ISSN 1725-2423

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 27

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Information and Notices

Volume 52
3 February 2009


Notice No

Contents

page

 

III   Preparatory Acts

 

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE

 

446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008

2009/C 027/01

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on type-approval of hydrogen powered motor vehicles and amending Directive 2007/46/ECCOM(2007) 593 final — 2007/0214 (COD)

1

2009/C 027/02

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The different policy measures, other than suitable financing, that would help SMEs to grow and develop

7

2009/C 027/03

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission: Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourismCOM(2007) 621 final

12

2009/C 027/04

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the White paper on the integration of EU mortgage credit marketsCOM(2007) 807 final

18

2009/C 027/05

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Developments in the construction sector in Europe

22

2009/C 027/06

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Developments in the business service sector in Europe

26

2009/C 027/07

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on cosmetic products (recast)COM(2008) 49 final — 2008/0035 (COD)

34

2009/C 027/08

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC as regards variations to the terms of marketing authorisations for medicinal productsCOM(2008) 123 final — 2008/0045 (COD)

39

2009/C 027/09

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to simple pressure vessels (codified version)COM(2008) 202 final — 2008/0076 (COD)

41

2009/C 027/10

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Towards a rail network giving priority to freightCOM(2007) 608 final

41

2009/C 027/11

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Communication from the Commission — Communication on a European Ports PolicyCOM(2007) 616 final

45

2009/C 027/12

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Road transport — working time of self-employed drivers

49

2009/C 027/13

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 — a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-PLAN) Towards a low carbon futureCOM(2007) 723 final

53

2009/C 027/14

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The link between climate change and agriculture at European level

59

2009/C 027/15

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/87/EC so as to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading system of the CommunityCOM(2008) 16 final — 2008/0013 (COD)

66

2009/C 027/16

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the effort of Member States to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Community's greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments up to 2020COM(2008) 17 final — 2008/0014 (COD)

71

2009/C 027/17

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide and amending Council Directives 85/337/EEC, 96/61/EC, Directives 2000/60/EC, 2001/80/EC, 2004/35/EC, 2006/12/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006COM(2008) 18 final — 2008/0015 (COD)

75

2009/C 027/18

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2006/66/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators as regards Article 6(2) on placing batteries and accumulators on the marketCOM(2008) 211 — 2008/0081 (COD)

81

2009/C 027/19

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Non-energy mining industry in Europe

82

2009/C 027/20

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Integration of minorities — Roma

88

2009/C 027/21

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Elements for the structure, organisation and functioning of a platform for the greater involvement of civil society in the EU-level promotion of policies for the integration of third-country nationals

95

2009/C 027/22

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on A new European Social Action Programme

99

2009/C 027/23

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Directive on the conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of highly qualified employmentCOM(2007) 637 final — 2007/0228 (CNS)

108

2009/C 027/24

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Directive on a single application procedure for a single permit for third-country nationals to reside and work in the territory of a Member State and on a common set of rights for third-country workers legally residing in a Member StateCOM(2007) 638 final — 2007/0229 (CNS)

114

2009/C 027/25

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 Creativity and Innovation (2009)COM(2008) 159 final — 2008/0064 (COD)

119

2009/C 027/26

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on A better integration in the internal market as key factor for cohesion and growth for islands

123

2009/C 027/27

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The reasons for the difference between perceived inflation and actual inflation

129

2009/C 027/28

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on The role of civil society in EU pre-accession aid programmes in the Republic of Albania

140

2009/C 027/29

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Setting up civil society organisations networks in the Black Sea region

144

2009/C 027/30

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Reconciling the national and European dimensions of communicating Europe

152

EN

 


III Preparatory Acts

EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE

446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008

3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/1


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on type-approval of hydrogen powered motor vehicles and amending Directive 2007/46/EC’

COM(2007) 593 final — 2007/0214 (COD)

(2009/C 27/01)

On 14 November 2007 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on type-approval of hydrogen powered motor vehicles and amending Directive 2007/46/EC.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Iozia.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion with 117 votes in favour and five abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC approves of the content of the proposed regulation and welcomes the Community-level establishment of harmonised standards for the type-approval of hydrogen powered vehicles. It endorses the choice of a single Community procedure to be valid in all Member States as this is simpler and much less burdensome than 27 different type-approval systems that would clearly pave the way for unfair competition and fragmentation in the internal market.

1.2

The importance of this measure is clear: despite expectations of considerable growth in the commercialisation of hydrogen-powered vehicles, there is no type-approval for them at national or European level. Where individual Member States have adopted provisional regulations, they differ significantly from one another.

1.3

The regulation must be approved rapidly as it will provide a definite frame of reference for the sector's companies, and thus pave the way for the major investment necessary to develop hydrogen-related technologies. The EESC has endorsed this strategic choice in recent opinions on the subject, stating that despite its continuing limitations, hydrogen is the challenge for the future.

1.4

The establishment of these Community standards on harmonisation is also an important element in guaranteeing safety for users. Building up their trust is essential in the light of the predicted increase in the use of this technology. According to Commission forecasts, the number of hydrogen-powered vehicles should reach the one million target by 2020.

1.5

An important example confirming the validity of this objective and the real possibility of reaching it is that of the steadily increasing number of taxis with hybrid fuel systems circulating in New York, where a positive urban policy has made it possible to marry environmental protection with market rules. This clearly demonstrates that attempts to build artificial barriers to the development of this technology often mask vested interests.

1.6

Reaching this target is essential, as only by making a decisive move to replace fossil fuels will it be possible to stay on track with the EU's policies on sustainable development and the fight against climate change. This goal can be achieved by means of a gradual shift to the use of hydrogen, second generation biofuels and other renewable fuels.

1.7

To provide the fundamental support this long-term strategy requires will involve specific commitments in the field of technological research. The EESC therefore calls for the implementation of targeted research programmes, starting with the rapid approval of the regulation proposed in COM(2007) 571, which provides for the establishment of a Joint Technological Initiative (JTI) based on the establishment of a Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (1). The Committee would welcome research programmes aimed at finding new means of producing and using hydrogen and echoes the calls from businesses and research bodies active in the hydrogen sector for the Council and Parliament to speed up the approval of the necessary proposals.

1.8

The EESC urges the Commission to start work now on examining the issue of distribution network coverage, as safe and efficient storage and adequate distribution systems are essential elements in the dissemination of vehicles powered by gas mixes.

1.9

Initially, action should focus on the distribution of LPG and methane throughout the Community, as though in many EU countries they are scarce or non-existent these offer the most immediate and realistic hope of reducing dependence on carbon-based fuels. This initial drive for newer, safer and more efficient technologies in the field of storage and distribution should, in the near future, facilitate an intermediate phase of supplying a mix of gas and hydrogen until the final move to hydrogen distribution.

1.10

Steps must be taken to restore the confidence of future users and dispel the doubts that still surround hydrogen use. Widespread information programmes should be planned, with a clearly argued message, to reassure the public that this technology has already reached the current safety levels of conventional vehicles.

1.11

The EESC agrees that the most appropriate legal instrument to use is a regulation, as this creates a level playing field for the sector's producers by ensuring that the standards it contains will be implemented simultaneously in all Member States.

1.12

The EESC approves of the proposal to prepare and implement basic standards by means of a committee procedure. It also welcomes the arrangements for a transition period for the full application of all the standards; this appears necessary for producers, given the complexity involved.

1.13

The EESC welcomes Europe's presence in the Global Coordination Group (GCG), which is seeking to establish type-approval standards at world level (GTR — Global Technological Regulation), and considers Europe's involvement important. However, it would also stress that the search for a global agreement must not obstruct the European legislative procedure. Having its own legislative instrument and experience of applying Community standards will strengthen Europe's presence on all global bodies, and ensure that the establishment of international regulations in the field of hydrogen-powered vehicles has more than one available point of reference to take into account (Japan).

1.14

The experience gained from having legislation at Community level and the important results that may stem from a solid ongoing commitment to technological research could help to boost the competitiveness of companies already operating in the vehicle sector, given that major shares of the future market are staked on the new technologies and fuels.

1.15

In the EESC's view, all this requires bold and timely decisions, together with a long-sighted strategic vision focusing on a future scenario where, in time, hydrogen is destined to play a major and decisive role.

1.16

The EESC would invite the Commission to reconsider its proposal to label hydrogen-powered cars, as this could be seen as criminalising them in some way, identifying them as ‘dangerous’, whereas their safety test results are on a par with those for cars powered by other fuels. As an alternative to that label, the EESC feels it would be more appropriate to identify the fuel-types of all cars, making them clearly recognisable.

1.17

In the absence of a distribution network, to facilitate the dissemination of hydrogen-powered vehicles, the EESC recommends that the Commission introduce type approval for small reforming units for the automatic production of hydrogen from methane (home energy stations or similar facilities). This could mark the first real step towards meeting the new demand for hydrogen in the early days, while the ultimate goal must continue to be that of producing hydrogen from renewable resources or biogas, by means of photolysis or electrolysis using electricity generated from renewable sources.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The starting-point for the regulation in question (COM(2007) 593 final) is that there are no European standards governing the type-approval of hydrogen powered vehicles, despite predictions that the market presence of such vehicles is set to increase.

2.2

Neither are there regulations governing this field in the EU's individual Member States.

None of the current legislation governing vehicle type approval includes any general standards for hydrogen powered vehicles, partly because of their differences compared with vehicles that run on traditional fuels.

2.3

A few Member States have adopted provisional regulations that differ significantly from one country to another. If this situation is allowed to continue, the type approval procedures developed in individual Member States will differ, with the inevitable consequences of internal market fragmentation and distorted competition rules, making the real possibility for this technology to contribute decisively to improving the environment remote.

2.4

This draft regulation is therefore intended to ensure that the internal market functions properly and to prevent vehicles from circulating in individual Member States under differing type approval standards, leading to imbalances between individual producers and paving the way for artificial barriers to trade in Europe.

2.5

The result would be to hinder rather than promote the practical development of hydrogen technologies and related initiatives in Europe, although it is one of the most significant available alternatives to fossil fuels. The latter still account for 98 % of public and private transport and 50 % of primary energy sources, a figure likely to increase to 73 % unless there is a definite decision to diversify.

2.6

This regulation, along with major research programmes in the sector as part of the 7FP, marks an important step towards bringing hydrogen use to the safety levels reached by traditional technologies and could also contribute towards gaining the support of potential users.

2.7

Harmonised standards at Community level for the type approval of hydrogen powered vehicles would doubtless constitute a decisive step towards securing the necessary consensus among users. The development of user confidence in the use of hydrogen is essential if the placing on the market of vehicles run on alternative low-greenhouse gas emission fuels is to be stepped up, something that is essential to protect the environment properly and practically.

3.   The Commission proposal

3.1

The draft regulation aims to set standards valid throughout the EU for the type approval of hydrogen powered vehicles.

3.2

It amends Framework Directive 2007/46/EC by including category M1-M2-M3 and N1-N2-N3 (2) hydrogen powered vehicles fully within the EC vehicle type approval procedural framework and including hydrogen-powered vehicles in all type approval related directives and regulations.

3.3

The legal basis of the proposal is Article 95 of the Treaty.

The proposal fully respects the principle of subsidiarity as the political objectives agreed at Community level cannot be achieved by individual Member States. Furthermore, the procedure prevents the creation of barriers in the single market.

It also preserves the principle of proportionality, its objective being simply the smooth running of the single market and a high level of public safety and environmental protection.

3.4

The Commission proposes to use a regulation as this will ensure that the provisions enter into force in all Member States at the same time, without having to wait for them to be transposed into national legislation. It should also avoid delays in the adaptation of type-approval standards and prevent the risk of provisions being changed significantly during transposition.

3.5

The proposal has been carefully examined by means of a thorough consultation of all the stakeholders. Beginning with the ‘Hydrogen Working Group’, the survey involved national authorities, vehicle manufacturers, vehicle parts suppliers and industry associations.

3.6

The four options studied were:

no policy change, i.e. maintaining the status quo;

legislation at Member State level;

legislation at European Union level;

and a non-regulatory approach, i.e. self regulation.

3.7

A consultant was then appointed to collate the responses concerning safety, technology and the relative costs of the various options. The results were then assessed by the main companies in the automobile sector involved with hydrogen technology.

3.8

From this broad consultation process it clearly emerged that the best course of action would be legislation at Community level to establish a type-approval procedure for all hydrogen powered vehicles.

3.9

To back up this choice, the Commission has presented a study (3) that argues that introducing even a strict European type approval process is the simplest and least costly way ahead, given the theoretical cost of 27 different type-approvals for each of the individual Member States.

3.10

The consultant's assessment was submitted to the Commission, which produced the present proposal on the basis of the prior consultation work, thus starting the institutional process.

3.11

According to the Commission, the standards established in this regulation offer hydrogen powered vehicle users the necessary guarantees in terms of safety and will contribute decisively to environmental protection.

3.12

The concluding objective is that 36 months after the entry into force of the regulation, hydrogen systems, all components in contact with hydrogen and the related materials used must comply fully with the standards set out by the regulation.

4.   The hearing

4.1

The hearing, attended by the Commission, academics, vehicle manufacturers involved in developing hydrogen-powered cars, European associations, consumers and fuel cell producers, delivered valuable ideas and information on the latest technological developments.

4.2

It highlighted the importance of public information and of events such as the one that has been held for a number of years in Rome (H2 Roma), introducing the public to the producers, demonstrating technological developments and raising awareness of a technology still considered dangerous by most people. Those present were very interested in the part that the EESC could play as a cultural mediator.

4.3

Companies and consumers underlined the need to be able to rely on the safety of vehicles and storage and distribution facilities, as well as on the availability of hydrogen. Research should continue with better backing. They welcomed recent European initiatives promoting fuel cells, with the decision to finance a Joint Technological Initiative.

4.4

Autonomy tests have shown that hydrogen-powered cars already have a range of up to 600 km. Further tests are in the pipeline.

4.5

As the hearing showed, hydrogen-powered cars are now a technological reality. What are missing however are the economic and social conditions necessary to move into the marketing phase. The type approval regulation will do away with an initial obstacle.

5.   General comments

5.1

The EESC approves of the content of this regulation and welcomes the adoption of harmonised standards for the type approval of hydrogen powered vehicles. This marks a step forwards from the present situation where the lack of legislation is clearly likely to distort competition and fragment the internal market. It is important that the regulation is approved rapidly, not least for reasons of safety and environmental protection.

5.2

In the EESC's opinion, the absence of a definite frame of reference inevitably tends to discourage the necessary significant investment in technological development for the use of hydrogen as a fuel for future cars.

5.3

The regulation appears to be in line with the EU's policies on sustainable development and with the fight against climate change, which underpin Community initiatives and make a vital contribution to the general objectives of the Lisbon Strategy.

5.4

The EESC is firmly convinced that unless hydrogen powered vehicles are developed rapidly and on a grand scale and fossil fuels are gradually replaced the environmental benefits will be severely limited and thus negligible in quantitative terms. It would argue that the use of hydrogen, second generation biofuels and other renewable fuels could make it possible to further environmental sustainability and to make a strong stand against climate change.

5.5

The EESC maintains that the exciting path towards reversing the current trend whereby demand for energy is satisfied primarily by fossil fuels, which currently account for 85-90 % of world energy supply, will involve the use of hydrogen and a commitment to research in the field of hydrogen and fuel cells. Any studies of future prospects must take into account the fact that the future for fossil fuels is likely to involve shortages and constantly increasing prices.

5.6

The EESC recently adopted an opinion (4) fully supporting the Commission's proposal (COM(2007) 571 final) to earmark approximately EUR 470 million for a Joint Technological Initiative (JTI) for ‘fuel cells and hydrogen’, which will enable the Commission, Member States and the industry to pool their various resources in a vast research initiative in order to launch programmes targeting strategic sectors for the diversification and future availability of energy.

5.7

In a subsequent opinion on the energy mix in transport (5), the EESC ‘considers a sharp increase in funding for research into the production and use of hydrogen (…) to be vital’ and ‘echoes the calls from businesses and research centres engaged in developing hydrogen use for the Council and Parliament to speed up the process of adopting the proposal’.

5.8

Fuel cells are energy converters that reduce the production of greenhouse gas and other pollutants considerably. As for biomass processing, the EESC takes a careful look in the same opinion at recent progress in the field of new catalysts designed for fuel cells, which are a highly promising technology for the supply of clean energy for cars.

5.9

While stressing that the use of hydrogen in the gradual substitution of fossil fuels is necessary and desirable, the Committee points out that the aim of bringing hydrogen-powered vehicles into circulation cannot be achieved without significant investment in all related fields of research. For this reason, the EESC would like to see research programmes aimed at consolidating this strategy.

5.10

The Committee considers that although the high cost of this process is an issue, it must not be allowed to slow down technological development in this field. It is keenly watching all programmes aimed at seeking new eco-friendly ways to produce hydrogen, given that the current method, whereby over 90 % of hydrogen is produced from methane, is based on a major energy source that is significant but nonetheless finite.

5.11

The EESC would stress that when assessing the costs of each technological advance, the major sums necessary should be assessed not just in relation to the admittedly large private vehicle sector, but also from a strategic, forward-looking perspective, taking into account the future benefits that might arise from the wider use of hydrogen for instance in public and private transport, goods transport and in trains and water transport, going as far as the possible use of hydrogen in electricity power stations, though this is a more distant prospect.

5.12

The EESC is utterly convinced that if these major research programmes develop in the desired way and receive the necessary political and financial support from all the interested parties, there is a strong possibility of seeing partially or fully hydrogen powered cars on the roads relatively soon.

5.13

One concrete example of this positive trend is the steadily increasing use of hybrid taxis in New York, where a positive urban policy has made it possible to marry respect for the environment with market rules. This clearly demonstrates that attempts to place obstacles in the way of the development of this technology often mask vested interests.

5.14

In all its opinions on the subject, the EESC has supported the choice to use hydrogen, which, despite the currently known limitations, is the challenge for the future. The Committee is keeping a close eye on recently planned initiatives using various production and supply technologies and paving the way for the future use of hydrogen to power vehicles.

5.15

In this light, the EESC would once more urge the Commission to examine the issue of distribution network coverage for alternative fuel, starting by boosting the distribution of CNG (compressed natural gas), which in Europe is distributed on a small scale in a few Member States and is totally absent in others, with a few positive exceptions, including Poland.

5.16

The field of storage and distribution is a concrete example of targeted research in the sector. The need for innovative technology in the field of gas distribution is a fundamental and critical issue for the dissemination of new vehicles, both in the intermediate phase of a possible mix of different gases, and in the pursuit of the ultimate objective of hydrogen fuel.

5.17

There is an urgent need here for ever more efficient and safe distribution systems, using the experience garnered from the two plants currently operating in Europe, in Mantova (Italy) and Munich (Germany), directing research towards increasingly advanced systems that centre on meeting high standards of safety and environmental protection.

5.18

For these reasons, the EESC believes that achieving high levels of safety and efficiency in the storage and distribution of gaseous fuels is crucial in the current phase, requiring a major programme to disseminate LPG and methane plants throughout Europe. This is a more immediate realistic objective when it comes to reducing dependence on carbon-based fuels, as an intermediate phase before the definitive stage of distributing hydrogen. The technologies necessary for storing and distributing gas and hydrogen are very similar, so the development of the former will inevitably favour the development of hydrogen.

5.19

The EESC is aware that the use of hydrogen still poses definite problems when it comes to cost and certain elements of safety. The thorough tests carried out in various countries mean that the obstacles of the past should now be completely overcome, bringing hydrogen use to the safety levels achieved by conventional technologies. Achieving this objective, and launching major programmes to provide specific information, might help to build the confidence of future users, something that is essential for the definitive relaunch of the use of this technology.

5.20

For this reason, it is essential that this hydrogen-based strategy be backed up by a thorough information programme to address and overcome the current doubts of future consumers who consider hydrogen to be a highly risky product.

5.21

A well-disseminated information programme must send out a clear message: hydrogen technology has already reached the current safety levels of conventional vehicles, even in the event of accidents. This is key if the Commission's forecast of 1 million vehicles on the Community's roads by 2020 (Impact Assessment, p. 34) is to be considered credible.

5.22

This regulation setting Community-level harmonised standards for the type approval of hydrogen powered vehicles is the first step towards building such a consensus. It should be supported for the fundamental reason that use of this fuel makes a key contribution to environmental protection, as it does not emit greenhouse gases or release carbon-based pollutants.

5.23

The EESC agrees with the choice of regulation as the legal instrument for the proposal as it creates a level playing field for the sector's producers by means of the immediate application in all Member States of the standards it contains.

5.24

The EESC approves of the proposal to prepare and implement basic standards by means of the committee procedure. It also welcomes the arrangements for a transition period; this reflects the complexity of the technology, which producers will require some time to apply.

5.25

The EESC supports and considers important the presence of Europe alongside Japan and the USA on the Global Coordination Group (GCG) aimed at achieving a world-wide procedure for the type-approval of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

5.26

However, the search for a solution at this level must not be allowed to get in the way of the Community legislative process, as the time needed to reach an agreement at world level will be longer than the timeframe for the current regulation. Indeed, once the EU has a specific legislative instrument and its own experience of implementation, it will have greater clout at the GCG and will be able to prevent any attempts to adopt a regulation based on the only experience currently available, i.e. that of Japan.

5.27

A strong European presence on world decision-making bodies is also vital for safeguarding the competitive edge of major vehicle manufacturers operating at European level, which must not lose touch with developments in a market where a strong, timely and technologically-advanced presence is key to winning a major market share in the future.

5.28

Type-approval, though just one aspect of the overall process, marks a significant step towards the availability of alternative fuels that can release Europe from the grip of fossil fuels and bring major environmental benefits, preparing us for the time when, sooner or later, that resource will slowly but surely run out.

5.29

All this calls for bold decisions and a long-term, strategic outlook, setting sights on the present and also on a future scenario in which the use of hydrogen is destined to play a fundamental role.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  OJ C 204, 9.8.2008, p. 19.

(2)  

M1 vehicles designed for passenger transport, with a maximum of eight seats in addition to the driver's seat.

M2 vehicles designed for passenger transport, with more than eight seats in addition to the driver's seat and weighing no more than 5 tonnes.

M3 vehicles designed for passenger transport, with more than eight seats in addition to the driver's seat and weighing more than 5 tonnes.

N1 vehicles designed for goods transport, weighing no more than 3.5 tonnes.

N2 vehicles designed for goods transport, weighing more than 3.5 tonnes but no more than 12 tonnes.

N3 vehicles designed for goods transport, weighing more than 12 tonnes.

(3)  TRL Ltd: technical and scientific consultancy employed by the Commission.

(4)  OJ C 204, 9.8.2008, p. 19.

(5)  CESE 1104/2007 (TEN/297), point 1.4. Not yet published in the OJ.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/7


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The different policy measures, other than suitable financing, that would help SMEs to grow and develop’

(2009/C 27/02)

On 20 September 2007, Mr Andrej Vizjak, Minister for the Economy, asked the European Economic and Social Committee, on behalf of the forthcoming Slovenian presidency of the Council, to draw up an exploratory opinion on

The different policy measures, other than suitable financing, that would help SMEs to grow and develop.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Cappellini.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 122 votes to 0, with five abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC believes that the Small Business Act for Europe (SBAE), which it had called for on numerous occasions, should make it possible to re-launch the European Charter for Small Enterprises; furthermore, it considers that the SBAE not only represents a remarkable opportunity for developing the potential of small businesses but will also gauge the extent to which the EU institutions and Member States wish to launch a genuine policy of voluntary and lasting support for SMEs and the smallest companies.

1.2

This policy should not be confined to periods of economic downturn, when politicians have a tendency to rediscover the benefits of SMEs and small business, especially their capacity for plugging employment gaps and reducing unemployment statistics, but should instead aspire to be a well-structured policy providing long-term support for small business competitiveness.

1.3

The EESC recommends 10 key measures to support and re-launch SME development by creating a truly favourable environment and effective Small Business Act for Europe, which will be more than just another political declaration:

to have a good knowledge of the European landscape of the various types of SMEs, their evolution and their needs at cross-sectoral and sectoral level in the light of the internal, external and cross-border aspects of the internal market, particularly through the publication of annual reports;

to integrate the SME dimension into all Community policies and into the legislative process;

to pursue a strategy of simplified administration at all levels and to establish a new method of consultation with the various types of SMEs and the intermediary organisations representing them;

to ensure that legislation at all levels takes account of the situation and needs of the various types of SMEs and applies the principle of ‘think small first’;

to ensure that legislation respects the following four fundamental principles: 1) effective impact analyses, 2) proportionality, 3) ‘only once,’ and 4) the principle of safeguarding, with a particular focus on extending the powers of the SME Envoy (i.e. the SMEs' representative) and creating an SME ombudsman for the single market;

support the assistance and advisory activities of intermediary organisations representing SMEs;

to relaunch business cooperation and inter-organisational exchange programmes and to establish a network of related support services;

to introduce a more extensive and permanent policy of innovation focused on small business;

to simplify and promote SMEs' access to EU programmes;

to launch a policy for the transfer of business ownership.

1.4

the EESC requests the implementation of the SBAE at all levels in the form of a legally binding instrument.

1.5

Furthermore, it calls for the SBAE to encourage social dialogue between the social partners in SMEs so as to establish the best possible working environment for the promotion of creativity and innovation, including in the area of working conditions, with a particular emphasis on improving safety and risk assessment at the workplace.

2.   (Background) Presentation of the exploratory opinion

2.1

The crucial role played by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the EU economy is universally recognised as a key factor for EU level growth and employment and for addressing the new challenges of globalisation. The results of the SME policies implemented during the years 2005-2007 show that significant progress has been made, both at EU and at national level, thanks to the application of the think small first principle.

2.2

The European Commission has stressed the need to unlock SMEs' potential for growth and job creation and to take full advantage of their capacity for innovation. This approach found its reflection in the report on the renewed Lisbon Strategy for growth and employment adopted on 11 December 2007, and provided the inspiration for the creation of a Small Business Act for Europe, whose principal objective is to identify concrete measures and principles for improving the European SME environment and for reaping the full benefit of their diversity. This initiative was endorsed by the European Council meeting in December 2007; the Commission aims to present a proposal by June 2008.

2.3

It is worth bearing in mind that the EESC has recently issued, or is currently preparing, a number of other opinions relating to SME policy, including:

Developments in the business service sector in Europe (INT/412 — rapporteur: Mr Calleja) (in preparation)

Research and development programme for SMEs (INT/379 — rapporteur: Mr Cappellini)

A mid-term review of Modern SME policy (INT/392 — rapporteur: Mr Burns) (in preparation)

International public procurement (INT/394 — rapporteur: Mr Malosse)

Micro-credit (INT/423) — rapporteur: Mr Pezzini) (in preparation).

