ISSN 1725-2423

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 65

European flag  

English edition

Information and Notices

Volume 49
17 March 2006


Notice No

Contents

page

 

II   Preparatory Acts

 

European Economic and Social Committee

 

422nd plenary session held on 14-15 December 2005

2006/C 065/1

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the State aid action plan — Less and better targeted state aid: a roadmap for state aid reform 2005-2009(COM(2005) 107 final — SEC(2005) 795)

1

2006/C 065/2

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the seventh framework programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007 to 2013) and the Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the seventh framework programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities (2007 to 2011)(COM(2005) 119 final/2 — 2005/0043 (COD) — 2005/0044 (CNS))

9

2006/C 065/3

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007-2013)(COM(2005) 121 final — 2005/0050 (COD))

22

2006/C 065/4

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding access to the Second Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) by the services in the Member States responsible for issuing vehicle registration certificates(COM(2005) 237 final — 2005/0104 (COD))

27

2006/C 065/5

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 69/169/EEC as regards the temporary quantitative restriction on beer imports into Finland(COM(2005) 427 final — 2005/0175 (CNS))

29

2006/C 065/6

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Security of modes of transport

30

2006/C 065/7

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing Community financial measures for the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy and in the area of the Law of the Sea(COM(2005) 117 final — 2005/0045 (CNS))

38

2006/C 065/8

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Improving the Community Civil Protection Mechanism(COM(2005) 137 final)

41

2006/C 065/9

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Joint enterprises in the fisheries sector: current state of play and future prospects

46

2006/C 065/0

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation determining the Community scale for the classification of carcases of adult bovine animals(COM(2005) 402 final — 2005/0171 CNS)

50

2006/C 065/1

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The role of technology parks in the industrial transformation of the new Member States

51

2006/C 065/2

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission — Restructuring and employment — Anticipating and accompanying restructuring in order to develop employment: the role of the European Union(COM(2005) 120 final)

58

2006/C 065/3

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the specific Programme Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism, for the Period 2007-2013. General Programme Security and Safeguarding Liberties(COM(2005) 124 final — 2005/0034 (CNS))

63

2006/C 065/4

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and the Council on the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All (2007) — Towards a Just Society(COM(2005) 225 final — 2005/0107 (COD))

70

2006/C 065/5

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on How to integrate social aspects into the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations

73

2006/C 065/6

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission — Consultation document on state aid for innovation(COM(2005) 436 final)

86

2006/C 065/7

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — The Commission's contribution to the period of reflection and beyond: Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate(COM(2005) 494 final)

92

2006/C 065/8

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The road to the European knowledge-based society — the contribution of organised civil society to the Lisbon Strategy

94

2006/C 065/9

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 77/388/EEC as regards certain measures to simplify the procedure for charging value added tax and to assist in countering tax evasion and avoidance, and repealing certain Decisions granting derogations(COM(2005) 89 final — 2005/0019 (CNS))

103

2006/C 065/0

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Renewable energy sources

105

2006/C 065/1

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Green Paper: Mortgage Credit in the EU(COM(2005) 327 final)

113

2006/C 065/2

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: The Hague Programme: Ten priorities for the next five years — The Partnership for European renewal in the field of Freedom, Security and Justice(COM(2005) 184 final)

120

2006/C 065/3

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the

131

2006/C 065/4

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Green Paper on Financial Services Policy (2005-2010)(COM(2005) 177 final)

134

2006/C 065/5

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Hygiene rules and artisanal food processors

141

EN

 


II Preparatory Acts

European Economic and Social Committee

422nd plenary session held on 14-15 December 2005

17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/1


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘State aid action plan — Less and better targeted state aid: a roadmap for state aid reform 2005-2009’

(COM(2005) 107 final — SEC(2005) 795)

(2006/C 65/01)

On 8 June 2005 the Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Pezzini.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14-15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 117 votes to two with five abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

The European Economic and Social Committee has consistently stressed the importance of state-aid control as a key factor in:

sound competition policy, not least as a way of increasing convergence between Member States' economies;

boosting innovation and the EU's competitiveness;

cohesion and sustainable growth throughout the Community's regions.

1.2

The rules governing state aid are based on the Community's founding texts – the ECSC Treaty and the EEC Treaty. Unlike the ECSC Treaty, which has now expired, the EC Treaty does not lay down an absolute ban on state aid: derogations (1) and some exceptions (2) to the ban are provided for, giving the Commission – and, exceptionally, the Council, too – wide discretionary power to authorise aid as an exception to the general rule.

1.3

Moreover, Articles 87, 88 and 89, which govern this complex matter, are included in Section II of Title VI laying down common rules on competition, taxation and approximation of laws, precisely in order to underscore the fact that the issue of state aid should be viewed in terms of the impact that it can have on the competitive market place.

1.3.1

In this connection, the EESC has already stressed that any new state aid action plan should be compatible with the objectives laid down in Article 2 of the EC Treaty in order to ensure, inter alia, proper functioning of the internal market, implementation of non-discriminatory rules, harmonious, balanced, sustainable development of economic activities, sustainable and non-inflationary growth, a high degree of competitiveness and convergence, a better quality of life, economic and social cohesion and solidarity among Member States.

1.4

Indeed, state aid, as the Commission itself states, is: ‘a form of state intervention used to promote a certain economic activity. It implies that certain economic sectors or activities are treated more favourably than others and thus distorts competition because it discriminates between companies that receive assistance and others that do not’ (3).

1.4.1

According to Article 87(1) of the Treaty, state aid includes not just aid granted by public authorities and financed by public funds but also interventions to reduce costs which are normally part of an undertaking's outgoings.

1.5

The March 2005 European Council reiterated the goal of continuing to work towards a reduction in the general level of state aid, while granting derogations for any market failures. This is in line with the recommendations of the 2000 Lisbon Summit and the 2001 Stockholm Summit and meets the need to direct aid towards horizontal objectives of common interest, including cohesion objectives.

1.5.1

Furthermore, in its recent Communication on the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy, the Commission took up this objective of reducing state aid, redirecting it to address market failures, particularly in sectors with a high growth potential, and stimulating innovation (4).

1.6

The European Parliament, too, has recently expressed its views on state aid (5), stressing that it must be used responsibly, providing value for money, since it:

equals more than 50 % of the EU's annual budget;

has consequences for public finances, for competition and for the ability of private undertakings to invest in a globalised economic environment;

is raised from European taxpayers.

1.6.1

Moreover, on 12 May 2005, the EP adopted a resolution on Strengthening European competitiveness – the effects of industrial change on policy and the role of SMEs (6), in which it supported the aim of reducing the global volume of aid to enterprises, but pointed to the usefulness of certain types of aid in offsetting shortcomings in the market, such as aid for research and development, for training and for advisory services.

1.6.2

The EP noted the importance of state aid for SMEs in the Member States and called on the Commission to maintain within the Structural Funds all aid instruments for the economic and socio-economic reconversion of regions affected by industrial relocation; it urged better consideration for small and micro-enterprises (7) in these regions and, more generally, in all cohesion policies.

1.6.3

As part of the plan to reform state aid arrangements, the EP proposed that a clear-cut approach be laid down with a view to fostering innovation across all sectors, under the heading of the Lisbon objectives.

1.7

For its part, over the years, the Court of Justice has also expressed its views on state aid on many occasions, creating genuine case law laying down consistent, extremely detailed guidelines, most recently with the judgment on services of general interest and the Altmark judgment of 24 July 2003 (8).

1.8

In its April 2005 Report on the State Aid Scoreboard (9), the Commission paints an encouraging picture of Member States' reactions to the Lisbon Strategy, recording a slight decline in the level of aid in relation to GDP and even more positive responses as regards the redirection of aid in line with the suggestions of the European Councils; nevertheless, there is still a long way to go.

1.8.1

In 2001, the Commission created the state aid register and the state aid scoreboard as a basis for discussion on a strategy for reducing the general level of state aid and redirecting it towards horizontal objectives, and these tools were developed further in 2002. The EESC has already expressed appreciation of the Commission's efforts to achieve greater transparency in the area of state aid, which would seem to be especially important with regard to the Member States which have recently joined the EU.

1.9

The EESC is pleased to note that, in 2003, annual total state aid had fallen by 3,6 % since 1999 and by almost 30 % since 1996; however, it also notes that the figure of EUR 53 billion (10), over 60 % of which is earmarked for the manufacturing and service industries, continues to be high. It also stresses its concern at the potential competition distortions which could be caused by the state-aid disparities between Member States and between the different regions within Member States.

1.9.1

In an earlier opinion (11), the EESC welcomed the ongoing clarification and fine-tuning of the rules by the Commission, with particular regard to the block exemption regulation for employment aid designed to facilitate Member States' job creation initiatives.

1.9.2

The EESC fully agrees with the Commission that state aid rules need to be adjusted with the passage of time to take into account political, economic and legal developments. That is why instruments for assessing state aid are reviewed periodically and therefore often have limited duration (12).

1.10

The EESC welcomes the Commission's proposals for general reform in the field (13), based on an integrated approach which takes proper account of ‘market failures’.

1.10.1

It feels that the adoption of a new framework which gears state aid policy to development needs should be subject to a review comprising streamlining and an exhaustive impact assessment.

1.10.2

The review should be based on clear goals, wide-ranging consultation and comprehensive information. In addition to a clear control system, the new framework should provide coherence between policies, concentrated measures and, lastly, greater streamlining, transparency and legal certainty.

1.10.3

The proposed framework should be in line with:

the integrated approach to competitiveness decided on by the November 2004 European Council with a view to reinvigorating the Lisbon agenda in terms of economic development, employment growth and consolidating enterprise;

the need to streamline Community state aid policy, which has been rendered increasingly complex by successive additions, which have also increased the administrative burdens for both Member States and beneficiaries;

the need to ensure legal certainty and administrative transparency, with clear, simple, pre-established rules which are easy for businesses and their advisers to understand and use;

the principle that aid should be economically worthwhile; it should be aimed at rectifying market failures, reducing uncertainty and ensuring a sufficient degree of predictability for operators;

the mechanisms and procedures for identification and notification of measures incompatible with the EU-25 single market; these must ensure practical ways of actively involving stakeholders, the judiciary, the academic and business worlds and civil society.

1.10.4

Particular consideration must also be given to the following:

the size and location of beneficiaries and the volume of aid granted (cf. ‘De minimis’ regulation);

the compatibility of the new framework with Community environment policy (new Emission Trading Scheme rules);

innovation policy (November 2004 Vademecum and new 2005 Communication) and research and technological development policy (new 2006 framework for R&D aid);

sectoral industrial policy;

cohesion policy (revision of the Guidelines on Regional Aid (RAG 2006);

enterprise policy (‘De minimis’ regulation and revision of the rules on risk capital);

consumers' views and the benefits for the European public.

1.11

In the EESC's view, however, the most important thing in defining a common state aid framework is to launch a modern policy which will win the unanimous support of all the Member States, since all the EU economies are subject to transition and restructuring processes as a result of globalisation.

1.12

As competitors and end recipients of state aid, undertakings, along with the public sector, are in a good position to assess the effectiveness of the instruments created. They have a practical contribution to make in monitoring solutions suitable for modern European state aid policy, and can make suggestions for drawing up new guidelines.

1.12.1

Moreover, undertakings are directly exposed both to the legal uncertainties and lengthy approval times of aid systems and to the serious consequences of recovery of aid declared to be unlawful. They are therefore among those who would benefit most from the dissemination of a uniform understanding of Community legislation and the elimination of difficulties and disparities in interpretation and implementation.

2.   Towards a balanced framework for reforming state aid

2.1

The EESC firmly believes that the Commission's reform proposals could be a valuable melting pot for achieving balanced reconciliation of:

all Member States' development needs – a sustainable, knowledge-based economy with more and better jobs and a high standard of living;

the constraints of globalisation, not least in terms of full respect for WTO rules;

equal conditions, in the great single market of the enlarged Europe, for undertakings, consumers, taxpayers and civil society as a whole.

2.2

The EESC fully supports the principle underlying the ‘Less and better-targeted’ state aid reform, which seeks to make undertakings more competitive on domestic and international markets and to create the right conditions to enable the most efficient undertakings to be rewarded.

2.3

The EESC fully endorses the approach outlined by the Commission aimed at simplifying rules in order to give operators greater certainty and alleviate Member States' administrative burdens. Indeed, the EESC firmly believes that uncertainty regarding what constitutes legitimate state aid and what does not is likely to call into question the legitimacy of the Commission's state aid control process.

2.4

The EESC believes that the proposed reform of Community state aid rules should essentially entail:

greater involvement by the institutions of the various stakeholders, particularly undertakings, in policy-making and policy implementation;

bringing existing rules into line with new challenges in order to support the Lisbon objectives and increase the benefits for the public;

the creation of specific instruments to encourage undertakings to expand, providing suitable incentives;

the adoption of new rules for state aid for innovation and R&D;

clearer conditions for the granting of fiscal aid, reviewing the frameworks for aid measures in order to introduce tax advantages, to provide an attractive, simple instrument with limited impact on competition which will ensure a level playing field for disadvantaged areas;

the introduction of ex-post assessment mechanisms and monitoring of the cost-effectiveness of measures, which examine their viability in terms of the functioning of the internal market;

greater international cooperation to coordinate Community policy with the policies of third countries, particularly those whose legislation does not provide for any state aid restrictions.

2.5

State aid policy is an integral part of competition policy and, as such, is among the Community policies, with the greatest bearing on economic trends. The EESC therefore believes that state aid policy should be used more specifically to achieve high-quality development and consistency with the Lisbon objectives so that it can play a driving role in ensuring sound economic and employment development trends.

2.6

Competitiveness is a measure of a market's capacity to create valuable goods and services effectively in a globalised world, raising the standard of living and ensuring a high employment rate. However, it must be admitted that the EU has failed in its attempt to promote the growth of its business and human resources and achieve higher levels of technological research, innovation, training and internationalisation, as called for by the Lisbon Strategy.

3.   The reform and the Lisbon Strategy (Less and better-targeted state aid policy)

3.1

The EESC supports a new general Community state aid framework based on an aid policy which:

is more targeted and selective;

is consistent and fully integrated with the Lisbon Strategy, with the completion of the single market and with other Community policies;

is based on simplification, transparency and legal certainty of procedures and rules;

gives undertakings and workers a more institutional role in the decision-making and implementation processes, and in assessing and monitoring the effectiveness of aid;

is based on responsibility-sharing, by means of national coordination bodies;

is linked to the aid policies of international bodies and principal European partners on the global markets;

complies with the rules of the single market;

ensures that all European Union state aid is compatible.

3.2

The EESC believes that Community state aid policy has an active role to play in making Europe more attractive to investors and employers, boosting business competitiveness and social cohesion, encouraging research and innovation endeavours, and, lastly, promoting the introduction and dissemination of new skills and the training of human resources.

3.3

The EESC feels that a general block exemption regulation should be introduced to extend and simplify the Community exemption framework for training and employment aids, favouring the aid measures which are most transparent and best target specific objectives, to be identified in close consultation with undertakings and the social partners, which, as beneficiaries of the aid systems, are in the best position to assess the effectiveness of the proposed instruments.

3.4

As regards the regional aid system, the EESC supports the intention in the new 2007-13 programming framework of boosting development in disadvantaged regions (NUTS II ‘statistical effect’ regions, NUTS II ‘economic development’ regions and NUTS III ‘low population density’ regions) and remote islands and mountain areas, overcoming the aid dependency mindset, reducing maximum aid intensities, preventing the aid differential between less developed regions exceeding 10 %, and combating potential waves of relocation due to disproportionate aid differentials (no higher then 20 % for NUTS level III regions) between border regions.

3.4.1

The EESC supports the Commission's approach of varying regional aid intensities for different types of undertakings, but considers that the danger of slowing down smaller undertakings' expansion should be avoided and a single differential of 20 % set for both small and medium-sized undertakings. The proposed limits for aid for large undertakings' investments in regions covered by the new derogations should take into account the new classification of undertakings laid down in the 2003 Commission Recommendation (14).

3.5

As regards small-scale aid, the EESC endorses increasing the ceiling for ‘de minimis’ aid, not least with a view to ensuring more targeted, streamlined Community action.

3.6

The EESC believes that the Commission should focus on state aid which has a significant effect on trade rather than wasting its resources analysing large numbers of cases of predominantly local concern, and that it should clarify the meaning and interpretation of the concept of ‘local concern’.

3.7

The EESC believes that state aid control should be proportionate and effective, and that complex notification procedures should be avoided in cases which are of minor importance for Community competition.

3.8

The EESC firmly supports the proposal on small-scale state aid submitted by the Commission in February 2004, with a view to giving Member States greater flexibility, simpler procedures and sufficient opportunity to introduce aid measures facilitating the achievement of the Lisbon objectives while preserving adequate scope for Commission control.

3.9

Where sectoral aid is concerned, coherence between EU sectoral policies and aid regimes in the transport, energy, information and communication sectors needs to be ensured, along the lines recommended by the Commission for block exemptions. The Lisbon Strategy laid down specific objectives for the culture, audiovisual, film and sport sectors, where there is great potential for innovation, growth and job creation.

3.10

The Community framework for state aid to environmental protection will remain in force until 2007. Here, too, it is important to pursue the Lisbon objectives, facilitating the introduction of the CO2 emissions trading scheme (ETS National Allocation Plans) as part of the Kyoto Protocol objectives.

3.11

Aid to innovation (pursuant to the Green Paper (15)): The EESC believes that the existing framework should be extended to types of aid for innovative activities which are not covered by the current guidelines, and that clear, general compatibility criteria should be defined which leave Member States greater scope for intervention without a notification obligation.

3.11.1

To bring about improvement in this field, the EESC calls upon the Commission to specify more precisely, with the help of Eurostat, which production and service activities can currently be defined as innovative. Some guidance in this sensitive area would be extremely useful.

3.11.2

In this connection, the EESC welcomes the issue on 21 September 2005 of the Communication on state aid and innovation, which provides a Community framework for this key sector and identifies both the most obvious market failures and suitable measures for those cases which could be remedied.

3.12

Clear pre-established criteria need to be devised for gauging which market failures are likely to impede innovation measures and instruments in the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy. At the same time, however, the Member States and their regions will have to be given sufficient room for manoeuvre to vary interventions so that they are proportionate and effective and can transform pre-competitive research into commercial and market innovation.

3.13

State aid facilitating SME investment in innovative projects needs to encourage businesses to grow in size as well and to encompass, in particular:

support for regional and transregional innovation networks;

promotion of the industrial technology parks and districts policy;

introduction of business angels and service intermediaries such as venture technologists, brokers and patent consultants;

establishment of technology transfer centres and venture capital;

training and hiring of skilled technical staff.

3.14

The EESC believes that the new framework should also take into account all the external factors which affect the innovation process, namely:

the culture of innovation-based enterprise;

the network of relations and interrelations with other undertakings, organisations and public bodies, which are essential for the creation and dissemination of knowledge and innovation;

the reference framework of laws and regulations, particularly in the field of intellectual property;

access to the capital market, particularly in respect of risk and start-up capital (revision of the Communication on investment capital);

education and training services and relations between the academic and scientific worlds and enterprise;

innovation support structures (such as incubators, district networks, industrial technology parks) and intermediary services.

3.14.1

More generally, it believes that, when reviewing the guidelines on horizontal aid such as aid to research, innovation, the environment and human capital:

the intensities currently laid down for horizontal aid should be increased;

the regional bonuses for interventions in less-developed areas should be maintained;

a ‘cohesion bonus’ for interventions part-financed by the Structural Funds should be introduced for non-eligible areas or area which are no longer eligible under Article 83(c).

3.15

As regards aid to services of general economic interest, it should be stressed that these services are a fundamental element of social and regional cohesion. In accordance with the criteria established by the Altmark judgment (16) and the relevant Commission Decision of 13 July 2005, the concept of a ‘typical undertaking, well run’ therefore needs to be clarified. Legal certainty also needs to be ensured as regards compensation for public service provision, which is a form of state aid compatible with the Treaty.

3.16

The EESC believes that the future legislation should take into account the fact that responsibility for defining services of general economic interest lies with national, regional and local institutions with democratic legitimacy in the field (17).

4.   Simplification and transparency of procedures

4.1

The EESC believes that major steps forward can be taken towards a simpler, more transparent Community aid policy, building on the Commission's work to target elements likely to cause substantial distortions of competition.

4.2

Delays in the processing of cases also need to be eliminated, with administrative practices improved and streamlined; Member States need to shoulder their responsibilities too in order to ensure transparency and effectiveness.

4.3

The EESC also calls strongly for codes of practice to be developed with the full involvement of all stakeholders, particularly undertakings, as beneficiaries of aid measures.

5.   The reform and EU-25

5.1

The situation in the wake of enlargement calls for changes to state aid policy to make all regions of the EU equally attractive as new locations and to investors, and to ensure fair competition between neighbouring regions.

5.2

The 10 new Member States currently grant undertakings much higher amounts of state aid – as a percentage of GDP – than the EU-15 Member States, although the situation looks set to even out gradually. During the period 2000-2003, state aid in the new Member States represented on average 1,42 % of GDP compared to an average of 0,4 % in EU-15.

5.3

The Lisbon Strategy provided for aid to be used to achieve horizontal objectives. In 2002,73 % of aid was earmarked for this purpose in EU-15 as opposed to 22 % in the new Member States (18).

5.4

On the other hand, it should be acknowledged that the new Member States have adapted very well to the market economy, although the enlarged EU still needs to take major steps to reduce the overall level of aid and encourage competitiveness, sustainable and cohesive development and the new European knowledge-based economy.

6.   Involvement of stakeholders: undertakings and civil society

6.1

The EESC believes that better governance of state-aid practices and procedures is necessary. Direct stakeholders need to be more involved, particularly enterprise and civil society, as they are directly exposed both to the legal uncertainties and lengthy turnaround times for Community approval of aid systems and to the serious effects of the recovery of inadmissible or unlawful aid.

6.2

As both beneficiaries of state aid and, at the same time, competitors, businesses are in a prime position to:

assess the effectiveness of the instruments implemented, monitor the solutions adopted and define possible best practices, thanks to the skills and first-hand experience they have acquired;

facilitate better dissemination of Community legislation, in forms which are clear, transparent and directly accessible to users, whether providers or beneficiaries of aid;

help surmount the difficulties and uncertainties encountered in interpreting and implementing rules, which are in danger of calling into question the legitimacy of state aid control;

introduce forms of private enforcement, facilitating compliance with and full implementation of European legislation.

6.3

The EESC therefore believes that:

the institutions should involve enterprise more in decision-making and policy implementation;

mechanisms for ex-post assessment and monitoring the cost-effectiveness of measures need to be introduced;

Commission decisions should be made fully accessible on the Internet in one of the Commission's working languages as well as in the language of the Member State concerned;

businesses need to be kept informed about ongoing notification processes so that they can ascertain whether concessions granted at national or local level comply with EU substantive rules and procedures relating to aid, and so that they can work with authorities at different levels to bring about more effective implementation of EU state aid policy;

proactive monitoring of the implementation of legislation should be performed, involving enterprise and civil society representatives in economic analysis of market failures and performance shortfalls in particular sectors or industries;

systematic, joint ‘market-failure watch’ mechanisms based on clearly-defined, transparent criteria need to be introduced, as well as aid measures which have no significant impact on competition in the internal market and comply with the Lisbon Strategy.

7.   Towards a state aid policy which is an instrument for growth and part of a shared vision for integrated, cohesive economic development in EU 25-27, fostering new jobs and businesses

7.1

The EESC believes that a clear picture needs to be painted of the added value of state aid for the European Union's future, in terms of the objectives of the competitive, sustainable and cohesive development of the Member States decided on at Lisbon and reiterated a number of times at various European summits since 2000.

7.1.1

The key sectors identified by the Lisbon Strategy require substantial, targeted financial input which must be fully reflected in Member States' budgetary and structural policies: a pre-established, coherent, compatible framework is needed to which all policies, including Community competition policy, must refer and conform.

7.2

Before a single European market which can compete on equal terms with the other players on the global market can be fully achieved, the EESC believes that substantial modernisation is needed in both the framing and implementation of European economic and, in particular, state aid policy. This is also a pre-requisite for the major infrastructure and major intangible investment necessary for an effective, technologically advanced, competitive market to function properly.

7.3

The Committee believes that general compatibility criteria need to be defined in order to encourage the Member States and regions to implement support policies with the aim of achieving a competitive economy which complies with free trade rules.

7.4

Where the market fails to make European businesses competitive and proves incapable of building up their technological innovation, training and internationalisation capacities, European state aid policy must facilitate rather than hinder policies and schemes to stimulate businesses' growth and increase their ability to attract new investment, expertise and capital to Europe.

8.   Concluding recommendations

8.1

The EESC is in favour of modernisation of European state aid policy based on a new, proactive approach and on a new, general Community framework. In this connection it recommends, in particular:

a policy which can provide adequate responses and remedy or eliminate market failures;

a policy which contributes substantially to the completion of the internal market, without leading to distortion of competition;

a more coherent, integrated policy which facilitates the achievement of the various strands of the Lisbon Strategy, to make businesses more competitive and innovative on the world stage while also improving the public's quality of life and work;

strengthening the industrial and service fabric by boosting enterprise and bringing industry and the labour market into line with the new industrial policy objectives and the new demands of globalisation;

strong support for all forms of product and process innovation (19);

a proactive approach to make Europe more attractive to investors and better able to create jobs, to make businesses more competitive, to encourage research and innovation projects and, lastly, to promote the development and dissemination of new skills and the training of human resources;

greater focus on factors which genuinely distort competition in the internal and international markets, without creating unnecessary, costly red tape in efforts to deal with limited, local incidents which cause no significant distortion;

an approach based on simpler, transparent, unambiguous procedures and rules together with measures based on fixed, non-discretionary criteria which are compatible with the Lisbon agenda as regards harmonious, cohesive and competitive development at global level;

greater institutional involvement of enterprises in the decision-making and implementation processes, in assessing and monitoring effectiveness, and in enforcement;

a closer relationship between European regulations and legislation and those of the WTO international bodies and of the main European players on the global markets;

a participatory forward-looking exercise open to all political decision-makers and socio-economic players, with the objective of creating a shared vision and establishing in advance how and to what extent intervention is actually compatible with development.

Brussels, 14 December 2005

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Article 87(2).

(2)  Article 87(3).

(3)  COM(2005) 147 final of 20.4.2005.

(4)  The information society is not always easy to understand. Information society products contain a significant input of intelligence. The capacity to produce increasingly innovative and intelligent goods and services must be stimulated and supported, not least with state aid.

(5)  EP Resolution No. P6_TA(2005)0033 of 22.2.2005.

(6)  EP Resolution No. A6-0148/2005 of 12.5.2005.

(7)  See Recommendation 2003/361/EC (OJ L 124 of 20.5.2003).

(8)  Case C-280/00, Altmark Trans and Magdeburg – Nahverkehrsgesellschaft Altmark (2003) ECR I-7747.

(9)  See footnote 3.

(10)  At EU level.

(11)  OJ C 108 of 30.4.2004.

(12)  SEC(2005) 795 of 7.6.2005.

(13)  COM(2004) 293 final of 20.4.2004.

(14)  OJ L 124 of 20.5.2003.

(15)  COM(1995) 688

(16)  Case C-280/00, Altmark Trans and Magdeburg – Nahverkehrsgesellschaft Altmark 2003 ECR I-7747.

(17)  The exemption of public-service compensation (Article 86(2)) should be substantial enough to ensure sufficient flexibility and dynamism and minimum administrative burden.

(18)  EU-wide, around 73 % of total aid (less agriculture, fisheries and transport) in 2002 was granted for horizontal objectives including research and development, small and medium-sized enterprises, environment and regional economic development. The remaining 27 % was aid directed at specific sectors (mainly manufacturing, coal and financial services) including aid for rescue and restructuring. The share of aid granted for horizontal objectives increased by 7 percentage points over the period 1998-2000 to 2000-2002. This was largely the result of significant increases in aid for the environment (+7 points) and research and development (+4 points). This positive trend was observed, to varying degrees, in the majority of Member States. Indeed, in several Member States - Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Austria and Finland – virtually all the aid awarded in 2002 was earmarked for horizontal objectives (COM(2004) 256 final).

(19)  As called for in the Green Paper on Innovation (1995).


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/9


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the seventh framework programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007 to 2013) and the Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the seventh framework programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities (2007 to 2011)’

(COM(2005) 119 final/2 — 2005/0043 (COD) — 2005/0044 (CNS))

(2006/C 65/02)

On 25 April 2005 the Council decided, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, to consult the European Economic and Social Committee on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Wolf, the co-rapporteur Mr Pezzini.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 123 votes, with four abstentions:

Contents

1.

Summary and recommendations

2.

Introduction

3.

Gist of the Commission document

4.

General comments

5.

Specific comments

6.

The seventh Euratom framework programme

1.   Summary and recommendations

1.1

The Lisbon objectives (1) are about Europe's position in global competition, which centres around the race to invest more in research and development; this involves both the traditional industrial nations (e.g. USA, EU and Japan) and the burgeoning new economic powers (e.g. China, India, Brazil, Korea) with their substantially cheaper labour.

1.2

Effective, high-quality research and development that enjoys an adequate level of support is in fact the basic foundation and sine qua non for innovation, competitiveness and prosperity, and thus also for cultural development and the provision of social services; investments in research and development have a high gain factor and boost economic strength accordingly. This is also in line with the 3 % objective laid down in Barcelona (2) in 2002, though the global race makes this a ‘moving target’.

1.3

Community-funded research and development activities create considerable European added value. They open up potentials that plainly go beyond the capacities of individual Member States and have already facilitated European developments of global importance. They have a decisive and stimulating leverage and integration effect on the necessary and more extensive national research programmes of the Member States, which also leads to a pooling of resources. They bring together Europe's research elites, European industry and European decision-makers. They are a catalyst of European integration, cohesion and identity-building. They are the core element of the European Research Area.

1.4

The Commission's proposal to increase expenditure and to devote just under 8 % of the total Community budget to these objectives is a welcome and absolutely necessary first step in the right direction. It is a minimum amount that must be increased still further in the longer term so as not to gamble away – but rather to maintain and strengthen – Europe's position as the cradle of modern science and technology. Without such action, it will not be possible, even in the longer term, to meet the Lisbon objectives.

1.5

On scientific and technological performance hinge not just economic competitiveness and the ‘pull’ that that exerts on investors, scientists and engineers (‘brain-drain’), but also cultural and political standing and influence. The EU must remain a key, sought-after partner in cooperation and must not lose its importance on the world stage as part of the global network.

1.6

The Committee therefore calls on the European Parliament, the European Council and, in particular, Member State heads of state or government to make the urgently needed R&D investments proposed by the Commission available in full and to ensure that these do not become a pawn in – or fall victim to – the negotiations on the EU's future overall budget. This decision will be a crucial touchstone for the capacity of European policy to set the right course for the future.

1.7

The Committee also calls on the heads of state or government and on European industry, including through their national research programmes and industrial research measures, to help ensure that the 3 % target is reached as soon as possible.

1.8

The Committee welcomes the fundamental direction of the two framework programmes proposed by the Commission (FP7 and Euratom FP7), not only for their thematic content and structure, but also, for the most part, for the balance they strike between the objectives and components of the individual programmes.

1.9

The Committee is pleased at the inclusion of the energy, security and space sub-programmes. One of the key priority issues is how to secure the adequate and sustainable supply of reasonably priced energy within the EU, which means finding the right balance between sustainability, environmental protection and competitiveness. The answer lies in sufficient research and development. Security too is a major issue, as the recent heinous terrorist attacks have made only too plain.

1.10

Many of the issues that need to be resolved cut across different remits and a number of different sub-programmes – including the humanities and economic sciences. In such cases, the Committee recommends that steps be taken to ensure overall coordination and the necessary link-ups. That might well have an impact on the current budgetary allocation for the individual sub-programmes. The same is true of the share of the budget earmarked for economic research, which may be too low.

1.11

The Committee welcomes the Commission's intention to simplify administrative procedures and reduce the effort these involve, thus boosting the efficiency of the European research programmes. As they stand, the application and approval procedures involve too much work and are too expensive, causing difficulties for scientific and industrial users. The European research programme must be a worthwhile venture for those taking part in it, including in terms of the risk involved in making the application. This also applies in particular to smaller players, such as SMEs or smaller research groups from universities and research centres.

1.12

A key consideration here is to ensure a sufficient degree of continuity in the application and support arrangements, and in the cooperative structures and organisational parameters (instruments). New instruments such as the joint technology initiatives should be introduced with great care, and, initially, for a trial period only.

1.13

Given the key role of small and medium-sized enterprises for the Lisbon process, the Committee welcomes the Commission's plan to involve SMEs even more closely in research, development and innovation. Accordingly, it recommends increasing the budget earmarked for this area even further where necessary, if the appropriations provided for in the competitiveness and innovation framework programme (2007-2013), which is not discussed here and which has a key support and intermediary role to play, should prove inadequate.

1.14

To win, SMEs set up specifically to develop and market innovative high-tech products above all need enough start capital and venture capital to be able to bridge the first five to ten years of operations successfully.

1.15

The Committee supports the role of the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the key range of responsibilities it has in many fields, including the study of future scientific, technological, economic and social trends, and their importance for policy consultations.

1.16

Further, more in-depth comments and recommendations are set out in the more detailed sections 2, 4 and 5 of the opinion below.

2.   Introduction

2.1

Europe's economic, social and cultural future. Europe's future development and position on the world stage will be determined above all by the competition that exists on the global market, with its changing industrial and economic structures, labour market situation and raw material parameters. In this context, growth, success and economic strength – and the resultant capacity to provide social services and secure cultural development – are critically contingent on available knowledge and thus on investment in research and technological development. Investments in research and development have a high gain factor and boost economic strength accordingly.

2.2

Global competition. On the one hand, Europe is competing with the now-traditional industrial nations such as the USA, Japan and Russia, with, in all R&D sectors, US investments (3) in particular considerably outstripping those of the EU, thus steadily widening that country's existing lead. On the other hand, Europe is also competing with rapidly expanding economies such as China, India, Brazil and Korea.

