German state of Brandenburg has counted a mere 681 birds nationwide since it started keeping records on behalf of the German environment ministry in 1989. A disproportionate number of those, however, are large, slow breeding and relatively rare birds of prey. Other authorities cite much higher figures. Hermann Hötker, an expert at the Michael Otto conservation centre in Bergenhausen, argues the figures can be much higher, in some areas between one and 10 birds a year, per turbine, based on Dutch and Belgian studies carried out near breeding areas. Since there are 22,000 turbines in Germany, the avian death toll could be tens of thousands of birds a year or even more, just in Germany. Some fly into the rotors or the tower; other, smaller birds are flung upon the ground by the powerful vortex created by the turbines.
Death rates vary per wind farm and are related to a large number of features, such as migratory paths, topography, sight conditions, weather patterns and wind turbine lights - which may actually serve to disorientate birds. Hötker lists the difficulties of getting accurate count, and which leads some authorities to understate deaths: not all dead birds are found. Some corpses get lost in the corn fields. Others are scavenged by predators while they are lying on the ground before being counted. Landowners do not have an incentive to report dead birds. And not just birds, but bats, whose echo sounders working horizontally do not catch the vertical slicing of the large rotors. Offshore wind farms are also a worrying unknown for campaigners, and, for obvious reasons, it is hard to count the number of bird corpses that fall into the sea.
To opponents of wind farms, this is just one more argument against them. Already they are accused of disfiguring beauty spots - situated at elevations where they are in full view of the surrounding countryside. The power they provide is intermittent, depending on the vagaries of wind. The sound they make purportedly causes some countryside residents insomnia and stress problems. While the turbines are also quite expensive and only last a little more than two decades. But Germany remains committed to wind, and its own investment in turbines, as well as wind's intermittency, has had effects on the energy situation all over central Europe. Germany dumps its surplus wind energy at prices which, for instance, Czech nuclear power cannot undercut.
In wind farms' defence, you also have to look at the many thousands of birds killed by flying into building windows, killed by cats or road traffic. Still, the Michael Otto institute thinks measures ought be carried out to reduce the impact of wind farms, like growing crops right up to the turbines themselves to hide the presence of predators' food, ie, mice. The argument wind farm supporters use that they feel trumps everything is that global warming will lead to even worse consequences for species survival. The occasional bird caught in a wind turbine is a price worth paying to save the planet, they say.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
UK lags many EU states in innovation indicator
17 January 2013 by Pelle Neroth
Other leading innovators are Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, and perhaps surprisingly Portugal and Ireland. Only companies with at least 10 employees were covered and the sectors in the survey included manufacturing, telecommunications, transportation, financial and insurance activities, wholesale trade and publishing.
The UK lies below the EU average of 53%. At least it's better, though, than the bottom ranked countries in the survey. The laggards, the least innovative countries, include Bulgaria (27%), Poland (28%), Latvia (30%), Romania (31%) and Hungary (also 31%).
The survey also found that cooperation over innovation with other institutions or enterprises was rare, and international cooperation over innovation rarer still. Only 27% carried out joint efforts with other companies or universities, while the remainder fell back on their own resources. The leader here was Cyprus, with a figure of 62%, with Austria at 51% following behind. The lowest proportion of co-operation among enterprises was in Italy (12%), Malta (18%) and Portugal (20%).
Only one in ten EU companies has carried out innovation cooperating with a partner in an EU state. Leaders include Slovenia, Estonia and Cyprus, not surprising perhaps as these are small countries. Italian enterprises are bottom of the list here in terms of cooperation with European partners (4%), only a little less than Spain (5%), Germany (8%) and Portugal (9%).
Finland (12%), Sweden (11%) and Slovenia (8%) had the largest shares of innovation co-operation with partners in the United States, and Finland (9%), Sweden (7%), Luxembourg and Slovenia (both 6%) with partners in India or China. Britain, admittedly, has failed to supply statistics over international cooperation innovation, but what it has supplied - on overall innovation activity - does looks gloomy, does it not?
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Dutch university case highlights fraud in science
10 January 2013 by Pelle Neroth
In Germany there is Vroniplag, which examines people's doctorates in minute detail for signs of plagiarism, where Google is their friend. But actually the most written about recent case happens to be one that was not exposed by volunteers, but by the graduate students of the golden boy of Dutch science.
It is the case of Diederik Stapel, a Dutch social psychologist at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. Three graduate students who studied and took notes of his behaviour for months finally exposed him. He had fooled dozens of national and international journals. Science, America's premier science journal, retracted and apologised for publishing his work. Stapel wrote an open apology in which each blamed the pressure on ambitious scientists to publish frequently, and in top journals, to get ahead.
He may be on to something. If fraud is indeed on the increase - and some leading journals are reporting a tenfold increase in retractions - experts seem to agree that part of the problem is the structure of science careers and their link to scientific publication. There is enormous pressure on scientists to publish lots, publish flashy stuff, and publish early. In a badly paid profession, with late career development, to pass through the eye of the needle and get that professorship by forty, the pressure is enormous.. It is not surprising that some, like Stapel, cut corners in a very fraudulent way. But there is a whole spectrum of more or less dodgy practices. For instance, the common custom of successful scientists or form "citation cartels" where they put their names to what essentially is each other's papers to up their citation count.
It is partly the consequence as I explored last year I think in a blog post on John Ioannides, is the very nature of the interaction between grants, citations, and publication driven science which biases towards false positives and works against checking and replication.
