ISSN 1725-2423

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 185

European flag  

English edition

Information and Notices

Volume 49
8 August 2006


Notice No

Contents

page

 

II   Preparatory Acts

 

European Economic and Social Committee

 

426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006

2006/C 185/1

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee — Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009

1

2006/C 185/2

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the — Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the Specific Programme to be carried out by means of direct actions by the Joint Research Centre under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007-2013) — Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the Specific Programme Cooperation implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities — Proposal for a Council Decision Concerning the specific programme: Ideas implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities — Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the specific programme People implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities — Proposal for a Council Decision on the Specific Programme: Capacities implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities — Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the Specific Programme to be carried out by means of direct actions by the Joint Research Centre implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2011) of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities — Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the specific Programme implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2011) of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities COM(2005) 439, 440, 441, 442, 443, 444, 445 final

10

2006/C 185/3

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules in the field of civil aviation security COM(2005) 429 final — 2005/0191 (COD)

17

2006/C 185/4

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Directive) COM(2005) 505 final — 2005/0211 COD

20

2006/C 185/5

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The management of industrial change in cross-border regions following EU enlargement

24

2006/C 185/6

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community statistics on migration and international protection COM(2005) 375 final — 2005/0156 (COD)

31

2006/C 185/7

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations COM(2005) 649 final — 2005/0259 (CNS)

35

2006/C 185/8

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights COM(2005) 507 final — 2005/0214 (COD)

37

2006/C 185/9

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (2008) COM(2005) 467 final — 2005/0203 (COD)

42

2006/C 185/0

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 — Situation of disabled people in the enlarged European Union: the European Action Plan 2006-2007 COM(2005) 604 final

46

2006/C 185/1

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission: Cohesion Policy in Support of Growth and Jobs: Community Strategic Guidelines, 2007-2013 COM(2005) 299 final — SEC(2005) 904

52

2006/C 185/2

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The effects of international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the industrial change processes in Europe

62

2006/C 185/3

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Legal framework for consumer policy

71

2006/C 185/4

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme: A policy framework to strengthen EU manufacturing — towards a more integrated approach for industrial policy COM(2005) 474 final

80

2006/C 185/5

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 Working together, working better: A new framework for the open coordination of social protection and inclusion policies in the European Union COM(2005) 706 final

87

2006/C 185/6

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on information on the payer accompanying transfers of funds COM(2005) 343 final — 2005/0138 (COD)

92

2006/C 185/7

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 — Reducing the Climate Change Impact of Aviation COM(2005) 459 final

97

2006/C 185/8

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The institutional framework for inland waterway transport in Europe

101

2006/C 185/9

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1592/2002 of 15 July 2002 on common rules in the field of civil aviation and establishing a European Aviation Safety Agency COM(2005) 579 final — 2005/0228 (COD)

106

EN

 


II Preparatory Acts

European Economic and Social Committee

426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006

8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/1


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee — Nanosciences and nanotechnologies: An action plan for Europe 2005-2009

(2006/C 185/01)

On 7 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 the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 28 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Pezzini.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 117 votes with four abstentions.

1.   Background

1.1

In its previous opinion (1) on nanosciences and nanotechnologies, the EESC recognised that it would be helpful to include a brief definition of the main terms used, reflecting the fact that the opinion dealt with a partly new subject, whose vocabulary was little known or at any rate little used. Those definitions should therefore be restated at the beginning of the present opinion.

1.1.1

Many other European programmes which started in 2000 are still in force in 2006, alongside the sixth framework programme. Consequently, it is worth indicating in the notes which main programmes have implications for N&N, especially those programmes that are of particular importance to the new Member States, who did not have the opportunity to follow their inception and the debate on their objectives before 2004.

1.2   Definitions  (2)

1.2.1

Nano — means one billionth of a whole. In this case, nano is used to mean a billionth of a metre.

1.2.2

Micro — means one millionth of a whole. In this case, it means one millionth of a metre.

1.2.3

Nanosciences — The nanosciences are a new approach to traditional science (chemistry, physics, electronic biology, etc.) and deal with the basic structure and behaviour of materials at the level of atoms and molecules. These sciences in fact study the potential of atoms in the various scientific disciplines (3).

1.2.4

Nanotechnologies — These technologies enable atoms and molecules to be manipulated so as to create new surfaces and objects that, having a different make-up and arrangement of atoms, have properties that can be used in day-to-day life (4). These are technologies that deal with billionths of a metre.

1.2.5

In addition to the above definition, it is worthwhile mentioning another, more significant one from a scientific point of view. The term nanotechnology describes a multidisciplinary approach to the creation of materials, mechanisms and systems, by means of the nanometric scale control of materials. In accordance with this multidisciplinary approach, a broad knowledge-base in electronics, physics and chemistry is required to establish a nanotechnology qualification.

1.2.6

Nanomechanics — The dimensions of an object begin to be important in determining its properties when the scale of its dimensions is of one or a few dozen nanometres (objects made of a few dozen or a few thousand atoms). Within this range of dimensions, an object composed of 100 iron atoms has physical and chemical properties that are radically different to one composed of 200 atoms, even if they are both made of the same atoms. Similarly, the mechanical and electromagnetic properties of a solid made up of nanoparticles are radically different to those of a traditional solid of the same chemical composition and are affected by the properties of the individual constituent units.

1.2.7

Microelectronics — This is a branch of electronics that deals with the development of integrated circuits, built within individual semiconductor regions, with minute dimensions. Microelectronics can currently create individual components with dimensions in the realms of 0.1 micrometre, or 100 nanometres (5).

1.2.8

Nanoelectronics — This is a science that studies and produces circuits that are made using technologies and materials other than silicon and that work on a substantially different set of principles (6).

1.2.9

Nanoelectronics is set to become a cornerstone of nanotechnology, just as electronics today permeates all scientific sectors and industrial processes (7).

1.2.10

Biomimetics  (8) — This is the science that studies the laws underpinning molecular structures existing in nature. Knowledge of these laws could enable artificial nanomotors to be created, based on the same principles as those existing in nature (9).

1.3   Conclusions and recommendations

1.3.1

The Committee welcomes the proposals presented by the Commission to implement by 2009 an action plan for N&N in particular with regard to:

the need to apply a sustainable, competitive, stable and durable model of development;

the perceptible acceleration at global level of investment in nano-scale R&D and its applications;

the need to analyse the risks and opportunities of the nano-scale approach, and the urgent need for a widely shared vision on the part both of the social partners' political and official decision-makers and, ultimately, of the general public and the media. This is in order to ensure the success of N&N, on account of their usefulness for the general public's health, safety and quality of life;

the call for high-quality facilities and infrastructure, integrated European networks and shared databases;

the need to provide qualified human resources in the scientific, technical and economic fields, together with scientific and industrial specialists capable of interacting with N&N;

the advisability of creating a European focal point for promotion and coordination to serve as a stable, proactive partner for connecting industry and science in particular, both within the Union and internationally, to be supported by an operational office.

1.3.1.1

Focal point staff must possess in-depth, proven scientific and management skills, and be particularly well attuned to the general context in which N&N development takes place.

1.3.1.2

It is also true of N&N that ‘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’ (10). This illustrates the importance of a Community focal point which can manage the sector, with clearly-allocated responsibilities.

1.3.2

In the light of the N&N revolution, the Committee is convinced that Europe's chances of being at the forefront in a setting where new players are constantly — and aggressively — entering the world market hinges upon its capacity for coordination and upon the creation of a securely-based European critical mass of nanotechnology.

1.3.3

In the Committee's view, it is crucial that the European Union should succeed in shaping an N&N action plan capable of mobilising a collective drive for governance, and of uniting the Community, national and regional levels in complying with the subsidiarity principle. More specifically, the plan should provide:

a visible, transparent dialogue with civil society, ensuring awareness based on objective evaluations of the risks and opportunities presented by N&N;

constant vigilance to protect ethical and environmental aspects, together with the health and safety of workers and consumers;

a single Community focal point, capable of ensuring close coordination of the various policies and between the various areas of action;

a single voice at international level to promote initiatives for joint declarations and codes of conduct, in order to guarantee the responsible use of N&N, to ensure cooperation in basic scientific research;

action to prevent the emergence of a ‘nano-divide’ (exclusion from developing N&N knowledge), together with the less developed nations;

legal and regulatory certainty for research, application and innovation efforts on the N&N market;

a calendar and detailed timetable for the planned actions at both Community and Member State level, with machinery to check on implementation, and with clearly-allocated responsibilities.

1.3.4

The Committee calls for the Community action plan to be accompanied by national action plans, providing coordination and regular benchmarking of convergence and synergies in various fields: infrastructure; training and education; risk assessment; harmonisation of standards and patents; and, lastly, dialogue with civil society, especially consumers.

1.3.5

The Committee believes that European industry should expand and intensify N&N research and application efforts, increasing investment to levels at least equal to those of its more advanced competitors. This could be achieved by means of the following actions: development of European technology platforms; incentives for the protection and industrial exploitation of N&N; encouragement for targeted training for small-scale entrepreneurs; development of European N&N innovation and application networks; support for multidisciplinary qualification schemes for workers and technical specialists; establishment of ‘business nanotechnologies’ and prototyping and certification laboratories; and creation of a common framework for technical standardisation and intellectual and industrial property.

1.3.6

The two-yearly monitoring report on the implementation of the Community action plan and its consistency with other EU policies should, in the Committee's view, be accompanied by an annual scoreboard detailing compliance with the adopted timetable, and should include the Member State reports on the implementation of the national action plans.

1.3.7

The report should be submitted to the European Economic and Social Committee as well as to the EP and the Council.

2.   Reasons

2.1

Nanosciences and nanotechnologies (N&N) represent a rapidly-expanding field which holds great promise for the conversion of basic research into successful innovation. The sector is highly significant in terms of both boosting the competitiveness of European industry as a whole, and creating new products and services capable of enhancing the well-being and quality of life of society and individual citizens.

2.2

Most analysts are convinced that by 2015 N&N-based materials, products and services will be able to generate a global market worth hundreds of billions of euros each year (11) provided that (i) scientific excellence can be successfully translated into commercially viable products, processes and services, and (ii) as emphasised by the Commission itself (12), ‘a repeat of the European 'paradox' witnessed for other technologies’ can be avoided.

2.3

In order to achieve this, there is, in the Committee's opinion, a need to:

reinforce and coordinate R&D through greater investment,

create world-class R&D infrastructure,

ensure careful risk assessment through the scientific and application-related life cycle,

uphold complete respect for ethical principles,

promote a favourable, proactive climate for innovation in all parts of the economic fabric and especially among small and medium-sized enterprises,

develop qualified human resources,

adjust normative and patent systems,

promote partnership between public and private organisations.

2.4

The Committee issued an earlier opinion on this subject (13), which included the following recommendations:

the development of joint Community/national efforts in RTD and scientific and technological training with close interaction between industry and the academic world; a special focus on industrial and multisectoral applications; greater coordination of policies, structures and stakeholder networks; safeguarding of ethical, environmental, health and safety interests; and appropriate technical standardisation;

a strong link between N&N and society, to ensure that research results make a positive contribution to economic competitiveness, human health, the environment, safety and the quality of life;

provision of appropriate resources under the new financial perspectives for 2007-2013 and in particular in the Seventh framework programme for R&D (FP7), and reinforcement of European technology platforms;

the launch of a high-level Community action plan containing a clearly defined road map and timetable and an approach that ties in with that of the Member States, in order to secure consensus among all civil society players on a shared vision;

the establishment of high-level European infrastructure for research and technology transfer geared to innovation and the markets;

optimisation of intellectual property arrangements and the establishment of a European-level Nano-IPR Helpdesk, to meet the needs of researchers, companies and research centres and, most importantly, of civil society;

stepping up international cooperation on the ethical, risk, safety, standards, patents and metrological aspects;

actions designed to develop N&N-related industrial processes and increase awareness of their use, with the establishment of a European information clearing-house, product commercialisation, technology transfer and sharing of best practice;

an ongoing dialogue with the media and public opinion, based on dissemination of scientific knowledge, to provide the public with an assurance that the potential dangers for health or the environment are being monitored, and also to forestall misunderstandings concerning nanotechnological developments.

2.5   N&N in the new Member States

2.5.1

Over the last five years, the European Commission has used Community resources to support some 30 centres of excellence in connection with the various thematic priorities under the Community's Framework Research Programme: many of these centres involved in developing N&N (14) are linked to universities, research bodies and enterprises in the new Member States.

2.5.2

The Committee considers it important for the European Joint Research Centre to continue providing support and encouragement for centres of excellence in the new Member States and the applicant countries, particularly in the N&N sector, specifically including this aspect in their work programmes.

2.5.3

In the Committee's view, the Commission should also support the growth of European N&N innovation, application and prototyping networks, especially for small businesses, which represent the bulk of Europe's industrial fabric.

2.5.4

More specifically, specific service packages should be provided to help entrepreneurs to identify opportunities and links in N&N applications, and multiply successful initiatives such as Gate2Growth (15) and Minanet (16); new sources and methods of risk funding should therefore be identified, together with guarantee systems to supplement existing ones.

2.5.5

The Committee also believes that the PHANTOMS Community initiative — a network of excellence on nanotechnologies set up under the IST/FET Community programme — for Information Society Technologies merits further development and a higher profile.

2.5.6

Furthermore, the EESC considers that, in the light of the need to give greater impetus to research and innovation in the new Member States and applicant states, greater synergies should be built up with the EUREKA and COST initiatives, under which many of these countries are conducting N&N activities.

2.6   The international picture

2.6.1

Overall spending at global level by governments, businesses and the financial world on research and development in the N&N sector was estimated to stand, in January 2005, at some EUR 7 billion per annum (17) (more than half from public funds), of which approximately 35 % was spent in North America, 35 % in Asia, 28 % in Europe and 2 % in the rest of the world.

2.6.1.1

Although the differences in public investment at the end of the 1990s were, in per capita terms, very small (roughly EUR 1 in the US and Japan, in the EU half this amount), by 2005 per capita spending in the US stood at EUR 5, in Japan at EUR 6.5 and in the EU at EUR 3.5. Forecasts to 2011 suggest a level of more than EUR 9 in the US and Japan, and EUR 6.5 in the EU (18).

2.6.2

Spending by industry at world level amounts to more than EUR 3 billion per annum, of which 46 % is carried out by US companies, 36 % by Asian companies, 17 % by European companies and less than 1 % by businesses from the rest of the world. Some 1 500 companies have declared a strong commitment to N&N research and development: of these, 80 % are represented by start-ups, of which more than half are North American. Media coverage of nanotechnology affairs has risen from about 7 000 articles a year to the current 12 000 (19).

2.6.3

Over the five years between the end of 2000 and the present, the federal government of the United States has invested more than US $ 4 billion in nanotechnologies. For 2006 alone, the Bush administration has requested US $ 1 billion for N&N research to be allocated to the eleven federal research agencies. As pointed out in the 2005 report on The National Nanotechnology Initiative at Five Years, ‘the United States is the acknowledged leader in nanotechnology R&D’ at world level, with annual public and private investment of US $ 3 billion, accounting for approximately one third of world spending.

2.6.3.1

The US also comes first in the number of business start-ups, publications and patents. At federal level, it is felt that spending on new knowledge and infrastructure is both ‘appropriate and wise’, likely to generate ‘substantial economic payoffs over the long term’.

2.6.4

Annual spending in Japan in 2003 stood at about EUR 630 million, with 73 % provided by the Ministry of Education and 21 % by the Ministry for the Economy, Trade and Industry. Research is focused primarily on nanomaterials. In terms of nanotechnology venture capital, Mitsui has decided to invest almost EUR 700 million over the next four years, while the Critical Technology Fund will channel some EUR 30 billion to N&N research (20).

2.6.5

Still in Asia, Taiwan too plans to invest more than EUR 600 million between now and 2008, with 800 companies involved with N&N; it is expected that production will rise to EUR 7.5 billion in 2006, with a rise in the number of businesses in the sector to 1 500 and new product development of up to EUR 25 billion in 2012, particularly in the various nanoelectronics sectors.

2.6.5.1

The prerequisite for this expansion to take place is that intellectual and industrial property problems be resolved.

2.6.6

South Korea is one of the first countries whose companies have successfully marketed N&N based products (21). The country, which has a potential domestic nanotechnologies market estimated to be worth some EUR 2 billion, has launched a Next Generation Core Development Program on N&N, with a budget of EUR 168 million. Its priorities include nanomaterials, nanocomposites and bionanotechnologies.

2.6.7

More than 30 N&N companies have been set up in recent years in Australia, and their numbers are continuing to grow by 50 % a year. Public and private spending on N&N research amounts to nearly EUR 60 million a year, focusing mainly on new materials, bionanotechnology and medical and therapeutic applications.

2.6.8

According to a report recently published in Beijing on nanotechnology development in China in the 2005-2010 period, with forecasts up to 2015 (22), the country is one of the world's leaders in terms of new N&N business registrations, publications and patents, with an internal market for N&N products and systems estimated at more than EUR 4.5 billion, and set to grow to more than EUR 27 billion by 2010, and more than EUR 120 billion by 2015 (23).

2.6.9

The EESC believes that the international picture serves to highlight the importance of ensuring a proactive climate favourable to research and innovation in all EU countries, in order to be able to share successfully in research and development investment in the sector.

3.   Comments

3.1

The Committee has always argued that stronger efforts to achieve an increase in absolute and relative terms of R&D investment in Europe are necessary as part of the effort to achieve the 3 % Barcelona objective. In the light of international trends, it is convinced that such an effort is necessary first and foremost in the N&N sector.

3.1.1

The Committee believes that the effort would be weakened if not made as part of a robust process of European-level coordination of national and regional N&N research programmes, partly via the ERA-NET and ERA-NET PLUS (24) schemes. It should be backed by actions to raise awareness and support for research centres, industries and universities through the COST (25), ESF (26) and EUREKA (27) programmes, and with EIB loans.

3.1.2

The Committee is of the view that such European coordination and cooperation should also cover Member State actions designed to develop interdisciplinary infrastructures and centres of N&N skills and excellence, which should also aim to link up with a pan-European network to multiply synergies and prevent wasteful duplication.

3.2   Community level

3.2.1

The Committee is convinced that if the Community action plan is to be effective and credible, it should contain a calendar and detailed timetable, which would facilitate more stringent checks on the progress achieved in the following spheres:

increasing investment in N&N research, innovation and training, at Community, Member State and regional level, always however tied in with a robust European coordination process conducted by the Commission, and with a stronger commitment on the part of industry;

including a focal point for European coordination into FP7, to serve as a stable, proactive partner both within the Union and for the purposes of international cooperation and dialogue, with a European ‘Nano-Janus’ (28) centre equipped with sufficient resources;

providing qualified human resources with multidisciplinary profiles in the scientific, technical and economic fields, and boosting the presence of scientific and industrial specialists aware of the N&N approach;

ensuring the acceptability and success of nanosciences and nanotechnologies through a visible and transparent dialogue with civil society, not only for the sake of their contribution to European competitiveness, but also of their usefulness in terms of citizens' health, safety and quality of life;

introducing toxicological and ecotoxicological risk assessment mechanisms and the appropriate training mechanisms to cover all phases from the drawing board to implementation;

submitting research and public funding proposals to an ethical monitoring system, as already envisaged for the framework programme, to identify all ethical issues which may arise in connection with N&N;

preserving the proper balance between the need, on the one hand, for social development, dissemination for scientific and practical purposes, and health protection and, on the other, the demands of intellectual and industrial property.

3.2.2

The Committee strongly advocates a substantial increase in investment in N&N research, innovation and training, at Community, Member State and regional level, in parallel and in close coordination with the Member State and regional levels.

3.2.2.1

In this connection, the Committee would emphasise that, in contrast to the situation in other research sectors, the amount of Community funding channelled to N&N is equal to that from the Member States (where, for general research, Community resources account for 4-5 % of overall European research expenditure, while Member State resources represent 87 %).

3.2.3

The Committee considers that no less than 10 % of the resources allocated to the specific ‘Cooperation’ programme under FP7 2007-2013 should be earmarked for the N&N thematic priority.

3.2.3.1

Within the ‘Capacities’ programme, due place should be accorded to SMEs for N&N research and innovation, particularly for ‘nanotechnology districts’, infrastructure for excellence and N&N foresight activities.

3.2.3.2

The proper place should be given to training and mobility for N&N researchers, within the specific ‘People’ programme, and the same should apply to the work of the Joint Research Centre with regard to safety and metronomy, as well as to prospective technological studies.

3.2.4

For its part, the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme should, from 2007 onwards, be able to devote — even with the limited resources available to it — some of its efforts to fostering a culture of entrepreneurship geared to the organisational applications of N&N research.

3.2.5

The Committee strongly supports the establishment of European technology platforms, modelled on those already in place for nanoelectronics and nanomedicine; these platforms are in fact ideal instruments for mobilising all the public and private players across the different sectors (science, training, technology, industry, finance) in Community, national/regional or joint projects and initiatives, underpinned by a shared and proactive forward-looking vision.

3.2.6

The Committee considers investment in advanced education and training to be crucial. The new post-2006 Community programmes should make specific provision for areas of action providing multidisciplinary support for N&N.

3.2.7

The Commission should facilitate industrial exploitation by introducing the following by 2007, under the FP7 N&N work programme:

a Nano-IPR Helpdesk, as proposed by the EESC in its previous opinion on N&N;

a European clearing house for exchange of best practices and monitoring of patents and new applications on the world market;

a Digital Library, as proposed in the communication under discussion;

CEN-STAR (29) tenders for pre-legislative and co-normative technical research projects;

pilot schemes to demonstrate the industrial applications of N&N.

3.2.8

The Commission should immediately strengthen the ethical monitoring system, to ensure that all ethical issues are identified which may arise in connection with N&N, especially in the fields of medicine, the agri-food industry and cosmetics.

3.3   Member State level

3.3.1

The Committee emphasises how important it is for Community action plans to be matched by national action plans, which are to be submitted to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission by the end of the first half of 2006. The purpose is to ensure coherence and synergies in the fields of infrastructure, training and education, as well as harmonisation of standards and patents, risk assessment and, lastly, dialogue with civil society, consumers and the media.

3.3.2

The Committee believes that the Member States should allocate a greater proportion of their available public and private investment to N&N, and should submit regular reports to the EP and the Council on the progress made in investment and in implementing national plans.

3.3.3

These reports should be included in the two-year Community report, with specific reference to:

the creation of a regulatory and legislative environment which is favourable to the new cycle of industrial applications of N&N to new business concepts, new qualifications and training requirements for entrepreneurs, workers and technical specialists, standards, product certification, ethical issues and transparency, particularly with regard to medical and scientific training, accessibility and equal opportunities;

incentives for innovative N&N applications at local and regional level, with the development of networks of prototyping, certification and risk assessment laboratories which are accessible to all businesses, official bodies, universities and research centres; to this end, dedicated start-up and venture capital measures of a financial nature should be implemented, especially in cohesion regions, and information centres with a public profile should be set up to explain the risks and opportunities generated by N&N;

the introduction of initiatives to prevent a ‘nano-divide’, particularly in structural and cohesion fund intervention areas and in island and outlying regions, accompanied by measures to prevent less developed third countries being excluded from N&N development.

3.3.4

The Committee considers that the Member States should act to preserve a proper balance between two imperatives: on the one hand, the need for cooperation and dissemination for scientific and practical purposes, geared to health and environmental protection and, on the other, the need to safeguard the confidentiality of inventions and intellectual and industrial property.

3.3.5

In the Committee's view, this again highlights the disadvantages of the lack of a Community patent and a single Community patent law. This concerns not only the question as to what can be patented in the Member States, in terms of inventions in bionanotechnology, but also simple access for stakeholders to information about new inventions and patents.

3.4   International level

3.4.1

The Committee fully supports the guidelines set out in the action plan for building up structured cooperation and dialogue at international level. It would add the following suggestions:

holding regular international forums under EU auspices to broaden opportunities for dialogue, exchange and communication, with a view to strengthening the international scientific, industrial and academic community;

developing European leadership skills in order to promote initiatives for joint declarations and codes of conduct regarding the responsible development and use of N&N;

creating an electronic archive within the EU of worldwide scientific and technical publications on N&N by 2008;

including capacity-building actions for partners in developing countries, training actions for scientific personnel and actions to prepare local skills to receive N&N in European development cooperation policy guidelines: the purpose of these actions being to prevent the emergence of an ‘N&N divide’ (exclusion from developing N&N knowledge);

fostering user-friendly synergies with European initiatives — such as EUREKA — and international initiatives — such as Human Frontiers — in the N&N field.

3.5   Company, labour and civil society level

3.5.1

The Committee believes that companies, especially SMEs, can derive enormous benefit from N&N research work and its direct dissemination to technology transfer, especially by taking on board energy efficiency and environmental technologies, IT nanotechnologies, new materials applied to processes, products and services, and the converging nano-, bio-, and infotechnologies.

3.5.2

The Committee considers that European industry should expand and intensify N&N research and application efforts, increasing investment to levels at least equal to those of its more advanced competitors: this effort should be given strong backing by the creation of a favourable regulatory and legislative environment at both Community and national/regional level.

3.5.3

The Committee is convinced that this approach, which advocates strong business involvement, is vital to N&N research and development and application, provided that arrangements are made for support actions at European, national/regional and, most of all, the joint level, aimed at:

transparent, simple and clear information on nanotechnology scouting of research results, applicable in a permanent and safe manner for workers, technical specialists, consumers, the environment and health; these results must be guaranteed by certification which is fully acceptable to both society and the market;

implementing training initiatives focusing on the difficulties of businesses, especially small ones, through the assimilation and informed use of N&N, complying with the requirements of the new production processes which apply them (30);

supporting multidisciplinary training and qualification schemes for technical and scientific personnel, on the new business concept and organisation applying new nanotechnological production processes and related services, and on the necessary precautions to counter toxicological and ecotoxicological risk;

sounding out, in a clear and predefined way, the opportunities and limits of industrial and intellectual property to guarantee a proper balance between cooperation and competition; production confidentiality and the dissemination of N&N-related progress, publication and free movement of new knowledge within the European and international scientific community, and protection of intellectual property rights;

facilitating access by businesses, especially small ones or those located in island and outlying regions, to JCR (31) institutes, to prototyping, certification, measurement and testing laboratories and infrastructures. Access to national and European technical standards bodies, which are authorised to draw up internationally recognised and accepted standards will also be important;

under the EIB, EIF, CIP (32) and the Community's Structural Funds, strengthening access for businesses, especially SMEs, to financial support measures, start-up and venture capital, and initiatives to promote spin-off from academic research, with a view to creating new enterprises and jobs in the N&N sector and the setting up of acquisition, production and distribution networks for N+N services;

establishing closer links between universities, research centres and businesses, especially SMEs, by establishing joint management skills centres for the various application sectors, taking on nanotech experts in businesses, and organising training courses under the new Marie Curie Programme actions.

3.5.4

The Committee emphasises that, especially in the field of N&N, workers and technical and scientific specialists represent — and must continue to represent — the greatest asset of socially responsible businesses.

3.5.4.1

The Committee would also highlight, in this respect, the importance of steps to ensure safe production environments and processes, appropriate training for the relevant human resources, particularly in the medical diagnostics and therapeutics sectors, with a special focus on prevention and ex-ante risk prevention and assessment aspects. This could be achieved with the help of technical conduct manuals, certified at European level.

3.5.4.2

The impact on workers of the new working patterns needed to apply N&N in economic life, and of the training and health and safety requirements, must be carefully evaluated and researched by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Dublin.

3.5.5

The European N&N dialogue with all stakeholders should be put on an official footing by 2007, by establishing a consultative body or forum which should have the necessary visibility and transparency to act as a qualified and recognised partner for the media and civil society.

3.5.6

The successful awareness-raising pilot initiatives should be consolidated by 2007. They should be made visible as of now by linking them to the Europa web portal, and publicised among the European institutions, particularly the EP and the Council. They should also be given an international dimension with the establishment, in 2008 of the ‘Interdisciplinary N&N Prize’, to be awarded annually on the occasion of ‘European N&N week’.

3.5.7

In 2006 the Commission should introduce certified methodologies to identify risks in the application and/or use of N&N and, in the first half of 2008, propose European guidelines in this area.

Brussels, 20 April 2006

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  OJ C 157 of 28.6.2005.

(2)  Ibid.

(3)  Interview with Commissioner Busquin (summary in IP/04/820 of 29 June 2004).

(4)  See footnote 2.

(5)  Micro and nanoelectronics centre at the Politecnico di Milano, Prof. Alessandro Spinelli.

(6)  Ibid.

(7)  Investment in nanoelectronics currently totals EUR 6 billion, broken down as follows: 1/3 in nano and micro, 1/3 in diagnostics, 1/3 in materials (source: European Commission, Research DG).

(8)  From the Greek mimesis, to imitate nature.

(9)  For instance the independent movement of spermatozoa.

(10)  OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006.

(11)  C.f. Nanotechnologies and nanosciences, knowledge-based multifunctional materials & new production processes and devices, submitted to the Euronanoforum, Edinburgh, September 2005.

(12)  COM(2005) 243 final and COM(2005) 24 final.

(13)  (OJ C 157 of 28.6.2005).

(14)  Leading centres of excellence include the DESMOL Centre of Molecular Studies, the High Pressure Research Centre and the CELDIS centre of the Polish Academy of Science's Institute of Physics; the KFKI-Condensed Matter Research Centre and the Research Institute for Solid State Physics and Optics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; and the Centre for Advanced Material Research and Technology (CAMART) of the University of Latvia's Institute of Solid State Physics.

(15)  The Gate2Growth Community initiative provides a package of services and networks to help make access to investment for new innovative businesses faster and cheaper, through pan-European thematic networks of investors and intermediaries, such as I-TecNet.

(16)  Minanet is an accessible on-line database on European research projects in the field of microsystems and nanotechnologies. It includes N&N projects in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Cyprus and Romania.

(17)  Lux Research and Technology Review on Nanotechnology 2005.

(18)  C.f. http://cordis.europa.eu.int/nanotechnology; European Commission, Research DG, Unit G4 (8.12.2005).

(19)  Lux Research and Technology Review on Nanotechnology 2005.

(20)  In terms of private N&N investment, some 60 Japanese companies spend approximately EUR 170 million annually on nanotechnology R&D, an increase of 20 % since 2003.

(21)  Samsung launched its Flash Memory Chips, containing 90 nanometric components, as far back as 2002.

(22)  Beijing Report 2005 on Nanotech Development to 2010-2015.

(23)  According to the above report, China's share of the world market will be more than 6 % in 2010 and 16 % in 2015. The race to bring out finished products will depend heavily upon convergence in nanobiotechnological and nanoscientific applications, and on the practical research of the three major national research centres and more than 20 nanotechnology institutes.

(24)  European Research Area: cooperation and coordination of national or regional research activities. The ERA-NET programme, with a budget of EUR 148 million, provided for calls for proposals every six months, up to 2005, targeting projects in which legal entities of at least three Member States were involved. ERA-NET Plus has been introduced for the coming years, building upon its predecessor.

(25)  COST: European Co-Operation in the field of Scientific and Technical research.

(26)  ESF: European Science Foundation.

(27)  EUREKA: European initiative for the development of market technologies.

(28)  Cf. the National Nanotechnology Office set up in the US in 2003 under the Nanotechnology Development Act.

(29)  CEN: European Committee for Standardisation. STAR: working group on standardisation and research.

(30)  The EESC welcomes the paper and CD format publications of the DG responsible for innovation, and their educational content, which is addressed to an interested, but so far uninformed, public.

(31)  JCR: Joint Research Centre.

(32)  CIP: Competition and Innovation Framework Programme (c.f. EESC opinion INT/270, rapporteurs: Mr Welschke and Ms Fusco.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/10


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the

Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the Specific Programme to be carried out by means of direct actions by the Joint Research Centre under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities (2007-2013)

Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the Specific Programme ‘Cooperation’ implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities

Proposal for a Council Decision Concerning the specific programme: ‘Ideas’ implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities

Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the specific programme ‘People’ implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities

Proposal for a Council Decision on the Specific Programme: ‘Capacities’ implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2013) of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities

Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the Specific Programme to be carried out by means of direct actions by the Joint Research Centre implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2011) of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities

Proposal for a Council Decision concerning the specific Programme implementing the 7th Framework Programme (2007-2011) of the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for nuclear research and training activities

COM(2005) 439, 440, 441, 442, 443, 444, 445 final

(2006/C 185/02)

On 14 November 2005, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 166 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 28 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Wolf, the co-rapporteur was Mr Pezzini.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20-21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 132 votes to two:

1.   Summary

1.1

The Commission's proposals concern the research content and themes of the proposed seventh research and development programme (2007-2013) and seventh Euratom framework programme (2007-2011); the Committee has already commented on the Commission's earlier proposals for these programmes. The present Committee opinion therefore complements the previous opinion on the two framework programmes.

1.2

In its previous opinion, the Committee recommended making the urgently needed R&D investments proposed by the Commission available in full and not allowing them to become a pawn in — or fall victim to — the negotiations on the EU's future overall budget.

1.3

Clearly, the objective set out in the Lisbon strategy of making Europe the world's leading economy calls for a substantial increase in R&D investment. Europe is competing in this respect not only with countries such as the USA, Japan and Korea, but also with China, India and Brazil. The United States and Japan in particular have made R&D investment a national priority for strengthening their international competitiveness, and have made the requisite funding available. Hence, in view of ongoing global developments, the objective of investing 3 % of EU GDP in research and development, which was set by the Barcelona European Council in support of the Lisbon strategy and which has not yet been achieved, is a moving target. Late achievement of this target will mean that the EU is still lagging behind.

1.4

In view of the overall EU budget which the Council has adopted since then and its implications for the research budget, the Committee therefore reiterates its further recommendation that R&D be given a substantially higher share than hitherto — i.e. about 8 % — and that the increase envisaged in the Council decision should be introduced at an earlier stage instead of waiting for seven years.

1.5

At the heart of the Commission's proposals is the ‘cooperation’ specific programme. The Committee supports funding for the important research themes included in the programme such as energy, health, information technology, nanotechnology, the environment, transport, socio-economic sciences and the humanities, as well as the new themes of space and security. Chapter 4 includes detailed comments on the programme, and recommends an increased share of funding for individual areas.

1.6

In general, the Committee recommends providing as much scope for flexibility as possible, rather than rigidly allocating budgetary resources to the various themes. This should enable the Commission to respond promptly and without additional political measures during the implementation of the programme to any shifts in emphasis during the period, to new issues which arise or to necessary restructuring in view of the cross-cutting nature of many of the programme's themes.

1.7

The Committee reiterates its support for the ‘ideas’ specific programme. It feels that the main challenges presented by the programme, apart from securing adequate funding, lie in the selection of proposals for projects and in the management of the programme. The Committee is pleased to note that the independent European Research Council (ERC) will be put in charge of these demanding tasks.

1.8

The Committee has stressed on several occasions that the key to successful and competitive European R&D lies not only in cutting-edge equipment, funding and adequate general conditions, but also in sufficient highly qualified and creative scientists. The ‘people’ specific programme covers measures enabling the Commission to pursue this goal. The Committee strongly supports these measures. In addition, the Committee would refer to its earlier comments on the European Charter for Researchers published by the Commission.

1.9

The ‘cooperation’ specific programme is a particularly good example of the Community's ‘subsidiary’ roles. This mainly concerns research infrastructures — such as large apparatus, scientific instruments and computers — whose costs and potential exceed the capacities of individual Member States. The ‘research for SMEs’ sub-programme, which is included under ‘capacities’, ties in with previous Committee recommendations to involve SMEs more closely in innovation.

1.10

In conclusion, the Committee refers to its earlier recommendation to drastically cut red tape for applicants, to simplify procedures and at the same time to ensure maximum continuity in support instruments and award procedures.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The Commission's proposals, set out in seven separate documents, complement its proposal (1) on the 7th R&D framework programme (2007-2013) and the 7th Euratom framework programme (2007-2011), and they contain detailed information on the research content and themes of the support measures provided for.

2.1.1

Hence, this EESC opinion is a brief adjunct to the existing opinion  (2) on the 7th R&D framework programme (2007-2013) and the Euratom programme (2007-2011), and to the observations and recommendations set out therein.

2.1.2

Hence, this opinion is mainly concerned with research content, rather than structures and instruments. For example, the opinion does not return to the important issue of optimising the innovation triangle — basic research, applied research and development — nor to the recommendation that in future the Commission officials supervising the project should continue to be experts with research experience and close familiarity with the relevant specialised theme, a requirement which entails sufficient continuity in terms of staffing. These arguments have been covered in detail in earlier opinions (3).