2.4

The Slovenian presidency of the Council has asked the EESC for a series of political proposals promoting SME growth. The aim is not for the EESC to draw up a new list of technical measures focusing on the individual growth of SMEs but rather to put forward a more structured political framework and to innovate in favour of SMEs.

2.5

Two priorities in particular have been set out by the Slovenian presidency:

a)

to enable all SMEs, irrespective of their differences in terms of size, operations, sector or means of production, to respond to the major challenges which they will face in the future such as industrial, climate and demographic change, social challenges, as well as the restructuring of markets due to the effects of globalisation, changes in distribution and the standardisation and certification of products and services;

b)

to enable SMEs to be more closely involved in political decision-making, operational priorities and legislative decisions which affect their working environment.

2.6

In addition, the Slovenian presidency requires the opinion of the EESC in connection with the preparation of the Small Business Act for Europe.

3.   General comments

3.1

The EESC has, in its previous opinions, commented on the significant advances made by SMEs, especially in terms of access to funding or simplified administrative procedures. It is particularly satisfied with the approach of the European institutions, which has shown a clear move in favour of small business, and hopes that this is not solely due to the current difficult economic and social situation. However, in spite of these unquestionable achievements, the policies launched in recent years are nonetheless beset by a number of weaknesses.

3.2

The EESC considers, in particular, that the European Charter for Small Enterprises has failed to achieve its strategic objectives because it has no legal standing and has, for the most part, remained little more than a political declaration. There is a need to strengthen its implementation in the Member States and at regional level and to relaunch the annual evaluations and recommendations in the Member States.

3.3

Furthermore, mention has often been made of the need to further improve the dialogue with the various types of SMEs; the EESC believes that there is a need to introduce a new culture of dialogue at European, national and regional level making it possible to strengthen and institutionalise dialogue between the institutions and intermediary organisations representing SMEs.

4.   Specific comments

4.1   Create a new environment promoting the development of all SMEs

In the light of this situation and the significant challenges facing SMEs in the future, the EESC fully supports the presidency's initiative to launch an innovative policy for SMEs, the cornerstone of which will be the SBAE, and endorses the Commission's initiatives for improving SME competitiveness, in order to give more weight to the renewed Lisbon Strategy adopted at the 2008 Spring Summit.

4.2   A European project supporting SMEs and micro-enterprises

The EESC recommends that the European institutions no longer focus exclusively on high-growth companies, international positioning or various indicators of excellence as this has led to a situation where millions of small businesses who generate value, innovation, employment and regional stability are being deprived of the benefits of EU action. It urges institutions and public authorities at all levels to adopt an innovative approach to SME policy by launching a truly European project bringing together all the economic potential of small, medium-sized and micro-enterprises to inject the extra growth and employment which is needed by the EU. This European project must also promote and develop dialogue with the social and economic partners and the representative organisations of the different types of SMEs on the key new EU challenges (climate change, demographic change and immigration, the environment, energy) which SMEs will face in the future. Based not only on both high growth enterprises but perhaps primarily on the local economy and on so called ‘traditional’ activities, it must allow the EU to initiate a policy of promoting businesses on a human scale and to focus on the local economy in order to ensure Member States' growth by stressing five priority measures.

4.2.1

To understand and convey the reality of the situation facing the different types of SMEs. All EU policies must be based on clear facts providing information on the subject. The definition of an SME covers a very broad range of business situations and types or forms of companies (sole traders or incorporated companies, companies with no workforce or up to 250 employees, companies engaged in craft, commercial or social activities, companies active in the professional world) operating in a variety of different sectors, each with their own very different situations and needs. Information about the various types of SMEs is often incomplete or non-existent. The analyses carried out by the previous Observatory of European SMEs often provided vital data. The EESC is delighted by DG Enterprise's decision to re-launch the Observatory and requests:

the launch of a vast programme of economic studies, including sector specific reports, on the situation and needs of the various types of SMEs, including at national and regional level, and statistical analyses in consultation with the representative organisations concerned;

the promotion and development of business organisations' own research and study activities at European, national and regional level, in consultation with research centres, universities and the Member States.

4.2.2

Include the SME dimension in all Community policies: The EESC has noted that beyond the political declarations in favour of small businesses, there is still a strong tendency among legislators at all levels to apply the large company model by rote and to follow the bonsai principle which holds that what is good for a large company is good for small companies too, either due to their lack of understanding of the real situation or their desire to keep things simple. This approach, based on a single economic model, is particularly ill-suited to the reality of a plethora of different types of companies and business cultures, leading to a situation where over 90 % of European companies feel that EU policy ignores or fails to understand their needs. The EESC draws the attention of the EU institutions and the Member States to the fact that while small and micro-enterprises represent the life blood of the EU economy and employment, they risk becoming its downfall, not through their own fault, but as a result of the insufficient attention paid to them by public authorities at all levels. The EESC requests that the SBAE finally provide an opportunity to put matters into practice and hopes that the needs and specific characteristics of the various types of SMEs be taken into account in all policies, programmes and negotiations, including social dialogue and international relations, at EU as well as national and regional level.

4.2.3

Pursue a policy of simplified administration: the EESC urges the Commission to increase its efforts to simplify EU legislation; however, above all it calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to engage in a more effective policy of simplification, based on the following five points:

to put in place a genuine think small first policy;

to simplify, but not to diminish responsibility: the EESC has certain doubts concerning the validity and efficiency of systematic exemptions for small businesses and would prefer a degree of proportionality in the area of implementation as well as direct consultation with the SME organisations concerned;

to systematically involve the representative organisations of the various types of SMEs in the EU, national and regional legislative process, as well as in social dialogue at various levels, and increase cooperation with the EESC and the Committee of the Regions;

to systematically apply the only once principle at all levels;

to draft practical guides and explanatory documents on all adopted legislation to make them more comprehensible and easier to transpose.

4.2.4

Support the assistance and advisory activities of intermediary organisations: Intermediary organisations representing the various types of SMEs are a key element in the success of EU policies through the technical assistance services which they can provide to all SMEs requiring specific skills that cannot be ensured under the new EEN (Enterprise Europe Network) network. They play a vital role in providing companies with both information and support, in particular by tailoring legislation to the specific needs of each company on a case-by-case basis and transposing legislation to the micro-economic and local level, including as close as possible to the smallest companies. On the one hand, the EESC considers it vital that public authorities at all levels engage in a voluntary policy of supporting their activity and that Community programmes which cover SMEs expressly provide for support measures for such organisations. On the other hand, it calls on the Commission, the Member States and the regions to put into practice the conclusions of the 4th European conference of craft industries and small businesses in Stuttgart on this issue.

4.2.5

Relaunch business cooperation programmes and inter-organisational exchange programmes: The EESC urges the Commission to relaunch the inter-regional business cooperation programmes which have proved to be effective in the past; furthermore, support must be given to action taken by intermediary organisations or the creation of bodies which promote such cooperation should be made possible.

4.3   Adopt a genuinely effective European Small Business Act

4.3.1

The EESC expresses its delight at the positive opinions of the Council and the Commission supporting the creation of a Small Business Act at European level, especially as the Committee has advocated the introduction of the SBAE on numerous occasions (1). It believes that, to be effective, the SBAE must fulfil the following conditions:

4.3.1.1

its aim must be to create the best possible environment for SMEs and micro-enterprises at all levels and to provide a concrete response to the various challenges that SMEs must face during their life cycle including, in particular, the transfer or take-up of business ownership; in the light of the above, the SBAE must not lead to a deterioration in the working conditions of SME employees; the initiatives launched should, on the contrary, make it possible to take better account of their situation;

4.3.1.2

it must bring real added value and not simply limit itself to combining existing programmes or coordinating the various measures currently underway;

4.3.1.3

it must not just constitute another declaration of intent, as was unfortunately the case for the European Charter for Small Enterprises and not be restricted to a simple political declaration on the part of the EU institutions and the Member States; European SMEs and micro enterprises deserve better and the EESC believes that giving the SBAE real legal standing will demonstrate and prove the EU's commitment to taking effective action in respect of SMEs and micro-enterprises;

4.3.1.4

it must be binding in its entirety and apply to all levels of European, national and regional decision-making by focusing on public authorities at all levels, whilst leaving the responsibility for its implementation to the Member States (2);

4.3.1.5

it must be applied to all EU policies by including SMEs in all these policies and by developing a holistic approach which takes proper account of all aspects of the policies and the impact of the new rules on the various types of SMEs.

4.3.2

The EESC requests that the SBAE include five key policy measures to ensure that the legislation does not restrict the development and competitiveness of the various types of SMEs;

4.3.2.1

Ensure that legislative texts at all levels are drawn up by taking into account the specific needs and situation of the various types of SME. To this end, the following basic rule should be established which will apply to all levels of the decision-making process: legislative proposals must be formulated taking account of the needs and expectations of SMEs, especially the smallest businesses, and by applying the think small first principle, with a particular focus on the self-employed, who account for over half of all European businesses. This approach envisages in particular the systematic consultation of SME representative organisations, and the involvement, at an appropriate level, of experts from these organisations in the work of those advisory committees which deal with issues at regional, national or European level which could have an impact on SMEs. This was in line with the request made by the Competitiveness Council of 13 March 2006.

In this vein, the EESC calls for the appointment of an SME envoy at each Commission DG who will be responsible for ensuring that the legislative measures and programmes managed by the DG take sufficient account of the priorities and expectations of SMEs and micro-enterprises.

4.3.2.2

Ensure that legislation complies with the fundamental principles. For the EESC, the effectiveness of legislation at all levels and of joint or individual SME programmes or measures is dependent on the inclusion of the following four principles in the SBAE and on their systematic application at regional, national and European level:

systematic impact analyses for SMEs: no legislative text should be adopted unless it has first been subject to a systematic impact analysis covering the various types of SMEs involved, in order to gauge the direct and indirect social and economic effects, the administrative burden and the information and investment costs that this will entail, as well as the advantages they can gain;

the principle of proportionality: legislation must not impose unnecessary measures on SMEs and must be limited to the strict minimum necessary; the conditions for the application of legislation must be adapted to the different circumstances of the enterprises concerned and their capacity for implementing legislation;

the only once principle: the role of SMEs is to produce, not to act as administrative departments; they may not be subject more than once to declarations and administrative procedures regarding the same issue and it is up to the administrative authorities concerned to pass this information on to one another; the ‘only once’ principle may not be honoured by government offices which apply the ‘one business-one contact person’ principle based on the fact that intermediary organisations already carry out this function at national level;

the safeguard principle: legislation may not be adopted if it impedes the development of SMEs or risks hindering their competitiveness. It should be possible to block new legislative proposals which have not been subject to a full impact analysis or where it is apparent that the proposed measures could impede the socio-economic development of SMEs;

Furthermore, the EESC emphasises the need to put in place and to ensure complete transparency in administrative procedures by allowing SMEs to have access to all administrative data concerning them and to correct it, where appropriate.

4.3.2.3

Put in place a broader and consistent policy of innovation. The EESC asks that the Commission, the Member States and the regional authorities do not restrict themselves to supporting innovation in high technologies only and that they adopt a more proactive policy by including in their programmes specific measures to support the innovation of low and medium technology and non-technical innovation in SMEs, especially in the smallest businesses.

The new EBN advisory network will never, by itself, be able to intervene effectively on behalf of all those companies with a potential for innovation. The EESC therefore requests that the SBAE identify the following priorities:

encourage the social partners in the SME sector to engage in dialogue with the aim of creating a good working environment which is conducive to creativity and innovation;

support the appointment of advisors at intermediary organisations for SMEs and small and micro-enterprises, as close as possible to business, as well as custom-made training courses for entrepreneurs and employees on how to innovate more effectively by capitalising on the new opportunities provided by markets in transition;

create financial instruments tailored to the needs of the smallest businesses, ensuring that they also support measures targeting employees;

encourage both Member States and the regions to launch a campaign in cooperation with SME organisations to identify technological and non-technological innovations within SMEs and, in particular, micro-enterprises.

4.3.2.4

Broaden access to Community programmes. The EESC believes that the complexity of administrative procedures and the existence of divergent requirements are making it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for small companies to take part in EU programmes, prompting the paradoxical situation where intermediary organisations are showing less and less interest in such programmes. To take but one example, current legal constraints do not allow innovative action such as support for experimental pilot projects, thereby depriving the EU of a whole raft of innovative proposals. The EESC believes there is a need for a review of the related rules and regulations: given the importance of this work, it is not the role of this opinion to identify the changes that need to be made; nevertheless, the EESC asks the Commission to launch a consultation with the SME representative organisations within the framework of the SBAE in order to lay down new conditions for organising and participating in programmes at various regional levels.

Against this background, structural funds must be able to promote SME participation in public contracts, especially in the most disadvantaged regions (3).

4.3.2.5

Simplifying and encouraging the transfer of business ownership. The EESC particularly stresses the importance of the transfer of business ownership, especially for small production and service-based businesses in urban and rural areas: their anticipated disappearance — which is, however, by no means inevitable — will have a huge negative impact on retaining businesses and jobs in these areas. On the one hand, the creation of systems for bringing together buyers and sellers, and the introduction of financial or tax indicators should be promoted, on the other, entrepreneurs should be encouraged to improve their capitalisation in order to maintain the value of their assets.

The specific situation of entrepreneurs in, for example, rural areas requires the development of innovative structures such as public-private partnerships.

4.4   A legally binding instrument should be at the core of the SBAE

4.4.1

In order to ensure that the SBAE is truly effective, the EESC asks that these measures be adopted by the Council and by the Parliament in the form of a legally binding act which will be applied at European, national and regional decision-making levels.

4.4.2

In this context, the EESC asks for an annual evaluation of the implementation of the SBAE and of all SME policies at EU and national level and that the Committee be kept informed of the progress made: this annual report must be covered by a separate specific chapter as part of the implementation of the Lisbon strategy.

4.4.3

Following these reports, the Commission must be able to issues its recommendations for implementation, both to the Member States and the regions, on which it plans to issue an opinion.

4.4.4

The EESC requests that these annual assessments lead to the modification or revision of the SBAE or SME policies, where appropriate.

4.4.5

The EESC strongly urges the Commission and the Council to involve the representative organisations of the various types of SMEs closely in the formulation and implementation of the SBAE.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  See EESC opinion on Business potential, especially of SMEs (Lisbon Strategy) (OJ C 256 of 27.10.2007, p. 8).

(2)  See EESC opinion on International Public Procurement (OJ C 224, 30.8.2008, p. 32) in which the EESC voices its opposition to ‘the introduction of a quota system for SMEs like that applied under the US Small Business Act’.

(3)  See EESC opinion 979/2008 on International Public Procurement (not yet published in the Official Journal).


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/12


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission: Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism’

COM(2007) 621 final

(2009/C 27/03)

On 19 October 2007, the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Communication from the Commission — Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism.

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 13 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Mendoza Castro.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 10 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 108 votes in favour, with five abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The European Economic and Social Committee welcomes and commends the Commission communication entitled ‘Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism’. It supports the Commission's pledge to consolidate tourism policy and strategy for the next few years in a coherent manner by means of the Agenda, thereby enabling them to be put into practice on a daily basis. This new policy has already been set out previously, in the Commission communication entitled ‘A renewed EU Tourism PolicyTowards a stronger partnership for European Tourism’.

1.2

The Committee appreciates the Commission's effort to summarise briefly a large number of documents, opinions and debates. The result is a satisfactory and clear description for the general public of the outcome of the work of the Tourism Sustainability Group, of the experts who drew up the report and the results of the ensuing public consultation exercise.

1.3

The Commission is correct to tie this new tourism policy in with the renewed Lisbon strategy and to set improving competitiveness and sustainability as its general objectives, as well as the more specific objectives of economic prosperity, social equity and cohesion, and environmental and cultural protection.

1.4

We also endorse the challenges identified in the Commission communication and the proposed means of addressing them. The proposed approach is for all players to be involved through various means of collaboration and competitive collaboration, and this involvement is considered the cornerstone of the new tourism policy and of its implementing Agenda. The scale of the challenges referred to in the Commission communication is clear and the ongoing study of greenhouse gases' implications for sustainability should in future be used as a key element for the Agenda.

1.5

The Committee considers the Commission's undertaking to implement this new policy through dialogue, collaboration, new support measures and coordination between stakeholders to be appropriate. The ‘Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism’ is the extension of the concrete approach and implementing measures proposed for all stakeholders in European tourism. Nevertheless, the Committee believes that the Commission, in the shape of DG Enterprise, can and must play a more active role and must take the lead in introducing a large number of Europe-wide initiatives, such as social tourism, tourism for all and training in the field of tourism, for example. In particular, the Commission and the other institutions should make greater efforts to involve small, medium-sized and micro businesses in the task of making tourism sustainable and in the Agenda for implementing and achieving this goal. The EESC welcomes the Commission initiative to establish ‘European destinations of excellence’ as examples of good practice and of what can be achieved.

1.6

The Committee once again proposes and recommends boosting the European Tourism Forum and pushing forwards with discussions and a study on setting up a European Tourism Board and a European Tourism Agency. These two bodies could perhaps provide forums in which the tourism authorities and the different stakeholders in the tourism industry could come together to improve and distribute information on sustainable and competitive tourism, to monitor compliance with the policy and the European tourism agenda and in particular to attempt to discern trends in tourism and draw up the measures that need to be taken. In particular, climate change, its implications for tourism and the corresponding steps to be taken could form goals for the two bodies referred to above.

1.7

The Committee warmly welcomes the Commission's intention to improve use of the available financial instruments. One specific example is social tourism where the Committee feels that there is already sufficient scope for initiating some cross-border pooling of experience in the form of a pilot project. Examples of such measures include social tourism and ‘tourism for all’, better human resources, product development and market penetration. The Committee considers that there is already sufficient scope to bring together cross-border experiences in the form of pilot projects in these fields.

1.8

The EESC is pleased to note the culmination of the work carried out on Agenda 21 for tourism, the results of which, set out in the Commission communication entitled ‘Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism’, complete and consolidate the general policy of sustainability in European tourism. In fact, the technical document drawn up by the body created for this purpose forms the basis for and complements the Commission communication, and these two documents should, therefore, be considered in conjunction with one another.

1.9

With respect to statistics, the Committee welcomes the call for proposals launched by the Commission — and also requested by the European Economic and Social Committee — with regard to setting up a network of tourism observatories that would provide not only sectoral data, but also a strategic and forward-looking vision, anticipating and shaping future action.

1.10

The Committee is prepared to continue working on tourism along the lines set out in the Commission communication on the Agenda, and invites the other European institutions, the Member States, local and regional authorities, and sectoral stakeholders — businesses and trade unions — and the general public to be involved in understanding and supporting tourism as a universal right and economic activity with strategic importance for Europe's future. What is also needed is for stakeholders and consumers to act responsibly, in order to make tourism more sustainable and competitive.

1.11

Although the Commission communication takes account of the social factors that shape tourism, the Committee regrets the absence of any reference to the concept and reality of European citizenship; in fact tourism could go much further than it already does to help different cultures and social groups to cohere around the notion of European citizenship, which it is everyone's duty to promote and build on. The variety and diversity of cultures, languages and natural and cultural heritage in Europe's different Member States constitutes an enormous asset that can and should be used and enjoyed as a means of understanding one another and of acknowledging our rights as European citizens. Another aspect to which considerable importance should be attached in European-level discussions and documents on tourism is that of culture, given the synergies that can exist between tourism and culture, as was stated in an earlier EESC opinion.

1.12

In the process of making tourism more competitive and sustainable, account should be taken of destinations' specific features. The Committee recommends that attention be paid to the specific features of those Member States that are heavily dependent on tourism. Appropriate account should be taken of the needs of the different regions when drawing up tourism-related policies and proposals. It is recommended that that the Commission's impact assessments take into consideration the potential disproportionate impact on different regions and sectors, for example, on destinations such as islands, which are heavily dependent on air transport and have no other means of transport or depend almost exclusively on air transport.

1.13

The EESC considers that the set of principles and values detailed in the Commission communication, covering sustainability, social welfare, competitiveness, cooperation, partnership, profitability, security, quality of employment, etc., actually constitute a European Tourism Model, not because they form a set of rules but because these principles and values are widely implemented throughout the European Union.

1.14

The Committee wishes to encourage the Commission to forge ahead in conjunction with other organisations on the European-level certification of knowledge and skills in the field of tourism in order to improve the quantity and quality of jobs in the industry. Support should be given to the Europe-wide Europass (covering the EU, EFTA/EEA and the candidate countries), which is a means of presenting, in a simple and easy-to-understand way, the personal skills and qualities of hardworking job-seekers who are willing to move elsewhere in Europe for the purpose of work.

2.   Commission communication

To better appreciate and understand what the Commission wishes to communicate to all European actors and institutions, we will briefly summarise the text of the communication and its main points.

2.1   Introduction to the communication

2.1.1

The challenge of striking a balance between sustainability and competitiveness. Section 1 of the Commission communication acknowledges first of all the key role of tourism in Europe's economy and its strategic importance, based not only on quantitative data but also on tourism's ability to create jobs and thus meet the objective of the renewed Lisbon strategy. It is worth mentioning the predicted growth rate of above 3 %, which clearly makes a sound contribution to the aims for employment, but which — in some cases and in the long term — could also lead to the limits imposed by sustainability requirements being exceeded.

2.1.2

Competitiveness and sustainability: two compatible requirements. The Commission communication clearly states that competitiveness depends on the sustainability and quality of the tourism experience and makes an explicit reference to the demands that climate change is making on the tourism industry. Corporate social responsibility can make a decisive contribution, by adopting measures to adapt to and combat climate change whilst promoting innovation and the value of tourism products for a world facing major challenges at the global level.

2.2

Substance of the Agenda. With its communication, the Commission proposes to strike a new balance between the welfare of tourists, the environment and the competitiveness of companies and destinations. This is a balance that needs to be achieved by all the stakeholders concerned.

2.2.1

Objectives and challenges. As a guideline for the action of all stakeholders concerned, the communication puts forward three basic objectives for the Agenda: economic prosperity, social equity and cohesion, and environmental protection.

The communication lists some of the major challenges that will have to be addressed if these aims are to be achieved:

sustainable management of natural and cultural resources;

minimising resource use and pollution;

managing change in the interests of the well-being of the community;

reducing the seasonality of demand;

addressing the environmental impact of transport;

making tourism accessible to all;

improving the quality of jobs in tourism;

ensuring the safety of tourists and of the communities where tourism services are offered.

This list of challenges is open and fluid and should be continually updated, prioritised and managed by the various stakeholders in a spirit of cooperation.

2.2.2

A framework for action. The communication suggests that coherent measures to meet the aims and challenges will involve securing the collaboration and responsible management of destinations, businesses and tourists and sets out the conditions for achieving this coherence.

2.2.3

Principles. The communication puts forward a total of nine principles that need to be complied with if this sustainable and competitive tourism is to be achieved. Three of them should be highlighted:

Respect the limits that can be set for carrying capacity, facilities and the volume of tourist flows.

Achieve a pace and rhythm of development that is appropriate to the natural, cultural and social resources available at any given time.

Implement long-term planning as a prerequisite for striking a balance between sustainability and competitiveness.

2.3

Moving forward together. In this section, the Commission underlines the need for all stakeholders in the sector to unite their efforts and work on a voluntary and continuous basis. The model proposed is based on respecting the principle of subsidiarity, with action ideally being taken by the destinations themselves but with support from the national and European levels. The communication therefore highlights both the role of the different stakeholders in the sector and that of the European Commission, in light of the Treaty.

2.3.1

The role of stakeholders. Following up the conclusions of the Tourism Sustainability Group, the communication assigns broad responsibilities and specific roles for the three areas of action: destinations, businesses and tourists. Particular reference is made to the need to express and convey to micro-businesses the core message of achieving a balance between sustainability and competitiveness.

2.3.2

The role of the European Commission. The Commission acknowledges its responsibilities to act in accordance with the Treaty and undertakes to launch and boost a number of different initiatives at Community level within the framework provided by the Agenda and beyond. Amongst these initiatives, four groups of action warrant special attention:

Mobilising actors to produce and share knowledge, with the aim of striking a balance between sustainability and competitiveness. The European Tourism Forum is a good example of how ideas and experiences can be exchanged.

Promoting and supporting European destinations of excellence as examples of good practice and publicising these as networks of destinations committed to sustainability and competitiveness.

Making use of the EU's highly diverse financial instruments. The Commission undertakes to disseminate information on improving their use in the field of tourism.

Mainstreaming sustainability and competitiveness into Commission policies and applying these to the wide range of regions with very different concerns and needs: coastal regions, mountainous regions, rural areas and urban zones.

2.4   Conclusion of the communication

The communication concludes by calling for full collaboration between all public and private players in the adoption and practical implementation of the Agenda. Once more, the recommendation that collaboration should be established at every level is a precondition for improving competitiveness, which will ensure an attractive and sustainable European tourism sector in the long term. The Commission recommends 2011 as the date for evaluating the action plan set out in the Agenda. The Commission's objective in presenting the communication is thus quite clear.

3.   General comments

3.1

Tourism and its strategic importance for the European economy have been recognised by all the European institutions in both formal and informal statements on the subject, thus strengthening its role, conveying the message to all stakeholders and providing a major boost to the sector. Tourism's importance transcends purely economic considerations because it is central in social terms to constructing a citizens' Europe. Whilst recognising the boost provided by the communication, much remains to be done to ensure that tourism takes on this key role in European policy, both now and in the future.

3.2

It is particularly crucial to point out that the new Lisbon Treaty acknowledges tourism's importance to Europe and gives the European Union further options to help develop the sector. This Treaty confers on the EU the authority and the duty to support, coordinate or complement the action of the Member States and the objectives of encouraging the creation of a favourable environment for the development of undertakings in this sector and of promoting the exchange of good practice.

3.3

Tourism has been addressed in the different European institutions as follows.

The European Parliament has adopted a series of very different resolutions on tourism and its impact on employment and the economy, for instance the Resolution on ‘Tourism and Development’ and the Resolution on ‘Prospects and new challenges for sustainable European tourism’.

The Council of the European Union has addressed tourism on a number of occasions in conclusions and action plans, basically to emphasise the need for sustainability, competitiveness and job creation in tourism. Special mention should be made of the Council conclusions of 7 July 2006 on the Commission communication on the new EU tourism policy; the Council welcomes this policy and calls on the Commission to play an active role in coordinating various policies.