2.3

The global research race. These last-named countries not only have much cheaper labour than the EU, but they are now also showing a rapid rise in scientific and technical standards and are investing strongly in education, research and development. For the EU, therefore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to safeguard what are, in comparison, its much higher wages and social and environmental standards by widening its scientific and technological lead and delivering superior products and processes as a result. Europe must thus do its utmost to ensure it does not lose this global race for increasing R&D investments that is so crucial for its future.

2.4

Overall standing and attraction – international cooperation. On scientific and technological performance hinge not just economic competitiveness and the ‘pull’ that that exerts on investors, scientists and engineers (brain-drain), but also cultural and political prestige and influence. The EU must remain a key, sought-after partner in cooperation and must not lose its importance on the world stage as part of the global network.

2.5

The Lisbon strategy. The March 2000 Lisbon European Council therefore resolved to make the European Union the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world (4). Since then, implementation of the Lisbon strategy, and the creation of a strong European Research Area, which forms an integral part of the strategy, is acknowledged as the centrepiece of EU policy. The spring 2002 European Council in Barcelona added quantitative objectives for the support of research activities, with total research expenditure in the EU set to rise to 3 % of GDP by 2010, with two-thirds of funding coming from the private sector (the 3 % objective). The Committee would point out, however, that, in the light of the global investment race, this objective is a ‘moving target’. Those who fail to reach it in time fall even further behind.

2.6

Need for a strong Community framework programme. Community-funded research and development activities not only complement the Member States' research programmes, but also have considerable European added value. They open up potentials that plainly go beyond the capacities of individual Member States and have already facilitated European developments of global importance (5). They have a decisive and stimulating leverage and integration effect on the necessary and more extensive national research programmes of the Member States. They reflect the international nature of science, research and production and the international labour market that that requires.

2.7

A catalyst for European integration and cohesion. Community-funded research and development also brings together Europe's research elites, European industry and European decision-makers. It is a key catalyst of European integration, cohesion and identity-building.

2.8

The Commission's proposals. The Commission document sets out proposals for Community actions relating to programme funding and content which are urgently needed to support research and development activity, thus underpinning the objectives of the Lisbon strategy. Although they have been expanded, they still make up only a relatively small part – now just under 8 % – of the proposed overall EU budget for 2007 to 2013.

2.9

The Commission's proposals are also linked to the proposal to establish a competitiveness and innovation framework programme (2007-2013), which is not discussed here. In particular, this programme could also act an intermediary between the framework programme submitted here and the innovation needed by many SMEs.

2.10

Setting priorities as a test of commitment. Adoption of the proposed measures and sufficiently high priority treatment by the Parliament, Council and particularly – with regard to the financial perspectives – the Member States, is therefore a crucial test of the EU's commitment and the extent to which its policies are credible and able to deliver results. (See also points 4.2 to 4.6).

3.   Gist of the Commission document

3.1

The seventh framework programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007 to 2013), referred to hereafter as the FP7, differs from its predecessor in the following respects:

It encompasses the EU-25 from the very start.

The programming period has been extended by two years.

The programme envisages a substantial increase in the total budget and annual budgets.

It provides a clear and readily understandable breakdown of the proposed programmes and sub-programmes.

Research in the fields of energy, security and space are included as explicit new sub-programmes.

3.2

By contrast, the seventh framework programme of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities (2007 to 2011), referred to hereafter as the Euratom FP7, is of the same duration as before, although obviously it too covers the EU-25.

3.3

The FP7 Framework Programme will be organised in four specific programmes, corresponding to the four major objectives of European research policy:

Cooperation

With about 61 % of the total budget, this programme accounts for the lion's share of FP7. It is intended to support research activities carried out in transnational cooperation, including cooperation between the EU and third countries.

Ideas

An autonomous European Research Council will be created to support ‘frontier research’ projects competing at the European level. This may include all scientific and technological fields, including the humanities.

People

Support for training and career development of researchers, referred to as ‘Marie Curie’ actions, will be reinforced and expanded, with stronger links to national systems.

Capacities

This programme is intended to support various aspects of European research and innovation capacities: developing new research infrastructures and building on existing infrastructures; research for the benefit of SMEs; regional research-driven clusters; unlocking the full research potential in the EU's ‘convergence’ regions; ‘science in society’ issues; ‘horizontal’ activities of international cooperation.

Joint Research Centre

In addition, there will be a specific programme for the non-nuclear actions of the Joint Research Centre.

3.4

The proposed total of Community financial participation in FP7 is EUR 72,726 million. That amount is to be distributed, in percentage terms, among the activities and actions referred to in paragraphs 2 to 6 of Article 2, as follows:

Cooperation

61,1%

Ideas

16,3%

People

9,8%

Capacities

10,3%

Non-nuclear actions of the Joint Research Centre

2,5%

3.5

The cooperation programme has a proposed overall budget of EUR 44,432 million and is organised into thematic sub-programmes on the basis of priorities. Steps are to be taken to ensure consistency among the sub-programmes, and joint, cross-thematic approaches. The programme covers the following nine research subjects, which are to be approached within the EU in transnational cooperation. The proposed percentage budget allocation is also shown.

Health

18,7%

Food, Agriculture and Biotechnology

5,5%

Information and Communication Technologies

28,5%

Nanosciences, Nanotechnologies, Materials and new Production Technologies

10,9%

Energy

6,6%

Environment (including Climate Change)

5,7%

Transport (including Aeronautics)

13,3%

Socio-economic Sciences and the Humanities

1,8%

Security and Space

8,9%

3.6

Euratom FP7 is organised in two specific programmes.

3.6.1

One covers two areas:

Fusion energy research: to develop the technology for a safe, sustainable, environmentally responsible and economically viable energy source.

Nuclear fission and radiation protection: to promote the safe use and exploitation of nuclear fission and other uses of radiation in industry and medicine.

3.6.2

The other programme covers the activities of the Joint Research Centre in the field of nuclear energy.

3.6.3

A total of EUR 3,092 million is to be earmarked for the implementation of Euratom FP7 for the period from 2007 to 2011. That amount is distributed in percentage terms as follows:

(a)

Fusion energy research

69,8%

(b)

Nuclear Fission and Radiation Protection

12,8%

(c)

Nuclear Activities of the Joint Research Centre

17,4%

3.7

The Commission document also contains a detailed analysis and explanation of the proposed support instruments and underlying principles. These were already outlined in a previous Communication from the Commission (6), which the Committee has evaluated in depth (7).

4.   General comments

4.1

The Commission proposal is a very substantial document, which outlines an extensive research and development programme with its many details, aspects and links to other areas. In view of this, this opinion cannot analyse or comment on all the components and procedures of the programme. Detailed comments are therefore reserved for aspects to which the Committee attaches particular importance. The Committee would draw attention to its earlier recommendations (8) on relevant specific issues, and notes that these still apply to FP7. The Committee will make more detailed statements in its upcoming opinions on the Commission communications on the specific programmes (9) and access rules (10).

4.2

The Committee considers both proposed budgets as minimum amounts that must be increased still further in the longer term so as not to gamble away – but rather to maintain and strengthen – Europe's position as the cradle of modern science and technology. The Committee sees this as a welcome and absolutely necessary first step in bringing the Community at least closer towards to the 3 % objective  (11) set by European heads of state or government at the Barcelona summit.

4.3

Without adequate financial backing, FP7 and Euratom FP7 will not be able to contribute to the Lisbon strategy; there is even a risk that Europe will fall further behind in the global race. R&D are the starting point and engine of innovation for competitive products and technologies. They can trigger a snowball effect that will then impact on economic momentum and jobs.

4.4

Furthermore, the Commission proposal is a clear signal to Member States to follow this example and do everything possible, including in their national research budgets, to attain the 3 % objective.

4.5

Consequently, the Committee views the total funding decided on for the two budgets as a crucial test of European policies, of their credibility and ability to deliver results. It is this funding which will reveal the extent to which Europe has set itself the right priorities and is on the right course to prevent the EU falling behind in the global race and to deliver the promises of the Lisbon objectives.

4.6

Appeal. The Committee thus calls on the European Parliament, the European Council and, in particular, the Member State heads of state or government to ensure that the urgently needed R&D investments proposed by the Commission are actually made available and do not become a pawn in – or fall victim to – the negotiations on the future overall EU budget. Major difficulties would otherwise ensue, the Lisbon strategy objectives would not be met, and the standing and credibility of European policy would be dented.

4.7

The Committee also calls on the Member State heads of state or government and on European industry, including through their more extensive national research programmes and industrial research measures, to make a major effort to ensure that the 3 % target is reached as soon as possible.

4.8

The Committee welcomes the fundamental direction of the two framework programmes proposed by the Commission (FP7 and Euratom FP7), not only for their thematic content and structure, but also, for the most part, for the balance they strike between the objectives and components of the individual programmes.

4.9

The Committee notes with approval that the Commission's proposal has taken on board or attached particular importance to many of its recommendations. In the case of the research themes of the specific cooperation programme, these recommendations relate to its opinions on subjects such as nanotechnology  (12), biotechnology  (13) health research  (14), information technology  (15), energy research  (16) (including fusion energy research (17)), space  (18) and security research  (19). The Committee would reiterate at this point that it considers all these issues to be very important and thus strongly advocates that they be dealt with appropriately. Any gaps or other specific points still identified by the Committee will be addressed at a later stage.

4.10

It is true that in the case of space and security research, the Committee had made a reasoned case for such research to be managed and supported outside FP7. However, it realises that there are also arguments in favour of incorporating this area into FP7; for example, management would be more straightforward, and there would be better synergy and coherence with other sub-programmes. Therefore, it would now advocate initially incorporating these sub-programmes into FP7 on a trial basis and, depending on the results, making the necessary changes after the mid-term review, or in FP8.

4.10.1

Space-based applications at the service of the European society, which falls under the space sub-programme, will, as a typical cross-cutting theme (see section 5), be coordinated with the themes of security, the environment and information technology.

4.10.2

Security research themes, which are, sadly, of particular concern at the moment, such as protection against terrorism and crime, security of infrastructures and utilities, border security, and security and society are cross-cutting issues that should be complemented by research in the humanities and sociology on themes such as conflict and peace and culture, in order to learn more about the background to conflicts and ways of avoiding or preventing them. Particular attention should be paid to combating terrorism and the control of menacing weapons of mass destruction (see also point 6.4.3 below).

4.11

With regard to the ideas programme, the Committee is also pleased to note that its recommendations (20) have been taken up. These dealt largely with the autonomous management of this programme by the European Research Council, which is to be made up of outstanding scientists of international renown. The Committee would reiterate its recommendation to involve high-calibre industrial research scientists in this venture as well. The Committee therefore feels it is all the more imperative that the Parliament and the Council should approve this new type of research support, which should be organised on similar lines to the UK Medical Research Council or the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), for example.

4.11.1

This programme, which seeks to promote excellence in all areas of science and technology, will offer European added value and contribute to the EU's competitiveness in the global context. The Committee would point out in particular that (21) basic research which is free, independent and unhampered, even though subject to certain limits, is the only kind of research which can deliver the key ingredient for future prosperity – new knowledge. Industry also acknowledges the value of basic research and the need to support it (22).

4.11.2

At the same time, this ties in with repeated recommendations by the Committee to give due emphasis to all three essential sides of the innovation triangle – basic research, applied research and development (product and process development), in order to create the best possible conditions for full success, while helping to promote multidisciplinarity, as advocated by the Commission. The Committee would again point out that the dividing lines between the terms basic research, applied research and development have always been fluid and arbitrary, and their importance should not, therefore, be artificially inflated by administrative measures.

4.12

The Committee also welcomes the proposal to beef up actions under the people heading and the associated ‘Marie Curie’ programmes. This programme has so far also proven to be an extremely successful and important means of training and supporting European researchers, and of making the European Research Area more attractive for researchers from all over the world. The Committee reiterates that, as well as creating new knowledge, researchers are also the main agents in the transfer of such knowledge between countries and continents, and also between research establishments and industry, i.e. between research and application.

4.12.1

The objectives of life-long training and career development and pathways and partnerships between industry and universities are particularly interesting aspects of the programme. Whereas the first objective applies to training for young researchers and subsequent professional development (including the professional development of experienced researchers – see also the next point), the second concerns the important task of launching and supporting longer-term cooperation programmes between organisations from academia and industry, in particular SMEs, thus underpinning the innovation triangle outlined above. It is therefore particularly important to promote mobility between the public and private sectors. This should also include mobility in relation to, and partnerships with, for instance, the farming sector or political institutions.

4.12.2

The Committee is also touching here on the key role of universities as research and training bodies. To be able to meet their remit, however, it is essential that universities have the material and tools they need, as well as an appropriate staff budget and organisational structure (see also point 4.15.4). There are major shortcomings on this front – not least in comparison with top universities, for instance in the USA. The Committee is therefore pleased that the Commission is working on a separate communication on this issue, on which the Committee itself will also issue an opinion. At this stage, the Committee would just make clear one key point in relation to FP7: namely that the support instruments must be in keeping with the usual scale of projects conducted by university research groups.

4.13

In addition, the Committee endorses the Commission's efforts to establish a coherent professional profile for European researchers, to develop a stable career structure, and to adapt internal market rules accordingly. The Committee has pointed out in the past (23) that human capital is the most sensitive and valuable resource for research and development and that it supports the Commission's efforts to maintain and develop human resources. The Committee agrees with the Commission that improvements are needed both in relation to researchers' contracts and to the adaptation/portability of all aspects of social security and retirement provision, which are so important for all types of mobility.

4.13.1

Capable young scientists will take their research out of Europe or turn to other activities unless we succeed in offering them an attractive and predictable career path (known in the USA as a tenure track). Mobility among scientists is needed and wanted not only within the EU, but also between the EU and many other countries. This must not, however, lead to a net loss of the most gifted among them (brain-drain). One particular aspect of this, in view of the importance of family cohesion, is the option of ‘dual-career-couples’.

4.13.2

The Committee would refer in that regard to the Commission's recommendation of 11 March 2005 concerning the European Charter for Researchers  (24) and a code of conduct for the recruitment of researchers designed to promote the objectives set out above. The Committee very much endorses the intentions expressed therein and many of the individual proposals. It therefore regrets that in certain respects the proposed rules go too far and thus make it difficult for the provisions – and the fundamentally warranted concern that underpins them – to secure acceptance among the scientific community. In some cases, the wording and recommendations are even misleading, or at the very least unclear or ambiguous (25). This can, among other things, make simplification more difficult (see next point) or result in unsound decisions being taken. The Committee therefore recommends that these key provisions be revised as appropriate when the opportunity arises.

4.14

In this context, the Committee endorses the Commission's declared intention, under the heading of simplification, of streamlining numerous actions and rules for application and decision-making procedures, thereby making them markedly easier for applicants to deal with. Ultimately, the considerable investment of time and money involved in application and approval procedures is one of the main obstacles for scientific and industrial users. This applies in particular to SMEs with their considerable potential for innovation, and to smaller, university-based research groups. More user-friendly procedures would considerably enhance the efficiency of European support for research, besides helping to improve perceptions of ‘Brussels’ among the European public, which, unfortunately, are largely clouded by images of ‘red tape’ and ‘overregulation’. The Committee reiterates its earlier recommendations to this effect and its endorsement of the Marimon Report (26). The European research programme must be a worthwhile venture for those taking part in it, including in terms of the effort and risk involved in making the application.

4.14.1

The Committee is aware that this issue touches on the balance between the requirement for transparency, the rules of the European Court of Auditors and the need for all decision-makers to have sufficient room for manoeuvre. This can and must lead to stakeholders from the Commission or its authorised agencies acting more on their own initiative (although the problem of their personal liability will have to be considered), which in turn will place very exacting demands on their specialist knowledge. The Committee therefore reiterates its recommendation that specific experts with many years' experience are needed here. The Committee would refer to its earlier recommendations on this point (27).

4.14.2

A particularly important facet of securing innovation and ‘going the extra mile’ is the willingness to accept uncertainty and the risk of failure. No attempt to break new scientific and technological ground, no quest to discover the unknown can be planned or organised in such a way that success is guaranteed. Indeed, the reverse is true. Nothing new can be discovered if everything is known in advance. ‘Failure’ must not therefore be seen as such, but rather a useful finding in the trial-and-error process. Opportunity and risk are two sides of the same coin.

4.14.3

It is advisable to set up external agencies only if a clear improvement in administrative procedures can be achieved by doing so and if there is a clear and proven cost advantage to be gained. Any additional or external administrative costs must not, under any circumstances, eat into the budget available for actual research.

4.15

The Committee also particularly welcomes the important sub-programmes included under the capacities programme. These cover the fields of research infrastructures; research for the benefit of SMEs; regions of knowledge; research potential; science in society; and activities of international cooperation.

4.15.1

The important objective of involving small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more closely in research and innovation process and creating suitable conditions and tools for this to happen is of particular interest.

4.15.2

Support from the innovation programme may prove to be another useful means of supporting SMEs  (28), but, here too, procedures must be kept practicable and in due proportion to the resources of SMEs. Depending on the success of this innovation programme, the Committee feels it would be worth considering a further increase in the share of explicit SME support from its current level of 15 %, not least given the requirements of the new Member States. The Committee would reiterate its earlier statements on this issue, namely that, to win, SMEs set up specifically to develop and market innovative high-tech products above all need enough start capital and venture capital to be able to bridge the first five to ten years of operations successfully. Economic research and economic policy can make key contributions here.

4.15.3

Equally important are the objectives of optimising and developing research infrastructures, of developing regional research-driven clusters, and of promoting and unlocking research potential in the EU's convergence and outermost regions. Developing research infrastructures and establishing new infrastructures will promote and stimulate the emergence of regional research-driven clusters. Here too, there is above all a need for adequate venture capital – a crucial factor in success.

4.15.4

The Committee would above all stress the importance of adequate infrastructure measures to get the universities up to speed (see point 4.12.2 above). In this context, the Committee notes that, in a number of places in the EU, successful clusters of high-tech firms have grown up around certain universities and/or research centres, sparking growth and innovation in the neighbouring economic area as well (poles of economic growth). See also point 4.16.2.

4.15.5

There is more on the role of European supercomputer centres as an additional and very important infrastructure measure at a later stage in this opinion (see point 5.8 below).

4.15.6

The Committee also recommends that, subject to its inclusion under the ‘Ideas’ programme as well, the issue of science in society – currently one of the activities under the ‘Capacities’ heading – should be switched (29) to the priority sub-programmeSocio-economic sciences and the humanities’ which is part of the ‘Cooperation’ programme. In this way, more effective use might be made of the potential synergies between these themes, and the necessary links could also be established. This would also make it clearer that the total budget of these overlapping issues is 3 % of the thematic, priority programmes.

4.15.7

Sound and effective international cooperation in research and training is a key element of global partnership and reflects with the very nature of scientific R&D. International cooperation activities (30), which come under the capacities sub-programme, focus on the key issue of working together (see also point 4.13.1) with applicant countries, countries neighbouring the EU, developing countries and emerging economies. The Committee is pleased that cooperation with economically and technically advanced countries such as the USA or Japan, which is, at the least, equally important, is made possible under the ‘Cooperation’ or ‘People’ sub-programmes, and that, in individual cases, such cooperation has even been placed on an institutional footing through bilateral agreements. The Committee recognises that this cooperation must grow out of actual need in the fields concerned, but it would nonetheless recommend raising the profile of these important facts and giving them greater emphasis.

4.16

Continuity and tools to promote research (forms of support). With regard to both aspects, the Committee strongly reaffirms its recommendations put forward in a previous opinion. In view of the urgent need for greater continuity, the Committee reiterates its point that the retention of instruments which have proved their worth is an important means of achieving this objective, and that there should be scope for flexibility in applicants' choices of instruments. At the same time, however, the assessment procedure must not sanction the choice of a particular instrument (not favoured by the Commission), nor may it give priority to particular instruments. The Committee also sees the extended duration of FP7 as a contribution to greater continuity, provided, however, that it is adequately funded.

4.16.1

Some of the instruments have been re-named or are entirely new. At this point the Committee would reiterate its general recommendations to the effect that, firstly, the Commission should, in the interests of continuity, proceed with great caution in introducing new instruments, or even renaming existing ones, and secondly, during the necessary trials of new instruments, it should make it clear that such instruments may still be in the testing phase.

4.16.2

In addition to the technology platforms mentioned earlier, the joint technology initiatives are also a new instrument of this kind designed to promote the establishment of longer-term public-private partnerships. There are high hopes for these initiatives within industry and not least among SMEs, although the Committee notes that the Commission has yet to produce any clearer proposals on this issue, including how the initiatives differ from technology platforms. Such initiatives could, among other things, also lead to the establishment of cooperative networks between big companies and SMEs, and also with universities and research centres, and, in broad terms, to more private-sector R&D investment (see also point 4.15.4). It is important, therefore, not only to work out clearer conditions and operating arrangements for joint technology initiatives of this kind, but also, after an appropriate period, to check whether the expectations placed in the initiatives have been fulfilled.

4.16.3

When introducing new instruments, the Commission should take care to avoid any recurrence of the mistakes that were made during the launch of the ‘networks of excellence’ (FP6). In that instance, an ineffective information policy led to confusion and differing interpretations among all stakeholders, and even within the Commission itself. The Committee trusts that it will have an opportunity to go into this subject in a subsequent opinion. It welcomes the Commission's proposal to apply Articles 169 and 171 of the EU Treaty to the funding schemes.

5.   Specific comments

5.1

Most of the specific comments relate to the thematic sub-programmes of the cooperation programme which form the core of the framework programme. At this point, the Committee would like to reaffirm its support for the Commission's proposals as a whole, and to recommend their implementation.

5.2

The Committee would first of all consider the key aspect of multidisciplinary, cross-cutting themes, which, by their very nature, require overall coordination or direction, and thus frequently also encompass the socio-economic sciences and humanities sub-programme (see also point 5.8). Care should therefore be taken to ensure that, in spite of the precise structure of the individual programmes – unavoidable for administrative and other reasons – the overall connection between many of the issues to be tackled is recognised, dealt with and turned to good account. The Committee therefore recommends that steps be taken to ensure overall coordination and the necessary link-ups.

5.2.1

This also includes the theme of security research and combating terrorism, discussed in section 4 above.

5.2.2

Demographics is another case in point (31). Research required in this field ranges from identifying demographic facts, causes and trends, to the worryingly low birth rate in many Member States and the impact of still-rising average life expectancy. On this last point, the focus is on the requisite geriatric/medical research and care techniques (32). The social and economic issues involved in the whole complex question are a particularly important consideration here.

5.2.3

Health too is also a cross-cutting issue (see point 5.9), as it is affected by lifestyle. working conditions, environment, diet, vaccinations, and other factors such as addictions.

5.3

Some of the sub-programmes, however, are also, by their very nature, particularly cross-cutting, in that, besides having a direct impact on European industrial performance, they also benefit other sub-programmes, due to thematic links between them. (In this regard, again see point 5.2.)

5.4

This is particularly true of the information and communication technologies (ICT), biotechnology, and nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies sub-programmes. The energy, environment, and transport sub-programmes are also closely interconnected. In view of this, any assessment of the balance between the individual sub-programmes can at best be only qualitative; this reservation should be borne in mind in connection with the following remarks.

5.5

Information and communication technologies (ICT) are indeed of crucial relevance to all aspects of industry, business, the services sector, science and technology, including security and defence. They are a critical element in global competition. Compared to Japan and the USA in particular, Europe has considerable ground to make up, not least in view of the need for supercomputers in many important fields, such as climate, security and materials research and the synthesis of new medicines. This concerns both the establishment of European supercomputer centres – which could be more appropriately covered by the capacities or infrastructure programmes – and independent European development of the requisite hardware and software.

5.5.1

However, it is striking that, as under FP6, by far the largest share of the budget has again been allocated to the ICT sub-programme. Given the importance of other themes, particularly energy or, for instance, health which also have economic implications, it may be asked whether the possibility of a certain shift in emphasis should not be kept open, in the interests of a consistent approach to the sub-programmes. The answer to this question partly depends on the degree to which the ICT programme contributes to other programmes, e.g. security research or space exploration.

5.5.2

With this specific example in mind, the Committee recommends that in general, FP7 should be implemented in such a way as to allow sufficient flexibility in allocating funds between individual sub-programmes or to benefit from the intended coherence, e.g. by means of sub-programmes jointly issuing calls for tenders. The Committee's remarks on ICT also apply to the transport and space sub-programmes (e.g. aeronautics).

5.5.3

Once again, the Committee expresses its satisfaction at the start of construction of the Galileo project which is a prime example of the application of the subsidiarity principle. Besides being of great value in terms of innovation, the technological solutions employed here and especially their application are, in the Committee's view, what makes this project truly multi-disciplinary and cross-functional.

5.6

The Committee reiterates its strong satisfaction at the incorporation of the important energy sub-programme into FP7, in line with a recommendation that it has put forward on several occasions. However, even though energy research is also a very high priority for Euratom FP7, the Committee does feel that even greater emphasis should be placed on this vital and highly topical subject. Energy is the ‘staple food’ of a competitive economy, yet not only is the EU currently dependent on energy imports to an extremely worrying degree, but global resources are also set to run short in the medium term. R&D is the key to solving the energy problem.

5.6.1

The Committee is thus pleased that the development of renewable energy sources has been given such clear emphasis. They play a crucial role in the whole energy/environment equation (global warming). Here the Committee would refer to its numerous opinions (33) which cover the whole range of needs for research into renewables, from geothermal energy, biomass, solar and wind energy to storage technology. Support from FP7 will give renewable energy sources a substantial additional boost, complementing various support measures for commercial launches (e.g. legislation on the sale of electricity to the grid), which are intended to promote the development of commercially viable products. The Committee would also recommend that more detailed studies be conducted into the energy balance of renewable systems as doubts have recently been raised about, for instance, the positive energy efficiency of certain biofuels (34).

5.6.2

However, the Committee would emphasise that the conventional fossil fuels, coal, crude oil and natural gas  (35), will remain the backbone of European and global energy supplies for several decades to come. In view of this, any research and development activities which contribute to more efficient extraction, transportation and use of such fuels, and thus directly or indirectly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, are of great economic and environmental significance. Admittedly, the energy sub-programme refers to cutting CO2 (including CO2 separation and storage) and energy efficiency, but it is still important to ensure that the relevant measures are adequately funded. In addition, interconnections with the materials and transport sub-programmes offer potential synergies. The Committee also welcomes the related coal and steel research programme (36).

5.6.3

The Committee therefore recommends that research and development measures give due emphasis not only to renewables but also to energy production technologies using fossil fuels. This is all the more important in view of the fact that over the next two decades many of the existing fossil-fuelled power stations will have to be replaced, and extra new ones (several hundred throughout the EU!) will be needed. It is of vital economic and environmental importance that these stations should use state-of-the-art technology. The high oil price also raises the question as to when coal-based fuel generation technologies will be able to offer an economically competitive alternative.

5.6.4

For further details, the Committee's would refer to its earlier and current opinions on energy research and the energy issue (37).

5.7

Ultimately, one of the most effective means of combating climate change and other undesirable environmental impacts is to improve energy production technologies (38).

5.7.1

The link between the themes of the two sub-programmes should therefore be used to enhance both. While research in the environment sub-programme (including climate change) is designed largely to provide the diagnosis, the main purpose of the energy sub-programme is to provide the therapy.

5.7.2

Even within the environment sub-programme, however, the key links and synergies between analysis/diagnosis (e.g. seabed geology) and potential therapies (e.g. seabed protection) should be identified and turned to good account.

5.8

The socio-economic sciences and the humanities sub-programme, expanded, as recommended in point 4.15.5, to incorporate the science in society programme, should also be seen as a cross-cutting theme. The Committee also reiterates its previous recommendation that there should be a closer link between natural sciences and the humanities (including social sciences), not only between individuals working in these two areas, but between their methods and criteria too (39). Social scientists and researchers in the humanities should also be involved in examining the key issues connected with security research.

5.8.1

In this connection, the Committee also welcomes the emphasis placed on economic analyses to develop best practices for the single market and the Lisbon strategy in the face of global competition and other effects of globalisation. The Committee would also stress the urgent need for analyses of and political discussion (see also the Joint Research Centre programme, point 5.10.1) about the causes of unemployment, the strengths and weaknesses of various economic systems and the causes, implications and possible turning points of demographic trends. Last but not least, the Committee would underscore the need to look in greater depth at the causal link between research, innovation and prosperity.

5.8.2

It is not only the legal sciences that are involved here, but ultimately also the scientific foundations of all EU policies, be they social, legislative, economic (monetary and financial, fiscal, innovation-based, etc.) or security-related. Particularly important, however, are the political, economic and legal issues raised by the further internal development of the EU, including the single market, cohesion, integration and governance.

5.8.3

The Committee would also emphasise the particularly topical issue of the political and cultural identity of the EU and its borders. It is important here to explore the common features of European culture, not only in terms of art, science, architecture, technology and fashion, but also in relation to the history of ideas, the law, value systems, and the way countries are run. The modern idea of the state was born in Europe (and first realised in the USA). This, however, also implies more in-depth consideration of the concept of culture, its facets and obscurities, its hierarchies of values and the misunderstandings to which it may give rise.

5.8.4

Given the diverse range of important issues involved, the budget earmarked for the socio-economic sciences and the humanities sub-programme may, despite the proposed input from the science in society budget, be low. To decide, conclusively, whether that is the case, consideration must also be given to areas of the other sub-programmes – such as energy – that include aspects of the humanities.

5.8.5

Last but not least, the Committee would emphasise all ethical issues, which reflect the interplay of knowledge, research and application, and the balance between risks and opportunities. One key issue, also with regard to the Lisbon strategy, relates to the connections and conflicts between ideological/dogmatic positions, the willingness to take risks, and progress.

5.8.6

This brings us back to the question of science in society, a topic on which the Committee has already drawn up a very substantial opinion (40). In line with the position adopted in this earlier opinion, the Committee also endorses the range of themes proposed by the Commission, which reflect a concern to bring scientific research and knowledge closer to the public, to enhance mutual understanding and to encourage young people in particular to consider a scientific career. A forum is needed to engage citizens and consumers with science and research and in which they can bring their opinions to bear.

5.8.6.1

The Committee feels that measures which enable direct contacts or even hands-on involvement are especially important: good technology museums, special laboratories, work shadowing, etc. However, renewed emphasis in higher educational curricula on effective and dynamic science teaching is what is needed most of all. The particular aim is also to promote interest in and understanding of science and technology. Adequate knowledge is the sine qua non of sound judgement.

5.8.6.2

Scientific knowledge is also an essential part of training the mind and instilling a clear world view.

5.8.6.3

However, it is equally important for researchers themselves to contribute their views and become more closely involved in discussions and decision-making processes concerning this programme.

5.9

One particularly important sub-programme relates to health, a very broad issue that the Committee has already addressed on a number of occasions. This sub-programme covers all R&D work in the fields of diagnostics, therapeutics and the relief and prevention of disease.

5.9.1

Priority should thereby first of all be given to the treatment or prevention of diseases which have – or would have if spread in an uncontrolled epidemic – a particularly high mortality and morbidity rate among children, adults and older people.

5.9.2

The steady increase in average life expectancy is the result not only of successful medical progress but also of the ever-better, ever-healthier food supply. A corollary of that, however, is also the increased incidence of lifestyle-related illnesses (caused, for instance, by obesity (41) or smoking) and of job- and age-related illnesses and ailments. The importance of this latter issue has been highlighted many times above (42). It is an issue that not only touches on medical and human aspects, but, in terms of fitness for work and care costs, also has an economic dimension. The same is also true for the entire issue of how the health system is organised and financed, and the application of medical advances. Research into disabilities is a similar case in point. Research of this kind seeks to raise the quality of life of people with disabilities and possibly to get them into work.

5.9.3

However, disability issues and health issues are not one and the same; disabilities should therefore be recognised across all relevant sectors of the programme.

5.9.4

The Committee would also highlight the international dimension of health. This involves working together with countries strongly committed to successful research, and also covers health-related development aid. This makes cooperation with the World Heath Organisation (WHO) particularly important.

5.9.5

The global dispersal of new pathogens is another international issue in which cooperation with the WHO is also very important.

5.9.6

Moreover, international cooperation provides an opportunity to conduct in-depth clinical studies not only of the population at large, but also in relation to specific age groups: children, adults and older people.

5.9.7

The substantial health-related R&D work that has been done, including in the private sector (the pharmaceuticals industry and appliance manufacturers) is a good example of the application of Article 169 in partnerships between the private sector and research funded by the public sector (including the Member States).

5.10

Joint Research Centre (non-nuclear actions)

5.10.1

The Joint Research Centre (JRC) provides scientific and technical support for EU policymaking in areas such as sustainable development; climate change; food; energy; transport; chemicals; alternative methods to animal testing; research policy; information technologies; reference methods and materials; biotechnology risks, hazards and socio-economic impacts; as well as in the field of econometric modelling and analysis techniques. A further task is to develop scientific and technological reference data in various fields of environmental and food monitoring. This also provides valuable input into the framing of Community legislation.

5.10.2

The Committee also feels that the Community has an additional task in helping coordinate national metrological and standardisation institutions while, at the same time, taking part in their programmes. With the single market and European integration as a whole in mind, consideration should be given to establishing a European Bureau of Standards, with the involvement of the appropriate national institutions, relevant industries and the JRC. The diversity that has existed to date would provide an opportunity to adopt ‘parallel’ practices, to compare different approaches, and to forge ahead with new developments within a dependably resourced, properly coordinated environment.

5.10.3

The Committee is pleased to note that JRC activities are integrated into the international scientific community. However, it also considers such integration to be particularly important in the field of socio-economic sciences and the humanities mentioned in point 5.8.

6.   The seventh Euratom framework programme (Euratom FP7)

6.1

Controlled fusion. The Committee reiterates the view expressed in its recent opinion (43) on fusion energy that, in the long term, the peaceful use of fusion energy has the potential to play a very important part in resolving energy supply problems in a sustainable, environmentally sound and competitive way. Like nuclear fission, fusion does not generate any greenhouse gases, but it also has other important advantages.

6.1.1

The Committee congratulates the Commission and other stakeholders on the success of negotiations, recommended by the Committee, as a result of which the major international ITER project has been brought to Europe. ITER  (44) represents a decisive step towards a future demonstration reactor, DEMO. However, this also entails a contractual obligation to finance ITER and the preparatory and accompanying programmes this requires, as well as the preparatory programmes for DEMO.