2.1.3

However, one important aspect should be mentioned at the outset, concerning the budgetary allocation to or subdivision of individual programme elements. The Committee has already recommended providing as much scope for flexibility as possible here, enabling the Commission to respond promptly and without additional political measures during the implementation of the programme to any shifts in emphasis during the period, to new issues or to necessary restructuring in view of the cross-cutting nature of many of the programme's themes.

2.2

The Commission had proposed an increase in the budgets of the two framework programmes to a total of EUR 72.7 billion (4). This would still be less than 8 % of the proposed total EU budget for 2007 — 2013 of EUR 1025 billion. In the EESC opinion on the seventh R&D framework programme referred to above, the Committee recommended making the urgently needed R&D investments proposed by the Commission available in full and not allowing them to become a pawn in — or fall victim to — the negotiations on the EU's future overall budget.

2.2.1

However, on 19 December 2005, the European Council agreed to a total EU budget of only EUR 862.4 (5) billion. As a result, the EU research budget might also be significantly lower (6) than that proposed by the Commission, although ‘the European Council  (7) believes that EU funding for research should be increased such that by 2013 the resources available are around 75 % higher in real terms than in 2006’. The Commission will draw up a revised proposal, in line with this figure. As a result, the political decision-making process on the two framework programmes is not yet finished.

2.2.2

Clearly, the objective set out in the Lisbon strategy of developing Europe as the world's leading economy calls for a substantial increase in R&D investment. Europe is competing in this respect not only with countries such as the USA, Japan and Korea, but also with China, India and Brazil. The United States and Japan in particular have made R&D investment a national priority for strengthening their international competitiveness, and have made the requisite funding available. Hence, in view of ongoing global developments, the objective of investing 3 % of EU GDP in research and development, which was set by the Barcelona European Council in support of the Lisbon strategy and which has not yet been achieved, is a moving target. Late achievement of this target will mean that the EU is still lagging behind.

2.3

In view of the current situation, the Committee feels that it is necessary once again to quote from the opinion referred to above, and reiterates its comments that (i) ‘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’, (ii) ‘the Commission's proposal … is a minimum amount that must be increased still further in the longer term so as not to gamble awaybut rather to maintain and strengthenEurope's position as the cradle of modern science and technology’, and (iii) ‘without such action, it will not be possible, even in the longer term, to meet the Lisbon objectives’.

2.4

The Committee also reiterates its comment that European cooperation on research and development is an effective catalyst for European integration and cohesion. Given that the European Union is currently struggling to secure public support for its constitution, this is a particularly important consideration. It should also be mentioned that an adequate level of R&D is crucial not only for achieving the Lisbon objectives but also for dealing with current issues and problems in areas such as health, energy supplies and the environment.

2.5

The Committee would therefore reaffirm its recommendation that within the overall EU budget which has been decided on, R&D should be given a substantially higher share than hitherto — i.e. about 8 % — and that the increase envisaged in the Council decision should be introduced at an earlier stage instead of waiting for seven years.

2.6

The Committee acknowledges the Commission's proposal (8) to establish a European Institute of Technology (EIT). Without going into the details of this proposal here, it should be pointed out that the requisite expenditure on this proposal ought certainly not to be charged to the budget for the specific programmes discussed in this opinion.

2.7

The Committee also refers to its earlier recommendation to drastically cut red tape for applicants, to simplify procedures and at the same time to ensure maximum continuity in support instruments and award procedures. The Committee will set out its views on this matter in greater detail in its comments on the Commission's proposals concerning ‘rules for participation’ (9).

3.   Gist of the Commission's proposals  (10)

3.1

The Commission's proposals set out and define all areas of research and development under the 7th framework programme and the Euratom programme, i.e. the full range of research themes, content, methods and tools. There are also proposals concerning the contribution to be made to these activities by the Joint Research Centre. In addition the proposals outline measures to secure and consolidate the human resources required. Altogether there are seven Commission documents which also include very detailed information on the individual sub-programmes.

3.2

The structure of these sub-programmes is summarised as follows, with percentage shares of the total budget:

A — R&D framework programme (total budget: EUR 72 726 million) 2007-2013

Cooperation

61.1%

Ideas

16.3%

People

9.8%

Capacities

10.3%

Non-nuclear actions of the Joint Research Centre

2.5%

B — Euratom programme (total budget: EUR 3 092 million) 2007-2011

Fusion energy research

69.8%

Nuclear fission and radiation protection

12.8%

Nuclear activities of the Joint Research Centre

17.4%

3.3

A detailed description of the Commission's proposals is given in chapter 3 of the EESC opinion on the 7th R&D framework programme (CESE 1484/2005).

4.   The Committee's comments

4.1

The following comments are based on the content of chapters 4-6 of the above-mentioned opinion on the 7th R&D framework programme, and are difficult to understand without reference to that document.

4.1.1

The Committee supports the Commission's resolve to reflect the cross-cutting relevance of many programme components and to promote multidisciplinarity through cross-thematic approaches.

4.1.2

In this connection, the Committee has also discussed the issue of whether branches of research activity relating to such cross-cutting themes — e.g. ICT in medicine — should be included in ICT or rather dealt with as part of the specialised health sub-programme. For example, it recommends steering some of the activities planned as part of ICT more towards the specialised sub-programmes, for instance on health, energy, transport or possibly social sciences, so as to focus on specific aspects related to each of these areas.

4.1.3

However, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions here; instead, decisions should be taken on a case-by-case basis, depending, on the one hand, where the greatest scope for methodological synergies may be expected, and where, on the other, optimum linkage can be secured with the specific issues involved in each area. The Committee reiterates its recommendation that, whatever happens, ‘steps be taken to ensure overall coordination and the necessary link-ups’.

4.1.4

The Committee also welcomes the Commission's intention to respond flexibly to emerging needs, new knowledge and proposals, and to unforeseen policy requirements. Action by the Commission to promote and coordinate pre-competitive research and development will help to boost the EU's competitive position.

4.2   Cooperation — the core of the programme

4.2.1

Health. The Committee emphasises the necessarily broad scope of the approach which ranges from preparing for and preventing epidemics and pandemics, to responding to demographic change with all the accompanying social and health-related implications and long-term effects, including research into old age and disabilities (whereby the latter also includes separate social and technical aspects, for instance, which go beyond health-related issues). In this connection, the Committee supports the Commission's intention not to neglect research into rare diseases. The programme should cover all the relevant scientific and technical fields — including biotechnology, genomics, stem cell research and other multidisciplinary approaches, including the issue of requisite quality and social standards. This concerns both bio-medical research in universities, clinics and publicly funded research institutes, and also involves making the European medical and pharmaceutical sector more competitive. The Committee therefore recommends endorsing the proposed programme framework. Research and development in the field of health are of key European and even global interest.

4.2.2

Food, agriculture and biotechnology (biotechnology is also relevant to the theme of health [point 4.2.1]). The Committee feels that this programme rightly aims to build or maintain a European knowledge-based bio-economy. The objective is to use life sciences and technologies to provide eco-efficient and competitive products and processes from the agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, food, health, forest-based and related industries. In view of the particularly intense agricultural competition with countries such as Brazil, this is also a very important sector. One possible new area for development might be the cultivation of plants that help to clean contaminated soil by accumulating pollutants, or on the other hand do not absorb any pollutants from contaminated soil and can thus be used safely.

4.2.3

Information and communication technologies (ICT). Products and services in the ICT sector have had a revolutionary impact, changing and enriching science, technology, administration and even the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. In terms of both its share of funding and the range of tasks involved, ICT represents the largest component of the ‘cooperation’ programme, and it has — or may have — an impact in all other areas. The objective is to make innovative, ICT-based products and services available in the fields of science, technology, administration and logistics. Thus, the ICT programme ranges from the development of innovative hardware (whereby, for example, chip development clearly overlaps with the nanotechnology programme), hardware systems and networks to new programming tools, where importance should also be attached to the accessibility of ICT services by all social groups. The Committee also refers to its comments on this matter in point 4.1.2. Whether the ICT programme can actually justify its lion's share is closely dependent on the extent to which it fulfils the task of contributing to the other programmes in future.

4.2.4

Nanosciences, nanotechnologies, materials and new production technologies. This too is a new and extremely innovative area (11) which, as part of the interplay between basic and applied research, has emerged from a whole range of sources and findings in the field of physical and chemical research and technology. It has the potential to yield new or improved products and processes in many branches of technology. At the same time, this area is so diverse and has so many ramifications that a very broad view must be taken in order to identify and harness common features and interconnections within this discipline, elements of which range from atomic physics, plasma technology and nano-mechanics to textile finishing. As nano-processes also take place on a microscopic scale barely imaginable to the public at large, constructive dialogue with users is needed on this subject from the very start, in order to identify and avert potential threats, but at the same time to calm unwarranted fears. The Commission's wide-ranging approach, which also includes efforts to impart knowledge, is therefore very welcome and the Committee supports it.

4.2.5

Energy. The Committee has repeatedly referred to the key theme of energy. It has also expressed its views on the subject in numerous specific opinions and emphasised the significant research needs in the field (12). A very serious energy problem awaits us in the medium to long term (13). It involves both the expected scarcity and price rises for conventional fuels such as crude oil and natural gas and the vital issue of secure supplies of such fuels to Europe, and the effects — in most cases, global effects — of energy use on the environment, particularly the climate. The only solution to the energy problem lies in improved or new technologies, which should, nonetheless, still offer good value for money. The key to this, in turn, is energy research. This must cover all aspects (14), from the better harnessing — and storage — of environmentally sound fuels to energy-saving technologies and more efficient energy use. This includes procedures for the partial or complete sequestration and storage of greenhouse gases. A switch to highly efficient electricity-generating power stations is also particularly important. The Committee finds the Commission's proposals in this regard correct and balanced, but is very concerned that the portion of the budget earmarked for it is too small, given the crucial importance of the task to be addressed. The Committee would recommend allocating an increased share of the budget here.

4.2.6

Environment (including climate change). Environmental protection is of fundamental importance for the quality and very foundations of life of both present and future generations. Recognising and resolving the problems involved — be the causes man-made or natural — is a particularly ambitious and potentially vital goal. This task is closely linked with the most diverse research and policy fields: economy, energy, health and agriculture, including monitoring tasks and, in view of the global aspects, international agreements. While environmental research focuses more on identifying — or learning how to identify — the various problems and their causes, in other areas — not least energy — the search for solutions plays a greater role. Budgeting should be flexible to take account of this.

4.2.7

Transport (including aeronautics). European transport systems are an important element of Europe's economic and social prosperity, and its cohesion. The Transport sub-programme is geared to developing integrated, ‘green’, ‘smart’ and safe pan-European transport systems and modes. To this end, it sets specific technical and logistical development goals for various transport modes and systems. The further development of energy-saving and low-emissions transport modes (aircraft, cars, etc.) is a scientific and technical task that is linked to the energy and environment sub-programmes, in which SMEs could also become involved. The respective technology platforms — ACCARE for aeronautics and air transport, ERRAC for rail transport, ERTRAC for road transport, WATERBORNE for waterborne transport, and hydrogen and fuel cells — are an important instrument here. Given the importance of an operational European transport network, not least for the new Member States, and given the ever-increasing total volume of transport — among other things, the prevention of traffic jams is a key, live issue at the moment — and the significance of such a network for European competitiveness (and its impact on the environment!), the goal of this sub-programme is also very important and is supported accordingly.

4.2.8   Socio-economic sciences and the humanities

4.2.8.1

In the Committee's view, the goal of this programme should be to contribute to an in-depth understanding of the complex and interrelated socio-economic, legal and cultural challenges Europe is confronted with, including issues such as Europe's historical roots and common elements and also its borders and neighbours. A task of particular relevance for laying the Community's intellectual foundations and building European identity, which also concerns the dealings of Member States and citizens with one another, would be to establish a common and uniform description and assessment of European history in all Member States — or to step up current efforts to do so — as a basis for the content of history lessons.

4.2.8.2

However, this area also includes aspects such as economic, financial and tax policy, science policy, growth, employment and competitiveness, social cohesion and sustainability, quality of life, education, cultural and legislative issues and global interdependence. It also encompasses the special challenges facing modern society, such as demographic change (facts, implications, action), migration, social exclusion, cultural splits, and progress towards a knowledge-based society. To make this sub-programme more coherent and focused, the Committee also recommends that the section dealing not with communicating science and better mutual understanding between science and society (see also 4.5.3), but rather with research into the relationship between science and society be switched from the Science in Society programme under the Capacities heading to the Socio-economic sciences and humanities sub-programme. On the whole, the Committee considers the Socio-economic sciences and the humanities sub-programme to be very important, especially as it also plays a crucial role in policy consultations; it should be expanded to take in some of the issues mentioned above and thus, if necessary, also be strengthened in relative terms.

4.2.9   Security and space

Both security and space are important subjects, which the Committee supports.

4.2.9.1

The terrorist attacks of the last few years have made citizens of the western world even more aware of the need for adequate security and the issue requires not only a broad legal, social and cultural approach, but also a technological and scientific one as well. However, the subject of security and security research is not confined to the Common Foreign and Security Policy; it also concerns areas such as transport, health (e.g. the EU Health Security Programme), civil protection (including natural and industrial disasters), energy and the environment.

4.2.9.2

The general public is yet to be fully aware of the phenomenal progress made in space exploration and technology. This is important in terms of both geostrategy and understanding the world; after all, astronomical observations and the knowledge, for instance, of planetary movements derived from them were a crucial starting point for modern science. Space research and technology also spearhead the development of innovative technologies. As far as space exploration is concerned, the Committee feels that evenly balanced collaboration is needed on the programme with existing European organisations, such as the ESA and ESO.

4.3

Ideas. Here the Commission is treading promising new ground in its support for research. Again, the Committee has welcomed this on a number of occasions (15). Supporting research proposals that really stand out within the ambit of Europe-wide competition — eschewing the hitherto usual requirement of crossborder cooperation — makes excellence both possible and visible, thus creating a magnet for researchers of outstanding European and international calibre, which in turn generates particularly fertile ground for innovation. On this question, the Committee again stresses that the risk of failure has to be faced if mediocrity is to be overcome. The prime difficulty here, in addition to adequate funding for the programme, lies in its selection procedure and management. The Committee thinks, therefore, that this demanding task should fall to a hand-picked independent panel of particularly successful and recognised scientists: the European Research Council (ERC).

4.4

People. The Committee has stressed on several occasions (16) that the key to successful and competitive European research and development lies not only in cutting-edge equipment and funding, but also in sufficient highly qualified and creative scientists. An interest in science and technology must therefore be instilled during childhood and youth, so that a sufficient number of those with the requisite talents begin and complete the very difficult and demanding studies which are needed in the field.

4.4.1

The Committee has already referred to the key role of universities as educational and research institutions and to the unsatisfactory situation in this respect in Europe in its opinion on the seventh R&D Framework Programme (17). Among other things, it is important to ensure that the scientific and personal conditions (18) are right for researchers to work on their doctorates — which are of importance to their careers. After a first-rate education, these people then also need international experience, an attractive research environment offering sufficient freedom, internationally competitive contracts and career planning. (The Committee has already commented on the European Charter for Researchers, which is of relevance to this subject; some aspects of the Charter meet with the Committee's approval, and others are criticised (19).)

4.4.2

However, given how important it is for science and research for researchers to be internationally mobile, especially between countries that perform particularly well in this area, it is essential to ensure there is no one-sided brain-drain; among other things, this means making salaries such that top American researchers, for instance, can also be brought to Europe, something that at present is practically impossible. The Committee therefore supports the Commission's repeatedly stressed goal of applying the requisite instruments and framework conditions and of working to ensure that the Member States use the instruments proposed in the People programme, some of which are already available. Creating attractive conditions for mobility and removing obstacles to it is also particularly important for the European Research Area. The Commission's vigorous pursuit of this goal is to be welcomed.

4.5

Capacities. This programme is a good example of the Community's ‘subsidiary’ roles.

4.5.1

This mainly concerns the goal of developing/installing, sharing and perfecting research infrastructures — such as large apparatus, scientific instruments and computers, whose costs and potential exceed the capacities of individual Member States. In this connection, the Committee is pleased to note that, in line with its earlier recommendation, preference is to be given to a bottom-up approach to proposals for the relevant projects.

4.5.2

At the same time, the other tasks listed under Capacities, such as Research for SMEs, Research for SME associations, Regions of knowledge and Unlocking and developing the research potential in the EU's convergence regions and outermost regions are also very important, particularly for the new Member States and for SMEs.

4.5.3

The Science and society sub-programme is intended to stimulate the harmonious integration of scientific and technological endeavour and associated research policies into the European social web. This is a matter of the capacity to produce, use and propagate knowledge, and to generate innovations. Thus, the sub-programme is concerned, on the one hand, with presenting an image of science, scientists and their findings to the European public. The Committee endorses these objectives; it sees dissemination of knowledge as an important cultural task, which facilitates innovation. On the other hand, the sub-programme is also concerned with research on the reasons for scepticism among certain sections of the population about science (or at least some areas of science), scientific methods and its potential implications. In the Committee's view, these research activities, which are primarily of a sociological character, should be incorporated into the ‘Socio-economic sciences and the humanities’ sub-programme under the ‘Cooperation’ specific programme, so that they can be dealt with in the broader context of European cooperation provided for there.

4.6   The Euratom programme

Here the EESC would first refer to its exhaustive examination in its opinion on the 7th R&D framework programme and the Euratom programme and its remarks concerning the Energy sub-programme.

4.6.1

The issue now in fusion research  (20) is (i) to pave the way for, and complete the construction of ITER, (ii) to work on all preparations required to operate it — including education and training of scientific staff, enlisting and mobilising the research potential of associated laboratories in the Member States and an international division of labour, (iii) to promote technological developments (particularly materials and the fuel cycle) geared to DEMO, and (iv) to research and perfect various (magnetic) confinement concepts. ITER and further development must be embedded in and supported by Member State research institutes. The Commission's proposals are in line with these tasks and international commitments, and they enjoy the Committee's full support.

4.6.2

The issue now in fission  (21) is (i) to further investigate and improve the safety of existing nuclear power plants (a task predominantly for industrial manufacturers and operators) and (ii) to develop new reactor concepts with even better safety, fuel exploitation and disposal parameters. This includes research into the reprocessing of spent fuels (transmutation, recycling). Other tasks include: (iii) solving the problem of final storage and securing political approval for this, (iv) supporting non-proliferation efforts regarding nuclear weapons materials, and (v) finding out more about the biological effects of (low) doses of radiation (22) and developing the appropriate measurement technologies (especially individual dosimetry). An important specific task in all of this is the education of a new generation of appropriately trained specialists. The Committee has misgivings about the shortage of ‘new recruits’ in some Member States and dwindling expertise and asks whether greater weight should not be attached to these very important questions, given the likely longer-term and global importance of nuclear energy use.

4.7   The Joint Research Centre (JRC)

4.7.1

The JRC is quite rightly incorporated into both the 7th R&D framework programme (2007-2013) and the 7th Euratom framework programme (2007-2011). However, because this means that the JCR is answerable directly to the Commission and the strength of its policy consultations and flexibility of action derive precisely from this fact, steps must be taken to ensure that it is subject to the exacting and transparent standards required of all Member State research institutions in terms of international peer review, competition, recruitment procedures/staffing policy and monitoring, and that it is integrated into the international scientific community. The Committee considers such integration important, not least in terms of the socio-economic sciences and humanities mentioned above.

4.7.2

The JRC's tasks under the 7th R&D framework programme (2007-2013) include the general topic — important for the Community — of sustainable development (e.g. climate change, food, energy, transport, chemicals, decontamination). This includes the development of scientific and technological reference data for various spheres of environmental and food monitoring; it also provides a valuable contribution to framing the Community's legislative provisions. Another Community task is developing and disseminating internationally recognised reference bases and promoting a common European system of measurements. This could include coordinating the division of labour with national metrological and standardisation institutions and participation in their programmes. In terms of the European single market and European integration generally, consideration could therefore be given to establishing a ‘European Bureau of Standards’ which would involve the relevant national laboratories and institutions such as CEN and CELENEC, the industries concerned and the JRC.

4.7.3

It is quite right that the JCR should support policymaking in the nuclear field under the 7th Euratom framework programme (2007-2011), including the implementation and monitoring of existing strategies and the response to new demands. The Committee also approves of making disposal, safety and monitoring a priority in the ‘nuclear’ JCR programme (with these activities being integrated and coordinated with those of the Member States); this is where the public has concerns and where reliable solutions are needed. In the Committee's view, it is particularly important to (further) develop procedures which will allow an even better monitoring of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons material and technologies.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  COM(2005) 119 final./2 - 2005/0043 (COD) - 2005/0044 (CNS).

(2)  OJ C 65, 17.3.2006.

(3)  OJ C 157, 28.6.2005, Guidelines for future European policy to support research, and OJ C 65, 17.3.2006.

(4)  At 2005 prices without allowing for inflation; depending on indexation for inflation, various figures have been quoted.

(5)  At 2005 prices.

(6)  Current estimates are in the region of EUR 49.5 billion (e.g. FAZ No. 11 2006, p. 14).

(7)  Council of the European Union 1591505, CADREFIN 268, point 10, 19 December 2005.

(8)  Press release IP/06/201, 22 February 2006.

(9)  COM(2005) 705 final.

(10)  See also Chapter 3 of OJ C 65, 17.3.2006.

(11)  OJ C 157, 28.6.2005.

(12)  OJ C 241, 7.10.2002; OJ C 28, 3.2.2006; OJ C 65, 17.3.2006.

(13)  See previous footnote.

(14)  With regard to the Euratom programme, see Chapter 4.6.

(15)  OJ C 110, 30.4.2004.

(16)  OJ C 110, 30.4.2004Researchers in the European Research Area: one profession, multiple careers.

(17)  OJ C 65, 17.3.2006, Point 4.12.2.

(18)  See e.g. Chapter 5.6 of the document referred to in footnote 16.

(19)  Point 4.13.2 of OJ C 65, 17.3.2006, and point 5.1.5 of OJ C 110, 30.4.2004.

(20)  OJ C 302, 7.12.2004.

(21)  OJ C 133, 6.6.2003; OJ C 110, 30.4.2004.

(22)  See e.g. RTDinfo No. 47, European Commission, January 2006.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/17


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on common rules in the field of civil aviation security

COM(2005) 429 final — 2005/0191 (COD)

(2006/C 185/03)

On 16 November 2005 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 80(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

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 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr McDonogh.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 134 votes to two.

1.   Recommendations

1.1

Member States should be allowed, on the basis of a risk assessment, to apply more stringent measures than those to be laid down, under the condition that they finance them with their national budgets.

1.2

Each Member State should designate a single authority responsible for the coordination and monitoring of the implementation of security standards.

1.3

Each Member State should draw up a national civil aviation security programme.

1.4

In order to monitor the application by Member States of the new act, and also to identify weak points in aviation security, the Commission should conduct inspections, including unannounced inspections.

1.5

For the purpose of allowing transfer passengers and transfer baggage to be exempted from screening when arriving on a flight from a third country, which is known as the concept of ‘one stop security’ as well as for allowing passengers arriving on such a flight to mix with screened departing passengers, it is appropriate to encourage agreements between the Community and with third countries, recognising that the security standards applied in the third country are equivalent to Community standards.

1.6

The Committee welcomes the initiative of the Commission and fully supports the fundamental principles of the proposal.

1.7

It welcomes also the introduction of common rules for airport security, as procedures vary very much across Europe, and it is important that these should be standardised.

1.8

Considering annex Part 1 1.2 point 5 and part 11, in light of the freedom of movement of labour within the Community and the availability of labour from third countries, can the Commission offer assistance to national authorities, airports, airlines, etc. to validate personal information of potential employees, in order to meet the requirements of background checks.

1.9

The objective outlined in paragraph 1 of this Article should be amended to clarify that the security measures concerned are designed to protect civil aviation from acts of unlawful interference that jeopardise the safety of civil aviation. The measures concerned are not for addressing other types of unlawful interference such as theft and smuggling.

1.10

The European Commission should draw up and implement a comprehensive policy for financing aviation security measures that form part of Member States' national security duty to protect their citizens from the threat of terrorism.

1.11

A mechanism for assessing the impact on the industry of every future proposal for security measure should be added to this regulation. This will ensure that the cost and the impact of a given measure are not disproportionately high compared to its efficiency.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The European Commission's legislative proposal aims to clarify the European Union's legal framework (established by existing Regulation 2320/2002), to provide a basis for a common interpretation of the international requirements laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to remove sensitive information from the public arena and to place further emphasis on developing requirements in civil aviation security through implementing Regulation, i.e. by use of Decision 1999/468/EC on comitology which establishes a legislative decision-making process involving representatives of the EU Member States and the European Commission.

2.2

The proposal seeks to replace the existing regulation in order to bring forward better legislation, based on four principles, that of simplification, harmonisation, clarification, and enhancing the levels of security.

3.   General comments

3.1

The objective of this proposal is to clarify, simplify and harmonise further the legal requirements with the aim of enhancing the overall security in civil aviation.

3.2

Experience over time has shown that the regulation is too detailed and is in need of simplification.

3.3

Whilst recognising the principle of subsidiarity, the Commission is of the view that a greater degree of harmonisation than currently exists of security measures and procedures is desirable.

3.4

This has resulted in 25 national systems being in place and a consequential potential distortion of competition and the inability of industry to benefit from the freedoms of the Single Market.

3.5

Increased harmonisation is also an integral element of ‘one stop security’, the concept whereby transfer and transit passengers, bags and cargo need not be re-screened since there is confidence that baseline levels of security were met at the original departing airport. Again, this is an element that is of benefit to operators acting in a highly competitive market as well as to passengers.

3.6

The Commission is of the view that the ability to (re)act swiftly in the light of risks that are constantly evolving over time is of major significance to improve the overall levels of security.

3.7

In the view of the Commission, it is not desirable to have detailed security measures and procedures placed in the public domain. By placing operational details in implementing legislation, this issue can be addressed. The Committee would like to stress the importance that these new common rules take account of the specificities of persons with reduced mobility in line with the recommendations made by the recent Committee's opinion on the issue. Security checks and other security related measures, while legitimate and necessary, may create further barriers and limit the rights of people with reduced mobility, which would be against recent Commission efforts to guarantee disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility equal opportunities in air travel compared to the rest of the population.

3.8

Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council establishes common rules in the field of civil aviation security. The proposal seeks to replace this legislative act.

3.9

Thus, Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002 would be replaced by a simplified, clearer regulation laying down general principles.

3.10

The only additional competence sought relates to rules for in-flight security measures. It covers such diverse topics as access to the cockpit, unruly passengers, and in-flight security officers (sky marshals). The Committee would not recommend the use of sky marshals except in exceptional circumstances.

3.11

The requirement for security programmes reflects current best practice in the aviation sector, and, as such, is not a significant burden on industry or administrations. For Community carriers they should be approved by the carrier's national authorities and be mutually recognised by the other Member States and regulators.

3.12

Article 13 lays down an obligation for each Member State to undertake compliance monitoring activities by means of a national quality control programme.

3.13

Article 14 allows for Commission inspections of inter alia, Community airports.

3.14

Article 17 replaces the existing Article 10 on security of flights from third countries. It foresees agreements between the Community and third countries that would allow for the possibility of passengers, bags, and cargo transferring at Community airports without the need for re-screening and/or additional security controls.

3.15

This objective should be achieved by setting common rules and common standards on aviation security as well as mechanisms for monitoring compliance.

3.16

The content of Regulation (EC) No 2320/2002 should be revised in the light of the experience gained, and the Regulation itself should be replaced by a new act seeking the simplification, harmonisation, and clarification of the existing rules and the improvement of the levels of security.

3.17

Given the need for more flexibility in adopting security measures and procedures in order to meet evolving risk assessments and to allow new technologies to be introduced, the new act should lay down the basic principles of what has to be done in order to safeguard civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference.

3.18

The new act should cover security measures that apply on board an aircraft, or during a flight, of Community air carriers.

4.   Specific comments

The following should be considered when implementing legislation

4.1

It is important that common standards are set in relation to prohibited articles so as to avoid confusion and disputes at security search.

4.2

The term ‘continuous random’ is used in the Annex of the proposed Regulation, but is not defined. Inserting a definition of continuous random is essential in order to assure a uniform interpretation across Europe of this principle when it is applied to security checks.

4.3

More stringent measures should only be introduced in response to specific terrorist threats identified by the Member State authority through risk assessment. The introduction of more stringent measures contradicts the goals of harmonising aviation security measures across the European Union and of establishing a one stop security area. Any additional deterrent or preventative security measures henceforth required by the Member State must be concluded in full consultation with the airport operator and the Member State concerned must pay for the additional security measures as part of the government national security duty to protect its citizens from acts of terrorism.

4.4

Some airlines do not allow steel cutlery e.g. knives and forks, while others do, standardisation among all air carriers should be encouraged.

4.5

While scissors, nail files etc. are prohibited items, glass bottles are allowed on. These are deadly weapons, particularly when broken. It is suggested that all duty free and all bottles carried on an aircraft are plastic. Otherwise, they should be stored in the hold of the aircraft with the rest of the baggage. This will need to be agreed on an international level before implementation.

4.6

It is important that rescue equipment like the fire extinguisher and safety axe are secured in a crew locker, and that passengers do not have ready access to these.

4.7

Airlines should use reinforced containers for luggage where possible, to protect against a bomb blast like on El Al airlines.

4.8

In the interest of security, there should be close monitoring by national authorities in relation to the amount of drink that can be served to passengers that cause drink-related security incidents.

4.9

While access to the flight deck is protected by a reinforced door, a hijacker could gain access through the flimsy toilet wall which is often situated next to the flight deck. This would need to be reinforced.

4.10

Article 11 should include Airline and Handling Agent who often supplies security.

4.11

Considering Annex Part 11, all security instructors should be trained at approved training facilities, e.g. the European Security Training Institute (EASTI), in order to standardise the presentation of ICAO Security Training Modules. National authorities should be required to establish National Training Programmes with EASTI qualified instructors.

4.12

Considering Annex Part 4 4.3 (with the increase in the number of deportees etc.) there should be a requirement for the national authority to set a period of minimum notice for carriers/airport/flight crews to prepare for the proposed transport of potentially disruptive passengers where this will involve a scheduled commercial flight.

Brussels, 20 April 2006

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/20


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a Framework for Community Action in the field of Marine Environmental Policy (Marine Strategy Directive)

COM(2005) 505 final — 2005/0211 COD

(2006/C 185/04)

On 29 November 2005, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 175 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 21 March 2006. The rapporteur was Ms Sánchez Miguel.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 137 votes in favour and three abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC appreciates the proposal for a Directive, which falls within the context of the thematic strategy for the protection and conservation of the marine environment; this could integrate and coordinate certain existing legal measures, particularly as regards the methodology for action in the field, which is similar to that set down in the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

1.2

However, from a critical standpoint, the EESC believes that while the proposal is necessary, it does not go far enough: the status of our seas and oceans has deteriorated so badly that more coercive measures will be needed in order to implement and monitor compliance with existing measures. Moreover, the proposal only partially covers the status of the marine environment. The EESC therefore believes that a framework directive would be more effective when subsequently integrating and developing the aspects that are not covered in depth here.

1.3

By utilising existing legislative or management instruments rather than creating new ones, Member States can be spared additional costs and, above all, increased bureaucracy. Arrangements are also included for public and stakeholder consultation and participation, which are key factors for the public's involvement in environmental issues.

1.4

The EESC wishes to make several recommendations which it considers necessary in order to improve the proposed Directive, so that the Commission can evaluate its contributions as a sector of civil society concerned by this issue.

1.4.1

Firstly, it is necessary to clarify and strengthen the Commission's monitoring and coordinating role vis-à-vis the regional authorities that are required to assess and plan the targets and the measures for applying these to the marine environment under their control. The aim should be to harmonise and balance actions throughout coastal areas, bearing in mind that seas and oceans stretch across borders. Centralised coordination would make it possible to intervene in the non-EU countries where Community action would be feasible and, in particular, with which the EU has international agreements.

1.4.2

As the good status of marine waters depends to a large extent on quantitative factors, the EESC believes that quantitative descriptors should also be included in the definitions given (particularly the definition of good environmental status based on general qualitative descriptors), as was the case for continental waters in the WFD. As pointed out in point 5.5 below, the environmental targets should, at the very least, be those specified in the Communication, since the format proposed in the Directive is so general that it could prevent them from being fully effective.

1.4.3

The ambiguous wording used in referring to the selection of special areas (defined by their inability to reach the environmental targets) could lead to misuse; the EESC therefore proposes that the reasons for this special status be clearly and carefully defined, along with the procedures for approval by the Commission.

1.5

Lastly, there are two focus areas which are very important if the objectives proposed here are to be effectively applied. The first concerns the immediate application of all previous measures affecting the marine environment, such as those relating to the ERIKA I, II and III packages, in particular referring to ports of refuge, the trans-European network for monitoring maritime traffic, setting up a Member State auditing system for ship registration, investigating and identifying waste (such as bombs, containers with radioactive products), etc.

1.5.1

The second focus area relates to research in the marine environment. By increasing and improving knowledge, it will be possible to set clear objectives and establish the programmes of measures needed to restore good environmental status. Greater participation in the European Framework Programmes for Research is therefore required.

2.   Background

2.1

The present proposal is based on a Communication (1) which the Commission submitted in 2002. It establishes a strategy for the ecological protection and conservation of the marine environment, with the aim of promoting sustainable use of the seas and conserving marine ecosystems. The Sixth Community Environment Action Programme already mentioned the need to set up measures for protecting and conserving the marine environment, and stressed that the objective of sustainable use of European seas and oceans cannot be achieved through individual policies. It has become clear that swift action is urgently needed, as many of the dangers forecast in the Sixth Programme have become reality, with much greater severity than was ever predicted (2).

2.2

The starting point of the strategy proposed in the abovementioned Communication is the situation of the European marine environment, which is undergoing severe deterioration and is suffering from the effects of climate change, pollution by hazardous substances, commercial fishing, eutrophication, and the added danger of introduced exogenous species. If other, institutional obstacles are also taken into account, such as the exclusive jurisdiction that Member States have over their own territorial waters, the existence of international conventions that also apply to non-EU countries, and various global agreements (3), it becomes clear that this strategy must be implemented, despite all the hurdles identified.

2.3

Another communication (4) was issued on the same date as the present proposal, but was not referred to the EESC. It states that a Green Paper is to be drawn up on the marine environment strategy. The EESC believes that the Commission should take into account the observations and content of its opinions, and that the best way to achieve this would be to carry out a further consultation that would incorporate the EESC's expertise and opinions on policies affecting the marine environment (fisheries, transport, hydrocarbons, etc.). It is important for the EESC to make its stance known, as the representative of civil society.

3.   Summary of the proposals

3.1

The proposed Directive includes an instrument for the implementation of the strategy for conservation and protection of the marine environment. It also takes account of international conventions, particularly those signed by the Commission and Member States under UN auspices (5) and regional agreements (6), whose objectives the Directive should serve to meet.

3.2

The proposal is divided into five chapters, the first of which sets out the subject matter (Article 1), scope (Article 2), marine regions and sub-regions (Article 3), marine strategies (Article 4), rules for coordination and cooperation between Member States (Article 5) and competent authorities (Article 6).

3.3

In this first section, particular attention should be paid to Article 4, which covers the marine strategy which Member States should establish for each marine region and which should include, at least:

an initial assessment of the environmental status of the waters, and the environmental impact of human activities thereon;

a definition of the good environmental status of these waters;

the establishment of environmental targets;

the establishment and implementation of a monitoring programme for targets.

This should be accompanied by a programme of measures to be implemented by 2016, at the latest, in order to achieve the good environmental status of seas and oceans.

3.4

The marine strategies are developed in the second and third chapters: Chapter II sets down the rules for drawing up these strategies, and Chapter III covers the programmes of measures.

3.4.1

The measures for establishing the marine strategies are based on the requirement for Member States to carry out an initial assessment of their marine waters (Article 7). This is to include various aspects, such as an economic and social analysis of their use and of the cost of their degradation. The good environmental status (Article 8 and Annex II) and environmental targets (Article 9 and Annex III) are defined, and, lastly, the means of establishing the monitoring programmes (Article 10 and Annexes II and IV) and the approval method (Article 11) are set down.