The European Commission has published various communications, especially the communication of March 2006 outlining the new EU tourism policy; set up, consolidated and managed the European Tourism Forums; held conferences on various topics, such as social tourism and the Agenda 21 for European Tourism; and organised many other activities, such as the pilot project entitled ‘European Destinations of Excellence’, which recognises and promotes good practices carried out in EU Member States and in the candidate countries.

The Committee of the Regions has presented opinions, for example on the Commission communications ‘Working together for the future of European tourism’ and ‘Basic orientations for the sustainability of European tourism’.

The European Economic and Social Committee has always taken and continues to take a particular interest in tourism-related matters, as evidenced by some 11 opinions adopted on tourism since 1999, the Committee's active participation in various European Tourism Forums convened by the Commission, and its involvement and promotion of numerous events on various aspects of tourism. Of particular interest is the cooperation between the EESC and other bodies on all the initiatives that they have launched in relation to tourism.

3.4

The present EESC opinion is intended to be an evaluation of the communication's contributions to policy and the way in which it is managed; it also aims to make proposals that enrich if not the text itself, then at least the debate on it.

3.5

Similarly to the EESC opinion INT/317 on the Commission communication on the renewed tourism policy, this opinion wishes once again to state that:

tourism is a right of every citizen, as set out in the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, and brings with it an obligation to conform to good practice;

it is a right that also generates direct and indirect wealth and profitability, in particular for small and medium-sized businesses, and is thus a strategic industry for Europe which has proved sound;

the quality of services provided by operators in the sector and the responsibility of users towards local communities are values that we must maintain as the basis for its continuing existence;

tourism has, or should have, a positive impact on local and regional economies, as well as on social, cultural and environmental conditions and the urban environment, and thus provides a means of understanding other cultures and different ways of being and behaving; it also acts as an instrument for interregional cooperation;

tourism is a dynamic sector and major source of employment now and for the future, with the potential to create good quality, stable jobs with social rights;

tourism is not immune from problems such as overcrowding and seasonality, which lead to a loss of competitiveness;

we believe in the practical importance of an Agenda for a sustainable and competitive European tourism that is clear-sighted and has ambitious objectives;

the European tourism model is an internal necessity and could serve as a global point of reference if it is based not on rules but on values of quality, sustainability, accessibility, etc., which are freely taken on board by tourist destinations and all stakeholders;

the European tourism model is based on and enriched by the variety of destinations, by the different approaches to tourism, and by the diverse forms of tourism;

this European tourism model that we are advocating is an effective instrument for promoting peace and understanding between peoples.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

The Commission communication gives a clear explanation of the proposal regarding the need for balance between sustainability and competitiveness and of how to achieve this in practice. Incorporating all this into a rather short communication certainly involved considerable work to summarise the material and required analysis of many documents, opinions and debates. It should be emphasised that the ultimate aim of clearly informing society about the Commission's basic views on the future of the sector and about the measures to be carried out in this complex industry has been achieved.

4.2

The arguments presented in the communication in support of the Agenda seem appropriate, in that they assess both the economic impact of tourism and its ability to create jobs for young people and also the necessary balance between sustainability and competitiveness which, in the long term, are of mutual benefit to one another. Impact assessments of matters such as the carbon footprint of different activities and regions or restrictions on carrying and reception capacity are key aspects of striking and maintaining a balance between these variables. Universal acceptance that there are limits to the scale and pace of tourism is essential to achieving balance between sustainability and competitiveness.

4.3

Perhaps it would have been useful for the communication also to analyse the new Lisbon Treaty in greater detail, trying to see how it ties in with the Agenda and what its significance for implementing the new European tourism policy is. It should not be forgotten that the Member States and the regions have repeatedly indicated that they wish to maintain their responsibility for tourism, but still allow the European Union to play a catalytic and coordinating role in certain areas of joint interest so as to improve the competitiveness of Europe's tourism sector. One example is the setting-up and management of an internet portal to promote Europe as a tourism destination, which has already become a valuable tool that can showcase all EU countries together as forming a diverse and special tourist destination.

4.4

The challenges and aims mentioned in the communication are certainly the most important ones that will be faced by tourism in the coming decades. Certainly the key challenges of sustainability and improving competitiveness are broad enough to serve as the basis for addressing other major challenges, such as enhancing quality, reducing seasonality or improving the skills of people working in the tourism industry. These challenges are also set out in the Agenda.

4.5

The communication repeatedly calls for collaboration, because, in line with the new tourism policy, strengthening collaboration is proposed as its linchpin and hallmark. It is particularly important to emphasise the role of the trades unions and employers' organisations, which must be included in cooperation arrangements, and asked to take part in all debates and forums, and in the implementation of general measures to improve the tourism sector. By the same token, it would be useful to promote permanent networks of tourist destinations and cities, motivated by the joint aim of improving competitiveness and sustainability. The Committee welcomes the promotion of the ‘European Destinations of Excellence’ and urges that this idea should include proper management of social and labour relations and participation of trades unions and employers' organisations at the selected destination, as a means of making tourist destinations more sustainable and competitive.

Within their remit, consumers' organisations have an extremely important role to play.

4.6

The Commission undertakes to implement this new policy on the basis of cooperation, specific new specific support measures and coordination between actors. The Agenda clearly wishes to see all stakeholders in the sector taking on greater responsibility. Into the Committee's view, the Enterprise DG has a key role to play in this task of coordinating all European policies that directly or indirectly affect tourism and which affect the different types of destination that also have their own specific features.

4.7

The Committee also considers that the Commission should play a more active role in introducing Europe-wide initiatives, including cross-border social tourism in Europe. Here in particular, the EESC has on several occasions proposed — and now proposes once again — boosting the European Tourism Forum and pushing forwards with discussions and, if necessary, a study on setting up a European Tourism Board and a European Tourism Agency, which would provide information and action on policies and measures adopted in the field of European tourism. It is also proposed that the Commission promote research into setting up technology platforms in the tourism sector, in order to improve the ways in which tourism is marketed, especially given the opportunities to boost internal tourism in Europe and potential sources of new tourists, such as China, Russia, India, etc.

4.8

The Committee considers that the communication does not pay adequate attention to the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the new scenario for tourism, both from the perspective of consumers and of businesses and stakeholders in the sector. Research and development work in the tourism industry to improve the use of such technologies must be a priority in the next few years. This work will undoubtedly lead to improved management of destinations, businesses and tourists, gradually achieving the sought-after balance.

4.9

The evident willingness to adopt concrete measures and in particular to improve the use of the available European financial instruments is important, but there is a need for a programme to be proposed for the precise purpose of implementing the major European tourism objectives, which the communication accurately identifies. It must be ensured that all the funds directly or indirectly allocated to tourism are used effectively and efficiently to achieve the objectives.

4.10

This communication should be viewed in the context of the major contributions made by the report by the Tourism Sustainability Group — a document that has provided significant ideas for the Agenda, in particular with regard to assigning roles to all of the sector's stakeholders. The efforts made by renowned experts over several months have clearly been very productive and provide complementary and practical approaches to a number of questions relating to sustainability and competitiveness.

4.11

The communication does not clearly indicate the role it assigns to tourism statistics. There is a need for clear collaboration on tourism statistics in order to monitor the Agenda's implementation and in particular for greater attention to be paid to the variables of sustainability, competitiveness and employment.

4.12

The communication clearly states the need to mainstream tourism policies for sustainability and competitiveness into all Commission and EU policies in order to ensure that the aims set out in the Agenda are met.

4.13

As already observed in the EESC opinion entitled the Katowice Declaration, and in the opinion on ‘Tourism and culture: two forces for growth’, in the opinion on ‘The renewed tourism policy’ and other EESC documents, communication campaigns are also called for to inform and motivate all European citizens, in particular young people.

4.14

The Committee considers it to be crucial that training, both formal and ‘on-the-job’, meets the needs of businesses and makes people more employable. European-level certification and recognition of knowledge and skills should be an instrument that helps to generate more jobs and better working conditions in the tourism industry.

4.15

In order to make tourism more competitive and sustainable, account should be taken of destinations' specific features. The EESC recommends that, when drawing up tourism-related policies and proposals, attention be paid to the specific features of those Member States that are heavily dependent on tourism and that appropriate account be taken of the needs of the different regions. At the same time it should be noted that tourism to remote destinations may have a particularly strong impact on climate change through the impacts and emissions from long distance travel. Greater emphasis may need to be placed in future on the advantages of seeking destinations nearer to one's starting point, which can be reached with less carbon emissions.

Brussels, 10 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


APPENDIX

to the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following text from point 4.15 of the Section Opinion received at least 25 % of the votes cast but was adopted in a modified form by the plenary:

4.15

In order to make tourism more competitive and sustainable, account should be taken of destinations' specific features. The EESC recommends that, when drawing up tourism-related policies and proposals, attention be paid to the specific features of those Member States that are heavily dependent on tourism and that appropriate account be taken of the needs of the different regions.

Outcome of the vote:

In favour of adding a new sentence: 48 Against: 43 Abstentions: 16


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/18


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘White paper on the integration of EU mortgage credit markets’

COM(2007) 807 final

(2009/C 27/04)

On 18 December 2007 the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the:

White paper on the integration of EU mortgage credit markets.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Grasso.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 123 votes to one with five abstentions.

1.   Assessment and recommendations

1.1

Once again the Commission has asked our Committee to draw up an opinion on the integration of mortgage credit markets for the purchase of residential and other buildings, i.e. on the White paper on the integration of EU mortgage credit markets.

1.2

Usually White Papers are the outcome of a quasi-definitive and structured policy analysis of ‘what to do’. This is not the present case. Indeed, the Commission has to analyse many issues that are still uncertain, such as common investment funds, financial services providers, product tying, etc. In total, 14 aspects are considered.

1.3

As a result, the White Paper does not represent a completed process but, on the contrary, remains open due its effective and noticeable complexity. Why then has another opinion been requested, given that the White Paper adds nothing new to the Green Paper, and that the EESC has already adopted an opinion on the Green Paper?

1.4

This is an issue that, over the years, has been repeatedly tabled for discussion without the Commission finding a way forward and making a proper decision that overcomes the cultural, legal, administrative and other barriers, which the EESC considers to be the real obstacles to the Commission's objectives.

1.5

The EESC opinion on the Green Paper (1), adopted in plenary in December 2005 with only one abstention, remains entirely relevant.

1.6

The White Paper still paints a highly variegated picture of the sector due to the cultural, legal, legislative and socio-ethical specificities that purchasing property, and especially residential property, has in respective Member States.

1.7

Nevertheless, the EESC, albeit unsure about the real possibility of integrating and harmonising the EU mortgage credit market, which presents so many specificities and profoundly different characteristics (Burani opinion, 15.12.2005 (2)), endorses in principle the Commission's attempt to establish ‘rules’, whether optional codes of conduct (i.e. best practice) or binding.

1.8

Nevertheless, the measure may be considered as excessive if the intention is to reconsider the equally positive opportunities already inherent in the regulatory automatism of the mortgage credit market today.

1.9

In the meantime, the EESC recommends that the Commission should take steps to analyse in greater detail areas (e.g. credit registers, foreclosures, the dissemination of financial literacy) that do not present undue difficulty, always provided that this would be worthwhile.

1.10

The EESC believes that under the Commission's orientation, the measure still places undue focus on the possible short-term benefits of introducing new rules based on somewhat partial interpretative schemas of the mortgage credit market. A short-term approach serves to lower the cost of financing mortgages without, however, concerning itself with the effective benefit that EU citizens might derive from existing financial products and innovations affecting these products.

1.11

The EESC maintains (as also stated in the Burani opinion) that the framework proposed by the Commission is not properly aligned with continuous market developments; it is therefore concerned about the long-term consequences for more vulnerable contracting parties, i.e. those consumers most in need of protection.

1.12

The EESC welcomes the fact that a link has been established between the current mortgage credit rules and the need for consumer protection. These are laudable intentions worthy of encouragement provided that they are designed to foster greater financial literacy on the subject of mortgage credit. The Commission's intention to take steps to strengthen transparency rules in order to enhance consumer protection is therefore to be commended.

1.13

However, at the same time, imposing, at all costs, general rules for assessing the risk presented by prospective borrowers may prove to be a difficult and uncertain undertaking.

1.14

The EESC believes that consumers must be protected during mortgage negotiations but that borrowers must not lose sight of their responsibilities vis-à-vis the lender.

2.   Gist of the Commission document

2.1

On 18 December 2007, the impact assessment {SEC(2007) 1683} accompanying the White Paper on the Integration of EU Mortgage Credit Markets was published. Three annexes were appended to the document: i) mortgage market characteristics ii) process iii) impact assessment on specific issues.

2.2

Although {SEC(2007) 1684} constitutes an excellent summary of the documents, in the interest of brevity, there are a few key points worth emphasising in the document in respect of which a new EESC opinion has been requested:

a highly fragmented picture is painted due to the cultural and legislative specificities and — above all — the socio-ethical value that home ownership has in respective Member States;

all the sensitive aspects of the issue, including economic and financial considerations, are reaffirmed, given the real estate market's importance for EU economies, not to mention the contribution that mortgage investments make to the banking sector's profitability; and

emphasis is placed on how in the current fragmented situation, use could also be made of a new legislative proposal to promote greater market integration.

2.3

Thus, the Commission document takes up the points already studied in the earlier Green Paper on mortgage credit. It could not have been otherwise since the new document is about the integration of EU mortgage credit markets and the relevant impact assessments previously mentioned.

2.4

Nevertheless, the EESC adopted an opinion on the Green Paper on 15 December 2005 (rapporteur: Mr Burani), and to all intents and purposes, the EESC's position on the subject is set out in that opinion. In this opinion, the EESC will focus on two new points raised by the Commission:

giving its own opinion on the intended measures proposed by the Commission in the light of impact assessments carried out in relation to the White Paper (3); and

drafting proposals, as requested by the Commission when it concludes that ‘a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation programme can only be developed once detailed proposals have been made’ (4).

3.   EESC comments on the White Paper

3.1

The White Paper raises numerous issues to be solved, on which the EESC has been asked to give an opinion. These can be brought under eleven thematic headings:

1)

choice of required product;

2)

early repayment;

3)

product mixes;

4)

credit registers;

5)

real estate valuations;

6)

real estate enforcement measures/forced sales procedures;

7)

national registers;

8)

applicable law;

9)

rules on variations in interest rates, and so-called usurious interest rates;

10)

mortgage credit financing;

11)

non-banking and service institutions.

3.2   Comments on specific points in the impact assessment

3.2.1

Pre-contractual information . In order to reduce information imbalances during the pre-contractual stage, the EESC considers it important to circulate and disseminate information and raise awareness on specific mortgage credit issues. This should not incur further costs for citizens.

3.2.1.1

Increasing information and disseminating financial literacy are prerequisites for the efficient assessment of the cost-benefit ratio of a risk situation. Indeed, the best way to prevent contracting parties from assuming undue risk is to provide them with effective knowledge of these very risks.

3.2.1.2

The EESC believes that it is important to stress that the rules and binding provisions should cover methods for circulating information and provision of possible penalties for breaching them. Nevertheless, the EESC believes that imposing a sic et simpliciter obligation on one contracting party would merely have the effect of inciting that party to try to offset this obligation by shifting the burden onto the other party.

3.2.2

Codes of conduct . The EESC believes that incentives should be created to encourage adherence to the voluntary code of conduct.

3.2.2.1

This would give borrowers a clearer understanding of the risk they may be undertaking, and of their chances of obtaining favourable financing conditions.

3.2.2.2

The measure that springs to mind could involve making it compulsory for borrowers to answer a list of standard self-assessment queries on their medium to long term ability to meet the financial commitment.

3.2.3

Cost rate . The EESC believes that it is appropriate for lending institutions to disclose the total cost of the loan and provide a cost breakdown of its various components, including the fiscal variable.

3.2.4

Consultancy. The EESC believes that consultancy services strictly linked to mortgage credit should be enhanced via independent pricing mechanisms, albeit set out in the calculation of the total cost of the transaction.

3.2.5   Early repayment

3.2.5.1

Applicability . With regard to the issue of early repayment, a distinction should be made between (i) total or partial early repayment of the mortgage and (ii) early terminations relating to opportunities for negotiating more favourable conditions of cost with other financial institutions.

In the first case, the EESC considers it important always to allow early repayment, including early partial repayment.

In the second case, however, it considers that the loan contract should be transferred to another financial institution.

3.2.5.2

Cost . With regard to the issue of early repayment, the EESC believes that costs should be calculated according to the appropriate mathematical formulae and must, under law, be spelt out in contractual relations. Costs should only be charged to the client in case of voluntary repayment of the credit. In case of contract termination, costs should be charged to the successor financial institution.

3.2.6

Product tying . In order to be valid, product tying should depend above all on the ability to demonstrate the effective utility of tying the product. The EESC believes that this issue could be solved by obliging lenders to present cost-benefit calculations and giving borrowers a reasonable period of time to decide whether to accept the proposal, possibly even after the loan contract has been signed.

3.2.7

Credit registers . The EESC agrees on the need for a pan-European register, access to which would be regulated by specific privacy laws. Indeed, the EESC believes that setting up a pan-European credit register could also serve to heighten competition between mortgage lenders across Europe. In any case, cross-border access to the registers of all Member States should be facilitated by simplifying information procedures.

3.2.8

Property valuation . The basic premise is that property valuation is more complex than generic financial valuation. Indeed the specific nature of real property (notably, that it is immovable) determines its usefulness, and moreover, other external factors relating to its location influence its valuation. These factors include:

morphology,

transport services,

population density, etc.

For this reason, it is pure idealism to believe that all these valuation factors can be summed up in a single formula.

3.2.8.1

Criteria for property valuations . The EESC therefore emphasises the complexity involved in real estate valuations arising from the abovementioned factors and does not consider it useful to define a specific blanket formula for property valuations. A better alternative would be to develop local best practice and strengthen the obligation for valuations to be carried out by operators accredited by the competent professional associations in their sector, who would also assume responsibility for the fairness of a given proposal.

3.2.8.2

Property risk valuations . The EESC is also of the opinion that property valuation should be accompanied by a volatility assessment vis-à-vis the identified value, in order to provide a more accurate evaluation of the guarantee offered by the property. The EESC also recommends applying instruments already in use by financial market operators and, for the most part, already established under other EU provisions such as, for instance, value-at-risk (5).

3.2.9

Foreclosures . If mortgage credit is split into an asset-backed loan and a personal loan, then we also need to distinguish between the financial beneficiary of the property and the owner providing formal guarantees.

3.2.10

Applicable law . The EESC believes that opportunities for profitable arbitrage between the different advantages offered by the civil and fiscal laws of individual EU countries would serve as a driver for otherwise unachievable market integration.

3.2.10.1

For this reason, the EESC is broadly in favour of leaving existing Member State legislation unchanged and allowing contracting parties to choose the one that cuts the loan transaction's overall costs, as already set out in the Rome Convention (6).

3.2.11

Usurious interest rates . The EESC reiterates its previously expressed views on this issue, especially with regard to the extreme difficulty involved in defining a usurious level of interest correctly by applying a regulatory framework set up for consumer credit. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that information remains the best defence against usury. The EESC therefore advocates setting up communication instruments on a vast scale to provide information about the risk premium bands applied to different categories of borrower risk.

3.2.12

Refinancing mortgage credit . The EESC believes that the White Paper's approach, which seeks to differentiate between refinancing rules on the basis of the subjective nature of the intermediaries (distinguishing between banking and non-banking institutions) is far too easy to circumvent.

3.2.12.1

Non-banking and service institutions . Mortgage lending should always be carried out by regulated and monitored banking institutions. Promotion and support from intermediaries (e.g. consultancies) are acceptable if provided by qualified institutions even if they are non-credit institutions.

4.   EESC proposals to be developed

4.1

The recent sub-prime mortgage crisis in the United States has revealed how the volatility of property prices combined with poor client-risk assessment practices with respect to non-payment of instalments that are out of proportion with the actual value of the mortgaged property itself, can generate a financial crisis serious enough to destabilise the entire system. For this reason, any EU action should draw on this experience as well as on the comments made under the previous point.

4.2

Introducing a twenty-eighth system for regulating mortgage credit to complement the ones that already exist in EU Member States, as suggested in the White Paper, could contribute to the integration of the EU mortgage credit market by increasing choice for the contracting parties without, however, creating the conditions for destabilising the financial system revealed by the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

4.3

It is common for real estate purchase choices, especially where homes are concerned, to be influenced in part by emotional (i.e. subjective) factors that have nothing to do with a proper and rational assessment of a property's value (i.e. objective factors). Thus, the effectiveness of any measures proposed by the Commission on mortgage credit cannot be separated from the reference context (objective as well as subjective).

4.4

It would therefore be interesting to develop a proposal, which the EESC could analyse further, and which would consist in adopting an interpretative schema for mortgage credit that subdivides each loan transaction into a portfolio of two passive components:

firstly, an asset-backed loan, the value of which is based on the market price and possible property value fluctuations; and

secondly, a prospective loan (personal loan), the value of which is based on the borrower's economic/financial capacity and prospects.

4.5

Adopting a twin-mortgage system could have a number of advantages to be verified during further analysis, including:

simplifying the risk assessment of the rational aspect of the transaction (asset-backed loan) vis-à-vis the risks associated with the mortgagee's solvency (prospective personal loan);

the possibility of establishing transparent prices that reflect the various risk levels represented by the two components of the loan transaction (objective asset-backed loan and subjective personal loan); and

reducing the adverse impact on the financial system in the event of mortgage defaults by an excessive number of borrowers, contrary to the impact recently experienced by the financial market (i.e. the sub-prime mortgage credit crisis).

4.6

The EESC hopes that the Commission will bring this process to a conclusion as soon as possible, showing greater determination and creating conditions whereby the separation of the institutional aspects could be the basis for launching a twenty-eighth system.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006, rapporteur: Mr Burani.

(2)  OJ C 65 of 17.3.2006, p. 113, rapporteur: Mr Burani.

(3)  See Annex II of the White Paper, the disclaimer on page 5 of the EN version.

(4)  See Annex II of the White Paper, point 8.

(5)  See the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), i.e. Directive 2004/39/EC, which was adopted on 21 April 2004, and which was published in the Official Journal and came into force on 30 April 2004.

(6)  See COM(2005) 650 of 15 December 2005.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/22


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Developments in the construction sector in Europe’

(2009/C 27/05)

On 6 December 2007, Ms Margot Wallström, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, and Mr Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, requested the European Economic and Social Committee to draw up an exploratory opinion on

Developments in the construction sector in Europe.

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 13 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Huvelin.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9-10 July 2008 (meeting of 10 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 57 votes to none, with two abstentions.

1.   Conclusions

1.1

Contrary to what some might believe, the future of the construction industry will depend less on the public spending it receives (although greater continuity in programming would definitely not go amiss) than on the ability of the relevant authorities to work out a regulatory framework, applicable to all, that ensures maximum transparency in competition and the best use of the potential and know-how of businesses of every size.

1.2

In view of the above, the main recommendations of this opinion are as follows:

putting in place unified tender procedures by means of regulations as soon as possible; especially in the public sector, such procedures should give clients as broad and clear-cut a choice as possible, so that they can choose contractual tools to suit their needs;

giving construction professionals regulatory scope to substantially contribute to the challenges of sustainable development: through the use of the overall costs approach, public-private partnerships of all sizes, and financing based on expected performance, both small and large business are ready to meet these challenges;

improving the construction sector's image to make it more attractive to young people in education so that more of them enter the profession;

making major efforts to promote training for trades accounting for a substantial percentage of European jobs which are not at risk of relocation;

promoting sustainable construction activity in the EU;

maintaining a healthy economic environment and employment conditions in line with people's needs in the countries where they work;

boosting European competitiveness.

1.3

These are the only ways of preparing for the likely arrival in the near future of competitors from outside Europe.

2.   Introduction (background)

2.1

In a letter dated 6 December 2007, European Commissioners Margot Wallström and Günter Verheugen requested the EESC to help advance the Lisbon Strategy by undertaking an exploratory opinion in order to examine whether legislation regulating the construction and the business services sector ‘form a coherent whole; whether they are geared towards change, both ongoing and forthcoming; and, finally, the extent to which it may be necessary to launch a process of simplification, streamlining and modernisation of the legislation in these areas. It should be clarified that the exercise could extend to any other legislation that has a bearing on the development of the sector (health and safety at work, environmental protection, etc.), and the legitimate interests at the heart of the sector should be integrated into the analysis’.

2.2

Consequently, all the points raised in the request for an opinion must be examined meticulously and systematically, since this is a vast topic and one which had earlier been the subject of several studies carried out by external consultants at the Commission's behest.

2.3

The present opinion, however, will confine itself to those aspects signalled by the requestor, namely changes or simplifications in legislation and rules governing the sector which should be made as part of an impartial and strategic inventory of the construction industry and serve to improve the conditions within which it operates and moves forward.

2.4

To this end, the opinion recaps a few useful facts about the sector to put the construction trades and constraints upon them into context.

3.   The position of the construction industry in the European economy

3.1

Some figures for the construction industry, which comprises 2.7 million businesses, in the EU-27 in 2006:

 

2006

GVA share of GDP

10.5 %

Share of wages in the sector's GVA

54.5 %

Share of the sector's GFCF in total GFCF

50.5 %

Sector's share in total employment of all sectors (1)

7.2 %

3.2   A few facts

3.2.1

Since the construction sector cannot be relocated, it is an integral part of Europe's future growth and its industrial fabric.

3.2.2

The very nature of what it produces and its need to have fixed bases — deeply rooted in local life — in every country means that it performs a social and civic role which should be kept in mind and fostered.

3.2.3

The construction sector must play an important role in all initiatives bearing on sustainable development:

since it is a necessary conduit of investment (housing, buildings in general, transport, energy production, etc.) made on this front;

by adapting its working methods, including those of the materials sector, to the needs and demands of sustainable development.

3.2.4

No broad view of the sector as a whole would be complete without mentioning the sector's image, which is still to some extent poor despite the best efforts of the profession over more than thirty years. This is something the opinion should address, because it is reflected in:

the spirit of the provisions in some countries governing public procurement and the treatment of illegal employment;

a clear difficulty in recruiting young people (direct attractiveness) and their training (mistrust of building and public works training by the training system as a whole).

3.2.5

The very nature of these trades, in terms of both the needs of clients and the diversity of skills involved, means that the market is extremely fragmented and will remain so for years to come. As a result, there will always be cohabitation between craftsmen, small, medium-sized and large companies.

The notion that this sector is all about big companies that only deal with large projects must be put into context: operations with a unit value over EUR 20 million account for no more than 2 % to 5 % of the total European construction market.