The ideal of science, the one they teach you in the textbooks, is that it is a self- correcting mechanism. That if you get it wrong, someone behind you will correct, refine or expose the fraudulence of your result But that is a myth. Results are not often verified - as in independently replicated after publication. The elegant-sounding prepublication peer review is a much more casual process than outsiders imagine. And then, after that, the results are not often verified because the truth is scientists are much keener to produce their own new result that will catch the eye of the science journal editor than to verify someone else's work.
Not only is it ungratifying to the ego but it is also hard. In a recent survey, 47 out of 53 attempts to replicate high end medical science findings failed!. It is not necessarily a question of fraud. Scientists are seldom as explicit they ought to be when writing about methods. That process ought to be much more explicit.
Other reforms? Less importance attacked to getting flashy results in elite journals. Instead journals ought to encourage solidity by publishing new results that failed to prove something dramatic but still managed to tell us something. Brave tries. Without publicising failures, you get an incomplete picture of science, like a gambler who counts only his winnings. Failure can be just as educational, and those who lucked out but made genuine productive effort should also be rewarded. The problem of the unwillingness to verify other scientists' results could also be solved. Citations should be shared between those who got an original result and those who replicated a result, linking them electronically in the journal, to give the verifiers a share of the glory. And there are yet more things that could be done, say experts.
More collaboration between science teams. There is less pressure from the public and politicians on scientists to come up with the goods. The media play an important, and often negative role, raising the bar for what counts as exciting, and always looking for a new story.
A few weeks ago, in December 2012, the Dutch authorities published an extremely detailed report on Stapel's activities, which had outed the year before. At an early stage in his career he was appointed a fellow of the Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences and collected large funds from the Dutch science foundation NWO. They found that in at least 55 publications the data were fully or partly fabricated and that this went back to at least 1998. The report called Stapel a narcissist and schemer. As if to live up that description, Stapel wrote book about his own cause and was, the week the report came out a few weeks ago, busily promoting it by giving signing talks at an academic chain of bookshops in the Netherlands.
The Dutch report was very self critical. It said there was a lot wrong with Dutch research culture. On cue, the Erasmus university of Rotterdam said it had its very own case of fraud looming, with six hundred papers of one suspect scholar being given the read through again. Yet the Netherlands has one of the best science traditions, and some of best universities, in Europe. It's a problem elsewhere in Europe too, of that I have no doubt.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 04 March 2013 at 09:33 AM by Pelle Neroth
Despite flourishing hacker scene, Germany's Pirate Party tanking in the polls
3 January 2013 by Pelle Neroth
In a week where many others digested their Christmas excesses in front of television reruns, five thousand visitors attended the four day festival of unrestrained geekiness between 27 and 30 December.
The Chaos Communications Congress started in 1984, in West Berlin, with a handful of enthusiasts. Now it has moved to Hamburg and several thousand visitors listened to talks in three parallel auditoria. The geeks apparently drank alcoholic cocktails mixed with mate (mate is a kind of Latin American shrub tea; very good for you), handed out a yellow-green-red card decks to prevent the few women present from receiving
inappropriate male behaviour. (Google the name "Creeper Move Cards": looks impeccably politically correct). They flew remote-controlled model helicopters that buzzed around in the air above the regiments of working activists. their laptops laden with the usual stickers. It was an event to meet and discuss big ideas.
There were numerous little sectioned off areas where impromptu and not so impromptu meetings between hackers could take place, where they could hold workshops or small lectures.
Serious matters of cyber politics were discussed in the larger meeting halls, reported the German media. Russian hackers expressed concern about the growth of the Russian surveillance state, assisted by the adoption of the technique known as deep packet inspection originally used by the large mobile providers to prevent customers from file sharing or using Skype over the mobile network, but now modified and used by the Russian authorities to monitor, and ban, inappropriate content. An example: instructions for committing suicide.
Russian hackers warned things could get worse, and that the secret services' monitoring of content was running rampant.
Germany, which has a developed civil liberties tradition relating to internet issues, is also at risk, warned a German hacker activist. The difference between the situation between Germany and that of Russia or China is a single configuration file. You can change that in a few minutes and have a good censorship machine.
Denying that they are crying wolf about the surveillance state, the activists warned that the copyright industry may be at the forefront of exploiting the deep packet inspection technology to prevent the dissemination of copyrighted works. Which may not be a bad thing actually, if you are a copyright holder or content provider.
That fact, that there are arguments both for and against some of the most cherished beliefs of hackerdom, may be one reason why the German Pirate Party, the world's most successful of its kind, a sort of spiritual-political outgrowth of the Chaos Computer Club, is collapsing in the German polls.
Its programme of anti state cyber surveillance and free software and movie sharing appealed to many young people, as did its vaguely leftist idealism. Germany had a large green party before the rest of Europe got mainstream green parties (excepting the UK). So there was hope that this would pave the way for cyber issue party in many other national legislatures too.
But after a high in national polls of 13% in the summer of 2012 and a couple of state (länder) election successes they are now down to below 5%. They may therefore fall to achieve the vote threshold for seats in the federal parliamentary elections held in September this year. It is interesting and good for Germany, though, that it has such a lively hacker scene, and that Berlin is fast growing as a start up scene, benefiting from the city's reputation for anarchy and creativity.
And the CCC are certifiably on the ball, for who else would host a congress between Christmas and New Year?
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 03 January 2013 at 01:58 PM by Pelle Neroth
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