3.4.2

The third chapter lays down the Programmes of measures to be implemented by the Member States for each of their marine regions (Article 12 and Annex V) in order to achieve good environmental status, in line with the initial assessment. The Commission must also be notified of these (Article 14) so it may subsequently approve them (Article 15). Ad hoc measures are included for special areas (Article 13).

3.5

Chapter IV covers the rules for updating the strategies for each marine region (Article 16), and the requirement to draw up interim reports every three years (Article 17). Article 18 is worth noting, as it sets down the rules for public information and consultation, in compliance with Directive 2003/35/EC. The Commission is also required to draw up evaluation reports on the implementation of the Directive (Article 19), whose content is to be reviewed 15 years after entry into force.

3.6

Finally, Chapter V contains the technical provisions, with particular reference to the Annexes (Article 21) and the committee that will assist the Commission with its task (Article 22).

4.   Comments on the proposal

4.1

The current proposal for a Directive should be considered in relation to the aforementioned Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Towards a strategy to protect and conserve the marine environment (for a deeper insight, see opinion CESE/578/2003 on this Communication). The key points of the Communication are as follows:

the individual policies of Member States are not having the desired effect of improving the marine environment; in fact the state of Community waters is gradually deteriorating;

Member States are not efficiently monitoring the status of marine waters;

scientific knowledge of the marine environment is insufficient and requires a greater commitment to research;

in connection with the need for a strategy to protect and restore the marine environment, there are well-defined criteria and targets, which are to be pursued via 23 possible actions.

4.2

The following points were raised in the EESC opinion:

a)

the Communication represents a step towards the establishment of measures to protect and restore the marine environment;

b)

however, a clear and efficient methodology for action is required, similar to that set down in the Water Framework Directive (WFD);

c)

this methodology, based on ecosystems, should include provisions on the ‘good status of waters’, zoning of the marine environment, definition of criteria and coordination mechanisms for authorities, etc.

4.3

In this context, the proposed Directive incorporates a number of points from the EESC opinion, which it interprets from its own angle, and establishes a methodology for action similar to that put forward by the WFD. However, there are clear differences regarding the role of the Commission and Member States and the organisation of various aspects of the methodology. The reasons for these differences, or their usefulness, are not clearly explained, and there are some sharp contradictions. For example:

a)

the Communication points out the inefficiency of individual policies and the Community framework, and yet this model of action is maintained in the proposal for a Directive;

b)

the Communication gives an exhaustive definition of criteria, targets and actions, yet they correspond only in part to those in the proposal for a Directive.

4.4

The EESC believes that the proposal for a Directive:

a)

is necessary but not sufficient to rehabilitate and protect the marine environment of interest to the EU, which extends beyond the marine waters under its jurisdiction;

b)

is a good starting point, with significant aspects that need fine-tuning;

c)

is not complete; new elements should be developed subsequently and included in the proposal, in order for it to become a framework Directive with the required scope and depth.

4.5

Application of the Directive falls almost entirely upon the Member States; the Commission provides guidance for initiatives, is updated by Member States and approves or rejects the definitions of the environmental status, the environmental targets and indicators, the monitoring programme, and the programme of measures for special areas, mutatis mutandis.

4.6

The Directive does not establish new legislative or management instruments, but makes use of existing Community instruments and the international agreements signed by the European Union.

4.7

It clarifies the way in which the public and stakeholders will participate via the Member States.

5.   Specific comments

5.1

Experience gained from the implementation of more ambitious European measures in Member States (WFD, IPPC) shows that the Commission must play an active role not only in monitoring but also in coordinating and centralising the initiatives undertaken in order to support Member States, while complying with the subsidiarity principle. To this end, the Commission should arrange and chair a forum of competent authorities for each marine sub-region and region, attended by interested parties from scientific institutions with proven experience in the field, and by the authorities responsible for fisheries and radio-nuclides policy.

5.2

As well as covering the information and approval requirements for the proposed initial assessment, good environmental status, environmental targets, the monitoring programme and the programme of measures (including ad hoc measures for special areas), the Directive should establish a procedure for action and a timeframe for processing any objections that might arise. This procedure should involve stakeholders and the general public, and include sufficient incentives.

5.3

The initial assessment is described in Annex II. In the table on pressures and impacts, it would be useful (in line with the criterion given in the Communication prior to the proposal for a Directive) to define the anthropogenic causes and their relation to the pressures and impacts, and to the criteria and targets for marine protection, in order to link these with the actions and policies of the strategy.

5.4

The definition of ‘good environmental status’ and ‘environmental status of the marine environment’ is based on ‘generic qualitative descriptors, detailed criteria and standards’. Quantitative descriptors should also be included, as they are necessary for certain variables relating both to the initial assessment and the good environmental status. Quantitative reference points are also needed for tracking certain variables in the monitoring programmes (e.g. phytoplankton density).

5.5

The environmental targets are defined in Article 9 and Annex III using overly general criteria. It would be useful to set minimum criteria and targets; at the very least, those contained in the 2002 Communication should be included:

deterioration of biodiversity and destruction of habitats;

hazardous substances;

eutrophication;

radio-nuclides;

chronic oil pollution;

residues and waste;

maritime transport;

health and environment;

climate change.

5.6

The programme of measures (Article 12, Annex IV) should, at least, include the measures that are mandatory under EU law, particularly in relation to coastal waters, where the action programme aims to prevent damage caused by the abovementioned sources of pollution. It should also include the mandatory measures set down in international agreements and conventions, and the ‘ad hoc’ measures designed to alleviate the deterioration of the marine environment in ‘special areas’. This has the advantage of bringing together all the measures and initiatives spread between different provisions and regulations, thus making them easier to comply with.

5.6.1

However, it is important to ensure that these programmes of measures do not remain restricted to this minimum: as has been shown, it has not been sufficient to prevent the deterioration of the environment, and it is unlikely to be sufficient to achieve the desired good environmental status in the marine environment. In this context, it would be useful to circulate good eco-technology practices (eco-friendly toilets, phosphate-free detergents, buffer zones and restrictions applicable to coastal areas, etc.) throughout coastal countries, on a regular basis.

5.7

The proposal allows Member States to select special areas in which the environmental targets cannot be achieved for the following reasons:

action or inaction by another State (EU or non-EU country);

natural causes or force majeure;

physical modifications or alterations brought about by ‘actions taken for overriding reasons of public interest’.

5.7.1

This wording is so ambiguous that it could lead to misapplication. Therefore:

1.

these causes should be clearly and carefully defined, by:

listing the actions or lack of action by other States that could affect the achievement of the environmental targets;

specifying the phenomena considered as natural causes and the criteria determining force majeure;

specifying the criteria for defining the concept of ‘general interest’;

2.

procedures should be set up for the Commission to approve these exceptions, with the involvement of stakeholders and the general public.

5.8

In terms of coordination and cooperation, it is important to consider the non-EU countries bordering EU waters, not just those countries that are parties to international agreements, so as to encourage them to cooperate and achieve good environmental results.

5.9

Lastly, the proposal channels stakeholder and public participation through the existing State systems. These are subject to doubt in many countries, sometimes because of a lack of transparency, sometimes due to delays in responding to queries, and sometimes because of the ambiguity surrounding ‘stakeholder’ organisations. The Commission should therefore establish a practical, effective procedure for collecting and managing complaints from stakeholders and the public, and guaranteeing the public's right to information, consultation and participation. The mutatis mutandis criterion should therefore be removed from the approval system, as stated above.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  COM(2002) 539 final – Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Towards a strategy to protect and conserve the marine environment.

(2)  For a deeper insight, see Opinion OJ C 133, 6.6.2003 on the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Towards a strategy to protect and conserve the marine environment. Rapporteur: Ms Sánchez Miguel.

(3)  Chapters I-IV of the conclusions of the Johannesburg Summit, held on 26 August - 4 September 2002, include agreements on oceans and seas, fisheries, marine pollution and research. See opinion OJ C 133, 6.6.2003.

(4)  COM(2005) 505 final of 14.10.05.

(5)  United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) adopted by Council Decision 98/392/EC, 23 March 1998.

(6)  Convention on the protection of the marine environment in the Baltic Sea, Decision 94/157/EC; Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic, Decision 98/249/EC; Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean Sea against pollution, Decision 77/585/EEC, amended in 1995.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/24


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The management of industrial change in cross-border regions following EU enlargement

(2006/C 185/05)

On 20 July 2005 the future Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on The management of industrial change in cross-border regions following EU enlargement

The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 22 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Krzaklewski.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 21 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 69 votes to two with five abstentions.

Part 1 — Summary of the EESC's conclusions and recommendations

The Austrian Government issued a formal request for the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) to prepare an exploratory opinion on Industrial change and EU enlargement: Examining the effects in border regions.

The Committee considers that, in the course of the next Presidency, it is important to establish a precise and distinct definition of what is meant by the term ‘REGION’ in a cross-border and industrial context. One should distinguish regions bordering non-EU Member States and take into account whether or not a given neighbouring state is a candidate country.

It is important to establish how one can distinguish between the effects of the changes that occurred in these regions in the 1990s and those arising from EU accession, to assess the effectiveness of Community instruments used in these areas before and after accession and to establish the time lag with which EU policies were implemented in these regions as compared with elsewhere.

The Committee notes that a very important and possibly decisive factor which has affected the conduct and development of industrial policy in cross-border regions in the enlarged Europe, both now and in the past, is the ability of stakeholders in these regions to access EU Structural Fund resources. Increasing their role in these regions is absolutely vital. The Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European grouping of cross-border cooperation (EGCC) is a new opportunity in this area. The Committee places particular emphasis on the need to include economic and social interest groups as well as other civil society organisations, particularly training establishments. concerned in the composition of the EGCC. The establishment of such legal entities could create an incentive for cross-border cooperation and give such regions a greater sense of identity and the desire to harmonise their regulations.

The Committee believes that the development of labour markets in the regions concerned is a factor for industrial change which should not be underestimated. At present, there remain temporary obstacles to the cross-border mobility of workers within the EU. The Committee calls on the Member States to look seriously at whether the transition periods could be ended earlier. This requires appropriate involvement and consultation of the social partners at all relevant levels. As far as other industrial policy instruments are concerned, the Committee stresses the importance of the possible introduction of a Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).

In its opinion, the Committee repeatedly stresses the particularly important role that social dialogue and civil society commitment can play in managing industrial policy in the regions in question; both in implementing dynamic industrial policies and in seeking to overcome problems affecting the mutual relations between different nationalities, cultural and ethnic groups.

Part 2 — Arguments to support the opinion

1.   Introduction

1.1

Shortly before taking over the EU Presidency, the Austrian Government issued a formal request for the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) to prepare an exploratory opinion on Industrial change and EU enlargement: Examining the effects in border regions. By definition, an exploratory opinion is issued prior to the adoption of a proposal or political decision by an EU decision-making body.

1.2

The transition to a market economy and the transposition of EU internal market and competition rules has created a new dynamic in many regions of Central and Eastern Europe. The accession of the new Member States from Central and Eastern Europe has brought border regions closer together, reviving, in many cases, former trade and business ties. However, this new dynamic has also brought problems, especially for labour market policy, and has revealed the infrastructure shortcomings of cooperating border regions.

1.3

In order to take a closer look at the industrial changes underway in the cross-border regions of the enlarged EU and to collect the data required to prepare an opinion, workshops were held by the CCMI and the European Monitoring Centre on Change (EMCC) in Bratislava on 17 and 18 October 2005. Held in the CENTROPE cross-border region, the event was attended by members of the CCMI, representatives of the social partners from Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, and experts.

2.   General comments review of the situation in cross-border regions of the enlarged EU

2.1

Presently around 33 % of the EU's population lives in border regions, which currently account for approximately 40 % of Europe's total surface area (1).

2.2

The EU's borders have been changing continuously since the signing of the ECSC Treaty. This process looks set to continue over the medium term. Given the changes this involves, the EU needs to systematically update its border region policy.

2.2.1

Border regions of candidate countries that border on the EU are already forging relations with more peripheral neighbouring EU regions even before their accession, as part of the harmonisation of their laws and socio-economic systems.

2.2.2

The ‘iron curtain’ was a rather special type of border. A large part of this frontier now lies within the borders of the EU-25. When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, nine years after the Solidarity revolution of 1980, the regions close to the border that had once divided the countries of the former Soviet Bloc from the rest of Europe, particularly the areas of ‘no-man's land’, had practically no infrastructure in place. Despite the substantial progress made in dealing with the aftermath of the political decisions that led to this situation, it is still a problem that is far from being resolved.

2.2.3

Another special border for the EU is the Mediterranean Sea. Though a policy of cooperation between the EU and the Mediterranean countries has existed for many years, international developments have meant that it has not recently been one of the EU's priorities.

2.3

A series of cross-border initiatives (e.g. Euroregions) were set up in the border regions of the new Member States prior to their accession as a new form of cross-border cooperation, based on agreements reached between neighbouring border areas. There was no requirement to regulate the functioning of the Euroregions with inter-governmental agreements. Such initiatives were based on the free choice of local government institutions and stakeholders. Cooperation through Euroregions was aimed at resolving problems jointly, regardless of political borders, and establishing economic cooperation in the field of communications and environmental action.

2.4

In practice, EU interregional cooperation has, since the 1990s, primarily taken place within the framework of the successive INTERREG programmes. The EESC has also been involved in certain aspects of this cooperation, and has prepared opinions on inter-regional cooperation, based on the experiences, inter alia, of the Mediterranean region and the Baltic Sea area (2), (3), (4).

2.4.1

The EESC has established that inter-regional cooperation promoted by the Community may be defined according to the:

a)

type of area: region, large towns, local sub-regional districts;

b)

spatial category: adjacent/non-adjacent regions (cross-border or trans-national cooperation);

c)

geographical area: cooperation within the EU or between EU regions and neighbouring regions of non EU Member States;

d)

level of cooperation, such as:

the collection of joint experiences, creation of networks for the transfer of know-how,

spatial planning,

joint projects for obtaining investment in infrastructure and other areas.

2.4.2

In its opinions on INTERREG, the Committee has stated that in the 1990s the links between the various categories of cooperation were somewhat selective. For example, cooperation functioned only on certain levels and was restricted to certain spatial categories and geographical areas.

2.4.3

One significant EU achievement in the cross-border regions of France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg, which all went underwent intensive restructuring, was the use of methods combating the depopulation of such areas and preventing their transformation into veritable ‘post-industrial’ deserts. Resources and action under the ECSC Treaty had a marked influence on the course of these restructuring processes.

2.5

At present, there are around 180 cross-border initiatives in place across Europe. Most of these initiatives are instruments for mitigating the negative effects of borders. Thirty-two Euroregions are located on the territory of the new Member States; it is thus clear that the new EU Member States have been very active in their support for the principle of cross-border cooperation.

2.6

Most of the 32 cross-border regions encompassing ‘new’ and ‘old’ EU Member States have yet to witness any joint initiatives directly concerned with industrial policy, despite the fact that many joint undertakings indirectly relate to this policy area.

2.7

New initiatives in the field of industrial policy have — as a rule — occurred in those cross-border regions that are located near to metropolitan areas (e.g. within the Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava triangle) or which represent an area containing centres of industry or a group of large towns that do not have metropolitan characteristics (Katowice, Ostrava region along the borders of the Czech Republic and Poland).

2.7.1

An interesting new example of industrial change is the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region on the Italian-Slovenian border, which saw a resurgence in manufacturing activity both prior to and after EU enlargement, particularly in the furniture sector.

3.   Specific comments

3.1   Key features of cross-border regions in the enlarged EU

3.1.1

The features of cross-border regions with a developing industrial policy outlined in this opinion have primarily been identified on the basis of observations made in the CENTROPE (5) region.

3.1.1.1

This region includes areas from three new Member States and one of the fifteen old ones (the Austrian provinces of Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland, the Southern Moravian district in the Czech Republic, the Bratislava and Trnava districts in Slovakia, and the counties of Győr-Moson-Sopron and Vas in Hungary. The region as a whole combines zones suffering from typical problems of peripheral areas and neighbouring economically dynamic urbanised central areas.

3.1.1.2

The area underwent intense restructuring in the 1990s, with investment in parts of the region following as a direct result. This also led to labour market shifts, with a significant number of older workers in particular exiting the market, subsequently resulting in demand for labour — in parallel with the investments made — although not always at the same location.

3.1.1.3

The enlargement of the EU has brought together diverse labour markets in the region where the borders of Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary meet; integrating those markets represents a challenge. Company relocation and emigration of the labour force to urban areas, as well as deficient (transport) infrastructure, continue to hamper the structure of the labour market, together with a marked gap between salaries in Austria and the new Member States and a forecast shortage of skilled labour.

3.1.1.4

We are seeing the first signs of the emergence of cross-border manufacturing networks. The development of transport infrastructure, requiring substantial investment, has played a part in this process. This in turn has led to existing gaps being filled and to the re-establishment of old ties.

3.1.2

Foreign and domestic investment provides a key stimulus for industrial change in such regions, also in small and medium-sized enterprises. In those countries where Special Economic Zones or Industrial Zones were created prior to accession most investment has been ‘drawn’ to zones that have rarely, coincided with a cross-border region (see EESC opinion CCMI/025). This helps explain the small number of cross-border cooperation regions in which a new industrial policy has been developed.

3.1.2.1

The main drivers of growth have been investment in brown and green-field developments and company relocation. This investment was motivated, among other things, by identifying new markets, differences in corporate taxation, significant differences in salaries and state aids. These factors have supported the restructuring process and contributed to economic growth.

3.1.2.2

They have helped attract employees with high and medium-level qualifications and brought about a reduction in labour as well as non-employee-related costs. There has been a significant increase in the demand for machine operators, fitters, machining experts, welders, mechanical engineers, IT specialists — and this is becoming ever more noticeable throughout the manufacturing sectors of the EU.

3.1.2.3

As a result, this action has improved management skills, and established a human resources policy and functioning industrial relations. It has also made it possible to obtain funds for investment and has helped forge links with supplier and customer markets.

3.1.2.4

This investment has involved not only large EU firms but also small and medium-sized enterprises and firms from outside the EU. These firms have clustered investment, created multiplier effects, established links with local businesses and formed ties with domestic businesses and foreign branches.

3.1.3

An analysis of the structural industrial changes underway in the cross-border regions under review shows that, in general, the approach used in these areas is the ‘step by step’ method.

3.1.3.1

In step one, the manufacturing activity undertaken has been labour-intensive, relying on low-skilled workers; step two has seen the use of better qualified workers and more sophisticated services. In cases where step one has been successful, attempts have been made to outsource certain activities outside firms — but still within the region — in the search for lower labour costs.

3.1.3.2

Two-way structural mergers have had a significant impact on the structural issues accompanying these industrial changes. Divided into upward mergers (foreign companies within a region and beyond) and downward mergers (within a local area), the aim has been to gain competitive advantages within a network or region.

3.1.3.3

Higher-risk approaches were also applied (based on the ‘snowball’ principle), which have led to the forging of stronger ties. The ‘enclaves’ of an expanding company created as a result of this process were marked by the ease with which they were transplanted to other new companies.

3.1.3.4

An increasingly common development in cross-border regions, also in the new Member States, is the establishment of new company branches by dynamic investors moving into step two of development in a given region. Industrial policy is also being stimulated in these regions by company networks, often international in nature, engaged, for example, in interactive human resource management across borders.

3.2   Factors for growth and integration accompanying industrial change in cross-border regions

3.2.1

One such challenge for industrial policy is the use of direct incentives and the introduction of asymmetry between companies. Companies integrating small and medium-sized enterprises into their network encounter greater problems in applying such a symmetry.

3.2.1.1

As R. Pedersini states in his presentation (see footnote 5) the shortening of company operations to the medium term may occur in the near future, which will undoubtedly bring social repercussions and should be implemented using appropriate guarantee mechanisms established through social and economic dialogue.

3.2.2

One very important challenge for the development of the whole EU and the future of industrial policy across its whole range, but especially in cross-border regions, is the issue of disparities in the taxation of companies, particularly corporation tax (6).

3.2.2.1

It is very important to decide whether corporate tax should be harmonised and to establish how the tax base is to be determined — i.e. according to the location of the registered office (Home State Taxation — HST) or according to the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB).

3.2.2.2

The HST system eliminates the application in EU cross-border regions of different laws to establish the tax base. However, this system involves more risks (7).

3.2.2.3

Use of the CCCTB option will mean that all businesses operating across borders will apply uniform principles for assessing their tax base (8), irrespective of which country their registered office is based in. Furthermore, the CCCTB method will not require any changes to existing national regulations, merely consent for the establishment of new, additional pan-EU regulations for firms doing business in several countries.

3.2.2.4

One drawback of the CCCTB option is the risk that two businesses from a given country with similar prospects and a similar presence on the domestic market will use different methods to assess their tax base.

3.2.3

One of the most important factors affecting the development of industrial policy in these regions is the current state and rate of development of the transport infrastructure in the region and at its entry corridors. For this reason, in addition to heavy investment in the construction and modernisation of the region's transport network, joint transport projects need to be created and managed in a modern way drawing on innovations and scientific research.

4.   Conclusions and recommendations

4.1

The concept of a cross-border region with a new, operational industrial policy is highly complex in nature, both in general terms and with regard to specific cases and locations. For this reason, the Committee considers that, in the course of the next Presidency, it is important to establish a precise and distinct definition of what is meant by the term ‘REGION’ in a cross-border and industrial context. This definition should distinguish regions bordering non-EU Member States and take into account whether or not a given neighbouring state is a candidate country.

4.1.1

With regard to regions within new Member States and those which border on countries of the ‘old’ EU, it is important to establish how one can distinguish between the effects of the changes that occurred in these regions in the 1990s and those arising from EU accession, and to assess the effectiveness of Community instruments used in these areas before and after accession.

4.1.2

The work of the new Presidency, in cooperation with the EESC, should also provide answers to the following questions:

Are the Community instruments used in cross-border regions — both directly and indirectly — falling short of the needs of these regions and, as a result, those of the whole EU?

How can one take maximum advantage of the harmony noted between employers and trade unions that seems to be typical of many business ventures in cross-border regions?

What can be done to offset the imminent threat of double relocations taking place: from cross-border regions to the countries of Eastern Europe and, ultimately, to Asia?

Given the action taken in many cross-border regions to counteract the effects of delayed development (with a historic basis or caused by the failure of EU policies to keep up with these regions' needs), would it not be wise to introduce certain EU instruments in these regions in advance, and to treat them as a way of verifying such policies and as pilot projects.

4.2

Given the approach that is typical of the cross-border regions of the enlarged EU, and which is characterised by:

efforts to minimise labour costs,

dynamic company relocation,

efforts to shorten companies' planned periods of operations to the medium term,

dynamic changes in the employment structure as a result of the use of the ‘step-by-step’ method,

the EESC considers that it is highly important to ensure social cohesion and to prevent the undercutting of employment law and social standards. It is therefore vital that these processes take place using instruments of modern industrial relations, established in the EU, particularly in the area of social dialogue or stakeholders' dialogue.

4.2.1

Given the difficulties on the labour market typical of cross-border regions caused by past neglect, restructuring and the dynamic changes produced by the implementation of a special industrial policy in such regions, the EESC proposes applying for specific periods employment promotion mechanisms, often used by the EU in the past, which involve subsidising companies creating permanent jobs.

4.2.2

This approach should be backed up by formal safeguards to prevent any misuse of public money and ensure that the jobs created in this manner are genuinely new and permanent. The details of such safeguards were outlined in the revised EU directives on public procurement.

4.2.3

In particular, businesses which have previously received support and then relocated jobs, or which have dismissed workers at their original location following relocation without complying with national and international legislation, should not be eligible for state aid or for support from the Structural Funds.

4.3

The Committee notes that a very important and possibly decisive factor which has affected the conduct and development of industrial policy in cross-border regions in the enlarged Europe, both now and in the past, is the ability of stakeholders in these regions to access EU Structural Fund resources. Increasing the role of Structural Funds in these regions is absolutely vital for both mitigating the effects of intensive transition processes and helping regions adapt to the dynamic nature of the policies used.

4.3.1

On this basis, the Committee, referring to its opinion (9) on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European grouping of cross-border cooperation (EGCC) places particular emphasis on the need to expand on those provisions of the regulation relating to the aim and composition of the EGCC by adding the words ‘and economic and social stakeholders, as well as other interested civil society organisations …’.

4.3.1.1

Legal entities created both under the EGCC and other Structural Funds should be responsible for coordinating the various sources of financing, and for the preparation and realisation of fund projects supporting industrial policy in the given region. This financing would be accessible to the representatives of the various parties involved in the regions. The establishment of such legal entities could create an incentive for cross-border cooperation and give such regions a greater sense of identity and increase their desire to harmonise their regulations.

4.3.2

When creating and implementing projects supported by the Structural Funds, the opportunity should be taken to combine sources of public funding with funds from private investors without classifying the public share as prohibited aid. The criterion would be the benefit not to the company but to the region — through the creation of jobs, infrastructure development, and the productivity of the economy.

4.4

The Committee believes that the development of labour markets in the regions concerned is a factor for industrial change which should not be underestimated. At present, there remain temporary obstacles to the cross-border mobility of workers within the EU. The Committee calls on the Member States to look seriously at whether the transition periods could be ended earlier. This requires appropriate involvement and consultation of the social partners at all relevant levels.

4.4.1

In encouraging better conditions for worker mobility in cross-border regions, one must not forget about the possible national and ethnic tensions that could arise. The specific situation and experience of regions where various cultures and nationalities have long interacted with one another mean that these difficult issues should be overcome and alleviated more effectively than in other areas. Social dialogue and civil society commitment can also play a particularly important role in overcoming problems of the mutual relations between various nationalities, ethnic and cultural groups (10).

4.5

Action relating to dynamic structural changes in cross-border regions should be the subject of expert assessment and academic study, undertaken under the auspices of successive EU presidencies, since spontaneous initiatives may turn out to be ineffective or even destabilising.

Brussels, 21 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  A. Zölner: Speech at the 216th meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Polish Parliament; Warsaw, 26 October 2004.

(2)  OJ C 133, 31.5.1995.

(3)  OJ C 39, 12.2.1996.

(4)  OJ C 39, 12.2.1996.

(5)  Joint CCMI/EMCC workshop, Bratislava, 17-18.10.2005; presentations by Roberto Pedersini and Klára Fóti (and others).

(6)  COM(2005) 532.

(7)  Rafał Lipniewicz: Jeden system dla wszystkich przedsiębiorców (One system for all businesses), Rzeczpospolita newspaper, 27.7.2004, No 174.

(8)  As above.

(9)  OJ C 234, 22.9.2005.

(10)  The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions – Report on Regional Social Capital in Europe – 2005.


APPENDIX

to the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following amendments, which received at least a quarter of the votes cast, were defeated in the course of the debates:

Point 3.2.2.1

It is very important to decide whether corporate tax should be harmonised and to establish how the tax base is to be determined i.e. according to the location of the registered office (Home State Taxation — HST) or according to the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCTB).

Point 3.2.2.2

Delete.

Point 3.2.2.3

Delete.

Point 3.2.2.4

Delete.

Reason

The discussion of fiscal policy solutions has no place in this text. It is also not the purpose of the opinion.

Voting

For: 20

Against: 50

Abstentions: 3.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/31


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community statistics on migration and international protection

COM(2005) 375 final — 2005/0156 (COD)

(2006/C 185/06)

On 15 November 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 preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 22 February 2006. The rapporteur was Ms Sciberras.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April 2006), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 131 votes in favour with 3 abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

In 1999, the Treaty of Amsterdam came into force. One of the objectives of this Treaty is the maintenance and development of ‘… the Union as an area of freedom, security and justice, in which the movement of persons is assured in conjunction with the appropriate measures, with respect to external border controls, asylum, immigration and the prevention and combating of crime’ (1).

1.2

This signified a revolutionary milestone, in that migration policy was transferred from the third pillar of the European Union, based on intergovernmental cooperation to the first pillar, where policies are initiated by the European Commission. First May 2004 also marked the beginning of a new phase in the field of migration policy in the 25 Member States, as this gradual change from national policy to a collective policy was further extended.

1.3

On 17 December 2005 the British Presidency was successful in concluding an agreement on the financial perspective for 2007-2013, the framework for the Union's finances over the next period (2).

1.4

Under the heading, ‘Citizenship, Freedom, Security and Justice’, the security of the EU citizens in the 25 Member States is being seen to with an expected expenditure on various initiatives in such fields as border protection. The expenditure under this heading is expected to increase significantly in the next eight years. However, there are also initiatives in the field of social policies reflected in social projects such as the European Refugee Fund and the integration fund, aimed at improving the service provision to immigrant populations of Member States.

1.5

The Thessaloniki European Council of 2003 also urged the exploration of ‘legal means for third country nationals to migrate to the Union, taking into account the reception capacities of the Member States’ (3).

1.6

Deliberations in this regard, particularly the assessment of the reception capacity of individual Member States, must take into consideration not just the population, land area and economic size of the individual State but also the existing migrant population and current migration flows. These in turn cannot be correctly assessed without the harmonisation of statistical meta-data (data collection rules) across the Member States, to assure the internal consistency of EU-wide statistics.

1.7

The lack of harmonisation of statistics is partly the result of differences in definitions of migration, that may in turn be related to differences in legislation relating to migration. There are also inefficiencies and deficiencies in data collection which hinder the establishment and development of gradual harmonisation.

1.8

In addition, illegal immigration and undeclared work are common and on the increase, prompted in part by the restrictions on legal channels for legal migration. Such unrecorded migration is an area where statistical measurement is more likely to be inaccurate. Particularly in this case the extent and method of statistical calculation are likely to vary between different national statistical authorities, making meta-data harmonisation between the Member States all the more essential. In the United States, for example, the issue of the underreporting of illegal immigrants came up in the form of a discussion concerning whether census figures should be adjusted by use of data on unrecorded residents collected through sampling techniques. There are also other methods apart from sampling techniques that can be applied for statistical collection. In France, for example, the local authorities are involved in the area of data collection.

1.9

The draft of the Constitutional Treaty recognises ‘the right of Member States to determine volumes of admission of third-country nationals coming from third countries to their territory in order to seek work, whether employed or self-employed’ (4). The EESC has expressed the opinion that this constitutional constraint does not prevent the Union from reaching a high level of legislative harmonisation for the admission of migrants. The EESC has emphasised the need for an active EU policy on economic migration, and for harmonised legislation (5).

1.10

The further development of the legal framework for immigration is justified in part by demographic realities and the pursuit of the Lisbon strategy. The EESC has noted that ‘demographic trends in the EU and the Lisbon Strategy mean that Europe will need to adopt active policies for admitting economic migrants. Although each country has its own needs and specifics, the opening of channels for economic migration is a characteristic common to all Member States’ (6). The European Union and the Member States require legislation that allows labour migration through legal and transparent channels. The Committee acknowledges that although the emphasis here is on the economic aspect of migration, this is on its own a reductive approach and acknowledges that Member States also need to adopt active policies for the entry of non-economic migrants.

1.11

Large migratory flows also bring about adjustment difficulties in the receiving countries, as a result of the resulting pressure on public services and also possible consequences on labour market conditions. These consequences vary with the absorptive capacity of the receiving country. An informed public opinion on the implications of migration flows requires accurate statistical information that is consistent across the Member States. The presence of statistical accuracy can also contribute to challenging xenophobic tendencies which may exist as part of public opinion, such as attitudes like ‘immigrants are taking the jobs of locals’ and ‘they are invading us’.

1.12

Reliable statistical information can help promote a common legal framework, which would contribute to the protection of the rights of migrants. The Committee encourages the Commission to place an emphasis on the importance of the accurate collation and interpretation of statistical information so as to avoid mis-interpretation of data.

1.13

Since migrant workers constitute such an important part of the labour force, pursuit of the objective of labour market mobility across the EU has to take into consideration the implications of restrictions on intra-Member State movement and relocation of migrant workers who originate outside the EU. Moreover such intra-EU flows would alleviate the adjustment difficulties faced by migrant-receiving communities that have a lower absorptive capacity.

1.14

The Committee is proceeding from the position that in order to guarantee human rights respect and protection of human dignity of every individual, each process of personal data collection/processing for statistical reasons or/and any other official use of personal data, collected in this way, should be highly protected against any misuse of procedure or other violations.

2.   Importance of statistical data within a legal framework

2.1

Statistical information reflecting the political, social and economic position as well as the national attitude of EU countries in relation to the migration issue can influence and contribute to the formulation, analysis and review of migration policy in these countries.

2.2

Accurate statistical data is very important in mapping out the migrant populations of EU States, including size and other demographic characteristics, among others. The Committee urges the Commission to emphasise the need for accurate statistical data in this area, so that Member States recognise the importance of this subject and place more resources here.

3.   Data on migration

3.1

The features of the migration scenario have to be kept in mind. First the east-west direction of migration in search of better living conditions prevails. Secondly, there are more immigrants to the new EU states from outside the European Union, obviously attracted by the potential advantages resulting from EU membership of these countries, with the added bonus of using these countries as a stepping stone to the West. Statistical information about the patterns of the migration is essential for Member States to analyze past and current migration flows, as well as forecast future ones; and analyze the impact upon and potential for demographic, social and economic aspects, which in turn will influence policies in these areas.

4.   Benefits of statistical data

4.1

Most EU Member States have developed thorough statistics on the country of origin of the asylum seekers. However, there is still a great need for a more in-depth statistics based on consistent criteria between the members for future transnational comparisons.

4.2

The proposed regulation for a common framework for the collection and compilation of statistics is especially necessary in countries where not even a central data-base on migration and asylum is kept, with the various authorities keeping their own data-bases.

4.3

One of the fundamentally important roles that statistics play is the influence in the development and review of policies. For example, where statistics revealed that among the irregular immigrant population there were children, unaccompanied minors, pregnant women and disabled persons, this led to the development of national policies on the release of ‘vulnerable groups’ from detention and on ‘unaccompanied minors’. Hence, the further breakdown of statistics to gather more demographic and socio-economic information, including the language spoken, apart from just incoming numbers has an impact on policies. Also, the latter can have implications for the integration of migrants in the labour market.

4.4

More precise and comprehensive statistic keeping permits better projections to be made, and accordingly provides a platform on which to base future planning for resources, for example. Statistics also provide a solid tool to support the allocation of resources. For example, if yearly statistics show that a steady number of unaccompanied minor irregular immigrants are entering a country, then resources need to be planned/expanded to provide special accommodation facilities and support services for this group.

4.5

Good statistics keeping will contribute to ensuring that the services provided are meeting the needs of the service user; and that resource allocation between Member States can be carried out justly and proportionately.

4.6

Also, a comparative survey of all immigration laws practised in the EU-25 would definitely help the European Commission to better coordinate immigration policy at EU level. Although immigration falls under the pillar of Justice and Home Affairs, there is an ever-increasing pressure from European citizens, especially from countries hit by this human phenomenon, for this issue to be tackled at EU level. The aim of such a survey would be to work towards statistical harmonisation in order to aid EU policies on immigration become more coherent.

4.7

Reliable statistical information and surveys on the characteristics of illegal immigrants would help the EU Member States to analyse the underlying causes of irregular immigration. Such data could include the socio-economic background of these immigrants, their skills base, their aspirations and their reasons for emigrating. These surveys could lead to an improved standard of information being kept about immigrants and the organisation of resources such as educational programmes and training ones for them. The collection of statistics — e.g. on the number of immigrants informed about applying for international protection, the number of applications submitted, approved and rejected for the different types of status (Article 4) — is also crucial for drawing up a policy for the protection of immigrants. The collection and processing of data should be placed under the control of public authorities in the Member States, equipped with new resources in terms of manpower, skills and tools. These authorities would then be given the task of guaranteeing the confidentiality of the personal data collected and producing annual reports for their respective parliaments. The collation of such information and statistical data requires a joint effort among Member States in the recruitment of professional interpreters who could communicate with the immigrants in order to elicit all the data necessary for a successful survey. Such data collection would also assist Member States in implementing appropriate policies. The above-mentioned programmes contribute to the integration of immigrants into the societies of Member States, and funds are available for the collection of data on the social background of immigrants, among other criteria. Such statistical tools would also assist entities as the European observatory in the protection of human rights.

4.8

Statistics are also needed on detention centres and open centres hosting illegal immigrants so that the European Commission could propose some form of a common policy on this issue.