3.2.6

The large European groups that often feature prominently on the world stage are for the most part ‘federations’ of very locally based small and medium-sized organisations that operate in the same competitive environment as local independent SMEs.

3.2.7

Generally speaking, the large European players in this sector have not evolved on what might be termed the ‘American’ model, but have managed to sustain and develop their know-how by relying on their own acumen and participating in the conception of projects.

3.2.8

It is thanks to this approach that European businesses have carved out a place for themselves on the world markets. Nor is this model, based on integrating conception and execution, necessarily the prerogative of large groups: it can and must also be applied to companies of all sizes.

4.   Some basic principles

4.1

The challenge for this exploratory opinion requested by the European Commission must be to propose not only a streamlining of legislation, but also a course of action which:

ensures true transparency and equality of opportunity in tenders;

brings about a shift from an outdated culture of mistrust to one of confidence and partnership;

includes the most economically advantageous bid and overall cost for the lifetime of works;

guarantees intellectual property rights;

ensures that minimum conditions of employment are specified in procurement procedures and that checks and penalties are in place for infringements;

cuts red tape by keeping regulation and procedures to a minimum while maintaining the security aspects and the essential rights and obligations of the contracting parties.

4.2

Except in the case of fluctuations in the volume of markets (which is beyond the scope of this opinion), these various elements that should be incorporated into regulation should enable construction sector players to develop in an orthodox manner and so ensure that a coherent social policy (jobs — security — salaries) is followed and the sector is made more attractive for the various parties concerned (young parents, teachers, etc.).

5.   Main proposals

5.1

The key areas where we think the relevant authorities should focus their efforts are these:

unification and simplification of public procurement procedures to ensure both transparency and the best use of resources and powers;

encouraging innovation with rules to cover, for example, the intellectual property rights of ideas and variants;

both initial and career-long training of workers;

contribution to changing the image of this sector, which provides jobs for young people;

rules in the social sphere to govern both employment conditions and good health and safety practices;

sustainable development in the widest sense of the term — an area in which construction businesses have a large part to play and fresh responsibilities to assume.

5.2   Unification and simplification of procurement procedures

5.2.1

Action could be taken in the following areas:

transforming legislation on tenders into regulations to replace the current directives so that the procedures at European level are truly unified, with a level playing field for competition;

more systematically preferring the best bid over the lowest bid;

giving competitive dialogue a more rigorous framework for the contracting entities so that it really is a procedure for getting the best and not a systematic plundering of ideas and intellectual property;

encouraging a ‘from concept to execution’ approach that combines company know-how and creative talent from the conception stage;

making greater use of overall contracts (for construction and maintenance, or PPPs) to meet the challenge of sustainable development and prepare and mount an adequate response to the attempts of some countries to dump on the European market;

putting in place genuine harmonisation of standards and technical aspects in order to dismantle technical barriers at national level and unify the European market;

taking into account the needs of SMEs in order to enable them to survive, maintain their staffing levels and so avoid excessive bipolarisation within the sector.

With regard to this list, it should be made clear that the response to calls for regulatory change should not be to impose ready-made solutions but to provide contracting entities with a complete toolbox which they can use in line with their needs.

5.2.2

Taken as a whole, these modifications or adaptations should encourage transparency and a level playing field between private, public and quasi-public entities and make it quite clear that any funding is conditional on a tender and a formal contract.

5.3   Innovation and intellectual property rights

5.3.1

What sets the construction sector apart is that everything it produces is a ‘one-off’. This is why we should have European legislation that protects intellectual property and recognises the special nature of the ideas to be protected, namely that they are conceived for a particular tender and will not necessarily be systematically reproduced. Specific legislation should be put in place at European level to protect technical ideas in the competition process and establish rights to protect tenderers.

5.4   Training

5.4.1

A point commonly made by construction professionals in most Member States is that in general the needs of the sector are only very poorly met by most national educational systems, at all levels of training. In view of this, while relations need to be improved between the trades and education systems at national level, there should also be an impetus at European level, for instance by:

supporting legislation on training to promote building and public works in Europe (recognition and equivalence of certification of training at all levels);

helping to improve skills levels by promoting lifelong learning. As the sector is known to be under pressure, it has a poor image among young people and a hierarchical gap in its career structure. It badly needs know-how, since construction jobs have come to require qualifications, even high qualifications, and a solid knowledge base. This should subsequently be enhanced by businesses giving their staff access to further training and thus opening up careers to them;

extending an Erasmus system for various levels of training in building and public works throughout Europe by taking advantage of the pool of accumulated experience, small though it is (with ESF support, in the following three sectors: painting, stone cutting, and the renovation of old buildings);

promoting European universities for building and public works trades and recognising a European title of craftsman;

promoting training facilities for project managers in Europe so that the public and private clients of companies have a better knowledge of contracts and what companies actually do;

developing facilities to provide European inter-company further training;

promoting European qualifications (e.g. languages).

5.5   Health and safety regulations

5.5.1

Current regulations have had a very beneficial and very profound influence on working methods in the construction sector. Nevertheless, it would be good to:

encourage the pooling of best health and safety practices;

combat illegal work by action throughout Europe (such as consultation and networking of data bases, ID passes and systems to identify workers), and by introducing penalties and appropriate fiscal measures such as reduced-rate VAT;

facilitate the implementation of the REACH regulation;

facilitate the flow of workers without social dumping (accepting the formalities already in place in the Member States in relation to secondments) and enable European workers to return to their country of origin;

ensure that fines can be enforced throughout all EU Member States;

accept the conditions of the country where the work is done as the basis for any form of employee mobility.

5.6   Sustainable development

5.6.1

As suggested above, those in the construction sector have a very considerable role to play in meeting the challenges that face the world today, including climate change. They are ready, within an appropriate framework of regulations and incentives, to assume this responsibility and bring their added value to the European market. They are also prepared to pass on their know-how in the field to other corners of the world where, as we know, the efforts that need to be made are both enormous and crucial if all their benefits are to be felt by everyone.

5.6.2

To achieve this, it would be good to:

introduce an overall costs approach (for the duration of the investment) in the rules for European public tenders, and define a concept of best bid, perhaps involving a sustainable development criterion. This could enable contracting entities to take comprehensive account of the sustainable development dimension in their choice;

encourage PPP procedures, which by their very nature integrate conception, execution and maintenance and could therefore be the best way of making the most of the overall cost concept;

redeploy some forms of financial support by concentrating them, in all Member States, on the huge task of energy infrastructure renovation;

encourage large-scale renewal projects embracing public works and buildings;

promote development and recognition of environmental districts (creating a Community label, financial incentives, etc.).

5.6.3

In both the construction and the transport sectors, if construction businesses are given a chance to participate throughout the ‘concept-implementation-maintenance’ process, they can make a decisive contribution, particularly in terms of ensuring financing for the requisite activities, in their capacity to manage overall costs and finance investments for future energy-saving measures.

5.7   SMEs in the construction sector

5.7.1

The problem of SMEs in the construction sector — unlike in others (see point 3.2.5 above) — is not really one of access to this or that kind of market.

5.7.2

This is why those in the sector quite rightly see no justification in the quota approach thought up by some and rejected by the European authorities. Moreover, the figures mentioned by the various parties are in reality far exceeded in all European countries.

5.7.3

The issue of SMEs, other than matters covered by the Small Business Act, should, rather, be regulated with:

smart solutions for the transfer of enterprises;

models for funding or for sharing services or financing which create a level playing field without distorting competition, particularly in terms of SME access to complex operations (PPPs and sustainable development);

solutions geared to facilitating SME access to standardisation and norms.

Brussels, 10 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  The construction sector accounts for 30.4 % of jobs in industry. Sources: Eurostat and FIEC.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/26


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Developments in the business service sector in Europe’

(2009/C 27/06)

On 6 December 2007, Ms Margot Wallström, vice-president of the European Commission and Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy, and Mr Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, requested the European Economic and Social Committee to draw up an exploratory opinion on

Developments in the business service sector in Europe.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Calleja.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 135votes to 2, with 12 abstentions.

1.   Introduction

1.1

Ms Margot Wallström, Vice President of the European Commission for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy and Günter Verheugen, Vice President for Enterprise and Industry, asked the EESC to draw up an exploratory opinion on business services by undertaking a follow-up and further analysis on a previous opinion (1) that considered business services and industry.

1.1.1

This study should keep in mind the great importance attached by the European Commission to the Lisbon Agenda to preserve and increase European industry's competitiveness by managing the process of change in line with the European strategy for sustainable development and on the social level by encouraging the emergence of representative social partners to negotiate at the appropriate level.

1.1.2

The achievement of such objectives must move in parallel with the simplification of the regulatory framework for industry, a political priority constituting one of the key planks of the Commission's industrial policy.

1.1.3

Moreover, this industrial policy is characterised by an integrated approach that takes into account the needs of the different sectors.

2.   Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

2.1   Recognition of the importance of the service sector in economic and social development

The EESC feels that there is an urgent need for a genuine change and broadening of focus towards services, which should no longer be considered as a mere appendix to the manufacturing industry. Society is undergoing great changes and services lie at the centre of these changes. The European Commission must therefore recognise this development and attach greater importance to it.

2.2   Priority of Actions

Given the broad range of possible actions in policy areas related to business services, it is of the utmost importance that these actions be prioritised. Urgent progress needs to be made on the ten key objectives under the Community Lisbon Programme 2008-2010. These affect the future development of services in a direct or indirect manner. In the opinion of the EESC, these priorities should be established in the following order:

Action on Business Services Policies and a High Level Group. It is recommended that a High Level Group on Business Services be set up to undertake deeper analysis of the sector, to screen existing policies in order to identify and assess the more effective and successful of these in regard to business services, and to design concrete policy actions to address major gaps and needs. Particular attention should be paid to the very diverse nature of the different business services subsectors in order to identify which ones deserve major policy attention and at which level (regional, national, EU) policy action is justified.

Labour Market Policies in Business Services. From a social perspective an in-depth examination is required at sectoral level of the challenges being created by the new types of employment generated by interactions between business services and manufacturing industry. This analysis needs to encompass education, training and life-long learning, as well as the employment conditions of workers, including those involved in outsourcing processes. To achieve this objective social dialogue at a sectoral level should be encouraged. In this context, an agenda should be drawn up to discuss specific changes in labour conditions and job opportunities resulting from structural changes affecting the business services sector.

Business Services in Innovation Policies. R&D and innovation programmes and actions for service innovation should be strongly promoted. Areas such as organisational innovation, Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) and innovation management deserve more attention.

Business Services Standards Development. Enterprises should be encouraged to help establish standards through self-regulation after thorough consultation with users of business services. The support of CEN and its Associates (open platform) is important to disseminate the fruits of successful innovation, especially through rapid informal consensus-building

Promoting Service Science as a new discipline in education and training.

The Internal Market and Regulation affecting Business Services. The EESC has identified a list of areas that need to be tackled in order to bring about simplification, clarification and a reduction of regulatory burdens, obviously without weakening existing health and safety at work requirements and worker representation obligations. Amongst other things, attention is drawn to the fact that no impact assessment has been carried out of the Services Directive on business services and that this deserves a major effort, especially once the directive has been transposed into national legislation. This should include the identification of possible further actions concerning more open trade and competition in the enlarged EU Internal Market.

Further Improvements in Business Services Statistics. Member States are recommended to collaborate more in order to improve statistics on business services and, in particular, to have better information on their performance and their effects on the economy of Member States — a necessary tool for governments if they are to help the sector develop its potential. Recent amendments to Chapter 74 of NACE will still not be enough to provide the necessary details required to capture meaningful data on business services.

3.   General Remarks

3.1

Background. The EESC own-initiative opinion adopted in September 2006 — CCMI/035 — proposed that more serious attention be paid to business services because of the contribution they make to the performance of European manufacturing industries. That opinion explained the interactions between services and manufacturing and the impact on social and economic performance in terms of employment, productivity and competitiveness. That was taken as the starting point for this follow-up and further analysis of business services. It would be well to start the present opinion by defining business services as a set of service activities that — through their use as intermediary inputs — affect the quality and efficiency of production activities, by complementing or substituting in-house service functions (Rubalcaba and Kox, 2007). This definition has some equivalence with NACE rev. 1 (codes 72-74) and with the new version of NACE (codes 69-74, 77-78, 80-82) and the aggregation of different categories of services. There are two major categories within business services:

Knowledge-intensive business services (e.g. computer and IT services, management consultancy, accountancy, tax and legal advice, marketing and opinion polling, technical services and engineering, personnel services and professional training and recruitment)

Operational business services (e.g. security services, cleaning services, administration and bookkeeping, temporary labour recruitment, call centres, translation and interpretation).

The aim of this opinion is to help this sector earn more recognition, to enable it to develop without hindrance and to help European economies in their efforts to become more competitive in the global market.

3.2

Importance of Services and Business Services. Services have an increasing place in the mindset of citizens, professionals, companies, regions and countries. Services to a large extent dominate the new demands and supplies of economic and social systems. Although they are present in most aspects of economic and social life, much of their activity is not captured by statistics. The traditional breakdown among productive sectors, even if it is incomplete and hides the strong interrelations among economic sectors, allows us to estimate the importance of major economic activities (see chart 1). Services as an economic sector are of increasing importance in Europe, with a share in total employment smaller (at 70 %) than in the United States (80 %) and larger than in Japan (67 %). In all these three areas, the particular subsector of business services has grown at a very dynamic pace, leading to similar increases in the share of total employment. Enterprises that provide business services as their main activity account for 10-12 % of total employment and value added. If one considers the business services produced as a secondary activity, the percentage employment would be much larger. In Europe in 2004 (see chart 3), the countries leading the business services economy were the Benelux area, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. In the period 1995-2004, some countries — Hungary, Poland, Austria, Latvia and Malta, among others — increased their business service sector quite substantially. This suggests a certain convergence process between some EU countries. These country positions only represent employment in companies that have business services as their main activity. Most of them are SMEs.

3.3

Assessment of Developments. The EESC has now re-assessed the situation in the light of developments since its previous opinion of September 2006 (CCMI/035) and noted with satisfaction how the importance of business services in manufacturing has acquired greater weight in decisions taken by the Commission:

The Communication ‘Mid-term review of industrial policy. A Contribution to the EU's Growth and Job Strategy document’ (2), issued after the EESC opinion referred to above, advocates action on the screening and competitiveness analysis of the service sectors and their impact on industrial competitiveness. Further sectoral monitoring should be conducted if necessary. The outcome would be the identification of all obstacles to improvement in competitiveness and the elimination of possible market failures that might justify actions to address specific problems in industrial and/or service sectors. This in-depth analysis by the European Commission is taking place this year and should produce results by the end of the year.

The publication in July 2007 of a Commission staff working document entitled ‘Towards a European strategy in support of Innovation in services: Challenges and key issues for future actions’ (3), the launching of the European platform for business-related services in February 2008 and the forthcoming Communication on service innovation (expected late in 2008) may all constitute an important step towards a real integration of services in EU innovation policies.

The adoption of ‘The Services Directive in the Internal Market’ (4), which must be implemented by 28 December 2009 at the latest, will constitute an important turning-point in achieving a genuine internal market for services, provided the provisions of the directive are transposed into the national legislation of Member States and that steps are taken to ensure that labour law and collective agreements of the country where the service is delivered apply. Both businesses and consumers will be able to take full advantage of the opportunities it affords. It should also encourage the business service market to function by facilitating trade and investment between EU countries and opening up new opportunities for manufacturing companies to choose more, better or cheaper services. New competitive advantages in the use of business services should lead to more employment, improved productivity and an enhanced economic performance.

3.4

Supportive Actions to benefit Business Services. On top of the major on-going EU actions promoting business services in industrial and innovation policies, and the potential spillovers generated by the internal market directive, there are other Commission actions that indirectly support the role of business services in manufacturing:

Eurostat has now implemented a revision of NACE classification to capture more data relating to services.

The Enterprise Europe Network for promoting entrepreneurship and growth of enterprises in the EU was launched by integrating the networks of Euro info Centre and the Innovation Relay Centre and so giving entrepreneurs more than 500 contact points (5). This should be of help to SMEs and therefore to the large majority of business services providers.

Since 2005, the European Commission has issued proposals for simplifications and reduction of red tape. The latest proposals, issued in 2008, relate to fast-track reductions (6). This is good news for SMEs, who suffer by virtue of their small size in relation to hefty administrative burdens.

The Commission document ‘Towards Common Principles of Flexicurity: More and Better Jobs through Flexibility and Security’ (7) has been discussed and progress achieved in the social dialogue undertaken by the social partners. This should ease the way for Europe-wide implementation of the concept, with adaptations according to the different circumstances obtaining in each Member State. In dynamic business services, flexicurity negotiated by the social partners may be useful when better and quality jobs are promoted at the same time. The social partners should be involved if the EU is to succeed in its response to globalisation pressures.

The launch of the Commission document ‘Towards an increased contribution from standardisation to innovation in Europe’ (8), which amongst other initiatives promotes acceleration of cooperation from industry and other stakeholders in the development, implementation and use of standards supporting innovation in relation to a sustainable industrial policy.

3.5

Major Needs of the Business Services Sector. Despite the current progress in actions related to services, major gaps and needs have to be considered. The current European policy framework is heavily biased towards the manufacturing industry, although services constitute by far the largest segment of the economy and contribute to growth in any aspect of business and social life.

3.5.1

Most of the horizontal and sectoral initiatives under the EU Industrial Policy, both at national and EU levels, focus on manufacturing industry regardless of the intrinsic supportive role that business services play in it. There is therefore an urgent need to establish a balanced EU policy that does not underestimate the importance of business services to the global competitiveness of European manufacturing itself and to the economy as a whole. Horizontal policies targeted at any economic sector must be truly horizontal and match the needs of firms and workers in the new service economy, where industrial and service sectors are inextricably linked, by create new opportunities for the European economy in the global market place as a direct result of synergies between them. Many of the EU policy initiatives that make up industrial policy must be adapted and applied to services. This involves matters such as: a fully effective internal market for services, international trade, state aid rules, labour market, social measures, training and regional policy, R&D, innovation, standardisation, entrepreneurship, and better statistics and information, taking into consideration, where appropriate, the specific needs of services. This should not be taken to mean that all policies should be vertical-specific to services. It should rather mean that the implications of all these policies in services should be screened and, when appropriate, specific actions should be taken.

3.5.2

Some major needs can be identified in the following areas:

Business Services in industrial policies. Following the recent inclusion of business services and the on-going screening exercise, more attention should be paid to the specific conditions in which the use of services is favourable to industrial performance e.g. the role of services for industrial competitiveness and productivity from an economic perspective. To face global competition, Europe must invest in innovation, knowledge, design, logistics, marketing and other business services — in other words, the entire global value chain.

Business Services in employment and training policies. Most occupations are in services and this will continue to be the case. (Policy-makers should not forget that 20 % of intermediate inputs of manufacturing industry derive from services.) Therefore, the potential impact of global sourcing/offshoring in service occupations (up to 30 % according to the OECD 2006 study) impels Member States to reinforce the right skills and qualifications that will enable their industry to face global competition.

Business Services in innovation and productivity policies. The promotion of service innovation is essential to reinforce industrial competitiveness through quality factors. Service innovation has a major and positive impact on quality, employment and interactions with clients. At the same time, business services can offer quality jobs under good working conditions and knowledge-intensive environments; in these cases workers contribute to make service innovation possible and successful. It may enable enterprise to compete from a better position and workers to develop new labour opportunities. The benefits of service innovation should be aimed at tackling the stagnant productivity growth rates in business services. Low productivity growth rates are still dominant in most countries, even if statistical measurement problems underestimate the contribution of business services to overall productivity gains.

Business Services and the Internal Market. The task is to create a European market for services and so enable the EU to play a decisive role in the globalisation process by taking into account all conditions that influence markets and competitiveness. A particular follow-up of the transposition of the Services Directive in Member States and impacts on business services is needed.

Business Services and the regions. Many regions have a poor endowment of business services, since these tend to concentrate in large metropolitan and high-income regional areas. At regional level, it is important to promote and stimulate both the demand and supply of business service and to make the most of existing networks that are able to increase synergies among different local players.

Business services and other related policies. There are two types of business services-related policies: mainly regulatory policies (internal market, competition, better regulation, public procurement) and mainly non-regulatory (innovation, skills, quality and employment, standards, enterprise and SMEs, regional policies, knowledge and statistics). Particular attention should be given to the role of standards, the new discipline of Service Science, and statistics.

3.6

Interactions between business services activities and targeted policies. Chart 4 attached to this report shows how tentative comprehensive actions could interact and enable business services to develop forcefully to face the challenges ahead. Synergies and interactions between different types of policies should be taken into account.

3.7

Economic rationale is needed when designing specific EU policies to boost the operations of business services, as Kox and Rubalcaba have recently demonstrated (Business services in European Economic Growth, 2007). In support of their arguments they mostly highlighted market and systemic failures such as information asymmetry and externalities.

3.8

Lisbon Agenda 2008-2010. Policies related to business services could be helpful in the context of the proposals for the Community Lisbon Programme 2008-2010 (COM(2007) 804 final). Most of the ten key objectives to be accomplished by 2010 affect services either directly or indirectly.

3.8.1

The Commission will propose a renewed Social Agenda by mid-2008 and will help to address the skills gap. Important deficits and needs may be identified in most business services, which are very labour intensive. In its opinion on ‘Employment of priority categories (Lisbon Strategy)’ (9), the EESC noted that the ambitious Lisbon employment objectives had only been achieved to a limited extent and that many of the new jobs created in recent years, particularly in the case of women, were part-time. Older workers were still faced with a manifest shortage of suitable vacancies, and young people in particular were mostly finding atypical (non-standard) forms of employment, in some cases without proper legal and social safeguards. The EESC opinion stressed that in the context of flexicurity there should be a high degree of social security, active labour-market policies, and education, further education and training.

3.8.2

Earlier this year, the Commission put forward proposals for a common policy on immigration. This may affect the immigration of highly qualified workers in areas such as knowledge-intensive business services and less qualified workers in activities such as cleaning or security services.

3.8.3

The Community will adopt a Small Business Act to unlock the growth potential of SMEs throughout their life cycle. Business services is the sector with the highest start-up and wind-up rates, so particular attention to new SMEs is deemed to be appropriate. In its opinion on ‘Business potential, especially of SMEs’ (10), the EESC advocated better targeted and streamlined integrated guidelines on SMEs for growth and jobs for the years 2008-10. SMEs will also benefit from the reduction of EU administrative burdens by 25 % by 2012.

3.8.4

The Community will strengthen the single market and increase competition in services. The same EESC opinion (INT/324, quoted above) complains of the incomplete single market, especially slow implementation of directives by Member States, administrative burdens and lack of labour mobility. These are huge barriers for SMEs to surmount.

3.8.5

The Community will turn the fifth freedom (the free movement of knowledge) into reality and create a genuine European Research Area. Knowledge-intensive business services may have a role to play in this Lisbon priority.

3.8.6

The Community will improve the framework conditions for innovation. The EESC has also produced an opinion on ‘Investment and Innovation’ (11). The main thrust was that Europe has to stay ahead in research, technological development and innovation and that more funding from the EU budget, improvement of education facilities and a general raising of standards were necessary. Also needed were: a social climate that is open to progress and innovation; the creation of the necessary conditions and the taking of decisions that give enough business confidence and optimism for investors to put their capital into new ventures in Europe; raising awareness of the fundamental significance of basic research and instilling an entrepreneurial spirit for those who are willing to innovate and take risks; and accepting a certain level of failure and losses that inevitably comes with risk. The EESC also looked at the legal and social environment for innovative entrepreneurship and an innovation-friendly market.

3.8.7

The Community will promote an industrial policy geared towards more sustainable production and consumption. The role of environmental business services in industrial policy may be placed under this priority.

3.8.8

The Community will negotiate bilaterally with key trading partners to open up new opportunities for international trade and investment and create a common space of regulatory provisions and standards.

4.   Prioritisation of Actions in favour of Business Services

Action needs to be prioritised because the sphere of business services involves a wide policy area. In the opinion of the EESC, the priorities should be as follows:

4.1

Priority 1: A High Level Group on business services should be set up by the European Commission in the context of enterprise and industrial policy to ensure that policy actions take the broader view of services in their interactions with industry and economic activity as a whole. The following could be the main objectives of such a High Level Group:

Deepening analysis of business services needs, including the needs of the different and very varied subsectors in business services.

Screening existing policies affecting business services and designing concrete policy actions at the appropriate level (regional, national or EU).

Recommending strategic objectives to be achieved in WTO negotiations on GATS, with an emphasis on measures needed to enable SMEs in services to export.

Identifying and grouping policy stakeholders in areas where representation is very limited and fragmented.

Setting up a European Observatory on business services to monitor results of measures implemented by EU policy actions and publicising best practices. Members of the Observatory should include representatives of the EESC, trade unions, business associations and business services experts.

4.2

Priority 2: A social dialogue dedicated specifically to the business services sector should be encouraged to discuss and formulate recommendations concerning:

New employment opportunities

Lifelong learning

Outsourcing and off shoring challenges

Identification of skill shortages

Part-time and teleworking

The case for flexicurity in business services (This topic has already been treated in general terms by the EESC in a recent opinion — SOC/283.)

Lack of personnel in Knowledge-Intensive Business Services (KIBS) and the role of immigration

Mobility.

In practice, the viability and effectiveness of such sector-based social dialogue (e.g. recognition of agreements, organisational support) will depend on the identification and recognition of representative European organisations of employers and employees.

4.3

Priority 3: R&D and innovation in services:

Analysis of modes of innovation in business services and its impact on productivity and social and economic growth

Role of Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) in the development of service innovation

Relationship between ICT developments and service innovation

Screening R&D and innovation programmes to assess the position of business services

Application of lean manufacturing techniques to services

Role of service innovation and other possible policy actions for knowledge-intensive services at regional level. Use of innovation policies for promoting supply and demand of business services.

4.4

Priority 4: Development of Standards. Standards in services have been slow to develop. They are generally demand driven. On the side of business service providers there are structural problems. For the most part, these are small enterprises that do not belong to representative organisations in their country and this is also reflected at European level, where the category is not well represented in any European organisations. The only way to improve the situation, then, is for users to be mobilised to express their requirements. The market for business services stands to gain immensely from clear standards in this area. The development of standards can be useful to:

Supplement or even substitute regulation

Improve quality and stimulate competition

Help reduce asymmetric information, for the benefit of both provider and user, in a market that lacks transparency

Ensure comparability when a user is faced by, and needs to decide on, different offers

Disseminate more widely the fruits of R&D and innovation programmes, thus encouraging innovation to upgrade service quality

Reduce the number of disputes by clarification of rights and obligations between service providers and users

Prevent social conflicts, by compliance to labour law on the part of service providers and users and, if necessary, through collective bargaining at the appropriate level

Facilitate some economies of scale by small companies providing similar services in different EU Member States, thus leading the way to reducing obstacles to market integration

Develop a healthy export sector and assist in public service tenders and sub-contracting of services.