6.1.2

With this in mind, the Committee calls on the Member States to make a substantial contribution of their own to the European fusion programme and provide appropriate backing for the laboratories associated with the programme. The Committee acknowledges that the fusion programme has reached a stage at which implementation requires a substantial and increased investment, which it feels is necessary and warranted in view of the potential of this energy source and the seriousness of the energy problem.

6.1.3

For further details, the Committee would refer to its recent opinion on this issue (45) in which it highlights the DEMO preparatory work (development of materials and blankets, the idea behind the system, etc.) and studies on improved confinement concepts.

6.2

Nuclear fission and radiation protection. Nuclear energy is the most important source of carbon-free base-load electricity presently available. However, there are still concerns about operating risks and safe storage of spent nuclear fuel. The Committee would refer to its opinions on nuclear energy (46) (nuclear fission) and on the nuclear package (47). In the latter opinion, it expressed its support for ‘the Commission's intention to vigorously promote research relating to safety of nuclear installations and disposal of radioactive waste in the future and to coordinate such research across the Community’. It endorses the measures proposed by the Commission, which are consistent with this intention.

6.2.1

Reactor systems. This involves research to underpin the continued safe operation of existing reactor systems (including fuel cycle facilities), and to assess the potential and safety aspects of future reactor systems.

6.2.1.1

The Committee sets great store by actions in the latter area, which should lead to the development of innovative reactor systems. The history of technology shows that the greatest potential for progress lies in new-generation systems and innovation building on existing systems and concepts. In view of the importance of nuclear power for energy policy, measures should be taken to unlock existing potential in terms of enhanced safety, reduced radioactive (especially long-life) waste, making resources go further, and tapping additional resources.

6.2.2

Radiation protection. The objective here is to consolidate the scientific basis for protection of the general public from ionising radiation arising from radioactivity or other sources in medicine, research and industry (including the production of nuclear energy). One particularly important issue that could be investigated is the effects of very low doses of radiation, a subject that is difficult to access statistically and which still arouses controversy as a result.

6.2.3

There have also been particularly important developments in the technical monitoring and supervision of all non-proliferation measures for nuclear weapons material and technology.

6.3

For the development of the nuclear fusion power station and the safe operation and ongoing development of nuclear fission reactors, it is a matter of some urgency to educate a new generation of highly skilled experts and train them using appropriate test facilities. That can only succeed if nuclear technology in Europe is again given higher priority, thereby stimulating the interest of the upcoming generation of scientists. Here too, it is essential, as in the past, to forge close links between research and training.

6.3.1

For further details, the Committee would refer to its recent opinions on this subject (48).

6.4   Joint Research Centre – Euratom Programme

6.4.1

The Committee is pleased to note that the Joint Research Centre supports policymaking in the nuclear field, including the implementation and monitoring of existing policies and responding to new demands.

6.4.2

The Committee feels that it is right to focus ‘nuclear’ JRC activities on the key issues of waste management, nuclear safety and security, as these are the specific subjects of public concern that need reliable solutions. The Committee trusts that activities in this field will also be networked and coordinated with those of the Member States.

6.4.3

The Committee also feels it is an important task to (further) develop procedures to secure even more effective monitoring of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons material and technologies (see also point 4.10.2).

Brussels, 14 December 2005

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  This also applies to the objectives of the revamped Lisbon strategy (European Council of 23 March 2005).

(2)  Total EU spending on research and development to rise to 3 % of GDP by 2010, with the private sector contributing two-thirds. See also OJ C 95 of 23.4.2003.

(3)  R&D spending by the US Department of Defence (DoD) – which covers not only military research – represents a particularly important share of these investments.

(4)  This objective was explicitly confirmed and detailed in the decisions taken by the March 2005 European Council in Brussels to revitalise the Lisbon strategy.

(5)  Examples of successful European cooperation: Ariane, Airbus, CERN, ESO, Galileo; JET/ITER.

(6)  Science and technology, the key to Europe's future – Guidelines for future European Union policy to support research, COM(2004) 353 final.

(7)  OJ C 157, 28.6.2005.

(8)  See footnotes 14 to 21 below.

(9)  COM(2005) 440 to 445 final.

(10)  Expected shortly.

(11)  OJ C 95, 23.4.2003.

(12)  OJ C 157 of 28.6.2005.

(13)  OJ C 234, 30.9.2003; OJ C 61, 14.3.2003; OJ C 94, 18.4.2002.

(14)  OJ C 74, 23.3.2005; OJ C 133, 6.6.2003.

(15)  OJ C 302, 7.12.2004.

(16)  OJ C 241, 7.10.2002.

(17)  OJ C 302, 7.12.2004.

(18)  OJ C 220, 16.9.2003; OJ C 112, 30.4.2004.

(19)  OJ C 157, 28.6.2005.

(20)  OJ C 110, 30.4.2004.

(21)  Quotation from the speech of the then German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. inaugurating Einstein Year in 2005. He went on to point out that ‘basic research also needs security, freedom from the pressure to deliver direct applications of its findings and the compulsion to constantly demonstrate its usefulness …’.

(22)  cf. The Economic Returns to Basic Research and the Benefits of University-Industry Relationships. A literature review and update of findings. Report for the UK Office of Science and Technology by SPRU - Science and Technology Policy Research., Alister Scott, Grové Steyn, Aldo Geuna, Stefano Brusoni, Ed Steinmueller, 2002.

(23)  See also OJ C 110, 30.4.2004.

(24)  OJ L 75, 22.3.2005, p. 67.

(25)  This applies, for instance to a failure to appreciate (a) the fact that the main purpose of research is to generate new knowledge, while the issue of what serves humanity or what is relevant to society is not an appropriate criterion in individual cases (see also OJ C 221, 7.8.2001, points 4 and 6 – point 6.7.1 for instance – and footnote 14, or (b) the key importance of duplication, not only to safeguard new knowledge but to ensure that such knowledge is circulated, built on and expanded (see also OJ C 221, 7.8.2001, points 4.7.5 and 4.7.6). Good research cannot be forced by over-narrow rules, but needs freedom in which to develop.

The most effective way to forge ahead to break new ground and achieve good results is to appoint the most successful and particularly experienced researchers to executive positions, to secure the services of and promote the best scientists, and to make sure adequate provision is made for proper equipment and research resources (critical mass). See also OJ C 204, 18.7.2000 and OJ C 110, 30.4.2004. Researchers' skills cannot be quantified or assessed in an objective way. Any judgement is bound to be subject to the discretion of their experienced peers.

(26)  Report of an Expert Panel chaired by Prof. Marimon, 21 June 2004, Sixth Framework Programme.

(27)  OJ C 204, 18.7.2000 (CES 595/2000, point 9.8.4).

(28)  (COM(2005) 121 final – 2005/0050 (COD))

(29)  This recommendation concerns only the primarily sociological research on the subject ‘Science in Society’. On the other hand, that share of the budget earmarked for activities (exhibitions, museums, conferences) designed to spread scientific knowledge (‘Communicating science’), i.e. its findings and methodology, should remain in the specific programme ‘Capacities’.

(30)  See also the European Commission's magazine RTDinfo, special INCO issue, July 2005.

(31)  CESE 818/2005 fin.

(32)  OJ C 74, 23.3.2005.

(33)  E.g. OJ C 241 of 7.10.2002; JO C 221 of 8.9.2005 and JO C 286 of 17.11.2005.

(34)  David Pimentel and Ted. W. Patzek, Natural Resources Research Vol. 14, No 1, 2005.

(35)  JO C 120 of 20.5.2005.

(36)  OJ C 294 of 25.11.2005.

(37)  OJ C 241 of 7.10.2002, JO C 133 of 6.6.2003, JO C 108 of 30.4.2004, JO C 110 of 30.4.2004, JO C 302 of 7.12.2004, JO C 286 of 17.11.2005, JO C 120 of 20.5.2005.

(38)  See also: Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft, Sept. 2005 ‘Klimaschutz und Energieversorgung in Deutschland 1990-2020’.

(39)  This very complex issue was to some extent examined in OJ C 221, 7.8.2001, points 3.9 and section 6.

(40)  OJ C 221, 7.8.2001.

(41)  JO C 24 of 31.1.2006.

(42)  See footnotes to point 5.2.2.

(43)  OJ C 302, 7.12.2004.

(44)  ITER will produce 500 MW of fusion power. It is the step between today's studies of plasma physics like JET and tomorrow's electricity-producing fusion power plant DEMO. It is an international project involving China, the European Union and Switzerland, Japan, Korea, Russia and the USA. It is to be constructed at Cadarache, France.

(45)  See footnote 44.

(46)  OJ C 110, 30.4.2004.

(47)  OJ C 133, 6.6.2003.

(48)  See previous footnotes.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/22


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007-2013)’

(COM(2005) 121 final — 2005/0050 (COD))

(2006/C 65/03)

On 25 April 2005 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Articles 156, 157(3) and 175(1) of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 October 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Welschke, the co-rapporteur Ms Fusco.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December 2005), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 125 votes to two with one abstention.

1.   Preliminary remarks

1.1

Many growth, employment and innovation indicators suggest that the European Union has been falling behind in global competition over the past few years and is continuing to do so. Bringing down unemployment, creating new jobs and promoting the economic growth required for that purpose on a sustainable basis is becoming the EU's biggest economic and social challenge.

1.2

Businesses have a vital role to play in meeting these challenges. 98 % of businesses in Europe are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They provide 55 % of private-sector jobs. In terms of production processes, products and services SMEs have considerable innovative potential.

1.3

Many businesses take advantage of the benefits of the European single market. Often, however, because of remaining restrictions, limited staff and financial capacity and lack of information, they are unable to make full use of the single market's potential. That can be remedied by the consistent implementation of the Lisbon strategy, completion of the single market and further market opening, better regulation, and support programmes that generate European added value.

1.4

Modern administrations and efficient public services can also do much to promote competitiveness and innovation in Europe. Cross-border twinning between authorities at all levels can improve the administrative cooperation that is becoming increasingly necessary, facilitate exchanges of experience and exploit examples of best practice for the benefit of all.

2.   Summary of the Commission document

2.1

The Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP), which is set to run from 2007 to 2013, is intended to help implement the refocused Lisbon strategy and the Community strategy for sustainable development.

2.2

The CIP marks the continuation of a range of existing Community support programmes in various policy areas and presents them as a package with a coherent legal basis. The Commission is proposing a ‘financial reference amount’ of EUR 4. 212,6 million.

2.3

The CIP is open to all EU Member States, EU candidate countries, countries of the European Economic Area (EEA) and countries of the western Balkans. Other non-EU countries may also take part if this is provided for in bilateral agreements.

2.4

The CIP is designed to foster competitiveness of enterprises, and particularly SMEs; to promote innovation and make it market-viable; to accelerate the development of the information society; and to promote energy efficiency and the use of new and renewable energy sources.

2.5

Underpinned by Articles 156, 157(3) and 175(1) of the Treaty establishing the European Community, the proposal seeks to establish a significant and coherent legal basis for specific Community support programmes and relevant parts of other Community programmes in fields critical to boosting European productivity, innovation and sustainable growth, while at the same time addressing complementary environmental concerns. The CIP is made up of three specific sub-programmes.

2.6

The purpose of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation programme is to create a framework for entrepreneurship, innovation and competitiveness. It targets businesses in all economic sectors, whether hi-tech or traditional. The aim is to improve access to finance for SME start-ups and growth. Other key elements include cooperation between businesses, the fostering of innovation and the promotion of environmental technologies. The budgetary allocation for this programme is EUR 2,631 million.

2.7

The ICT policy support programme is designed to promote the adoption of information and communication technologies in businesses, administrations and public-sector services. The proposed measures flesh out and support the new EU initiative i2010, which in the years ahead is set to provide the framework for the establishment of a single European information area and the strengthening of the internal market in information products and services. The budgetary allocation for this programme is EUR 801.6 million.

2.8

The Intelligent EnergyEurope programme seeks to support sustainable development as it relates to energy; to improve security of supply and energy efficiency; to reduce dependence on energy imports; and to increase renewable energy's share of gross inland consumption to 12 %. Priorities include projects to promote and disseminate sustainable energy technologies; improved administrative structures and closer networking; and action to raise overall awareness of the need for sustainable energy use. The Intelligent Energy Executive Agency set up by the Commission is to remain in place. The budgetary allocation for this programme is EUR 780 million.

2.9

The CIP will operate on the basis of annual work programmes. The Commission intends to ensure implementation of these programmes. Management committees are to provide back-up for the measures at Member State level and ensure the coherence of national activities.

3.   General comments

3.1

The CIP proposal is wide-ranging and covers a broad spectrum of policies and programmes. The comments here relate only to those aspects which the Committee considers to be of particular importance or where it would like to see additional considerations borne in mind.

3.2

The Committee welcomes the CIP as an important step towards establishing synergies to promote business competitiveness and innovation and to foster sustainable development. The proposed measures and tools can play a key part in strengthening social cohesion, promoting sustainable economic development and achieving the Lisbon strategy's growth and employment objectives. This is why the Commission also highlights the CIP as an important element of Community policy in its proposed action plan to revitalise the Lisbon strategy at Community level (COM(2005) 330).

3.3

The 2004 Kok report refers to the key factors determining the competitiveness of the European economy. The report rightly recommended that measures be taken to develop the knowledge society further, complete the single market, improve the business climate, modernise the labour market (not least through strategies for lifelong leaning and active ageing) and promote environmental sustainability. The Committee feels that the onus is on the Member States in particular to do everything they can to boost businesses competitiveness by establishing the requisite conditions, and considers the EU support programmes an important and effective adjunct in this connection. In addition to the CIP, the framework research programme, the lifelong learning strategy and the Structural Funds are of particular importance.

3.4

Businesses boost their innovative capacity not only by exploiting technological progress. Innovation is also furthered by making the entrepreneurial spirit a more established fixture in each country's society and culture and expanding managerial knowledge, as well as by responsible business management and the pursuit of cross-border activities. When setting goals for the CIP, it would be a mistake to interpret innovation too narrowly, thereby squandering opportunities for more growth, employment and social cohesion. Businesses are key players in the process of innovation, and the social partners should be involved appropriately in implementing that process.

3.5

Innovation is born in people's minds. A high level of education and training is essential if there is to be a sustained increase in innovative capacity in the European Union. It is a duty equally incumbent on employers, workers, governments, universities, schools and all other stakeholders to raise the innovative potential of our societies still further. Cross-border projects are a good way to build on national efforts to promote the knowledge society. The Committee is pleased that the EU is targeting education and training, not least through Community schemes such as Socrates (education in general), Tempus (university studies) and Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training). The integrated action programme for education, training and lifelong learning, which is set to run from 2007 to 2013, can also play a key part in boosting businesses' innovative capacity and making the CIP a success.

3.6

The Committee welcomes the Commission's intention to boost businesses' innovative capacity and competitiveness through better regulation and a systematic review of existing legislation to check for disproportionate burdens. It is particularly important that any new rules be subject to an effective impact assessment. When conducting this impact assessment, the Commission should work closely with the Competitiveness Council and the European Parliament.

3.7

The Committee shares the Commission's view that horizontal and coordinating EU measures can generate major added value. It will be particularly important to provide businesses with information that is as practical as possible and to give them easy access to CIP actions and tools.

3.8

The Committee backs the Commission's aim of using the CIP to promote traditional and not only hi-tech sectors. Such traditional sectors in particular have the potential to play an even greater role in boosting employment and strengthening social cohesion if they are given the opportunity to become more competitive and innovative. There is also considerable innovative potential in the services and logistics sectors.

3.9

The Committee would ask the Commission not to be too restrictive in identifying the framework programme's target groups, so as to secure maximum added value across as many different regions and sectors as possible. Cooperatives, consortia, mutuals, innovative start-ups and microenterprises can also help boost competitiveness and innovative capacity within the EU. Cooperatives, for instance, make it possible to utilise size-related advantages which have a favourable impact on market access (including participation in larger invitations to tender), market position, the development of management potential, further training and research capacity. A key condition for access to CIP projects should be the extent to which the target groups develop feasible ideas that help boost competitiveness and innovation and warrant support. Foundations, associations and chambers of industry and commerce play a key role as intermediaries with regard to the framework programme.

3.10

Given the budgetary constraints in the Member States and at European level, CIP funding is limited. The Committee expects the programme to be given adequate funding under the next financial perspective, on which a decision is still pending. At the same time, it is essential to focus available funding as efficiently as possible on the target groups and in a way that is best suited to achieving the desired outcome. The Commission should examine the extent to which funding currently earmarked for managing the programme can be used for projects.

3.11

The Committee welcomes the Commission's intention to evaluate the experience it has gained with the existing programmes, to correct any shortcomings and, when implementing the CIP, to draw on examples of best practice. Benchmarking and monitoring that is readily understandable to all stakeholders will help make the CIP a success. Any findings that could help make the CIP as effective as possible should be incorporated into the annual planning of work at an early stage. The Commission and the players involved in implementing the programmes should take a critical look at the mid-term review to see if any changes need to be made, with due regard to the experiences of businesses and the other target groups. However, the certainty with which all project stakeholders must be able to plan ahead should not be undermined at any time.

3.12

The Committee feels it of the utmost importance that Member States take on board the concept of ‘additionality’. Member States are urged to maintain their national support at the planned levels irrespective of financial contributions from the EU. As the Committee see it, Member States are committed the agreed objective of devoting 3 % of GDP to research and development. CIP implementation must not result in any slackening of Member States' efforts to achieve this objective.

3.13

The Commission is right to point to the need for close links between the CIP's tools and measures and other EU programmes and initiatives. Links with the 7th Framework Research Programme, the lifelong learning strategy and structural policy programmes are of particular importance. The Commission should take steps to ensure that all the directorates-general involved pursue coherent objectives. Transparency must be guaranteed for the activities and decisions of all the stakeholder bodies. Horizontal synergies and vertical synergies between the EU and the Member States and between business, science and the public authorities will only be fully attainable if the substantive and organisational priorities of these programmes are well coordinated.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

When implementing the CIP, the target groups must have ready access to the proposed programmes. This was not always fully guaranteed in the past. Funding must be allocated efficiently and on the basis of practical need, with as few bureaucratic hurdles as possible (inter alia as regards reporting and documentation).

4.2

The Commission should administer the CIP in an efficient and user-friendly way by adopting a coherent approach. All players involved in implementing the CIP rely both on long-term certainty to plan ahead and on transparency. It would be helpful to use an external agency to handle the administrative side of the programmes if administrative procedures could be considerably simplified and costs cut as a result.

4.3

The Commission's SME observatory should play an even more active back-up role with regard to the CIP's implementation. This could further improve the exchange of knowledge and experience between the Member States, between businesses, and between industry, science and the public authorities. The SME observatory reports should be examined with a view to their practicability and relevance to the target groups. It would be helpful to define the observatory's remit in such a way that the input from all target groups (as defined in point 3.9) is clearly brought to bear.

4.4   The Entrepreneurship and Innovation programme

4.4.1

For SMEs and innovative micro-enterprises, access to capital remains very limited — despite the fact that this problem has been well known for many years. Action is needed on this front without delay. The financial instruments proposed under this programme are of crucial importance for the success of European enterprise policy. The Committee trusts that they will be able to do much to move things forward and generate leverage.

4.4.2

The Committee advocates allocating resources to appropriate financial intermediaries in order to reduce financing costs (including staffing and administrative costs) and to lower financing risks. The High Growth and Innovative SME Facility (GIF), the SME Guarantee Facility (SMEG) and the Capacity Building Scheme (CBS) are designed to help make it easier for businesses to finance loans and access risk capital. Providing loans to innovation-driven SMEs and micro-enterprises, especially in their start-up and growth phase, will boost their growth and employment potential. Small and micro loans should also be made available for appropriate projects.

4.4.3

The Committee thinks that building up and expanding cross-border activities should also be considered as an integral part of European policy and a key SME strategy to boost competitiveness and innovation. All the actions and tools provided for in the programme should serve this objective. On this front, the Commission should provide businesses with active support through ‘cooperation exchanges’, practical information and other appropriate measures.

4.4.4

The complexity of European aid arrangements and the legal framework involved makes it essential to provide businesses and other target groups with tailor-made information and advice. The best means of achieving that is through a European-wide network of information channels working successfully together. In this way, it is possible to heighten awareness still further among the public and among businesses of the added value of European programmes and projects. This also ties in, among other things, with the new EU communication strategy.

4.4.5

The Committee is keen that the planned invitation to tender for network partners to provide support services for businesses and innovation should be subject to transparent rules and be open to all regional and sectoral organisations, which, by virtue of their structure and the services they offer, can respond directly to business concerns. The Commission is advised to give individual consideration to the credentials of existing Euro Info Centres (EIC), the Innovation Relay Centres (IRC) and the Business Innovation Centres (BIC).

4.5   The ICT policy support programme

4.5.1

The Committee welcomes the line taken by this programme. This sector is a driving force behind the increased productivity that is necessary in all economic fields. The proposed measures may be expected to generate considerable European added value.

4.5.2

Promoting the European information society will help foster sustainable economic development, boost European social integration and improve people's quality of life. When implementing this programme, it is particularly important to ensure that all companies have access, including those in traditional sectors.

4.5.3

Targeted projects, consolidated measures and the establishment and expansion of cross-border networks and clusters can boost technology transfer and the application of innovative, market-based ICT solutions. The Committee is pleased that joint technical specifications and action plans are to be drawn up to facilitate public procurement in this sector.

4.5.4

In terms of structure and planning, the ICT policy support programme should be coordinated very closely with the initiative i2010A European Information Society for growth and employment (COM (2005) 229). The Committee is working on a separate opinion on the i2010 initiative.

4.6   The Intelligent Energy — Europe programme

4.6.1

The Committee welcomes the scope of the proposed programme. Energy efficiency, the promotion of renewables and the diversification of energy supply are vital for sustainable economic development and environmental protection in Europe. The programme should help harness the energy sector's full innovative potential, not least in the fields of systems engineering and energy conversion.

4.6.2

Market-oriented technologies and competitive products will be crucial in determining whether the programme is able to achieve its objectives. The Committee is therefore pleased at the support to be given to projects that make it easier to convert innovation into marketable products. However, such activities can only be useful early on in the innovation process. Basically, the only way to develop the best technologies and competitive products or services is through l competition.

4.6.3

The Committee welcomes the Commission's plan to promote the sustainable use of energy resources and to disseminate information to that end. These activities should be aimed not only at specialist groups but also at the wider public. The ongoing Sustainable energy for Europe campaign has an important contribution to make in this regard. It is designed to spread examples of best practice and further raise public awareness of the need to use energy efficiently and protect the environment. The Committee trusts that this campaign and the Intelligent Energy-Europe programme usefully complement each other.

5.   Final recommendations

5.1

The Committee would encourage the Commission to set out the aims and structure of the CIP even more clearly. A good example is the list of planned implementing measures in CIP Article 6. The individual programmes and tools could be presented in a similarly systematic fashion, thereby making the CIP more readily understandable for the target groups. Civil society organisations should also be involved in this process.

5.2

The Committee expects that consolidating a range of programmes and individual measures will produce added value. That will only succeed through optimum coordination, consistency between the individual measures taken, and coordination with other relevant EU schemes. The onus here is on the Commission and the managing authorities in particular.

5.3

The Committee is pleased that the CIP is based on the EU's key economic, social, environmental and energy policy objectives. In implementing the CIP, it will be important to structure the annual work programmes in a practical way that is of clear relevance to the target groups, not least innovative businesses. That can only be achieved through the appropriate involvement of the target groups even at the planning stage.

5.4

For the purposes of improved implementation and policy continuity, the Committee calls on the Commission to clarify the links between the CIP and other related existing and future initiatives, notably the 2000 European Charter for Small Enterprises, the 2003 Entrepreneurship in Europe Action Plan and the Communication that has been announced on SME policy for the years ahead. This would be of great value to business representatives and policy makers at national, regional and local level.

5.5

The Committee will be closely monitoring CIP implementation. It reserves the right to submit fresh recommendations in the light of experience gained or as part of the mid-term review.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/27


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding access to the Second Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) by the services in the Member States responsible for issuing vehicle registration certificates’

(COM(2005) 237 final — 2005/0104 (COD))

(2006/C 65/04)

On 16 September 2005 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 October 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Ranocchiari.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion nem. con. with 123 votes in favour and two abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

The Schengen Convention, which is designed to permit the free movement of people and goods, was signed in 1990 and became operational in 1995. The Schengen Convention stipulates which authorities have access to the Schengen Information System (SIS) and the purposes for which such data may be used. This first text of the Convention did not allow vehicle registration authorities to access the SIS.

1.2

On 21 August 2003, the Commission submitted a Proposal for a Regulation amending the Convention implementing the Schengen Agreement as regards access to the Schengen Information System (SIS) by the services in the Member States responsible for issuing registration certificates for vehicles (1). The aim was to allow access to SIS data on stolen vehicles and trailers, stolen blank official documents and issued identity papers (passports, identity cards, driving licences) for the purposes of checking whether vehicles presented for a second registration have been stolen, misappropriated or lost and also whether persons applying for a registration certificate are using stolen identity or vehicle registration documents to this end.

1.3

The European Economic and Social Committee issued its opinion on the proposal on 25 February 2004 (2). The EESC agreed with the Commission that access to the SIS should be broadened to include national authorities responsible for issuing and checking vehicle registration certificates. The EESC was also pleased that the proposal, taking into account the fact that various Member States have private services responsible for vehicle registration, suggested that these private services might obtain the information necessary to carry out their work properly, indirectly through one of the public authorities with access to the SIS, provided that data protection was guaranteed.

1.4

Subsequently, and after enlargement, it became clear that the development of a second generation of SIS (i.e. SIS II) was essential so that the new Member States could connect to the system and the Schengen area could be extended to the territory of these Member States.

1.5

Given that the SIS II needs an appropriate legal framework and the different policy areas involved, the European Commission had to table three proposals: the first one relates to the free movement of persons, the second to police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters while the third one complements the other two proposals and aims at providing vehicle registration authorities with access to the SIS II.

1.6

The EESC is now being consulted on this third proposal, which represents a necessary follow- up to the previous, above-mentioned Regulation (3), which was recently adopted by the Council on 6 July 2005.

2.   General comments

2.1

The Commission's new proposal is intended to ensure consistency with the new legal instruments for the establishment, operation and use of the second generation of the Schengen Information System (SIS II). The Commission states that the main objective of the current proposal is the same as that tabled in August 2003, i.e. to reinforce cooperation between Member States, based on an effective exchange of information to combat fraud and illegal trade in stolen vehicles. The Commission further notes that the purpose is to guarantee that the services responsible for issuing registration certificates for vehicles shall have access to the same SIS data under the new legal framework for SIS II as they have had since June 2005, when the 2003 proposed Regulation entered into force.

2.2

The issue is still important since some 1,3 million vehicles are currently stolen each year in the European Union and approximately 500.000 vehicles disappear for good (4). Vehicle crimes are also related to other crimes such as trafficking, smuggling and terrorism (car bombing).

2.3

The EESC reiterates its agreement with the Commission that access to the SIS II should be broadened to include national authorities responsible for issuing and checking the above-mentioned documents (see point 1.2). In addition, private services responsible for vehicle registration should obtain information indirectly through one of the public authorities with access to the SIS II, provided that data protection is guaranteed. It is especially important to secure mechanisms for restricting access to other information in the system, which is reserved for the authorities specified in Article 101 of the Schengen Convention.

2.4

The general comments and other comments that the EESC set out in the opinion of 25 February 2004 should still be considered. Some comments can be restated. For instance, the EESC thinks that the proposal would enhance security and speed up justice procedures. It will also act as an incentive to the Member States to allow more free movement of vehicles within the Union. However, it is important that the proposal be compatible with Member States' domestic rules and regulations. It is also important to give access to Member States which are not signatories to the Schengen Convention and to increase cooperation with Interpol and Europol in order to combat traffic in stolen or misappropriated vehicles outside countries which have access to the SIS II. The EESC also points out the importance of compiling, processing and publishing statistical data on this type of crime in order to enhance the approach to tackling it.

3.   Special comments

3.1

The Commission proposal is well in line with the Council Decision of 22 December 2004 on tackling vehicle crime with cross-border implications (2004/919/EC) (5). The Decision states that ‘cooperation between law enforcement authorities and vehicle registration authorities is of particular importance, as is the provision of information to the relevant parties’. Article 7 of the Decision states that the national vehicle registration authorities shall be informed by the law enforcement authorities whether a vehicle, that is in the process of being registered, is known as having been stolen and that access to databases to that end shall take place with due respect to provisions of Community law. The EESC is pleased that the thoughts set out in the Council Decision are now incorporated in the Commission proposal.

3.2

Although the Commission proposal only concerns access by the registration authorities to certain information within the SIS II, the EESC would underline the need for greater cooperation in order to combat vehicle crimes. As stated in Article 4 of the Council Decision ‘the Member States shall take necessary steps to organise periodic consultations, as appropriate, among national competent authorities, in accordance with national law and may involve representatives of the private sectors (such as holders of private registers of missing vehicles, insurers and the car trade) in such consultations with a view to coordination of information and mutual alignment of activities in this area’. The EESC thinks that the Commission must take such ideas into consideration in future work to combat vehicle crimes.

3.3

As an example of these ideas, the EESC would mention Interpol's earlier project Stop Register Stolen Cars (StoreSto Car, later called Vehicle Identification, Research and Analysis, VIRA 17). The aim of this project was to bring together all information on cars in one database, information provided by the vehicle identification number (VIN) if the car was reported stolen, registered, exported or imported, manufactured or scrapped. Such a database forms a basis for cooperation between law enforcement authorities, registration authorities, custom authorities, car manufactures and insurance business.

3.4

As regards the present proposal, the EESC also wishes to point out that there are generally few possibilities to examine a vehicle physically in order to establish its identity and find out whether it has been reported stolen. In many countries the registration of a vehicle is combined with an inspection. Thus when a vehicle is being registered an opportunity arises to check whether it has been stolen. It is therefore important to provide the registration authorities with this means of detecting stolen, misappropriated or lost vehicles.

3.5

As was noted in point 3.2 above, there is a need for greater cooperation in order to combat vehicle crimes. Another opportunity to examine a vehicle physically arises when the vehicle is exported or imported. The EESC recommends that the customs authorities should check in the same SIS II data as the registration authorities, both when a vehicle is imported or exported.

3.6

When checking a vehicle to determine whether it has been reported stolen or not, it must also be possible to establish the identity of the vehicle. The identity of a vehicle is often established by its vehicle identification number (VIN). It is not unusual that a stolen vehicle's identity has been falsified or cloned. The EESC points out that it is important in the future to increase the possibilities of identifying a vehicle. Proposals such as electronic vehicle identification (EVI) or better spare parts marking must be closely examined and evaluated.

3.7

Finally, the EESC suggests a further step to be done in the nearest future in order to extend the scope of this regulation. As a matter of fact the present Commission proposal, aiming at checking whether vehicles have been stolen, misappropriated or lost should be combined with the possibility to repatriate vehicles. This possibility varies considerably between the Member States and depends on the countries' different bona fide provisions. In some countries it is possible to obtain ownership of a stolen vehicle when the vehicle has been received in good faith, while in others it is not. In addition, the possibilities of repatriating vehicles which have been found to be stolen must be explored and evaluated in the future.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  COM(2003) 510 final – 2003/0198 (COD).

(2)  OJ C 110 of 30.4.2004.

(3)  See footnote 1.

(4)  Source: Statistics from Europol, The Hague, 27 June 2005.

(5)  OJ L 389 of 30.12.2004.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/29


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Council Directive amending Directive 69/169/EEC as regards the temporary quantitative restriction on beer imports into Finland’

(COM(2005) 427 final — 2005/0175 (CNS))

(2006/C 65/05)

On 30 September 2005 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 93 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Byrne.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December 2005), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 115 votes to 3 with 14 abstentions.

1.   Summary

1.1

Finland has requested an extension of the existing restriction on beer imports by travellers from countries other than Member States beyond 1 January 2006. This request is aimed at addressing fiscal, economic, social health and public order problems.

1.2

The proposed amendment authorises Finland to extend the restriction until 31 December 2006. The maximum limit of six litres will however be increased to sixteen which is the actual limit currently being applied by Finland.

1.3

The EESC supports the amendment.

2.   Background

2.1

In 2000 Finland was granted a derogation until 31 December 2005 to limit personal imports of beer by individuals from countries other than Member States to a maximum of six litres. In particular, Finland has a border with Russia where alcohol is much cheaper so that if the normal monetary limits applied individuals could import c. 200 litres of beer.

2.2

Because of the large price difference the impact of unrestricted imports on Finnish retailers, government tax revenue and social and health problems would be severe.

2.3

Finland has however already made significant tax reductions in 2004 and has also applied a higher maximum of sixteen litres rather than six. Thus Finland has therefore been seeking to move towards a long-term solution.

3.   General comments

3.1

The Committee notes the steps already taken by Finland to address the problem and believes therefore that it is appropriate to grant a further extension of the derogation until 31 December 2006.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/30


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Security of modes of transport’

(2006/C 65/06)

By letter of 2 June 2005, the Commission asked the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, to draw up an opinion on the Security of modes of transport.

The Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 24 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Simons.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December 2005), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion with 124 votes in favour and four abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

Interest in the subject of security has increased enormously since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 (New York), November 2003 (Istanbul), 11 March 2004 (Madrid), 7 July 2005 (London) and other attacks elsewhere. Preventive and operational measures have been taken everywhere to protect people, means of transport and goods as much and as effectively as possible. Security has become a hot policy-making issue.

1.2

In this context, the term ‘security’ is understood to mean measures to prevent both terrorist attacks and ordinary crime, and especially theft.

1.3

The Committee has been playing its part. Several opinions have been adopted, including the exploratory opinion of 24 October 2002 (1) (rapporteur: Ms Bredima-Savopoulou), which was particularly valuable as it dealt comprehensively with security in shipping and civil aviation.

1.4

On 23 December 2003 the European Commission published a Consultation Paper on Freight Transport Security, in which it sought the views of interested parties with regard to the subject of security. Furthermore, in a Communication to the Council (2), the Commission proposed a framework programme in the field of security, and on 12 August 2005 a work programme on combating terrorism was published in the Official Journal (3). A number of points from these publications have been of value in drawing up this exploratory opinion.