4.9

Member States should also cooperate on the collation of data regarding the jobs (legal and illegal) and housing of immigrants. This data will provide the EU-25 with trends that could lead to policies aimed at improving the life and conditions of these immigrant workers. Thus Member States would be required to ensure that the confidentiality of the personal data collected is respected in practice and set up appropriate bodies with the remit of drawing up annual reports for their respective parliaments.

4.10

Statistics could also be used in awareness campaigns and integration campaigns. Statistical data, especially on the social and educational background of immigrants, could further assist EU citizens to help integrate these immigrants. Hence, the Committee encourages the Commission regarding the adoption of the importance of social and educational data.

4.11

Statistics on expenses incurred by the recipient country in the control, detention, return and integration of immigrants are also of utmost importance so that the EU-25 would help in drafting some form of a common fund and policy on immigration based on solidarity. Statistics can also contribute to a better assessment of the need for funding.

4.12

The Committee encourages the Commission to introduce new criterion of arrivals, to include those by air, land or sea, in order for more comprehensive statistics on prevention of illegal entry and stay (Article 5) and improvement on data sources and standards (Article 9).

5.   The necessity of ensuring international protection for immigrants

5.1

In recent years Europe has witnessed an influx of irregular immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa and other African countries. Irregular immigrants and asylum seekers are often persons who have escaped from their country of origin to flee from persecutions based on religion, race and politics, among others, as well as from civil war, famine, poverty, natural disasters and economic reasons. Many have witnessed family members being killed, tortured, suffering other atrocities, and/or have been separated from them. Their experiences throughout their journeys often render them to being traumatised, vulnerable and in need of protection. Quality statistical information on the reasons for emigration can identify the causes of immigration and assist in further developing and evaluating policies on asylum and human trafficking.

5.2

Countries receiving irregular immigrants and all persons who will be working with them must comply with international human rights' obligations and domestic immigration and refugee legislation, in order to be able to offer them protection. The security forces (army and police) of the recipient countries are initially obliged to offer rescue and life-saving operations and EU minimum standards of reception. In the latter, medical treatment is offered where necessary, as well as establishing as far as possible the country of origin of the irregular immigrant and other demographic data. The immigrant also has a fundamental right to information about how to apply for asylum. The collection of statistics such as the number of immigrants informed about applications for international protection, about the number of applications submitted, the numbers of acceptance and rejections of the different types of status (Article 4), is also imperative in the formulation of policies regarding the protection of immigrants.

5.3

Receiving countries must observe the international human rights' obligations undertaken by them when they became signatories to international and or regional Conventions/ Declarations/Treaties. The European Union requires as part of the core requisites of the Acquis, that Member States are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, 1967 Protocol and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The fundamental document underpinning these Conventions was the Universal declaration of Human Rights, 1948 (UNHR), which includes the right to claim asylum. The Refugee Convention is a vital part of the framework of international human rights. Other conventions have subsequently followed, including the Convention against Torture 1984, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (7). Member States must also observe EU directives, notably 2003/9/CE on minimum standards on reception (8), 2004/83/CE on minimum standards for the qualification and status (9) and 2005/85/EC on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status (10).

5.4

Therefore, it is essential that receiving countries abide by these conventions to firstly ensure that asylum seekers are offered basic protection, and should not be ‘refouled’ before their application for asylum has been assessed and humanitarian, refugee status or otherwise has been established.

5.5

Comparative surveys of Member States' application of definitions related to immigration as set out in Article 2 and application of Article 4 as above-mentioned (both Articles from the above-mentioned source), greatly contribute to ensuring the international protection of immigrants.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Article 1-B.

(2)  EESC opinion of 19.1.2006 on Fundamental Rights and Justice, rapporteur: Ms King (OJ C 69 of 21.3.2006).

EESC opinion of 14.2.2006 on Management of migration flows, rapporteur: Ms Le Nouail-Marlière (OJ C 88 of 11.4.2006).

EESC opinion of 14.12.2005 on Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the specific Programme Prevention, Preparedness and Consequence Management of Terrorism, for the Period 2007-2013, rapporteur: Mr Cabra de Luna (OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006).

(3)  Point 30 of Presidency Conclusions.

(4)  Article III-267-5.

(5)  EESC Opinion of 9.6.2005 on Green paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration, rapporteur: Mr Pariza Castaños (OJ C 286 of 17.11.2005).

(6)  See footnote 5, point 1.5.

(7)  Mackey, Allan (Senior Immigration Judge, U.K). Paper entitled ‘Policies serving migratory purposes and the need to assure protection to asylum seekers and refugees’, presented at the TAIEX Seminar, Malta, 15-16 December 2005.

(8)  EESC opinion of 7.11.2001 on Proposal for a Council Directive laying down minimum standards on the reception of applicants for asylum in Member States. Rapporteurs: Mr Mengozzi and Mr Pariza (OJ C 48 of 21.2.2002).

(9)  EESC opinion of 13.5.2002 on Proposal for a Council Directive on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third-country nationals and stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection. Rapporteur: Ms Le Nouail Marlière (OJ C 221 of 17.9.2002).

(10)  EESC opinion of 6.4.2001 on Proposal for a Council Directive on minimum standards on procedures in Member States for granting and withdrawing refugee status. Rapporteur: Mr Melícias (OJ C 193 of 10.7.2001).


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/35


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations

COM(2005) 649 final — 2005/0259 (CNS)

(2006/C 185/07)

On 13 February 2006, 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 preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Retureau.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 133 votes to three, with three abstentions.

1.   Summary of the Committee opinion

1.1

The subject matter covered by this proposal for a regulation falls within the ambit of Article 65 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, while the legal basis is Article 61(c) of the same treaty. Given the specific features of maintenance claims — and the cross-border recovery of such claims — the proposal duly reflects the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity, both in relation to the courts and national law, and in respect of the litigants concerned.

1.2

This issue relates both to family law and to the recovery of claims; from a social angle, it involves poverty risks that also need to be addressed.

1.3

The draft also meets the requirements of clarity and legal certainty for the litigants, for any third parties involved and for the relevant administrative bodies. In addition, it protects personal data from being used for any purpose other than to settle the dispute and secure the debtor's compliance with the maintenance obligations.

1.4

The Committee endorses the Commission's legislative initiative — subject to some specific observations — and welcomes the efforts made to secure sound legislation, including the upstream consultation and preliminary impact assessment carried out ahead of the excellent legal drafting. The Committee is also pleased that a regulation has been selected as the appropriate instrument and endorses the legal basis that has been chosen, which is better suited to securing harmonisation in cases that have a European element, despite the differences — that are set to continue — between the various national legal provisions.

1.5

While few Member States have ratified the Hague Convention on the law applicable to maintenance obligations, most (17 out of 25) have done so for the Convention on the enforcement of decisions in this field. However, given the reservations expressed and the possibility of opposing a priori, on the basis of domestic public policy provisions, a judgement delivered in another Member State, it may prove impossible to secure application of such a decision even though it originates in another contracting state. This creates barriers to the free circulation of court judgements within the Community and these should be removed.

1.6

The Committee would therefore ask the Council to approve the proposed regulation, which will provide legal certainty and give maintenance creditors practical enforcement measures in cross-border cases, with concomitant benefits for men and women across Europe.

1.7

Furthermore, the Committee would ask the UK and Irish governments to consider opting into this regulation. It would also ask the Danish government to facilitate enforcement of maintenance decisions in line with the Hague Convention on the enforcement of decisions relating to maintenance obligations — which that country has ratified — and, when an application is made to it, to consider working together, on an ad-hoc basis, with the other Member States.

2.   The Commission proposal

2.1   Background to the proposal, international dimension

2.1.1

The Mutual Recognition Programme in Civil Matters, adopted on 30 November 2000, calls for the elimination of the exequatur procedure in matters related to maintenance obligations, which would then be covered by the ‘Brussels I’ regulation (1) on the mutual recognition of judgements in civil and commercial matters. This programme also states that it may be necessary to lay down a number of common procedural rules in a bid to harmonise procedures and to seek to make more efficient the enforcement, in the requested state, of judgments delivered in another Member State, in particular through the identification of a debtor's assets.

2.1.2

Mutual recognition must also operate in the context of judicial cooperation between Member States and requires harmonised conflict-of-law rules.

2.1.3

The Hague Conference of Private International Law is working to modernise the existing conventions and the Commission feels that the Community approach dovetails with that being pursued at an international level. Thanks to the Hague initiative, it will be possible, at a later stage, to develop cooperation with countries outside the Union, and the initiative could produce results that might subsequently prove suitable for transposition within the European Union.

2.2   Purpose of the proposal for a regulation

2.2.1

The proposal seeks to eliminate all obstacles that prevent the recovery of maintenance claims in one EU Member State by a maintenance creditor domiciled in another Member State.

2.2.2

Creditors must be able to obtain, free of charge, a direct enforcement order valid across the European area of justice enabling them to secure regular payment of the amounts due.

2.2.3

A single, ambitious instrument covering all the relevant fields of judicial cooperation in civil matters is proving absolutely essential in this area given the absence of any uniform set of rules. The concepts of maintenance and maintenance creditor vary from one country to the next and non-enforcement of a decision is also a possibility under the reservations set out in Article 26 of the 1973 Hague Convention which currently takes precedence over Community law. The proposal is to abolish this exception — provided for in Article 71 of the Brussels I regulation — through an ad-hoc instrument for the recovery of maintenance claims.

2.3   Content of the proposed regulation

2.3.1

Harmonisation of conflict-of-law rules; using harmonised rules to determine applicable law facilitates the free movement of the decision concerned, which will be delivered under a system of law that has a sufficient and indisputable connection with the family relationship of the creditor and debtor.

2.3.2

Recognition and direct enforceability of the decision across the European Union.

2.3.3

Specific enforcement measures to be taken by the debtor's country of residence, including access to information about the debtor's financial situation and the introduction of legal provisions enabling maintenance to be deducted directly from wages or bank accounts.

2.3.4

Strengthening of the ranking of maintenance claims; enhanced judicial cooperation in civil matters: standard forms are appended to the regulation for this purpose.

3.   General comments

3.1

The Committee considers the proposal for a specific regulation on the cross-border recovery of maintenance claims to be both necessary and proportionate. As a lex specialis, it takes precedence over the other general arrangements governing judicial cooperation in civil matters. It restores the primacy of Community law in an area which Member States have so far wanted excluded, without, however, modifying Member States' domestic law.

3.2

The arrangements for determining the debtor's assets and for payment procedures guarantee respect for privacy and data confidentiality. However, the debtor is required to inform the creditor and the court of origin of any changes of employer or bank account.

3.3

The regulation provides remedies for the maintenance creditor without neglecting the debtor's right to contest the claim or to ask for a review of the amount before the court of origin; an application for a review suspends any enforcement measures.

3.4

The enforcement procedure is that of the Member State of enforcement, regardless of the Member State in which the judgement was delivered.

3.5

Thanks to a number of factors — the initial Green Paper (2) that had been published, the consultations and expert meetings that were held and the study of the situation in each Member State — the proposal on the table is coherent, clear and practical and should, as such, eliminate the persistent obstacles to the cross-border recovery of maintenance claims.

4.   Specific comments

4.1   Article 3

The EESC feels that the first element determining the jurisdiction of the courts should be the place of the maintenance creditor's habitual residence and thus suggests the order of indents a) and b) be reversed.

4.2   Article 15

The Committee considers that the maintenance creditor should always benefit from the law conferring the right on him/her; therefore invoking a law which would withdraw this right should not be admissible, except for a compelling public-policy reason as provided for under this regulation.

4.3   Article 35

The Committee is of the opinion that the order for the temporary freezing of a bank account should not be total, but limited to the amounts needed for the maintenance obligation to be met; otherwise the account holder could be deprived of the means to survive for an indeterminate period, until a decision is reached on the content of the matter — a measure which the Committee feels would be clearly out of proportion to the objective in mind.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgements in civil and commercial matters.

(2)  COM(2004) 254 final.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/37


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights

COM(2005) 507 final — 2005/0214 (COD)

(2006/C 185/08)

On 15 December 2005 the Council decided to consult the 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 preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 March 2006. The rapporteur was Ms Engelen-Kefer.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20/21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April 2006), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 103 votes to 19 with 11 abstentions:

1.   EESC conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC welcomes and endorses the Commission's proposed objectives, although it has mixed feelings about some of the means used to achieve them.

1.2

In particular, it is questionable whether exemptions contribute to what the Commission is really trying to achieve. This applies both to exemptions from transferability and to the long transition periods for reducing the requirements for definitive acquisition of pension rights.

1.3

But above all, the objectives of facilitating mobility and ensuring effective supplementary retirement income protection can only be achieved if differing taxation systems in Member States are also adjusted.

1.4

Future work on the draft directive should therefore take the following points into account:

A closely coordinated system for both the acquisition and the retention and transfer of supplementary pension rights must be in place to enable the dismantlement of obstacles to employees' mobility. At the same time, sufficient account must be taken of the implications for the various supplementary pension schemes in the Member States and of the potentially greater expenditure within supplementary pension schemes.

Financial contributions by employers to the development of supplementary pensions are desirable and indeed necessary. To avoid any negative effects, transitional arrangements enabling employers to gradually bring pension schemes into line are needed.

In keeping with the fundamental objectives of the Directive, the deadlines for its transposal should be kept as short as possible, taking into account what is actually necessary in each country.

Similarly, general exceptions without time limits for certain implementation processes should be reconsidered.

Accompanying measures are needed in the field of taxation of supplementary pension schemes in order to dismantle obstacles to mobility arising from such schemes.

2.   Introduction

On 20 October 2005, the European Commission submitted its proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. It argues that its proposals are needed to eliminate obstacles to mobility, given the increasing importance of such schemes in covering the risks of old age. Obstacles to job changes are to be removed both within and between Member States.

2.1

The Commission goes on to list the obstacles which need to be overcome in the following areas:

conditions for the acquisition of pension rights,

rules for the preservation of dormant rights,

rules for the transfer of rights.

The Commission also feels that mobility can be enhanced if employees are given (better) information on how a change of employer may affect supplementary pension rights.

2.2

The Commission sees its proposal as the logical next step to the exchange of information and experience at European level that has been going on for a number of years. No negotiations were launched on an agreement between the social partners due to divergent views on the thrust of Community-level action and on the instruments.

2.3

On the basis of Articles 42 and 94 of the EC Treaty, the Commission is seeking in its proposal to flesh out the laws of the Member States in this area. Among other things, this is to ensure that the establishment of enterprises in other Member States is not held back by problems in recruiting qualified staff, due to such staff being tied to other companies by rules on supplementary pension schemes.

2.4

The Commission justifies its choice of a Directive as a legal instrument by pointing out this is the only way to strike a balance between the necessary rights of employees with regard to free movement and the requisite flexibility on the part of national legislative authorities when transposing the Directive, while taking account of the particular circumstances of supplementary pension schemes in that country.

3.   Gist of the Commission proposal

3.1

The Directive defines the concepts used in this area in accordance with the definitions given in Directive 98/49/EC.

3.2

The proposal establishes the principle that contributions to a supplementary pension scheme paid by an employee or by an employer on behalf of an employee must not be lost after the termination of employment, even if these contributions do not yet confer any rights to subsequent pension payments. Provisions must therefore be in place for contributions to be either reimbursed or transferred.

3.3

To ensure that young workers in particular do not lose pension rights after a change of employer, the Commission suggests that the minimum age at which a worker can start acquiring supplementary pension rights should not exceed 21 in any Member State.

In addition, the waiting period, i.e. the length of time after the beginning of an employment relationship before an employee can become a member of the supplementary pension scheme, should not exceed one year.

Likewise, the period after which contributions definitively confer pensions rights, measured from the beginning of contributions, should be no longer than two years.

3.4

The Commission advocates steps to ensure a fair adjustment of dormant rights; it is left up to Member States to decide on the form that this should take and the means used to achieve it. Besides, if pension rights only represent a small amount, a supplementary pension scheme should also have the option not only of transferring pension rights to a new employer but also of reimbursing them, provided that such rights do not exceed a certain threshold set by Member States.

3.5

To promote mobility and to avoid penalising employees who change jobs, the transfer of acquired rights from the supplementary pension scheme of one employer to that of a new employer should be made easier. For example, transfers must not penalise employees financially as a result of differing calculating methods or excessive administrative charges.

3.6

Employees are to always have a choice between transferring rights and leaving them in the previous scheme.

3.7

The proposal also provides for employees to be given information on request and within a reasonable period as to the implications of a change of job for supplementary pension rights.

3.8   Transposition

The Directive is to be transposed in the Member States by 1 July 2008 at the latest.

Member States have the option of an additional 60 months (starting from 1 July 2008) for transposing the provision to reduce the period after which rights are definitively acquired to two years. Specific reasons must be given for the use of this option.

3.9

Possible exemptions from transferability for an unlimited period are granted for support relief funds, companies which constitute book reserves for pension payments and pay-as-you-go supplementary pension schemes. The Commission must be informed of the specific reasons. The Member State concerned must disclose which measures have been taken or are planned in order to ensure transferability. The question of whether additional measures are needed to improve the transferability of these systems as well will be considered by 2018 at the latest.

4.   General assessment

4.1

The views of the social partners as to the scope and content of any European legislation, are too disparate for an agreement to be reached among them, as provided for in Article 139 of the EC Treaty.

4.2

However, in the preamble to their framework agreement on fixed-term work, the ETUC, UNICE and CEEP acknowledged that ‘innovations in occupational social protection systems are necessary in order to adapt them to current conditions, and in particular to provide for the transferability of rights’.

4.3

This clearly reflects the general willingness to take a fundamental look at the need to bring the legal bases for the acquisition and retention of supplementary pension rights into line. Although fixed-term employment is a different issue from that of the free movement of workers, the parties to this agreement acknowledge that employment conditions are changing in ways that also require changes to occupational social protection schemes.

4.4

Besides, this also reflects the important role played by the social partners in shaping supplementary pensions schemes in most Member States. However, as the scope of measures by the social partners is restricted to the national level, the Commission's plan to adopt a Directive still makes sense.

4.4.1

The detailed content of supplementary pension schemes should be decided at Member State level, including through collective agreements by the social partners. On the European level, rules on conditions for acquisition should therefore focus on principles and provide direction for measures at national level, thereby leaving the social partners sufficient room for collective bargaining.

4.4.2

Article 4 of the directive should be replaced by the following: ‘where conditions for acquisition are stipulated, such as minimum age, waiting periods and/or vesting periods, such conditions should be fair and justified on objective (and non discriminatory) grounds.’

4.5

A change of employer can have a negative impact on the acquisition and level of supplementary pension rights.

This negative impact may influence employees' decisions whether or not to change employer, although obviously such a decision is contingent on many other factors as well.

4.6

Especially as a result of demographic change, statutory pensions will no longer suffice in future to maintain living standards, even in countries where statutory social security schemes are the main source of retirement income. Supplementary pension schemes are therefore becoming increasingly important, even though such systems are also exposed to the repercussions of demographic change.

4.7

Insofar as it ties in with the fundamental Single Market goal of guaranteeing the free movement of persons, and also in view of the need to improve conditions for supplementary pension schemes, the Commission's approach to removing barriers to mobility created by supplementary pension schemes is welcome.

4.8

Moreover, Article 40 of the EC Treaty obliges the Council to ‘issue Directives or make regulations setting out the measures required to bring about freedom of movement for workers’. The basis of the proposal — Article 42 — is thus given additional backing through Article 40.

4.9

The elimination of barriers to mobility is also of particular importance for achieving the fundamental goal of the Lisbon strategy, i.e. strengthening the European economy by creating a knowledge-based society. A knowledge-based society is not only a precondition for social development; it is also the most important factor in productivity. Such a society is based on the capacity of its citizens to generate new ideas and innovation. To build up such a society requires a continuous exchange of knowledge and experience. Employee mobility can make a significant contribution here. Moreover, preserving social cohesion is part of the Lisbon strategy. This is another reason for supporting the objectives of the Commission's draft directive.

4.10

It should also be noted that Council Regulation 1408/71 of 14 June 1971 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons and their families moving within the Community also tackled the issue (among others) of avoiding penalising pension provision. This was one of the first social policy instruments and its aim was to reduce obstacles to free movement, and negative consequences arising therefrom. The Commission's proposal thus follows on logically from this policy, particularly in view of the legal loophole that exists for supplementary pension schemes and which will have to be closed, given the growing importance of such schemes for maintaining living standards in old age.

4.11

Measures to break down barriers to mobility are timely, given that 2006 has been designated by the Commission as Year of Workers' Mobility.

4.12

Supplementary pension schemes vary from Member State to Member State. Logically, therefore, a European framework is the only way to gradually bring the various systems into line in order to make it easier to transfer from one supplementary pension scheme to another.

4.13

This certainly applies at European level; at the same time, however, bringing arrangements for cross-border transfers into line while neglecting transfers within a Member State would hardly be in the interests of securing equal living and working conditions. The Commission's approach, which involves eliminating both cross-border and internal obstacles to workers' mobility, is therefore the right one.

4.14

However, the draft directive does not cover one important area, i.e. the alignment of taxation on supplementary pension schemes, even though differences in this area between tax treatment in Member States represent a substantial obstacle to mobility since workers can be taxed twice (on contributions and on benefits). This is because inclusion of taxation would require unanimous approval at Council with the risk that this could lead to the directive being blocked. The Commission has sought therefore to deal with taxation through its Communication of 19 April 2001 and is currently taking infringement proceedings against a number of Member States. The Committee believes that without this action by the Commission the aim of improving portability of supplementary pensions will not be achieved.

5.   Comments on individual provisions

5.1

There is strong evidence that long waiting periods and a long deadline for the definitive acquisition of pension rights, coupled with a high minimum age may indeed deter employees from changing their jobs.

The Commission's approach to cutting waiting periods and deadlines for the acquisition of definitive pension rights and also to reducing the minimum age is therefore a step in the right direction. The chosen measures might thus be seen as the first step towards complete dismantlement of such obstacles.

5.2

However, the potential implications of the proposal for voluntary employer-funded supplementary pension schemes must also be considered; it must be borne in mind that these measures may lead to greater expenditure, potentially undermining willingness on the part of employers to continue funding such schemes.

5.3

Voluntary employer-funded contributions are also an important HR policy tool. Thus, in the drive to attract the best brains, and given changing demographic trends and the increasing demand for skilled labour, it could well be in the interests of employers to grant pension rights at an early stage and after a short period of employment. Besides, supplementary pension provision is only one of many HR tools, and one in which the welfare aspect is always dominant. On the other hand, long waiting and vesting periods reward employees' loyalty to the company and thus increase length of service.

5.4

As part of a general approach, variations between Member States in the relationship between supplementary pension schemes financed (solely) by employers and those financed by an employee's own contributions must also be taken into account. In order to reflect these differences, giving Member States options for differentiating between schemes on the basis of financing could be considered.

5.5

The Commission's approach to removing barriers to competition for companies intending to become established in other Member States must be clearly stressed, as long waiting periods and a high entry age tie down employees and therefore inhibit mobility.

5.6

The Commission has also taken the need for gradual adjustment into account through the option of an extended transition period for transposing the provisions on entitlement periods.

5.7

With regard to the preservation of dormant pension rights, it cannot be denied that adjustment could potentially result in greater expenditure within supplementary pension schemes.

However, this largely depends on the type of contributions involved. In the case of defined-contribution schemes, adjustment of dormant pension rights makes little sense since the value of the accrued capital depends on developments in capital markets and returns. However, this could have potential negative implications for defined benefit schemes because contributions are no longer being made.

5.8

Nevertheless, given the role of supplementary pensions in complementing state pension schemes, it does seem that there is a need for adjustments. Admittedly, the wording of the proposal does not impose a strong obligation on Member States to take measures of this kind, and the examples set out in recital 7 can only be seen as suggestions. It is also unclear whether differentiated adjustment on the basis of employee loyalty and the obligation to adjust payments rather than pension rights are consistent with the Commission's notion of fair adjustment.

5.9

The option of reimbursing entitlements below a certain ceiling — established on the basis of national practice — instead of transferring them seems reasonable.

5.10

However, the choice whether to reimburse entitlements or retain them is to be left entirely to supplementary pension schemes. But, even entitlements which the general rules classify as low-value could very well be of importance to individual employees as regular additional retirement income. Unwanted reimbursement might therefore stand in the way of a change of employer.

5.11

The EESC endorses the objectives of the Commission's proposal on the portability of pension rights. In particular, the EESC appreciates the fact that the Commission, rather than limiting itself to simply submitting proposals to enhance the portability of supplementary pension rights, is pursuing a comprehensive approach aimed at dismantling barriers to mobility in supplementary pension schemes.

5.12

A particularly positive point concerning the rules on transfer is that they will not penalise employees financially, according to the Commission's plans. This is consistent with the aim of the Directive, since, if in doubt, employees will opt to transfer their pension rights and thus change employer only if such a transfer does not penalise them financially.

5.13

Specific proposals concerning tighter requirements for the provision of information may also serve the purposes of the Directive, although it must be borne in mind that these requirements should be proportionate to actual resources, particularly in the case of smaller undertakings.

5.14

However, one criticism is that Article 6(1) could be interpreted in conjunction with the definition in Article 3f to mean that only employees who change jobs by choice are entitled to transfer supplementary pension rights; this would seriously disadvantage individuals leaving employment as a result of dismissal. Partly in view of the necessary objective of providing protection from poverty in old age, it therefore seems appropriate to include all forms of job change within the scope of Article 3(1).

5.15

Besides, the theoretical option of exempting particular supplementary pension schemes from transferability could clash with the fundamental goal of the Directive. Although Member States are supposed to inform the Commission about measures taken by them to extend transferability to such schemes, this may not be enough, given the long-standing debate on and the urgent need for the development of a stable second pension pillar. On the other hand, given the diversity of schemes in Member States, the Commission's proposals are only likely to meet with acceptance if adequate transition periods are provided for. Specific timescales and conditions could therefore be included.

Brussels, 20 April 2006

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


APPENDIX

to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following amendment, which received at least a quarter of the votes cast, was rejected in the course of the debate:

Point 4.10

Add a new point after 4.10.

‘4.10.1   The proposal centres the directive around a transfer of pension capital when changing jobs, which is not always appropriate. It would be better to guarantee the right to consolidate acquired pension rights, in accordance with the way the state pension is dealt with under Regulation 1408/71.’

Reason

It might be practical to use the same principles for combining different supplementary systems as for different public pension systems.

Voting

For: 49

Against: 54

Abstentions: 19


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/42


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (2008)

COM(2005) 467 final — 2005/0203 (COD)

(2006/C 185/09)

On 16 November 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 preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 March 2006. The rapporteur was Ms Cser.

At its 426th plenary session held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April 2006), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 79 votes to 39, with 10 abstentions.

1.   Gist of the proposal for a decision

The European Commission has submitted a proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (2008) (COM(2005) 467 final).

The proposal ties in with the strategy pursued by the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, which, through the introduction of the European Year, makes awareness and acceptance of human rights a Community-level issue in order to achieve the main objectives of the joint strategy, and promotes national, regional and local cooperation, thus underpinning European citizenship.

Intercultural dialogue must be seen as an instrument to facilitate the implementation of a series of strategic priorities for the Union. In addition to national, regional and local cooperation, there is support for dialogue between various social, economic and occupational groups and individuals throughout the EU and — in keeping with the neighbourhood policy — in third countries.

1.1   The general objectives of the proposal

The general objectives are as follows:

to promote intercultural dialogue as an instrument enabling European citizens and all those living permanently or temporarily in the European Union to obtain knowledge, qualifications and aptitudes which can help them to adapt to a more open but also more complex environment, and to overcome any difficulties in order to benefit from the opportunities provided by a pluralistic and dynamic society in Europe and all over the world;

to raise the awareness of European citizens and all those living in the European Union of the importance of developing active European citizenship which is open to the world, respectful of cultural diversity and based on the common values in the European Union of respect for human dignity, liberty, equality, non-discrimination, solidarity, the principles of democracy and the rule of law as well as respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

1.2   The specific objectives of the proposal

The intercultural dialogue envisaged by the proposal contributes to the following specific objectives:

to raise the profile of all Community programmes and actions contributing to intercultural dialogue;

to highlight the contribution of different cultures to our heritage and ways of life; to raise the awareness of European citizens and all those living in the European Union, particularly young people, of the importance of seeking the means to affirm through intercultural dialogue an active European citizenship which is open to the world, respectful of cultural diversity and based on the common values in the European Union;

to contribute to innovation and to the horizontal and trans-sectoral dimension of the initiatives aiming at promoting intercultural dialogue, in particular to young people.

2.   General observations

2.1

The EESC is pleased to note that the proposal for a decision includes not only citizens of the European Union as defined in Article 17 of the EC Treaty, but any individual living permanently or temporarily in the European Union in the notion of ‘active European citizenship’.

2.2

The EESC welcomes the fact that the proposal for a decision is intended to strengthen cooperation with countries outside the borders of the European Union through intercultural dialogue.

2.3

The EESC is pleased to note that intercultural dialogue is considered to be an instrument for cooperation to strengthen stability and democracy, not only within the Union but also, through partnership, beyond its borders.

2.4

The EESC is pleased to note that the proposal for a decision promotes or strengthens coordination and harmonisation of measures and programmes to implement joint strategies of the European institutions, given that the activities and cooperation of the various institutions at Community, national, regional and local levels lack uniformity and consistency, and that their outcomes and effectiveness are uneven, due to cultural differences. If European cultures really engaged in continuous dialogue with each other, enabling them to express their own identities, this might help to enhance and mobilise the operation, outcomes and effectiveness of various European, national, regional and local institutions.

2.5

The EESC is pleased to note that, thanks to education, innovation, equal opportunities for all, Community-level support for intercultural dialogue and coordination of such dialogue at national level, European cultural heritage is becoming something that individuals can not only recognise but also use and experience.

2.6

The EESC is pleased to note that cooperation between the Member States during the year of intercultural dialogue will facilitate implementation of Community goals. It therefore supports designating 2008 as the European Year of intercultural dialogue.

2.7

The EESC proposes that the year of intercultural dialogue should be used to ensure that differences, inequalities, contradictions and conflicts which are apparently due to economic, social, environmental and political causes should not only be seen in ethnic or cultural terms; rather, by becoming familiar with and accepting the diversity of our cultures and using intercultural dialogue as an instrument we should avoid conflicts by identifying the causes underpinning them.

2.8

To this end, and in line with our opinion and additional opinion on the social dimension of culture, ‘the EESC is […] in favour of the European Union becoming a forum for reflection and discussion on the cultural policies of each Member Statea forum for a new process of cultural reflection on culture. Preparations for the year of intercultural dialogue (2008) should be an opportunity for the Commission to present a very detailed document on the actual breadth of such dialogue, the persistent or new obstacles which it encounters, and new ideas which could help genuinely deepen it. The EESC is willing to play a role in the drafting of such a report, for example from the perspective of the social dimension of culture (1).

3.   Detailed comments

3.1

Thanks to its structure as a consultative body to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission, the EESC has forged special links between European cultures. Its members are genuine Europeans, given that they respect and give balanced consideration to the interests of the various social partners and the values of each other's cultures in the drafting of opinions, and reach consensus on opinions benefiting European citizens (2).

3.2

Through active cooperation and activity not only at Community level but also at national, regional and local levels, EESC members embody intercultural dialogue, while promoting it and putting it into practice in civil society.

3.3

The EESC would point out to the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission that the Commission's proposal does not explicitly refer to respect for the cultures and diversities of third countries, given that in defining its objectives it refers to Article 151 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (Member States' obligation of mutual respect). Although any kind of legislative interference by the European Union must be ruled out, the European Commission and other institutions must call on the Member States to support respect for cultural diversity and to promote peaceful dialogue between the various cultures.

3.4

Unfortunately, tensions arising from conflicts between various cultures and religions are increasingly becoming a feature of our age; the existence of such tensions raises the question of whether the European Union needs to enshrine mutual respect for different cultures in the Treaties. These conflicts and tensions highlight the need for the European Union to set itself the consistent objective of mutual respect for the various cultures. In the current period of intercultural conflict and of crisis for European identity, support for European cultural values could be seen as a sign of optimism and confidence in the future of the European Union. The European Union should therefore be involved in developing cultural and religious dialogue with other nations, for example by promoting cultural tourism (3).

3.5

The main basis for intercultural dialogue should be promoting respect for the various cultures, customs and traditions of citizens living in Europe.

3.6

The growing mobility of EU citizens and the increasing number of migrant workers, often followed by their families or other relatives, suggest the need for an effort to promote respect for cultures and traditions different from those which have developed in Europe: this task should be carried out by the European institutions and the Member States, as part of their coordination functions.

3.7

On the basis of the UNESCO documents mentioned earlier, the EESC recommends strengthening the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, making it a coordinating body at Community level to facilitate the cultural integration of tens of millions of immigrant citizens in order to further mutual awareness and respect between the various cultures.

3.8

The EESC is disappointed that the proposal for a decision does not mention the creation of a Community-level medium, such as a TV or radio channel broadcasting in all the languages of European citizens, as an instrument for achieving its objectives. However, since then, following on from its Action Plan on improving communication and Plan D for democracy, dialogue and debate, the Commission has drafted a White Paper on a European communication policy. Each of these documents focuses on dialogue with European citizens. Community objectives cannot be fully conveyed through privately owned electronic or written media.

3.9

In several of its opinions, the EESC has already voiced its concerns with regard to funding for projects, the pursuit of objectives laid down as part of a European Year — which is a very useful concept — and the balanced implementation of these objectives on an ongoing basis (4).

The very launch of the European Year initiative calls for evaluation of means to attract and retain the attention of the public while ensuring that a balance between considerations of sustainability is struck and maintained; it is indeed impossible to monitor the launch and subsequent progress of programmes established for a single year — the requisite funds are not guaranteed for subsequent years and there are also disparities in implementation of the objectives. For this reason, the question arises of how the proposal under review can ensure mutual cultural awareness and acceptance for all citizens and institutions on the basis of objectives that have been set for only one year.

3.10

There can be no doubt that individual one-year programmes will not suffice to achieve the objectives of the European Years of equal opportunities for all or of intercultural dialogue, or active citizenship and participatory democracy, as envisaged by the Commission's communication strategy; hence, a coordinated programme and use of funds is needed to ensure that objectives can be implemented in the long term or even on an ongoing basis.

3.11

The EESC is doubtful whether priority objectives can be implemented on the basis of the proposed budget. Most of the proposed budget is allocated to support for Community-level activity, and it is questionable whether the eight events are not disproportionate to the achievement of the proposed objectives. Support for local citizens' initiatives is also uncertain.

3.12

In view of considerable variations in intercultural dialogue, the EESC recommends that the Commission should develop qualitative as well as quantitative indicators to evaluate implementation of the objectives of the European Year. In view of its role as representative of civil society, the EESC undertakes to participate in this work.

3.13

The EESC proposes that an encyclopaedia of European culture be compiled on the basis of events and measures under the European Year of intercultural dialogue in 2008; this could in turn be used to compile a handbook of European cultures, which could become a basic text for developing European citizenship. Together with a compilation of best practice, the handbook would be indispensable in promoting the integration of immigrant workers and their families.

4.   Supporting diverse customs, traditions and cultures

4.1

The EESC endorses UNESCO's universal declaration that ‘the cultural wealth of the world is its diversity in dialogue’ (5) and the objectives set out in the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (6); of these, the EESC would emphasise the goal of fostering ‘interculturality in order to develop cultural interaction in the spirit of building bridges among people …’.

4.2

The objectives of the European Year of intercultural dialogue include the various forms of artistic expression of human emotions as one of the key values of European cultural heritage. Awareness and acceptance of various cultures can only happen if we understand, recognise and accept each other's feelings and values. Given that young people are a key target group, it is especially important to pay attention to healthy emotional development, and hence to support initiatives to develop multicultural awareness.

4.3

The EESC supports the proposal for establishing a Day of Intercultural Dialogue, to coincide with Cultural Development Day, which has already been introduced by UNESCO and takes place on 21 May. On this occasion, the European institutions could award symbolic prizes to educational institutions and civil society organisations which have played a leading role in initiating and implementing intercultural dialogue. The day could serve as an opportunity for organising ceremonial events.

4.4

Involvement of civil society organisations, educational institutions and European citizens is crucial to support for intercultural dialogue. For this reason, the EESC would particularly welcome the introduction of a prize, even one of symbolic value (whose award would, among other things, entitle the winning European citizen, civil society organisation or institution to make use of the logo of the Day of Intercultural Dialogue); this prize could be awarded to European citizens, civil society organisations and educational institutions which play a leading role in mobilising intercultural dialogue through initiatives aimed at helping young people to understand that members of society should mutually respect each other's traditions and cultural values, not only at local, regional and national levels, but also at European level.