4.5

Priority 5: Further improvements in business services statistics. Policy actions depend on analysis of ongoing trends that can only be gauged from clear and meaningful statistics. The apparent lack of satisfactory productivity increases in relation to the USA could be partly due to unreliable statistics based on a methodology used to measure manufacturing performance. Further refinement of business services statistics demands not just a decision from Eurostat, but collaboration from national governments to change their methods of gathering statistics. Particular attention should be paid to measuring the role of business services within other industrial and service sectors.

4.6

Priority 6: Service Science

Service science (or Service Science, Management and Engineering, SSME) is a new emerging discipline covering the diverse and fragmented approaches towards services: service economics, service management, service marketing and service engineering, among others. The need for promotion and better integration of all these areas is being recognised by service researchers and businesses. Service engineering provides a good example within Service Science. It is a specific technical discipline concerned with the systematic development and design of service products using suitable models, methods and tools. Although service engineering also embraces aspects of service operations management, one of its key focuses is the development of new service products. At the same time, service engineering is also concerned with the design of development systems, in other words with service-related questions of general R&D and innovation management. Integrated approaches for co-engineering physical goods, software and services will become an established feature.

Fundamental research into new business models, methods and tools will give service science a valuable boost. Finally, the growing harmonisation of service standards will encourage the specification and efficient development of new services (12).

Service engineering is one of the few fields in the service sector that has been substantially shaped by European research. Closer integration in international networks and the systematic development of an independent service engineering community are essential in order to sustain a leadership role in this field in the future (13).

4.7

Priority 7: The Internal Market and regulation of Business Services

Reduction and simplification of the regulatory burden. There are several restrictive factors that work against enterprises in business services and neutralise their efforts to increase their productivity and to seek business in other Member States. These include problems of labour mobility and recognition of education qualifications. The volume and complexity of regulation has grown in recent years and this has increased the burden on small service providers. The most relevant points requiring attention are:

Setting-up and transferring enterprises. The time and money employed in the setting-up of a new enterprise or transferring ownership of an existing one is prohibitive for SMEs.

Barriers to exports of services. The resources necessary to track down the regulations relevant to their business and the costs of consultation are expensive for SMEs wishing to export services. A follow-up in international trade negotiations is needed to remove unnecessary barriers in external business services markets for European service providers. The existing Market Access database created by the European Commission should help to identify such barriers.

Restrictions on multi-disciplinary collaboration. There are barriers to the entry of professional service providers that may be removed when the Services Directive enters into force.

Deficient transposition of EU legislation as well as differing laws between Member States. Even if regulations are not directly against the Internal Market, wide disparity among EU countries hampers market integration.

Public procurement and regulations concerning competition between private and state-owned companies for public contracts.

Barriers precluding services across Member States. Defensive attitudes adopted by professional associations in their byelaws against allowing practitioners from other Member States to operate.

Posting of highly skilled workers. Difficulties encountered in posting workers to other Member States, even when the posts are of a highly skilled nature. The EESC opinion on Posting of Workers may guide possible actions on this front (14).

Recognition of qualifications. Directive 2005/36/EC of 7 September 2005 on the recognition of professional qualifications was to be transposed by 20 October 2007. This involved the replacement of fifteen earlier directives covering the recognition of professional qualifications. We should now have a truly comprehensive modernisation of the Community system which promotes the EU market for business services through more flexible and automatic recognition of qualifications. In the meantime, an initiative by the European Commission called IMI is seen as a practical approach that authorities and employers in Member States can take to check within one central data base the designated authority (at regional or national level in each Member State) authorised to issue certificates of competence and qualifications and to verify the authenticity of such certificates.

Transposition of the Services Directive. A sectoral analysis would help business services to make the most out of the new regulatory environment, in particular the identification of remaining barriers during and after the transposition of the Service Directive. This will be subject to screening beginning in 2010, so that progress on transposition can be assessed and the manner in which this is done closely followed. Particular attention should be paid to the impact on the business service economy. The Internal Market Information Systems may provide useful information for follow-up and future simplification of national disparities.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  JO C 318/2006 of 23.12.2006, p. 4 (CCMI/035).

(2)  COM(2007) 374 of 4.7.2007.

(3)  SEC(2007) 1059 of 27.7.2007.

(4)  Directive 2006/123/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12.12.2006.

(5)  Press Release IP/08/192 of 7.2.2008.

(6)  Memo/08/125 of 10.3.2008.

(7)  COM(2007) 359 final.

(8)  COM(2008) 133 final of 11.3.2008.

(9)  JO C 256 of 27.10.2007, p. 93 (SOC/251).

(10)  JO C 256 of 27.10.2007, p. 8 (INT/324).

(11)  JO C 256 of 27.10.2007, p. 17 (INT/325).

(12)  Service engineering — methodical development of new service products, by Hans-Jorg Bullinger, Klaus-Peter Fahnrich, Thomas Meiren.

(13)  Thomas Meiren, Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, Stuttgart, Germany.

(14)  See CESE 995/2008 of 29.5.2008 (SOC/282). OJ C 224, 30.8.2008, p. 95.


APPENDIX

to the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee

The following Section Opinion text was modified in favour of an amendment adopted by the assembly but obtained at least one-quarter of the votes cast:

Point 2.2 — second bullet point:

‘—

Labour Market Policies in Business Services. From a social perspective an in-depth examination is required at sectoral level of the challenges being created by the new types of employment generated by interactions between business services and manufacturing industry. This analysis needs to encompass education, training and life-long learning, as well as the employment conditions of workers, including those involved in outsourcing processes. To achieve this objective the agenda for social dialogue should be extended to look at the specific changes in labour conditions and job opportunities resulting from structural changes affecting the business services.

Outcome:

87 votes for the amendment, 35 against and 13 abstentions.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/34


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on cosmetic products (recast)’

COM(2008) 49 final — 2008/0035 (COD)

(2009/C 27/07)

On 13 May 2008 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on cosmetic products (recast).

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Krawczyk.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 126 votes with four abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The Committee endorses the aims and objectives of the draft regulation as well as the recasting of Directive 76/768/EEC as a regulation.

1.2

The Committee draws attention to the fact that considerable costs are liable to be incurred, particularly by SMEs, in meeting the new requirements for manufacturing practices, safety assessment and product information file preparation, not to mention all the relevant tests.

1.3

The Committee considers it advisable to minimise this negative financial impact on SMEs, for instance by specifying that the product information file and safety assessment be prepared in accordance with the new requirements for products placed on the market for the very first time.

1.3.1

The Committee endorses the 36-month period for the entry into force of the regulation. However, with regard to updating the product information files and safety assessment of cosmetic products already on the market, the Committee recommends a further transition period of 24 months after entry into force.

1.4

The Committee welcomes the introduction of a differentiated regime based on the risk assessment of substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic (‘CMR’). The ban on the use of such substances should be maintained.

2.   Foreword

2.1

The main aim of the directive (Directive 76/768/EEC) is to protect consumer health while harmonising legal provisions on cosmetic products within the common market. An assessment of the current market situation shows that the amendments to Directive 76/768/EEC and their inconsistent transpositions by Member States have led to numerous legal uncertainties and discrepancies. For this reason, it has resulted in an administrative burden and unnecessary costs for the competent authorities as well as the industry without contributing to the safety of cosmetic products.

2.2

Simplification of Council Directive 76/768/EEC of 27 July 1976 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to cosmetic products (the ‘Cosmetics Directive’) was announced in the Commission Communication ‘Implementing the Community Lisbon programme: A strategy for the simplification of the regulatory environment’ and in the Commission's Annual Policy Strategy for 2007 and in the Commission's Legislative and Work Program 2007. The Commission proposed to simplify the Cosmetics Directive in the form of a recast, i.e. a legislative technique which makes it possible to codify a legislative text and its amendments and to introduce substantial improvements.

2.3

On the basis of feedback from a public consultation launched in 2006, as well as several Commission studies, the Commission prepared an extensive impact assessment prior to drafting the proposal for a regulation (recast) (1).

2.4

The EU cosmetics sector is characterised by SMEs. 97 % of all EU cosmetic companies are SMEs and 80 % of them have less than 19 employees. SMEs account for approximately two thirds of all people directly employed in the cosmetics sector in the EU.

2.5

In terms of employment, there are approximately 150 000 people employed in the cosmetics industry in Europe. Since 1999, the European sector has been steadily creating new jobs (an increase of 1.2 % per year).

2.6

Apart from direct employment, the cosmetics sector has a strong indirect impact on employment such as retail, distribution and transport. It can be estimated that approximately 350 000 jobs are created indirectly by the cosmetics industry.

2.7

That is why the interests and views of SMEs in the cosmetic sector in the EU should be taken into consideration when analysing the impact of the present proposal.

2.8

Intra-community cosmetics exports have increased year-on-year since 1999 by an average of 5 % a year in terms of volume, and by 6.5 % a year in terms of value.

2.9

The cosmetics industry is an international business in which Europe is a very important player. The global nature of this sector is particularly relevant to the EU as a net exporter. In 2005, the export of cosmetic products outside the EU stood at EUR 16 billion, with imports at EUR 4.4 billion.

2.10

The situation varies from one Member State to another. Poland is an example of one such a situation. A considerable part of the Polish cosmetics sector is still independent with more than 400 enterprises, mostly SMEs, operating. The Polish cosmetics market, which experienced a growth of 8.2 % in 2006 and 7.2 % in 2007 and which still has strong growth potential, is a good example of steady growth, which is no longer being experienced in the EU's 5 largest developed economies (UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain).

3.   Introduction

The Cosmetics Directive is a highly detailed and prescriptive piece of legislation. Since 1976 the Cosmetics Directive has been amended 56 times, which has resulted in legal uncertainties and inconsistencies and the complete absence of any set of definitions.

3.1

The proposed recast of Council Directive 76/768/EEC has the following key objectives:

to remove legal uncertainties and inconsistencies resulting from the numerous amendments;

to avoid discrepancies in national transposition which do not contribute to product safety but instead add to the regulatory burden and administrative costs;

to simplify and unify certain administrative procedures, such as notification, ‘cosmetovigilance’ and administrative cooperation during market surveillance;

to ensure the safety of cosmetic products placed on the EU market, especially in the light of innovation in this sector;

to maintain the rules relating to animal testing which were added to the Cosmetics Directive by the ‘seventh amendment’ in 2003;

to introduce the clear minimum requirements for the cosmetics safety assessment;

to introduce a possibility in exceptional cases to regulate CMR 1 and 2 substances on the basis of their actual risk.

The key elements of the draft regulation proposal are as follows:

3.2

The Commission proposal maintains the scope of Directive 76/768/EEC, and the definition of ‘cosmetic product’ remains unchanged. During the public consultation carried out by the European Commission most parties were in favour of recasting Directive 76/768/EEC in the form of a regulation.

3.3

A set of new definitions has been proposed for terms such as: manufacturer, importer, making available on the market, placing on the market, harmonised standards, traces, preservatives, colorants, UV-filters, undesirable effects, serious undesirable effects, withdrawal and recall. However, no definition has been proposed for the actual term ‘cosmetic product’.

3.4

The concept of a responsible person who is established within the Community has been introduced. Responsibility in cases of products supplied to the consumer from outside the EU, for example via internet was described.

3.5

‘New approach’ principles have been introduced: the reference to the harmonised standards in legal acts in the field of good manufacturing practices, sampling and analysis as well as claims relating to cosmetic products.

3.6

The minimum requirements for the safety assessment and the product information file (a product dossier) have been established. The Cosmetic Product Safety Report has been proposed as Annex I to the draft regulation. The safety assessment of the cosmetic product is based on the toxicological profile of its ingredients.

3.7

A differentiated regime based on a risk (but not a hazard) assessment of substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic (‘CMR’) has been proposed instead of the recent regime based on hazard. In general, the ban of CMR categories 1 and 2 has been maintained. However, the new approach allows, subject to rigid conditions, the use of CMR 1 and 2 substances if they have been found to be safe to use in cosmetics.

3.8

The overall strategy to ban the animal testing of finished products as well as timetables of deadlines for the prohibition of the marketing of cosmetic products containing ingredients or combinations of ingredients which have been tested on animals has been maintained.

3.9

The uniform approach to the management of undesirable effects and serious undesirable effects has been established. Data on undesirable effects and serious undesirable effects shall become a part of the Cosmetics Product Safety Report and will be communicated to the public. Additionally, serious undesirable effects shall be actively reported to the competent authorities.

3.10

The simplified, centralised, electronic notification in a ‘one-stop-shop’ has been proposed. Until now, prior to placing a cosmetic product on the market, notification had to be made separately in each Member State. The scope of information differs from one Member State to another. Moreover, the separate notification to poison control centres is currently required in several Member States.

3.11

The administrative collaboration between competent authorities and the application of good administrative practices have been strengthened.

4.   General comments

4.1

The Committee endorses the aims and objectives of the draft regulation — the simplification and unification of certain administrative procedures — while ensuring a high level of consumer safety. The proposed regulation is undoubtedly transparent. The legal provisions it sets out clarify previous legal ambiguities that had led to divergent interpretations and applications.

4.2

Recasting Directive 76/768/EEC as a regulation will ensure the uniform application of legal provisions enhancing the free movement of products within the common market and simplify administrative procedures on EU markets.

4.3

While the simplification of administrative procedures could reduce certain costs (i.e. notification of products and notification to the poison control centres), considerable costs are liable to be incurred by SMEs in meeting the new requirements on the content of the product information file and compliance with harmonised standard EN ISO 22716 (GMP). It should be emphasised that current legal provisions do not require as high a level of detailed toxicological data as the proposed regulation.

4.4

It is to be expected that the additional costs incurred by the requirements set out in the regulation will depend heavily on the size of the enterprise. The costs pertaining to the preparation of the product information files and safety assessment will be borne, first and foremost, by small and medium-sized enterprises, which formerly used to prepare rudimentary data as specified in existing legal provisions.

In the case of large international corporations, one should not expect a considerable increase in costs due to their longstanding experience, expertise, human resources, technical background and access to third-party know-how. In the case of large enterprises manufacturing products on several EU markets, the centralised European notification system will definitely simplify former administrative procedures. This will partly reduce notification costs. Moreover, international enterprises have already implemented notification systems for their frame formulations (formulas).

4.5

In the case of SMEs, one can expect a considerable increase in costs relating to good manufacturing practices, safety assessment and product information file preparation, not to mention all relevant tests.

For research and the dossier and safety assessment alone, the costs of SMEs may increase by as much as 100 % for every new formula placed on the market. This will considerably increase production costs for SMEs and affect the retail price of products, thus impacting on consumer interests.

One should bear in mind that in the case of SMEs, product series are manufactured in considerably smaller volumes than those of large international concerns selling large quantities of products. As a result, the costs of research and the dossier and safety assessment per product are much higher for SMEs.

According to this impact assessment prepared by the Commission, this could be inadequate in the case of Member States with a high number of small and medium-sized enterprises, such as Spain, Italy, Poland and Bulgaria.

4.6

It seems advisable to minimise the negative financial impact on SMEs, for instance by specifying that the product information file and safety assessment are to be prepared in accordance with the new requirements for products that are being placed on the market for the very first time. It would appear necessary to extend the transition period for updating the product information files and safety assessment for products already on the market.

4.6.1

The Committee endorses the 36-month period for the entry into force of the regulation. However, with regard to updating the product information files and safety assessment of cosmetic products already on the market, the Committee recommends a further transition period of 24 months after entry into force.

4.7

The Committee welcomes the introduction of a set of definitions. This will facilitate the interpretation of the provisions of the regulation and help to remove legal uncertainties and inconsistencies. However, a new definition for cosmetic products has not been proposed. The cosmetics industry is highly innovative and new efficacies and product categories are introduced to the market each year. This may generate problems concerning product qualification (cosmetics, pharmaceutical products etc.) and ‘borderline products’. It is therefore necessary to undertake educational and information campaigns as well as strengthen market surveillance in this field.

4.8

The Committee welcomes the introduction of the concept of ‘a responsible person’. Establishing a responsible person — who may be an entrepreneur other than the manufacturer — is useful and consistent with existing market practices such as outsourcing and private labelling. Provisions concerning the responsible person establish responsibility in cases where products are made available on the market from outside the EU, for example via internet.

4.9

Furthermore, the Committee considers that other concepts should also be defined, so as to ensure legal certainty, especially since the instrument is in the form of a regulation. This applies in particular to the concepts of ‘fragrance’ and ‘active ingredient’.

4.10

The Committee welcomes the introduction of the electronic notification of cosmetics and frame formulas to poison control centres. It will certainly unify administrative procedures on the EU market.

4.11

The Committee endorses the introduction of new approach principles to legislation on cosmetic products. The application of harmonised standards, which can be voluntarily applied by the manufacturers and competent authorities, enables the unification of applied methodologies. Harmonised standards are a good example of self-regulation tools that are both useful and willingly used by the cosmetics industry. However, the Committee has reservations about the uncritical application of new approach principles. Consumer health and safety issues must be regulated by the relevant regulations.

4.12

The Committee welcomes the reference to harmonised standards for product claims. However, harmonised standards should address methods of efficacy assessment applied to prove the claims, not to the claims themselves. Claimed effects can be measured by reliable and reproducible methods. Moreover, harmonised standards should take into consideration scientific and technological progress and the vastness of the subject.

4.13

The Committee welcomes the introduction of a differentiated regime based on the risk assessment of substances classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or reprotoxic (‘CMR’) referred to in Directive 67/548/EEC (Article 12(2)). The ban on the use of such substances should be maintained. However, the current system is based on hazard (i.e. intrinsic properties of the substance) and does not take into consideration the dose and route of exposure. It could lead to the automatic ban of ethanol (i.e. alcohol) in case of its re-classification in CMR categories 1 or 2, despite the fact that the use of the substance in cosmetics is safe. The draft regulation provides that substances in CMR categories 1 and 2 may be used as compounds in cosmetics only subject to the simultaneous fulfilment of three conditions (Article 12(2)). However, one of these conditions assumes that the substance has to be legally used in food and nutritional products. But there may very well be cases where CMR 1 or 2 substances are considered safe for use in cosmetics but are not allowed for food (i.e. formaldehyde, boric acid etc.). The drafted provisions exclude any application of such substances in the cosmetics industry.

4.14

The Committee is aware of the transition periods for adapting the products dossier and safety assessment for products already on the market (Article 34). The draft does not specify whether the transitional period is only applicable to products being placed on the market, or also to products already on the market. Specifying the same transitional period (36 months) for all products — including those already on the market — may lead to a situation where products already legally on the market will have to be withdrawn because their labelling or their product information files has not been updated. The Committee endorses the 36 month-period for the entry into force of the regulation. However, with regard to updating the product information files and safety assessment of cosmetic products already on the market, the Committee recommends a further transition period of 24 months after entry into force.

In document SEC(2008) 117, the impact assessment report, the European Commission states: ‘All available statistics suggest that the number of adverse reactions to cosmetic products is very low. (…) Moreover, since the Cosmetics Directive entered into force the cosmetics industry has had no major safety crisis, unlike, for example, the feed sector’.

5.   Specific comments

5.1

The Committee is aware of certain provisions included in the proposal of the Commission which could be difficult to fulfil. The most crucial ones include the scope of data required for the product information files and safety assessment (Article 7 and Annex I).

5.2

The safety assessment under Article 7 must be carried out by an independent third party, i.e. from outside the company in question.

5.3

In Article 7(3), the term ‘non-clinical safety studies’ is unclear. Available information reveals that this term is interpreted differently by various EU Member States. According to the interpretation of the competent authorities in Poland, clinical tests are tests for medicinal products. Research studies on volunteers used in the assessment of cosmetics (dermatological tests, compatibility tests, instrumental tests) cannot therefore be understood as clinical tests. However, they could not be regarded as non-clinical studies within the meaning of Article 7(3) of the drafted Regulation, either. According to Directive 2004/10/EC, the provisions on good laboratory practices are not applicable to the tests involving the participation of humans.

5.4

Moreover, a requirement that all toxicological tests and analysis necessary for safety assessment be performed in accordance with the principles of good laboratory practice prevents the use of most data included in toxicological databases and scientific publications, which are a valuable source of information. Even in recent scientific publications, one can very rarely find a declaration of compliance (or non-compliance) with good laboratory practice by the laboratories carrying out the relevant tests.

5.5

The provisions of paragraphs 2 and 4 of Annex I concerning the assessment of the purity and stability of packaging material, the evaluation of interactions between the compounds and the evaluation of the influence of product stability on its safety, and the specification of the ‘period-after-opening’ may be difficult to fulfil because there is no commonly available and recognised methodology, for instance in the form of international or European standards, or scientific publications. Hence, this data is not readily available.

5.5.1

The Committee welcomes the content of Annex I (Cosmetic Product Safety Report) with regards to minimum requirements for data and tests to be performed when preparing a product dossier. It will improve the quality of the dossier, facilitate market surveillance and therefore contribute to consumer safety.

5.6

The NOAEL value (No Observed Adverse Effect Level) which is necessary for calculating the MoS (Margin of Safety) is not available for many substances. The obligation to determine the NOAEL value will result in animal tests that violate the EU policy to promote alternative methods. It also contravenes the provisions of Article 14 (Animal testing).

5.6.1

New legislation should therefore clearly specify which tests manufacturers are to carry out on substances used in cosmetics in order to identify potential hazards for consumers.

5.7

The Committee does not accept that the list of ingredients may be indicated on the packaging alone (Article 15(g)); rather, if possible, it should be indicated on the product (container).

5.8

The Committee considers that cosmetic products must carry special warnings regarding their use by children, clearly and very visibly stating a minimum age and that they must be kept out of the reach of children.

5.9

The Committee is also of the view that the regulation should clearly stipulate that, in the case of distance-selling of cosmetic products, exactly the same type of information that must be displayed on labels and packaging when sold in shops must be clearly set out in distance sales offers.

5.10

The Committee endorses the increased pressure for administrative collaboration between the competent authorities and the application of the good administrative practices.

5.11

The Committee endorses rectifying the former Annexes containing lists of prohibited and allowed substances with restrictions to be used in cosmetic products, by adding the CAS and EINECS numbers and INCI names as well as establishing an electronic inventory of cosmetic ingredients.

5.12

Withdrawing former Annex I of Directive 76/768/EEC seems appropriate. The division of categories in the former list was rather arbitrary, and there were numerous repetitions of category groups, for example: ‘make-up powders’ and ‘products for making up and removing make-up’. Moreover, the former list is already out of date — there are new product categories available on the market, such as anti-cellulite adhesives, and make-up remover cleanser tissues with active substances.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  COM(2008) 49 final — 2008/0025 (COD).


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/39


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC as regards variations to the terms of marketing authorisations for medicinal products’

COM(2008) 123 final — 2008/0045 (COD)

(2009/C 27/08)

On 3 April 2008 the Council of the European Union decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC as regards variations to the terms of marketing authorisations for medicinal products.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Cedrone.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9-10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 127 votes with seven abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC approves the Proposal for a Directive amending Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC (COM (2008)123 final), recognising that these amendments ensure the harmonisation of the rules regulating all medicinal products regardless of the procedure under which marketing authorisation has been granted.

1.2

Applying the same criteria to all medicinal products ensures, in addition to the same quality, safety and efficacy criteria, a high level of public health protection, the efficient functioning of the internal market, and eliminates an unnecessary administrative and financial burden on businesses.

1.3

The EESC has always supported and continues to support the Commission's efforts to improve the safety of medicinal products, a fundamentally important factor in safeguarding human and animal health.

1.4

The EESC agrees that the Commission should be empowered to extend the scope of Regulation (EC) No 1084/2003 to post-authorisation variations, regardless of the procedure applied, thus avoiding any obstacles to the free movement of medicinal products; and emphasises the importance of future provisions the Commission will have to adopt.

1.5

The EESC once again emphasises its conviction that we must waste no time in completing the single market also in those sectors where this has not occurred or is only partial.

2.   Context

2.1

In November 2001, the Commission presented sweeping regulatory reforms on medicinal products via two instruments, i.e. Directive 2001/82/EC on the Community code relating to veterinary medicinal products, and Directive 2001/83/EEC on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use (1).

2.2

The abovementioned legislation was an extension of a profound reform initiated in 1993 through the creation of the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), as set out in Regulation (EEC) No 2309/93, and the implementation of new marketing authorisation procedures for pharmaceuticals (2).

2.3

Based on the principle of the free movement of goods, this regulation foresaw two procedures for marketing authorisation for medicinal products as of 1 January 1995:

a)

A ‘centralised’ procedure for authorisations issued by the EMEA, applicable throughout the EU, compulsory for biotechnological medicinal products and optional for newly formulated pharmaceutical products.

b)

A so-called ‘decentralised’ national procedure enabled authorisation by a competent national authority. This procedure made it possible to apply specific ‘mutual recognition’ rules for the marketing of medicinal products authorised by a specific Member State in other EU countries.

2.4

The purpose of these marketing authorisation procedures was to ensure a proper assessment of the benefit/risk ratio and to define high quality, safety and efficacy criteria for the precise purpose of safeguarding human and animal health in the EU.

2.5

Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC strengthen these essential guarantees, setting out specific provisions for pharmacovigilance in order to achieve a high level of public health protection, with more frequent monitoring as well as enhanced and more targeted notification criteria for undesirable side effects.

2.6

During the course of periodic checks on the functioning of the authorisation system for pharmaceutical products, the Commission identified problems relating to variations that could occur downstream of Member State authorisations, which account for over 80 % of total marketing authorisations for medicinal products.

2.7

These variations coming after national authorisation are addressed by Regulation (EC) No 1084/2003 and Regulation (EC) No 1085/2003, but the latter only cover manufacturing procedures, pharmaceutical packaging and intellectual property. They do not address fundamental issues such as, for instance, the inclusion of new therapeutic indications or methods of administration.

2.8

As a result, the post-authorisation procedures may in some cases vary in individual Member States, which can lead to different rules and classifications being applied to the same product. This may result in different levels of health protection being applied due to differences in the therapeutic classification or use of the same product, not to mention the fact that it could constitute a sometimes artificial obstacle to the intended freedom of movement of medicinal products within the EU.