1.5

This exploratory opinion seeks above all to bring clarity to the role and responsibility of the various actors, both nationally and internationally, in the security field relating to:

passengers (and staff employed in the transport chain);

modes of transport, goods and infrastructure, with the ultimate aim of improving the security of persons, goods, means of transport and infrastructure.

1.6

This opinion is focussed solely on the security of modes of transport and not on transport safety. A complicating factor is that there is no linguistic distinction in several European Union countries between the two concepts.

1.7

With regard to the security of the infrastructure used by the inland modes of transport, a distinction is to be made between the TEN corridors, including nodes and the national infrastructure, although it is not always immediately clear where subsidiarity in the inland modes of transport begins and where it ends.

It must be realised, as far as security measures in the inland modes of transport are concerned, that there is a considerable degree of interdependence between all modes of transport in the logistics chain, and not only inland modes. This requires a great deal of coordination when adopting security measures. An intermodal approach to security is in any case also necessary to prevent distortion of competition between the different modes, although we should realise that security costs can differ sharply from one mode of transport to another.

Issues arising in connection with increased security measures will also be looked at in detail. These include questions such as:

what is the impact of security measures on employees?

should ‘crisis management’ be included in management training courses?

who should meet the cost of security?

what is the role of the insurance companies?

In view of the wide-ranging nature of this subject, it is advisable to bring some order to bear and to indicate how this exploratory opinion has been structured. In chapter 2, the General section, the broader issues of security are dealt with. It covers subjects such as the division of responsibilities and competences respectively of the European Union, the national governments, the modes of transport themselves, the passengers and management of the companies. In addition, the legislative aspect is discussed in this chapter. Chapter 3, the section which deals with specific issues, begins with an outline of initiatives taken at different levels to improve security. Closer attention is then paid to the security of modes of transport themselves. Chapter 4 examines the cost of security and the question of who should meet this cost. The role of the insurance companies is also discussed in this context. Chapter 5 presents a summary and draws the final conclusions.

2.   General

2.1   Security: General

2.1.1

Ensuring the security of persons and goods in all modes of transport is now high on the agenda of politicians, policy makers and the business community. The term security means measures against both terrorism and ordinary crime. Nevertheless, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that no adequate coordinated approach yet exists. And this is indeed urgently needed because in a chain the weakest link determines the strength of the whole.

2.1.2

The complexity of the subject matter makes it difficult to define easily and unambiguously. The issue of subsidiarity is fully relevant to the security of modes of transport. It concerns both the demarcation of competences between the European Union and the national governments as regards the measures to be taken and their financing. But it also concerns the responsibilities and competences of the modes of transport themselves: those of passengers, employees and management.

2.2   Security in maritime and air transport

2.2.1

Since 11 September 2001, there has been some improvement in the security of air and maritime transport. The European Council introduced measures partly on the basis of the EESC report of 24 October 2002 which covered in particular security proposals in the aviation and maritime transport sectors. Most noteworthy are the following: EU Regulation 2320/2002 on civil aviation security, EU Regulation EC 725/2004 on enhancing ship and port facility security and draft Directive COM(2004) 76 on enhancing port security. All these measures make provision for EU inspections. These involve quality checks in these sectors. These rules for shipping were also laid down in a Directive adopted on 10 May 2005.

2.3   Security in inland modes of transport

2.3.1

The situation in the EU differs considerably from country to country with regard to inland modes of transport. In major cities such as Madrid and London, but also in Paris, security measures have been taken on public transport partly because of the terrorist attacks. Other cities and countries have not yet reached this stage, but even there the recent attacks have created an awareness of the importance of security measures (4).

2.3.2

The question which arises in the first instance is who is authorised to adopt security measures which cover more than one inland mode of transport? Is it the responsibility of the European Union or of the national governments? And, if the latter is the case, what is the role of the EU in this?

2.3.3

The Committee takes the view that ‘security’ is the shared responsibility of the Member States and the European Union, but that the Member States themselves are responsible for ensuring that security measures are taken by the various inland modes of transport. For this they need to create a framework of minimum standards for the inland modes of transport i.e. this should not be left to their own discretion. The national governments should set up a specialist body to coordinate the measures to be adopted by the inland modes of transport and local authorities. The authority would also ensure implementation.

2.3.4

In the Committee's opinion, the role of the European Union is above all to coordinate measures at international level. At the same time, the Union should urge the Member States to adopt a unified approach. Intensive cooperation between the national governments and the European Union is necessary in view of the cross-border nature of the transport of persons and goods and the need to coordinate national security measures.

2.3.5

The national governments should realise that a great deal of work remains to be done concerning the inland modes of transport. A sense of urgency must be created. The national governments should urge the modes to consider and adopt security measures. A first step in this direction would be for minimum security standards to be set at a European level for the inland modes of transport. The individual modes of transport need to realise that without security measures they are extremely vulnerable.

2.3.6

Furthermore, it must be realised that cooperation is necessary. For example, there must be coordination of measures between train, underground and bus companies. Information campaigns targeted at passengers and employees on how to act in the event of emergency should be coordinated.

2.3.7

With regard to goods transport, close attention will have to be paid to vulnerable intersections such as terminals and marshalling yards. Cooperation will be needed between national and local government, the individual transport branches and the managers of transfer installations and terminals.

2.4   The role of the various actors

2.4.1

The safeguarding of the physical infrastructure is, in the Committee's view, a matter for national, regional or local government.

2.4.2

The specialist body mentioned in point 2.3.3 should act as the coordinating body. This would prevent fragmentation at national level as well as promote the policy internationally and would facilitate coordination at EU level.

2.4.3

The Committee has noted with satisfaction that, in addition to the EU's coordinating role, a sum of EUR 3,5 million has been made available at Community level, under the 6th Framework Programme, for security measures in the passenger and goods transport sectors as well as in the energy sector.

2.4.4

Since modes of transport are an abstract concept which can only operate with the support of the people who use the mode (passengers, customers) as well as those who work there (employees), action specifically targeted at these groups is indispensable. This should be expressed above all in a continuous publicity campaign aimed at passengers and customers. The attitude of transport users should be transformed from one of passivity to a more alert and conscious one. The employees of a mode of transport are of crucial importance for the development and application of security measures. In order to fulfil their role properly, the Committee considers it to be of great importance that the employees are offered special training geared to their role in security.

2.4.5

The role of management is to integrate security concepts into the company ethos and culture. Furthermore, management must give employees an opportunity to undertake special training in this field. Management training should include crisis management.

2.5   Way in which security must be implemented

2.5.1

The question arises of the extent to which security measures in inland modes of transport should be laid down in a more informal way, such as in the form of a certificate or quality mark, or alternatively in a more mandatory way, for example by legislation. In the Committee's judgement, the subject is far too important to tackle in an informal manner.

2.5.2

The Committee considers that in any event national minimum standards for security measures should be laid down, with a recommendation to go further than the minimum. It should also be made compulsory to exchange information about security measures adopted or planned. At international level, countries should be obliged to harmonise measures and to forward information to the international coordinating bodies.

3.   Specific comments

3.1

Before looking at any security measures that have been or ought to be taken in the individual inland modes of transport, it is first advisable to have an overview of measures which have been taken at an international level by the coordinating organisations.

3.1.1

International Maritime Organisation (IMO)

The IMO is mentioned here because a number of measures have already been taken in maritime transport which could serve as a model for the inland modes of transport.

a.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has adopted the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code. This Code puts into practice a framework for cooperation between central government, local government, shipping companies and port authorities with the aim of pinpointing security risks and taking measures. It concerns security requirements for ships and port facilities. The Code entered into force on 1 July 2004.

b.

Amendments made to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS). The amendments to this Convention also led to changes to the mandatory International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. The IMDG code makes detailed recommendations for the packing, labelling and storage of dangerous substances.

The amendments came into force on 1 January 2004.

3.1.2

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)

Since 1971 binding international agreements have been made in the civil aviation sector in order to combat crime and terrorism. As a result of a number of aircraft hijackings at the end of the 1960s, the ICAO decided to draw up a basic agreement regulating civil aviation. Thus it was laid down in Annex 17 to the Chicago Convention that all passengers on civil commercial flights should be systematically screened. This measure has been in force since 1972 and it is difficult to imagine now that things were once otherwise. Following the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 Annex 17 was radically overhauled. New specifications were made mandatory, for instance with regard to the reinforcement and locking of cockpit doors as well as air freight transport. In addition, training and quality requirements for security checks were tightened.

3.1.3

European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC)

At European level too a policy on air transport security was developed within the framework of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC). This was, of course, based on international standards such as those laid down by the ICAO. This resulted in a European security handbook, Document 30, which contains security regulations which, although regarded as authoritative, are unfortunately not binding because of the ECAC's statute. That is why on 14 September 2001, three days after 9/11, the European Council decided that the EU should take on responsibility for aviation security. This decision resulted in Regulation 2320/2002, establishing common rules in the field of civil aviation security. The Regulation entered into force on 19 January 2003. At the same Council of Ministers of 14 September it was also decided that the Commission would be empowered to carry out direct quality checks in the Member States.

3.1.4

International Labour Organisation (ILO)

This concerns the revision of the Seafarers' Identity Documents Convention. The purpose of the revised Convention is to improve the security of seafarers' identification so that passengers and crew are better protected and the safety of ships increased. At the same time seafarers' freedom of movement is not restricted, so that they may freely go ashore. The revised Convention is focused in particular on guidelines for the composition and issue of identity documents for seafarers. The ILO and the Convention are mentioned here as a model for inland modes of transport.

3.1.5

World Customs Organisation (WCO)

a.

Revised WCO Kyoto Convention

In June 1999 the WCO Council adopted revisions to the WCO Convention of 1974, known as the Kyoto Convention. It is concerned with the simplification and harmonisation of customs procedures. An important aspect of the revised Convention is the increased attention paid to transparency and predictability in the chain. Important aspects of the revised Convention include:

the use of pre-arrival information to enable prior selections to be made

risk management techniques

maximum use of automated systems

interventions coordinated with other bodies

continuous monitoring and availability of information regarding customs requirements, laws, and

Directives.

b.

WCO Customs Data Model

This model contains a standardised international set of data which meets the demands which governments place on international transport. It means a step forward in the direction of harmonised customs information that is useable for security purposes. The model has been designed to work in a fully automated environment.

c.

The WCO Unique Consignment Reference

The advantage is that every consignment is provided with a unique number so that identification of the consignment and the compiling of information on the consignment is simplified.

d.

The Advanced Cargo Information guidelines are, in accordance with the revised Kyoto Convention, aimed at gathering security-related information and provides guidelines for rapid compilation of data by Customs authorities.

e.

The Customs Convention on Containers contains technical specifications for containers used in international transport with a customs seal and also procedures for the type approval of such containers. At present the Convention, which dates from 1972, is being revised in the light of the increased attention paid to security.

This information on the World Customs Organisation could be of benefit to the inland modes of transport. The important thing is to focus on aspects of relevance to the inland modes.

3.1.6

International Standards Organisation (ISO)

In 2003 this organisation adopted guidelines with specifications for the mechanical sealing of freight containers.

In addition, the organisation has developed a standard for the use of radio-frequency identification tags fitted in freight containers; it has also developed a joint communication protocol for digital sealing.

3.1.7

The European Union (EU)

a.

The EU has been particularly active in the field of security of maritime transport, ports and air transport. Several examples were given in point 2.3.

In the field of intermodal transport, the European Commission published in December 2003 the consultation paper on Freight Transport Security which noted the possible threats and the measures that could be taken to protect the transport chain.

The Commission indicated in this document that for all measures proposed, a risk profile should be drawn up for each mode individually, and for the whole transport chain.

The measures proposed in the consultation paper are:

the securing of infrastructure of European interest by the Member States by a number of detailed measures (a security plan to be updated annually, risk assessment, the designation of a contact point and the appointment of persons responsible for securing infrastructure, and the designation of a public audit body);

the development of security standards for service providers (at Community level the development of minimum standards of security for international service providers, the introduction of the regulated agent and known shipper concepts in the inland transport chain;

the use of the advanced information concept in electronic form; depending on a risk analysis, this could be made compulsory for certain routes or shipments;

the use of special seals and locks for high-risk and, from the security point of view, vulnerable shipments;

ensuring that Member States do not adopt different standards which hinder the efficient functioning of the market. The Commission proposes a number of measures in this regard in its document.

b.

The Communication from the Commission of 24 July 2003 and the Proposal for a Regulation of the same date, in which the Commission proposed to amend the Community Customs Code. This Proposal aimed to adapt the role of the customs authorities at the EU's external borders to make them able to deal with the increased security standards for the import and export of goods.

3.1.8

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE)

The Working Party on Customs Questions affecting Transport (WP30) and the Administrative Committee of TIR (Transports Internationaux Routiers) reached an agreement in February 2003 to gradually computerise TIR procedures, which are at present still paper-based. With a TIR carnet, goods can be transported to countries outside the EU with minimum delay at borders, as the carnet is an internationally recognised customs document.

This concerns the security of goods transported by road. The Committee recommends a study of the extent to which measures of this kind are applicable to other modes.

3.1.9

Measures taken by the USA

It goes without saying that, after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States took the lead in enacting security measures. Thus, a Bioterrorism Act came into force in 2002. This requires certain information relating to the import of food products to be submitted prior to arrival in the United States. In addition, food producers and storage facilities must be registered with the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and they have to appoint a local representative in the USA.

3.1.10

In order to maintain the readability of this exploratory opinion, a number of measures are noted here without going into further details.

When taking measures in Europe, it is of course recommended that the experience acquired in the USA be studied and taken into account. The following should be mentioned here:

a.

the Container Security Initiative (CSI),

b.

the Customs-Trade Partnership against Terrorism (C-TPAT),

c.

the 24 Hour Advance Manifest,

d.

the Bio-Terrorism Act.

3.2

Initiatives taken by the industry either alone or in conjunction with government

a.

The Business Anti-Smuggling Coalition Programme,

b.

The Memorandum of Understanding on Electronic Business,

c.

Resolution of the International Road Transport Union (IRU) on security in road transport,

d.

The Road Transport Security Guidelines drawn up by the IRU,

e.

The IRU Standard Security Plan currently being developed,

f.

The Operation Safe Commerce (OSC) programme,

g.

The Smart and Secure Tradelanes initiative.

3.3

The majority of initiatives noted in the above paragraphs are concerned with security measures for the transport of goods in general and for container transport in particular. In the Committee's opinion, a number of these measures could also be applicable to passenger transport.

3.4

The security measures in the individual transport sectors are rather diverse. As already noted, maritime transport/ports and air transport are the modes which are furthest advanced in the implementation of measures. This was excellently illustrated in the Committee's Opinion of 24 October 2002 (5) (rapporteur: Ms Bredima-Savopoulou). These modes of transport will not therefore be further examined separately in this exploratory opinion.

3.5

One point meriting attention is the position of vulnerable inland terminals and transfer points. Pipelines can in this context also be mentioned as a separate mode of transport. The owners of the terminal operations indeed devote a great deal of energy to securing their sites. However, the Committee has the impression that it is not sufficiently understood that it is precisely the transfer points that are vulnerable and that cooperation is much needed with the modes that use the transfer facilities.

3.6

In the Committee's view, there is also an insufficient sense of urgency concerning the dangers connected with the transport and transfer via pipelines. The Committee points out that this awareness needs to be fostered as a matter of urgency and that the competent authorities should adopt security measures for both staff and infrastructure.

3.7

Traditionally, the railways have always attached high importance to the safety of employees, passengers and equipment alike. It is to be hoped that this will also apply to security. Extra attention will have to be devoted to sensitive locations such as stations and marshalling yards. The International Union of Railways (UIC) should come up with some recommendations for the necessary international coordination.

The national railway companies should produce information material in order to inform passengers and staff what to do in the event of an emergency. This ought to become a standard part of staff training.

3.8

The inland waterways sector makes use of ports to load and to unload. The ISPS (International Ship & Port Facility Security) Code thus also applies to inland waterway transport. In the Committee's view, a strict application of the Code would not lead to disruption of the logistics chain. It is the responsibility of the ports, shipping companies and inspection services to ensure that the ISPS Code is complied with. The Committee believes that security should form an integral part of the training of inland waterway workers.

3.9

Following the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London there is a general awareness of the vulnerability of public transport. Measures have been taken in the form of surveillance and checks in order to drastically increase the security level and thus the sense of security of passengers and staff.

3.10

The road transport and haulage sector is extremely vulnerable in view of the great number of coach and road haulage companies: we are dealing with several hundred thousand companies which are extremely mobile. This sector has been plagued by crime for many years. Theft of vehicles, loaded or unloaded, is an every day occurrence, frequently with psychological consequences for the drivers. The IRU (International Road Transport Union) is doing all it can to persuade governments and market players to adopt security measures. One example is the call to increase the number of secure parking areas. In view of the high-risk nature of the sector the International Road Transport Union has, as indicated in point 3.2, drawn up Security Guidelines. These contain a number of recommendations for managers, drivers and consignors. In addition, a framework has been drawn up for voluntary cooperation with the customs authorities.

3.11

The basic principles underlying these Security Guidelines mentioned in point 3.10 are:

Security measures should not be so strict as to make normal business impossible.

Newly introduced security measures should be proportionate to their purpose, the costs involved and the consequences for traffic.

Unilateral measures by states are not acceptable.

Security measures must be readily understood and reasonable.

In view of the international nature of transport, the measures to be taken should be applied uniformly, proportionately and without discrimination, and little or no disruption to the efficient business flows.

Generally speaking, before taking measures, it is essential that the target group be aware of the need for security measures. No measures should be taken as long as the target group is not fully informed. The Committee therefore urges that this information be distributed in good time.

3.12

As far as own-account transport is concerned, the Committee recommends that, irrespective of the mode of transport to be used, the person responsible within the company should adopt appropriate security measures for staff, means of transport and infrastructure.

3.13

The Committee finds that there is an increasing awareness on the part of governments and the inland modes of transport that security measures must be incorporated into daily working practices. However, consistency is still a long way off. Of the individual modes of transport, a great deal has been done in particular in maritime and air transport because of their global nature. The public transport sector has become more alert, but in the goods transport sector initiatives have for the most part remained limited to measures within the branch itself. Measures that involve the whole logistics chain have not yet been taken, whilst vulnerability lies precisely at the interchanges between one mode and another. The Committee advises governments to set up a coordinating body at national level to cover the whole chain.

4.   The cost of security measures

4.1

It is obvious to everyone that, under the impact of increased crime and terrorism, measures must be taken to protect passengers, staff, means of transport and cargoes. It is less clear, however, who should meet the cost of the security measures. And clearly the cost of security is high. Thus, it is estimated that the security cost of transporting one container overseas is between 30 and 40 US dollars.

4.2

In order to gain a clear understanding of who should be responsible for costs, it is necessary to consider what types of cost we are talking about. Costs can be categorised as follows:

a.

costs incurred in drawing up and monitoring implementation of the rules;

b.

cost of analysing the degree of threat and helping non-EU countries to bring their security standards up to EU levels;

c.

cost of investing in selection and training of security staff and purchase of security equipment;

d.

running costs, such as cost of security staff, maintenance of security equipment, security information, insurance and public order measures to ensure compliance with the law.

In addition, there is the cost of measures preceding or following an exceptional event such as a terrorist attack. A separate solution will have to be found for the allocation of these costs. In the Committee's view, the government should meet these costs in the first instance.

4.3

Regarding the question as to who or which body should be considered primarily responsible for the cost, it seems logical in the case of the first two categories to opt for the national or local and regional authorities, whilst for categories c and d the private sector could be involved to a greater extent.

4.4

From the economic point of view, the cost should ultimately be met by the activity from which the costs arise, so that it is incorporated into the price (a public transport ticket or tariff for goods transport). After all, the prices of goods and services should as far as possible cover the marginal social costs, including the security costs. The measures to be taken could, however, sometimes be of such great public interest that the costs involved should be met by the whole community.

4.5

If this distinction is taken into consideration, it means that ultimately the cost of security is borne by the consumer, who pays for them in the form of a higher price for the end product. However, in the case of government financing security measures which are in the public interest, the cost will be met by the taxpayer.

4.6

The role of the insurance companies is, in the Committee's view, a secondary one. For providing that policies do not exclude terrorist acts, any payments will always be passed on to the insured in the form of higher premiums. There is an obvious causal connection between the degree of security and the level of premium to be paid. As security measures are enhanced, the premium should fall correspondingly.

4.7

The role of the European Union can, from the point of view of its duties and competences, only be a coordinating and supervisory one. Financial resources can, at the most, be made available for publicity campaigns and information. Thus, for example, EUR 3,5 million has been set aside for security in the 6th Framework Programme.

5.   Summary and recommendations

5.1

The Committee notes that, as a result of the terrorist attacks of recent years, there has been an enormous increase at all levels in the attention paid to security.

5.2

The required agreements, laid down under international rules, have been reached in the maritime and air transport sectors in particular. Implementation is via EU inspections.

5.3

In the inland modes of transport, the Committee considers that the necessary work remains to be done, partly because of the high degree of interdependence between the modes and the vulnerable intermodal storage and transfer points. A coordinated approach is urgently needed, because the weakest link determines the strength of the whole chain.

5.4

The Committee points out that no distinction is made in several European Union languages between the terms ‘security’ and ‘safety’. It notes that this leads to confusion and recommends that unambiguous terminology be used.

5.5

In the Committee's judgement, the responsibility for adopting security measures lies with the Member States. They should create a framework of minimum standards for the modes of transport. To coordinate the measures to be taken, the governments should set up a special body to ensure implementation.

5.6

In the Committee's view, the role of the European Union lies in coordinating measures at Community and international level, while that of national and local government lies more in actually taking measures, monitoring implementation, providing information and promoting awareness of terrorism and crime at all levels. The national and local governments should also promote cooperation between the modes of transport and, in the Committee's view, the protection of physical infrastructure should be part of their responsibilities.

5.7

The users of the modes of transport play a vital role in security. Passengers and customers must be encouraged by publicity campaigns to be more active and alert; employees in the inland mode of transport should receive special training geared to their role in the security of the mode. In the Committee's opinion, the role of company management lies in making security concepts an integral part of the company ethos and culture, allowing employees to undertake training courses in this field and ensuring that management training includes crisis management.

5.8

The Committee finds that the position in the various inland modes of transport remains diverse. There is an increasing awareness on the part of governments and modes of transport that security measures should be incorporated into daily working practices. Consistency is still a long way off, however. The situation in the public transport sector in this respect is better than in the goods sector. Initiatives in the latter sector are still chiefly limited to the sector itself. The Committee therefore advises governments to establish one coordinating organisation to cover the whole chain.

5.9

In the case of own-account transport, the Committee believes that, irrespective of the mode used, the person responsible within the company should adopt the necessary security measures for employees, means of transport and infrastructure.

5.10

In the Committee's opinion, the cost of security should be reflected in the price of the end product, so that the consumer pays for it directly or, if the measures are taken by government, ultimately the public through taxes.

5.11

In the view of the Committee, the role of the insurance companies is a secondary one. Any payments will ultimately be passed on to the insured in the form of higher premiums. As security measures reach a higher level, the premiums to be paid should fall. The level of the premiums will have to be closely monitored to ensure that they reflect market risks.

5.12

The financing role of the European Union will focus mainly on research, information and awareness-raising campaigns.

Brussels, 14 December 2005

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  OJ C 61, 14.3.2003, p. 174.

(2)  COM(2005) 124 final, 6.4.2005.

(3)  OJ C 198, 12.8.2005, p. 1.

(4)  For a wide-ranging discussion of the security of public transport systems in the major cities, see the outlook opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the Safety of all modes of transport, including the the issue of financing (rapporteur: Mr Robert Neill, Member of the London Assembly (CdR 209/2005)).

(5)  OJ C 61, 14.3.2003, p. 174.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/38


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing Community financial measures for the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy and in the area of the Law of the Sea’

(COM(2005) 117 final — 2005/0045 (CNS))

(2006/C 65/07)

On 19 May 2005, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 37 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 9 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Sarró Iparraguirre.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December 2005), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion nem. con. with 122 votes in favour and four abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

The European Commission has called on the EESC to issue an opinion on the proposed Council Regulation establishing the framework for financial measures necessary for the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) with funding of EUR 2,583 million, which comes in addition to the proposal for a Council Regulation on the European Fisheries Fund (1) (EFF), with a budget of EUR 4,963 million.

1.2

One of the aims of the CFP is to make financial intervention more effective. The proposal for a Regulation aims to help improve the conditions for implementing financial interventions in particular areas by setting specific objectives for each of them.

1.3

The Committee wishes to express its deep concern over the lack of any decision regarding the approval of the budget for 2007-2013. It believes that the European Union is facing a very serious situation, which will require great political effort if it is to be resolved. The financing of the CFP cannot be undertaken if the budgets for this Regulation and the EFF Regulation are not maintained. The Committee urges the Council to adopt political decisions that do not affect CFP financing, but that ensure sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources in a manner that provides sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions. The EESC also regrets that, to date, the Council has not adopted any decision regarding the proposal for a Regulation on the European Fisheries Fund.

1.4

The proposed Regulation sets out four areas of action in which Community financial measures will be applied:

control and enforcement of the CFP rules;

conservation measures, data collection and improvement of scientific advice concerning the sustainable management of fisheries resources within the scope of the CFP;

governance of the CFP;

international relations in the area of the CFP and the Law of the Sea.

1.5

The Committee considers that this proposal for a Regulation is necessary and approves of the areas of application that it covers.

2.   Community financial measures in each of the four areas of application

2.1   Control and enforcement of the CFP rules

2.1.1

The financial measures that will be applied to control and enforcement of the CFP will serve to improve the control of fishing activities undertaken by Member States, and evaluation and control activities carried out by the Commission services. The following expenditure by Member States shall be eligible for financing measures: spending on new control technologies, training programmes, pilot inspection and observer schemes, audits and information seminars.

2.1.2

Financing will be provided for Commission expenditure relating to administrative arrangements with the Joint Research Centre, spending on inspections by the Commission, and expenditure generated by the Community Fisheries Control Agency.

2.1.3

The Committee agrees with the proposed control and enforcement measures.

2.2   Conservation measures, data collection and improvement of scientific advice concerning the sustainable management of fisheries resources within the scope of the CFP

2.2.1

The proposal for a Regulation's second area of application covers financial aid to Member States with a view to drawing up multi-annual aggregated and science based datasets incorporating biological, technical, environmental and economic information, with the objective of assessing the state of the resources, the level of fishing, the impact fisheries have on resources and the marine eco-system, and the performance of the fishing industry, within and outside Community waters.

2.2.2

To obtain this information, Member States will collect basic data, while additional data will be gathered by the Commission.

2.2.3

Bearing in mind that fisheries management depends on the availability of data concerning the biological state of fish stocks and the impact of fishing fleet activity, the EESC approves the proposed financial measures in the areas of basic data collection by Member States. It also supports the financing of additional data collection, by the Commission, as such data make it possible to optimise and standardise the collection of basic data from Member States. Nonetheless, the Committee believes that, in order to improve fisheries management, financing should also be provided, via the Member States, for expenditure incurred by the EU fishing sector in order to conduct the required studies to assess the environmental effects of fishing activities and the socio-economic situation in the sector.

2.2.4

The reform of the CFP has resulted in new demands for scientific advice, in particular concerning the adoption of an ecosystem approach and the management of mixed fisheries. The Committee therefore believes that the expenses eligible for Community financial measures in the field of scientific advice are appropriate.

2.2.5

However, in line with its opinion on the European Fisheries Fund (2), the Committee reiterates that financial aid should also cover scientific advice to the fishing sector. Economic effort in this field is essential if the CFP rules are to be complied with properly.

2.3   Governance of the CFP

2.3.1

In this third area of application, the financial measures are geared towards involving stakeholders in all the phases of the CFP, and keeping them informed of the objectives of the CFP and related measures. This financial aid will be channelled via the EU Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Regional Advisory Councils, and through information and training seminars organised by the European Commission.

2.3.2

The Committee supports these measures and believes that, with regard to the Regional Advisory Councils, as suggested in point 5.3 of the Legislative Financial Statement appended to the proposal for a Resolution, the Commission should consider the possibility of extending the financing period for the operating costs of these Regional Advisory Councils.

2.4   International relations in the area of the CFP and the Law of the Sea

2.4.1

In the area of international relations, the financial measures will cover expenditure arising from the fisheries agreements (including fisheries partnership agreements), and from the European Community's involvement in international organisations. The EESC believes that, within the specific objectives pertaining to international relations, it is essential to contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of fisheries resources in third-country and international waters, and to maintain employment in fishing-dependent regions.

2.4.2

The Committee deems it essential for all Community policies that the European Union participate in all international organisations relating to fisheries or the law of the sea, given that the future of international fisheries resources depends on the responsible management of international organisations. It therefore approves the Community financial measures set down in the area of international relations.

2.4.3

The EESC believes that the financial measures in this area should also cover the attendance of fisheries sector representatives at meetings of international organisations, at the request of the Member States or the Commission.

2.5   Technical assistance

2.5.1

The Committee supports the Community financial measures for expenditure arising from the preparation, follow-up, monitoring, audit and evaluation required in order to meet the objectives of this Regulation.

3.   Rates of co-financing, financing procedures, allocation of funds and assessment and control

3.1

The Regulation establishes the rates of co-financing with Member States for the financial measures applicable to expenditure in each of the areas of application. The EESC has no objection to the proposed rates.

3.2

The Regulation prohibits the accumulation of Community support, stipulating that actions financed under this Regulation shall not receive assistance from other Community financial instruments. The Committee believes that the financial instruments for other Community policies, such as development, research, external trade and the environment, should also contribute to the actions in the field of international relations set out in this Regulation. In the Communication from the Commission on an Integrated framework for fisheries partnership agreements with third countries, the European Commission clearly indicates that the objective of the European Union is to contribute to sustainable fisheries via the CFP and the objectives of other European policies such as development, research, trade and the environment.

3.3

Lastly, the Regulation sets out the financing procedures in each area of application. It describes how and when Member States should apply to the Commission for Community financial measures, and details the Commission's decision on these applications, setting the total amount, the rate of the financial contribution to the Member state, and any conditions applicable to this contribution. The Regulation also provides for the protection of Community financial interests by means of preventive measures against fraud, corruption and other illegal activities, along with inspections, controls and audits on the financial aid granted; the Committee therefore considers that the financing and control system set down in the Regulation is adequate.

4.   Conclusions

4.1

The EESC approves the proposal for a Council Regulation establishing Community financial measures for the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy and in the area of the Law of the Sea, and calls on the Commission to take the following observations into account:

4.2

The Committee believes that there is a need for the present proposal for a Regulation establishing the framework for financial interventions for the implementation of the CFP and the Law of the Sea, in addition to the proposal for a Council Regulation on the European Fisheries Fund.

4.3

The Committee deeply regrets that, at the time of writing, no decision has been taken to adopt the budgets for 2007-2013, which is the period of application for the financial measures covered in this opinion, and that the Council has not adopted a decision on the proposal for a Regulation on the European Fisheries Fund.

4.4

The EESC calls on the Commission to ensure that any variation in the budget, in the context of the financial perspectives, does not have a proportional effect on the CFP budget, as it would otherwise be impossible to achieve the objectives defined for the reform of the CFP.

4.5

The proposed areas of application are a necessity and are sufficient, since the Regulation provides Member States and the Commission with the means for more efficient financial implementation of the CFP.

4.6

Of the areas of application specified by the Regulation, the EESC would like to draw the Commission's attention to the particular importance of improving scientific advice. The sustainable development of fisheries resources and, consequently, the success of the CFP depends on detailed, truthful, current scientific knowledge about the status of different fish species. An immense effort is being made by EU, Member States' and fishing authorities, along with the fisheries sector, making it essential for the European Union to have the best scientific advice on its own resources and those of international waters.

4.7

To this end, in order to improve scientific advice, the Committee believes that financing should also be provided, via the Member States, for expenditure incurred by the EU fishing sector in order to conduct studies to assess the environmental effects of fishing activities and the socio-economic situation in the sector.. It therefore believes that the financial aid should also cover scientific advice to the fisheries sector.

4.8

The Committee agrees with the proposed financial measures in the area of CFP governance, which will help to involve stakeholders in all the phases of the CFP and to keep them informed of the progress made towards its objectives.

4.9

The EESC believes that the financing period for the operating costs of the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) should be extended.

4.10

The Committee considers that it is particularly important for the European Union to participate in the international organisations relating to fisheries or the law of the sea, and therefore approves the financial assistance proposed for these areas and for fisheries agreements, including fisheries cooperation agreements with third countries, as these are essential in order to help conserve and sustainably exploit fisheries resources in third-country and international waters, and to maintain employment in fishing-dependent regions.

4.11

The EESC believes that the financial measures in the area of international relations should also cover the attendance of fisheries sector representatives at meetings of international organisations, at the request of the Member States or the Commission.

4.12

Lastly, the Committee considers that the financial instruments for other Community policies, such as development, research, external trade and the environment, should also contribute to the initiatives in the field of international relations for the CFP.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  OJ C 267 of 27.10.2005.

(2)  Idem 1, point 3.5.3.6.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/41


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Improving the Community Civil Protection Mechanism’

(COM(2005) 137 final)

(2006/C 65/08)

On 3 June 2005, the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 9 November 2005. The rapporteur was Ms Sánchez Miguel.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December 2005), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 133 votes to one.

1.   Introduction

1.1

Disasters are occurring with increasing frequency within the borders of the EU and throughout the world; some are caused by natural phenomena such as floods, earthquakes, fires, droughts, hurricanes etc., while others are due to terrorist acts which spread terror among innocent people. Human action could be said to be the cause of any of these, to some extent, although the degrees of intentionality cannot be compared. The EU has pledged to implement preventive action in response to climate change, not just through the commitments made in the Kyoto Protocol, but also through a number of provisions relating to measures for preserving land, water and air. This undertaking is geared towards prevention; it could help to maintain and regenerate our land, seas and atmosphere, and to encourage action to be taken on a worldwide scale. Meanwhile, the response to terrorist activity (1) has resulted in many police and justice-related coordination instruments, which have made it possible to improve cooperation relations between Member States.