4.5

The EESC concurs with the Commission and the European Parliament that initiatives to promote intercultural dialogue should be primarily targeted at young people. However, it would also remind the European institutions not to neglect older age groups.

5.   Coordination with other programmes

5.1

To ensure more effective implementation of the objectives set out in the proposal for a decision, the EESC would recommend that they should be harmonised and aligned with the objectives and instruments of the European Year of equal opportunities for all (2007) and of Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate.

5.2

Given the diversity of initiatives launched by the different Member States to promote intercultural dialogue, the EESC suggests that the European institutions establish a coordinating body with responsibility for harmonising, promoting and disseminating such initiatives.

5.3

Successful intercultural initiatives include the Leonardo programme, which promotes the European dimension of training by supporting the development of innovative initiatives in the field and projects involving international partnerships (7), as well as the Anna Lindh Foundation (8) and EuromedCafé (9), which aims to facilitate dialogue between European and Mediterranean countries.

5.4

The proposal for a decision aims at promoting harmony and coordinating cultural diversity, while taking into account economic globalisation; it therefore offers added value and a new impetus for achieving the objectives of the renewed Lisbon strategy.

5.5

The EESC would like to take part in the following in cooperation with the NGOs:

making intercultural dialogue continuous,

cooperating with the celebration of the 25th anniversary (November 2006) of the UN Declaration (that rejects intolerance and discrimination based on faith and religious belief),

the assessment of year 2008.

On the basis of the above mentioned it shall make an appropriate supplementary proposal.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  EESC opinion of 15.3.2006 on ‘The social dimension of culture’. Rapporteur: Mr Le Scornet (SOC/191).

(2)  Work programme of Dr Anne-Marie Sigmund President of the European Economic and Social Committee for her 2004/2006 term of office and Annual review of the work programme of Dr Anne-Marie Sigmund President of the European Economic and Social Committee for her 2004/2006 term of office.

(3)  A point of view which has already been endorsed in the EESC opinion of 15.3.2006 on Tourism and culture: two forces for growth (rapporteur: Mr Pesci).

(4)  EESC opinion of 14.2.2006 on the European Year of people with disabilities. Rapporteur: Ms Gunta Anca (OJ C 88 of 11.4.2006).

(5)  UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted by the 31st Session of the General Conference of UNESCO (Paris, 2 November 2001).

(6)  Adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in October 2005.

(7)  Ongoing initiatives which involve participation by third countries include the Thswane University of Technology Scholarship (South Africa),. the West Virginia Scholarship (USA), and the GE4 Student Exchange in Engineering (USA, Latin America and Asia).

(8)  The Anna Lindh Foundation was established to promote mutual understanding and respect among the peoples of Europe and the Mediterranean region, and ties in with the Action Plan for the Barcelona process.

(9)  EuromedCafé is a website created by the Mediterranean Laboratory Foundation to provide a fresh impetus for renewed dialogue and exchange between European and Mediterranean peoples.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/46


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 — Situation of disabled people in the enlarged European Union: the European Action Plan 2006-2007

COM(2005) 604 final

(2006/C 185/10)

On 28 November 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 Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 March 2006. The rapporteur was Ms Greif.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April 2006), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 55 votes in favour with 1 abstention.

1.   Conclusion and recommendations

1.1

The EESC supports the actions proposed by the European Commission in the DAP 2006-2007.

1.2

The EESC considers that the monitoring of the Equal Treatment directive in Employment and Occupation should continue to be a priority in the period covered by the DAP.

1.3

The EESC calls on the Commission to propose a Disability Specific Directive following the process of the feasibility study on developing non-discrimination legislation at European level.

1.4

A visible lack of concrete actions in the European Employment Strategy is a major sign of insufficient commitment by the EU. The EES was one of the major landmarks to test the commitment of the EU and Member States towards DAP. All of them have failed this test. The revised objectives of the European Employment Strategy should reinforce the mainstreaming of disability in the Employment Guidelines and the National Reform Programmes.

1.5

The EU must commit itself to the principle of mainstreaming in initiatives such as:

The Structural Funds, ensuring that the current regulation, the strategic guidelines and the operational programmes take on board the principles of non-discrimination and accessibility for people with disabilities.

The 7th Framework Programme, ensuring that there are projects of research in areas such as design for all, ICT systems, transition to independent living, etc.

Transport promoting the inclusion of more accessible rail transport, international coaches and maritime transport.

1.6

The EESC regrets that there is a lack of interest in the efforts made by EU Member States in mainstreaming disability in national policy making. The strength of DAP relies on the interest of the national states to assume the principles of the Action Plan.

1.7

The EESC also encourages the European Institutions to take on board and assume the objectives of the DAP at European level. The efforts in internal communication and raising awareness should result in a better visibility of disability in European policy making.

1.8

Organizations at European level such as the European Disability Forum and other representative NGOs should continue their work being supported under the framework of the new Progress programme.

1.9

For the future agenda, the EESC urges the Commission to pay attention to the following specific issues:

the key importance of the concept of independent living and the right of disabled people not to be segregated in institutions or excluded from society; access to information, mobility, housing, the built environment and above all personal assistance are crucial elements for independent living of disabled people. In this respect the modernizing of social protection system is one of the priorities (1);

the key importance of active political participation of people with disabilities in society; disabled persons should have equal opportunities to achieve their right to active participation in decision making processes, policy development, monitoring and evaluation, etc. through their representative NGOs and networks. The role of relevant NGOs should be strengthened at both national and EU level, whereby also smaller and weaker NGOs should get their place among other bigger associations;

areas outside employment should be addressed in the future, such as education, culture, free time/leisure, etc.;

relevant attention should be devoted to the impact of multiple discrimination, cultural differences, poverty , etc. Appropriate focus on those aspects might throw new light on categories within disabled people, which are now ‘invisible’;

adapted working place (including assistive technologies, job coaching), and appointing equality officers in companies could stimulate equal opportunities in employment;

safety at work in the light of prevention of disability should get relevant attention.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The EESC has received the Communication with great interest (2).

2.2

The European Action Plan (DAP) (3), adopted in 2003 as a multi-annual Action Plan from 2004 to 2010, aims to mainstream disability in all relevant policies of the European Union as well as to develop concrete actions to reinforce the inclusion of people with disabilities in European societies.

2.2.1

The priority of the first phase of the DAP was focused on access of disabled people to the labour market, the use of ITC, and accessibility to public buildings.

2.2.2

The priority actions for the second phase of the DAP are focused on active participation of disabled people in society, access to quality support, care and health services, fostering accessibility of goods and services and increasing the analysis capacity.

2.3

The DAP foresees a Biennial Report on the situation of people with disabilities to revise the objectives as well as to analyse the situation of people with disabilities in the period of reference.

2.4

The EESC regrets that the Biennial Report has in the final event been transformed into a short Communication instead; the first part of the Communication is the biennial report covering the period 2004-2005, and the second part is the Action Plan for its second phase 2006-2007.

2.4.1

The information provided in the annexes of the Communication is of high interest for the evaluation. Nevertheless the EESC regrets that the information provided is limited, since the analysis does not consider all the initiatives that are taking place in the EU. The states should have provided more information on the questionnaire produced by the European Commission for the report.

2.4.2

The EESC regrets that the information provided in the annexes has not been yet translated into all European Union official languages besides English.

2.5

Disabled people constitute 10 % of the population, a percentage that increases with ageing of our societies. This means that there are more than 50 million disabled people in the enlarged European Union (4).

2.6

Disabled people — men and women, boys and girls — represent a diverse, non-homogenous group. This diversity should be taken into account at all levels of policy development.

2.7

The EESC has regularly expressed strong support for the full integration of people with disabilities and has called for a Specific Directive on Disability (5).

2.8

It made some specific recommendations in the opinion for the Action Plan 2004-2006 (6). The EESC acknowledges that some of the recommendations issued where taken on board, but unfortunately many others where not, in particular the call for a disability Specific directive and the mainstreaming of disability in the European Employment Strategy.

2.9

The EESC analyses this Action Plan on the light of the current negotiations of the UN Convention on the rights of disabled people (7).

3.   Current situation

Overview

3.1

The EESC agrees with the importance of the objectives chosen for the second phase of DAP.

3.2

The EESC believes that the European Commission should apply the social approach to disability when tackling this issue in different documents of the Commission, which would enable to promote the use of more neutral and inclusive language in the wider area of disability. The translation from English of some of the documents produced by the Commission uses a language which is not fully in accordance with the social approach to disability.

3.3

The EESC shares the concern of the Commission with regard to the lack of relevant statistical data on disabled persons, which is necessary for future policy development in the field. The existing research is now only covering disabled people, who are active/employed, and does not cover the majority of disabled citizens (people who live in institutions, children).

3.4

The EESC is concerned by the fact that there is a gap in employment rate between non-disabled and disabled persons. The Eurostat confirmed in 2003 that ‘Labour force participation is indeed much lower for the disabled: 78 % of the severely disabled aged 16-64 are outside of the labour force as compared to 27 % for those without LSHPD. Even among those in the labour force, the unemployment rate is nearly twice as high among the severely disabled as compared to the non-disabled. Only 16 % of those who face work restrictions are provided with some assistance to work’ (8).

3.5

In some aspects the EESC is inclined not fully to agree with some of the reasons given in the Commission's Report to explain the twice as high inactivity rate among people with disabilities, compared to the rest of population. The argument of s. c. ‘benefit traps’ (9) is an incomplete reason that puts all the responsibility on the part of disabled people.

3.5.1

Behind negative statistics there are more complex obstacles, such as reluctance of employers, un-adjusted working places, unequal access to labour market, lack of assistance for independent living (either by personal assistance or assistive devices), discrimination faced in transport, education, access to goods and services, ICT, and so on. Although 43.7 % of disabled respondents believe that they could work with adequate assistance, in reality only 15.9 % of them actually receive such assistance (10).

3.5.2

The EESC consequently believes that any revision of the social security systems as well as employment schemes should take on board the complexity of reasons why a disabled person cannot access and remain in the employment market (11).

3.6   Promoting Employment

3.6.1

The EESC welcomes that the European Commission has taken serious steps to monitor the transposition and implementation of the Employment directive (12). The monitoring should be done in cooperation with Social partners and representative NGOs. The EESC is convinced that the Employment directive, which prohibits discrimination in employment on a number of grounds, including disability, is a lawful obligation not merely a right to ‘challenge’, and that the Commission has a key role as the guardian of the directive in its effective implementation.

3.6.2

The EESC does not share the statement of the European Commission on the visibility of disability in the European Employment Strategy (EES) (13). The mainstreaming of disability in the EES was quite reduced and this has been the case since this dimension has been forgotten in the National Reform Programmes.

3.6.3

The Committee has already supported the Commission Regulation on the application of Articles 87 and 88 of the EC treaty to State Aid for Employment  (14) and the exemptions for the state aid for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the mainstream labour market.

3.6.4

The EESC strongly encourages the social partners to give further steps concerning the employment of people with disabilities. In 2004, the social partners reported about their initiatives undertaken in this area (15).

3.6.5

The EESC also supports the European Social Fund initiatives for integration of disabled people into the labour market. The EQUAL initiative has been very useful to promote equality for people with disabilities. The new framework of the European Social Funds should take into account some principles forgotten in the current legislation such as the principle of accessibility and design for all in the projects funded through the ESF.

3.6.6

The EESC is glad to know that the European Commission has launched a Community Action Plan Against Discrimination  (16).

3.6.7

The EESC considers that other initiatives such as the Equality summit and the European Year of Equal Opportunities 2007 have to be followed by significant political decisions or policies and legislation.

3.6.8

The EESC regrets that disabled people organizations at national level have been generally excluded in the creation of the National Reform Programmes. The reviewed Lisbon Agenda should reinforce the participation of civil society to better achieve its objectives.

3.6.9

The EESC believes that the dialogue with civil society — the social partners and relevant NGOs — at both, European and national level — is important to ensure the efficiency of the employment strategies. The involvement of representatives of disability NGOs is of vital importance.

3.7   Integrating disabled people in society

3.7.1

The EESC recently expressed its opinion on the EYPD and invited the European Commission to assess in its future biennial report on the situation of disabled people the follow-up to political commitments made during the European Year, and in particular the follow-up to the Council resolutions on employment, education, eAccessibility, and culture, and to provide recommendations for the integration of disability concerns in the open method of coordination within the Lisbon Strategy  (17) .

3.7.2

The EESC welcomes the best practice of the air passenger's regulation where the benefits of mainstreaming processes are clear.

3.7.3

The Committee welcomes the achievements (18) in the frame of the accessibility of the ICT for people with disabilities, and its further initiatives (19). There are other areas where some progress could be done, areas such as telecommunication with a regulatory framework and television broadcasting.

3.7.4

The EESC considers that the European Structural Funds are an instrument for the European Union to promote its principles, and should include non-discrimination and accessibility in the legislation and programming of the Funds. Disability should be a cross-cutting issue in the Funds.

3.7.5

The EESC is concerned about the different levels of protection of rights for disabled people in the EU. The scope of protection and the rights of an individual person depend on the place of their residence.

3.7.6

The Committee is also concerned that some aspects of discrimination of disabled people are being neglected or are not efficiently addressed in the report of the first phase DAP, for example: the impact of discrimination towards people with disabilities should be analyzed on numerous grounds such as gender, racial, ethnic origin, religion or belie, age or sexual orientation  (20); the right of disabled people to independent living.

The EESC considers that disability is not the exclusive determination factor of disabled people and that the other circumstances may also affect and have consequences for their quality of everyday life.

4.   The EU Disability Action Plan (DAP) 2006-2007

4.1

The European Commission has adopted a new set of objectives for the second phase. The EESC is glad that the objectives continue to address the main problems faced by disabled people.

4.2

EESC does not share the statement that ‘mainstreaming of disability has succeeded in some areas, notably employment, ICT and Education’. This is in contradiction with some of the statements of the Joint Inclusion Reports where it is recognized that ‘…against the background of an economic performance which is at best mixed, no significant improvement in the situation. They show clear evidence of the finding in the Lisbon review of an implementation gap between what Member States commit to in common objectives and the policy effort to implement them’ (21).

4.3

The EESC believes that the EU High Level Group on Disability is very important on the implementation of the DAP and should be strengthened; the Group should produce concrete outcomes and recommendations to be adopted by the Council of the European Union.

4.3.1

The EESC strongly supports the inclusion of the European Disability Forum and other specific European impairment organisations in the discussions of the High Level Group to ensure the participation of the disability movement in the definition of policies tackling European disabled citizens.

4.4

The EESC is glad to know that the European Commission is taking action to open an infringement procedure against the states that have not yet transposed the Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation 2000/78 into their national system or have not implemented it properly (22).

4.5   Priority Areas for the Second phase

4.5.1

The second phase of DAP focuses on active inclusion of people with disabilities, and builds on citizens' concept of disability (23). It means that disabled people have the same individual choices and control in their everyday life as non-disabled people.

4.6   Encouraging activity

4.6.1

The EESC noted in its previous opinion that people with disabilities are not mentioned in the new streamlined Lisbon Strategy  (24) .

4.6.2

The EESC warns that raising employment and activity rates of disabled people is not possible without improving working conditions and combating discrimination in areas such as education, transport, ICT, access to goods and services, and so on.

4.6.3

The EESC considers that the revision of the objectives of the European Employment Strategy has to take into account the mainstreaming of disability. If this is not the case the protection of disability will continue to be much reduced.

4.6.4

The European Structural Funds will be significantly assist integration if taking the principle of non-discrimination and accessibility for people with disabilities. The new programming period of the Structural Funds has to prevent the creation of newly built environment barriers as well as the promotion of a more inclusive use of Funds.

4.6.5

The new regulation of the European Commission block exemption on employment and training aids has to create a fair system to encourage the participation of people with disabilities in the labour market. The new revision should simplify procedures in order to facilitate employers' access to support their disabled employees.

4.6.6

Social economy enterprises can contribute valuably to the integration of people with disabilities into labour market.

4.7   Promoting access to quality support and care services

4.7.1

EESC agrees with the European Commission on the importance of this issue.

4.7.2

The EESC considers that any action promoting the lives of disabled people in European Societies should be based in fundamental Human Rights such as:

the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his/her residence

the right to respect for his/her private and family life

no one shall arbitrarily be deprived of his/her liberty

no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

the right to education

the right to health, including the access to information and services on health and reproductive health

no one shall be deprived of his/her possessions.

4.7.3

Therefore the EESC welcomes the Commission's assurance to support independent living, deinstitutionalization and desegregation of people placed in large residential institutions.

4.7.3.1

The EESC calls on the Commission to ensure that all stakeholders in Independent Living, such as public authorities at national level, organizations representing disabled people and the EU, actively participate in the process.

4.7.3.2

Independent Living is not only about actually living in society, but also about being an equal part of society. Independent living means full participation in all aspects of society.

4.7.3.3

The EESC considers that any action for the revision of care services should promote independent living for people with disabilities. A specific objective on de-institutionalisation and development of community-based alternatives should be part of the new strategy on long term care, as well as part of the new social protection strategy. The alternatives should include initiatives such as personal assistants, assistive devices, support services, information, coaching, inclusion of disabled people in their own care provision, etc.

4.7.4

The EESC calls for improvement of the standards on the quality of services that are offered for disabled people. These standards should be developed in cooperation with the organizations of disabled people. Any model of support and care services should be based on quality, continuity, accessibility and financial sustainability.

4.7.5

The Open Method of Coordination on Health should also take into account the needs of disabled people and their Fundamental rights in access to services.

4.8   Fostering accessibility of goods and services

4.8.1

The EESC welcomes the regulation on air passengers with reduced mobility and initiatives in the wider frame of transport (railway traffic, coaches, and maritime traffic) and tourism, which will enable free movement of people with disabilities.

4.8.2

Access to new technologies is essential to bridge the gap of the digital divide in European societies. The EU has to ensure that projects under the 7th Framework Programme improve the research for new technologies, assistive devises and design for all goods and services.

4.8.3

The EESC believes that, in the current negotiations of the Directive on Services of the Internal Market, the needs of disabled consumers should be taken on board when speaking about the access to goods and services in the EU.

4.8.4

The EESC advises the European Commission that the future Communication on Social Services of General Interest should take into account the principles of continuity, accessibility and European quality standards as well as financial sustainability.

4.9   Increasing the EU's analytical capacity

4.9.1

The European Union must be able to measure the situation of people with disabilities.

4.9.2

The EESC believes that more reliable and comparable data should be produced for people with disabilities. The current EU statistics include analysis based on gender and age. It is of vital importance for the analysis of the status of disabled persons and future policy development that a comprehensive breakdown of statistics be produced at EU level.

4.9.3

Further academic research with special attention to the needs expressed by disabled persons themselves, plus better analysis of multiple discrimination, are needed.

The European Year for Equal Opportunities 2007 is an unique opportunity for the Commission to take the responsibility for balancing/harmonization of legal protection against discrimination of disabled people across EU and to take steps in cases of violations.

The EESC is looking forward for the next biennial report on DAP in 2008.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  Several representative NGOs claim that personal assistance should therefore become the right of disabled persons, which could be implemented through direct funding: This is a condition for a structural shift in assuring basic human right.

(2)  COM(2003) 650 final.

(3)  Disability Action Plan (DAP).

(4)  The Eurostat publication Employment of disabled people 2002 says that: ‘Of those persons aged between 16 and 64 years, 44.6 million – i.e. one in six (15.7 %) – stated that they had a long-standing health problem or disability (LSHPD)’.

(5)  EESC opinion of 14.2.2006 on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the implementation, results and overall assessment of the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003. Rapporteur: Mrs Anca (OJ C 88 of 11.4.2006).

EESC opinion of 25.2.2004 on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Equal opportunities for people with disabilities: A European Action Plan. Rapporetur: Mr Cabra de Luna (OJ C 110 of 30.4.2004).

EESC opinion of 26.3.2003 on the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament – Towards a United Nations legally binding instrument to promote and protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Rapporteur: Mr Cabra de Luna (OJ C 133 of 6.6.2003).

EESC own initiative opinion of 17.7.2002 on the Integration of disabled people in society. Rapporteur Mr Cabra de Luna (OJ C 241 of 7.10.2002).

EESC opinion of 17.10.2001 on the Proposal for a Council Decision on the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003. Rapporetur: Mr Cabra de Luna (OJ C 36 of 8.2.2002).

(6)  EESC opinion of 25.2.2004 on the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Equal opportunities for people with disabilities: A European Action Plan. Rapporetur: Mr Cabra de Luna (OJ C 110 of 30.4.2004).

(7)  International Convention on the Rights of persons with Disabilities. UN New York, 2006 (working text).

(8)  Statistics in Focus, Theme 3: Employment of Disabled people in Europe 2002 Eurostat 26/2003.

(9)  Presumably higher social benefit comparing to wages, and risk of losing benefits on starting work.

(10)  Statistics in Focus, Theme 3: Employment of Disabled people in Europe 2002 Eurostat 26/2003.

(11)  The 57 % of people with disabilities become disabled during their working lives.

(12)  DIR 2000/78, 27. November 2000.

(13)  Council decision on Guidelines for Employment Policies of the Member States of 12.7.2005. Disability Mainstreaming in the European Employment Strategy. http://europa/comm/dgs/emloyment_social/index_en.htm.

(14)  Commission regulation (EC) 2204/2002.

(15)  CEEP, UNICE/UEAPME and ETUC 2004 Report on social partners actions in member States to implement employment guidelines.

(16)  2000/750/EC: Council Decision of 27 November 2000 establishing a Community action programme to combat discrimination (2001 to 2006).

(17)  See footnote 5.

(18)  Communication on eAccessibility – COM(2005) 425 final of 13.9.2005.

(19)  The initiatives to harmonise the accessibility requirements in the ICT domain; Web accessibility Guidelines; European Curriculum on Design for All.

(20)  Article 13 EC Treaty discrimination grounds.

(21)  Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion 2006 (COM(2006) 62 final).

(22)  Austria, Finland, Germany and Luxemburg.

(23)  As reflected in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Art. 26 (The Union recognizes and respects the right persons with disabilities to benefit from measures designed to ensure their independence, social and occupational integration and participation in the life of the community).

(24)  EESC opinion of 14.2.2006 on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the implementation, results and overall assessment of the European Year of People with Disabilities 2003. Rapporteur: Mrs Anca (OJ C 88 of 11.4.2006).


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/52


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission: Cohesion Policy in Support of Growth and Jobs: Community Strategic Guidelines, 2007-2013

COM(2005) 299 final — SEC(2005) 904

(2006/C 185/11)

On 5 July 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 Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 23 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Vever.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 21 April 2006), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 47 votes to 0 with one abstention.

1.   Summary

1.1

The European Economic and Social Committee deplores the fact that the cohesion policy strategic guidelines 2007-2013 were presented one year after the proposals for budgetary programming and Structural Funds regulations for that period, instead of being presented jointly or earlier. In these circumstances, the guidelines are more like supplementary provisions than the real guidance documents which they should be.

1.2

This time-lag is all the more regrettable given the urgent need for such guidelines in the face of cohesion issues which are as varied as they are complex for 2007-2013: measures to accompany enlargements, consolidation of the euro, making up the delays to the Lisbon strategy against the background of accelerating globalisation. Faced with the difficulties of insufficient growth, considerable disparities between Member States and a Community budget which is too limited, the Union has its strong points but they remain more potential than established (consolidation of the enlarged single market, infrastructure designed for the future, reforms for adaptation).

1.3

The EESC takes the view that the links between the priorities of the strategic guidelines and the objectives of the Structural Funds are not explained, and that the conditions for their implementation should be clarified. Thus, the first priority, seeking to make investments more attractive, raises the central question of the necessary strengthening of confidence in the development of the Union itself. The second priority, of support for innovation and entrepreneurship, raises the question of the continuing unsuitability of Community resources (lack of progress on the Community patent, gaps in the legal status of the European company, measures under the Funds too limited to subsidies). The third priority, seeking to create more jobs, raises the question of making up the delays to the Lisbon strategy and a still distant optimisation of the economic and social operation of the single market in the face of the pressures of globalisation.

1.4

Like the European Parliament, the EESC is preoccupied by the limited scale of the Community budget programmed by the European Council of December 2005 for 2007-2013: its fixed ceiling of 1.045 % of the gross national income (only 0.36 % for the cohesion budget) places it at a lower level than before the enlargement from 15 to 25 members, at a time when the challenges of internal disparities and international competition have considerably increased. Thus the central question which the 2007-2013 strategic guidelines for cohesion policy should answer is: how to do better with less? As an answer, the EESC recommends diversifying the resources of cohesion policy, concentrating its measures more and modernising its management methods.

1.5

The EESC recommends diversifying the resources of cohesion policy through an innovative machinery in the Union's financial measures.

1.5.1

The Structural Funds should be able to use instruments other than subsidies and develop, in direct contact with the EIB and the EIF, loans, interest relief, loan guarantees and support in the form of investment capital and risk capital.

1.5.2

A redeployment of this kind, on a much larger scale than the JEREMIE programme alone, would have a multiplier effect on under the Funds which would better complement investment of public and private capital, making up for the modest scale of the budget.

1.5.3

To this end, the EESC is in favour of a substantial increase in the Union's loan and guarantee capacities, of a strengthened partnership with the banking and financial sector, and of corresponding adjustments to the new regulations of the Structural Funds. These three conditions would require urgent proposals on these lines on the part of the European Commission.

1.6

The EESC recommends that measures under the Structural Funds should be more concentrated according to the priority interests of Europe.

1.6.1

Going beyond direct support for the most disadvantaged states and regions, which must be continued and intensified, this implies strengthening the financing of trans-European infrastructure networks and aid to border regions, partly through public/private partnerships.

1.6.2

To this end, the EESC calls for a significant reassessment of the budget of the trans-European networks, which has been ignored in the December 2005 programming despite the objectives of the Lisbon strategy.

1.6.3

It also assumes that Community aid is used more to help Member States better to implement Community guidelines, decisions and commitments, whether this involves transposing directives or implementing the Lisbon strategy. In particular, the training aid budget, also minimised in December 2005, should be reassessed.

1.7

Finally, the EESC recommends modernising the management methods of cohesion policy in order to promote more transparency and interactivity.

1.7.1

This assumes that Community aid, like state aid, can be shown to be fully compatible with European competition policy.

1.7.2

This also requires greater involvement of the actors of organised civil society, primarily the social partners, in the formulation, management and follow-up of European cohesion policy.

1.7.3

The EESC therefore asks that the involvement of the socio-occupational actors should be made the subject of explicit provisions integrated with the strategic guidelines. The conditions for their implementation in each of the Member States should be specified in annexes to the programming and review documents.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The Communication from the Commission on the Strategic Guidelines 2007-2013, adopted on 5 July 2005, follows on from a series of previous proposals.

2.1.1

The Community budget guidelines for 2007-2013, presented on 17 February 2004, were drawn up on the basis of a rate of 1.14 % of Gross National Income (GNI).

2.1.2

The draft Regulations amending the provisions of the Structural Funds (ERDF, ESF, Cohesion Fund) for 2007-2013, which were presented on 14 July 2004 (1): The Commission decided to set three objectives for those Funds:

2.1.2.1

a convergence objective, the successor of the current Objective 1, which would benefit less developed regions in the Union, especially those where GDP is lower than 75 % of the EU average: 78.54 % of funds would be allocated to this objective;

2.1.2.2

a regional competitiveness and employment objective, to succeed the current Objective 2, which would benefit other regions in the EU. This targets, in particular, the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy and improving employment: 17.22 % of Fund resources would be allocated to this objective;

2.1.2.3

a European territorial cooperation objective, to succeed the current Interreg programme: 3.94 % of Fund resources would be allocated to this objective.

2.1.3

On 14 July 2004 the Commission also presented a draft statute for European groupings of cross-border cooperation, aimed at facilitating such intra-Community initiatives (2)

2.2

The Strategic Guidelines on cohesion policy 2007-2013, presented by the Commission on 5 July 2005, set out three priorities. These are different from the abovementioned Structural Fund objectives, but tie in with them:

2.2.1

the first priority of the strategic guidelines is to improve Europe's attractiveness to investment;

2.2.2

the second priority is to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship;

2.2.3

the third priority is to support job creation.

2.3

These strategic guidelines are to be implemented by means of National Strategic Reference Frameworks to be prepared by the Commission, Member States and regions at a later date.

2.4

The presentation of the strategic guidelines represents the final missing element in the discussions on an overall package for cohesion policy 2007-2013. However, it would have been more logical if the Commission had initiated the discussion on cohesion policy by presenting these strategic guidelines, which are intended to establish an overall policy framework. Instead it first presented the draft Regulations on the Funds, which contain the implementing provisions. Without better coordination between the strategic guidelines and the Fund Regulations, ensuring that it is the former which clearly play the guiding role and are not just an adjunct to the latter, there is a risk of diluting the added value of European cohesion policy and encouraging a ‘renationalisation’ of development strategies. This would be detrimental to coherence, competitiveness and economic and social efficiency in the Union.

2.5

The discussions on the budget guidelines and the Fund Regulations for 2007-2013 began under difficult circumstances, marked by obvious differences in opinion between the 25 Member States as to what the sums involved should be and how they should be allocated. After an initial setback in June 2005, the European Council reached a budgetary agreement on 17 December 2005 on a much more modest basis: it placed a ceiling of 1.045 % of the GNI, with 252 billion euro (82 %) allocated to the convergence objective, 48.5 billion (15.5 %) allocated to the competitiveness and employment objective, and 7.5 billion (less than 2.5 %) allocated to the European territorial cooperation objective.

2.6

On 18 January 2006 the European Parliament rejected this budget programming which fell short of its expectations. Discussions therefore resumed between the Council and the Parliament, resulting on 4 April 2006 in a compromise providing for EUR 4 billion (of which EUR 2 billion in reserve) to be added to this package. This compromise has still to be ratified by both sides.

3.   Observations on the challenges for cohesion policy 2007-2013

3.1

The 2007-2013 period covered by the strategic cohesion guidelines will be marked by major challenges:

3.1.1

In the first instance, the process of enlargement will have to be continued and consolidated. Having grown from 15 Member States to 25 in 2004, the European Union will welcome two additional countries in 2007. Others could follow after 2013, if not before, given that the list of candidates for accession is far from exhausted. In all likelihood, even if the enlargements strengthen the single market and its capacities for growth, employment, trade, production, consumption and competitiveness in the face of globalisation, ever increasing economic and social disparities will require a major qualitative leap forward in the coordination of European and national policies, the management and consolidation of the Single Market, and EU spatial planning.

3.1.2

The euro zone also needs to be successfully enlarged, and at the same time strengthened and made more attractive and more efficient in terms of growth and jobs. Only 12 out of the 25 Member States are currently members of that zone. By 2013 it should include a majority of Member States, provided that they have met all the conditions for entry. As with the enlargement of the Union, the extension of the euro zone will require increased convergence, in an environment of competition, mainly at an economic level, but also in a number of other related areas, ranging from taxation, particularly harmonisation of tax bases, to social policy.

3.1.3

Structural change will continue to accelerate throughout the period:

3.1.3.1

globalisation and the growing strength of newly emergent economic powers will increase competitive pressures and intensify company relocation;

3.1.3.2

technological change will accelerate, spurred on by the innovations of a globalised information society;

3.1.3.3

the effects of the ageing of the European population will become even more apparent, especially when the ‘baby boom’ generation of the post war years moves into retirement. This will impact on living and employment conditions and the equilibrium of Member States' social benefit systems;

3.1.3.4

the migratory pressures from less developed third countries will probably continue to increase. There is a need to regulate them better, partly by improving adaptation to the Union's needs and integration capacities, and partly by increasing very significantly the effectiveness of development aid for the countries of origin, in order to create more jobs and more economic and social progress in those countries. It will also be necessary better to integrate the need for adaptation to immigration into schooling and training programmes at the various levels.

3.1.3.5

The struggle against social exclusion and poverty, whether affecting job seekers or ‘poor workers’, will remain an important requirement for European cohesion policy. If a solution is not found to problems of this type, which go beyond employment questions as such, it will be difficult in practice to ensure cohesion in both social and economic terms.

3.1.4

The Lisbon Strategy's 2010 deadline, as set by the European Council in 2000, will come in the midst of this period of profound change. Yet, implementation of this strategy is behind schedule. Catching up on Europe's failure to maintain competitiveness will become more urgent, but at the same time more difficult.

3.2

In dealing with these challenges over the coming years, European cohesion policy can fall back on several important factors which work in its favour:

3.2.1

the scale of the European internal market, which comprises more than half a billion Europeans, and its economic, commercial and human potential which is still under-exploited in terms of both economic supply and demand and the labour market;

3.2.2

the European model of social relations and the European social dialogue, which emphasise making the most of human resources in the face of the challenges of employment, development, health and quality of life in the context of globalisation;

3.2.3

dynamic economic growth in the new Member States, which in many cases is double the Community average, should help close the substantial gaps in development and boost the Union's economic and commercial growth;

3.2.4

new opportunities for planning and investment which unification of the whole European continent will open up, making it possible to revamp its internal economic organisation and implement innovative infrastructure and spatial planning programmes;

3.2.5

the economic and social reforms of the Lisbon Strategy, insofar as they take root and have a knock-on effect, with an active contribution by the social partners, should also give crucial support to cohesion policy.

3.2.6

In short, aid under the European cohesion policy should above all seek to promote a virtuous circle of growth and employment by developing positive interactions between these various factors (deepening and broadening of the internal market, investments and regional development, reforms in the Member States).

3.3

However, European cohesion policy also faces substantial difficulties, which will make it harder for its objectives to be achieved.

3.3.1

First there is the continuing difficulty in reviving strong economic growth in Europe. Far from catching up on its competitors, the European Union is continuing to lose ground. Economic growth is generally lacklustre, unemployment is high in numerous Member States, affecting both young and old, too few jobs are being created, the research deficit persists, ever more companies are relocating. Europe's current ranking in global economic performance hardly reflects the ambitious targets that were set five years ago and no significant improvement in the situation seems to be in sight.

3.3.2

Another major challenge for cohesion policy lies in the scale of the economic and social disparities following enlargement. These will take a long time to iron out. An innovative approach is needed in cohesion policy compared with previous years when the development differentials between the Member States were not as great.

3.3.3

Cohesion policy is weakened by inadequate economic policy coordination, including fiscal policy coordination, which is still too lax, even between countries that have adopted the euro. The increase in the number of Member States makes a solution to this problem both more urgent and more difficult. Greater economic coordination should be accompanied by better- structured consultation on social approaches.

3.3.4

The dysfunctions to be corrected include insufficient involvement of civil society actors in a process where public administrations take the leading role and cohesion policy is largely managed bilaterally by the Commission and the Member States (3).

3.3.5

Compared with the ever-increasing needs, the European Funds are still and will remain relatively modest. The agreement of 17 December 2005 limiting the European budget to 1.045 % of the gross national income reduces the cohesion policy budget to 0.36 % of the GNI. European budgetary resources are thus reduced to a level below that which prevailed before the enlargement from 15 to 25 members, which concerns the EESC as it does the European Parliament. Such a low percentage figure, which of course has nothing in common with that of a federal budget (the US budget represents more than 20 % of GDP), also seems excessively small in relation to the Union's cohesion objectives.

3.3.6

Thus the central question which the strategic guidelines for 2007-2013 have to answer is: how to do better with less? The very limited funds that are available will therefore have to be put to best possible use, by ensuring not perennial assistance but the conditions for autonomous, sustainable development. This will require, firstly, a maximum of convergence and complementarity with national budgets. Secondly, it means that funds will have to play a pump-priming role and support market forces. Together public funding and market forces can mobilise resources on the scale required for the development of Europe as a whole.

3.3.7

To meet all these challenges, it will be advisable to diversify the resources of cohesion policy, to concentrate its measures more effectively and to modernise its management methods. These various aspects are developed in the following paragraphs.

4.   Observations on the priorities for cohesion policy 2007-2013

4.1

The main priority of the 2007-2013 cohesion policy guidelines is ‘growth and employment’. They refer to the partnership for growth and employment proposed by the European Council in March 2005 and to the integrated guidelines proposed by the Commission in June 2005, which also focus on growth and employment.

4.2

So that cohesion policy contributes to the general ‘growth and employment’ priority, the Commission Communication highlights three specific priorities: Improving the attractiveness of Europe to investment, encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship, boosting employment and training. These three priorities are complemented by a cross-cutting concern to improve spatial planning in the Union, both in rural and urban areas, and in terms of cross-border, national and regional link-ups.