3.   The Commission proposal

3.1

In order to avoid the emergence of different conditions for the same pharmaceutical products, the Commission has decided to submit a proposal to amend Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC by requesting that the application of Regulation (EC) No 1084/2003, currently applicable to pharmaceuticals under the centralised procedure, be extended to all medicinal products regardless of the procedure under which they have been authorised.

3.2

The proposal under consideration falls within the scope of the simplification initiatives foreseen under Annex 2 of the Commission Legislative and Work Programme 2008. It consists solely in a legislative amendment to a number of articles in Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC concerning the application of Regulation (EC) No 1084/2003, which is thus extended to all medicinal products.

3.3

Prolonging the present situation would result in unnecessary administrative and financial burdens for businesses wishing to trade in several EU countries. These businesses are faced with the different rules applied by individual Member States and their respective administrative requirements, which, moreover, can create a de facto artificial obstacle to the principle of free trade.

3.4

The proposal is purely legal in nature and sets out to amend the legal basis of Regulation (EC) No 1084/2003 by empowering the Commission to amend the regulation's scope in order to ensure an effective harmonisation of authorisation rules.

3.5

The Commission emphasises that this legislative amendment was based on broad consultation with all stakeholders; and that the choice of a legal amendment — one of many options — was the one identified as best suited to achieving harmonisation in the post-authorisation phase, in keeping with high public health standards and legal consistency.

3.6

The proposed amendments to a set of articles are based on Article 95 of the EC Treaty, which provides for the use of the co-decision procedure, and is consistent with the principle of subsidiarity and the principle of proportionality.

4.   General comments

4.1

The EESC approves the proposal to amend Directive 2001/82/EC and Directive 2001/83/EC, recognising that these amendments ensure the harmonisation of the rules regulating all medicinal products, a high level of public health protection and the efficient functioning of the internal market, whilst also eliminating unnecessary administrative and financial burdens for businesses.

4.2

As in previous opinions on this issue, the EESC supports and even encourages the Commission's efforts to improve the safety of medicinal products, a fundamentally important factor in safeguarding human and animal health.

4.3

The EESC is therefore in favour of harmonising the rules regulating all medicinal products regardless of authorisation procedures through a simple legislative amendment, thereby simultaneously eliminating any future obstacles to free trade in such products.

4.4

The EESC, while in favour of modifying the legal basis, awaits the legislative proposal currently being drafted, believing it to be of greater significance to the future of the pharmaceutical sector.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  OJ L 311, 28.11.2001.

(2)  OJ L 214, 24.8.1993.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/41


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to simple pressure vessels (codified version)’

COM(2008) 202 final — 2008/0076 (COD)

(2009/C 27/09)

On 26 May 2008 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to simple pressure vessels (Codified version).

Since the Committee unreservedly endorses the proposal and feels that it requires no comment on its part, it decided, at its 446th plenary session of 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), by 142 votes to none with six abstentions, to issue an opinion endorsing the proposed text.

 

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/41


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Towards a rail network giving priority to freight’

COM(2007) 608 final

(2009/C 27/10)

On 18 October 2007 the Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on

Towards a rail network giving priority to freight.

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 5 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Buffetaut.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 10 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion with 111 votes in favour and one abstention.

1.   Conclusions

1.1

The EESC agrees with the Commission's diagnosis of the rail freight situation in the European Union and believes that its proposals are a move in the right direction, though modest compared with the scale of the challenge.

1.2

It believes that to improve the situation will require:

the supply of a logistics service as opposed to a simple transport service;

lower costs so as to be able to offer more competitive prices;

a more reliable service;

reasonably short ‘end to end’ journey times;

the introduction of flexibility in supply and responsiveness in the event of disruptions.

1.3   A genuine logistics service

The basic idea is to simplify for the client something that is intrinsically complex in rail terms. This means providing client follow-up and clear and reliable information, building up the supply of private wagons and developing end to end services that include loading and unloading.

1.4   Lower costs

1.4.1

To achieve lower costs will involve pursuing interoperability and technical harmonisation in Europe. Historically, each network has made its own rules and regulatory and safety systems. Gradually, all the systems must be aligned and implementation of the ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) must be made a top priority.

1.4.2

Whenever realistically possible, by means of appropriate investment, the characteristics of the rail infrastructure should gradually be changed in terms of gauge, train length, gradients and axle load, in order to gear them to the needs of freight transport, as is the case for instance in the United States.

1.4.3

Real progress in competition and the opening up of the market would necessarily lead to greater efficiency and productivity. This raises the issue of rail staff training. New operators entering the market may find that there is a shortage of skilled workers. Care must be taken therefore to ensure that adequate training courses are set up so that this demand can be met and new highly-skilled jobs can be created.

1.4.4

The allocation of costs by infrastructure managers among the various operators must be reviewed and, similarly, the external costs of competing modes of transport should be better allocated so as to create the conditions for free, undistorted competition.

1.4.5

Initiatives such as the Betuwe line, the New OPERA project or FERRMED should be studied and supported so as to learn lessons while sharing experiences and good practice.

1.5   A more reliable service

1.5.1

Binding contractual rules on compensation for customers who receive a poor quality service would provide a good incentive to improve the service provided.

1.5.2

There is a need to work at the quality and reliability of the various elements of the service. This concerns rolling stock and also signals, track and information systems.

1.5.3

A more reliable service also means reserving good train paths for freight, for instance by laying down priority rules to favour freight in cases of traffic clashes on those paths, while obviously bearing in mind the interests of all users. There would for instance be room for manoeuvre regarding traffic timetabling.

1.6   Reasonably short ‘end to end’ journey times

1.6.1

One of the complaints generally made about rail freight transport is the length and slowness of journeys. To resolve this issue, the freight paths mapped out should have a limited number of stops (or none) and should be designed to ensure there is little danger of traffic clashes with other trains; furthermore, when it comes to operational management in the event of traffic clashes, freight should be given priority wherever possible. High-speed night freight trains should also be developed.

1.6.2

Investment is also needed to prepare infrastructure for higher speed trains, while bearing in mind that greater speeds mean lower authorised axle loads. While something must be done about the current low speed of rail freight, it should be stressed that the most important factor is constancy in speed. Moderate but constant speed is better than the stop/start phenomenon that results in accumulating delays.

1.7   Introducing flexibility

1.7.1

Longstanding traffic management principles and methods, which systematically give priority to passenger trains on preset theoretical paths, have an unintended but real knock-on effect: for a freight train, a short delay on leaving (for instance ten minutes) almost always results in a major delay on arrival (of a number of hours or even a whole day).

1.7.2

The development of technology in the medium to long term will increase real time fluidity in freight train traffic without using a preset theoretical path as the only reference point. The ‘moving block’ concept, built into the latest stage of the ERTMS, enables more trains to travel on the same infrastructure and better reactions in the event of disturbances. For this to work, all Member States must invest in the ERTMS so as to secure interoperability and continuity in the use of the various national networks as soon as possible.

1.7.3

Investment in capacity is nonetheless necessary for bottlenecks and loading/unloading platforms enabling transport system interoperability.

1.7.4

The issue of marshalling, loading and unloading yards is important but cannot be divorced from that of the secondary networks that serve the regions. The fact is that to be genuinely competitive, maximum proximity of rail freight transport to the client is essential.

1.8   A freight-dedicated network

1.8.1

Although it may not be very realistic to recommend setting up a trans-European freight-dedicated network, there is no doubt that a separate network would be the best way to promote rail freight transport, making it more reliable, more punctual, less expensive and faster. In the immediate future the option of freight-oriented corridors is more realistic, but in the absence of major transcontinental freight-dedicated networks, it may be possible to include in freight-oriented corridors an increasing number of freight-dedicated sections of line in order to link particularly active economic centres, as demonstrated by the success of the Betuwe line between the port of Rotterdam and Germany. All the Member States must become genuinely involved in implementing policies and regulations with a view to making the railways more competitive.

2.   Taking stock

2.1   A worrying observation

2.1.1

Whereas freight transport grew by 2.8 % a year between 1995 and 2005, rail freight's market share fell steadily, levelling off at approximately 10 % in 2005, its lowest level since 1945.

2.1.2

According to the Commission, the reasons for this poor performance are a lack of reliability, insufficient capacity, defective information management, slowness and a lack of flexibility. However, despite these shortcomings, new opportunities may arise in the current economic context, marked as it is by an increase in trade, road congestion, increasing fuel prices, and an ever growing concern for environmental conservation.

2.1.3

In the past, the Community has attempted to boost rail transport by means of a three-pronged policy approach:

opening up the rail freight market, while restructuring old companies;

developing technical interoperability and common safety rules;

placing the rail network in the general framework of the trans-European transport network.

2.1.4

It cannot be denied that the results have been disappointing when it comes to transnational transport.

2.2   An evolving common transport policy

2.2.1

The White Paper on European Transport Policy for 2010 aimed to generate a shift from road to rail and already envisaged the establishment of ‘multimodal corridors giving priority to freight’. For the sake of practicality, the 2006 revised white paper scaled down its ambitions regarding the shift from road to rail and developed the idea of ‘co-modality’, though not without recalling the need to encourage the development of a rail network giving priority to freight.

2.2.2

It is this idea that is developed in the Commission's communication, setting the triple objective of improving speed, reliability and capacity for traffic on a network based on the existing trans-European networks.

3.   The Commission's proposals

3.1

The Commission recalls the initiatives already taken to encourage, improve or promote rail freight: developing interoperability and information (Europtirails), building infrastructure (Betuwe line) and establishing corridor structures. However, these have proved insufficient.

3.2

Three options are envisaged for form's sake: maintaining the status quo, bringing in new measures to set up a freight-oriented network, or running a specific programme to set up a European rail network dedicated to freight.

3.3

In accordance with the principles of ancient philosophy, the Commission considers that ‘in medio stat virtus’ and rejects the first and third options, one for lacking ambition and the other for being unrealistic.

3.4   Proposed measures

3.4.1

The Commission hopes to develop transnational corridors so as to establish a freight-oriented network. This would involve identifying those corridors with an appropriate infrastructure while implementing an effective management and operating system. This cannot come about, however, unless the Member States sign up to the project as infrastructure managers.

3.4.2

In order to achieve this, the Commission envisages a series of legislative measures to tie in with the recasting of the first railway package planned for 2008, together with incentives and funding, the latter to be released from existing appropriations.

3.4.3

In this way, the Commission's plan is to give freight-oriented corridors legal definition, so as to encourage Member States and infrastructure managers to establish freight-oriented transnational corridors and to seek out financing for these structures, within the framework of existing financing packages.

3.4.4

One of the criticisms made of rail freight is the poor quality of service and a lack of client information. For this reason, the Commission hopes to implement a genuine quality and transparency policy and will propose a legislative measure on the publication of quality indicators. It also intends to publish a report on steps taken by operators to improve the rail service.

3.4.5

Certain sections of the network are saturated, particularly in central regions of the European Union, and this situation is likely to worsen in the years ahead. The key therefore is to invest in infrastructure capacity, particularly in terms of train length, gauge, axle load and maximum speed. The investment will clearly have to be targeted and coordinated. The Commission recommends that corridor management structures draw up investment plans and leaves open the issue of financing, which will have to be found within existing programmes.

3.4.6

The issue of traffic flow and rail freight efficiency ties in with that of the allocation of train paths to freight. At present, the allocation of train paths is decided by individual managers, according to rules that differ from one Member State to another. It would therefore be useful to harmonise the rules for allocating train paths so as to secure reliable, high performance paths.

3.4.7

To achieve this, the Commission plans to propose legislative measures for the international allocation of paths and on the priority given to freight, particularly in the event of network disturbances.

3.4.8

Freight traffic also requires terminals and marshalling yards. However, pressure on real estate in past years led to a tendency to reduce the number of these stations and terminals in urban areas.

3.4.9

On reading the Commission's proposals, it is clear that their success will depend on the measures taken and motivation shown by the Member States and rail sector players.

3.5   General comments

3.5.1

The observations made by the Commission on the state of rail freight require no particular comment and only confirm what was already known about the weakness of the sector. To improve the situation will mean mobilising those responsible in the public and private sectors, not only in terms of political willingness and business dynamism, but also in terms of financing.

3.5.2

This is definitely the weak point of the plan. The Commission is proposing a number of legislative measures, but no new allocation of resources. The legal approach may be useful, but is certainly not sufficient. The appropriations needed to implement the plan will have to be found from existing programmes. This will require delicate choices and will be difficult to manage, with measures in one area inevitably affecting another.

3.5.3

Lastly, the success of the plan presupposes strong commitment on the part of the Member States and managing companies, but the former are often short of funds and may have other rail priorities and the latter, which have nonetheless benefited from the separation of expensive-to-maintain networks from operation, are not always in the best financial state.

3.6   Specific comments

3.6.1

Establishing transnational corridors is clearly a prerequisite for freight development, but it is common knowledge that freight has up to now been sacrificed in favour of passenger transport. What is needed therefore amounts to a cultural revolution, with inevitable constraints to be accepted by the Member States, and dedicated funding, all the while bearing in mind that as far as the public is concerned the need to give priority to passenger trains goes without saying. The issue is therefore more that of optimal network management and the definition of freight-oriented networks that do not reduce the quality and punctuality of passenger transport. In establishing transnational corridors, account needs to be taken of track gauges in both the old and new Member States, the existing rolling stock employed by railway companies, freight movements in candidate and third countries, and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

3.6.2

The issues of information and transparency are certainly important, but it is clear that customers base their choices primarily on the criteria of price, reliability, speed, and facility of access to terminals and loading and unloading. The key factor is therefore service quality, which depends firstly on the mechanisms for organising rail traffic and secondly on considerable investment.

3.6.3

As regards rail freight competitiveness, it appears to be generally accepted that this type of transport is reserved for a certain type of merchandise, in particular large quantities of heavy goods. There is a need to increase client diversity, in particular through the use of containers, thus expanding the market and making it more competitive, in a context of increased fuel prices and a growing concern to promote sustainable development.

3.6.4

The Commission communication appears weak on the issue of financing, as it offers nothing in the way of specific financing and the solution proposed is founded on delicate choices within the bounds of existing funds.

Brussels, 10 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/45


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission — Communication on a European Ports Policy’

COM(2007) 616 final

(2009/C 27/11)

On 18 October 2007 the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Communication from the Commission — Communication on a European Ports Policy.

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 8 May 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Simons.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9-10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 122 votes with 5 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions

1.1

The EESC welcomes the European Commission's new ports policy communication which mainly proposes measures of a ‘soft law’ nature. The EESC furthermore supports the general focus on the establishment of a stable investment climate, the sustainable development of ports, a good social climate in ports and the consistent application of Treaty rules.

1.2

The European port scene is becoming more diverse in terms of the number of ports involved and the scope of port functions and services. The EESC recommends that EU ports policy should support this market-driven process by ensuring that all European ports are able to use their full potential in a sustainable manner.

1.3

The EESC welcomes the Commission's initiative to develop a rail-freight oriented network and urges Member States to give priority, without going to the detriment of rail passenger transport, to the implementation of major cross-border rail infrastructure projects connecting to ports.

1.4

The EESC welcomes the Commission's initiative to issue guidelines to solve the ambiguities related to the application of Community environment legislation to port development and recommends that these are published before the end of 2008.

1.5

The European Commission should step up measures to ensure administrative facilitation in ports. The EESC therefore welcomes the Commission's intention to present a European Maritime Transport Space without Barriers in 2008. The Commission and, in particular, Member States should make further progress with the modernisation of customs and give this higher political priority.

1.6

The EESC agrees with the Commission that a level playing field among ports can be enhanced through the development of State aid guidelines and transparency of financial accounts. Equally, the guidance included in the Communication on the use of concessions, technical-nautical services and labour pools is felt to be generally helpful and clear. Finally, the Commission should take further initiatives to ensure fair competition between EU and neighbouring non-EU ports.

1.7

The EESC welcomes the Commission's aim to promote and enhance co-operation between cities and their ports. In particular, it invites the Commission to organise a proper study on the socio-economic impact of ports.

1.8

The EESC welcomes the Commission's decision to encourage European social partners to create a European sectoral social dialogue committee in ports.

2.   Introduction

2.1

Throughout the last ten years the EESC actively participated in the debate on a common EU ports policy. Given the key role seaports play for the socio-economic development, welfare and cohesion of the European Union such a common policy has significant added value.

2.2

The EESC adopted opinions on the Green Paper on Sea Ports and Maritime Infrastructure COM (1997) 678 (1) as well as on the two legislative proposals of the European Commission to open up markets for port services in European seaports (2). On 26 April 2007, the EESC furthermore adopted an own-initiative opinion on a common EU ports policy (3). Taking into account the confrontational climate which characterised the debate on the port services' Directive, this opinion focused on those aspects of a European seaport policy on which stakeholders in the port sector could reach consensus.

3.   European Commission communication on a European Ports Policy

3.1

The European Commission published on 18 October 2007 its communication on a European Ports Policy. This communication is the result of a year-long stakeholder consultation process which consisted of two conferences and six thematic workshops. The communication resorts under the Commission's overall maritime policy strategy and is part of its new freight transport agenda.

3.2

The objective of the new European ports policy is to promote a performing EU port system able to cope with the future challenges of EU transport needs. According to the Commission, these challenges include the demand for international transport, technological change, emissions and climate change, dialogue between ports, cities and stakeholders and, finally, reconciliation with transparency, competition and in general the Community set of rules.

3.3

The communication's actual policy proposals generally consist of a mixture of interpretation of Treaty rules and an action plan with further measures, which are mostly of a ‘soft law’ nature.

3.4

These are:

port performance and hinterland connections,

expanding capacity while respecting the environment,

modernisation,

a level playing field with clarity for investors, operators and users,

structured dialogue between ports and cities,

work in ports.

4.   General observations

4.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission's communication as it recognises the strategic importance of seaports for Europe's external and internal trade as well as their contribution to economic development and employment.

4.2

The EESC particularly welcomes the fact that the Commission does not propose interventionist measures but focuses — within the scope of EU Treaty rules — on the establishment of a stable investment climate, the sustainable development of ports, a good social climate in ports.

4.3

The EESC is also pleased to see that the Commission is using ‘soft law’ as an alternative to legislation on the one hand and a case-by-case approach on the other.

4.4

The EESC nevertheless has a number of specific comments and recommendations on the different chapters of the Commission's communication.

5.   Specific observations

5.1   The economic context and challenges for the European port system

5.1.1

The EESC takes note of the Commission's conclusion that movement of containerised cargo is currently concentrated in a handful of north-west European ports. It should however also be recognised that there is a trend towards participation of an increased number of ports in the European container market rather than a channelling of traffic through only a few ports. The strongest growing container ports in 2006 were mostly small and medium-sized ports located in various port ranges in Europe. Port ranges located at substantial distance are thus increasingly competing with each other (4). EU ports policy can support this process by ensuring that all European ports are able to use their full potential in a sustainable manner.

5.1.2

The EESC highlights in addition to the list of challenges identified by the Commission those of globalisation and consolidation which characterise the European port and shipping sector. This phenomenon is especially visible in the container market but also occurs in other markets such as ro-ro, general cargo and bulk. European seaports deal with international shipping groups and large terminal operator groups have emerged which now provide services in several European ports. The challenge for a port authority is to ensure commitment from these global operators as well as compliance with the development objectives of the port in respect of relevant European policies.

5.2   Port performance and hinterland connections

5.2.1

The EESC agrees with the Commission that the first option to cope with increased demand for port and port-related capacity should be an optimisation of the use of existing port facilities and access routes. The EESC further agrees that a full societal cost-benefit analysis should be made before new infrastructural developments are envisaged. These should take into account economic, social and environmental considerations as these form the pillars of the EU Lisbon agenda.

5.2.2

As explained above, market processes are already driving towards a more diverse European port scene. The bottom-up principle should be fostered whereby project proposals are designated by the managing body of a port in conjunction with regional or national authorities where applicable. This does not, of course, alter the fact that the EU shall continue to formulate objectives and to provide guidelines.

5.2.3

The Commission can however use the 2010 mid-term review of the Trans-European Transport Network to help resolving bottlenecks with regard to hinterland connections to ports. This should however be done on the basis of objective criteria.

5.2.4

The EESC furthermore repeats its request to the Commission to step up efforts to solve remaining bottlenecks in the hinterland through its general transport policy instruments, in particular with regard to inland navigation and rail freight. Especially rail remains a serious bottleneck for the optimal performance of ports and their integration in logistics chains. In this respect, the EESC welcomes the Commission's initiative to develop a rail-freight oriented network and urges Member States to give priority, without going to the detriment of rail passenger transport, to the implementation of major cross-border rail infrastructure projects connecting to ports.

5.3   Expanding capacity while respecting the environment

5.3.1

The EESC very much welcomes the Commission's initiative to issue guidelines on the application of Community environment legislation to port development. This will mean an important step forward in solving some of the ambiguities created by EU legislation such as the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Water Framework Directive. Given the urgency of the matter, the EESC recommends that these guidelines are published before the end of 2008.

5.3.2

The EESC further also invites the Commission to consider additional measures to reinforce the legal status of port development projects and simplify existing legislation, as outlined in more detail in the EESC's own-initiative opinion (5).

5.3.3

Clearly stating that contaminated sediment has to be subject to appropriate treatment, the EESC further recommends that pending legislative proposals which will affect the management of water bodies and sediments, such as the Waste Directive and the ‘Daughter Directive’ of the Water Framework Directive (6), must recognise that non-contaminated sediment is not to be regarded as waste and does not have to follow the treatment of contaminated sediment because dredging operations of non-contaminated sediment do not introduce nor add any substances of pollution into a water body.

5.3.4

Finally, the EESC agrees with the Commission's proposals regarding the provision of ship's waste reception facilities in ports and the improvement of air emissions. The EESC recommends that economic incentives through harbour dues are best left to the discretion of each individual managing body of the port since such measures would affect the financial structure of ports which differs greatly in Europe.

5.4   Modernisation

5.4.1

The EESC welcomes the intention to present a legislative proposal on the creation of a European Maritime Transport Space without Barriers in 2008 and refers to the specific comments which it has already expressed in several earlier opinions (7).

5.4.2

The EESC further repeats its recommendation that the EU should make further progress with the modernisation of customs and ensure that its policies on customs, maritime safety, security, public health and environmental quality are properly coordinated and harmonised and do not unduly transfer government responsibilities to ports.

5.4.3

The EESC supports the development of single windows and the deployment of ‘e-maritime’, ‘e-customs’ and ‘e-freight’ initiatives. At the same time it believes that ITC-based solutions should be cost-effective, also for smaller and medium-sized ports.

5.4.4

Finally, on efficiency improvement, the EESC supports the Commission's proposal to develop a set of generic European indicators by the end of 2009 provided these respect commercially sensitive data. These indicators, based on the ones existing in the fields of air-, coastal-, and combined rail transport, are to be developed accordingly for elements relevant to ports, such as performance of ports installations, collaboration between ports and the pooling of hinterland activities.

5.5   A level playing field — clarity for investors, operators and users

5.5.1

The EESC endorses the Commission's view on the role of port authorities and the diversity of port management systems in Europe. It particularly subscribes to the recognition that the important tasks of port authorities can be better fulfilled if they enjoy a sufficient degree of autonomy and, especially, full financial autonomy.

5.5.2

The EESC equally welcomes the Commission's announcement to adopt guidelines on State aid in 2008. In this respect, the EESC refers to the basic principles on the use of public funding in ports it has elaborated in its own-initiative opinion of 26 April 2007.

5.5.3

The EESC is also pleased to see that the Commission has adopted its recommendation to extend the provisions on transparency of Directive 2006/111/EC to all merchant ports, irrespective of their annual turnover.

5.5.4

In its own-initiative opinion the EESC recommended guidance on the use of selection procedures, such as tenders or other acceptable instruments, conditions for concessions and land-lease agreements as well as guidance on the legal status of those port services which service as a public service, for example for the overall safety in ports.

5.5.5

The Commission has met this request by providing guidance in its ports policy communication on the use of concessions and technical-nautical services. The EESC finds that the Commission's interpretation of Treaty rules and case-law is generally helpful and clear. The EESC however underlines that technical-nautical services have the common characteristic of being related to safety of navigation which should justify their qualification as services of general economic interest.

5.5.6

An intelligent concession policy should ensure intra-port competition as well as optimal performance and commitment of terminal operators. The EESC recommends that the Commission regularly reviews the guidance it has provided on concessions to ensure that it effectively matches the above objectives and contains sufficient common elements so as to guarantee a level playing field among port authorities. The latter is particularly relevant given the ongoing consolidation process in the cargo handling market as outlined above.

5.5.7

The EESC welcomes the Commission's proposal to help disseminating best practices on transparency in port charges. The EESC firmly believes that port charges should be set at the local level of the port so that they can optimally match the requirements of port users and the overall interest of the port.

5.5.8

Finally, the EESC is pleased to see that the Commission has taken up its recommendation to address cases of unfair competition by neighbouring non-EU ports. Through its accession and external relations policies, the Commission should also step up actions to address politically-inspired distortions such as the Turkish embargo on Cypriot-flag ships and ships emanating form Cypriot ports, the Aegean Sea Turkish-Greek problems as well as the Baltic-Russian border crossing problems.

5.6   Establishing a structured dialogue between ports and cities

5.6.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission's aim to promote and enhance co-operation between cities and their ports. Integration of ports into cities and city life combined with a strong awareness, interest and even pride of citizens in port activities are vital for the sustainable development of ports. In this respect, the EESC particularly supports synergies with tourism, recreation, heritage and culture generally.

5.6.2

The EESC also emphasises the lack of reliable data on direct and indirect employment and added value generated by European ports. It has for instance the impression that the employment data used in the Communication largely underestimate the actual situation. The EESC therefore invites the Commission to organise a proper study into this field.

5.6.3

Finally, the EESC supports the Commission's intention to assess the impact of security measures on accessibility of ports and to provide guidance on how both can be reconciled.

5.7   Work in ports

5.7.1

The EESC emphasised the need to promote good and safe working conditions and surroundings as well as constructive labour relations in ports. The EESC notes with satisfaction that the Commission devotes considerable attention to this theme in is ports policy communication.

5.7.2

The EESC repeats its view that the efficiency of operations in ports depends both on a reliability and safety component which are, despite technological progress, to a large extent determined by the human factor. This explains the need for a qualified and well-trained workforce in ports, both landside and on board ships. The EESC has recommended that social partners should play an important role in creating and maintaining these conditions and that, at European level, the Commission should support their input by facilitating social dialogue.