1.2

Nevertheless, the EU has had to set up a Community system for providing assistance in the event of a disaster of any type occurring within its borders. This system is the Community Civil Protection Mechanism, which supports and facilitates the mobilisation of vital civil protection assistance for the immediate needs of disaster-stricken areas, even those outside the Community. The aim of the Communication is to improve the Civil Protection Mechanism, which was set up in 2001 (2), and to enhance the Civil Protection Action Programme (3) with a Proposal for a Regulation by the Council establishing a rapid response and preparedness instrument for disasters (4).

1.3

Here, it would be useful to define the term ‘civil protection’, which is often confused with the concept of humanitarian aid. In this sense, the Commission makes a clear distinction between the two terms, although they share the same purpose: ‘to save lives and alleviate the effects of a disaster during the first days’. The Commission sets out the differences between the two concepts: firstly, civil protection assistance can address the environmental consequences of disasters, not just those affecting the population; secondly, it is provided through resources and teams from Member States rather than humanitarian bodies and NGOs; thirdly, it can be delivered both inside and outside the EU, although the procedures for action in non-EU countries are different (5).

1.4

The specific role of the Mechanism is to act within the EU, and always at the request of the Member State in which the disaster occurred. However, it is worth noting that the Mechanism also operates on an international scale in coordination with other international organisations such as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with which it has established various operational procedures, and also working with the Red Cross and NGOs which operate on the ground.

1.5

The EU's stance towards the disasters that have occurred (and which, sadly, seem to have no end) led the General Affairs and External Relations Council, at its extraordinary meeting of 7 January 2005, to propose the improvement of the Community Mechanism and the development of a rapid response capability. A few days later, on 13 January, the European Parliament issued a Resolution on the recent tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, calling for human, material and training measures to be set up and made available in the event of a disaster.

1.6

The framework that currently regulates action in the field of civil protection consists of the two instruments mentioned previously: the Community Civil Protection Mechanism and the Civil Protection Action Programme. The Communication focuses on the former, particularly the Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) which is based at the European Commission and operates around the clock. It has a database on the civil protection services in each Member State, incorporating data from the military database.

2.   Gist of the Commission proposal

2.1

Improving the Community Civil Protection Mechanism: The latest reports have highlighted the need to improve the Civil Protection Mechanism, and the need for greater coordination between Member States and with the other bodies involved. The Communication proposes four areas for improving the system:

2.1.1

Reinforcing preparedness by training teams and carrying out preparatory exercises. To achieve this, firstly, current capability must be assessed; secondly, a plan must be drawn up setting out a series of rapidly deployable modules; lastly, training courses and joint exercises must be carried out to enhance interoperability and develop a common intervention culture.

2.1.2

Analysis and assessment of needs by means of a warning system using the resources of the MIC and collating all information enabling it to act in cooperation with other bodies, particularly the UN. Improving the assessment of needs at the site of a disaster makes it possible to determine needs in each case, so that the intervention can be more effective. It is proposed that the staff of the MIC be increased, and its assessment methods and standards revised.

2.1.3

Enhanced coordination is one of the most extensive improvements. This involves more effectively coordinating Member States' contributions in order to achieve coordinated European assistance, as well as greater complementarity and coordination with the UN and other bodies involved in humanitarian aid, and with military counterparts. This coordination should strengthen the operational planning capacity on site, including the various Commission departments.

2.1.4

Improved assistance to citizens As the tsunami disaster showed, the protection of European citizens is achieved through cooperation between civil protection and the consular authorities of the countries involved. Cooperation must be strengthened between the countries affected by a disaster and Member States.

2.2

The improvement measures proposed by the Commission should be accompanied by an increase in the resources available for civil protection. The Council has therefore called for proposals in order to develop current resources. The EU Action Plan of 31 January 2005 highlighted the most important areas for action.

2.2.1

Firstly, it proposes pooling civil protection resources so that when national resources and capabilities are not sufficient to meet needs, steps can be taken at European level in order to improve the efficiency of action taken.

2.2.2

Strengthening the analytical capacity of the MIC can pave the way for a more pro-active approach, particularly when it comes to informing non-EU countries. It is therefore necessary for there to be a fluid relationship that enables available resources to be deployed flexibly, at the request of the affected country.

2.2.3

Standby modules fulfil an important role when it comes to intervening in large-scale disasters or when requested by other Member States or non-EU countries. It is therefore important to implement the system proposed in the Communication, so that each country can rely on key modules that are on permanent standby for interventions within or outside the EU.

2.2.4

Reinforcing the logistical basis and sufficient resources to enable the MIC to act swiftly and efficiently. The costs of hiring equipment for interventions will benefit from some European funds (6), although when it comes to interventions outside the EU, synergies with the UN need to be explored.

2.2.5

Lastly, international coordination is one of the key factors for a rapid response to disasters. The Community Mechanism has access to capabilities which, when coordinated with those of other bodies, result in a better response. United Nations bodies and humanitarian aid organisations should both be taken into consideration.

3.   General comments

3.1

The EESC welcomes the proposal to improve the Community Civil Protection Mechanism, given the need to strengthen and enhance all available resources so that action can be taken in the event of a disaster within or outside the EU. Experience acquired over the years has shown that many operational aspects of Community civil protection could be improved; the Committee therefore believes that certain preliminary observations should be made in order to optimise the efficiency of the measures proposed to improve the Community Mechanism.

3.2

Firstly, the EU's response capability must be enhanced, based on the national civil protection systems, in various areas:

3.2.1   Regional communication and information systems

3.2.1.1

The CECIS (7) system should be enhanced, moving to a satellite-based system with video, voice and data capability, which is secure and linked up via the MIC (8) to specific knowledge centres providing data, experts and models (e.g. foreseeable consequences) that will be useful in the circumstances of specific emergencies. Some basic examples include the European Space Agency and the Joint Research Centre for current maps of non-EU countries and damage assessment, or maps updated after a disaster (e.g. earthquakes or floods) which could disable an infrastructure network for routing aid. The network would be based on contact points for each Member State, which could help respond to the emergency.

3.2.1.2

The information flow between the EU's assistance units and the MIC should be constant, secure and tamper-proof:

communications with disaster-stricken areas are usually highly deficient, due to the destruction and/or saturation of infrastructure (conventional and mobile networks);

nevertheless, we cannot dismiss the possibility of governments controlling the information issued about a disaster located within their borders, in the same way that the movements of assistance units are controlled.

3.2.1.3

The most obvious response would be to use satellite communications. Indeed, experience has shown this method to be:

fairly safe from environmental destruction (all that is required is a case and the ability to generate electricity for transmission);

safe when subject to information monitoring and surveillance by third parties.

3.2.1.4

However, this method also has a limited data transmission capacity and, in some cases, can become saturated due to other requirements or users (e.g. the media). It is therefore necessary to ensure that there are dedicated — i.e. permanent — satellite wavelengths, enabling satisfactory communication between the affected area(s) and the MIC, and between the different intervention areas.

3.2.1.5

As regards coverage, it might seem that a specific geographical area would suffice (EU and neighbouring areas); however, in reality, coverage should be worldwide. The case of the recent tsunami clearly showed the former solution to be unsatisfactory, as coverage was not only required for communication with the MIC, but also for communication between areas of operation as distant from each other as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia.

3.2.1.6

In order to ensure that communication is effective, the EU must therefore a have a satellite transmission system that is dedicated (i.e. exclusive), secure (tamper-proof), reliable and global in scale. This system must be able to support videoconferencing, data- (fax, mail and high-definition images) and voice-based communications.

3.2.1.7

The Joint Research Centre, the European Space Agency and the Commission (DG Information Society) have sufficient capability to meet the needs expressed by the Management Committee for the Action Programme and the Mechanism, which is accountable to the Directorate-General responsible for civil protection (DG Environment).

3.2.2   Requirement for minimum intervention resources

3.2.2.1

Interventions by assistance teams:

intervention teams are equipped by Member States with resources enabling them to act with sufficient independence, and with suitable systems for communication in the field;

these teams are coordinated by an EU coordinator whose duties include coordinating the different teams sent by Member States, liaising with the authorities of the affected country, liaising with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, etc.;

to date, the coordinator has not been supplied with resources by the EU; but only has certain communication equipment; the EU should obtain suitable resources and equipment in order to facilitate the duties of the coordinator and his support team, from communication equipment to tents, in order to coordinate with other teams and authorities in the affected country, and to ensure that the coordinator's work is carried out efficiently in often difficult conditions;

furthermore, these resources and equipment, which should be clearly marked with EU symbols, should serve as a clear indication of the EU's presence and commitment to the stricken population. Within the EU, this sends a message of inter-regional solidarity, while outside the EU, it emphasises the EU's position in the international arena.

3.2.2.2

Support to Member States in the event of an emergency:

in certain cases, Member States cannot provide the requisite support, either because those in possession of the necessary resources and equipment require them for some foreseeable or declared emergency, or because the resources would only be used in exceptional cases which do means they are not worth acquiring;

forest fires are one typical example of the former scenario, as states equipped with air facilities are in the same situation at the same time. A dangerous situation in one's own country usually makes it difficult to send resources to another country; solidarity between the Mediterranean countries of the EU is very strong, and resources are occasionally sent from one area to another in particularly serious cases;

severe floods requiring high-volume pumps are an example of the latter scenario: these types of pumps do not usually feature among the equipment of intervention teams in most EU countries;

in another type of situation, resulting from the new types of terrorism, resources and equipment could be requested to respond to situations which, although exceptional, are still potentially serious;

in light of the above, the EU should be able to obtain resources and equipment, either owned or contracted out, enabling it to back up the response capabilities of Member States.

3.2.3   Centralisation of operational bases

3.2.3.1

The Mechanism's current structures are based on EU-wide provision of various intervention teams, assessment resources and equipment. While this is an improvement on the vacuum that had existed before, it is still not fully satisfactory.

3.2.3.2

Due to the geographical expansion of the EU and the variety of risks facing the area, it might be worth considering setting up regional support structures as part of the Mechanism; these would have various teams and resources already in place which would therefore be more quickly deployable and better suited to the specific nature of regional risks within the EU.

3.2.3.3

These resources could be seasonal (e.g. aircraft to fight forest fires) or permanent.

3.2.3.4

Another potential improvement would involve sharing out the task of gathering resources among neighbouring countries; the resources could then be made available to all the countries in that region. In this way, the EU could promote the acquisition of resources shared between countries of medium size or facing a common risk (floods in a particular basin, earthquakes, etc.).

3.2.4   Provision of a centralised technical body on 24-hour standby

3.2.4.1

Although the MIC is a 24-hour system, it currently lacks sufficient human and technical resources, like those available to emergency centres in most Member States. The Commission should pledge to change this.

3.2.4.2

However, the Commission's current approach is restricted to obtaining resources determined in accordance with the emergency. It is worth considering whether this approach is as ambitious as the situation requires.

3.2.4.3

There is no questioning the fact that the MIC, by definition, is not a decision or emergency coordination centre. However, when helping to make decisions or implement assistance, improvisation must be avoided, and there must be a set procedure for action which varies according to the circumstances of the emergency. Action in response to a flood will differ from that taken in response to a landslide, earthquake or volcanic eruption. Resources are also different.

3.2.4.4

Therefore, in addition to having access to reliable data in the event of an emergency, the MIC must have predefined assistance plans, so that the Commission can plan contact with specialised bodies within and outside the EU. These plans should be defined according to the type of emergency, severity, country, etc. and should seek to provide effective and rapid responses. Naturally, the modules that can be mobilised in each country should be included.

3.2.4.5

The question is whether the MIC, in addition to its role as monitoring centre, could also coordinate national bodies, specialised humanitarian aid organisations and, in particular, the volunteers that come forward to help after any disaster. Coordination is a necessary task that should be carried out by those organisations that have the information and specific resources at their disposal.

3.2.5   Training of intervention teams

3.2.5.1

Unquestionably, the intervention teams preselected by the Member States know how to act in an emergency. The current training programme is achieving good results in terms of joint action capabilities. The number of courses should be increased, and attempts should be made to run them in languages other than English, since, for example, action could be taken in countries with cultural links to other languages such as French or Spanish.

3.2.5.2

The intervention teams should be made aware of the advance assistance plans, once defined, and these should therefore be included in the training schemes.

3.2.5.3

It would also be worth considering the use of new distance learning techniques for these courses.

4.   Specific comments on the Commission's proposal

4.1

While there is no doubt that this is a positive proposal, there is room for improvement, given that the Mechanism is essentially for use within the EU, and is therefore currently an instrument (if not the instrument) for EU inter-regional solidarity.

4.2

Consequently, the EU should spare no effort to provide the swiftest and most effective response to emergencies in all their forms. This calls for predefined procedures or assistance plans which should be tested by means of drills, and updated on the basis of experience gained from these drills or from actual interventions.

4.3

The plans must include communications, up-to-date maps and suitable resources to achieve satisfactory coordination. These resources should be owned by the EU. European intervention plans must set an international standard which will boost the image and influence of the EU on an international scale.

4.4

Furthermore, EU assessment teams and coordinators must be able to have their say about the recovery of the affected area and potential subsequent action plans.

4.5

The EESC believes that all the activities carried out by the Community Mechanism should receive sufficient funding to ensure the availability of both technical staff and resources, in order to improve European interventions and visibility, particularly for disasters occurring outside the EU. In particular, transport is needed to permit rapid action to minimise the consequences of disasters.

4.6

In the event of intervention in non-EU countries, interventions by the Mechanism must be considered an integral part of EU foreign policy, and must be given the importance that they deserve, as a sign of the EU's solidarity with countries experiencing tragic events.

5.   Conclusions

5.1

The EESC endorses the content of the Communication on Improving the Community Civil Protection Mechanism. However, it believes that certain specific aspects could be improved, and points out that certain of its observations result from an assessment by the representatives of organised civil society at this Committee.

5.2

As a starting point, and given the need for mandatory compliance with the proposed measures, a suitable legal framework is required. The EESC considers that the Regulation (9) is the right instrument to play a mandatory, harmonising role in all EU Member States.

5.3

Another aspect that merits attention is the funding earmarked for the Mechanism, which should be sufficient to cover more staff and the purchase of resources. Furthermore, although the Communication does not specify the financial aid granted to Member States, the new proposal for the Solidarity Fund (10) should cover and take account of all natural disasters, including drought.

5.4

As regards the improvements to the Mechanism proposed by the EESC and mentioned in this Opinion, the following merit particular attention:

creation of a satellite communication system;

provision of assistance teams specific to the Mechanism;

identification of persons and teams from the EU, particularly for work outside the EU;

regionalisation of operational bases and coordination between them;

technical training for teams, with consideration given to languages.

5.5

The EESC, as representative of civil society, wishes to make public its support for those volunteers who work unpaid and often full-time in the field of disaster relief. This is not only a form of practical solidarity but an essential contribution to dealing actively with the damage to persons and property occurring in areas affected by disasters.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  The following instruments have been presented by the Commission: Communication establishing a framework programme on ‘Security and Safeguarding Liberties’ for the period 2007-2013 (COM(2005) 124 final (6.4.2005)); Council Decision establishing the specific Programme ‘Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism’, for the Period 2007-2013; Council decision – General Programme ‘Security and Safeguarding Liberties’ (SEC(2005) 436).

(2)  Council Decision 2001/792/EC, Euratom.

(3)  Council Decision, 1999/847/EC, 9 December.

(4)  COM(2005)113 final / 2005/0052 (CNS) of 6.4.2005.

(5)  Council Decision 2001/792/EC, Article 6. 6.

(6)  Proposal for a Council Regulation, 6.4.2005.

(7)  The communication system for the mechanism.

(8)  The monitoring centre for the mechanism.

(9)  For example, there has been a Proposal for a Regulation establishing a rapid response and preparedness instrument for disasters. COM(2005) 113 final of 6.4.2005.

(10)  COM(2005) 108 final adopted on 6.5.2005.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/46


Opinion of the ‘European Economic and Social Committee on Joint enterprises in the fisheries sector: current state of play and future prospects’

(2006/C 65/09)

On 14 July 2005, the European Economic and Social Committee decided to draw up an opinion, under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, on Joint enterprises in the fisheries sector: current state of play and future prospects.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 9 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Sarró Iparraguirre.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion nem. con. with 122 votes in favour and ten abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) first envisaged using joint enterprises as a structural policy instrument in Regulation 3944/90, defining them as ‘a company incorporated under private law comprising one or more Community shipowners and one or more partners from a third country with which the Community maintains relations, associated under a joint enterprise agreement set up for the purpose of exploiting and, where appropriate, using the fishery resources of waters falling within the sovereignty and/or jurisdiction of such third country, primary consideration being given to the supply of the Community market (1). During the 1990s, the CFP evolved significantly, and the term ‘Blue Europe’ became widely used. This has become topical once again, in a context of broader debate on the establishment of a Common Maritime Policy.

1.2

As the CFP evolved, the abovementioned concept of joint enterprises was not reviewed: they were defined exclusively as an alternative fisheries structural policy instrument to the scrapping or final export of vessels, as illustrated by the relevant articles in the Regulations mentioned in point 2.1.2. of this opinion. Therefore, the applicable legislation focused only on financial control.

1.3

However, joint enterprises are more than just a structural policy instrument: they are a means to achieve a series of objectives that are clearly set out in the various EU texts and rules, from market supply to cooperation policy, employment and regional development policies, promotion of responsible fishing, EU intervention in the various regional fishery organisations (RFOs) and, more generally, the presence of capital and skilled workers from Member States in sustainable investment projects in various countries and markets.

1.4

Clearly, with the reform of the CFP, the idea of joint enterprises as a structural policy instrument has become a thing of the past. However, it is also clear that, currently, this reform has resulted in the quasi-total absence of legislation specific to joint enterprises within the context of the EU's own, political powers.

1.5

Moreover, in the opinions requested of it by the Commission, the Committee has always stressed the need to bring joint enterprises in the fisheries sector into line with the new Common Fisheries Policy: this was emphasised in the EESC's opinion on the proposal for a Council Regulation on the implementation of the CFP reform (2), and reiterated in its opinion on the European Fisheries Fund (3) with regard to the proposal for a Council Regulation on the Fund (4). The Commissioner for Fisheries was publicly informed of this need during his visit to the EESC's NAT Section on 16 June 2005, and he agreed to take the issue into consideration.

1.6

This opinion aims to further develop the position of the European Economic and Social Committee, putting forward arguments in favour of a new approach to the role of joint enterprises and, therefore, the rules governing them, based on official documents and the facts contained in them.

1.7

It is likely that, if the proposed new approach is adopted, efforts will need to be made to ensure that these enterprises are fully accepted, as they constitute a unique feature of international trade and provide the EU with a specific line of action in international relations.

2.   General comments

2.1   Establishment of joint enterprises in EU law

2.1.1

Joint enterprises were incorporated into Community Law under Council Regulation (EEC) No 3944/90 of 20 December 1990 amending Regulation (EEC) No 4028/86, as a means to reduce the fishing capacity of the Community fleet and supply the Community market, taking account of the scarcity of resources in Community waters and the ban preventing access to the exclusive economic zones of third countries. The approach was fourfold, aiming to eliminate over-capacity, guarantee supply, partially maintain employment and realise political and trade agreements with third countries (5). In order to implement these measures, Commission Regulation No 1956/1991 was adopted (6).

2.1.2

With the adoption of Council Regulations (EEC) 2080/93 (7) and 3699/93 (8), the financing of joint enterprises was integrated into the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). In accordance with the subsidiarity principle, Member States were responsible for selecting, managing and monitoring projects, as well as paying subsidies. These were initially equal to those payable for scrapping or export, and eventually came to represent 80 % of the premium available for scrapping the vessel. A Community shipowner could therefore legitimately consider that the difference in subsidy between the scrapping premium and the premium for export to joint enterprises is due to the maintenance of a favourable relationship between the EU and the new joint enterprise receiving the vessel(s) from the shipowner. These principles were maintained by Council Regulation 2468/98 of 3 November 1998 (9) repealing Regulation 3699/93, and Council Regulation 2792/1999 of 17 December 1999 (10), although it is worth noting that the latter simplified the concept of the joint enterprise, defining it as ‘a commercial enterprise with one or more partners who are nationals of the third country in which the vessel is registered (11).

2.2   Background

2.2.1

The Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy (12) acknowledged the excess capacity of the Community fleet, along with the globalisation of the fisheries sector and the legitimate aspiration of many developing countries to expand their own fishing industries. These three points, paired with the high capital injection that fisheries investments require (fleets, ports, refrigeration, plants, etc.), also acknowledged by the Green Paper, should have led to a specific discussion on the importance of joint enterprises in the fisheries sector, with a broader scope than that reflected in the official documents (13) at the time.

2.2.1.1

Joint enterprises are a means for the EU to participate and invest in the development of the fishing sector in developing countries, leading to the formation or growth of a fully-fledged economic sector. Supplying these enterprises with fishing vessels is not only beneficial to fishing activity per se, but also boosts other sectors such as ports, services (repairs, engineering, provisioning, consignment, transhipment, loading and unloading, crew services, travel, etc.), effective maintaining of the refrigeration chain (required by EU food safety rules, through investment in costly refrigeration equipment), compliance with health regulations in the food sector and, lastly, the establishment of processing industries.

2.2.1.1.1

As well as maintaining high-quality European jobs among the senior and middle-ranking crew of many vessels, joint enterprises make it possible to create many jobs on the vessels and in the service companies that grow up around them. Such employment could provide local fishermen with decent (as regards working conditions and income) job opportunities, their only other option being a traditional job in a small-scale and often inefficient fishing sector, which can be damaging for local resources due to the scarcity or lack of systems for monitoring, conservation, marketing, etc.

2.2.1.2

The creation of local wealth and the export of catches (whether locally processed or not) make it possible, in turn, to create international value chains in which the benefits are more fairly distributed; the gross domestic product and per capita income generated by the sector in the beneficiary country can be increased exponentially, gradually creating an industrialised fishing sector where there used only to be a coastal fishing sector with inadequate health standards and an unsound commercial base.

2.2.1.3

Joint enterprises have been required to prioritise the supply of European markets: this guarantees the existence and maintenance of investments in the fishing sector made by shipowners and industrial partners, Member States and the EU itself (through subsidies), and makes it possible to supply a Community market that is in deficit, as fish consumption is increasing as a result of recommendations by scientific and public bodies encouraging Europeans to eat a healthy and varied diet. Furthermore, this supply must strictly obey EU food laws.

2.2.1.4

The activity of joint enterprises in fishing-dependent areas of the EU enables employment levels to be maintained in the sector, by keeping companies' central, technical and commercial offices operational in Europe; the supporting industry also generates jobs, both directly, when large vessels return to their home port in Europe for their four-yearly repairs, and indirectly, as chains of know-how are created with the local service industries mentioned above.

2.2.1.5

Joint enterprises enable the EU to obtain effective data for monitoring and tracking catches in third-country and international waters, by maintaining legal ties with fishing enterprises in their areas of origin. This enables the EU to exercise effective leadership within the competent Regional Fisheries Organisations created or governed under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the competent UN body in the field (14). This is because, for the purpose of financial control by the Commission, the Member States and the Court of Auditors, joint enterprises must submit half-yearly data on their catches to the Member States.

2.2.1.6

Joint enterprises also allow EU fishing interests to be maintained in international waters and fishing grounds, with standards guaranteed by EU regulatory requirements for responsible fishing, conservation and management of resources, safety on board vessels, monitoring, food chain safety, etc. This would prevent or minimise the harmful effects of foreign fishing fleets which do not promote the development of the third country's fisheries or industry, do not guarantee the standards governing fishing catches for the EU market, and do not enable resources to be monitored responsibly.

2.2.1.7

Lastly, joint enterprises enable the EU to make an effective, lasting contribution to the development of local fishing industries in countries with which fisheries agreements have been reached and where there are joint enterprises or national companies controlled by European shipowners. The fishing industry has generated profits both in third countries and in the EU overall, by enabling the continuous supply of marine products.

2.2.2

None of the above points was mentioned — not even indirectly — in point 3.9 of the abovementioned Green Paper on the International dimension of the CFP (15) or in point 5.8 on External relations (16). Joint enterprises in the fisheries sector are not mentioned at all as a valid means of implementing the principles of the fisheries policy proposed by the Green Paper, despite having been endorsed until 2002 by the extensive Community rules in the field, as amply illustrated in this opinion.

2.2.3

The quasi-total disappearance of joint enterprises from the new CFP is illustrated by the fact that the last report requested by the Commission and containing exhaustive data on the issue dates back to 2001 and does not specify vessels assigned to joint enterprises (17). Prior to this, there had been another specific report, the Study on joint enterprises in the context of structural aids in the fisheries sector, dated 16 June 2000. These studies indicate that there are currently 300 joint enterprises accounting for over 600 vessels in all. These enterprises have remained outside the framework of Community fisheries rules, in a legal vacuum. They simply become foreign companies in which EU partners are involved, with a commitment to prioritise EU supply and to transmit information regularly; their only protection is that provided by bilateral treaties for the mutual protection of investments between the source Member State and the beneficiary third country.

2.3   Current state of play

2.3.1

During the work which led to the definitive draft of the abovementioned Green Paper, two regulations were approved: Council Regulation (EC) No 1263/1999 of 21 June 1999 on the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (18) and Council Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 of 17 December 1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector (19). These Regulations maintained the validity, within the FIFG, of joint enterprises in the fisheries sector until the end of their term, i.e. 31 December 2006.

2.3.2

However, since 31 December 2004, joint enterprises have been practically eliminated from the EU's fisheries structural policy, by dint of Council Regulation (EC) No 2369/2002 of 20 December 2002 amending Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector (20). Joint enterprises continue to fall under EU law inasmuch as they must fulfil the rules that are applicable when they are established, but they lack a specific medium- and long-term regulatory framework.

2.3.3

The justification for removing aid to joint enterprises in the fisheries sector and doing away with almost all legislative references to them is found in recital 5 of the abovementioned regulation, whereby the FIFG is required to concentrate on reducing capacity by scrapping vessels. The reduction of fishing capacity is only one of the many Community policy objectives for which joint enterprises have proved useful and could continue to be so, as explained below.

3.   Specific comments

3.1

Need to maintain a specific policy for joint enterprises in the fisheries sector in the context of the CFP

3.1.1

Although they have been removed from current legislation, joint enterprises in the fisheries sector play an economic role that is particularly appropriate in a globalised economy, allowing for savings to be made on costs (which are usually lower in the destination country than the Member State), and promoting technology transfer, the creation and distribution of added value, access to resources and market supply.

3.1.2

Furthermore, joint enterprises make it possible to partially maintain sea- and land-based employment in fishing-dependent areas of the EU; they also help generate new, more skilled jobs in the third countries in which they operate, including the training and up-skilling of workers in the destination country.

3.1.3

Joint enterprises were incorporated into Community law within the fisheries structural policy in 1990 (i.e. fifteen years ago), and have proven to be a useful instrument throughout this period. The unnecessary removal of these enterprises from the new CFP sponsored by the Commission and from the legislation in force since 1 January 2005, will lead to the loss of Community support for a valid instrument of economic cooperation between the EU and third — often developing — countries, and could constitute a breach of the principle of trust that should govern relations between European operators and the EU institutions.

3.1.4

Joint enterprises could and should be considered as a specific aspect of multilateral or bilateral cooperation treaties with third countries; concrete rules should be laid down that take their particular features into consideration, from the point of view of both fishing per se and the promotion and protection of European external investments, customs, labour, tax, etc.

3.1.5

Although joint enterprises could, under the current legislation, fall within the scope of ‘partnership agreements’, no significant practical results have hitherto been observed. There is therefore a need for a regulation that coordinates the disparate responsibilities within the Commission (Directorates-General for Development, Cooperation and Fisheries), and clarifies how employers and other stakeholders should act within the framework of such agreements or other instruments, so that these practical results can be achieved.

4.   Conclusion

4.1

The Committee recommends that, as part of the work underway to revise the Common Fisheries Policy and in line with the Council's conclusions of 19 July 2004 (21), joint enterprises, which are no longer a tool for the structural regulation of fleet capacities and an alternative to scrapping vessels, should be defined as a means to supply markets and take integrated sectoral action, which is available to the EU in the framework of its own powers and under its global and regional agreements and bilateral treaties, so as to implement EU fisheries policies properly, in line with the principles of the FAO and the WTO, taking due care to ensure that there is no increase in fishing capacity that could lead to overfishing.

4.2

The Committee believes that:

4.2.1

The Commission should carry out a detailed, up-to-date assessment of the current situation and potential of joint enterprises in the fisheries sector, and should disclose its conclusions to the other EU institutions and the sectors concerned.

4.2.2

Current Community law should include rules and mechanisms that will give legal security to joint enterprises within a specific stable, long-term framework for action, in the context of bilateral or multilateral agreements with non-EU countries, taking into account the particular nature of the activity and its benefits in terms of management of fisheries resources, market supply, job creation in fishing-dependent areas, creation of added value, cooperation and international trade.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Article 21(a) of Regulation 3944/90.

(2)  OJ C 85 of 8.4.2003.

(3)  OJ C 267 of 27.10.2005 (points 3.5.1.1.2.1. and 5.5(2)).

(4)  COM(2004) 497 final -2004/0169 (CNS).

(5)  Study on joint enterprises in the context of structural aids in the fisheries sector, COFREPECHE 16.6.2000 (http://europa.eu.int/comm/fisheries/doc_et_publ/liste_publi/bilansm.pdf).

(6)  Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1956/91 of 21 June 1991 laying down detailed rules for the application of Council Regulation (EEC) No 4028/86 as regards measures to encourage the creation of joint enterprises – Official Journal L 181 of 8.7.1991, pp 1- 28.

(7)  OJ L 193, 31.07.93, p. 1.

(8)  OJ L 346, 31.12.93, p. 1.

(9)  OJ L 312, 20.11.98, p. 19.

(10)  OJ L 337, 30.12.99, p. 10.

(11)  Council Regulation 2792/1999 of 17 December 1999, Article.8.1(2).

(12)  COM(2001) 135 final of 20.03.2001.

(13)  See Communication from the Commission on an integrated framework for fisheries partnership agreements with third countries, COM(2002) 637 final, 23.12.2002, page 7 and footnote no 15.

(14)  http://www.fao.org/fi/default.asp

(15)  p. 19.

(16)  pp. 38-42.

(17)  ‘European Distant Water Fishing Fleet’ some principles and some data, April 2001, available in French and English on the website of the Commission's Directorate-General for Fisheries.

(18)  OJ L 161 of 26.06.99, p. 1.

(19)  OJ L 337 of 30.12.99, p. 10.

(20)  OJ L 258, 31.12.02, p. 49.

(21)  See document 11234/2/04 Rev 2 (Presse 221) available at http://www.consilium.eu.int./


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/50


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Council Regulation determining the Community scale for the classification of carcases of adult bovine animals’

(COM(2005) 402 final — 2005/0171 CNS)

(2006/C 65/10)

On 7 October 2005 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 9 November 2005. The rapporteur was Frank Allen.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 127 votes with 5 abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

The purpose of this proposal is to undertake a codification of Council Regulation (EEC) No 1208/81 of 28 April 1981 determining the Community scale for the classification of carcases of adult bovine animals (1). The new Regulation will supersede the various acts incorporated in it (2); this proposal fully preserves the content of the acts being codified and hence does no more than bringing them together with only such formal amendments as are required by the codification exercise itself.

2.   General comments

2.1

The Committee regards it as very useful to have all the texts integrated into one Regulation. In the context of a People's Europe, the Committee, like the Commission, attaches great importance to simplifying and clarifying Community law so as to make it clearer and more accessible to ordinary citizens, thus giving them new opportunities and the chance to make use of the specific rights it gives them.

2.2

It has been ensured that this compilation of provisions contains no changes of substance and serves only the purpose of presenting Community law in a clear and transparent way. The Committee expresses its total support for this objective and, in the light of these guarantees, welcomes the proposal.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Carried out pursuant to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council – Codification of the Acquis communautaire, COM(2001) 645 final.

(2)  See Annex III to this proposal.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/51


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The role of technology parks in the industrial transformation of the new Member States’

(2006/C 65/11)

On 10 February 2005, the European Economic and Social Committee decided to draw up an opinion, under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, on: The role of technology parks in the industrial transformation of the new Member States.

The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change, which was responsible for the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 23 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Tóth and the co-rapporteur was Mr Kubíček.

At its 422nd plenary session of 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 127 votes to none with six abstentions:

1.   Introduction

1.1

At its March 2005 session, the Council of the European Union relaunched the Lisbon strategy by refocusing on growth and jobs.

1.2

In conjunction with the integrated guidelines, the Council, in its June 2005 Recommendation 10667/05, set out proposals for the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines (BEPGs) for the 2005-2008 period.

1.3

The eighth of these guidelines calls for facilitation of all forms of innovation in the Member States. The EESC would point out that industrial parks, which are the subject of the present opinion, meet all the Council's criteria for instruments to facilitate innovation, and that parks can be considered as ‘innovation poles’, which fall under the second category of instruments in the Council list; as they fulfil the requirement to bring together universities, other research institutions and enterprises in all Member States, they integrate regional and local levels, and thus help to bridge the technology gap between regions.

1.4

The EESC would also point out that industrial parks already make a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of Guideline 10 given that their constituent elements form part of the ‘industrial fabric’ which the Council deems necessary for Europe, and that their exceptional competitiveness serves to strengthen the EU's industrial base.

1.5

The industrial parks situated in the new Member States are structured on similar lines to those in the fifteen ‘old’ Member States and in many other parts of the world. In legislative texts and terminology, such organisations are variously designated; industrial park, science park, technology park, technopole, research park, business park, innovation centre and technology incubator are some of the terms most frequently used. However, the basic idea remains the same: facilitating interaction between science, technology and economic development and creating synergies through cooperation between business and research institutions, thus facilitating market access. In addition, parks operate by providing high-quality, specialised services, with particular emphasis on business incubation, spin-off activities and networking.

1.6

Legislation on industrial and technology parks has been adopted by the two future Member States which have begun accession negotiations, Bulgaria and Romania.

1.7

Industrial parks provide a comprehensive framework and instruments to facilitate, stimulate and develop innovation and regional development. Their activities usually include business incubators, promotion of technology transfer and ‘business angel’ programmes. Industrial parks offer excellent opportunities to prepare and execute venture capital transactions. They make a substantial contribution to the operation, development and implementation of EU programmes with the same or similar objectives. They are effective partners and can also function in networks

1.8

Up till now, establishment and development of industrial parks in the ten new Member States have generally involved the practical application of environmental principles. In the case of new parks, strict environmental standards are in place from the beginning as a result of harmonisation to comply with accession conditions. In the case of parks set up in response to reorganisation and industrial change, the start of park operations is often the first step towards environmental solutions.