4.3

The first priority, which is to make Europe more attractive to investment, seems to be particularly appropriate. It should be pursued particularly in the less developed regions of the enlarged Union which deserve to be given priority, while making sure that there are transitional measures to assist former priority regions. In view of the inherent limits on the European Funds, the requirement has to be to encourage capital investment in priority areas for the development of the European economy, especially by the private sector.

4.3.1

Despite the progress already achieved in completing the internal market, in implementing economic and monetary union, and in some of the Lisbon Strategy reforms, the European Union has nonetheless not yet succeeded in developing an autonomous and effective mechanism for growth that capitalises on the synergies and complementarity between national economies. It will therefore be difficult to pursue an effective cohesion policy without first restoring confidence on the part of all the groups concerned (businessmen, employees, investors) both in the future direction of economic and social development in the Union, and in its political and institutional future.

4.3.2

Hence the need, over the coming years, to dispel some of the uncertainty that currently hangs over such crucial issues as completing the internal market, consolidating the competitiveness of an economy integrated around the euro, strengthening growth and employment, improving living conditions, successfully implementing the Lisbon Strategy, effective governance of the Union's institutions, and optimal and sustainable planning in the enlarged Europe with a view to harmonisation of economic, social and environmental progress.

4.3.3

The Commission Communication focuses on investments in infrastructure networks, in particular transport. However, it does not examine the reasons for the persistent delays in these projects. To address these delays, greater priority needs to be given to the financing of trans-European infrastructure for transport, energy and telecommunications, which influence the Union's cohesion. One can only deplore at this point the drastic reduction in the financing of these networks under the 17 December 2005 agreement: the fact that this priority was sacrificed by the European Council is in direct contradiction with the Lisbon commitments which were intended to be met by the middle of the 2007-2013 period. The EESC therefore asks, in line with the views expressed by the European Parliament, that a clearly reassessed budget be agreed to finance the trans-European networks.

4.3.4

The Communication also highlights two other priority investment areas for cohesion policy: firstly, encouraging investment in the environment, secondly, strengthening Europe's energy self-sufficiency.

4.3.4.1

A direct link needs to be established between these priorities and the abovementioned support for European infrastructure networks.

4.3.4.2

Beneficiaries of European aid must also comply with environmental requirements.

4.4

The second priority for cohesion policy is to improve innovation and entrepreneurship. By doing so the Commission is directly incorporating the priorities set out in the Lisbon Strategy as regards the promotion of a European knowledge society.

4.4.1

Achieving this priority will, in the first instance, require an increase in research investment.

4.4.1.1

However, Europe as a whole is losing ground in this area compared to its major technological partners. Member States' research funding, which is often more than a third below the target of 3 % of GDP set by the Lisbon Strategy, has not risen but plateaued, in some cases even been cut over the last few years. The European budget for the R & D Framework Programme (RDFP) remains weak in comparison to the research budgets of Member States, and fails to provide adequate coordination of national programmes. Moreover, there are still major bottlenecks in the Community institutional process, some at the highest level. This sends out the wrong signal. The persistent failure over the past thirty years to introduce a Community patent points to a worrying inability on the part of the Union to give itself the means to fulfil its ambitions.

4.4.1.2

Therefore, what is needed is a genuine, credible European research policy. This will require a substantial increase in European research funding, with the Community budget being adjusted accordingly. At the same time this funding must lead to more effective coordination of national programmes. The way has finally to be cleared for the Community patent, even if, initially, it is not adopted by all Member States for want of unanimity. Where would the euro, Schengen or European social policy be if in the same way their introduction had been dependent on unanimous implementation?

4.4.2

Another need highlighted by the Commission Communication is to encourage the creation and development of enterprises, especially at the cutting edge of technology, and to support networking at European level.

4.4.2.1

It is regrettable that small companies still lack the option of a simplified European statute facilitating their cross-border activities.

4.4.2.2

The EESC therefore reiterates the call it made in its own-initiative opinion on a ‘European Company Statute for SMEs’ (4) for the Commission to present and adopt such a European statute for small and medium-sized companies without further delay.

4.4.2.3

The EESC also deplores the Commission's withdrawal in autumn 2005 of the proposals on a European statute for mutual insurance companies and European associations, the need for which is greater than ever.

4.4.3

The Commission Communication also stresses the important issue of company financing and the need to make access to financing easier, especially for innovative businesses.

4.4.3.1

It needs to be emphasised here that the capacity of the Structural Funds to significantly improve companies' access to financing inevitably remains limited and, indeed, marginal, under the current arrangements. However, limited support and co-funding for pilot projects has proven to be useful in sufficiently targeted areas where they have a real demonstration value. The EESC is pleased to note the launching of the JASPERS and JEREMIE initiatives, in partnership between the Commission, the European Investment Bank, the European Investment Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The JASPERS initiative is intended to help the national and regional authorities of states eligible for the convergence objective in preparing large infrastructure projects. The JEREMIE programme aims to improve access to financing for small enterprises. The EESC hopes that these initiatives are made effectively operational and prominent at local level, so that this new framework for action has maximum effect in terms of economic development and creation of activities and hence jobs on the spot.

4.4.3.2

In order for the Funds to have a more direct and noticeable impact on company financing, their remit has to be widened to encompass facilities for bank loans, for making risk capital more available and for giving small companies better access to micro-credit and guarantees. This would mean taking a new look at the Funds' resources and their financial engineering — currently limited to the granting of subsidies. It would be a matter, along the lines of the JEREMIE programme but on a much larger scale, of transforming these subsidies into financial products: one euro set aside to guarantee a risk capital loan would thus make it possible to finance five to ten euro of an SME's investment, thus ensuring that the measures taken under the European Funds have a multiplier effect. The EESC's recommendations on this key issue are developed further in chapter 5 of this opinion.

4.4.3.3

Swift and effective completion of the single financial market in Europe, together with an efficient competition policy and consolidation of economic and monetary union, would lead to a decisive improvement in access to financing for companies of all sizes. However, this issue is barely referred to in the Communication, even though it is one of the Commission's main responsibilities to ensure that these objectives are met in the coming years.

4.5

The third priority set out in the Communication is to generate employment and improve the quality of jobs.

4.5.1

The first prerequisite for boosting employment is to strengthen economic growth and against this background to facilitate job creation. This objective presupposes a more dynamic economy in terms of both supply and demand, combined with an administrative, fiscal and social environment more favourable to job creation, especially as regards the situation for small companies, the self-employed, craftsmen and occupations which promote vocational skills. As already mentioned above, the Structural Funds can have only a limited direct effect in such areas, and are most useful in supporting targeted initiatives and pilot projects, while promoting best practice.

4.5.2

As the Commission emphasises, adjustments to the labour market are a key requirement. The Structural Funds should focus in particular on improving the functioning of the Single Market in this area. This requires strengthening mobility, including the transferability of pension schemes, and removing barriers to the European employment market, especially in the services sector (5) where more than two thirds of new employment is created, while respecting social conditions laid down in laws and collective agreements.

4.5.3

The Commission highlights the need to improve training for jobs. The EESC is nonetheless very concerned by the halving, decided in December 2005, of the lifelong learning budget proposed by the Commission. The EESC calls for it to be raised to a level appropriate to the Lisbon strategy commitments. In this field, new skills will be needed, with increased responsibilities and calling for more initiative. With this in mind, future programmes will have to allow regional priorities to be taken into account. Indeed, it is essential for funding under the European Social Fund to be as well adapted as possible to regional needs and not limited to the cofinancing of national policies.

4.5.3.1

In general, the EESC emphasises that no efforts should be spared to make the provisions as complementary and efficient as possible and to mobilise public and private players in a long-term partnership centring upon regional strategies based on the following priorities: promoting access for all to innovation and life-long training, improving the management and development of human resources in all companies, increasing the percentage of women employed, improving the level of activity up to retirement, gearing career guidance and training policy to the needs of the economy, promoting vocational training and apprenticeship at all levels, particularly in those trades which have recruitment difficulties, and focusing on training courses which lead to active involvement in the economy of a growing number of excluded people.

4.5.3.2

The Structural Funds should also prioritise the cofinancing of training programmes at European level along the lines of the successful Erasmus and Leonardo programmes. These programmes should henceforth shift into a higher gear, to enable them to support two to three times as many young Europeans.

4.5.4

There should also be a special mention of the ageing of the population, which requires special adaptation of the various aspects mentioned above linked to job creation and welfare systems (administrative, fiscal and social conditions, child care including childminding at a reasonable price, labour market, training and human resources).

4.6

The three priorities of the strategic guidelines are rounded off by a cross-sectoral call for the territorial dimension of cohesion policy to be taken into account. This constitutes a kind of fourth priority.

4.6.1

The Communication refers to the contribution of cities to growth and employment (better economic, social and environmental management of urbanisation). It also advocates the diversification of the economy in rural areas (maintaining services of public interest, development of networks, promoting local development clusters). It would have been worth explaining more fully the interactions between these requirements and the three priorities of the strategic guidelines.

4.6.2

The Communication also stresses the need for territorial cooperation on three levels:

4.6.2.1

cross-border cooperation, especially for the purpose of developing mutual exchanges and promoting economic and social integration;

4.6.2.2

transnational cooperation, in order to encourage joint action by Member States in areas of strategic importance (transport, research, social integration);

4.6.2.3

interregional cooperation to encourage the spread of best economic, social and environmental practices.

4.6.3

However, the EESC regrets that this reference to the need for European territorial cooperation appears to be only complementary, even accessory, to the priorities of the strategic guidelines, instead of being explicitly integrated with them.

4.7

Overall, this assessment of the three priorities of the strategic guidelines, along with the territorial dimension, raises several major questions:

4.7.1

Firstly, the priorities lack the precision required of a genuine ‘strategic’ framework for the implementation and management of cohesion policy. Rather, they appear to serve as reminder of good practices to be applied throughout the different policy areas.

4.7.2

In particular, the links between the priorities of the strategic guidelines and the three Fund objectives are not spelt out. This represents a major shortcoming: the strategic guidelines should act as a framework for the use of Funds, not merely flank them. In other words, the strategic guidelines appear more like collateral implementing instructions than the blueprint they are meant to be.

4.7.3

For the strategic guidelines to live up to their name and perform their function effectively, they need to set out more precisely how priority objectives in the following areas are to be achieved:

4.7.3.1

the ‘added value’ that European cohesion policy provides over and above national and local policies;

4.7.3.2

‘territorial concentration’ in and along European development clusters and axes, in order to create an overall knock-on effect;

4.7.3.3

providing an overall blueprint for the European Funds, ensuring that the strategic guidelines constitute an efficient and coherent framework, and are not just implementing instructions.

5.   Comments on the resources for cohesion policy 2007-2013

5.1

As support for cohesion policy, the Commission draws special attention to the role of the Structural Funds (Regional Fund and Social Fund) and of the Cohesion Fund. It points out that their use, in line with the strategic objectives mentioned earlier, must make it possible to stimulate growth, make better use of the opportunities of the Single Market, promote greater convergence between the Member States, strengthen regional competitiveness and improve the economic, social and cultural integration of the Union.

5.2

The first point to note is that the European Union will be faced with an increasing gap between the limitations on the Funds and the scale of the needs (disparities in development between Member States, delays in setting up infrastructure, delays in the Single Market, lagging competitiveness, delays in implementing the Lisbon Strategy). Internal reorganisation of Community budget priorities is necessary, partly by continuing the current reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. But this will provide only limited scope for increasing the appropriations of the Structural Funds, since the overall amount of the Community budget will remain very limited. At all events, with the Community budget limited to a ceiling of 1.045 % of GDP, the 0.36 % (EUR 308 billion of a budget of EUR 862 billion, subject to the supplement of EUR 4 billion agreed on 4 April 2006, yet to be ratified by the Parliament and the Council) which should go to cohesion policy does not seem to the EESC sufficient in itself to enable the Union to achieve its cohesion objectives for 2007-2013.

5.3

The most careful attention should therefore be given to:

5.3.1

the methods of intervention under the Funds, which should have an increased gearing effect on investment, involving more innovation than in the past in this area;

5.3.2

the real concentration of intervention under the Funds, which should have more of a restructuring effect particularly on a transnational and cross-border scale.

5.4

On the methods of intervention under the Funds, a number of points deserve to be emphasised:

5.4.1

Firstly, intervention under the Structural Funds can only accompany the Union's cohesion policy. It cannot be its exclusive or even dominant instrument. It must essentially promote, in the service of common goals, a mobilisation of the capital available on the markets and more convergent use of national and regional budgets. It is thus above all a matter of ensuring a gearing effect. In this context, the structural instruments of the Union must constitute a central planning tool for the European territory, accompanying Community policies and current economic and social changes.

5.4.2

To this end, the use of EU Funds and of the European Investment Bank should be based on a more flexible and innovative concept of financial engineering. As the Commission rightly acknowledges, the Funds should no longer confine themselves to grants but should support other instruments such as loans, loan guarantees, convertible instruments, investment capital and risk capital. The EESC not only supports this view, but asks that all the appropriate consequences be drawn from it and that the Union's methods of financial intervention be thoroughly reformed.

5.4.2.1

The EESC takes the view that the development of such alternative methods of intervention on the part of the Structural Funds, in close cooperation with the European Investment Fund and the European Investment Bank, would help to increase the impact of Community action considerably, and make it possible to combine it with the investment of public and private capital in a better way. In particular, they would contribute to a public/private sharing of the financing of investments, particularly in SMEs, which are regarded as risky by the traditional financial partners and for which the loan conditions may become even stricter in future following the Basel II agreements. They would be an effective way of mitigating the limitations of the European budget. Indeed, each euro of subsidy would often have been better used to guarantee five to ten euro of loan. This would make it possible in particular to increase the number of beneficiaries, while giving them more responsibility than would granting non-refundable subsidies.

5.4.2.2

These new methods of intervention should be implemented as close as possible to the beneficiaries, to ensure a maximum gearing effect on economic and social development. Other resources could also be mobilised through better coordination of measures between the Structural Funds and other institutions already active in European development, such as the EBRD. One priority field of action should be to promote in a much wider and more active way the public/private partnerships at European level, in conditions of transparent, open competition, particularly to finance the large-scale infrastructure projects which are essential both to the overall cohesion and to the collective competitiveness of Europe. As mentioned earlier (6), the budget allocation of the trans-European networks should in any case be raised substantially, because the public/private partnerships for European infrastructure cannot succeed without an adequate commitment on the part of the public Community Funds.

5.4.2.3

A reform of this kind in the intervention methods of the Community funds would call for an increase in the European Union's borrowing and loans capacity. It would also involve greater coordination with the EIB and other financial institutions, entering into a real partnership with the European banking and financial network, and strengthening the conditionality of aid for Member States and for the direct beneficiaries. Finally, it would be desirable to add this aspect to the reform of the regulations of the European funds for 2007-2013, in order to make the new systems of financial engineering fully operational. The EESC therefore calls upon the European Commission to make new proposals in these three areas.

5.4.3

Moreover, it is regrettable that the management of the Structural Funds has itself in recent years been too opaque and too much dominated by bilateral relations between the Community administration and national administrations, with no sign of effective overall coordination or of adequate control or monitoring of the proper use of the Funds. The Union's Court of Auditors has often deplored this situation, but the isolated measures which followed have remained too limited. The general principle of greater transparency in the formulation, adoption and implementation of Community policies has not yet been extended, as it should have been, to the operation and management of the Funds. The strategic guidelines of cohesion policy should henceforth be the basis for a definite change in this direction.

5.4.4

Among the innovations needed to ensure this better governance of European aid, one should mention the need for more systematic checks on the compatibility of Community aid with competition rules. Some poorly monitored measures using the Funds in the past, intended to reduce regional disparities, have caused serious and damaging distortions to the principles of fair competition, although it is perfectly possible to reconcile these two objectives. The Union's subsidies are public ones, comparable to state subsidies, and should therefore be subject to the same checks. This principle also leads to the necessary aim of better mutual coordination between European subsidies and national and regional subsidies. The Commission's annual competition report should therefore include in future a chapter on the conditions for monitoring Community aid in accordance with the Union's competition policy. The EESC has made this recommendation on previous occasions, but so far with no result.

5.5

On the concentration of intervention, the Commission should seek to ensure that the European Funds' intervention is driven by a more European dimension of spatial planning in the Union, which is far from being the case at present, apart from isolated progress initiated by Community action plans.

5.5.1

Indeed, the Structural Funds have so far hardly sought to encourage a transnational dimension in their measures, despite the regulatory and economic establishment of the large European internal market, now covering 25 Member States. The Structural Funds have been managed mainly by the Commission on the basis of the national priorities presented by the Member States, with no direct reference to the new cooperation needs resulting from the removal of physical, technical and fiscal barriers to trade, at the same time as economic and social disparities have increased, making it necessary to strengthen transnational links and networks.

5.5.2

This situation should be remedied by developing clearer intervention priorities to consolidate the links between Member States at transnational, interregional and cross-border levels. The apt comments made on these aspects by the Commission deserve to be reassessed, developed and incorporated in the priorities for intervention under the Funds, instead of being added on as a supplement to them.

6.   Comments on integration in national and regional policies

6.1

Integration of cohesion policy into national and regional policies is a central imperative, rightly emphasised by the Commission. There is a need to make progress in two areas:

6.2

Firstly, it must be ensured that Community aid is effectively used to support the optimal implementation of Community guidelines, decisions and commitments in the various Member States. The main priorities are:

6.2.1

correct and timely transposition of European directives;

6.2.2

strengthening of administrative cooperation at European level, particularly to ensure the proper functioning of the Single Market;

6.2.3

better application of both components of the stability and growth pact, which should not remain merely a restraint on deficits but should open the way to common economic governance.

6.3

Secondly, steps should be taken to ensure that Community aid does indeed help to strengthen consistency between European and national policies, particularly with a view to more effective implementation of the Lisbon Strategy. Special mention should be made of:

6.3.1

assisting economic, social and administrative structural reforms;

6.3.2

simplifying the regulatory framework and developing European approaches to socio-occupational self-regulation which deserves to be supported (7);

6.3.3

speeding up the completion of the European financial area, thereby optimising the advantages of the euro;

6.3.4

convergence of tax systems on a basis which is attractive to investment and innovation, to provide a better framework for competition under the Member States' different systems.

6.4

Finally, one should as far as possible avoid adding further national or regional criteria to the framework laid down by the EU, in order to retain the necessary flexibility in defining the content of future programmes. By the same token, one should avoid setting up procedures likely to fix a priori the allocation of appropriations for a period of seven years or to preclude the possibility of easily adapting the current programmes.

6.5

The EESC hopes that Community aid will help to promote a European industrial approach, making it possible to coordinate at the various levels (European, national and regional) the public authorities and the actors of organised civil society (8).

6.6

Finally, the EESC is pleased that the European Council of December 2005 gave its agreement in principle to the setting up of a European Globalisation adjustment Fund ‘designed to provide additional support for workers made redundant as a result of major structural changes in world trade patterns, to assist them with their re-training and job search efforts.’ The Heads of State or Government invited the Council to define the eligibility criteria for this Fund. The EESC takes the view that the European social partners could be involved in their definition on an interprofessional or even a sectoral basis.

7.   Comments on the involvement of the socio-occupational actors

7.1

It is very necessary to involve the socio-occupational actors in cohesion policy. The EESC has called for this involvement to be strengthened, e.g. in its opinion of 2003 on the partnership for the implementation of the Structural Funds (9). The Commission acknowledges this need, emphasising that it is playing a decisive role in ensuring better adoption of this policy at local level. However, it does not present any proposals for organising ways of doing this and integrating them in the strategic guidelines for cohesion.

7.2

The EESC therefore proposes that the strategic guidelines for cohesion policy 2007-2013 be supplemented by specifying a real framework for the involvement of socio-occupational actors. Like the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement in favour of the non-state actors of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, explicitly consulted and associated with the management of European subsidies, this framework should be fully integrated in the strategic guidelines, and be binding on the Member States.

7.3

The framework should include the following objectives:

7.3.1

involving the socio-occupational interest groups and the social partners in the European definition of the main guidelines (particularly the overall strategic document) and their decentralised implementation at national level (particularly the national strategic reference framework established by the Member States), and at regional and local levels;

7.3.2

deepening the economic, social and environmental components of this dialogue, in the service of effective, participatory and lasting development;

7.3.3

involving the socio-occupational actors directly in improving employment, especially through contractual arrangements between the social partners aimed particularly at modernising vocational training systems and facilitating a better adaptation of the labour market;

7.3.4

encouraging the actors of civil society to make better use of the European Single Market by intensifying trans-European production, trade and infrastructure networks and setting up socio-occupational self-regulation and co-regulation arrangements which help to complete the Single Market;

7.3.5

defining with the socio-occupational actors effective models of public/private partnership, with adapted arrangements for concessions, incentives, guarantees and subcontracting;

7.3.6

developing on this basis more public/private partnership programmes, particularly for infrastructure and financing SMEs at local level;

7.3.7

encouraging the socio-occupational actors to intensify European cooperation initiatives on research and technological innovation;

7.3.8

supporting the innovative approaches of the socio-occupational actors who contribute to the outlook for sustainable development.

7.4

To be effective, such a dialogue will have to be better organised and better structured, both in Brussels and in the various Member States and regions. The framework for involvement should thus include the following provisions:

7.4.1

basing the dialogue on effective information, well communicated by the public authorities of the Member States, on the strategic guidelines and their implementing arrangements;

7.4.2

beginning consultations at a sufficiently early stage, allowing for the socio-occupational actors to be involved in the impact studies;

7.4.3

informing the socio-occupational actors on the follow-up given to the consultations and to their proposals;

7.4.4

enclosing with the official programming or revision documents a summary of the conditions for consulting the socio-occupational actors;

7.4.5

promoting, in the case of cross-border or interregional programmes, joint consultations and socio-occupational partnerships which are also cross-border or interregional;

7.4.6

encouraging in particular social dialogue initiatives on these cross-border and interregional plans, particularly by setting up the optional transnational framework for collective negotiation as announced in the 2005-2010 social agenda.

7.5

The EESC also reiterates its support for the Commission proposal to devote 2 % of the European Social Fund's resources to the development of capacities and activities undertaken jointly by the social partners.

7.6

The EESC has agreed, with the explicit support of the European Council of March 2005, to develop a European information and support network for the initiatives of civil society actors taking part in the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy. This network will fully incorporate the initiatives which these actors will take to make European cohesion policy more effective in the 2007-2013 period.

Brussels, 21 April 2006

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  EESC Opinions on the Funds (general provisions), Cohesion Fund and European Regional Development Fund, OJ C 255 of 14.10.2005, pages 79, 88 and 91.

(2)  EESC Opinion: OJ C 255 of 14.10.2005, p. 76.

(3)  EESC Opinion on the Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament — Building our common future: Policy challenges and budgetary means of the enlarged Union 2007-2013, OJ C 74 of 23.3.2005, p. 32.

(4)  OJ C 125 of 27.5.2002, p. 100.

(5)  EESC Opinion on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on services in the internal market, OJ C 221 of 8.9.2005, p. 113.

(6)  See point 4.3.3.

(7)  Information Report of the Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption on the Current state of co-regulation andself-regulation in the Single Market.

(8)  See EESC opinion on Modern Industrial Policy, OJ C 110, 9.5.2006.

(9)  OJ C 10 of 14.1.2004, p. 21.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/62


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The effects of international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the industrial change processes in Europe

(2006/C 185/12)

On 10 February 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 effects of international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the industrial change processes in Europe.

The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 30 January 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Zbořil and the co-rapporteur was Mr Činčera.

At its 426th plenary session held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 79 votes to 11 with nine abstentions.

1.   Introduction: the EU's goals in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

1.1

Global climate change is currently one of the most important subjects in scientific and political discussion and action, as well as in everyday life. International activities initiated at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s led first to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1989, then to negotiations being initiated at UN level (1990) and finally to the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, which came into force on 21 March 1994.

1.2

Climate change did occur in the distant past, though we have only indirect evidence of this (proxy data) in the form of paleoclimatic measurements and observation or of geological phenomena and archaeological findings, as there are no reliable meteorological data from that time. New analyses of proxy data for the Northern Hemisphere indicate that the increase in global temperature in the 20th century is the largest of any century during the past 1 000 years.

1.3

Many states and regions that are vulnerable to climate change are also under pressure from forces such as population growth, resource depletion, and poverty. A policy, and measures based on it, formulated with the help of the developed countries and respecting the needs of developing countries, can both help the progress of sustainable development and equality of opportunities and enhance the effects of adaptive measures. This should lessen pressures on resources, improve management of environmental risks, and increase the welfare of the poorest members of society. It can also lead to reduced vulnerability to climate change. Inclusion of climatic risks in the design and implementation of national and international development initiatives can promote equity and development that is more sustainable and that reduces vulnerability to climate change.

1.4

According to the Third Assessment Report (TAR), drawn up by the IPCC in 2001, the global average surface temperature has increased since 1861, and according to analyses of the World Meteorological Organisation, nine of the warmest years recorded have been in the last ten years. 1998 was the warmest year, followed by 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2001. The 20th century witnessed an increase in average temperature of 0.6 °C +/- 0.2 °C and forecasts indicate that, if appropriate measures are not taken, by the end of the 21th century temperatures will have risen by a further 1.4 °C to 5.8 °C.

1.5

The assumption which enjoys wide support in scientific circles — mostly in Europe — and is given great importance at the political level is that climate change is caused predominantly by the increase of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere resulting from human activity, above all the burning of fossil fuels. This assumption is based on the correlation between a long-term growth in concentrations of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere and the long-term trend in global temperatures in the twentieth century, as well as on results from climate models for assessing the extent and effects of climate changes in the future, taking account of projections of greenhouse gas emissions and their concentrations in the atmosphere.

1.6

The influence of mankind on global climate change is already demonstrable despite doubts about the effects of aerosols and some natural factors (volcanic activity and solar irradiance). However, the global climate is also affected by cycles of solar activity and geophysical factors, and establishing exactly how great man's influence is compared with natural changes is not yet possible, nor is it likely to be for a long time. There are also uncertainties concerning the representativeness of available data and the results of the climate models, which still do not describe all the interactions with complete accuracy and therefore cannot simulate all the elements of the climate system with absolute precision.

1.7

The climate models used in making forecasts of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse and aerosol gases and in the subsequent forecasts of future climate are based on scenarios in the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios. These scenarios bring together various hypotheses of the world's socio-economic, energy and population development to the end of the 21st century.

1.8

The vulnerability of human societies and natural systems to climate extremes is demonstrated by the damage, hardship, and death caused by events such as droughts, floods, heat waves, avalanches, and windstorms. Forecasts of future development suggest some extreme events are projected to increase in frequency during the 21st century and their impact is expected to be worse both in extent and severity.

1.9

Further research is required to improve the ability to detect, attribute and fully understand climate change, to reduce uncertainties and to project future climate changes. In particular, there is a need for additional systematic and sustained observations, modelling and process studies.

1.10

The man-made global warming hypothesis that climate change is a result of the increased content of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was the basis for the policy decision of the states involved and the European Community to apply the principle of preventive action and to frame a policy and strategy for limiting climate change through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, above all carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels.

1.11

The practical outcome of these policy decisions was the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (December 1997) and its entry into force on 16 February 2005.

1.12

The Kyoto Protocol commits its signatories to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the period 2008-2012 by the amounts they agreed to as set out in Appendix B to the Protocol in relation to the situation in 1990. The EU-15 Member States are obliged to reduce their total emissions by 8 % (i.e. by 336 Mt CO2eq annually). The new Member States have their own reduction targets set by Appendix B. In most cases this is also 8 %, though for Hungary and Poland it is 6 %. Appendix B stipulates a different reference year for Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. The Protocol also offers the chance of using flexible mechanisms (Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation projects in developed countries and Clean Development Mechanisms in developing countries) intended to help the developed countries meet their own Kyoto commitment under more favourable economic conditions and at the same time help developing countries to move over to new technologies.

1.13

The EU-15 Member States account for roughly 85 % of the EU-25's total emissions and the new Member States 15 %. Current emissions inventories show that the EU-15, signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, had by 2003 only managed to reduce their total greenhouse gas emissions by 1.7 %, which significantly reduces the EU-15's real chances of achieving the Kyoto target by the 2008-2012 period. Although emissions in the EU-15 have risen by 3.6 % since 1995 and by as much as 4.3 % in the last five years, the latest emissions forecasts predict that additional emissions-reduction measures, combined with application of the Kyoto mechanisms, could produce cuts of 8.8 % by 2010, outstripping the EU-15 Kyoto target. In the period 1990-2003, the new EU Member States reduced total greenhouse gas emissions by 22 %, although much of this was achieved by the transformation processes in, above all, the first half of the 1990s: after 1995 emissions dropped by 6 % and have been stable in the last five years.

1.14

Although the EU-15's prospect of meeting its Kyoto Protocol commitment suggests lowering emissions by 2012 could be a problem, a document drafted for the March 2005 Council sets out medium- and long-term reduction goals for economically developed states in the order of 15-30 % and 60-80 % of 1990 levels by 2020 and 2050 respectively. The IPCC estimates that this will slow growth in world GDP over the period 1990 to 2100 by between 0.003 % and 0.06 % per annum (1). The European Commission's estimates reckons with a drop in the EU 25's GDP of 0.5 % in 2025 if the target for CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is set at 550 ppmv and CO2 emissions are cut by 1.5 % annually after 2012. This assumes, however, that all countries will take part in combating climate change and in the emissions trading system. If the EU acts unilaterally, the impact on its GDP could be two to three times greater, without any discernible environmental benefits being achieved (2).

1.15

The Kyoto Protocol's main problem is that its signatories do not include the USA, which produces the largest amounts of greenhouse gases in absolute terms (almost 25 % of the world total) and that so far there are no reduction targets for the commitment period 2008-2012 for those countries with the largest anticipated growth in these gases (India, China and others, where emissions have increased by more than 20 % since 1990). While in 1990, when international negotiations began, developing countries accounted for around 35 % of total world emissions, in 2000 the figure was around 40 % and forecasts indicate that by around 2010 it will be 50 % and in 2025 as high as 75 %. This represents a serious threat to the goals of this whole initiative. If a global consensus cannot be achieved on climate change issues through political negotiations, the isolated endeavours of European countries (the EU) will be incapable of producing the desired positive effects and could, on the contrary, create a serious imbalance in economic development.

1.16

Whatever reservations there may be about the present state of knowledge on the causes of the climate changes taking place and the way that policy on climate change was initiated, framed and adopted, it has to be said that many activities geared towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions could have a significant beneficial effect, namely the reduction of energy consumption in the economic and private spheres. To achieve this, appropriate incentive mechanisms have to be found and investments made into developing science, research, new technologies and essential innovation.

2.   Means to achieve EU objectives in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

2.1

To meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments to reduce total emissions of greenhouse gases by the period 2008 to 2012 by 8 % and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions generally, the EU has adopted a strategic programme — European Climate Change Programme — and, as part of this, a series of specific regulatory measures of varying significance, of which the most important are:

2.1.1

Directive 2003/87/EC establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading (3) (EU ETS) should be the key instrument for meeting obligations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This Directive was implemented in 2004, when National Allocation Plans were also put forward and, in most countries, approved, which allocated allowances for greenhouse gas emissions down to the level of individual sources and their operators. The Directive came into force on 1 January 2005 and should enable operators of undertakings producing greenhouse gases to trade in such a way as to optimise the costs to them of reducing these emissions.

2.1.2

The Linking Directive establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community in respect of the Kyoto Protocol's project mechanisms is intended to link the Kyoto Protocol's flexible mechanisms — JI and CDM — to the EU emissions trading scheme. This way Member States and businesses will be able to meet their own targets in collaboration with other countries which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

2.1.3

Directive 2001/77/EC on the promotion of electricity produced from renewable energy sources (4) is a very important instrument for the introduction and use of renewable energy sources (water, wind, solar, biomass, geothermal energy) and intended to offset the costs of the initial phase of making practical use of renewable energy sources.

2.1.4

Directive 2003/30/EC on the promotion of the use of biofuels (5), including their use for motor vehicles, creates favourable conditions for limiting the consumption of liquid fossil fuels in favour of fuels from renewable sources.

2.1.5

Directive 2004/8/EC on the promotion of cogeneration of heat and electricity (6) aimed at facilitating greater use for energy of fossil fuels in cogeneration.

2.1.6

Directive 2003/96/EC on the taxation of energy products and electricity (7) introducing a ‘carbon tax’ throughout the EU and creating the framework for ecological tax reform and the internalisation of externalities.

2.1.7

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain fluorinated greenhouse gases (HFCs, PFCs and SF6) (8), expected to be adopted during the course of the current year.

2.1.8

Measures introducing the assessment of heat insulation properties of buildings and their improvement and some further regulatory technical instruments.

2.2

While the regulatory framework created by directives on renewable energy sources, cogeneration, taxation of energy products and support of biofuels modify market conditions to make reduction of fossil fuels use easier and more effective, and in essence also to create equal conditions for operators in the same branches of industry, the implementation of the Directive on greenhouse gas emission allowance trading provokes a series of mixed reactions, particularly regarding the drawing-up of national allocation plans for the different sources and the process for approving these plans. The scheme's shortcoming is that it fails to create a level playing field for those taking part in the trading system, both at national level between individual manufacturing sectors and at international level between Member States.

2.3

The impact on the market of the implementation of the Directive Regulation supporting electricity production from renewable sources is far more evident. It sets out in advance clear rules on the conditions under which energy for distribution networks will be purchased at the national level. It can be assumed that these conditions will naturally differ from country to country, which can also be taken as an infringement of a level playing field for economic competition; nevertheless, it is up to each Member State to decide what its priorities are and to know what its possibilities are and on the basis of this to set favourable prices for electricity from the various sources of renewable energy.

2.4

Somewhat lagging behind the regulatory measures are support measures, notably for science and research in the Sixth Framework Programme (9), in which funding of EUR 2,120 million is allocated for climate change science and research for the period 2003 to 2006. These are earmarked for ‘sustainable energy systems’, ‘sustainable surface transport’ and ‘global change and ecosystems’. The Seventh Framework Programme (10) for the period 2007-2013 allocates a total of EUR 2 931 million for its Energy heading, with priorities including hydrogen and fuel cells, renewable electricity generation and liquid biofuels for transport, as well as clean coal technologies and sequestration, energy savings and efficient energy use; research into climate change and reducing vulnerability and risks are included in the Environment and Climate Change heading, for which a further EUR 2 535 million is budgeted.

2.5

Key areas in which more substantial savings in greenhouse gas emissions can be made include expanding the use of biomass, better care of plantations and their renewal and extending forestation in uncultivated agricultural land in suitable locations. Promoting geological sequestration and the safe use of nuclear energy would also produce emissions savings.

2.6

Whereas some countries have decided to give up nuclear energy or have renounced it from the start, in other countries nuclear energy plays a major role in energy production. Work is being conducted on nuclear fusion, but it is estimated that it will be at least fifty years before it becomes economically viable to use. This being the case, encouraging safer nuclear fission, recycling spent nuclear fuel and solving the problems of final storage, continue to be a challenge. Many countries consider promoting and retaining nuclear energy a suitable tool to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Other countries express their reservations towards such an approach because of risks being connected with nuclear energy.

2.7

Relatively little attention is paid to the very important issue of making Europe as a whole, and specifically the individual Member States, less vulnerable should climate changes occur. This very important sphere merits much greater attention and funds invested here yield the greatest benefit.

3.   The consequences for industrial change of implementing the Kyoto Protocol and policies to limit climate change

3.1

The consequences of implementing the Kyoto Protocol and attendant policies and measures fall into two categories: 1) those leading to structural changes in branches of industry (including possible relocation of some manufacturers or even sectors) and 2) those primarily improving efficiency in energy use and provoking internal changes in the individual branches, especially those with high energy needs. In order to achieve success without unnecessary losses, means need to be chosen that provide a balance of regulation and positive stimulus to the market. Otherwise, it would be unrealistic to expect climate change policies to be at all successful.