5.7.3

The EESC is therefore pleased that the Commission's has decided to encourage European social partners to create a European sectoral social dialogue committee in ports within the meaning of Commission Decision 98/500/EC.

5.7.4

The EESC supports the Commission's intention to set up a mutually recognisable framework on training of port workers but proposes to first compare the different existing systems of professional qualifications for port workers. This could usefully be done in the context of the European social dialogue.

5.7.5

Finally, the EESC agrees with the Commission that the implementation of rules on safety and health of workers in ports, be these Community rules or rules established by the International Labour Organisation, need to be closely monitored and statistics on accidents improved. However, the EESC also urges that initiatives be taken at all levels within the adequate forums to secure a further improvement of safety and heath.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  OJ C 407 of 28.12.1998.

(2)  Opinions of the EESC on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on market access to port services COM(2001) 35 final OJ C 48 of 21.2.2001, p. 122 and COM(2004) 654 final OJ C 294 of 25.11.2005, p. 25.

(3)  OJ C 168 of 20.7.2007, p. 57.

(4)  Seen over a long-term period, the average European container market share of ports in the Hamburg — Le Havre range dropped from 61 % in 1975 to 48 % in 2003, whereas the market share of ports in the Mediterranean range doubled from 18 % in 1975 to 36 % in 2003. Furthermore, the port concentration level in Europe for container traffic (measured by the Gini-coefficient) has constantly decreased since 1990 thus pointing at a rise in entry points to the European market. The strongest growing container ports in 2006 (in relative terms) were mostly medium and smaller-sized ports located in different European regions (Amsterdam, Sines, Rauma, Constanța, Kotka, Tallinn, Bremerhaven, Zeebrugge and Gdynia) — Source: Institute of Transport and Maritime Management Antwerp (ITMMA)/University of Antwerp This stands for instance in sharp contrast to the situation in the United States where the port concentration level has increased dramatically over the same period. Source: Notteboom, T. (2007), Market report on the European seaport industry, which uses data provided by Eurostat and individual ports).

(5)  See Section 4 of the Opinion OJ C 168, 20.7.2007, p. 57 on a common EU ports policy.

(6)  Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on waste (COM(2005) 667) and the proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on environmental quality standards in the field of water policy and amending Directive 2000/60/EC (COM(2006) 397).

(7)  OJ C 168, 20.7.2007, p. 50, Opinion on the Communication from the Commission — Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas COM(2006) 275 final.

OJ C 168, 20.7.2007, p. 57, Opinion on a common EU ports policy (Own-initiative opinion).

OJ C 151, 17.6.2008, p. 20, Opinion on the Motorways of the sea in the logistics chain (exploratory opinion).

OJ C 168, 20.7.2007, p. 68, Opinion Communication from the Commission — Mid-Term Review of the Programme for the Promotion of Short Sea Shipping [COM(2003) 155 final] COM(2006) 380 final.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/49


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘Road transport — working time of self-employed drivers’

(2009/C 27/12)

On 20 November 2007 the European Economic and Social Committee decided to draw up an additional opinion, under Rule 29 A of the Implementing provisions of its Rules of Procedure, on:

Road transport — working time of self-employed drivers.

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 5 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Chagas (1), replaced by Mr Curtis.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July 2008), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 121 votes to 14, with 6 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions

1.1

The EESC believes that all self-employed drivers should be included in the scope of Directive 2002/15/EC (as of 23 March 2009), as provided for by Article 2 thereof.

1.2

This requires Member States to have transposed the directive correctly, particularly the definition of self-employed driver.

1.3

The EESC feels that inclusion of these drivers is necessary in order to promote road safety, foster fair competition and improve the working conditions of mobile and self-employed workers — particularly their physical and mental health. It is understood the general administrative tasks as defined in the directive (Article 3, a-2) are not included in the definition of working time.

1.4

The EESC considers that an internal market in European road transport requires a level playing field, based on the effective practical implementation of social legislation for the industry. Making a distinction as regards the implementation of legislation on working time between mobile and self-employed workers helps to create unfair competition. For this reason the EESC cannot accept the option of only including ‘false self-employed’ drivers in the scope of the directive.

1.5

To counter the potential difficulties in implementing the inclusion of these drivers the EESC recommends co-liability between the various operators in the transport chain, as per the regulation on driving time and rest periods.

1.6

The EESC points out that promoting cooperation at European level between the different national administrations is essential if the directive is to be implemented effectively.

1.7

The EESC believes that the inclusion of self-employed drivers in the scope of the directive must not result in them being burdened with unnecessary administrative tasks.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The EESC has already done extensive work on European road safety policy and has acquired considerable expertise in this area. In its most recent own-initiative opinion, entitled ‘European Road Safety Policy and Professional Drivers — Safe and secured parking places’ (TEN/290) (2), the Committee addressed the important issue of rest areas for professional drivers, as part of road infrastructure policy. However, another very important issue which complements the opinion on safe and secure parking is the working time of self-employed drivers in road transport. The different economic, social and safety aspects have not yet been addressed adequately at European level. The present additional opinion has also been drawn up in response to the report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the consequences of the exclusion of self-employed drivers from the scope of Directive 2002/15/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2002 on the organisation of the working time of persons performing mobile road transport activities (COM(2007) 266 final).

2.2

Directive 2002/15/EC establishes minimum requirements in relation to the organisation of working time in order to improve the health and safety protection of persons performing mobile road transport activities, to improve road safety and to align conditions of competition. The directive came into force on 23 March 2002 and Member States had three years, until 23 March 2005, to implement its provisions in relation to mobile workers. Article 2(1) of the directive states that its provisions shall apply to self-employed drivers from 23 March 2009. In the meantime, the Commission was to submit a report to the Council and the European Parliament and then a legislative proposal based on the report.

2.3

As part of the final conciliation agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council on this directive, it was concluded that no later than two years before this date, i.e. by 23 March 2007, the Commission should present a report to the European Parliament and the Council, which would analyse the consequences of the exclusion of self-employed drivers from the scope of the directive in respect of road safety, conditions of competition, the structure of the profession, and social aspects. The report should take into account the circumstances in each Member State relating to the structure of the transport industry and to the working environment of the road transport profession.

2.4

On the basis of the report, the Commission should submit a proposal either (a) to set out the procedures for inclusion of self-employed drivers who undertake purely national transport activities and who face particular constraints; or (b) not to include self-employed drivers within the scope of the directive.

2.5

Article 7(2) of the directive also required the Commission to assess the consequences of the directive's night work provisions and report on them by 23 March 2007 in the context of the biennial report which it is obliged to provide on the implementation of the directive.

3.   The Commission report

3.1

According to the Commission, the report provides an overview of the current state of implementation of the directive by the Member States, addresses the potential consequences of the exclusion of self-employed drivers from its scope and assesses the consequences of its night work provisions.

3.2

The first conclusion is that most Member States did not manage to transpose the directive within the three-year period provided. The Commission does not, therefore, consider itself to be in a position to issue its first biennial report, which was scheduled for March 2007.

3.3

With regard to the consequences of the exclusion of self-employed drivers, the Commission recalls why it had proposed including them: the regulation on driving time and rest periods does not make any such distinction between drivers; to prevent the risk of fragmentation through drivers being encouraged to become ‘(false) self-employed’; and to ensure that the aims of fair competition and improving road safety and working conditions are applied across the entire sector.

3.4

Based on the conclusions of a report drawn up by external consultants, the Commission acknowledges that fatigue and its consequences for road safety can affect all drivers, whether they are self-employed or a mobile worker. Furthermore, the report also confirmed that self-employed drivers work longer hours than mobile road transport workers and that both categories work more than workers in other sectors.

3.5

Whilst acknowledging that a ‘reduction in working time could undoubtedly help reduce fatigue’, the external report also concludes that ‘this could lead to higher levels of stress, as the self-employed driver tries to achieve more in less time in order to maintain his profitability, which in turn could lead to greater fatigue and accidents’. The Commission appears to share this view.

3.6

As regards the conditions for competition, the Commission accepts the report's conclusion that exclusion of the self-employed would encourage a continuation of the current trend towards fragmentation and that this should not have a significant impact on competition within the industry. By contrast, inclusion would result in an increase in the cost burden and a reduction in working time, so the competitive advantage of the self-employed within the road freight industry would be substantially reduced. The Commission thus appears to favour the option of the directive applying only to ‘false’ self-employed drivers.

3.7

The Commission also considers that ‘while continued exclusion may be preferable for economic reasons, the potential social impacts of exclusion or inclusion are less obvious. Exclusion may not help to mitigate health and safety problems; on the other hand inclusion may generate additional stress and administrative workload for the self-employed while reducing their income’.

3.8

By way of conclusion, the Commission suggests that inclusion might impose greater emotional stress and financial difficulty on the self-employed and be difficult to enforce and therefore ineffective.

3.9

With regard to evaluating the consequences of the directive's provisions on night-working, the Commission concludes that the enforcement of the rules deserves more detailed examination.

4.   General comments

4.1

The Committee takes note of the Commission report on the consequences of the exclusion of self-employed drivers from the scope of the directive on the working time of persons performing mobile road transport activities.

4.2

The exclusion of self-employed workers from the scope of the directive has, according to a number of stakeholders, distorted competition in the road haulage industry. This recently led the Committee to make the following request in its opinion on the mid-term review of the transport White Paper (TEN/257 — rapporteur: Mr Barbadillo Lopez) (3):

‘The social legislation covering road transport must preserve equal treatment for workers, whether they are employees or self-employed and, therefore, Directive 15/2002 of 11 March 2002, on the organisation of working time of persons performing mobile road transport activities must apply immediately to self-employed workers, without a transitional period, since the aim of this Directive is to ensure road safety, to avoid distortion of competition and to promote better working conditions.’ (point 4.3.1.2)

4.3

Against this backdrop, the EESC wishes to express serious doubts as to the conclusions concerning road safety, conditions for competition and the social aspects set out in the study.

4.4

The Committee considers that if there is a will to promote road safety, foster fair competition and improve the working conditions of mobile and self-employed workers — and particularly their physical and mental health — the scope of Directive 2002/15/EC should include self-employed drivers.

4.5

Excessive working hours are a major contributory factor to fatigue and hence to falling asleep at the wheel and jeopardising road safety. A level playing field is achieved when the prices paid to sub-contractors by the major companies organising all aspects of the distribution and transport of goods respect the social legislation concerning the industry, for mobile workers as well as self-employed drivers.

4.6

Exclusion of self-employed drivers from the scope of Directive 2002/15/EC does not necessarily cause additional stress, because self-employed drivers will be subject to pressure from contractors to lower their prices. They will have to work longer hours in order to achieve the same profit margin, at the expense of road safety, their health and the already delicate balance between working and family life.

4.7

The EESC considers, however, that the inclusion of self-employed drivers in the scope of Directive 2002/15/EC requires the directive to have been correctly transposed, particularly the definition of self-employed driver.

4.8

The Commission, as guardian of the Treaty, should ensure that the definition of ‘self-employed driver’, as stipulated in Article 3(e) (4) of the directive, is correctly transposed by the Member States. Correct transposal is the first condition that needs to be met if a Member State wishes to combat the phenomenon of ‘false self-employed’ drivers.

4.9

In addition, inclusion of self-employed drivers must be flanked by an amendment to the directive concerning the co-liability of the different players in the transport chain. Article 10(4) of the regulation on driving time and rest periods (5) states that ‘Undertakings, consignors, freight forwarders, tour operators, principal contractors, subcontractors and driver employment agencies shall ensure that contractually agreed transport time schedules respect this Regulation.’ This co-liability should be extended to the implementation of legislation on working hours. This would help to establish a level playing field for mobile workers and self-employed drivers: when the latter find themselves working as sub-contractors, they face pressure to lower their prices by working long hours. A situation of unfair competition, to the detriment of mobile workers, can thus be avoided.

4.10

The EESC does not consider the study's conclusions on the additional stress that including self-employed drivers in the scope of the directive would entail to be reasonable. The definition of working time that the consultants have used is unclear. If self-employed drivers are, in the same working hours, obliged to carry out the administration and management of all of their transport operations — tasks that mobile workers are not obliged to carry out — additional stress will certainly ensue. If they carry out the same type of activity as mobile workers in the same working hours, it is hard to see why self-employed drivers should suffer greater stress than mobile workers. It is understood the general administrative tasks as defined in the directive (Article 3, a-2) are not included in the definition of working time.

4.11

Moreover, if reducing working time helps to reduce fatigue but creates stress, self-employed workers face an unenviable choice. In the EESC's view, road safety is the number one priority and fatigue as a consequence of long working hours, including driving time, can cause road accidents, whether drivers are mobile or self-employed.

4.12

Furthermore, the study omits to state — and the Commission agrees with its reasoning — that drivers' stress can continue to exist and increase even if they are excluded from the directive, because contractors will certainly raise this possibility in order to exert pressure on drivers to lower their prices.

4.13

The Commission highlights the fact that the Council has not accepted any requirement whatsoever for minimal systematic monitoring of the rules on working hours. Like the Commission, the EESC regrets this situation but does not see it as a reason for not adapting legislation to self-employed drivers. The fact that monitoring the working time of self-employed drivers is difficult does not mean that it should not be done. The co-liability of the stakeholders in the transport chain in implementing legislation could, therefore, play a significant role. Should it become clear that contracts between the different stakeholders in the transport chain are such that applying an average duration of 48 hours is impossible, at least one feature will be in place to protect the self-employed driver from excessive driving time and working hours.

4.14

The EESC considers that an internal market in European road transport requires a level playing field, based in particular on the effective practical implementation of social legislation for the industry. Making a distinction for the implementation of legislation on working time between mobile and self-employed workers simply helps to create unfair competition. For this reason the EESC cannot accept the option of only including ‘false self-employed’ drivers in the scope of the directive.

4.15

The Committee also wishes to point out that a number of States with different road transport operator market structures, such as Estonia (which has few self-employed drivers) and Slovakia (where 70 % of drivers are self-employed) have chosen to include self-employed drivers in Directive 2002/15/EC. This being the case, the EESC fails to understand why the Commission wishes at all costs to keep self-employed drivers outside the scope of Directive 2002/15/EC for economic reasons.

4.16

The Commission rightly acknowledges that the term ‘social aspects’ covers not only the health and safety and working conditions of mobile and self-employed workers, but also their remuneration and work-life balance.

4.17

According to the Commission, ‘exclusion offers them the possibility of increased job control and higher income, with the need to invest more time and energy to make it profitable’.

4.18

The EESC wishes to point out that the definition of working time for self-employed workers is unclear and/or assumes that general administrative tasks are not carried out during working hours. In the latter example, the EESC fails to understand why higher income for self-employed drivers should be attributed to their exclusion from the working time directive.

4.19

The EESC points out that promoting cooperation at European level between the different national administrations is essential if the directive is to be implemented effectively.

4.20

The EESC believes that the inclusion of self-employed drivers in the scope of the directive must not result in them being burdened with unnecessary administrative tasks.

4.21

In the wake of this study, the Commission wishes to carry out yet another — more detailed — impact assessment before drawing up its legislative proposal. This assessment should take account of new aspects such as the new regulation on driving time and rest periods. Furthermore, the Commission intends this impact assessment to uphold the exclusion of genuine self-employed drivers from the scope of the sector-specific rules on working time. The EESC is not convinced of the added value of another impact assessment.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  Resigned member.

(2)  OJ C 175 of 27.7.2007, pp. 88-90.

(3)  OJ C 161, 13.7.2007, p. 89.

(4)  Article 3(e) ‘“self-employed driver” shall mean anyone whose main occupation is to transport passengers or goods by road for hire or reward within the meaning of Community legislation under cover of a Community licence or any other professional authorisation to carry out the aforementioned transport, who is entitled to work for himself and who is not tied to an employer by an employment contract or by any other type of working hierarchical relationship, who is free to organise the relevant working activities, whose income depends directly on the profits made and who has the freedom to, individually or through a cooperation between self-employed drivers, have commercial relations with several customers.

For the purposes of this Directive, those drivers who do not satisfy these criteria shall be subject to the same obligations and benefit from the same rights as those provided for mobile workers by this Directive.’

(5)  Regulation (EC) No 561/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 March 2006 on the harmonisation of certain social legislation relating to road transport and amending Council Regulations (EEC) No 3821/85 and (EC) No 2135/98 and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 3820/85.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/53


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 — a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-PLAN) “Towards a low carbon future”’

COM(2007) 723 final

(2009/C 27/13)

On 22 November 2007 the Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — a European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-PLAN) Towards a low carbon future.

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 5 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Zbořil.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9-10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by127 votes with 5 abstentions.

1.   Recommendations and conclusions

1.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission's Communication and accompanying working documents and concurs with the analysis and description of the position regarding energy technologies. Without a sound strategy to develop energy technologies, any thought of curbing climate change is seriously undermined. For this reason the EESC supports the adoption of the SET-Plan.

1.2

The Communication adds considerable weight to a key element of energy policy — a secure energy supply that is both viable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Security of supply means not just the physical availability of supplies, but also their availability at socially acceptable prices.

1.3

The Commission's Communication quite rightly puts the development of energy technologies at the forefront of efforts to rein in climate change, a position which echoes the conclusions adopted by the 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13) in Bali in December 2007 (1).

1.4

The Commission's Communication is perfectly correct in drawing attention to the vital importance of time in implementing the proposed strategy (the SET-Plan) if the EU is to fulfil its March 2007 pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

1.5

If the EU is to speed up development and the practical application of new energy technologies, it requires more targeted and effective mechanisms which enlist the potential of public funding, industry, universities and research and boost the synergy between them. At the international level, broader collaboration and measures to prevent the fragmentation of research are also needed.

1.6

The EESC greatly values the position taken by the Commission in its Communication of urging financial, but above all human, resources to be mobilised at all four levels: the private sector, Member State level, Community level and worldwide. The Committee stresses that an important prerequisite for mobilising human resources is support across the board for education in science and technology.

1.7

The strategic plan should include not only the setting of priorities at EU level, but also the establishment of specific priorities at Member State level that respect their capacities and experience, the allocation of sufficient funds from public finances (of the EU and Member States), the optimum use of research and development capacities and private sector involvement encouraged by sufficient stimuli from the energy market, as well as other legal and fiscal instruments.

1.8

The Committee thinks it would be detrimental if what is incontestably the most important instrument for curbing climate change — a strategy for the development and application of energy technologies — were to be overshadowed by other issues which, realistically speaking, must instead provide the necessary framework for supporting and stimulating this development (EU ETS, support for the use of renewable energy sources, the Third Energy Package etc.). Only a true shift toward more effective technologies in the production and consumption of all forms of energy can achieve a real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

1.9

The analysis of the present, very unsatisfactory, situation is remarkably succinct and pertinent, quite rightly pointing to organisational and administrative problems that society must tackle alongside the scientific and technological ones.

1.10

Recommendations at EU level urge that attention and appropriate support be devoted to technologies using renewables, clean energy technologies for heating and the latest infrastructure for distributing and storing energy. For the time being, however, some forms of renewable energy are very costly and will continue to be so far into the future. Unfortunately, energy-saving technologies for end-use consumption, clean fossil fuel technologies, nuclear energy (both fission and fusion) and safe storage of nuclear waste are relegated to the sidelines. It should not be forgotten that many countries are dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear energy and this dependency will continue into the foreseeable future.

1.11

Heavy private-sector involvement is, in the EESC's view, absolutely crucial. The EU and the governments of the Member States must provide the necessary environment for this, not only by defining the principles, priorities and goals of energy policies, but also by creating the instruments to help meet these.

1.12

The key element is to establish market rules in the energy sector, especially the correct incorporation of externalities, including social costs, in the prices of all forms of energy. The EU and the Member States will probably have to create a legislative and fiscal environment to ensure a better combination of public and private funding in energy research and development.

1.13

The feasibility of each Member State using renewable energy sources and being involved in programmes to develop energy technologies should be assessed on its natural environment and physically accessible resources.

1.14

Progress in advanced energy technologies for the consumer must be put at the service of sustainable development. A strategic coordination of energy research and development which sets content and scheduling priorities at Community and Member State levels, together with the necessary operational mechanisms such as systems for management, monitoring and information flows, can go a long way to achieving the desired goals.

1.15

In extending cooperation in the research and development of new energy technologies beyond the Community, priority should be given — before new agreements are concluded — to making the best use of existing institutions, contracts and agreements, especially those that have proved their worth.

1.16

The SET-Plan is a key strategic approach of the European economy in developing and bringing on stream the technologies needed to curb climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and beyond to 2050.

2.   Introduction

2.1

On 22 November 2007, the Commission issued a proposal entitled A European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan) COM(2007) 723 — ‘Towards a low carbon future’, together with the working documents ‘Full impact assessment’ SEC(2007) 1508, ‘Summary Impact Assessment’ SEC(2007) 1509, ‘Technology Map’ SEC(2007) 1510, and ‘Capacities Map’ SEC(2007) 1511. This set of documents contains the background to the SET-Plan and resources which are available and must be mobilised to achieve its aims. Together they constitute an urgent appeal for closer and more coordinated collaboration on research and development at all levels (2).

2.2

This is a strategic approach in one of the key areas of endeavour (if not the key area) to reduce climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions — specifically by 20 % in the EU by 2020, and possibly by 30 % if the world community joins the EU initiative. These core aims in the fight against climate change were set out by the European Council, together with the main political substance of the Energy Policy for Europe, on 9 March 2007.

2.3

Enormous advances in energy technology will be needed to stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at acceptable level. There is no question about whether technological innovation is necessary — it is. The question is to what degree should policy focus directly on motivating such innovation (3)? The complacency with ‘technology already available’ is extremely dangerous and the SET Plan, thoroughly projected and implemented, is the basic appropriate choice to achieve the required reduction targets.

3.   Commission documents

3.1

Europe needs to act now, together, to deliver sustainable, secure and competitive energy. Harnessing technologies is vital to achieve the Energy Policy for Europe objectives adopted by the European Council on 9 March 2007. To meet the targets, we need to lower the cost of clean energy and put EU industry at the forefront of the rapidly growing low carbon technology sector. In the longer term, new generations of technologies have to be developed through breakthroughs in research if we are to meet the greater ambition of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 60-80 % by 2050.

3.2

Current trends and their projections into the future show that we are not on a pathway to meet our energy policy objectives. The easy availability of resources has not only left us dependent on fossil fuels, but has also tempered the interest in innovation and investment in new energy technologies. Public and private energy research budgets in the EU have declined substantially since peaking in the 1980s in response to the energy price shocks. This has led to an accumulated under-investment in capacities and infrastructures. If EU governments were investing today at the same rate as in 1980, the total EU public expenditure for the development of energy technologies would be four times the current level of investment of around 2.5 billion euros per year.

3.3

The market take-up of new energy technologies is additionally hampered by the commodity nature of energy. Legal and administrative barriers complete this innovation-averse framework. Public intervention to support energy innovation is thus both necessary and justified.

3.4

The main global players, the United States and Japan, but also emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, are facing the same challenges and are multiplying their efforts. Their market size, investment and research capacities far exceed those of most Member States. Fragmentation, multiple non-aligned research strategies and sub-critical capacities remain a prevailing characteristic of the EU research base. If we fall behind in the intensifying global race to win low carbon technology markets, we may need to rely on imported technologies to meet our targets, missing out on huge commercial opportunities for EU businesses.

3.5

The transition to a low carbon economy will take decades and touch every sector of the economy, but we cannot afford to delay action. Decisions taken over the next 10-15 years will have profound consequences for energy security, for climate change, for growth and jobs in Europe.

3.6

First and foremost, we need a step change in efficiency in energy conversion, supply and end-use. In transport, buildings and industry, available technology opportunities must be turned into business opportunities. We need to fully harness the potential for information and communication technologies and organisational innovation, as well as use public policy and market-based instruments (4) to manage demand and encourage new markets.

3.7

The Commission states in its documents that many of the technologies that will contribute to achieving the 2020 targets are already available today or in the final stages of development. According to even the most optimistic scenarios, however, it will still take considerable time to bring available technologies on stream and low-carbon technologies in general remain expensive and face market penetration obstacles. A twin-track approach is therefore needed: reinforced research to lower costs and improve performance; and pro-active support measures to create business opportunities, stimulate market development and address the non-technological barriers that discourage innovation and the market deployment of efficient and low-carbon technologies.

To achieve the vision of carbon-free technologies for 2050, we need to develop a new generation of these technologies through major breakthroughs in research. Even if some of these technologies will have little impact by 2020, it is vital that we reinforce efforts today to ensure that they come on-stream as early as possible.

3.8

Existing measures taken over recent years could serve as a foundation for further EU action: (i) the creation of European Technology Platforms, (ii) use of the European Research Area (ERA)-Net instrument for common research programming between Member States, and (iii) collaboration between research centres in specific fields through the Networks of Excellence. The SET-Plan will focus, strengthen and give coherence to the overall effort in Europe, with the objective of accelerating innovation in cutting edge European low carbon technologies. The SET-Plan proposes to deliver the following results: (i) a new joint strategic planning, (ii) a more effective implementation, (iii) an increase in resources, and (iv) a new and reinforced approach to international cooperation.

3.9

A new way of working at Community level requires an inclusive, dynamic and flexible means of guiding this process, defining priorities and proposing actions — a collective approach to strategic planning. Stakeholders have to start to communicate and take decisions in a more structured and mission-oriented way, conceiving and implementing actions together with the EC within a cooperative framework. To steer the implementation of the SET-Plan, reinforcing the coherence between national, European and international efforts, the Commission will establish a Steering Group on Strategic Energy Technologies in 2008. The Commission will organise a European Energy Technology Summit in the first half of 2009.

3.10

Effective strategic planning in the Steering Group requires regular and reliable information and data. Commission will establish an open-access information and knowledge management system. It will include ‘technology mapping’ and ‘capacities mapping’ developed by the Commission's Joint Research Centre (5).

3.11

To accelerate the development and market introduction processes we need more focussed and powerful mechanisms that can leverage the potential of public intervention, European industry and researchers. The mechanisms are these: (i) European Industrial Initiatives, (ii) the European Energy Research Alliance, and (iii) Trans-European energy networks and systems of the future.

3.12

Encouraging more focus and coordination between different funding schemes and sources will help to optimise investment, build capacity and ensure a continuity of funding for technologies in different phases of development. Two challenges need to be addressed: mobilising additional financial resources, for research and related infrastructures, industrial-scale demonstration and market replication projects; and education and training to deliver the quantity and quality of human resources required to take full advantage of the technology opportunities that the European energy policy will create.

3.13

The Commission intends to present a Communication on financing low carbon technologies at the end of 2008. Member States' own actions to increase the human resource base should be better coordinated to maximise synergies and increase mobility in the sector.