1.9

The phenomenon of parks reflects a combination of various development trends. These include a regional (local) as a response to globalisation, a desire to overcome various cultural, national and ethnic problems, and the pressing need to bridge the wide gaps between divergent levels of development.

1.10

Park-related solutions have proved their worth in boosting employment and creating many new jobs (over 140 000 in Hungary since 1997). Other benefits include attracting businesses and preventing de-industrialisation (since 1997, over 2 500 companies have set up in Hungarian industrial parks). Jobs which have been created in this way tend to be connected with higher-level technologies and require greater know-how in order to meet the challenges presented by restructuring.

1.11

In the more developed EU countries, the fifteen ‘old’ EU Member States, institutional, legal and financial systems for regionalisation have been built up over decades, together with structures and designations of industrial development appropriate to changing conditions as a result of economic growth and evolving aid arrangements at European and national levels. In the countries which joined the EU in 2004, attention has focused on efforts to overcome significant backwardness in these areas and catching up with the rest of the EU. Industrial parks have played a prominent role in these efforts, given that they enhance competitiveness, while helping to overcome unemployment and the gap between divergent levels of regional development. Characteristic of the situation is a certain duality of economic and social structures existing at the time of accession: long-established administrative, institutional and financial elements are still present, although to a large extent these are losing ground, whereas newly developing structures of administration and governance are playing an increasingly important role.

Industrial parks have been set up in the accession countries as an expression of new aspirations for economic and industrial policy as well as regional development.

1.12

This own-initiative opinion seeks to discuss the potential contribution which parks can offer and how they stand in relation to each other, from the perceptive of the tasks facing the EU, given that they promote activities which are conducive to economic and social cohesion in the post-accession context, and thus merit particularly close attention in connection with industrial change. It should be emphasised that it was the emergence of an internal regulatory order in the European Union which boosted the role of industrial parks in EU countries, and many of the new Member States and accession countries already responded to this shift in emphasis many years ago. At the same time, in some cases there was a lack of economic strategies capable of addressing the complex nature of opportunities offered by industrial parks and of providing leadership which took the needs of international integration into account.

1.13

In European Commission document IP/05/1252 the Commissioner for enterprise and industry, together with the Commissioner for science and research, pointed out that innovation and research are at the heart of business. In this respect, innovation poles as well as research-driven and industrial clusters are of relevance. Point 3.2 of the accompanying action plan calls for promotion of such organisations and for Member States to make full use of Structural Fund resources (MEMO/05/366).

1.14

Industrial parks, technology parks, science parks and other organisations referred to by similar terms function as innovation poles and thus contribute to achieving the priority objectives which have been set for the current phase of the Lisbon process and for the 2005-2008 BEPGs. The aim of the European Economic and Social Committee in drawing up this own-initiative opinion is to promote the development of such organisations in the fifteen ‘old’ EU Member States and the ten ‘new’ ones and to encourage co-operation between them. In addition, it aims to enhance the accessibility of aid from the European Commission and other EU institutions to industrial, technology, science and other similar parks in all Member States.

2.   Parks as innovation poles: types of park, and international trends

2.1   Types of park

Based on international experience, and also on the preceding remarks, it can be concluded that no two industrial parks are alike. It is also natural for a particular park to undergo constant change over time. The networks which are developing are a clear demonstration of this diversity of parks and their adaptability to changing needs. With the above remarks in mind, in the following analysis the activities of ‘innovation poles’ are understood not only in the stricter sense relating to innovation in industry, technology, science or other areas, but as encompassing a spectrum of activities generating added value.

This approach ties in with the European Commission's definition of innovation and competitiveness poles as close cooperative association between enterprises, training centres and public- or private-sector research institutes within a defined geographical area. Such poles run innovation-centred joint projects generating various synergies between local players. Such cooperation is concentrated in particular fields of technological or scientific activity and is intended to create a critical mass enabling competitiveness and international visibility to be achieved.

2.2

Depending on their function (tasks), parks can be categorised as science parks, technology parks, innovation centres and business parks.

Technopolises, technology poles, technological districts, entrepreneurial zones and meta-districts can be considered as more comprehensive organisational structures.

Depending on how they are set up, two basic categories of parks can be clearly distinguished: green-field parks and reconstruction-type parks.

2.3

In a process of continuous change, parks pass through various stages of development. There is a tendency to move away from monumental industrial infrastructures to more sophisticated production facilities suitable for products from the higher end of the value chain, with increasing emphasis on ICT and a broad spectrum of innovative services provided by park operators to companies based in the park.

3.   A review of the situation in the new Member States

3.1

In the ten countries which joined the European Union on 1 May 2004, it can be observed that industrial parks generally match the types described in point 2.1. In Cyprus there are several so-called ‘Enterprise Incubators’, co-financed by the government. These are private organisations dealing with specific projects.

3.2

In the Czech Republic, 82 industrial zones were set up through CzechInvest, the government agency to promote investment, in the framework of the governments programme to support the development of industrial zones. In 2001 further sub-programmes on Regenerating industrial zones, Building and regenerating leasable properties, and Accreditation of industrial zones were added.

3.3

There are several types of industrial park in Estonia, denoted and defined in various ways. Some of them have been set up with the support of local/regional authorities and other organisations; primarily concerned with research and development, they operate in cooperation with major universities. There are currently two such parks, in Tartu and in Tallinn. Industrial parks set up by private initiatives are profit-making companies, which are mainly active in logistics, services, commerce and other industrial sectors.

3.4

Most ‘industrial parks’ in Poland were set up over the past few years. At present, their economic impact is negligible, primarily because the main channels for investment, and foreign investment in particular, are the 14 Special Economic Zones (SEZ). These zones were set up by government acts in 1995-97 for a period of 20 years in industrially underdeveloped regions or regions in need of industrial restructuring, as part of support for regional development. Initially they offered investors 100 % exemption from corporate tax for the first ten years, and 50 % over the next ten years, together with full exemption from property tax. On 1 January 2001, these incentives were brought into line with EU legislation. Given that the special status of SEZs will expire by December 2017 at the latest, the quantity, role and land area of industrial parks is likely to grow.

3.5

In Latvia parks are referred to as ‘business parks’, and they attract companies by means of favourable infrastructure and administrative conditions. The Latvian Innovation Act provides for a national research and development programme.

3.6

In Lithuania, decisive government efforts aimed at stimulating development of labour-intensive, relatively high-value-added industries (automotive electronics, electronics) and knowledge-based industries and services (biotechnology, IT, laser technology) have significantly contributed to industrial restructuring. The programme, launched in the late 1990s, to build ‘industrial parks’ with proper infrastructure near cities, was designed to develop Lithuania's economy, focusing as it did on industrial development in the immediate vicinity of urban centres, in view of the availability of skilled labour there.

3.7

In Hungary, the government has been operating a system to develop industrial parks since 1997. Individual parks submit their long-term development plans for assessment by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and if they are of a sufficiently high standard, they are awarded the title of industrial park. The objectives of industrial parks are to enhance competitiveness, to create jobs, and to put in place the conditions for environmentally friendly industrial activity, as well as logistical and other services which comply with EU standards. There are approximately 2 500 companies, both multinationals and Hungarian small and medium enterprises, with over 140 000 employees, in Hungarian industrial parks.

3.8

In Malta, economic statistics from recent years show that industrial manufacturing makes a relatively substantial contribution to the economy. Malta Enterprise, a company whose objective is to promote investment, has set up a Business Incubation Centre to support pioneering projects in fields such as IT, telecommunications, mechanical and electrical engineering design, industrial design, renewable energy sources and biotechnology. The Incubation Centre provides facilities for investment or financing, together with a wide range of infrastructure services, to companies operating in the above sectors.

3.9

Support for industrial parks in Slovakia is regulated by Act No 193 on support for industrial parks, adopted in 2001 and amended in 2003 and 2004. This act defines an industrial park as an area designated in the spatial plan in which one or more enterprises is engaged in industrial manufacture. Local and regional authorities can set up industrial parks on land owned by them; the Act also provides for joint establishment of industrial parks on the basis of a contract between two or more authorities.

3.10

In Slovenia, parks are referred to as ‘technology parks’. Their purpose is to act as a catalyst for business ideas making use of state-of-the-art technology and a high degree of scientific know-how. In addition, they put in place the physical and intellectual infrastructure for such initiatives with particular attention to the needs of small and medium enterprises, and liaise between businesses and institutions of higher education. The Ministry of Economic Affairs defines a technological park as a legal entity which assists in the execution of projects, in contrast to incubators, which are also legal entities, but only create the starting conditions for projects.

4.   Strategic aims and models

4.1

Parks — however much they differ from one another — eventually tend to form networks, whose activities are embedded in the economic, industrial and innovation policies adopted by the government of a particular country in pursuing its goals. Based on an analysis of government priorities, policies can be categorised as mission-oriented — i.e. thematic, with an emphasis on government resources — or diffusion-oriented — focusing on results and synergies, or as a combination of both.

4.2

The two models cannot always be sharply distinguished from one another on the basis of global objectives, given that, to take one example, promoting high technology in one region by means of industrial parks not only benefits that region, but also helps to propagate innovation in general. The difference is one of emphasis.

5.   The Lisbon strategy and industrial parks

5.1

The Lisbon Strategy identifies promotion of the dissemination of innovation and technology, as well as the application and commercial exploitation of R&D results as priority tasks, in the interests of growth, employment and sustainability. Industrial parks and the accompanying organisational structures are playing an increasingly important role in helping to fulfil the organisational, financial and legal conditions for this to happen.

5.2

Industrial parks have a key role to play in promoting innovation. For this reason, it is not enough for industrial parks to form networks on the basis of purely industrial or agricultural considerations; it is becoming increasingly important to mobilise the intellectual resources of universities, if economic objectives are to be achieved. It will only be possible to enhance competitiveness, make the economy more flexible and tap the benefits of human resources by mobilising intellectual resources and promoting innovation.

6.   Knowledge transfer and innovation

6.1   Innovation centres and transfer agencies

6.1.1

Rather than operating in one specific area, these entities act as a bridge between science and society by providing services (on either a commercial or non-profit basis) to enterprises in a given region or country. The types discussed here can be distinguished primarily according to whether they function more as agencies providing services (donors) or as (recipient) enterprises. Information centres and transfer agencies act as mediators by encouraging and helping companies to make use of research results. By contrast, organisations providing R&D services include research institutes, which in some cases are combined with recipient enterprises into a single unit.

6.1.2

The main services provided by innovation centres and transfer agencies are as follows: providing consultancy, enabling technology transfer, running a business information database, organising business meetings and trade fairs, recruiting specialists, servicing infrastructure used for experiments, providing support for spin-offs, linking up with business angels and networking.

6.1.3

These organisations mainly provide business consultancy services. A mediating role is played, for example, by innovation centres in the Netherlands and the network of R&D attachés in Norway. By means of the services which they provide to companies, these organisations help to disseminate research results and encourage their adoption. In Germany transfer centres and agencies follow a more direct approach to technology transfer by offering such services on the same lines as processing industry service centres operating in the USA. Their services include loans of researchers funded by government programmes, with the provision of financial assistance to companies employing university researchers by covering part of their salaries.

6.1.4

Usually such agencies are established by government initiatives (or, in the case of Germany, initiatives by chambers of commerce and industry), given that, for the beneficiaries of such programmes, technological development can only be made really effective and thus benefit the long-term interests of the economy with external support, which in most cases comes from the government. At the level of finances, the situation is more varied: for example, innovation centres in the Netherlands are funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and offer some of their services free of charge (for example the first 16 hours of consultancy sessions). The work of Norwegian R&D attachés is also government-funded. By contrast, in Germany and the United States support for such centres comes from a special fund, and diminishes over time: over three years in Germany, and six years in the USA, starting from a level of 50 %. Some services are provided on a commercial basis and others are on a non-profit basis.

6.2   Organisations providing R&D services

6.2.1

The characteristic features of these more highly structured agencies are that they work to bring science and industry closer together, unite industrial and other types of research institutions and companies in networks, and also, with the help of government funding, provide R&D services on a contractual basis, mainly to small and medium enterprises. Although their activities are to a large extent linked to universities, we can still distinguish them from university agencies and parks.

6.2.2

The latter organisations are also set up by means of government initiatives, and in some cases they are also state-run. They are commissioned by clients from the private sector (industries) and public sector (e.g. ministries) to publicise scientific innovations. Funding arrangements for such organisations vary considerably, from 10 % to 100 % of project expenditure.

6.3   Types of cooperation between academia and industry in the form of parks

6.3.1

These parks are sited in the vicinity of knowledge generators — usually universities or research institutes — and stand in a contractual relation with them; in some cases they function as part of them. Hungarian examples include the InfoPark or the INNOTECH Innovation Park of Budapest Technical University. However, the requisite backing comes from national or local government resources. Thanks to high quality technical infrastructure, they ensure that an increasingly wide range of conditions for innovation are in place. With the help of technological transfer, more and more phases of the innovation process can be covered and the range of activities taking place within a single industrial park can be expanded to include the creation of market-ready products, mass production, and even the establishment of new industrial sectors.

6.3.2

Many science and research parks have underpinned prosperity and diverse scientific opportunities in the areas where they are set up. There are many such areas in France (e.g. Lyons). In the case of other French parks, the ‘technopolis’ model plays a key role, and is seen as a unique new urban concept. The first Japanese parks were set up in a similar way, but within the framework of a programme, based on a similar version of the ‘technopolis’ model to the French one. The best known of these is Tsukala, a green-field development which was established as an entirely new science city. Nowadays, technopolises are set up by local initiatives. In the USA, it was in areas such as these that the first innovation parks were sited (for example Silicon Valley and the vicinity of Route 128 in Boston).

6.3.3

Today, innovation parks exist in all the countries of the European Union, from Lisbon to Athens. The parks discussed so far are the most complex of the innovation-oriented organisations and have the greatest organisational potential, given that, in terms of promoting innovation, they offer the benefits outlined above.

7.   Recommendations

7.1

In the EESC's view, the European Union should play an active role in promoting the establishment and development of industrial and technological parks as innovation poles in EU Member States and regions, thus enabling full integration of new and old Member States in the enlarged single market, which is one of the key elements of the new partnership for growth and development envisaged by the re-launched Lisbon strategy. The ultimate goal is:

to boost the competitiveness of the new Member States and to reduce regional disparities, thus ensuring better overall economic performance in the EU;

to boost competitiveness at regional and local levels, enabling more effective management of industrial restructuring, of the re-use of natural, financial and human resources, and of a strategy capable of responding to the complex nature of the economic and technological opportunities and challenges presented by European integration and the global market;

to ensure that full use is made of the opportunities offered by completion of the enlarged European single market, for example through networking of technology parks and industrial parks at trans-regional levels based on their global goals;

to raise general standards in research and innovation, and commercial application and market launches of research results, by means of even closer links between SMEs, the scientific sphere and research, training of highly qualified personnel at both operational and organisational levels, modernisation of public administration and the accompanying legislative framework, and capacity building for all players participating in the parks' decision-making processes, thus helping the European Union to become the most dynamic region in the world, while spending 3 % of GDP on innovation;

to use European networks of technology and industrial parks to stimulate interaction between industry, the services sector and the financial sector, at the same time as enhancing technological links and building up the capacity to take on and propagate new knowledge, thus boosting innovation and competitiveness and ensuring that objectives such as growth, competitiveness, employment, sustainable development and equal opportunities are compatible with one another and achievable through interaction and consensus;

to monitor and evaluate the performance, effective technical capacities, actual achievements and other beneficial effects of industrial and technology parks; this should be done on a regular basis and in reference to standardised criteria laid down in advance;

to ensure compliance with the EU legislative framework, including competition and state aid rules, while taking into consideration the continuing development of such rules.

7.2.1

In the EESC's view, policies to promote networks of industrial and technology parks must be developed at three levels, i.e. European, national and regional/local, in full compliance with the subsidiarity principle enshrined in the Treaties and with EU legislation, including competition law.

7.2.2

The EESC advocates a global, integrated approach encompassing the Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration activities, European Investment Fund (EIF) and European Investment Bank (EIB) funding, the European growth imitative, the Structural Funds, the multiannual programme for enterprise and entrepreneurship, the new partnership policy instrument, the competitiveness and innovation framework programme, and Community programmes in the fields of education and training, while taking into account the broad economic policy guidelines for 2005-2008. Adopting such an approach will ensure flexibility in choice of instruments, close coordination, consistency and simplicity, thus facilitating participation in programmes and enabling proposals to be approached from a variety of perspectives. All of this would benefit the development of pan-European networks by supporting integrated cooperation programmes between industrial parks, technology parks and industrial districts at inter-regional and trans-regional level.

7.2.3

Concerning the mechanisms of the new competitiveness and innovation framework programme (see INT/270, study group), the EESC would propose that the ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation’ and ‘ICT Policy Support’ programmes explicitly mention the development of networks of industrial parks, technology parks and industrial districts, with particular reference to promotion of such networks providing funding for the initial stages and facilitating access to venture capital, and measures to promote the introduction and more effective use of information and communication technologies through the e-Europe and i2010 initiatives. The new mechanisms of the competitiveness and innovation framework programme must include support for networks of industrial and technological parks and districts; this should also help to boost SME participation in the Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration activities.

7.2.4

With regard to individual programmes included in the seventh framework programme, particularly the ‘capacities’, ‘people’ and ‘JRC’ (Joint Research Centre) programmes, the EESC would make the following recommendations:

stronger support measures are needed for SMEs, particularly with regard to research, and organisations and associations of SMEs; it should be acknowledged that the pan-European network of industrial and technology parks and clusters and industrial districts are fully eligible to submit research proposals;

measures should be taken to enhance the research and knowledge potential of European regions, to support the development of industrial and technology parks and clusters as well as European and pan-European networks of parks and clusters, to finance ‘Foresight’ participatory technology activities with a view to formulating medium and long-term plans and strategies, together with Foresight activities relating to the theme of ‘socio-economic sciences and the humanities’, which is part of the ‘capacities’ specific programme;

financial and human resources envisaged by the ‘industry-academia pathways and partnership’ action included in the ‘people’ specific programme, and in particular researchers who recognise the special concerns relevant to the development of SMEs, should be made available to meet the needs of industrial and technology parks and clusters;

the expertise of the Joint Research Centre must be made fully accessible to industrial and technology parks and clusters, by funding their participation in indirect activities with regard to networking, promoting training and mobility, and establishing technology platforms; in doing so, they should take advantage of the high European added-value offered by the JCR and its research institutes, in particular the IPTS in Seville.

7.2.5

With regard to the EIF, the EIB, the growth initiative, and Structural and Cohesion Funds, action should be taken to follow up the conclusions of the March 2005 European summit by creating more and better synergies in the field of research and innovation between Community funds, the EIF and the EIB. The European Council also pointed out that regional and local players must be given much greater ownership of the Lisbon strategy, with its three pillars (economic, social and environmental). The EESC recommends stepping up efforts to develop cohesion policy — which promotes convergence, competitiveness and territorial cooperation — and concentrating more resources on the development of innovation and the knowledge-based society in such a way as to anticipate and stimulate economic changes tending to enhance competitiveness and economic competitive advantages; it also recommends enhancing the vocational skills of the labour force, especially in the new Member States. To this end, activities and networks of industrial and technology parks and clusters should be developed, through European territorial cooperation and public-private partnerships (PPPs) and funding programmes such as the EIF's Innovation 2010 initiative.

7.2.6

The fifth multiannual programme for enterprise and entrepreneurship and the European Charter for Small Enterprises highlight the need for development of the education and training of entrepreneurs, measures to enable cheaper and faster start-ups, more modern legislation and regulation, better availability of skilled labour, easier access to online services, improved fiscal and financial conditions, strengthening the technological capacity of SMEs, and accessibility to successful e-business models and best practice. The EESC has always been strongly in favour of Community action with an impact on industrial and technological parks and clusters.

7.2.7

The EESC feels that it would be useful if the New European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, and in particular that part of it which was previously covered by action areas 2 and 3 of the INTERREG programme, were to include measures concerning industrial and technological parks and clusters in its funding for inter-regional, trans-regional, European and pan-European networks.

7.2.8

The EESC advocates cooperation in the Member States with job centres and with all institutional players at EU level with an interest in job creation to ensure that parks remain in a position to generate new jobs, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by networking. Representatives of business, trade unions, local authorities and NGOs must be involved to ensure that jobs involving significant additional high-quality (tacit) knowledge are created. Employees working in parks must be enabled to participate on an ongoing basis on training and retraining adapted to industrial restructuring. In line with EESC opinion CESE 1073/2005 adopted on 28-29 September (CCMI/019), it should be emphasised that social dialogue and employee participation are crucial in preparing for industrial change and channelling the process in the right direction.

7.2.9

The EESC advocates measures aimed at improving European training and educational systems and developing new paradigms of production and environmentally friendly consumption, by means of educational and training activities to assist in the development of networks of industrial and technological parks and clusters. The new training and educational programmes in such parks and clusters could also contribute to making highly skilled professions in industry and technology more attractive for young Europeans.

7.2.10

In keeping with the conclusions adopted by the EESC on this subject in earlier opinions — and in particular in opinion 374/2005 of 6 April 2005 on European industrial districts — the EESC would emphasise that it is vital to develop industrial parks and industrial districts as innovation poles and European platforms (European Platform for Innovation Poles), enabling a joint strategic vision and capacity-building activities and cultural development of the trade unions together with professional associations, in cooperation with the relevant players of organised civil society. In doing so, full use must be made of all appropriate instruments for promoting innovation and knowledge transfer: exchanging best practice, setting basic harmonised requirements for identification, taking joint training measures, providing direct access to JRC expertise, developing common terminology and classifications, as well as exploiting and creating potential synergies between the resources of industrial parks and clusters in various countries, with a view to enabling them to take direct part in Community programmes and initiatives. At the same time, common systems for the evaluation, monitoring and benchmarking of European industrial and technological parks and clusters and industrial districts must be put in place.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/58


Opinion of the ‘European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission — Restructuring and employment — Anticipating and accompanying restructuring in order to develop employment: the role of the European Union’

(COM(2005) 120 final)

(2006/C 65/12)

On 28 April 2005 the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI), which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 23 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Zöhrer and the co-rapporteur was Mr Soury-Lavergne.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 121 votes to 1, with 9 abstentions.

Executive summary

The EESC welcomes the comprehensive, inter-sectoral approach selected by the Commission. The Commission has taken up an issue which is equally important for both enterprises and employees. Industrial change and the ability of those affected to prepare themselves for it are key factors in helping to maintain competitiveness. Success in this field does, however, depend upon tackling the social consequences of industrial change.

The EESC in essence agrees with the Commission's analysis of the phenomenon, but would welcome a more in-depth analysis.

Restructuring always involves fear of adverse consequences, particularly for workers. But well managed restructuring can also give rise to new challenges and opportunities. It all depends, essentially, on how the situation is dealt with in the company, how the various stages are managed and how the various players work together and develop a common spirit which enables them to identify the opportunities.

The Committee shares the view that answers to restructuring must be part of the strategy for growth and employment.

Closer coordination within the Commission through the establishment of a task force and regular dialogue with the European Parliament and the Council are welcome measures.

The EESC broadly endorses the priorities set out by the Commission in respect of the review of the European Employment Strategy. The Employment Strategy cannot be addressed without reference to the macroeconomic context and industrial policy.

As regards the reform of the financial instruments, the EESC agrees that they should be directed more towards the anticipation and management of restructuring.

In the Committee's view, the aim in industrial policy should now be, above all, to step up the sectoral approach, which makes it possible to identify tailor-made approaches for the individual sectors. The improvement of legislation applying to enterprises is a key point which requires more specific consideration and clarification.

The EESC regards technology initiatives, especially the technology platforms, as one of the most important means of improving the situation. Care must also be taken to establish an environment that is innovation-friendly.

Turning to competition policy, the question arises as to whether the measures currently available are adequate. In this connection, the EESC stresses the need for greater focus on the relationship between state aid, restructuring and production relocation.

The EESC takes the view that the Dublin-based European Monitoring Centre on Change (EMCC) also has a key role to play.

Special attention should be paid to the extension of the sectoral social dialogue. The EESC agrees with the Commission that, by virtue of their sectoral knowledge, the social partners are able to play a special role in alerting the authorities. This instrument should, however, not only come into play in crisis situations.

The EESC awaits with interest the Communication on Corporate social responsibility (CSR) announced by the Commission.

The EESC welcomes in principle the establishment of a Restructuring Forum. The Forum's aim must be to explain best practices and discuss local barriers (regulations) to introducing them.

In addition to the regulatory modernisation and simplification measures already provided for in the Lisbon Action Programme — measures which the EESC has always welcomed — the Commission announces that it is to submit a Green Paper on the development of labour law. In restructuring, perhaps more than elsewhere, the aim of developing labour law must be to ensure a balance between flexibility and security.

With regard to promoting intra-Community mobility, the EESC regards the proposal for a Directive on Improving the portability of supplementary pension rights — the sole proposal put forward — as being a somewhat meagre contribution. A package of incentives to facilitate mobility will have to be considered involving areas such as qualifications, the labour market, social legislation and taxation, including the removal of administrative barriers to the free movement of labour.

The EESC welcomes the idea of giving the social partners the opportunity to continue, in concrete terms, their work on the subject of restructuring.

European Works Councils (EWC) have a significant role to play in company restructuring. Consultations on the review of the EWC Directive should therefore embrace this issue, but they need to cover a broader context.

The Committee shares the Commission's conviction that restructuring must not be synonymous with social decline and a loss of economic substance.

Adverse consequences for workers cannot be entirely avoided. In addition to the requirements set out by the Commission, therefore, measures taken at Community level must also aim to give workers the necessary protection in periods of transition.

1.   Introduction

1.1

Both the Social Agenda, which was adopted on 9 February 2005, and the Communication on the Review of the sustainable development strategy (1), foresee that the Commission will develop a strategy for managing restructuring operations focused on improved interaction between the relevant European policies, greater involvement of the social partners, enhanced synergy between policies and financial levers, and adaptation of the frameworks of legislation and collective agreements.

1.2

The Commission's Communication of 31 March 2005 on Restructuring and Employment (2) sets out the measures which the EU has to introduce or strengthen in order to mobilise its available potential. The Commission adopts both a horizontal and a sectoral perspective and proposes a series of measures in a variety of EU policy areas.

1.3

Since the Commission Communication is intended for a wide public, the text includes general points, particularly regarding the restructuring faced by businesses in the common situation of grappling with the need to adapt.

2.   Gist of the Commission document

2.1

The Commission firmly believes that restructuring must not be synonymous with social decline and a loss of economic substance. On the contrary, restructuring can underpin economic and social progress — but only if such measures are properly prepared, and provided firms can manage the necessary change quickly and effectively and there is public action to help ensure that the change is carried out in sound conditions.

2.2

The restructuring of enterprises often entails costs that can be very high, not only for the workers concerned but also for the local or regional economy. The preservation of social cohesion, which is a distinctive characteristic of the European social model, requires the introduction of accompanying policies designed to minimise the social costs and to promote the search for alternative sources of jobs and income.

2.3

It follows that the response at Community level must focus on four essential requirements:

A need for consistency between the various policies, if growth and the ensuing restructuring are to avoid destroying human capital.

A need for a long-term perspective encompassing the various Community policies. If the economic and social players are to act effectively, they need to be able to see the way ahead.

A need for participation on the part of all the stakeholders, first and foremost the social partners.

A need to pay heed to the local dimension — it is, after all, at local level that anticipating change is most effective. The European Union's regional and cohesion policy must act as a catalyst here.

2.4

The Communication sets out the measures to be developed or strengthened by mobilising the various means available to the Union through cross-cutting and sectoral action. When these measures are implemented, it is necessary to limit as far as possible the burdens imposed on enterprises, while ensuring improved anticipation and management of restructuring operations.

2.5

Specifically, Annex I to the Communication sets out a series of 12 proposed measures, including:

review of the European Employment Strategy;

reform of the financial instruments and creation of a growth adjustment fund;

creation of a ‘Restructuring’ Forum;

enhanced monitoring of sectors most liable to undergo restructuring in the short-term.

3.   General comments

3.1

The EESC welcomes the comprehensive, inter-sectoral approach selected by the Commission. The Commission has taken up an issue which is equally important for both enterprises and employees. The EESC has already set out its views on this issue in various earlier opinions. Industrial change and the ability of those affected to prepare themselves for it are a key factor in helping to maintain competitiveness. Success in this field does, however, depend upon tackling the social consequences of industrial change.

3.2

The Commission's Communication addresses the issue of ‘restructuring’. A question which clearly also arises in this context is how this term is to be defined. In a variety of earlier opinions, the EESC drew the following distinctions between ‘industrial change’ and ‘restructuring’: ‘industrial change’ represents an ongoing process of development in a given enterprise or sector, whereas ‘restructuring’ refers to a specific form of industrial change, generally characterised by an abrupt process of (frequently forced) adjustment to take account of general economic conditions with a view to regaining competitiveness.

3.2.1

Even if the Commission does not make this distinction between the two terms, which would make the text clearer, the EESC recommends that it pursue a more differentiated approach. The key to tackling industrial change is clearly to be found in the anticipation and pro-active shaping of this change. Industrial restructuring, for its part, presents a growing and more complex challenge in a global context. These two issues require the adoption of a different approach and different measures.

3.2.2

The promotion of change cannot be an end in itself. A clearly defined and forward-looking long-term industrial policy can exert a positive influence on change and mitigate its consequences by giving rise to new opportunities. The Committee will examine the new Commission Communication on a new industrial policy (COM 2005 — …) in this light.

3.3

The EESC agrees in principle with the Commission's analysis of the phenomenon. Essentially, the Commission sets out four main reasons for restructuring:

The development of the European single market and the opening-up of economies to international competition.

Technological innovation.

The development of the regulatory framework.

Changes in consumer demand.

3.3.1

The Commission restricts its analysis, then, to very familiar unspecific factors. Another crucial issue is whether restructuring is the subject of long-term planning to avoid certain developments or is triggered at short notice by external pressures or management failures. One example of this is the development of the relationship between market potential and production capacities: ignoring this will result in overcapacities, which sooner or later are themselves a cause of restructuring. As these scenarios imply different approaches, the Committee would welcome a more in-depth analysis.

3.3.2

Restructuring always involves fear of adverse consequences, particularly for workers. But well managed restructuring can also give rise to new challenges and opportunities. There are many examples of successful and less successful restructuring. It all depends, essentially, on how the situation is dealt with in the company, how the various stages are managed and how the various players work together and develop a common spirit which enables them to identify the opportunities.

3.4

The Communication proposes few practical measures and some are merely announced for the future. The EESC is aware that the Commission cannot go much further as things stand, but it feels nonetheless that the Communication is a useful basis for developing Community policy on this issue, and that that policy requires coordination among the directorates-general concerned and the Member States.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

The EESC agrees that responses to restructuring must form part of the strategy for promoting growth and employment. Tackling industrial change can make a key contribution towards achieving the Lisbon objectives.

4.1.1

In this regard, the EU must consider what contribution it can make in addition to the measures adopted at local, regional and national level. It has an essential role to play in furthering the discussion process in the Member States and helping to raise awareness of the issue. It can also use all the instruments at its disposal to anticipate and foster change.

4.2   Mobilising horizontal EU measures

4.2.1

Closer coordination within the Commission through the establishment of an internal task force, and regular dialogue with the European Parliament and the Council are welcome measures. Involving all the directorates-general concerned could help to develop synergies between the different areas of policy seeking to anticipate and manage change. In the EESC's view, however, steps must be taken to ensure that the task force concentrates on its coordinating role and that responsibilities for legislation and the implementation of EU measures continue to be clearly defined within the Commission.

4.2.2

The EESC broadly endorses the priorities set out by the Commission in respect of the review of the European Employment Strategy. In this connection, there needs to be particular focus on training, lifelong learning and effective organisation of work, including sound management of human resources. The Employment Strategy cannot be addressed without reference to the macroeconomic context and industrial policy. The coordination of economic policies with industrial policy and the Employment Strategy would enable change to be managed better.

Stable, predictable and coordinated macroeconomic conditions in Europe are an important basis for successfully managing restructuring measures.

The local conditions in which restructuring takes place are crucial and must be integrated into an overall policy.

4.2.3

As regards the reform of the financial instruments, the EESC agrees that they should be directed more towards the anticipation and management of restructuring, but feels that the general objectives of the existing Funds should be retained.

4.2.4

The financial instruments proposed by the Commission under the heading ‘the Community's capacity to intervene in a crisis’ were initially regarded with scepticism in the Council. However, in the Committee's view, a detailed discussion on the possibilities of financial intervention to facilitate change where unforeseen events have had severe regional, sectoral or social repercussions is still necessary. It therefore supports the Commission in its endeavours to create a set of instruments of this kind.

4.2.5

The EESC has already set out its view on industrial policy in its opinion of December 2004 (3). In its view, the aim should now be, above all, to step up the sectoral approach, which makes it possible to identify tailor-made approaches for the individual sectors. These measures should not, however, only embrace economic fields which are in a state of crisis; analyses should be carried out in the greatest possible number of sectors which are of importance to the EU in order to tackle industrial change at an early stage and take a pro-active line in shaping change. The social dialogue needs to play an essential role in this context.

The improvement of legislation applying to enterprises is a key point which requires more specific consideration and clarification, with a view to easing the burden on enterprises without lowering social and environmental standards.

4.2.6

The EESC also regards the technology initiatives, especially the technology platforms, as one of the most important means of improving the situation. Technological innovation is the key to breaking out of apparent gridlocks, particularly in the fields of energy, waste emissions and product recycling. The ensuing technological advances would help to make the industrial sectors concerned competitive once again.

4.2.6.1

In this context, steps also need to be taken to ensure that an innovation-friendly environment is created. The crucial elements here are tax incentives and protection of intellectual property. However, consideration should also be given to the need for organisational and social innovation when tackling restructuring.

4.2.7

Turning to competition policy, the question arises as to whether the measures currently available are adequate. An increasing number of elements affecting competitiveness which are not addressed by competition policy are playing a prominent role; one example is corporate taxation.