3.2

Instruments which raise the costs of primary (fossil) energy sources and electricity could lead to structural changes. The reasons for price rises are a) the as yet only partially liberalised energy market and the consequent risk of monopolistic behaviour by large energy companies which can afford to pass on the increased costs of climate change measures (permits, purchase price of renewable energy) in the market price, and b) taxation (an external factor). It must be said that in the EU's partially liberalised energy market, those markets which are fully liberalised have a tendency to raise energy prices on the pretext of fighting climate change, as when passing on the price of coal in full. Significant rises in electricity prices and deformation in the structure of industry can be expected as a result of the following measures:

3.2.1

The promotion of electricity production from renewable sources has a whole series of consequences and benefits and these influences differ according to the kind of renewable energy involved. The least problematic, relatively speaking, is the use of hydro energy (where well-considered and economical modification of water flows is needed and large dams can be problematic). The range of problems increases with the use and management of wind energy. The burning of biomass has to overcome a whole series of obstacles and red-tape before the advantages outweigh the costs of using what is a very diverse renewable source. Foremost among these is the danger of large power station concerns buying up biomass as an additive for thermal power stations, thus forcing up the price and making it too costly for local heating plants or for the processing industry concerned. The truly clean sources (solar panels and geothermal energy) are still at a stage of development where their use on any significant scale is out of the question. One consequence, in any event, is a higher purchase price of energy from renewable sources which is set arbitrarily and passed on to the consumer. Generally speaking, however, the use of renewable energy sources should be supported and the best ways sought to make them economically viable.

3.2.2

In view of the fact that not all countries have set taxation of primary energy sources at the same level and the Member States have very different internal conditions, this measure will bring about industrial change by causing an imbalance which might influence the allocation of investment into developing capacities and new technologies in branches of industry heavily dependent on energy. This instrument should be used as the last resort and with the utmost caution, especially because the taxing of primary energies in Europe puts those countries where taxation has been introduced at a competitive disadvantage.

3.2.3

The introduction of the European system of emission allowances trading (EU ETS) involves a rise in energy prices (the range is between 8 % and 40 %, depending on source and area) and a loss of competitiveness manifesting itself in a drop in GDP of between 0.35 % and 0.82 %. Also expected are a drop in the European economy's export performance and tougher competition with countries which, unencumbered by measures to reduce climate change, have low energy costs. The way the system is being introduced is very chaotic and is causing uncertainty in the investment environment as a whole, while favouring only those with inefficient processes and management systems.

3.2.4

The structural effects on some branches of industry (production of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, building materials, the chemical and paper industries, etc.) are increased by the impact of EU ETS introduction, as well as by the trend in energy pricing. In recent times — at the beginning of the 1990s — these branches invested heavily in modernisation and reducing energy consumption, and some of them also managed to boost production substantially. In reality, EU ETS means that the system of allowances is such that modernised companies will have to buy allowances, while those who have invested no effort or resources will receive a ‘contribution’ to their development in the form of allowances which they can sell. The core trading period of 2008-2012 could already land these companies with insuperable economic difficulties because in many cases they have already achieved the minimum levels of emissions technically and technologically possible and the maximum energy efficiency, making further reduction simply impossible.

3.2.5

In some branches of industry (the steel industry, most notably) greenhouse gasses are released as a result of physical-chemical processes. In most cases, such emissions have already been reduced to the lowest levels technically possible. These physical-chemical emissions, which cannot be reduced further, should be exempted from trading. This does not mean, however, that the branches of industries in question are relieved of the obligation to reduce current emissions in other spheres (energy production). The ceiling of allowances for individual states and individual operators of emissions sources is another crucial factor. Given that the system is only just coming into operation, as yet there is no significant practical experience of how it works and its practical effects to draw on. Expectations of its effects run the gamut from outright scepticism to exaggerated optimism. The truth is that even those who invented the system have not published any concrete figures for greenhouse gas emissions reduction following the introduction of EU ETS to show the benefits of the envisaged measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, the economic sector prefers a well functioning and non-discriminatory system of emissions trading to taxation of energy.

3.3

Far more important are the changes resulting from other instruments. Although these attract less media attention than EU ETS, they will in the course of time bring real reductions in energy consumption as a whole or in the consumption of fossil fuels in energy production. This is, then, a very desirable course of development with a specific potential to reduce greenhouse gases, though even here there are some risks which cannot be overlooked.

3.3.1

If the Directive on the promotion of electricity produced from renewable energy sources is fully implemented to the extent intended, the estimated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-15 will be between 100 and 125 Mt CO2eq, making it the single largest contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. As well as the direct effect of reducing emissions, there should also be benefits in the development of technology and equipment both for physical processes of energy production (water, wind, solar) and thermal processes using biomass for energy. The potential risk in the case of using biomass is the loss of some renewable raw materials (especially wood) for the processing branches. The support given needs, therefore, to be carefully chosen to avoid such loss. With wind energy, the risk lies in its instability and having a large share of energy coming from wind power could jeopardise the reliable supply of electricity in the networks; capacity therefore needs to be backed up by stable sources.

3.3.2

When fully implemented, the Directive on the promotion of the use of biofuels should reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the EU-15 by 35 to 40 Mt CO2; it should also have the secondary effect of giving a new opportunity to agriculture and the processing industry — supplying raw materials and biofuels for motor vehicles.

3.3.3

The Directive on the promotion of cogeneration of heat and electricity is an important element of the system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could reduce them in the EU-15 by 65 Mt CO2 per annum; it also aims to make heat generation more energy efficient where the system has not as yet been employed (especially large energy sources for heating households, etc.). Many industrial plants have already been using the system for a considerable time. Most often, the risk is the relatively high cost of fuels compared to the increased energy gained and the resulting low return on investment, the large investment needed if introducing the system requires conversion of essential plant and the fact that these sources are not usually operated non-stop, which makes their access to the network more difficult. In the energy supply sector, the total possible savings on greenhouse gas emissions are estimated at between 250 and 285 Mt CO2eq.

3.3.4

Fiscal measures should only be used very carefully and to provide the incentive of lower taxation for players which reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the question of taxing airline fuel. At present, air travel has a tax advantage over other forms of transport, though, admittedly, it accounts for only about 2 % of greenhouse gas emissions. Any taxing of airline fuels must be done globally, the steps need to be proposed and implemented with due regard to the highly competitive environment in air travel and they must not come unilaterally from the EU.

3.3.5

Possible savings in energy consumption are estimated at 215 to 260 Mt CO2eq, of which total savings of 35 to 45 Mt CO2eq could come from better insulation of buildings. Potential savings in transport are put at between 150 and 180 Mt CO2eq.

3.3.6

Policy measures also include the Regulation on certain fluorinated greenhouse gases (HFCs, PFCs and SF6), which account for a relatively small share of greenhouse gases. At present the figure is around 2 % of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions and can be expected to rise to 3 % after 2012. The chances of reducing this lie mostly in limiting the use of these materials in commercial refrigeration equipment, in the production of HFC-23 and in fixed or mobile air-conditioning units. According to the latest IPCC estimates, costs could be in the order of 10 to 300 US$/tCO2eq (sectoral and regional difference). Potential emissions savings are put at 18 to 21 Mt CO2eq.

3.3.7

Sequestration in plant material has great potential for reducing greenhouse gases — by between 60 and 100 Mt CO2eq if the right conditions are created.

3.4

CO2 capture and storage in suitable geological strata or underground spaces comprises the separation of CO2 from suitable anthropogenic sources, the transportation to a storage location, and the isolation from the atmosphere for a long period of time. The reduction of emissions in this way (CCS — carbon capture and separation) is influenced by the amount of CO2 captured, the reduction in overall efficiency of power plants or industrial processes due to the additional energy required for capture, transport and storage, and the fraction of CO2 retained in storage. Current technology can capture about 90 % of the CO2 fed into a capture plant. However, roughly 15-30 % more energy is needed to operate the CCS system (most of it for capture) leading to a net emission reduction of approximately 85 %.

4.   Conclusions and recommendations

4.1

Climate change is a unique problem that humanity has never before encountered in modern times. The problem is global, long-term (even a few centuries) and involves complex interactions between climatic, environmental, economic, political, institutional, social and technological processes. This has important international and intergenerational consequences in the context of broader societal goals such as equality and sustainable development. Developing a response to climate change is characterised by decision-making which involves substantial uncertainties and risks, including the possibility of non-linear and/or irreversible changes.

4.2

Adverse manifestations of global climate change include increasingly extreme weather conditions (e.g. downpours, floods, landslides, drought and windstorms), which are causing ever greater damage to people and property. Estimates of cost and benefits of mitigation actions differ in how welfare is measured, the scope and methodology of the analysis, and the underlying assumptions built into the analyses. As a result, estimated costs and benefits may not reflect the actual costs and benefits of implementing mitigation actions.

4.3

Further policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must take into account all the economic parameters. If not, those states which have ratified the Kyoto protocol run the risk of having some of their manufacturing move to developed economies which are still hesitating to sign the protocol or to developing countries which are not yet subject to any quota obligations under it. This could result in economic losses and weakened competitiveness, without producing the desired global reduction in emissions.

4.4

The successful implementation of climate change mitigation options needs to overcome many technical, economic, political, cultural, social, behavioural and/or institutional barriers which prevent the full exploitation of the technological, economic and social opportunities of these mitigation options. The potential mitigation opportunities and types of barriers vary by region and sector, and over time.

4.5

The effectiveness of climate change mitigation can be enhanced when climate policies are integrated with the non-climate objectives of national and sectoral policy development and be turned into broad transition strategies to achieve the long-term social and technological changes required by both sustainable development and climate change mitigation.

4.6

Coordinated actions among countries and sectors may help to reduce mitigation cost, address competitiveness concerns, potential conflicts with international trade rules, and carbon leakage. A group of countries that wants to limit its collective greenhouse gas emissions should agree to implement well-designed and effective international instruments.

4.7

Climate change is a global phenomenon and should be tackled as such. All possible political instruments or negotiations should be used to involve all the world's major producers of greenhouse gases in efforts to reduce the global level of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The ‘choice’ of major polluters should take account of the estimated level of total greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere after 2012. True progress cannot be achieved without using adequate political and economic means.

4.8

There also needs to be a realistic assessment of the will of the Member States of the EU itself to achieve far more ambitious goals of obligatory emissions reductions after 2012 with a view to the Lisbon Strategy and the results so far of measures adopted and implemented. In this regard, we welcome the proposals in the Commission's Communication Winning the battle against Climate Change and accompanying documents.

4.9

The EU's approach in the immediate future should be to prepare concrete arguments to present at international negotiations on climate change. These negotiations must lead in the future to an acceptable way of continuing the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 — one that involves all the economically developed countries and the prime producers of emissions in the developing countries as a whole and especially those where development is rapid. Failing this, it will have to be accepted that in 2012 the Kyoto Protocol in its present form will only cover a quarter of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. As it stands now, the Protocol cannot be an effective instrument for addressing the question of global climate in the future and an approach will have to be sought which can seamlessly follow on from it. This must, however, include a rethink of instruments for reducing greenhouse gases, including the EU ETS, both in terms of their real impact on the global volume of greenhouse gas emissions and their cost effectiveness and administrative burden. Steps should be taken immediately to compare the proposals and plans of various groups of countries for long-term reductions in greenhouse gases so that the right decisions can be taken in time.

4.10

The global community must be involved in solving global problems by political means. It has to be openly admitted, however, that such involvement is not necessarily in the interest of all the big polluters and that, because of their size and geographical location (USA, China), they prefer a unilateral approach. If there is political failure, the EU's continued leading role in climate change issues could weaken the ability to adapt without having any tangible effect on climate change itself.

4.11

These problems cannot be solved without a far better understanding of both the causes of the phenomenon and the possibilities of reducing the man-made influences involved. Only adequate investment in science and research, monitoring and systematic observation will enable the necessary acceleration in scientific understanding of the real causes of climate change.

4.12

There can be no doubt that in many respects the key factor of both economic success and the progressive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is efficient manufacturing and above all an economical use of energy. The instruments we see as being appropriate and effective for this within the energy production sector are increased use of renewable sources, selected according to the specific conditions of the individual Member States, including the use of biomass in transport, the rational use of the potential of co-generation, increasing the global efficiency of electricity and heat production, while being aware that there are limits to the effectiveness of these measures. Another relatively straightforward contribution to reducing greenhouse gasses is using solar energy for heating water (for domestic consumption or heating) and the use of heat pumps which are now becoming economically viable for use on a small scale, such as in individual houses.

4.13

Other instruments we consider effective include decarbonisation in electricity and heat production, including support for nuclear, solar and hydrogen technologies, particularly in research and development, and increasing the safety of production and consumption systems. On the energy conservation front, attention should be paid not only to the traditional reduction of energy consumption in industrial production, but also to the improvement of insulation properties of building and a significant growth in efficient public transport. These instruments will also require substantial resources for science and research and a major push for their implementation if the EU really wants to take on the leading role in the fight against climate change.

4.14

All measures must be adopted only after thorough analysis of the implications and consequences, so that inappropriate steps should not endanger the competitiveness and the very ability to act of the EU as a whole and of the individual Member States. Support for energy from biomass, for example, must not be a threat to some branches of industry by destroying their sources of raw materials, and an increased energy price as a result of measures to suppress greenhouse gas emissions cannot become prohibitive and have a significant social fallout.

4.15

The safety of the population requires that plans be made, adapted to regional circumstances, to limit the vulnerability to climate change and promote the development of warning and alarm systems linked to monitoring and systematic observation. Effective steps in this area will need in-depth strategic and economic analyses, including planning and allocating appropriate financing both at EU level and at national and regional levels.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  IPCC Working Group 3 report ‘Climate Change 2001: Mitigation’, technical summary, p. 61.

(2)  Winning the Battle Against Global Climate Change: COM(2005)35, 9.2.2005, p. 15.

(3)  OJ L 275/32, 25.10.2003.

(4)  OJ L 283/33, 27.10.2001.

(5)  OJ L 123/42, 17.5.2003.

(6)  OJ L 525/50, 21.2.2004.

(7)  OJ 283/51, 31.10.2003.

(8)  COM(2003) 492 final.

(9)  Council Decision 2002/835/EC of 30 September 2002.

(10)  COM(2005)119, 6.4.2005.


APPENDIX

to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following amendment, which received at least a quarter of the votes cast, was defeated in the course of the debates:

Point 4.13

Other instruments we consider effective include decarbonisation in electricity and heat production, with the support of other available fuels and energy sources, especially solar and hydrogen technologies, particularly in research and development, and increasing the safety of production and consumption systems ...’

Reason

Deletion of the reference to nuclear energy ties in with the amendment to point 2.6.

Voting

For: 25

Against: 54

Abstentions: 12.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/71


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Legal framework for consumer policy

(2006/C 185/13)

On 10 February 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 Legal framework for consumer policy.

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 28 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Pegado Liz.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 45 votes to 26, with two abstentions.

1.   Summary

1.1

In any community of law, the policy the community intends to pursue must be founded on a legal basis which defines the limits to the community's powers and the parameters of its remit. The European Union is a community of law and, as such, it must meet this requirement.

1.2

For a legal basis to be suitable, workable and effective, it needs to be clear, precise and independent. It must set out the objectives, founding principles and implementing criteria for the policy which the community of law intends to pursue, and cover all the policy areas for which it was designed.

1.3

With the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty, Article 129a of the Treaty became the new legal basis for action in the area of consumer protection policy in the European Union. It soon became apparent that it was an inadequate basis for developing a fully-fledged policy in this field.

1.4

The non-application of this legal basis over the years highlighted its inadequacies as a suitable and effective legal basis for promoting a genuine policy for the protection of consumer interests at Community level.

1.5

The changes introduced by the new Article 153 of the Amsterdam Treaty did not address these shortcomings. Nor did the texts proposed with a view to the adoption of the European Constitution.

1.6

Consumer policy is clearly one of the policy areas closest to European citizens. It can play a key role in influencing their commitment to the European ideal, insofar as the latter satisfies their needs and aspirations, which has not always been the case (1).

1.7

Unfortunately, the Commission's approach to consumer protection policy (2) confirms a worrying decline in the promotion and protection of consumer interests, thus underlining the need and urgency to give careful consideration to the legal basis of the Treaty in this regard.

1.8

These are the issues addressed in the present opinion. In it the EESC notes that, in addition to the necessary political will to further consumer protection policy by promoting increased consumer involvement and protection of consumer interests in all Community policy areas, there is a need for an in-depth study on overhauling the legal framework in order to establish a firm foundation for consumer protection policy.

1.9

Aided by contributions from a large number of European lawyers with universally recognised expertise in this subject, the EESC concludes by putting forward a proposal for a new legal basis for consumer policy. This should significantly help to improve, simplify and even reduce regulation. It recommends to the Commission, the Council and the Member States that such a proposal be taken into consideration with a view to the next revision of the Treaty text.

2.   Introduction — purpose of the own-initiative opinion

2.1

When the EESC authorised this own-initiative opinion, its purpose was to encourage a detailed examination of the legal basis to be selected for consumer policy at European level (i.e. Treaty Article 153), bringing it in line with both the constitutional text submitted to the Member States and secondary law. It also sought to ensure the involvement of stakeholders' representatives with an interest in this issue and of specialists in Community consumer law.

2.1.1

There was widespread feeling that the current shortcomings in the drafting of Article 153 were at the root of why, in practice, this article is not used as the legal basis for secondary legislation in promoting consumer rights and interests and developing consumer policy in the EU. The latter would therefore have much to gain from a suitable, workable and effective legal framework.

2.2

The European institutions as a whole and, in particular, civil society organisations, consumer bodies and the social stakeholders would most certainly be the first to benefit from any improvement in the legal basis of consumer policy in the Treaty.

2.2.1

As the institutional forum representing organised civil society, the EESC was felt to be the most appropriate body to successfully take this task on board, consulting with the social stakeholders and backed up by university experts in the field.

2.2.2

The EESC feels that consumer policy is clearly a policy that most closely touches grassroots concerns. It may — and indeed must — have a major influence on grassroots support for the European ideal as people see that ideal meet their own needs and aspirations.

2.2.3

On 14 October 2005, the EESC heard the views of numerous representatives who had responded to a questionnaire devised for this purpose. The views and suggestions received provided a more solid basis for the opinion. The EESC takes this opportunity to warmly thank all those whose contributions made it possible to draw up this opinion (3).

3.   The issue at hand: a legal basis for consumer policy

3.1

The current legal basis for consumer policy is Article 153, which appears in Title XIV of the Treaty under the heading Consumer protection. The article reads as follows:

‘1.

In order to promote the interests of consumers and to ensure a high level of consumer protection, the Community shall contribute to protecting the health, safety and economic interests of consumers, as well as to promoting their right to information, education and to organise themselves in order to safeguard their interests.

2.

Consumer protection requirements shall be taken into account in defining and implementing other Community policies and activities.

3.

The Community shall contribute to the attainment of the objectives referred to in paragraph 1 through:

(a)

measures adopted pursuant to Article 95 in the context of the completion of the internal market;

(b)

measures which support, supplement and monitor the policy pursued by the Member States.

4.

The Council, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251 and after consulting the Economic and Social Committee, shall adopt the measures referred to in paragraph 3(b).

5.

Measures adopted pursuant to paragraph 4 shall not prevent any Member State from maintaining or introducing more stringent protective measures. Such measures must be compatible with this Treaty. The Commission shall be notified of them  (4).’

3.2

If consumer protection is to become part of the EU's remit, then it must be subject to a specific Treaty provision, in line with Treaty Article 5 which, in its consolidated version, reads as follows:

‘The European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Court of Justice and the Court of Auditors shall exercise their powers under the conditions and for the purposes provided for, on the one hand, by the provisions of the Treaties establishing the European Communities and of the subsequent Treaties and Acts modifying and supplementing them and, on the other hand, by the other provisions of this Treaty.’

3.3

This rule — under which the Member States have the power to determine their own jurisdiction — is of key importance, since a text which is deficient, imprecise or contradictory may invalidate any subsequent provisions adopted by the European institutions under the Treaty.

3.4

It would be well at this stage to recall the Court of Justice judgment of 5 October 2000 which states that a measure adopted on the basis of Article 100a (now Article 95) of the Treaty must genuinely have as its object the improvement of the conditions for the establishment and functioning of the internal market. The Court notes that, if a mere finding of disparities between national rules and of the abstract risk of obstacles to the exercise of fundamental freedoms or of distortions of competition liable to result therefrom were sufficient to justify the choice of Article 100a as a legal basis, judicial review of compliance with the proper legal basis might be rendered nugatory (5).

3.5

This requirement for a legal basis that is clear and thus verifiable at international level must also be placed on the political agenda as a fundamental and incontrovertible sign of the need for consumer protection policy. In this context, it would be well to recall the Single European Act of 17 and 28 February 1986, which to some extent filled a gap in the Rome Treaty by introducing a separate environment title as Articles 130r to 130t (now Articles 174 to 176). The objectives set out in Article 175 and the criteria laid down in the same article for Community action on the environment have clearly done much to foster the emergence of an effective body of standards in this area.

3.5.1

A comparison between the current Treaty Articles 175 and 153 clearly shows that the quality of the legal basis itself is a crucial factor in any subsequent action. The environmental objectives are set out clearly and precisely.

Moreover, Article 175 establishes the principles underpinning Community action on this front.

The technical parameters laid down in Article 175(3) also help secure the rational and effective application of environment policy.

3.5.2

Where the Community legislator has discretionary powers as to the appropriateness of any intended measures, the quality of the legal basis is obviously of critical importance, as this limits the potential for obvious error, misuse of power, or any clear overshoot of the discretionary remit (6).

4.   Is Article 153 an acceptable legal basis for Community policy for European consumers?

4.1

In the light of the lessons that can be drawn from the above observations, it has to be said that the current Treaty Article 153 no longer provides a legal basis that affords adequate safeguards for consumer protection objectives.

4.2

It should be noted that, in essence, European consumer law has grown up on the basis of Treaty Article 95 and owes much to the impetus generated by the development of the single market. Consumer protection is, of course, supposed to be a cross-sectoral policy, and explicit mention of the need to take account of it is also made in other parts of the Treaty. It is broadly agreed, however, that, as it stands, Article 153 falls short of the mark.

4.3

It has also been noted that Article 153 (or formerly Article 129a) has been used as the basis for measures to protect and defend consumer interests in exceptional cases only.

4.4

As well as voicing the criticism that consumer policy is a mere adjunct to the rules on the development of the single market, consideration must also be given to the impact, mentioned above, of the Court of Justice judgment of 5 October 2000 (7). The uncertainty thrown up by this case law may even result in challenges — inter alia through referrals for preliminary rulings — to the legal basis of certain consumer protection directives, such as those on guarantees and doorstep sales.

4.5

Moreover, the text as it stands establishes the yardstick of a high level of consumer protection. As defined in Article 153, this high level of consumer protection does not necessarily mean that Member States' legal systems do in fact provide the optimum safeguards. Indeed, Article 153(5) gives Member States the right in such cases to maintain more stringent protective measures provided they are compatible with the Treaty.

4.5.1

Furthermore, it is by no means easy to define what is meant by a high level of protection. Article 153 fails to lay down any parameters, resulting in potential difficulties of interpretation.

4.6

The legal basis is now in need of review in the light of the considerations outlined below.

4.6.1

Consumer protection policy should be part of the Union's own battery of powers rather than an adjunct to the Member States' own policies. Indeed, it is somewhat paradoxical that consumer protection, which is supposedly a tool to help complete the single market, should fall within the remit of the Member States.

4.6.2

The health, safety and economic interests of consumers are cited as areas in which the European Union has a role to play. Indeed, these interests should more properly be seen as objectives that most certainly deserve broadening. For instance, is it only consumers' economic interests that need to be taken into consideration? There is a clear inconsistency between promoting these interests and taking steps to help protect them.

4.6.3

With regard to consumers' right to information, education and to organise themselves in order to safeguard their interests, these are principles that should be recognised as fundamental yardsticks of Union policy.

4.6.4

The criteria for determining what is meant by a high level of protection are not specified. These ought to be outlined in the Treaty itself.

4.6.5

Any discussion of an independent legal basis for consumer protection will have to take account of the key priority that must be given to Community policy in both substance and form. The ‘dual subsidiarity’ principle is obviously restrictive and paralyses, at both European and national level, any policy designed to enhance consumer protection. Hence, the ‘dual subsidiary’ provided for under Article 153 clearly needs to be abandoned.

4.6.6

The legal basis under the Treaty should seek not only to protect and defend consumers but to give them a pro-active role as well. Consumers are citizens, who clearly must also have a right to a say and to be heard on any options society might propose.

4.6.7

Consideration should also be given to whether the relevant Treaty provisions should not provide for direct access to the Court of Justice by consumer associations as representative groups with a stake in European Union activities.

4.6.8

Also, the idea of consumer protection underpinning the current text is restrictive in that it focuses virtually exclusively on the benefits of information.

5.   Objectives, principles and yardsticks for establishing a legal basis for consumer policy

5.1

What are the broad yardsticks that must determine the quality of a legal basis in any treaty?

From the points made above, it is clear that any legal basis needs to:

be clear and precise;

set out the objectives to be pursued under the policy concerned, the principles underpinning that policy and the implementing criteria; and

be independent.

These factors are vital in any attempt to resolve the difficulties described above.

5.2

Attendant issues may also be included to improve the legal basis. Consideration must therefore be given to the various different options for harmonisation. The Commission, among others, backs a policy of maximum or full harmonisation. However, the level of protection selected must be genuinely high, otherwise there is a risk that maximum or full harmonisation will prove detrimental to consumer interests.

5.3

The proposed text seeks to amend Treaty Article 3(1)(t) by clearly indicating that policies to promote and protect consumer interests are among the objectives to be pursued by the institutions.

5.4

The proposed Article 153 is three-pronged:

5.4.1

It lists the customary objectives of EU consumer policy, albeit with certain special features:

One new element is the promotion of the rights of consumers to information, education, participation and to organise themselves to safeguard and represent their interests, not least through the recognition of individual and collective rights in this area. This expressly means not only that the machinery must be put in place to facilitate class actions, but also that steps must be taken to involve consumers collectively in drawing up rules in which they have a stake.

The protection of consumer health and safety has obviously long been a live issue that needs to be established as a Treaty objective.

Another novelty is the promotion of consumers' legal, economic, social and cultural interests. The consumer is thereby recognised as an active player in society, rather than a mere user of products and services. Recognition of the promotion of these interests is also a conduit for the development of policies in areas such as sustainable development. The same goes for a policy that closely links the promotion of consumer interests with due respect for the environment.

5.4.2

Expression may be given to the following principles when drawing up Article 153:

the principle of preventative action;

the principle of effective redress;

the principle of developing sustainable consumption;

the principle of risk-creator pays;

the principle of participation.

These five principles are vital for the successful implementation of the policy described above.

5.4.3

The proposed text states in the usual way that the requirements underpinned here by an independent legal basis also cannot be ignored when working out other EU policies.

5.4.4

Certain parameters need to be taken into consideration when drawing up these measures. The concept of a high level of protection will reflect, among other things, available social and economic data which make it possible to accurately identify the behaviour of consumers when acquiring and using products and services placed on the market. Explicit recognition of class actions must be also be included.

5.4.5

The proposal for Article 153a sets out the policy to be pursued by the Council.

One issue discussed is the direct impact of directives. The proposed wording gives priority to regulations as a tool of harmonisation, obviating the need for the ongoing debate on the precise impact of directives. The result is a flexible approach under which Member States can make their views known when they intend to maintain or introduce protection measures.

This approach fosters maximum harmonisation, but subject to a case-by-case assessment.

5.4.6

Article 153 also introduces a new provision whereby consumer associations are deemed to be ‘addressees’ within the meaning of Treaty Article 230. In other words, these associations may institute proceedings directly before the Court against any Community acts that infringe the Treaty provisions.

6.   Conclusion: proposal for a new legal basis

In the light of the above observations, the following proposal is made:

‘Article 153

1.   Community consumer policy shall ensure the pursuit of the following objectives:

promoting consumers' right to information, education, participation and to organise themselves in order to safeguard and represent their interests, including through the recognition of individual and collective rights in these areas;

protecting consumers' health and safety;

promoting consumers' legal, economic, social and cultural interests.

2.   Community consumer protection policy shall aim at the highest level of protection. It shall be based on the following principles:

the principle of preventive action;

the principle of effective redress for infringements of consumers' individual and collective rights and interests;

the principle of risk-creator pays;

the principle of developing a policy for sustainable consumption and protection;

the principle of consumer participation, through bodies representing their interests, in drawing up and applying the rules.

3.   Consumer protection requirements shall be taken into account in defining and implementing other Community policies.

4.   In formulating its consumer protection activities, the Community shall take account of:

high levels of protection afforded to consumers in the Member States;

available social and economic data on the acquisition and use of products and services placed on the market;

effective redress in cases of infringement of consumers' rights or interests, including through recognition of collective actions.

Article 153a

1.   The Council shall, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 251 and after consulting the Economic and Social Committee, adopt such measures as are necessary to attain the objectives referred to in Article 153(1); these measures shall be subject to regular review in order to ensure that they continue to guarantee a high level of consumer protection.

2.   Harmonisation measures adopted pursuant to paragraph 1 shall not prevent any Member State from maintaining or introducing more stringent protective measures. Such measures must be compatible with this Treaty and the Commission shall be notified of them.

3.   The Commission shall, within six months of the notification referred to in paragraph 3, decide whether to reject the national provision on the grounds that, among other things, it constitutes an obstacle to the functioning of the internal market. In the absence of a decision within this period, the provision shall be deemed to have been approved unless the complexity of the matter requires that the deadline be extended for a further period of up to one year, in which case the Member State shall be notified of that fact within the first six-month period.

4.   The Commission, in close cooperation with the Member States, shall ensure the effective application of the measures taken to promote consumers' rights and interests. In particular, the Member States shall be required to take the necessary steps to:

a)

define and apply effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties in the event of infringements of measures imposing obligations or prohibitions designed to protect consumers;

b)

put an end to such infringements;

c)

provide for simplified judicial and non-judicial procedures to prevent and remedy infringements of consumers' rights and interests and for fair compensation for losses incurred.

5.   Measures taken under this article and under Article 153 shall be considered as being addressed, within the meaning of Treaty Article 230, to the consumer associations duly recognised under Member States' national law or by the European Commission.’

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  As is noted by the EESC in, inter alia, its opinion on Consumer policy post-enlargement of the European Union (OJ C 221, 8.9.2005), and also acknowledged by the European Parliament in its report on the promotion and protection of consumer interests in the new Member States (rapporteur: Dam Kristensen, EP 359.904/02-00). Moreover, better account could be taken of this aspect by the additional development of approaches for self-regulation, co-regulation and alternative dispute-settlement arrangements.

(2)  This is very evident in the new Directive 2005/29/EC of 11 May 2005 (OJ L 149, 11.6.2005) on unfair commercial practices, the Community action programme in the field of health and consumer protection 2007-2013 (COM(2005) 115 final) and the withdrawn proposal for a Regulation on sales promotion in the internal market (COM(2005) 462 final, 27.9.2005).

(3)  The following persons attended the hearing held on 14 October 2005: Mr Carlos Almaraz (UNICE), Professor Thierry Bourgoignie (University of Quebec in Montreal ), Ms Nuria Rodríguez (The European Consumers' Organisation), Mr Denis Labatut and Ms Kalliopi Spyridaki (UGAL - Union of Groups of Independent Retailers of Europe), Mr Jon-Andreas Lange (Forbrukerradet – The Consumer Council of Norway), Mr William Vidonja (CEA), Mr Patrick von Braunmühl (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband – vzbv) and Mr Hubert J.J. van Breemen (VNO NVW).

In addition, written responses to a questionnaire that was sent out to several dozen lawyers and academics across Europe were received from the following: Professor Thierry Bourgoignie (University of Quebec in Montreal), Professeur Jean Calais-Auloy (Faculté de Droit et des Sciences Economiques de Montpellier), Mr Stephen Crampton (Which?), Professor Mário Frota (APDC – Associação Portuguesa de Direito do Consumo), Ms Cornelia Kutterer (The European Consumers' Organisation), Mr Jon-Andreas Lange (Forbrukerradet – The Consumer Council of Norway), Ms René-Claude Mäder (CLCV – Consommation, Logement et Cadre de Vie), Professor Stephen Weatherill (ECLG), Professor Hans Micklitz (Institut für Europäisches Wirtschafts-und Verbraucherrecht e.V.Universität Bamberg), Ms Gaëlle Patetta (UFC–Que Choisir?), Professor Norbert Reich (Universität Bremen Fachbereich Rechtswissenschaften), UNICE and EuroCommerce.

(4)  In addition to this article, consumer policy is underpinned by various other provisions of the Treaty on European Union, not least the preamble under which the Member States commit themselves ‘to promote economic and social progress for their peoples, taking into account the principle of sustainable development and within the context of the accomplishment of the internal market’ and ‘to establish a citizenship common to nationals of their countries’. Consumer policy is also underpinned by Articles 2 and 6 of the same Treaty, and by Articles 2; 3(1)(t); 17(2); 33(1)(e); 34(2) II; 75(3) II; 81(3); and 87(2)(a) of the Treaty establishing the European Community as amended by the Treaty of Nice.

(5)  Court of Justice (CJ), 5 October 2000, Case C-376/98, Federal Republic of Germany v Parliament and Council, ECR-I/8149, particularly nos 76 to 89.

(6)  On these questions see CJ, 20 October 1977, Case 29/77, Roquette Frères, ECR 1835.

(7)  Case C-376/98, Germany v Parliament and Council, ECR-I/8498.


APPENDIX I

to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following amendments were rejected by the plenary session but received at least one-quarter of the votes cast:

Point 1.3

Delete the entire point.

Reason

Point 1.3 contains a strong statement saying that ‘it soon became apparent that the Maastricht Treaty, Article 129a of the Treaty was an inadequate basis for developing a fully-fledged policy in this field.’ This serious criticism is not supported by any evidence.

Outcome of the vote

For: 23

Against: 39

Abstentions: 5.

Point 1.4

Delete the entire point.

Reason

Point 1.4 contains a strong statement saying that ‘the non-application of this legal basis over the years highlighted its inadequacies as a suitable and effective legal basis for promoting a genuine policy for the protection of consumer interests at Community level.’ This serious criticism is not supported by any evidence.

Outcome of the vote

For: 23

Against: 39

Abstentions: 5.

Point 1.5

Delete the entire point.

Reason

Point 1.5 contains a strong statement saying that ‘the changes introduced by the new Article 153 of the Amsterdam Treaty did not address these shortcomings. Nor did the texts proposed with a view to the adoption of the European Constitution’. This serious criticism is not supported by any evidence.

Outcome of the vote

For: 23

Against: 39

Abstentions: 5.

Point 4.6.1

Delete the entire point.

Reason

This point making consumer policy a competence for the EU would make it impossible to have better rules for consumers in the Member States.

Outcome of the vote

For: 26

Against: 35

Abstentions: 8.

Point 4.6.7

Delete the entire point.

Reason

It is not appropriate to give consumer associations direct access to the Court of Justice, as any interest group could then make a similar demand on behalf of its members. Granting such a right could give rise to unacceptable situations (class actions in the USA being a case in point).

Outcome of the vote

For: 30

Against: 38

Abstentions: 4.

Point 5.4.1

Delete as follows:

One new element is the promotion of the rights of consumers to information, education, participation and to organise themselves to safeguard and represent their interests, not least through the recognition of individual and collective rights in this area. This expressly means not only that the machinery must be put in place to facilitate class actions, but also that steps must be taken to involve consumers collectively in drawing up rules in which they have a stake.’

Reason

It is not appropriate to give consumer associations direct access to the Court of Justice, as any interest group could then make a similar demand on behalf of its members. Granting such a right could give rise to unacceptable situations (class actions in the USA being a case in point).

Outcome of the vote

For: 30

Against: 40

Abstentions: 3.

Point 5.4.4

Delete the last sentence as follows:

5.4.4

Certain parameters need to be taken into consideration when drawing up these measures. The concept of a high level of protection will reflect, among other things, available social and economic data which make it possible to accurately identify the behaviour of consumers when acquiring and using products and services placed on the market. Explicit recognition of class actions must be also be included .’

Reason

It is not appropriate to give consumer associations direct access to the Court of Justice, as any interest group could then make a similar demand on behalf of its members. Granting such a right could give rise to unacceptable situations (class actions in the USA being a case in point).

Outcome of the vote

For: 27

Against: 42

Abstentions: 4.

Point 5.4.6

Delete the entire point.

Reason

It is not appropriate to give consumer associations direct access to the Court of Justice, as any interest group could then make a similar demand on behalf of its members. Granting such a right could give rise to unacceptable situations (class actions in the USA being a case in point).

Outcome of the vote

For: 26

Against: 44

Abstentions: 2.