As regards state aid, reform redirecting aid towards the areas which contribute most to growth and employment is still a long way away. In this connection, the EESC stresses the need for greater focus on the relationship between state aid, restructuring and production relocation. The rules on state aid must remain non-discriminatory and promotion of social cohesion must continue. In this context, the Committee recommends that particular attention be paid to practices outside the European Union.

4.2.8

On the subject of the EU's external policy, the EESC has already set out its views in a number of opinions.

4.2.9

The EESC takes the view that the Dublin-based European Monitoring Centre on Change (EMCC) also has a key role to play with a view to developing the requisite analytical instruments for monitoring restructuring. The CCMI should continue to strengthen its cooperation with the Monitoring Centre.

4.3   Strengthening the partnership for change

4.3.1

Special attention should be paid to the extension of the sectoral social dialogue. The EESC agrees with the Commission that, by virtue of their sectoral knowledge, the social partners are able to play a special role in alerting the authorities. This instrument should, however, not only come into play in crisis situations but should apply in the case of all situations in which, in the view of the social partners, there is a need to take action, not only when they wish to alert the Commission to ‘a particularly worrying development’. This approach would be more in line with the requirements in respect of anticipating and accompanying restructuring.

4.3.2

The EESC awaits with interest the Communication on Corporate social responsibility (CSR) announced by the Commission; this will focus on positive initiatives being taken by enterprises and the various stakeholders to address restructuring. There is clearly a need to publicise and promote not only the development of the legal bases but also examples of good practice in tackling change. The EESC draws attention, above all, to the need to take account in these processes also of those parties which are indirectly affected by the restructuring of individual enterprises (e.g. suppliers, service-providers, etc.).

The EESC has already set out its views on CSR in an earlier opinion.

4.3.3

The EESC welcomes in principle the establishment of a Restructuring Forum. The Forum's aim must be to explain best practices and discuss local barriers (regulations) to introducing them. It is still too early to assess the results. The Committee is very willing, however, to contribute its expertise to the Forum and help to ensure it adds value to EU policy-making. For this to happen, its modus operandi must not entail the creation of a new bureaucracy and it must focus on those questions which have so far not been adequately addressed. The civil society organisations concerned must have the opportunity to take part in its work.

4.4   Adapting the framework of regulation and collective agreement

4.4.1

In addition to the regulatory modernisation and simplification measures already provided for in the Lisbon Action Programme — measures which the EESC has always welcomed — the Commission announces that it is to submit a Green Paper on the Development of labour law. In restructuring, perhaps more than elsewhere, the aim of developing labour law must be to ensure a balance between flexibility and security.

4.4.2

With regard to promoting intra-Community mobility, the EESC regards the proposal for a Directive on Improving the portability of supplementary pension rights — the sole proposal put forward — as being a somewhat meagre contribution. Worker mobility in relation to restructuring is a very complex issue and cross-border mobility is just one aspect of it. Workers must be able to adapt to new circumstances brought about by restructuring. At the outside, this could mean a career change or looking for a new job. Thought therefore needs to be given to what measures must be taken at Community, national or regional level to make this transition easier for workers. A package of incentives to facilitate mobility will have to be considered involving areas such as qualifications, the labour market, social legislation and taxation, including the removal of administrative barriers to the free movement of labour.

4.5   Second phase of the consultation of the social partners on company restructuring and European works councils

4.5.1

The Commission has here, for the first time in a Communication aimed at a wide readership, initiated a consultation of the social partners on two different issues. This method is not universally endorsed and it has yet to be established whether the right process for consulting the social partners has been selected in this case.

4.5.2

Irrespective of these procedural questions, the EESC welcomes the idea of giving the social partners the opportunity to continue, in concrete terms, their work on the subject of restructuring.

4.5.3

European Works Councils (EWC) have a significant role to play in company restructuring. Consultations on the review of the EWC Directive should therefore embrace this issue, but they need to cover a broader context. The right of employees, laid down in the EWC Directive, to be informed and consulted is not confined to the issue of restructuring.

4.6   The Commission's conclusions

4.6.1

The Committee shares the Commission's conviction that restructuring must not be synonymous with social decline and a loss of economic substance. Restructuring can make an appreciable contribution to economic and social progress. But the Commission has rightly noted, the conditions in which restructuring takes place are of crucial importance.

4.6.2

However, adverse consequences for workers cannot be entirely avoided. In addition to the requirements set out by the Commission, therefore, measures taken at Community level must also aim to give workers the necessary protection in periods of transition.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  The 2005 Review of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy; Initial Stocktaking and Future Orientations (COM(2005) 37 final), dated likewise 9 February 2005.

(2)  COM(2005) 120 final.

(3)  JO C 157 of 28.6.2005 – Fostering structural change: an industrial policy for an enlarged Europe (COM(2004) 274 final).


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/63


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the specific ‘Programme Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism, for the Period 2007-2013. General Programme Security and Safeguarding Liberties’

(COM(2005) 124 final — 2005/0034 (CNS))

(2006/C 65/13)

On 25 July 2005, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 14 November 2005. The rapporteur was Mr Cabra de Luna.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December 2005), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 126 votes, with ten abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

The Commission has forwarded to the Council and the European Parliament its Proposal for a Council Decision establishing a framework programme on Security and Safeguarding Liberties, comprising two instruments: a specific programme Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism, and another, Prevention of and Fight against Crime, both for the period 2007-2013. The framework programme is consistent with the Commission's intention to support the development of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice under the 2007-2013 financial perspectives by extending this to cover citizenship, thus placing the traditional concept of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) within a wider context, in line with the United Nations' new approach to Human Security involving ‘a broader, more comprehensive concept for security (1). This innovation is extremely interesting and represents an important step towards establishing a concept of security shared by all social players. The added value of this framework programme is provided by its European dimension, which enables the generation of synergies between European and national fields of action.

1.2

The Commission insists that in Europe, citizenship, freedom, security and justice must be developed in parallel and on an equal basis, with a balance between the principles of democracy and respect for human rights, fundamental liberties and the rule of law. The Union is gradually increasing its activities in this field: beginning with the Vienna Action Plan (2) and following the lines of action of the Tampere European Council of 1999, the Union has been responding through legislation and financial support programmes. Furthermore, these lines of action were clarified in the Treaty on European Union and the Hague Programme, adopted by the European Council of November 2004. The European Security and Defence Policy and the European Union Plan of Action on Combating Terrorism also highlight the Union's approach to fighting terrorism.

1.3

However, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice need to be more involved in all these areas, to safeguard liberties in the context of the policies that have been proposed and adopted by the EU.

1.4

However, the Union's focus with regard to the development of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice has thus far been on legislative action, with relatively meagre financing. Therefore, its efforts must now centre on the operational aspects, particularly in relation to the fight against terrorism, an especially insidious form of criminality that requires urgent action (3).

1.5

Terrorism, as a form of criminality, constitutes one of the biggest threats facing citizens today. The premise of the framework programme is that criminal acts threaten individual liberties and rights, democratic societies and the rule of law; therefore, freedom is only possible within a framework of security and legal guarantees. Public bodies and civil society must have the resources to keep up with the growing sophistication of terrorists and criminals who operate in an organised fashion and on an international scale; in this way it will be possible to cofinance bilateral and national projects aimed at boosting innovation, and applying the resulting experiences at a transnational or European level.

1.6

Organised crime represents a significant threat for the EU. According to Europol, approximately half of all organised crime groups in the Union are made up of citizens of the Member States; many of these have connections with non-EU countries associated with various forms of crime, such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration and people trafficking, financial crimes, smuggling and different types of property offences.

1.7

The fight against terrorism and organised crime should not jeopardise individual liberties and the rule of law; on the contrary, it should seek to preserve them. The democratic constitution, the evolution of the concept of individual liberties and the presumption of innocence cannot be undermined, nor questioned, by policies combating terrorism and organised crime.

1.8

The fact that transnational cooperation between these groups is increasing is cause for concern, not only because this provides more opportunities for criminals, but also because it makes police or legal action difficult. It is impossible to fight transnational crime if police forces cannot act beyond the borders of their own countries. Organised crime groups exploit this weakness by living in one Member State and operating in another. Free movement of goods, people, capital and services is in many ways positive, but organised crime groups know how to exploit these freedoms and the flexibility of a legal area inadequately equipped for curbing their activities.

1.9

According to Europol, there are currently about 3 000 organised crime groups, involving some 30 000 identified members, actively operating within the Union. However, these figures, based on data provided by the Member States, are merely illustrative; in reality, the numbers are much greater. The size, structure, organisation and other characteristics of such groups differ as much within Member States as between them. Organised crime groups in the EU are involved in all kinds of criminal activities, particularly drug trafficking, illegal immigration, people trafficking, smuggling, stealing works of art from museums and churches, fraud and financial crimes.

1.10

The EESC has already stated its views on this subject, in its opinion (4) on the Commission Working Document — The relationship between safeguarding internal security and complying with international protection obligations and instruments  (5). The opinion's conclusions included the following:

a.

The Committee fully supports coordinated action against terrorism at Community level and the open coordination method recommended by the Commission. However, it calls for great caution and very careful thought regarding preventive and punitive measures, notwithstanding the justifiable depth of emotion aroused by the unspeakable attacks perpetrated in the United States on 11 September, and other terrorist crimes committed in various EU and third countries.

b.

While reasserting that the safeguarding of human rights and international protection instruments must be given priority over all other considerations, the Committee is aware that the common policy for internal security and fighting terrorism needs improving. Without questioning political and humanist ethics there must be effective protection for people and property, and to that end a balance must be struck between the differing requirements involved in protecting the various rights and freedoms.

2.   Gist of the Commission document

To improve management of the security risks that affect the Union's citizens, ensuring their rights and liberties by

1)

promoting and developing coordination, cooperation and mutual understanding between police forces, national authorities and other relevant bodies,

2)

stimulating, promoting and developing horizontal methods and tools to create strategies to fight terrorism and crime, such as public-private partnerships, codes of conduct and best practice, comparative statistics and crime detection techniques and

3)

sharing information, knowledge and standards to protect vital infrastructures and to manage the consequences of terrorism and crime, as regards civil protection and the protection of victims of terrorism and witnesses.

2.1   Types of action proposed

European projects initiated and managed by the Commission, coordination mechanisms and networks, inter alia, analytical activities such as studies and activities aimed at identifying solutions, together with specific policies, training and exchange of staff;

transnational projects initiated and managed by at least two Member States (or one Member State and one candidate country);

national projects with Member States;

subsidies for NGOs carrying out tasks with a European dimension.

2.2   The following will receive special support

operational cooperation and coordination actions (strengthening networking — links and relations, trust and mutual understanding, exchange and dissemination of information, experience and best practice);

analytical, follow-up and evaluation actions;

development and transfer of technology and methodology;

training, exchange of staff and experts;

information and distribution activities.

2.3   Respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality

With regard to the principle of subsidiarity, the framework programme does not intervene in areas covered by programmes managed by each Member State's national authorities; rather, it focuses on issues where value can be added at European level. In this sense, it complements national programmes and maximises synergies with bilateral and multilateral activities.

With regard to the principle of proportionality, actions are defined as generally as possible and the administrative and financial arrangements for their implementation are kept as simple as possible.

2.4   Simplification and rationalisation

The legal form and management of the proposed instruments are simplified, financing rationalised, assignment of priorities made more flexible and transparency increased. Potential beneficiaries will be able to apply using a standard system.

2.5   Budgetary allocation

The proposed budget for the framework programme totals EUR 735 million, of which EUR 137,4 million will be for the instrument Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism, and EUR 597,6 million for Prevention of and Fight against Crime.

2.6   Types of intervention and methods of implementation

subsidies following a call for tender;

public service contracts.

3.   General comments — Dimensions of the threats posed by crime and terrorism to EU citizens' well-being

3.1

According to Europol, organised crime groups use the political and economic instability of countries outside the Union to facilitate their illegal activities, particularly in countries of origin and transit. Through corruption and the promise of a better future, people may become involved, either actively or passively, in crime. This growth in criminality will serve to perpetuate some of the structural deficiencies that provided opportunities for criminal activity in the first place, delaying the introduction of democratic or economic reforms for example.

3.2

Terrorism is a direct assault on human dignity and the most fundamental principles of international law; it is a threat to all states and peoples; it can appear at any moment and anywhere, and it directly attacks the basic values of the societies that form the EU and other international organisations (6): the rule of law, personal safety, respect and tolerance. Terrorist crimes are crimes against humanity, democracy and human rights; they breed hate and fear, and nurture divisions between religious, ideological and ethnic groups.

3.3

This phenomenon has afflicted people throughout the world for decades as cities from every continent all bear the scars of attacks of varying magnitude with the same aim: to kill or cause as much harm as possible to human beings, to destroy property and infrastructure, to ruin businesses and economies, to intimidate the population or groups of people and to force the hand of governments and international organisations.

3.4

The destruction of the New York World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 was the culmination of a new kind of global terrorism, which began with an earlier attempt to destroy the Twin Towers in 1993. The terrorism we now face is unprecedented in its scope, in its capacity to provoke serious conflict (7) and in its determination to kill civilians indiscriminately and on a massive scale. Civil aviation, vital infrastructure and the computer systems that run most of the processes that lend normality and modernity to our lives are easy targets for terrorist groups driven by a total determination to inflict the greatest possible damage on our societies by attacking their most vulnerable component: ordinary people.

3.5

Europe has suffered serious terrorist attacks, including the most recent manifestation of the campaign of global terror, in London on 21 July 2005. There is a real and constant possibility of further attacks. Therefore we must be prepared: firstly, in order to prevent such attacks, and secondly to deal with the consequences of attacks we cannot prevent, in whatever form. We are growing accustomed to bombings that cause dozens or hundreds of deaths and urban chaos; however, the terrorist groups responsible for these attacks have the determination, patience and resources necessary to carry out large-scale attacks, such as the destruction of commercial aircraft or the release of chemical, biological or ‘dirty’ bombs in densely populated areas.

3.6

This must not undermine the integrity of the rule of law and the constitutional guarantees enjoyed by every citizen. The authorities, always bound by the law, can in some ways overstep the mark in their efforts to prevent and clamp down on terrorism.

3.7

Social and economic policy measures can help to alleviate the exclusion and resentment caused by the negative impact of rapid socio-economic change which is frequently exploited by terrorists. To this end, the following are necessary:

the adoption of long-term trade, subsidy and investment policies that help to integrate marginal groups and boost their involvement;

new efforts to reduce structural inequalities in societies, eliminating discrimination of certain groups;

programmes focussed on promoting education of children and women, employment and representation of the socially excluded;

achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

3.8

The prevention of terrorist attacks plays a key role in the EU's policies on freedom, security and justice; according to Eurobarometer, eight out of ten Europeans fear terrorism and 83 % of the population of the Union believe in the added value of EU action against terrorism, and therefore demand it. The key document of the EU's counter-terrorism strategy is the EU action plan on combating terrorism  (8). Its main lines of action are:

1.

Deepen the international consensus and enhance international efforts to combat terrorism,

2.

Target actions under EU external relations towards Third Countries where counter-terrorist capacity or commitment to combating terrorism needs to be enhanced,

3.

Address the factors which contribute to support for, and recruitment into, terrorism,

4.

Reduce the access of terrorists to financial and other economic resources,

5.

Maximise capacity within EU bodies and Member States to detect, investigate and prosecute terrorists and prevent terrorist attacks,

6.

Protect the security of international transport and ensure effective systems of border control,

7.

Enhance the capability of Member States to deal with the consequences of a terrorist attack.

3.9

As terrorism is a global phenomenon, the response to it must also be global, not only in the sense that international cooperation between states, organisations and international bodies is essential, but also in that all sectors of society must be involved: organised civil society (including economic and social stakeholders and organisations of general interest or various activities), all types of government institution and the general public. A process of political and civil dialogue in the general context of security and safeguarding liberty should be initiated.

3.10

To this end, organised civil society has the capacity and duty to play a central role in the integrated response to terrorism. The fact that organised civil society is built on active citizenship gives it a more flexible, creative and varied standpoint from which to develop preventative measures more effectively than government. Organised civil society can promote the spread of knowledge and understanding, both horizontally and from the bottom up, since these are vital to the construction of inclusive societies that enable the participation of all through civic cooperation, economic activity and education.

Furthermore, the proposals made by organised civil society on the need for a balance between security measures and measures to safeguard liberties should be taken into account by the relevant public authorities.

3.11

All kinds of non-state actors, economic and social movements and players, media, various interest organisations, the academic community, religious leaders, the world of art and culture, global public opinion — all these can and must play a more active role in this area.

3.12

A dynamic civil society can take on a strategic role in protecting local communities, tackling extremist ideologies and addressing the issue of political violence. Civil society is an open space where citizens can determine their own destiny; it is a form of resistance and protest, a source of information, public debate and social reflection, and a mechanism for mediation, reconciliation and compromise. Civil society provides a platform for different social groups and causes, gives a voice to minorities and nonconformists, and promotes — through its own diversity — a culture of tolerance and pluralism. Civil society includes radicals and moderates, those within the system and those on the margins, those that offer resistance and those that negotiate.

3.13

Civil society can play a critical role in building a new approach to coordinated global action, until now hindered by unilateralist attitudes and recent international political disagreements. Over the last few decades, different representatives of civil society have formed dynamic international alliances — involving people and groups all over the world — in the advancement of global causes, such as gender equality, peace and human rights, the fight against AIDS, the environment, fair trade and global justice movements, etc.

3.14

There is an increasingly widespread conviction that in the fight against terrorism, state action is not enough if it does not go hand-in-hand with the active commitment of civil society and its stakeholders. As the forum of organised civil society, the Committee has the opportunity and duty to act in those areas falling within its remit, to contribute to the counter-terrorist activities being promoted in the EU and other relevant fora. Furthermore, such efforts should naturally enable the Committee, in its role of prevention, cooperation and dialogue, to contribute to the development of anti-terrorism policies that affect its area of action. The proposals for Council Decisions establishing the specific programmes Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism and Prevention of and Fight against Crime offer broad and flexible scope for all kinds of initiative.

3.15

The following general observations should be taken into account:

3.15.1

The EESC strongly condemns any kind of terrorism and takes a firm stance on this issue.

3.15.2

The EESC firmly supports the fight against crime and terrorism and emphasises the positive impact of the appointment of the EU coordinator in the fight against terrorism, Mr Gijs de Vries.

3.15.3

Progress in fighting terrorism and crime in the EU must be consolidated.

3.15.4

In addition, there must be effective cooperation and coordination between Member States with regard to law enforcement, intelligence and judicial matters (giving priority to the principle of availability of relevant information); cooperation with third countries should also be effective and permanent.

3.15.5

Strategic public-private partnerships also play an important part in the Commission proposal.

3.16

Organised civil society can play a role at two levels: in preventing attacks and in managing their consequences, whether physical, psychological or economic. In line with the types of actions set out in the proposals, and making the most of the broad net cost by the proposals' definitions, the Committee can promote various types of general initiative, within its area of responsibility, in the same areas focussed on at the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security, which closed in Madrid on 11 March 2005. At this meeting, a plan of action entitled the Madrid Agenda was drawn up to provide a framework for the implementation of different recommendations (9).

4.   Specific comments

4.1

Proposal for a Council Decision 2005/0034 (CNS) establishing the specific Programme Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism, for the Period 2007-2013

4.1.1

The EESC agrees with the programme's general objectives, set out by the Commission in Articles 3 and 4 of the proposal.

4.1.2

With regard to the eligible actions listed in Article 5 of the proposal, the EESC believes that special attention should be given to:

4.1.2.1

‘Analytical, monitoring, evaluation, audit and inspection activities’ [Article 5(2) (b)]; although basic research in this field is to be channelled through the 7th research framework programme, which according to the Commission's current proposal has set aside EUR 1 billion for this proposal, this programme should promote applied research relating to the discussion and sharing of information developed by think-tanks, academic institutions and different fora and organisations acting as centres for debate and the formulation of political proposals which strengthen the formal and informal links maintained by researchers, analysts and intellectuals with decision-makers.

4.1.2.2

‘Training, exchange of staff and experts’ [5(2) (d)] relating to the above activities, but especially with those that enable the creation, development and ongoing maintenance of high-quality training programmes aimed at linguists, translators and interpreters of languages on which there are currently few experts and which are used to spread both messages regarding the commission of crimes and terrorist acts and the propaganda used to justify these and attract new recruits.

4.1.2.3

‘Awareness and dissemination activities’ [5(2) (e)], including those mentioned in point 4.2.2.1, putting special emphasis on the role of the media, which can serve to discredit violence, but sometimes facilitates the unlimited dissemination of propaganda by recognised terrorist and criminal groups; this means that their inalienable right to report the news without censorship has the perverse effect of giving a voice to those criminal groups with terrorist intentions: broadcasting live images of attacks, kidnappings and the murder of terrorised hostages.

4.1.3

In Article 6 it would be appropriate to clarify in detail who may apply, as in Article 5 of the other programme. Insofar as they work in highly sensitive areas, the Commission will publish a list of the beneficiaries of subsidies each year.

4.1.4

Article 14(3) stipulates that the Commission will submit to the Parliament and the Council interim evaluation reports and a communication on the implementation of the programme. The EESC should also be involved throughout the evaluation process.

4.2

Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the specific Programme Prevention of and Fight against Crime for the Period 2007-2013

4.2.1

The EESC agrees with the programme's general and specific objectives [Articles 2 and 3].

4.2.2

Although the Fundamental Rights and Justice programme provides for social and legal assistance to victims, the EESC calls for special attention to be paid to protecting witnesses and victims and promoting and developing best practice therein as part of law enforcement services [Articles 3(1) (c) and 3(2) (c)], as well as aspects relating to crime prevention and criminology and the development of horizontal methods and tools needed for strategically preventing and fighting crime [Articles 3(1) (b) and 3(2) (b)].To this end, the EESC supports the Commission's work on pilot projects to fight terrorism, people trafficking and provide financial support for the protection of victims of terrorism. Based on evaluation of these pilot projects, the EESC believes that, once implemented, they should lead to the creation of a permanent compensation fund for victims of terrorism.

4.2.2.1

With regard to the protection of victims of terrorism and their families and dependants, in all its forms: the human aspect of the fight against terrorism, based on protecting victims and promoting the role of civil society, must be made an integral part of the strategy for combating terrorism. Victims suffer violence which targets the whole of society and the values it represents. Therefore, society has a moral and political obligation to recognise and respond to such violence. States must protect and guarantee the rights and liberties of their citizens, starting with the right to life and the right to live free from fear or threats. Victims are the reality of terrorism; they are the voice of society and its front line in the war on terrorism. Focussing on the victims' testimonies is the most effective way of raising awareness and building the necessary commitment in society to the fight against terrorism, and of forging a civic response. It is also the best way of discrediting and isolating terrorists, both politically and morally. To this end, the following are necessary:

the international community's understanding and solidarity, sending out a clear message that respect for human rights is at the heart of the fight against terrorism;

international measures and protection and assistance mechanisms for victims of terrorism;

the debate on victims is closely connected to the debate on human rights; the debate on the human rights and fundamental liberties of individuals caught up in the war on terrorism should be broadened and should endeavour to reconcile Member States' obligation to respect human rights in combating terrorism with their obligation to adopt all measures necessary to protect people's human rights when confronted with terrorism. Unfortunately, in the Commission document being discussed here, there is no mention of this debate;

encouragement of measures to promote the commitment of civil society to fighting terrorism, with the input and active participation of civil society stakeholders, in particular victims, on the international stage.

4.2.2.2

With regard to the prevention of crime: drug trafficking is the most common type of transnational crime in the EU. and well-established criminal groups in all Member States guarantee wide scale distribution throughout the Union. Furthermore, the trend in trafficking more than one substance continues to grow.

Trafficking in human beings is a growing problem in the Union; the economic benefits of this activity are enormous. The EU must strengthen its operational capacity to initiate and support investigations into the trafficking of human beings and its associated forms, such as the sexual exploitation of children and prostitution in a wider sense. The EESC considers initiatives such as the Proposal for a Council Directive on the short-term residence permit issued to victims of action to facilitate illegal immigration or trafficking in human beings who cooperate with the competent authorities  (10), which strengthened the instruments used to combat illegal immigration and trafficking in human beings (11), to be essential to these efforts.

Corruption, money laundering, financial offences and counterfeiting of money are also causes for concern in the Union. Money laundering is a key activity of organised crime groups that operate in the Union, since it serves as a source of financing. All of these factors (forms of criminality and terrorist financing) only serve to create synergies that perpetuate the exploitation and abuse of human beings (12). It is particularly necessary to:

encourage cooperation and strategic alliances between the public and private sectors, especially in the development of best practice, as well as in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, while meeting standards of transparency and professional integrity in the financial sector and non-profit organisations, in line with FATF recommendations (13) (the main international body responsible for protecting the international financial system from money laundering and terrorist financing) and the EU's Action Plan (14);

encourage statistical benchmarks and applied criminology, as well as their application to real measures and policies.

4.3

With regard to Article 4(2) (types of activities which may be financed):

4.3.1

Specific reference should be made to the importance of interfaith and intergenerational dialogue in identifying fundamentalist beliefs and promoting best practices that foster mutual understanding, moderation and democratic tolerance, thus limiting the radicalisation and recruitment of new followers. The fight against terrorism requires us to deprive the phenomenon of its moral legitimacy; this can only be achieved through dialogue and an understanding of ‘the other side’. Actions should be promoted that enable groups of different faiths and their respective leaders to build bridges of comprehension and understanding, deepening harmony and tolerance, and helping to create a body of knowledge that enables us to identify the causes of hatred and how they can be overcome. The different religious communities must get to know each other better — there is no more effective way to do this than through measures facilitating the creation of networks between their members.

4.3.2

Without prejudice to those activities of the Migration Flows programme that relate to the social integration and employment of people, especially young people, belonging to ethnic, religious, cultural or immigrant minority groups, this programme should also develop best practice from successful methodologies used in this field, particularly with regard to training and exchange of staff and experts (Article 4(2)).

4.3.3

From the point of view of civil society organisations, the EESC is compelled to criticise the European Commission's recent preliminary proposal relating to a code of conduct for non-profit organisations to promote their transparency and financial responsibility. This proposal could have a negative impact on all European NGOs and discredit all such organisations, thus undermining their most useful social capital: the trust of the public and of local, national and European institutions.

The EESC understands the concern to prevent the possible use of non-profit organisations to finance terrorism and other criminal activities. However, this must all be done using the ordinary instruments of prevention and prosecution available to the different Member States' authorities. Above all, work on the adoption of statutes for a European Association and a European Mutual Society, which has unfortunately been broken off, should be continued.

4.3.4

The activities outlined in points 4.1.2.2 and 4.1.2.3 relating to ‘training, exchange of staff and experts’ and on ‘awareness and dissemination activities’ are also relevant here.

4.3.5

Art and culture should also occupy an important place in the creation of a blueprint for a civic response to crime and terrorism, but also serve as a means of expressing and understanding other points of view, different to the widely held views in our countries.

4.4

With regard to Article 14 (Evaluation), the comments made in point 4.1.4 are reiterated.

5.   Conclusion

5.1

The EESC believes that this framework programme's two proposals are necessary and that, if in the process of interim evaluation the programme is judged to have made positive progress, the proposals should be assigned greater funding.

5.2

Furthermore, the EESC, within its own area of responsibility, must be involved in the dialogue with the Commission and the European Parliament to finalise the programme's annual plans, as well as the corresponding evaluation processes.

5.3

In addition, the EESC reiterates that the methods used in current European programmes defending liberty and security should strike a balance with the safeguarding of liberties, as stipulated in the opinion on The Hague Programme: Ten priorities for the next five yearsThe Partnership for European renewal in the field of Freedom, Security and Justice (COM(2005) 184 final) (SOC/209).

5.4

Protection of fundamental rights, liberties and security is the responsibility of all; it begins with the instilling of common values at primary school age, and must constantly aim to strike a balance between the three pillars — freedom, democracy, security.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Report on Human Security Now, United Nations http://www.humansecurity-chs.org.

(2)  OJ C 19, 23.1.1999, p.1.

(3)  http://www.europol.eu.int/index.asp?page=publar2004#INTRODUCTION.

(4)  EESC opinion of 24 April 2002 (rapporteur working without a study group: Mr Retureau) (OJ C 149 of 21.6.2002).

(5)  Regarding the Commission Working Document - The relationship between safeguarding internal security and complying with international protection obligations and instruments (COM(2001) 743 final).

(6)  Speech by the Secretary-General of the United Nations at the Club of Madrid's Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security, Madrid, Spain, 11 March 2005 http://www.safe-democracy.org.

(7)  Rohan Gunaratna. Al Qaeda, viaje al interior del terrorismo islamista. Page 27. Editorial Servi Doc., Barcelona, 2003.

(8)  Note to the European Council, 16-17 June 2005, submitted by the Presidency and the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator:

http://www.consilium.eu.int/uedocs/cmsUpload/newWEBre01.en05.pdf.

(9)  http://cumbre.clubmadrid.org/agenda/la-agenda-de-madrid.html.

(10)  EESC opinion of 29 May 2002 (rapporteur: Mr Pariza Castaños) (OJ C 221 of 17.9.2002).

(11)  COM(2002) 71 final of 11.2.2002.

(12)  http://www.europol.eu.int/index.asp?page=publar2004#INTRODUCTION.

(13)  http://www.fatf-gafi.org/document/28/0,2340,en_32250379_32236930_33658140_1_1_1_1,00.html#Introduction.

(14)  Note to the European Council, 16-17 June 2005, submitted by the Presidency and the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator:

http://www.consilium.eu.int/uedocs/cmsUpload/newWEBre01.en05.pdf.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/70


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and the Council on the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All (2007) — Towards a Just Society’

(COM(2005) 225 final — 2005/0107 (COD))

(2006/C 65/14)

On 27 October 2005, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an opinion on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 8 December 2005. The rapporteur was Mária Herczog.

At its 422nd plenary session, held on 14 and 15 December 2005 (meeting of 14 December 2005), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 123 votes in favour, no votes against and seven abstentions:

1.   EESC's position in brief

1.1

The European Economic and Social Committee reiterates its strong support for the programme for the European Year of Equal Opportunities (2007), and its commitment to equal opportunities, European social cohesion and fundamental rights for all.

1.2

In its recent opinions on this subject the EESC has consistently emphasised the need for more tangible progress than has been achieved to date in order to eliminate all forms of discrimination as defined in Article 13. (1) The Committee acknowledges that various corrective measures have been taken to promote equal opportunities, but still feels that in many areas there is still a need for urgent action, and that the Year of Equal Opportunities in 2007 could represent a favourable opportunity to identify and highlight the groups concerned.

1.3

The EESC believes that every individual residing within the EU should be guaranteed non-discrimination and equal opportunities in the enjoyment of the full range of human rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural. Therefore, the Year should be used to advance the elimination of all types of discrimination. Although particular attention is given to the grounds covered by Article 13, the Year should be seen as an opportunity to raise awareness about the discrimination faced by specific groups that are not normally considered such as children and about issues related to discrimination not tackled yet.

1.4

The EESC endorses the Social Agenda for the 2005-2010 period, which focuses on the need for equal opportunities and social cohesion, and formulates a new strategy for action in these areas. Subject to the following proposed modifications and additions, the EESC accepts and supports the objectives of the European Year of Equal Opportunities (2007), relating to rights, representation, recognition and respect and tolerance, as well as mainstreaming of the relevant issues.

2.   Supporting arguments for the opinion and comments

2.1   Gist of the Commission document

2.1.1

The Commission's Communication on the Social Agenda for the period 2005-2010 emphasised the importance of promoting equal opportunities for all in order to achieve a more cohesive society. It announced the Commission's intention to develop a new framework strategy on non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all (set out in the Communication accompanying this proposal). (2) One of the major initiatives announced in the Communication is to propose that 2007 be designated European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. The global objective of the Year will be to raise awareness of the benefits of a just, cohesive society where there is equality of opportunity for all. This will require tackling barriers to participation in society and promoting a climate in which Europe's diversity is seen as a source of social and cultural vitality. The specific objectives of the European Year are as follows:

Rights — Raising awareness of rights to equality and non-discrimination

Representation — Stimulating debate on ways to increase civil, political, economical, social, cultural participation in society

Recognition — Celebrating and accommodating diversity

Respect and tolerance — Promoting a more cohesive society

The current proposal sets out the provisions for the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All and establishes a budget for the action. The proposal is based on Article 13 of the Treaty establishing the European Community. (3)

2.2   General and specific comments

2.2.1

Achieving equality is, and should remain, a priority of EU policy. Although there have been significant legislative changes at European and national level in the anti-discrimination field, particular regarding the specific grounds of discrimination mentioned in Article 13 of the Treaty, further action is required to ensure more consistent implementation of equal opportunities and non-discrimination. Although indirect forms of discrimination are often discernible, they are difficult to prove, and the programme for the 2007 Year of Equal Opportunities should pay attention to this.

2.2.2

Another area that needs to be addressed is the differences in the level and scope of protection against discrimination on different grounds. The Committee strongly recommends that discrimination on each ground — gender, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation — should be prohibited in the areas of employment, training, education, social protection, social advantages and access to goods and services. To do otherwise risks creating a hierarchy between the groups.

2.2.3

Since the drafting of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the EU can no longer be seen as an intergovernmental association of states based on mere economic interest, and therefore adequate attention should be paid to the social groups which, as a result of various forms of exclusion, are either disadvantaged on labour markets and in economic life or, despite participation in labour markets, are still afflicted by poverty.

2.2.4

There are social and economic arguments in favour of ensuring equal opportunities for all individuals and in particular those who are discriminated against or are in a less advantageous position due to social, economic, cultural geographical or other circumstances. If adequate support were provided, they could play a full part in society contributing both socially and economically.

2.2.5

In the view of the EESC, the programme of the European Year of Equal Opportunities, planned for 2007, is an opportunity to highlight those who can be overlooked: for example young people, including children, who experience age discrimination; individuals who experience multiple discrimination on several grounds and inhabitants of remote or sparsely populated regions and towns who are affected by discrimination but may not have access to required services.

2.2.6

The Committee considers that the Year should also provide the opportunity to further explore key challenges such as the topic of multiple discrimination often exercised towards some groups (e.g. disabled children, elderly migrants, Roma women). Finally, there is a need to take into account, in all initiatives in the anti-discrimination field, of the diverse and heterogeneous nature of the groups that most face discrimination.