Point 6

Delete the entire point.

Reason

Point 6. contains an ambitious proposal for a new legal basis for consumer protection policy. As it was demonstrated on previous points 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, the text of the opinion is missing sufficient amount of evidence that such changes are necessary or needed. Instead of initiating an extensive amendment of the current legal basis for consumer protection policy the opinion should be much more strengthened in focusing on real arguments why the new legal basis should be the priority when it will come to the next revision of the Treaty text.

Outcome of the vote

For: 23

Against: 39

Abstentions: 5.

Article 153

Delete the last indent of Article 153(4) as follows:

effective redress in cases of infringement of consumers' rights or interests, including through recognition of collective actions .’

Reason

It is not appropriate to give consumer associations direct access to the Court of Justice, as any interest group could then make a similar demand on behalf of its members. Granting such a right could give rise to unacceptable situations (class actions in the USA being a case in point).

Outcome of the vote

For: 27

Against: 44

Abstentions: 2.

Article 153a

Delete point 4.

Reason

The text would make consumers policy subordinate to the rules of the internal market. This is not according to the contents of the rest of the opinion.

Outcome of the vote

For: 27

Against: 34

Abstentions: 14.


APPENDIX II

to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following passage from the section opinion was rejected in favour of an amendment adopted by the assembly, but received at least a quarter of the votes cast:

Point 6, Article 153a

2.

Harmonisation measures shall, as a matter of priority, take the form of a regulation.

Outcome of the vote

31 votes in favour of deleting this point

24 against

14 abstentions.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/80


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission Implementing the Community Lisbon Programme: A policy framework to strengthen EU manufacturing — towards a more integrated approach for industrial policy

COM(2005) 474 final

(2006/C 185/14)

On 5 October 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 the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 28 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Ehnmark.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 38 votes to one with five abstentions.

1.   Summary of the opinion

1.1

The Lisbon strategy provides a wide range of horizontal measures to create a framework in order to make Europe more competitive. The sectoral approaches have so far been missing. With the new communication by the European Commission, the EU takes another step towards creating a common European Industry Policy. A common policy and common priorities should enhance Europe's competitiveness in the global context. The Commission communication on a framework for an Integrated Industry Policy is therefore highly welcome.

1.2

The EESC supports the Communication's wide analysis of necessary support measures in 27 sectors of manufacturing industry. The EESC also supports the setting-up of 14 sectoral and inter-sectoral task forces, with the objective of outlining more concrete measures to boost the competitiveness of European industry.

1.3

However, the communication fails to cover essential aspects of the shaping and implementation of a European industry policy. Responsibility for implementation is conferred on other units in the Commission, national and regional authorities, and industry itself. The issues of ‘who does what’ are left to further consideration.

1.4

In particular, the communication does not highlight the necessary distribution of work between the EU and the national level. The 14 new sectoral task forces will mainly operate at EU level. The EESC emphasises that it is essential to establish coordination with the national level. This will save time — and industry can ill afford time losses.

1.5

Two areas where the communication does not provide much guidance are the governments' role in innovation and competitiveness and the borderlines between manufacturing industry and services.

1.6

For the work ahead, the EESC underlines the importance of close involvement of stakeholders, and particularly the social partners. The EESC finds it essential that the social partners can reach agreements on industry change and innovation, as is already the case in some EU countries.

1.7

With the communication, the EU is giving an answer to the question ‘Is there a future for European manufacturing industry?’ The EESC for its part is ready to include European Industry Policy issues in the network set up for the Lisbon strategy.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy, as presented to the European Council in March 2005, gave a very mixed picture of what had been achieved in the first five years.

2.2

Where the Lisbon strategy has failed is particularly in the areas of economic and industrial growth and the creation of more and better jobs. In terms of global competition, Europe is facing difficulties. A number of index rankings concerning growth and competitiveness place the United States in a leading position, together with the Nordic countries. The big economies of Europe are far behind. In a recent ranking by the World Economic Forum, the UK was ranked as number 13, Germany as number 15, and France as number 30, immediately before Spain. On the other hand, it should be observed that some of the new Member States in the EU are managing well in terms of economic growth: in 2005, GDP growth rates in Slovakia and Poland were 5.5 % and 5.4 % respectively.

2.3

A recent survey of productivity growth, produced by the global business organisation ‘The Conference Board’, indicates that, over a ten-year period, the leading European economies have been falling further behind the USA. The 15 old Members of the EU could report a productivity growth in 2005 of 0.5 %, compared with 1.8 % in the USA and 1.9 % in Japan.

2.4

In response to the decisions made by the European Council in March 2005, the European Commission has presented a substantial number of proposals and communications over the year, targeting the issues of industry restructuring, productivity and competitiveness as well as, support for entrepreneurship and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

2.5

What has been missing in the palette of new proposals are efforts to target sectoral industry issues, particularly in manufacturing industry, and provide a basis for sectoral or vertical support measures. With the new communication on ‘Towards a more integrated approach for industrial policy’, the Commission sets out to meet this need.

3.   Outline of the new policy framework proposal

3.1

The Communication can be seen as the launch of a new process based on an analysis of the competitiveness situation of 27 segments in manufacturing industry.

3.2

The focus is on what the enterprises themselves see as bottlenecks for innovation, competitiveness and growth. The emphasis is on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which is logical, given that EU manufacturing industry consists of a large majority of SMEs, which represent 58 % of manufacturing employment. A number of stakeholders were also consulted during the preparatory

3.3

The manufacturing sectors analysed in the communication cover four main areas: food and life science industries, machine and system industries, fashion and design industries, and basic and intermediate goods industries. In concrete terms, the analysis covers industries ranging from biotech and pharmaceutics to mechanical and electrical engineering, and the defence and aerospace industries, and also covers textiles and furniture, ceramics, steel, chemicals and pulp and paper.

3.4

The assessment of the competitiveness of the 27 sectors used the following criteria:

ensuring an open and competitive Single Market,

knowledge, such as research, innovation, and skills,

better regulation,

ensuring synergies between competitiveness, energy and environmental policies,

ensuring full and fair participation in global markets,

facilitating social and economic cohesion.

3.5

The sector conclusions indicate cases where ‘a policy challenge is considered of the highest priority for each sector amongst the many relevant policy challenges’, to quote from the Communication. Even with this guidance, the conclusions are not quite transparent. In biotech, for example, demand for more research is registered, but not demand for more skills. For textiles, demands for research and skills are registered together with access to markets, but not the need to counter trade distortions.

3.6

The Commission proposes the launching of seven major cross-sectoral policy initiatives, in order to meet the common challenges and reinforce the synergies. The seven cross-sectoral initiatives are:

Intellectual Property Rights and Counterfeiting Initiative

A high-level group on Competitiveness, Energy and the Environment

External aspects of competitiveness and market access

New legislative simplification programme

Improving sectoral skills

Managing structural change in manufacturing

An integrated European approach to industrial research and innovation.

3.7

In addition to the cross-sectoral initiatives, the Commission proposes a number of new sector-specific initiatives. These are a pharmaceuticals forum, a mid-term review of the life sciences and biotechnology strategy, new high-level groups on the chemicals industry and the defence industry, an initiative on the European space industry, a task-force on ICT competitiveness, and the launch of a mechanical engineering policy dialogue.

4.   General comments

4.1

The new Communication is the first major effort to create comprehensive sectoral initiatives for competitiveness and innovation in manufacturing industry. It is a welcome initiative. Horizontal schemes and initiatives are not enough. As it is structured, the new Communication provides a valuable basis for decisions on concrete action. The initiative includes a sophisticated analysis of growth and competitiveness issues in a number of industry sectors.

4.2

The Commission has presented the proposal as a framework for setting priorities. The guiding concern is to introduce measures to meet the challenges of globalisation.

4.3

What is missing is a clear link between the efforts at EU level, and the necessary involvement of governments, industry and stakeholders at national and regional level. This is supposed to be developed in the process ahead, particularly in the new sectoral and inter-sectoral task forces. There is, however, an obvious risk that this will mean much planning and limited implementation.

4.4

In order to avoid this, the EESC recommends that specific steps are taken for securing the necessary coordination. This would also give wider scope for active participation of various stakeholders.

4.5

The new communication, together with various other proposals and communications, represents another step towards the creation of a European Industrial Policy. Is this a realistic way to go? Bearing in mind the challenges ahead for Europe's industry, the EESC would conclude that this is probably the best way ahead, in terms of promoting competitiveness and utilising the specific advantages of the Union, such as its high knowledge base and a very large internal market.

4.6

The Commission is keen to underline that the new Communication is intended to be congruent with the spirit of the Lisbon strategy and to add to the total efforts of that strategy. Responsibility for the actual implementation, in terms of more research, or education, or regulation, will fall to other units in the Commission and to national and regional bodies. The planning and implementation have to be coordinated.

4.7

There is a certain ambivalence in the Commission's approach. The balance between horizontal programmes and new sectoral efforts should be further considered.

4.8

The Communication does not include resources for the various actions. Instead, the necessary resources at EU level are to come from the CIT programme, the Framework programme on research, the Structural Funds, and the education programmes, to mention the most important. Coordinating policies, including resources, will be a difficult and delicate task, particularly since the available European financial resources are relatively limited in relation to the needs and demands.

4.9

The introduction of advanced new production methods and machines, particularly in SMEs, will require credit on favourable terms. The EIB and the EIF should be involved closely in the work of the sectoral and inter-sectoral planning groups.

4.10

In the new proposal, the Commission focuses on the EU level, whilst regional aspects are only marginally highlighted. The importance of the metropolitan areas, with their vast potential for promoting industry innovation and competitiveness, is not included in the analysis. This, as well as issues pertaining to a regional industrial policy, will have to be considered in the process ahead.

4.10.1

The Committee notes that the Commission makes no specific proposals with regard to industrial sectors with a particularly high degree of regional concentration.

4.11

Three themes dominate in the responses from industry and stakeholders concerning measures for competitiveness: more research and connection to research, more education and training, particularly in skills, and easier access to financial support, particularly for entrepreneurships and micro enterprises.

4.12

Most of the manufacturing sectors analysed in the new Communication list upgrading of sectoral skills as a point where ‘a policy challenge is considered of the highest priority’, to quote from the Communication. The issues of skills and upgrading of skills are of fundamental importance. The proposed cross-sector initiative on skills issues will hopefully provide innovative proposals.

4.13

The Communication pays little attention to the importance of governments in providing a level playing field for industry and particularly manufacturing industry. The work will no doubt generate a number of comments as to how the governments can support industry, in terms of education, transport systems, energy and ICT networks, to mention a few examples.

4.14

The Communication does not discuss the fact that the borderline between manufacturing industry and services is becoming more and more blurred. What does this mean in terms of human resources, market approaches and access, regulation and access to finance?

4.15

Concerning access to finance for SMEs, it can be noted that only five more specific demands are registered in the broad analysis of 27 sectors, namely pharmaceuticals, biotech, medical devices and mechanical and electrical engineering. It is rather surprising that the same demand was not registered for basic and intermediate goods industries, to take one example.

5.   Towards a European Industry Policy

5.1

With the new communication by the European Commission, the EU is taking another step towards creating a common framework for a European Industry Policy. This is welcome. A common policy and common priorities should enhance Europe's competitiveness in the global context. At the same time, the European Industry Policy needs to be viewed in the context of the structures built up for support to industry (education and research being only two examples) and for consultation with employees, to mention just a few aspects. A sustained competitiveness for Europe is not possible without the full participation of society and citizens.

5.2

It is often stated that what industry wants is a level playing field with clear (and unbureaucratic) signalling systems. The position accepted by many is: as little red tape as possible, as much support in general terms as possible. To quote from a recent Competitiveness Council: ‘Ministers stressed that legislative and regulatory burdens should not have an adverse effect on competitiveness’. At the same time, it can be argued that EU administrative obligations should not be presented as a mere cost factor, as they often replace 25 different national legislations and thus decrease operating costs. In a recent Commission communication, it is argued that regulatory costs, of which administrative obligations are just one element, must be analysed in a broad context, encompassing the economic, social and environmental costs and benefits of regulation.

5.3

The global competition confronting the EU and other groups of countries is fierce. There is no room for complacency. On the other hand, for Europe, growth and competitiveness can never be ends in themselves. There is a general recognition of the existence of a European social vision, summarised in the Lisbon strategy as follows: a high level of knowledge-based competitiveness, a high level of social cohesion ambitions, and a responsible policy in environment issues. A European industry policy is both part of the Lisbon strategy and an ambition that extends many years beyond the strategy. However, regardless of the time horizons, an industry policy will be part of the overarching priorities that have been formulated in the Lisbon strategy.

5.3.1

A revised strategy for sustainable development has been presented by the Commission, for Council decision later this year. The Framework Industry Policy is in line with the priorities of the strategy for sustainable development.

5.4

A European industrial policy should, in this perspective, focus on three priority purposes: to identify priority sectors for sustained competitiveness, to address priority measures for achieving this, and to accelerate the unification of the internal market as one of key steps to promote the shaping of a level playing field. At the EU level this means paying careful attention to what can realistically be achieved by initiatives at European level. An Industry Policy with these objectives could provide a real added value to industry, to governments at national and regional levels and to the social partners and organised civil society.

5.5

The Committee welcomes the Commission's announcement of the creation of working groups looking at several aspects. However, it believes that it is still important to clarify the relationship between industrial policy and two other areas if certain ambiguities, which have been detrimental to the development of large European industrial projects, are to be removed.

5.5.1

First of all, the links between competition policy and industrial policy need to be clarified.

5.5.2

Secondly, the Commission has presented an action plan to modernise company law, one aspect of which involves strengthening the rights of shareholders. It is essential that this modernisation does not lead to the detriment of industrial investments.

5.5.3

It would be helpful if the commissioners responsible for the economic affairs, internal market, competition policy and Lisbon strategy were to coordinate with each other so as to avoid any risk of inconsistency that might jeopardise the credibility and efficacy of any relaunch of industrial policy.

5.6

A European industry policy must take into consideration the important role of the public sector, in supplying knowledge and infrastructure, to mention but two essential items. In some countries, close contacts are established between industry and the public sector. In other countries this is not the case. The importance of the public sector for innovation is illustrated by the fact that in the US, public expenditure on innovation is twice as high as in Europe. Even when taking into account that a big slice is expenditure for military purposes, the figure indicates the importance of the public sector. In a European perspective, a relevant example would be the past (and partly present) public expenditure in some countries on the development of new pharmaceutical products. The importance of the public sector is also illustrated by its role in the expansion of ICT facilities, especially broadband networks.

5.7

The mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy has also inspired the social partners to develop plans for securing a future for European manufacturing industry. The European Employers' organisation, UNICE, has presented extensive comments and proposals concerning the results of the Lisbon strategy so far. ORGALIME, representing the mechanical, electronic and metalworking industries in 23 European countries, has presented an extensive plan for the development of European manufacturing industry, as part of comments on the Commission Communication. On the employees' side, in the Autumn of 2005, the European Metal Workers' Federation (EMF) presented a plan entitled ‘Boosting European Manufacturing’, which summarises a number of the proposals contained in the other plans.

5.8

The EMF plan lists 15 key measures divided into two blocs. The first, under the heading ‘Research and Development’, emphasises the need for more resources for research and for more attention to social innovation; the second, under the heading ‘A social framework for innovation’, lists additional concrete measures for promoting SMEs, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning, and for restructuring European labour markets with a focus on social security.

5.9

This action plan, like some other plans from the social partners, bears witness to a degree of convergence in the analysis of the challenges confronting European industry. There is, in general terms, broad agreement about the road ahead for Europe: This parallel identification of key challenges and measures provides a platform for social dialogue and social partner agreements in favour of innovation and competitiveness (cf. chapter 6).

5.10

The Lisbon strategy has been successful in promoting the concepts of a knowledge-intensive society and a leading role for Europe in skills, competences and research and development. The Barcelona European Council's decision to aim for 3 % of GDP for research has been widely applauded and supported, in theory.

5.11

It is noteworthy that the Commission, in its dialogues and discussions with representatives of industry, has not found many new ideas and solutions for the important transfer of knowledge from universities to industry. The Commission will itself come back to these issues in a forthcoming communication. However, it must be up to the enterprises themselves to take the necessary responsibility for establishing relevant links with research. Bearing in mind the slow progress towards implementing the target of committing 3 % of Europe's GDP to research and development, this absence of ideas for the knowledge transfer is worrying. Another cause for concern is the number of students of scientific and engineering disciplines in the EU, which is falling in comparison with the Union's main competitors. It is essential for SMEs to upgrade their existing human capital and to introduce an academic work force into production and innovation. The 7th Framework Programme should give support to SMEs for introducing advanced technological research and production techniques.

5.12

In this context, it should be recalled that, even if it commits 3 % of its GDP to research, Europe will still be lagging behind both the USA and Japan. The target of 3 % is an intermediate target, as some EU Member States have already acknowledged. The global competition will require higher ambitions over a 15 to 20 year time frames.

5.13

A similar comment can be made as to the need for more upgrading of skills and for more lifelong learning. A number of signals are coming from industry concerning issues such as more upgrading of skills, but these are not issues that can be solved at EU level. At EU level, the character of the needs can be identified and analysed, but the actual implementation has to take place at national and regional levels. CEDEFOP could no doubt disseminate information on important experiences.

5.14

In this context, it is worth recalling that the broader education policy debate on lifelong learning actually started in the early 1970s, with a major analysis by the OECD. However, since then, not very many really new approaches have been tried for bringing together the options and resources from industry itself, from the public sector, and from individuals themselves — who could ask for better opportunities for skills upgrading that promotes mobility in the labour market.

5.15

The focus on off-shoring and relocation of industries has drawn attention to the need to guarantee core workers rights on a global basis. The 1998 ILO agreement on the ‘Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work’ has provided a foundation for employment regulation, and a standard that should be applied throughout the international governance system. The OECD guidelines are political commitments by governments. If change is to be perceived as positive, it has to be demonstrated both that change need not be a zero sum game, and also that it is possible to manage change in firms, industries, regions and labour markets in socially equitable ways.

5.15.1

The importance of the European Works Councils should be recognised in this context. The Councils are a concrete response to the demands for a widely applicable structure for information and consultation within cross-border enterprises. Even if it takes time to build such structures, and even if the present Directive on Works Councils is somewhat vague, the councils are an indispensable part of the wider efforts to develop a European Industry Policy.

5.16

A European Industry Policy can make an essential contribution to Europe's competitiveness. The present Communication from the Commission is one building-block. The EESC has enumerated a number of others. The EESC would suggest that the Commission takes the initiative to launch further discussions and dialogues in the context of the Social Dialogue and other relevant fora.

6.   Comments on the sector proposals

6.1

The EESC supports the choice of screening parameters for the analysis of the 27 segments of manufacturing industry. Even with this very ambitious approach, some inconsistencies are obvious in the individual results of the analysis. The EESC supports the effort and the conclusions. The EESC can also support the choice of themes for the initial batch of sectoral and cross-sectoral task forces.

6.2

The EESC particularly welcomes particularly the planned High level Group on Competitiveness, Energy and Environment. Environment and energy-saving technologies can give the Union important advantages in the global context. The new global awareness of the dangers of climate change, as a result of too much dependence on fossil fuels, should give a forceful support to efforts to change production and consumption patterns. The task of the High level group is formidable. The fact that other countries — the US being just one example — are now also investing heavily in environment-friendly technologies makes it no less formidable.

6.3

Design is becoming a key factor in product development and product marketing. Design should be highlighted, not in a single sectoral task force, but as one of the horizontal issues in a couple of task forces. In a number of EU countries, industrial design has a long record of successes. It is important to build on this.

6.4

The Commission Communication does not explicitly deal with the issues of communication and of reaching out to industry itself and various stakeholder groups. However, bearing in mind that a considerable part of the implementation will have to be via information and communication, these issues will have be given high attention. How else will the large group of SMEs get relevant information about joint partnerships and various support measures?

6.5

Another crucial aspect for the implementation will be the time factor. Product development in manufacturing industry is not a slow affair; the global competition is prohibiting that. For the various task forces at European level, it will be necessary to adopt tough time frames — in order to provide an added value to those concerned with industry decisions on investments and developments.

6.6

The EESC shares the Commission's concern that the transfer of EU jobs to low-cost countries will have painful local and sectoral consequences, particularly for low-skilled workers who should be helped to cope with the effects of industrial restructuring. The EESC has in other contexts advocated that the Structural Funds should be more and better used for active — and pro-active — measures in coping with the effects of globalisation. The recent proposal for a Globalization fund will be further considered by the EESC.

7.   A need for a widened social dialogue

7.1

In some countries ambitious social partner agreements on industry innovation already exists as expressions of mutual interests and priorities for the further development of manufacturing industry.

7.2

To cite one noteworthy example, an Industrial Agreement between the social partners in Sweden was signed in 1997. Since then, the signatories to the Agreement have presented a number of proposals for achieving improved industrial competitiveness. In particular, the signatories have targeted issues such as the establishment of competitive industrial research institutes, increased exchanges between industry and educational establishments and institutes, innovation support for new and growing companies, and support for Industrial Development Centres. A number of the proposals have been accepted by government.

7.3

The EESC underlines that it is absolutely essential that stakeholders, and particularly the social partners, are closely involved in the process of innovation, competitiveness and restructuring. The tempo of change is not going to decrease. A pro-active approach to change, based on mutual confidence, is therefore becoming a necessity. Successfully managing industrial change requires a social dialogue based on consolidated, trust-based partnerships and a culture of dialogue, marked by effective representation and stable structures. Effective representation also requires high levels of knowledge of the topical issues and choices.

7.3.1

A reference should be made to efforts of many European Works Councils (cf. § 5.14.1) to strengthen the competencies of those involved in the Council work. This is essential for both sides of the dialogue. Without high levels of knowledge and competence, the Councils will not be able to function as an essential part of consultation and dialogue.

7.4

The EESC expresses its hope that the Commission Communication for an integrated industry policy, together with other initiatives, will provide a platform of inspiration for close stakeholder, and particularly social partner, involvement in the processes of change. The EESC has outlined its positions on Social dialogue and industrial change in an opinion adopted in September 2005 (1).

7.5

In response to the conclusions of the 2005 European Council, the EESC has launched an interactive network covering experiences of implementing the Lisbon strategy. The EESC will in a positive way consider enlarging this network to cover issues concerning stakeholder and particularly social partner involvement in the shaping of the European Industry Policy.

8.

In November 2005, the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change (CCMI) adopted a supplementary opinion on the Communication on a more integrated approach for industrial policy. The rapporteur was Mr Pezzini.

8.1

The CCMI considered it extremely interesting that the European Commission is now addressing the issue of sector-specific policy within industrial policy. More specifically, the CCMI stated its belief that this sector-specific policy could have a real impact if it were addressed in a structured way within the context of social dialogue at local, national and EU levels.

8.2

The CCMI underlined, however, that the Commission communication is lacking in concrete initiatives, action plans and, above all, sufficient financial resources needed to back up policies. In this regard, it would be particularly important to involve the EIB and the EIF in enterprise projects.

8.3

The CCMI also underlined that the Commission should acknowledge the importance of the increasingly modern public sector.

8.4

Furthermore, the CCMI underlined the importance of a regional industry policy, outlined in a pro-active way. The CCMI also emphasized the importance of trade policy for a successful industrial policy. Finally, the CCMI underlined the importance of core labour rights as expressed in ILO conventions.

Brussels, 20 April 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  OJ C 24 of 31 January 2006.


APPENDIX

to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following amendment was rejected but obtained at least a quarter of the votes cast:

Point 7.5

Delete the second sentence:

‘In response to the conclusions of the 2005 European Council, the EESC has launched an interactive network covering experiences of implementing the Lisbon strategy. The EESC will in a positive way consider enlarging this network to cover issues concerning stakeholder and particularly social partner involvement in the shaping of the European Industry Policy.

Reason

Emphasising specific social partner involvement in the shaping of the European Industry Policy plays down the role of small and medium enterprises, professional organisations, sectoral associations and the scientific community in implementing the Lisbon strategy.

Voting

In favour: 11

Against: 27

Abstentions: 1.


8.8.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 185/87


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 Working together, working better: A new framework for the open coordination of social protection and inclusion policies in the European Union

COM(2005) 706 final

(2006/C 185/15)

On 22 December 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 Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 20 March 2006. The rapporteur was Mr Olsson.

At its 426th plenary session, held on 20 and 21 April 2006 (meeting of 20 April), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 31 votes in favour, no votes against and one abstention.

1.   EESC's position in brief

1.1

The EESC agrees with the thrust of the Communication. It will reinforce the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy if the Member States lend more political weight through the new framework to the goal of modernising and improving social protection. The social dimension is essential to meeting the challenges arising from globalisation and an ageing population. The different objectives of the Lisbon strategy, namely sustainable economic growth, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, must be equally endorsed and upheld.

1.2

The Commission needs to initiate a dialogue with the Member States to raise awareness of adequate social policies.

1.3

Although the EESC welcomes the initiative, it would point out that account must be taken of the specific characteristics of the three individual strands, their different stages of progress, as well as to the differences between Member States.

1.4

One of the three overarching objectives is to ‘strengthen governance, transparency and the involvement of stakeholders in the design, implementation and monitoring of the policy.’ Social partners and other key actors from organised civil society must be much more involved in all key aspects of the process.

1.5

The new framework and its objectives provide a good opportunity for the Member States to highlight the social dimension in their NRPs setting up and implementing specific national priorities.

1.6

The EESC should, as part of its ongoing work, follow up the new framework for open coordination and report on progress before the Spring summit in 2007.

2.   Summary of the Commission document

2.1

The Commission proposes a streamlined Open Method of Coordination (OMC) for social protection and social inclusion, in line with its first plans from 2003. Common overarching objectives are set out and supplemented by specific objectives for each of the three strands:

1)

the eradication of poverty and social exclusion,

2)

adequate and sustainable pensions, and

3)

accessible, high quality and sustainable healthcare and long-term care.

2.2

The aim of the proposal is to define a new framework to make the OMC a stronger and more visible process, which is better integrated with the Lisbon strategy. Procedures and working arrangements (involvement of actors, governance, timetable, reporting, evaluation, exchanges of good practice, mutual learning, information) are to be improved. The new framework covers a three-year period (2005-08).

2.3

Based on the common objectives, Member States are to submit national strategies on social protection and social inclusion by September 2006 so that they can feed into the National Reform Programmes (NRP) due on 15 October 2006.

3.   General comments

3.1

In order to enable the Committee to fulfil its consultative role, the proposal should have been published before 22 December 2005. The delay has prevented the EESC from making a proper contribution to the relevant Ministers' meetings and the Spring summit in March 2006.

3.1.1

The EESC has already noted and criticised the short periods of consultation for other important issues, such as, the Commission proposal on the integrated guidelines for growth and employment (1).

The Committee emphasises that when launching important proposals as part of the revised Lisbon strategy, the quality of the consultative procedure must be upheld.

3.2

In any case, since the proposal is based on a three-year cycle, this opinion can contribute to the implementation and follow-up of the new framework by both the Member States and the Commission.

3.3

The EESC has recently expressed its views on the governance of the Lisbon strategy thereby also commenting on the implementation of the OMC (2). In 2003 the Committee adopted an opinion on the first Commission proposal on streamlining (3). It has also expressed its reflections on the use of the OMC in relation to pensions and health care (4). The EESC is also currently preparing opinions on other related topics (5).

3.4

To our regret, only a few of the NRPs submitted in October 2005 included elements of social protection and social inclusion. The stakeholders concerned must now design and implement national strategies and reform programmes in order to ensure that the social dimension is taken into account. This opinion should be regarded as a contribution to that process.

3.5

The EESC agrees with the thrust of the Communication. It will reinforce the social dimension of the Lisbon strategy if the Member States lend more political weight through the new framework to the goal of modernising and improving social protection. The social dimension is essential to meeting the challenges arising from globalisation and an ageing population. The different objectives of the Lisbon strategy, namely sustainable economic growth, more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, must be equally endorsed and upheld.

3.6

Against this background and the continuous alarming social situation in the European Union, the EESC urges the European Commission and the Member States to send a clear and positive message to the citizens of increased efforts to highlight the social dimension as the third pillar of the Lisbon Strategy.

3.7

The EESC recognises that social protection policies are mainly the competence of the Member States. However, the Commission needs to initiate a dialogue with the Member States to raise awareness for adequate social policies. The EESC urges Member States to take political responsibility to face the challenges ahead. The Committee emphasises that achieving the European objectives set out in the new framework will depend on the determination and capacity of each Member State to fulfil its commitments to promote social progress within a framework of modernising and making social protection financially sustainable.

3.8

The necessary and positive interactions between economic policy, employment strategies and social protection must be fully exploited. Ambitious social policies based on solidarity should be regarded as a productive factor which has beneficial impacts on growth and employment (6). At the same time, the sustainability of social policies depends on economic growth supported by better European coordination of economic policies.

3.9

Although the EESC welcomes the initiative, it would point out that in bringing together the strands, that are at significantly different stages of progress, account must continue to be taken of the specific characteristics of the three individual strands, the different stages of progress, as well as to the differences between Member States.

Consideration must be given to the differences in quality of European instruments for coordination of national policies. Whilst in the area of social inclusion, specific guidelines and targets — along the lines of the European employment policy guidelines — make sense, in the area of pensions and health, European coordination is still largely limited to agreements on general qualitative goals.

3.10

However, when developing and implementing the three different strands, Member States should fully exploit the synergies between them since in many cases they overlap. A measure taken in one strand may have a direct impact on the other strands. It is also important for Member States to bridge the gap between political will and actual implementation.

4.   Specific comments

Involvement of actors

4.1

One of the three overarching objectives is to ‘strengthen governance, transparency and the involvement of stakeholders in the design, implementation and monitoring of the policy.’

There is still much too little involvement of social partners and other key actors from organised civil society. The use of the OMC in different sectors has not delivered the expected results, as Member States have not shown any real commitment to the objectives and actions agreed upon. Similarly, several national action plans betray shortcomings in particular as regards establishing clear national objectives and strategies and active participation for all relevant players. Instead, national plans for employment, social inclusion and in other areas have been partly transformed into bureaucratic activity reports.

4.2

The EESC is convinced that a greater participation of organised civil society in all steps of the process will increase the quality of the NAPs. This will ensure that citizens' concerns and aspirations are taken into account in the plans.

4.3

The Commission rightly states that the OMC can promote involvement for social policy making. Consensus on reforms to achieve modernisation of social protection with financial sustainability must be agreed with social partners and other relevant civil society stakeholders. The EESC is in favour of extensive involvement in all phases; from policy-shaping to implementation and evaluation. However, participatory decision-making does not exonerate elected lawmakers from their responsibility to promote social progress and a high level of social protection.

4.4

The EESC recognises that the OMC has progressed differently in the three strands that the new framework relates to. Although still not sufficiently, the OMC on social inclusion has been more participatory than the OMC on pensions. The involvement of social partners and other key actors in the latter strategy has been very limited. Notwithstanding the urgent need to improve the OMC on social inclusion, the EESC strongly emphasises the Commission's view regarding the need for greater involvement of stakeholders in the two other strands.

4.5

In contrast to the limited participation in the OMC on pensions, the EESC has noted a much higher degree of involvement by stakeholders in European legislative actions concerning supplementary occupational pensions. This contrast shows the need for the OMC to be made more attractive and interesting for all concerned actors.

4.6

The EESC suggests that the Social Protection Committee (SPC) organise meetings on a more regular and broader basis with representatives of social partners and other relevant civil society organisations from both European and Member State levels. The EESC also believes that the government representatives on the SPC have a strong responsibility both to organise and take part in consultations with social partners and other relevant civil society stakeholders in their home countries.

4.7

The EESC should, as part of its ongoing work on the implementation of the Lisbon strategy (7), involve social partners and relevant civil society organisations, as well as Economic and Social Councils where they exist in following up the new framework for open coordination and reporting on progress before the Spring summit in 2007. The Committee should particularly focus on governance and areas where the genuine involvement of actors has proved successful in designing and implementing national priorities.

4.8   Transparency

For participation to be meaningful, the stakeholders must have early access to key documents on policy issues. Transparency is also needed when the EU Commission and the Member States analyse and evaluate the new framework, for instance when carrying out peer reviews and identifying indicators.

4.9   Mutual learning and good practice

Learning from each other is of paramount importance in all three strands. Efficient systems for transferring best practice and exploiting non-legislative measures must be developed. The exchange of experience and mutual learning must include decision-makers at all levels. Since social partners and other relevant civil society stakeholders possess unique knowledge and extensive experience of social policies, they must be involved in identifying and evaluating the possibilities for transferring best practice. Horizontal issues that are crucial to the success of the new framework include models for participatory decision-making and the involvement of stakeholders. Another major issue is to find ways and methods to create an inclusive society for all. Lastly there is a need to reconcile social protection with competitiveness without marginalising groups outside of the labour market. In this respect the EESC refers to the current debates on the lifecycle approach to employment and the balance between flexibility and employment security (8).

4.10   Peer reviews

Peer reviews and the exchange of good practice are helpful instruments because they are concrete and inspire those involved. The Commission must ensure that social partners and other relevant civil society organisations are involved in peer reviews.

4.11   EU Progress programme

Social partners and other relevant civil society organisations must be eligible to carry out projects in all strands of the new Progress programme. In its opinion, the EESC expressed concerns about the modest financial resources of the programme (9). Our concern has grown following the European Council decision on the financial perspectives for 2007-13. The EESC firmly emphasises its earlier call for enough financial resources to be set aside for all strands of the programme, including projects related to social protection and social inclusion.

4.12   Indicators

An analytical approach based on high quality, reliable and comparable indicators is necessary to provide a sufficiently detailed, true picture of progress regarding the objectives. Research resources are needed to identify the relevant indicators. The reliability of collecting and treating data has to be guaranteed. While indicators are being established at both European and national level, the EESC reiterates its call for stakeholders to be invited to take part in formulating and evaluating indicators. (10). Both the SPC and the Member States should take such action.

Qualitative indicators must be developed. It is important that relevant criteria, based on human needs, are reflected in the choice of indicators in order to measure, for instance, accessibility for all to social protection, quality in relation to expectations, as well as user involvement and user-friendly treatment.

There is a need to interlink the indicators used in the OMC with the indicators used in the Lisbon strategy to give a comprehensive picture of progress.

4.13   Enhancing visibility

The EESC has on many occasions stressed that communication between Europe and its citizens is marred by the existing deficit in relevant and transparent information. Since the new framework concerns issues close to the citizens, the EESC underlines the importance of organising a permanent debate at all levels to address future challenges and strategic choices in the areas of social protection, pensions, health care and social inclusion. In this context, the European Commission must also enhance the visibility of its own actions. Proposals for how to promote such a debate within the context of the Lisbon strategy can be found in other opinions (11).

5.   Supplementary comments on the objectives

5.1

The new framework and its objectives provide a good opportunity for the Member States to highlight the social dimension in their NRPs setting up and implementing specific national priorities that link with the overall Lisbon objectives, in full respect of the subsidiarity principle of Member States. However the EESC urges Member States to make full use of the guidelines prepared by the EU Commission (12).

5.2

Within the social inclusion strand ‘Eradication of poverty and social exclusion’, the Member States will draw up new National Action Plans on social inclusion during 2006.

5.2.1

The EESC believes that concrete steps have to be taken on the priority actions defined in March 2005 by the Council of Employment and Social Affairs. The EESC recalls the EU objective that Member States make decisive steps to eradicate poverty by 2010 (13). In addition, the EESC stresses that policies to combat social exclusion are important in order to meet the demographic challenge.

5.2.2

For our part, the EESC considers it particularly important to focus on:

combating poverty, especially amongst children and youth, within a policy framework that supports children, families (including lonely parents) and equality, thereby also preventing a transfer of poverty between generations

new and better jobs for the most disadvantaged, also ‘the working poor’

promoting gender equality

promoting equal opportunities for people with disabilities

anti-discrimination measures

the integration of ethnic minorities

combating and preventing homelessness

access to high quality health and social services, regardless of income

the situation of chronically ill people

guarantee of minimum income, measures to reduce indebtedness and access to financial services and micro credits.

5.3

Within the pensions strand: ‘Adequate and sustainable pensions’, national strategies on pensions were presented last year. Only fine-tuning is anticipated for 2006.

5.3.1

Priority issues could include:

the provision of an income in old age, which allows the elderly to live in dignity, thereby preventing their marginalisation

pension systems providing adequate cover for groups employed on new-style contracts and the self-employed