2.2.7

The European Year should be an opportunity to improve the situation of more groups. Showing the way ahead, special attention should be given to the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, a document ratified by all EU Member States, and thus opening the door to its inclusion among the principles adopted by the EU Member States, and making the protection of children's rights a European requirement in the future.

2.2.8

It would still be premature to assess the initial impact of the Year of People with Disabilities (2003) and of the action plan then adopted (2004-2010), (4) but what is clear (5) is that this social group, thanks to the impact of the European year, is receiving more attention in the Member States, and that members of the public have easier access to more accurate information on their fellow-citizens with disabilities. However, in order to achieve real changes, an appropriate evaluation of progress to date and follow-up of the European Years are essential. An opinion on the evaluation and follow-up of the European Year of People with Disabilities is currently being prepared by the EESC.

2.2.9

Among the indirect benefits of the Year, when any legislation is drawn up the chapter on monitoring should take account not only of the percentage of EU citizens who have learned more about social groups systematically encountering discrimination, but also of specific changes occurring in everyday life and administrative practices.

2.2.10

The mainstreaming of the different grounds of discrimination in all EU policies and initiatives, as well as the consideration of the specific requirements of a specific ground when developing actions related to other grounds (e.g. taking into account disability issues when considering the other grounds) is the key to advancing the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equal opportunities. The experience already gained in this field regarding areas such as gender could be transferred to other grounds of discrimination.

2.2.11

It is of vital importance to emphasise not only that discrimination, xenophobia and racism are unacceptable, but also that there is a need for multicultural European values and for implementation of the directives which have already been adopted in the field of EU anti-discrimination policy.

2.2.12

In several of its opinions, (6) the EESC has emphasised the need to involve NGOs, as well as representatives of the relevant minority groups, public- and private-sector employers, the social economy, employees and regions. At the same time, those affected by discrimination and groups and organisations representing them must be involved in all stages and at all levels of implementation. In planning, implementing and monitoring support, it is necessary to ensure more effectively (perhaps by means of reports from alternative sources) that, for instance, there is adequate communication with NGOs.

2.2.13

Special attention and recognition should be given to the role of the NGOs and organisations representing the groups facing discrimination. Their involvement in the European Year should be ensured at all levels (local, regional, national and European) and all stages (over-all planning, implementation, enforcement, evaluation and follow-up of the Year). In particular, the role of Social Economy companies and organisations (cooperatives, associations, foundations and mutual funds) in the fight against discrimination should be highlighted and taken into account.

2.2.14

The Committee is encouraged that the Commission recognises the importance of working with employers and employees in order to encourage and support the development of workplace non-discrimination and diversity policies. The EESC recommends that The European Year should be used to:

identify and promote the exchange of information and examples of good practice;

raise awareness among companies about the added value of respecting and integrating equal opportunities within their recruitment and career progression policies;

create partnerships and sustainable networks between employers and other stakeholders including NGOs and organisations that work with groups who face discrimination;

link with and advance the forthcoming Commission Plan on Corporate Social Responsibility (to be released in January 2006).

2.2.15

The Year of Equal Opportunities should be solidly prepared on the basis of previous experience. Appropriate information should be suitably worded and presented in clear language so as to be comprehensible to all, and so as to ensure the availability of training and educational opportunities, adequate media attention, coordination with other policies, and provision of the requisite technical assistance. Research findings, together with examples of best practice and successful programmes, should be more widely publicised and made more adaptable.

2.2.16

The EESC feels that the planned budget is very limited considering the ambitions and, indeed, the needs. Attention should be paid to the allocation of the available resources to ensure that those primarily involved will have access to them.

2.2.17

It should also be made clear during the Year of Equal Opportunities that everybody, and not only the groups mentioned in Article 13 and this opinion, should have the chance to further develop their skills and potential, primarily by means of social inclusion and education, thus ensuring equal opportunities.

Brussels, 14 December 2005.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  EESC opinion on Poverty among Women in Europe (rapporteur: Brenda King) - JO C 24 of 31.1.2006; EESC opinion on the Social Agenda (rapporteur: Ursula Engelen-Kefer) – JO C 294 of 25.11.2005; EESC opinion on the European Social Fund (rapporteur: Ursula Engelen-Kefer) – OJ C 234, 22.9.2005; EESC opinion on the Commission programme for Employment and Social Solidarity – PROGRESS (rapporteur: Wolfgang Greif) – JO C 234 of 22.3.2006; EESC opinion on EQUAL (rapporteur: Sukhdev Sharma) – OJ C 241, 28.9.2004; EESC opinion on European Year of People with Disabilities (rapporteur: Miguel Ángel Cabra de Luna) – OJ C 110, 30.4.2004.

(2)  Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions – Non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all – A framework strategy (COM(2005) 224).

(3)  Article 13 of the Treaty establishing the European Community: (1) Without prejudice to other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. (2) By way of derogation from paragraph 1, when the Council adopts Community incentive measures, excluding any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of the Member States, to support action taken by the Member States in order to contribute to the achievement of the objectives referred to in paragraph 1, it shall act in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251.

(4)  EESC opinion, see SOC 163 – OJ C 110 of 30.4.2004.

(5)  See: Eurobarometer.

(6)  See SOC/189 - OJ C 234 of 22.9.2005.


17.3.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 65/73


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘How to integrate social aspects into the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations’

(2006/C 65/15)

In a letter of 2 July 2004 from Commissioner Loyola de Palacio, the Commission, in accordance with Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, asked the European Economic and Social Committee to draw up an opinion on How to integrate social aspects into the Economic Partnership Agreement negotiations

The Section for External Relations, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 10 November 2005. The rapporteur was Antonello Pezzini and the co-rapporteur Gérard Dantin.

At its 422nd plenary session (meeting of 14 December 2005) the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 125 votes to 2 with 7 abstentions:

1.   Introduction

1.1   The framework of the opinion

1.1.1

This opinion is the response to a request made by Commissioner Loyola Palacio. In her letter of referral of 2 July 2004, after stating that ‘the Commission appreciates the active role played by the Economic and Social Committee in promoting an open dialogue between the non-state actors of the ACP and the European Union’ she asks the Committee to draw up an ‘exploratory opinion on how to include social aspects in the negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreements, concentrating on employment, labour standards, social security and gender questions’.

1.1.2

The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) are governed by Article 37 of the Cotonou Agreement. They are to be concluded by 31 December 2007 and aim at fostering ‘the smooth and gradual integration of the ACP States into the world economy, with due regard for their political choices and development priorities, thereby promoting their sustainable development and contributing to poverty eradication in the ACP countries’ (Art. 34(1)). More generally, they form part of the implementation of the ‘development strategy’ set out in Articles 19 to 27 (Title 1) of the Cotonou Agreement.

1.1.3

The Commission's letter of referral is in line with Article 37 and Title 1 of the Cotonou Agreement. This determines the framework of the present exploratory opinion.

1.2

This referral shows the importance which the Commission attaches to taking the social dimension into account in the negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreements.

1.2.1

The Committee welcomes the Commission's concern and approach.

1.2.2

Indeed, there cannot be optimum development without a parallel social development. These concepts must go hand in hand if economic progress is to be fully effective and thus improve the way of life and the welfare of the people concerned.

1.2.3

Moreover, the implementation of the EPA will lead inevitably to necessary structural reforms, transforming many aspects of the way the people of the ACP countries live at present. These structural reforms, which will in many cases be difficult to cope with, must be accompanied by parallel social progress if the economic partnership agreements are not to be rejected by the peoples concerned.

1.2.4

From this viewpoint the participation of civil society in the various stages of the process based on the Economic Partnership Agreements is central.

1.3

In general terms the Cotonou Agreement provides for a gradual removal of barriers to trade between the two parties and regards the negotiation period as useful and suitable for developing the capacities of the public and private sectors.

1.3.1

The underlying aims of the EPA negotiations — part of the implementation of the Cotonou Agreement — essentially cover the following aspects: eradication of poverty; sustainable development; effective participation by women; involvement of non-state actors; special care to maintain public expenditure in the social sectors at a sufficient level (1).

1.3.2

The Cotonou Agreement provides for the EPA to cover a wide range of sectors: competition policy (2); intellectual property rights (3); health and plant health measures (4); trade and environment questions (5); trade and labour standards (6); consumer protection (7); food safety (8); investments (9).

1.4

The EPA — the framework of which has several dimensions (cf. Appendix 2) — are regarded as reciprocal free trade agreements which are to be negotiated on a bilateral basis between the EU and the ACP countries or regions. An important principle is that the EPA will have to be consistent with the rules of the WTO.

1.4.1

Both the ACP countries and the EU are convinced that the objective should be a more balanced and fairer multilateral trade system under the aegis of the WTO, based on a clear relationship between trade and development and on really differentiated treatment for developing countries — especially the LDCs and the small island countries — and ultimately characterised by transparency and effective involvement in the decision-making process.

1.5

The negotiations so far (see Appendix 3) have brought out certain serious divergences between the ACP countries and the European Union, as the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly has rightly pointed out.

1.5.1

It must not be forgotten that foreign debt constitutes for many ACP countries an insurmountable obstacle to economic and social development (10). Moreover, this is one of the reasons why the first stage of the EPA negotiations did not lead to a binding framework agreement as the ACP countries had wished.

2.   General comments

2.1

Many ACP countries, particularly those of southern Africa, take the view that the prospects of regional integration will lead initially to a reduction in income, particularly as a result of the reduction in customs duties. It therefore seems necessary at this stage to provide for a greater financial commitment on the basis of the various contribution rates. Subsequently, since in many ACP countries customs duties make up a large part of public income, tax systems must be developed as rapidly as possible to compensate for any such reduction. These countries must be supported in their efforts to develop efficient tax systems. Moreover, the ACP countries have shown only slight progress towards practical forms of regional trade cooperation. Existing or forthcoming agreements, apart from being limited to certain regions, have not generally achieved the objective of increasing inter-regional trade. Indeed, few of the existing areas of integration show significant trade at infra-regional level.

2.1.1

At present in all six regional areas the negotiations have turned out to be long and complex. The planned deadline of 2007 will certainly not be respected. The transition period will be longer and will extend well beyond 2008. The main difficulties are found in southern and eastern Africa. Indeed, the African states show much more interest in infrastructure problems (roads, hospitals, training centres, agricultural development etc.) than in the problems concerning aspects of civil society (11).

2.1.2

In each region there are task forces which continuously monitor the trade negotiations (12). The organisations representing civil society must, of necessity, be consulted by the task force so that it is aware of their analyses and their proposals on social matters and on all development-related issues in general. To this end, civil-society representatives must form regional organisations which will enable them to draw up positions collectively. The European Union must provide financial and technical assistance to contribute to the practical implementation of an initiative of this kind.

2.1.3

The Committee has already come out in favour of strong involvement of civil society (13), also bearing in mind that, in the Cotonou Agreement, the provisions on participation of non-state actors are found in more than 30 articles, in a final declaration, and in Annex IV on implementation and management procedures. The statements which best express this approach are found in the ‘Fundamental Principles’ (Article 2) and in Chapter 2, which is entirely devoted to ‘the actors of the partnership’.

2.1.4

The EESC thinks it would be important to extend Europe's experience of using the Structural Funds, especially in the Objective 1 regions, to the ACP regions (14).

2.2

The participation of civil society in the implementation of the Economic Partnership Agreements is one of the essential conditions for the effectiveness of their results.

2.2.1

Article 6 of the Cotonou Agreement defines non-state actors as: the private sector; the economic and social partners, including the trade union organisations; civil society in all its forms, according to national characteristics (15).

2.2.2

There are very frequent references to civil society throughout the Agreement (16): in particular, Article 4 defines the way in which it must be involved (17).

2.2.3

In most of the ACP countries civil society is not very organised. The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations therefore represent an opportunity to improve the organisation of civil society and thereby its capacity to make proposals. Only thus will it subsequently be able to play a greater role on the ground in implementing guidelines adopted and to help boost growth by bringing about an increase in competitiveness and enhancing the social dimension.

2.2.4

In this respect it is important for the negotiations involving all the ACP countries to lay down certain obligatory criteria: as well as rational integration into the world economy, they should aim at trade development accompanied by the relevant social rights, reduction of poverty and respect for workers' rights  (18). These are the criteria that should guide regional negotiations.

2.2.5

It should be pointed out that many elements relating to employment, social security and gender questions, and the close connection between trade development and labour standards, are only mentioned in overall terms in the Commission's EPA ‘negotiating mandate’ and then only in the preamble.

2.2.6

The documents provided by the Commission on the results of the first phase of negotiations between the EU and the various ACP regions do not address social or gender questions in sufficient depth.

2.2.7

That runs counter to the principle that the EPA represent the economic dimension of the Cotonou Agreement and that the values relating to all aspects of human life, which are strongly highlighted in the Cotonou Agreement, should be included and endorsed in the EPA negotiations.

2.3

To ensure the efficiency of the results of the Economic Partnership Agreements in social terms, it is necessary to set up for the socio-occupational social actors a framework which generates unity of place and unity of time.

2.3.1

In order to achieve satisfactory results both in the negotiations and in the implementation of their content, this framework will encourage the development of an effective participatory methodology, associating economic and social actors right from the stage of preparing contributions.

2.3.2

However, for the time being, the negotiations in progress have to contend with serious and growing inequalities between the two parties, whether in terms of their level of development, quality of life and social rights or with regard to terms of trade, but even more to the autonomous capacity for proposal, management and control. These inequalities and imbalances make the negotiations on the EPA very complex and sensitive. This complexity must not stand in the way of the necessary inclusion of social aspects in the negotiations, either directly or as a clearly identified, certain result of economic and/or commercial options chosen. The main emphasis should be on employment and entrepreneurship, labour standards, social security and gender questions (19).

2.3.3

At regional level, some roadmaps provide for civil society to be involved in the negotiating phases and in the national and regional committees. However, the levels of involvement and satisfaction of civil-society representatives in the partnership process are not yet known.

2.3.4

The EESC's regular meetings with social and economic representatives from the ACP countries place it in a position to assess their level of involvement during the various phases of the processes.

3.   The participation of civil society

3.1

In most of the ACP countries civil society is not very organised. The economic partnership agreement negotiations can represent an opportunity to improve the organisation of civil society and thereby its capacity to make proposals. This is one of the conditions which will enable it to play a major role later on the ground in implementing guidelines adopted, thus helping to boost growth by bringing about an increase in competitiveness and enhancing the social dimension. Improving the organisation of civil society and hence its capacity to act will depend on the determination of the Commission and that of the countries concerned.

3.1.1

A regular, comprehensive assessment of the participation of the economic and social actors in all the phases of implementation of the EPA could create a positive dynamic leading to constant improvement. This assessment should be carried out by the institutional negotiators.

3.1.2

The consultation and involvement of different sectors of civil society during the negotiations and monitoring of the work carried out would also help to give direction and substance to the common endeavours to improve quality of life for society as a whole, through the EPA and in line with the Cotonou principles.

Examples of good practice should be translated into local languages and disseminated more widely.

3.2

To implement and make the most of an effective participatory methodology — an essential condition for the effectiveness and quality of civil society's contribution — it is necessary to provide all the conditions which enable non-state actors to meet, debate, draw up objectives collectively and propose them in the EPA negotiations, follow their progress and above all ensure and follow their implementation on the ground and assess their impact.

3.2.1

The combination of these conditions reflects the need to create a space for the socio-occupational actors which would ensure both unity of time and unity of place.

3.2.2

To that end, as indicated in the final declaration of the 24th meeting of ACP-EU economic and social interest groups held in Brussels at the end of June, the European Economic and Social Committee proposes the setting up of regional social dialogue committees comprising the socio-occupational actors to help to draw up, propose and ensure the implementation and follow-up of social development programmes.

3.2.3

In general terms, the tasks of the Regional Social Dialogue Committees should essentially cover:

application and monitoring of the ILO Conventions, particularly those concerning fundamental social rights;

promotion of decent jobs and social development;

the economic and social impact of the EPA at regional level and that of regional integration.

3.2.3.1

More precisely, the Regional Committees could concentrate, with the possible help of specialised groups, on drawing up proposals concerning:

promotion of jobs: objectives and methods; decent work (remuneration, working conditions, etc.);

education;

initial and continuous vocational training;

social protection arrangements;

negotiated developments in the ‘informal’ sectors;

equality between the sexes;

sustainable development, with particular focus on the environment;

infrastructure and investment.

3.2.4

The ILO could cooperate, in terms of organisational and operational methodology, in setting up the Regional Social Dialogue Committees. Indeed, in the context of its PRODIAF programme (regional programme for the promotion of social dialogue in French-speaking Africa) the ILO has acquired considerable experience. This experience could be used to help make the committees more effective.

3.2.5

On the composition of the Regional Committee, the eligibility criteria could be based on the agreement between the ACP states and the Council of the European Union as regards access to EDF (European Development Fund) resources.

3.2.6

Insofar as there exist in the homogenous regions already set up (Caribbean etc.) platforms, forums or other structured groupings of non-state actors — set up to meet the needs resulting from the drawing up of National and Regional Indicative Programmes — changes to them should be envisaged in order to meet the objectives of the Regional Social Dialogue Committees.

3.2.7

For the sake of effectiveness the Regional Social Dialogue Committees could be associated as required with the work of the Regional Preparatory Task Forces (RPTF). Indeed, the RPTF play a key role in that they ensure that the needs expressed during the negotiating phases are met when aid is programmed.

3.2.7.1

The involvement of these committees would enable organised civil society to acquire a greater role and be able to monitor sustainable development within the negotiations and in the phases of practical action at regional level.

3.2.7.2

As has been stressed a number of times, issues related to agriculture and the various environmental aspects are particularly significant in the ACP countries, and it is important that they be constantly addressed in the negotiating phases, not least by means of the direct participation of local representatives from the sector.

3.2.7.3

The Regional Social Dialogue Committees will be able to play an increasingly practical, proactive role, particularly since, once funding and organisational questions have been resolved, they will be able to dialogue with the ACP-EU Follow-up Committee and to benefit from exchanges of expertise with the European Economic and Social Committee.

4.   Development of employment

4.1

Decent jobs are the essential tool in combating poverty, since they can:

generate income and hence purchasing power and markets;

get people and groups out of a situation of dependence on assistance;

produce goods and services which are accessible to the general public and meet their needs;

help to finance social benefits: education and training, pensions, unemployment benefit, health care — in short what is known as ‘social security’.

4.1.1

Employment policies must stimulate and combine the contributions of the public and private sectors as well as the achievements of the social and solidarity-based economy.

4.1.2

Employment development programmes should envisage: a gradual, negotiated insertion of the informal economy into the private or public sectors, inter alia, by promoting international labour standards (particularly basic rights); a commitment by enterprises which benefit from public funds resulting from calls for tender (investment, various works) to respect international labour standards and the rules designed to protect the environment (climate, biodiversity, Kyoto Protocol, protection of forests etc.). This is partly a question of the social responsibility of enterprises.

4.1.3

These programmes should also sketch out guidelines on the necessary economic, fiscal and administrative reforms, the fight against corruption, the setting-up, for example, of tax credits and other services intended particularly for SMEs and craft industries.

4.1.4

The objectives of the partnership are, as is well known, to promote and speed up the economic, cultural and social development of the ACP states. The main aim is the reduction and, ultimately, the elimination of poverty. The EPA should enhance the partnership, helping economies to open up, particularly on the south-south axis, and to achieve greater liberalisation with clear rules which are attractive to domestic and foreign investors.

4.1.5

A great effort must be made to enable the ACP countries to open up culturally and economically, in particular by taking the opportunity afforded by the EPA to create a customs union, furthering mutual interests and increasingly encouraging regional integration.

4.2

Unfortunately, at the start of the negotiations no impact study was carried out on employment to provide a record of the original situation. Such a study would have made it easier to assess progress made.

4.2.1

A great effort must be made to enable the ACP countries to open up culturally and economically, in particular by taking the opportunity afforded by the EPA to create a customs union, furthering mutual interests and increasingly encouraging regional integration. Alongside this, the public sector in particular must also be strengthened, inter alia with regard to investment in education, healthcare and social services in general, in order to provide support for the private sector.

4.2.2

It is also the task of cooperation to support:

promotion of the dialogue between the public and private sectors;

development of entrepreneurial skills and an enterprise culture;

the elimination of undeclared casual work, while respecting the rule of law.

4.2.3

Measures taken under the preceding agreements (20) have produced some results, but clearly not all that could be desired, above all in the field of promotion of the private sector and of its role in stimulating economic growth and diversification.

4.2.4

In working out the development programme, the socio-occupational actors should make detailed analyses of the difficulties encountered in the promotion, protection and supportive measures in favour of very small, small and medium-sized enterprises.

4.3

The fundamental options for development, especially in Africa, are based on agriculture. This will remain for a long time to come the main axis around which to build possible measures:

in the development of traditional agricultural practices to make them more effective;

in the establishment of infrastructures and widespread social services;

in the development of small-scale craft industry and entrepreneurial activities, often linked to the agri-food sector.

4.3.1

For the agricultural sector to develop and be consolidated, trade between the ACP countries and the EU must be governed, particularly in the coming years, by flexible rules which make it possible to incorporate health and plant health rules and enable new small businesses to be created, reinforced and diversified, with the protection of appropriate safeguard clauses.

4.3.2

Measures in the agricultural sector should, in time, succeed in:

developing agri-food safety standards for export outlets;

improving access to the agricultural market through marketing;

removing red tape and improving logistics;

promoting training in services and research;

developing cooperative and agricultural credit institutions;

adopting clear, widely-supported rules on real estate;

encouraging a gradual transition from employment in farming to employment in developing rural services.

4.3.2.1

These results can be achieved through cooperation, introduced as part of both the EPA and aid projects, focusing on:

integrated rural development projects;

creation and consolidation of farmers' and workers' associations and associations of women in the farming, agri-industry and agricultural credit sectors;

creation of farm property registers;

legislation on food certification, supplemented by certification institutes, the introduction of plant health standards and soil analysis, contributing to environmental protection;

measures in the field of irrigation and drinking water;

capacity-building among public and private organisations and institutions.

4.3.3

Vast agricultural areas are still subject to drought, even where they are close to lakes or fresh water, simply because there is a lack not only of irrigating infrastructure but also of professionals capable of organising the supply of water by pumping.

4.3.4

Hydraulic systems, acquired with cooperation funds, often lie idle because of a lack of professionals able to operate them or, in most cases, to repair them.

4.3.4.1

In other cases, the obstacles to the development of small enterprises are represented by the slowness of the feasible technological changes and constraints of a cultural (21) and institutional nature.

4.3.5

In yet other cases, the combination of serious imbalances in the distribution of resources and the weakness of organisational models has limited the results and could, for a long time to come, keep many communities in a precarious condition where they are subject to growing migratory pressure.

4.4

The EPA negotiation phases should help to enhance the private sector's capacity to analyse the situation. However, the private sector's capacity for action also needs to be built up away from the negotiating table, with cooperation at local level, in which civil society representatives must always be directly involved.

4.4.1

The process of training new entrepreneurs, of setting up enterprises, of making the most of the gender component, and of increasing the skills and making the most of human resources in general has been covered by EESC information reports and opinions, some of them recent.

4.5

In the ACP countries industry, particularly the processing industry, is poorly developed or not developed at all. The casual sector and craft SMEs account for 70 % of employment in production. These two sectors are of key importance and warrant special attention, requiring policies promoting development and providing adequate solutions.

4.5.1

Many of the traditional problems confronting SMEs (lack of funds, difficulties in exploiting technology, limited managerial capacity, low productivity, regulatory constraints) are made worse in a globalised system and in an environment dominated by technology, especially if set in a context like that of the ACP countries, marked by serious structural and infrastructural weaknesses.

4.5.2

The objective of regional integration through the Economic Partnership Agreements should be to encourage the establishment and consolidation of certain structures which are essential for encouraging access by small and very small firms to funding, information, markets, training and technological updating. However, representatives of socio-occupational organisations play a role in the management of these structures, and these representatives must be given the opportunity to be trained, to grow, to learn new skills and to exchange views. The EPA has a contribution to make here too.

4.5.3

One of the basic elements is the category-based organisation. Just as labour productivity grows in proportion as the trade union presence improves, so too the efficiency of small and very small firms can only improve if its representative bodies grow sufficiently as well.

4.5.4

Through category-based organisations it is possible externally to defend the values of the firm and the enterprise culture and internally to strengthen the capacities for management, updating and respect for all who contribute to the development of enterprise and of society.

4.5.5

Essentially, the values proper to the concept of the social responsibility of enterprises can be shared with the ACP countries as well in the appropriate timescale only if the Economic Partnership Agreements incorporate the elements which have enabled Europe to become an example of a social market economy. This kind of economy requires the strength and maturity of both workers' and employers' representative organisations.

4.6

Given the scale of the inequalities mentioned above, some subjects in the EPA negotiations are particularly strategic. It should be emphasised that trade and economic integration as motors of competitiveness and growth must make it possible to raise living and working standards and improve social rights rather than reducing them.

4.6.1

From this viewpoint there is a vital need to make studies of economic and social impact (ex-ante and ex-post) with the participation of the socio-economic actors in the region (22).

4.7

The primacy of human rights, and particularly workers' rights. The EPA must guarantee the primacy of human rights and particularly social rights, as defined by the ILO, in all aspects of trade and finance. These rights must be systematically integrated into all EPA negotiations at regional level.

4.7.1

Visible links must be established between foreign debt reduction and greater investment in social protection, using the public resources that are freed up when debt payments are reduced.

4.7.2

Indeed, the countries with a sizeable debt have little scope for manoeuvre in launching measures to combat poverty (23). New efforts should be urged to relieve the indebtedness of most of the indebted countries. However, such a measure should be accompanied by a commitment on the part of governments to meet national objectives.

4.7.3

A practical social development plan. A negotiating period must be used to implement a practical social development programme pursuing the development objectives of the Cotonou Agreement (24) and also involving the economic and social forces. This programme should form an integral part of the EPA as regards choices of approaches and objectives, its implementing strategy and the impact studies. It must be based on these and, of necessity, support the increasing competitiveness and growth that should be generated by trade liberalisation.

4.8

This programme must be comprehensive and multi-dimensional: it could include rehabilitation of education and of health services, income guarantee measures for small rural producers and small-scale fishermen, active policies for promotion, protection and development of decent jobs (25) and, lastly, a truly participatory approach involving organised civil society.

4.8.1

The programme, targeting human resources, could follow the EU's example and make use of its expertise in managing the European Social Fund (ESF). The measures should focus on skilling and reskilling to foster a more open trade culture and be agreed with organised civil society representatives.

5.   Individual and social rights

5.1

In many ACP countries the situation remains difficult as regards basic social indicators and economic activity. The current negotiations on the EPA therefore represent a great opportunity for the ACP countries. The quality of these agreements will be decisive for future development.

5.1.1

It is also important at this stage to bear in mind that the main objectives of the EPA negotiations are, like those of the humanitarian aid negotiations, the development of the ACP countries and the reduction of poverty. The two parties must work together in harmony and ensure that their respective positions reflect these priorities well. Hence the need for sustained coordination.

5.2

It is clear from the history of civilisation that education and vocational training are the bases for development. The former enables man to read, to understand and to see his place in history and the latter enables him to obtain food and to work materials, thus helping to perpetuate the work of ongoing construction of the world (26).

5.2.1

Experience of cooperation has shown that the main reasons why initiatives fail often include:

failure to place training at the heart of development policy;

it is difficult for beneficiary countries to implement reforms that would enable them to use both domestic and international resources rationally;

low level of involvement of the stakeholders directly concerned, particularly when it comes to passing on technology, innovative techniques and entrepreneurship.

5.2.2

Training during the EPA preparation and implementation phases is essential if cooperation initiatives are to succeed. At the root of failed cooperation projects often lie failure to pass on practical skills, management techniques or a number of elements which potential local operators need to be able to make assessments, take operational decisions or exploit opportunities for integration into regional markets, which are constantly changing.

5.2.3

Even more than economic concerns, a lack of human and cultural resources has been the greatest problem when it comes to modernisation measures, consolidating the market and increasing competitiveness, enhancing formal economic structures, modernising agriculture and integrating agriculture and industry.

5.3

Planned long-term training measures are essential to build up insubstantial production structures. There are three basic strands of measures to be integrated: sectoral policies — agriculture, in particular, measures to improve the production system, measures to improve distribution.

5.3.1

An initiative is needed to stimulate the private sector by:

investment in human resources and research, to introduce skills necessary for launching socially-acceptable development processes which are sustainable in the long term;

organisation- and institution-building, including institution-building in central and local public administrations, economic bodies and, in particular, employers' and workers' associations;

development and dissemination of ‘technological packages’ (27);

practical courses on product storage, transport and processing, which help to improve market operation. The development of forms of association could be a particularly significant contribution here; they could draw on expertise from all over Europe and would be supported by a system of incentives for the private sector allowing lower transport and processing costs in addition to the introduction of new processes.

5.3.2

Investment in human capital is the most important element in development processes and this must be a point of reference in the EPA negotiations planned. Basic education makes it possible for training to be assimilated and disseminated in the different sectors and facilitates the formation of associations and technology upgrading.

5.3.3

Education is also extremely beneficial for women, who play a key role in society and the economy. In most of the ACP countries, women are the only source of sustained, reliable income in villages. This means that the economy as a whole could benefit from training being provided for women in particular (28).

5.3.4

In each region, the EPA should be able to guarantee and improve:

non-discriminatory access to education;

development and dissemination of vocational training in technical subjects;

close cooperation between non-state actors and NGOs, to ensure more widespread and more effective distribution of training opportunities;

exchanges of expertise between European (29) and ACP organisations (30).

5.3.5

There is a close relationship between level of education and prospects for a stable job. However, an environment also needs to be created which leads educated young people to give their country and region of origin the benefit of their skills (31).

5.3.6

The practice of providing work-experience placements for young people in private companies or public institutions, which has yielded excellent results in European countries, should be extended to the ACP countries and be discussed as part of the EPA negotiations.

5.3.7

Essentially, the wide-ranging subject of education and training should become a key element in the negotiation process.

5.4

In a period characterised by the well-known phenomena of globalisation, civil society has produced a culture based on the values and concepts which distinguish a social market economy, namely: individual responsibility, recognition of the rule of law, respect for the person and for property, transparency, human dignity, equality and freedom, recognition of basic trade-union and workers' rights, sound labour relations, access to education and, lastly, training for all regardless of gender, and a high level of social protection. These values and concepts constitute the basis of the EU's approach to globalisation.

5.4.1

As well as underpinning peace and progress, these values have been confirmed and consolidated in recent decades through the regionalisation process which has spread through Europe since the Second World War; they are the platform and good practice on which the EPA process must be built with the ACP countries.

5.4.2

Exchange between government and civil society in the developing countries, as well as yielding a high return in terms of political consensus, has a specific value in that it helps to bring decision-making centres into closer touch with the various demands arising from real conditions in the different areas concerned.

5.4.3

The practice of such a partnership significantly increases the chances of the country's policy responding to the need to spread the benefits of social and economic democracy as widely as possible among the resident population, with a noticeable effect on the reduction of poverty and consequently on the effectiveness of social policies.

5.4.4

The development of civil society and the practice of grass-roots democracy do not arise spontaneously, however. They are the fruit of a participation culture formed by practices and models which, although consolidated, tend towards continuous improvement. The good quality and usefulness of these models, and their application to everyday life, are the strong message which should be included in the Partnership Agreements.

5.4.5

If the ACP countries had the possibility, thorough far-reaching cultural processes and continuous exchanges with European civil society organisations, to make these models their own and anchor them in their social reality, they would probably succeed in overcoming the serious existing imbalances much more quickly.

5.4.6

From this point of view, as the EU body that represents organised civil society, the EESC confirms ‘the fundamental role played by women as leading players in development, and emphasise[s] the need to promote their organisations and ensure that they participate fairly in advisory and decision-making bodies’ (32).

5.4.6.1

The aim is not just better integration of women in civil society, but rather to create the basic conditions that would enable them to become truly involved, valued, and supported, so that they achieve equality with men (33) in making the specific contribution to their country's development for which they have been equipped by their role in society.

5.5

A World Bank study of February 2003 states that reducing income disparities and wage discrimination and improving economic performance depend on a high level of trade union membership and on sound labour relations (34), and underlines the need for action to achieve a better balance between economic and social values (35).

5.6

The social dimension of the Cotonou Agreement and its impact on the EPA must be based on the fundamental ILO conventions, particularly those relating to:

freedom of association, of action and of negotiation;

prohibition of forced labour;

elimination of child labour;

non-discrimination and equality between men and women.

5.6.1

To the above can be added:

Convention No 183 (2000) on the protection of motherhood;

Convention No 102 (1952) on social protection;

Convention No 122 (1964) on promotion of employment;

Convention No 142 (1975): Recommendation on making the most of human resources;

Convention No 81 (industrial sectors) and Convention No 129 (agriculture) on labour inspection;

Convention No 97 on migrant workers.

5.6.2

The optimum social requirement (commitment to guarantee at least the eight ‘basic rights’ Conventions of the ILO) should be an obligatory condition for any investment in the ACP countries. The same applies to public calls for tender for services funded by the EDF or other funds covered by the Cotonou Agreement.

5.6.3

Some financial measures promoting entrepreneurship and the setting-up and development of businesses should be linked to specific actions implementing businesses' social responsibility. For instance, incentives could be introduced for both businesses which run staff skilling courses and small and very small businesses whose owners can show they are familiar with and apply the established principles of health and safety in the workplace.

6.   Gender issues

6.1

Gender issues (36) must always be borne in mind, both with regard to development aid and in EPA negotiations.

6.1.1

Analyses carried out thus far and specific experience in ACP countries highlight:

limited access for girls and women to education and training (37);

limited access to financial resources, especially to microcredit (38);

obstacles to women owning real estate;

the disparity in access to the regular labour market;

income differences between men and women;

the increase in HIV infection rates in girls and women;

violence and arrogance towards women.

6.2

As part of the EPA negotiation process, targeted studies need to be commissioned and followed up by Commission delegations in ACP regions and countries in order to identify women's organisations and assess their scope and activity.

6.2.1

Commission delegation officials must be constantly involved in the cultural and gender debate. The delegat