3.14

The measures proposed in the SET-Plan should bring about a reinforced international cooperation strategy. We also need to ensure that the EU increasingly speaks with one voice in international fora, where appropriate, to achieve a more coherent and stronger partnership effect.

3.15

Today, the energy technology innovation process is based on national programmes and incentives, using national resources to meet national objectives and targets. This model fits a bygone era of cheap energy and no carbon constraints. To bring about the dramatic changes in the energy sphere that will be necessary in the 21st century, a new policy needs to be pursued.

4.   General points

4.1

The EESC welcomes the Commission's Communication and accompanying working documents and concurs with the analysis and description of the position regarding energy technologies. Responding to the risks of global climate change while continuing to meet the high energy demands of mature economies and the rapidly increasing energy demands of developing economies is a significant international challenge. Without a sound strategy to develop and implement more economical and efficient energy technologies, any thought of curbing climate change is seriously undermined.

4.2

The Communication adds considerable weight to a key element of energy policy — a secure energy supply that is both viable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Security of supply means not just the physical availability of supplies, but also their availability at socially acceptable prices.

4.3

The Commission's Communication quite rightly puts the development of energy technologies at the forefront of efforts to rein in climate change, a position which echoes the conclusions adopted by the 13th Conference of Parties (COP 13) in Bali in December 2007 (6). Collaboration on this front now and in the future should also be made an EU priority, not least in view of the potential opportunities for Europe's economy afforded by the expansion of the necessary technologies.

4.4

The Commission's Communication is perfectly correct in drawing attention to the vital importance of time in implementing the proposed strategy (the SET-Plan) if the EU is to fulfil its March 2007 pledge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Unless there is an acceleration in organisation and in the final analysis of basic strategic approaches for the development of technologies (including taking on board the main strategic directions of development and research in the USA and Japan), it will be impossible to concentrate efforts and resources effectively to manage the first stage to 2020, let alone the second stage up to 2050.

4.5

If the EU is to speed up development and the practical application of new energy technologies, it requires more targeted and effective mechanisms which enlist the potential of public funding, industry, universities and research and boost the synergy between them. Europe has strong national research institutes for energy, as well as outstanding research teams working in universities and specialised centres. Regrettably, their work is not coordinated and the instruments so far used to steer their collaboration are inadequate. Exploiting this potential to the full is crucial to the success of the proposed plan. Wider collaboration is also required at the international level.

4.6

The EESC greatly values the position taken by the Commission in its Communication of urging financial, but above all human, resources to be mobilised at all four levels: the private sector, Member State level, Community level and worldwide. Thus far, conflicting priorities and protracted procedures have hampered mobilisation of funding. The proposed SET-plan must foster a change in attitudes and an acceleration in the decision-making process. Despite the fact that mobilising human resources — never a speedy process — is also a part of the Lisbon Strategy, efforts to find the human resources needed to implement proposed strategies are still inadequate and too slow. The first prerequisite for mobilising human resources is support across the board for education in science and technology.

4.7

The EESC notes that it is vital to come to an agreement not only on the visions, priorities and aims of energy policy, but also on a strategic plan for energy technologies.

4.8

The Committee thinks it would be detrimental if what is incontestably the most important instrument for curbing climate change — a strategy for the development and application of energy technologies — were to be overshadowed by other issues and instruments which, realistically speaking, must instead provide an important support framework for this development (EU ETS, support for the use of renewable energy sources, the Third Energy Package, etc.). Only a true shift toward more effective technologies in both energy production and consumption, can achieve a real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. One source of funding for technological development could be the auctioning of EU ETS allowances, assuming the proposal to introduce this procedure is adopted. However, on no account must this be the only source of funding, especially if it only comes into operation effectively in 2013.

5.   Special comments

5.1

The analysis of the present, very unsatisfactory, situation is remarkably succinct and pertinent, quite rightly pointing to organisational and administrative problems that society must tackle alongside the scientific and technological ones.

5.2

The premise underlying EU documents dealing with energy technologies is that there is no single energy technology — or even a few — that can have an important influence on progress in the energy field and help achieve the goals set out. On the contrary, there are many, and results will be achieved only by enlisting all of them. None that holds at least some promise should be dismissed out of hand without thorough examination, though those that offer the least should be jettisoned as quickly as possible so that resources are not needlessly squandered. Each Member State, and possibly every region, should be allowed to choose its priorities within the adopted strategic framework based on its expertise, experience and capacity for implementation.

5.3

Documents on this issue at EU level recommend that attention be given to technologies using renewables, clean heat energy technologies (including heat for producing electricity) and the latest infrastructure for distributing and storing energy. The EESC endorses these priorities. However, clean fossil fuel technologies, which will remain the most important primary energy source well into the future, nuclear energy (both fission and fusion) and safe storage of nuclear waste must continue to be an intrinsic part of the EU's research and development portfolio and must not be neglected.

5.4

The EESC agrees that the energy market has so far failed to provide energy policy-makers, governments and private investors with clear information on the urgency of developing new energy technologies because the costs of the various types of energy and fuels do not sufficiently include all the externalities, including social costs. This is also why there have still been no agreements at EU level on the priorities of energy research and development and on creating the funding and other instruments to support these priorities.

5.5

The EESC thinks that the strategic plan should include not only the setting of priorities at EU level, but also the effectively coordinated and swift establishment of specific priorities at Member State level, the allocation of sufficient funds from public finances, the optimum use of research and development capacities and private sector involvement encouraged by sufficient stimuli from the energy market, as well as other legal and fiscal instruments. It is absolutely vital that the private sector be heavily involved. The EU and the governments of the Member States must provide the necessary environment for this, not only by defining the principles, priorities and goals of energy policies, but also by creating the practical instruments to help meet these.

5.6

The key element is to establish market rules in the energy sector, especially the correct incorporation of externalities, including social costs, in energy prices, which will result in the market sending early signals to private investors and operators about the need for technological change to ensure the most effective use of different energy sources. The EU and the Member States will probably have to create a legislative and fiscal environment, including voluntary mechanisms, to ensure a better combination of public and private funding in energy research and development leading to greater use of resources.

5.7

There are not inconsiderable prospects for some countries with favourable natural conditions to make swifter progress in increasing the use of renewable sources of energy. But there are also countries which do not have such conditions or cannot exploit them economically. The feasibility of each Member State using renewable energy sources and being involved in programmes to develop energy technologies should be assessed on its natural environment and physically accessible resources.

5.8

The Committee finds the priorities set out in the Commission's Communication on the SET-Plan to be somewhat limited, particularly regarding renewable energy sources. They are no doubt important for increasing security of energy supply, lessening Member States' reliance on energy imports and for sustainability of development. For the time being, however, some forms of renewable energy are very costly and will continue to be so far into the future. Similarly, the integration of the energy market is not solely a matter of policy and organisation, but will also require the necessary research and development — into intelligent networks, for example.

5.9

It should not be forgotten that many countries are dependent on fossil fuels and nuclear energy and this dependency will continue into the foreseeable future. The same is true of third countries and the EU should coordinate its efforts with them to speed up research and development in energy technologies. For this reason, the EESC thinks the EU's priorities must not be focused predominantly on renewable energy technologies, since energy-saving technologies for end-use consumption and clean technologies based on fossil fuels (including carbon capture and storage) are equally important. The EU has a special agenda and regime for research and development regarding nuclear technologies. However, it is important to stress the need for research and development into energy from nuclear fission and — perhaps in the future — fusion and into the longevity and safety of nuclear plants, since these could have a lot to offer in terms of security of energy supply and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.

5.10

Of course, efforts to save energy in both its transformation and end consumption can make a large contribution to sustainable development, as can progress in advanced energy technologies. At EU level, better use of available financial and human resources in this very broad area can be facilitated by a properly devised and pursued strategic coordination of energy research and development which sets content and scheduling priorities at Community and Member State levels, together with the necessary operational mechanisms such as systems for management, monitoring and information flows. Effective standardisation of procedures and plants will also play a vital role.

5.11

In extending cooperation in the research and development of new energy technologies beyond the Community, priority should be given — before new agreements are concluded — to making the best use of existing institutions, contracts and agreements, especially those that have proved their worth.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  See the decision of the UN's 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change — the Bali Action Plan.

(2)  The EESC has issued a number of highly pertinent opinions on this issue, such as OJ C 241, 7.10.2002, p. 13 Research and Energy, which have lost nothing of their relevance.

(3)  Pielke, R.Jr at al, Dangerous assumptions, Nature, Vol. 452/3 p. 531, 532, 3 April 2008.

(4)  COM(2007)140 of 28.3.2007, Green Paper on market based instruments for environment and related policy purposes.

(5)  See Commission Staff Working Documents SEC(2007)1510 ‘Technology Map’ and SEC(2007)1511 Capacities Map.

(6)  See the decision of the UN's 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change — the Bali Action Plan.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/59


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The link between climate change and agriculture at European level’

(2009/C 27/14)

On 25 October 2007 the French Presidency of the Council wrote to the European Economic and Social Committee under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, to request an exploratory opinion on

The link between climate change and agriculture at European level.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Ribbe and the co-rapporteur was Mr Wilms.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 94 votes to 30 with 13 abstentions.

1.   Summary of EESC conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC was requested to draw up an exploratory opinion on The link between climate change and agriculture at European level by a letter from the French presidency of 25 October 2007. The Committee was specifically asked to discuss biofuels issues.

1.2

The EESC is extremely concerned by the negative effects of climate change on European agriculture and consequently on economic performance in many rural areas. Southern Europe is likely to be particularly hard-hit, in view of the expected long periods of drought and even water scarcity. At worst, these problems could result in total cessation of agricultural activities. However, farmers will also face serious problems in other parts of Europe due to climate change, for example in the form of major disruption to seasonal rainfall patterns. In addition, there is a risk of problems arising from new or more widespread plant diseases and pests.

1.3

Politicians must therefore act swiftly and incorporate climate policy into other policy areas.

1.4

Agriculture is not only a victim of climate change, but also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions; the main impact comes from emissions not of CO2, but of methane and nitrous oxide resulting from changes in land use and agricultural production itself. The EESC urges the Commission to conduct a more detailed analysis of differences between various types of agricultural land use in terms of climate impact, so that policy options can be developed, for example in relation to support for farmers. In this context, it welcomes the Commission's declaration of its intention to integrate climate protection more closely into the future common agricultural policy.

1.5

Agriculture can significantly contribute to combating climate change, for example by ensuring that the remaining carbon sinks in soils are not only retained but also developed through systematic use of compost, by reducing energy consumption and by producing biomass for energy needs using environmental methods.

1.6

The EESC does not feel that the EU's emerging future biofuel strategy, which according to Commission statements will to a large extent involve imports of agricultural raw materials, is the right way to achieve climate change targets in an economically efficient way while creating new jobs in farming and generating additional revenue. Rather, a judicious new biomass strategy should be drawn up to replace the biofuel strategy; instead of focussing on imports, this would aim to substantially increase the conversion of agricultural by-products/waste into useable energy, and give farmers an active role in newly reorganised decentralised energy cycles.

2.   Main elements and context of the opinion

2.1

Agriculture is probably the economic sector which is most strongly dependent on natural (including climate) conditions, and which uses, influences or changes them to the largest extent.

2.2

It is based on systematic use of the photosynthetic capabilities of plants to convert solar energy into energy that can be used by humans in the form of food or fodder. In addition, energy captured by photosynthesis has always been used for heating purposes (e.g. biomass in the form of wood).

2.3

Climate conditions, which have mainly been favourable for agriculture in Europe up till now, are a decisive factor reflected in the highly varied structures and diversity of European farming. What this means is that any change in conditions must affect agriculture and the associated environmental, economic and social regional structures.

3.   General observations

Agriculture as a victim of climate change

3.1

Climate changes, in particular the predicted rise in temperature and, to an even greater extent, changes in the amount of rainfall, will have a devastating effect on agriculture in some parts of Europe. Especially in southern Europe, long periods without rain, or even droughts, and the resulting potential desertification could make agricultural production impossible. In addition to this, large-scale fires are a very serious threat to agricultural land (1). Rural economies in such areas are seriously threatened. All scientific studies suggest that climate change will have an impact on pests and diseases, which will significantly reduce yields on the main food crops. Changes in the life cycle of pathogens will give rise to:

changes in the geographical distribution of pathogens,

changes in the incidence and severity of diseases,

changes in the disease control strategy.

3.2

In this context, the EESC would refer to the Commission's various publications and initiatives on this subject, such as the communication on Addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts in the European Union  (2) and the ideas and plans which it describes, the Green Paper on Adapting to climate change in Europe; indeed, the Commission has emphasised that there is a need to develop coherent land-use strategies. In addition, there are activities in progress in many countries.

3.3

Most Europeans and indeed political decision-makers are probably unable to imagine what would happen if, for example, farming had to be abandoned across large areas of southern Europe due to insufficient water supplies and extreme temperature conditions. This would also have negative repercussions for employment in the regions concerned owing to changes in land use.

3.4

The EESC therefore calls on all decision-makers to do everything they can to contain the negative impact on agriculture through a comprehensive and radical climate protection programme. It also essential that measures be taken to adapt agricultural activity to climate change. The agricultural sector will have to adapt efficiently and rapidly to future climate changes, since the success or failure of these measures will determine whether farming can continue.

3.4.1

According to the most recent OECD and FAO report, research and innovation must be key factors in combating climate change. Among the adaptation activities to be carried out, consideration should be given to promoting new plant species and varieties better adapted to climate change. Especially relevant here are advances in the improvement of plant and animal material.

The contribution of agriculture to climate change

3.5

For the EESC, it is necessary not only to discuss the negative repercussions of climate change for agriculture, but also to keep in mind that agriculture itself contributes to climate change and to take steps to reduce the climate-harming effects of agriculture. It is also important to take into account the various ways in which agriculture can help to combat climate change.

3.6

The Committee therefore appreciates that the Commission has identified climate policy as one of four new challenges for the CAP in its communication on the CAP Health Check (3).

3.7

Based on the IPCC definition, emissions originating directly from agriculture account for 10-12 % of total emissions. Altogether, it is estimated that agriculture contributes between 8.5-16.5 billion tonnes of CO2e to global emissions of greenhouse gases (4), i.e. 17-32 % of the total (5).

3.8

For Europe, the share of agriculture in greenhouse gas emissions is estimated to be much less than the corresponding figure for global emissions. The Commission mentions a figure of 9 %, based on the methods of calculation used by the IPCC. Since 1990 agriculture in the EU-27 has cut emissions by 20 %, and the EU-15 by 11 % (6). However, IPCC calculation methods do not take into account greenhouse gas emissions resulting from changes to land use, energy used to produce fertilisers and plant protection products, or tractor fuel. Thus, whereas e.g. the Commission puts the contribution of farming to German emissions at 6 %, the German federal government has produced an estimate of 11-15 %, taking into account all emissions resulting from agriculture.

The various implications of agricultural greenhouse gases

3.9

Agriculture only accounts for a small proportion of net CO2 emissions. The main reason for this is that plants initially absorb CO2 and convert it into organic matter. When biomass is used, the carbon which has been temporarily absorbed is released again as CO2. Hence, the carbon cycle is to a large extent closed.

3.10

According to the Fourth Assessment Report by the IPCC (7), the main climate policy concern in agriculture should be methane and nitrous oxide emissions. In Europe, around 40 % of total CH4 and N2O emissions originate from agriculture, and it is these greenhouse gases which have a particularly strong impact on climate; the global warming potentials of nitrous oxide and methane are about 296 and 23 times respectively that of CO2.

3.11

There are basically four aspects of agriculture which are of particular relevance to climate change:

a)

conversion of woodlands, peat bogs, wetlands or grassland into arable farmland,

b)

greenhouse gas emissions from cultivated land and livestock,

c)

energy use in farms and in upstream and downstream sectors, for example in the form of fuel, and energy used in the manufacture of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and other products (8), and

d)

production of biomass for energy.

3.12

Overall, conversion of hitherto uncultivated areas to agricultural use is of by far the greatest importance, and is a far greater cause of greenhouse gases than agricultural production and energy use. Every time that arable fields are created, greenhouse gases are released, as arable land stores the lowest average amount of carbon dioxide in its soil, except for deserts, semideserts and built-up areas (9).

3.13

The debate on the destruction of rainforests in the Amazon Basin or Indonesia is therefore seen as being of fundamental importance. The EESC would point out that Europe and European agriculture have something to do with large-scale deforestation in those parts of the world (10).

Changes in land use/carbon sinks

3.14

One major problem is that large areas of land are built on and hence lost to agricultural production and as carbon sinks. The EESC is disappointed that the planned directive on soil protection, which could make a substantial contribution here, has not yet been adopted.

3.15

Climate policy is concerned with six main carbon sinks (11). Of these, surface biomass and soils are of the most relevance to agriculture. Given that agriculture is based on annual harvests of the biomass which it produces, it does not create any new relevant surface carbon sinks in the form of biomass.

3.16

As a result of converting woodland, peat bogs and grassland into arable farmland, carbon stored in the soil is released. Hence, it is important for European farming that areas which still retain large reserves of carbon are preserved. To this end, incentives must be developed through appropriate support instruments to encourage the right farming methods.

3.17

Based on our current knowledge, climate change alone is sufficient reason to impose an immediate ban on conversion of peat bogs and woodland.

3.18

Over the past few decades in Europe, there has been large-scale conversion of grassland into arable land; despite various restrictions (12), this process is not yet over, and is indeed regaining momentum in some regions due to increased energy farming.

3.19

The reason for increased conversion of grassland to arable land is that farmers' profit margins on arable land are significantly higher. Using land for grazing is more labour-intensive, and grass alone is no longer sufficient to enable cattle to achieve the ‘desired’ high yields. Livestock is therefore dependent on energy feedstuffs, production of which requires a significantly higher energy input.

3.20

The EESC will play close attention to how environmental and agricultural policies deal with this situation, for example in the context of legislative proposals relating to the CAP Health Check. The Committee calls for an intensive debate on ways of making land use which is climate-friendly and compatible with nature conservation economically attractive to farmers once again.

Greenhouse gases from agricultural production

3.20.1

The use of nitrogen fertilisers of both synthetic and organic origin is the main culprit for emissions of nitrous oxide. Whenever there is intensive use of nitrogen fertilisers, there is always a risk of plants not being able to absorb them quickly or fully enough, thus releasing nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. Up until now, environmental policy was mainly concerned with the resulting pollution of ground and surface water, but now climate change is an additional reason for a more critical look at nutrient cycles.

3.20.2

In a study on nitrous oxide emissions, climate researcher Professor Crutzen analysed nitrous oxide emissions in the production chain from rape to biodiesel (13), and reached the conclusion that in certain conditions rape methyl ester can have a more harmful effect on climate than diesel from crude oil, precisely because of its high nitrous oxide emissions resulting from the use of chemical fertilisers.

3.20.3

Another source of agricultural nitrous oxide emissions, which is less significant in quantitative terms, is the decomposition of organic matter in soils, particularly in arable farming.

3.20.4

Most agricultural methane emissions in Europe are caused by ruminant livestock, and cattle in particular. The EESC is aware that methane emissions from ruminant animals are of growing international importance (14), and that at global level the problem will become more serious as numbers of cattle rise. It is true that cattle stocks in Europe have decreased over the last few years (15), but it should also be borne in mind that Europe is a net importer in this field.

3.21

Eating meat has an impact on climate. Around 10 plant-derived calories are needed to produce one animal-derived calorie. Rising consumption of meat requires increased cultivation of fodder, which in turn requires more energy and increases the pressure for higher yields from agricultural land. With relatively high levels of meat consumption, Europe imports a large part of its fodder requirements, cultivation of which is often responsible for very serious problems (e.g. soya in the Amazon Basin). The EESC is therefore in favour of framing and implementing a European strategy on proteins.

3.22

Not only the volume of meat produced but also livestock farming methods are relevant here. For example, meat and milk may derive from energy-extensive pasture farming, with cows using grassland — whose importance for climate protection has been underestimated — during the growing season. However, meat and milk also originate from energy-intensive farms which do not use grassland and in which cattle are mainly fed corn silage or other energy-rich arable fodder crops.

Energy use in agriculture

3.23

The advantage of agriculture is that it directly converts solar energy into useable crop-based energy; however, the greater the input of energy from fossil fuels into the production process, and the fewer plant products which are consumed directly by people and instead are ‘upgraded’ to animal products, the less significant this advantage becomes.

3.24

Whereas organic farms refrain from using industrially manufactured, water-soluble chemical fertilisers and plant protection products, for example, the energy consumption and climate impact of conventional farming is exacerbated by the use of such substances.

3.24.1

Some comparative studies of agricultural performance in terms of general energy and materials consumption, as well as carbon sequestration, show that average energy and nitrogen inputs are less for organic farming than conventional agriculture. Even if the higher yields of conventional agriculture are taken into account, the global warming potential of organic farming is less (16). This is, for example, why the German federal government considers support for organic farming as a contribution to climate protection (17).

3.24.2

Some other studies have reached different conclusions.

3.25

Therefore, information on certain aspects of the problem is still sparse and contradictory; partly in view of this, the EESC urges the Commission to conduct a detailed analysis of how the various forms of agricultural and non-agricultural land use differ in terms of climate impact, so that policy options can then be developed, for example in the field of support for farmers.

Contribution of agriculture to solving climate change problems

3.26

Thus agriculture can contribute in many different ways to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from current levels. This includes things like not converting forest, moorland, wetlands and grassland into arable land, and reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions through sustainable land management and if possible long-term land cover (catch crop cultivation), multiple crop rotation (e.g. to minimise pest problems), appropriate fertiliser use, etc.

3.27

For a long time, energy inputs were not really regarded as problematic, especially as energy was available very cheaply. The EESC sees an urgent need to focus more in the future on particularly energy-efficient forms of management and to promote these. Organic farming and so-called low-input production (e.g. extensive pasturing) can make a contribution here.

3.28

Experiments in the field of so-called mixed cultivation have produced promising results. For instance, different types of crop are cultivated in the same field with pulses and oil plants, which means less use of fertilisers and pesticides, as well as increased biodiversity and promotion of compost.

3.29

Compost use is crucially important for climate change. In future, there should be more of a focus on achieving the most stable and highest compost content on agricultural land in particular, which often necessitates changes in crop rotation. The EESC calls on the Commission to evaluate studies available jointly with research institutes in the Member States and if necessary to commission further studies, in order to seek and support optimum procedures.

3.30

This also means considering the importance should be given to solid dung use. It must also be clarified whether whole-plant utilisation, as planned for second-generation biofuels, might not undermine the objectives of humus creation.

4.   Bioenergy/biofuels from agriculture

4.1

The French presidency has requested the EESC to look at the subject of biofuels in conjunction with this opinion. Obviously, the Committee is happy to oblige, but would also refer to its existing opinions on the subject (18) setting out in detail its critical position on the current biofuels strategy.

4.2

Given the high CO2 emissions of coal, oil and gas, thought is rightly being given to using more energy produced directly by plants The EESC has on several occasions essentially approved the use of bioenergy, but would like to point out some basic principles that it considers indispensable.

4.2.1

The EESC stresses that the right to adequate food is explicitly recognised as an important part of the broader human rights. The production of basic foodstuffs has to take priority over energy production.

4.2.2

It is also important that no land should be used for growing energy crops that is currently either a major carbon sink or of key importance for biodiversity. The EESC is pleased that the Commission has acknowledged the need for energy crops to be subject to sustainability criteria. The EESC's opinion on the proposed directive on renewable energies will include a detailed discussion of whether the directive's sustainability criteria are sufficient or not. The EESC is in favour of applying appropriate sustainability criteria to fuels in general, irrespective of where they come from, as well as to animal feed.

4.2.3

Using agricultural waste products and, for example, biomass from landscape management provides high energy potential in Europe, but this is only being harnessed to a limited extent because specialised (i.e. more energy-intensive) cultivation of energy crops is more cost-effective. Assistance policy has so far sent out the wrong signals here.

4.2.4

When using bioenergy, it is important to ensure maximum efficiency. For example, there is no point in making biogas from maize produced by energy-intensive cultivation if the heat produced through electricity generation cannot be sold, as in this case about two thirds of the energy actually produced is immediately lost again.

4.2.5

Current production of energy crops often requires an initial high energy input, and the resulting plants or oils must undergo further energy-intensive industrial processing. This leads to poor or even negative net energy and climate balances of many biofuels that can be ruinous.

4.2.6

For this reason the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) was doubtful in its study Biofuels in the European Context about the possibility of achieving even the Commission's own goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by having a 10 % share of biofuels in the energy mix. Other studies (19) have come to the same conclusion.

4.2.7

The JRC study also raises a crucial point, which the EESC believes must become a principle of policy-making. The biomass produced should be used where it is most needed. The watchword is ‘efficiency’ (20). Why should the molecular structures of energy-intensive crops be changed by industrial processing, if they can be used to produce energy directly? The JRC notes that stationary heating and power generation uses as much oil as diesel vehicle engines in the EU. If energy crops were used here, 1 MJ of biomass could replace about 0.95 MJ of fossil fuel. But 1 MJ of biomass replaces only about 0.35 to 0.45 MJ of crude oil when used in the transport sector.

4.2.8

However, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector can be reduced by using electric vehicles running on energy produced by the burning of biomass.

4.3

In its opinion Energy mix in transport  (21) the EESC notes that the internal combustion engine will be replaced by electric traction in the transport sector. It makes no sense to manage crop-based energy as inefficiently as is the case now for biofuels.

4.4

A comparative study carried out by Empa (22) calculated that for a VW Golf to go 10 000 km using biodiesel, rape would have to be cultivated over an area of 2 062 square metres. By contrast, solar cells could produce the energy needed for a journey of 10 000 km on an area of 37 m2, which is around 1/60th of the area required with rape.

4.5

It must also be questioned whether it is worth refining plant oils for use in internal combustion engines. Why are engines not adapted to the plant oils' molecular structure? Engines have already been developed, e.g. for tractors and trucks, that can run on pure plant oil and meet all the emissions limits set and planned by the EU. More support is needed for such innovations.

4.6

The oils required for such engines can be cultivated in a mixture with other crops, processed in the region, and used locally. This means that farmers could, with environment and climate-friendly low-input processes, not only produce their own motive power, but also initiate new, regional energy cycles. This would bypass energy-intensive further industrial processing.

4.7

The EESC therefore feels that what Europe needs is not so much a simple biofuels strategy as a well-thought-out European biomass strategy; this could be far more climate-friendly and productive of new jobs than the currently emerging biofuels strategy, which is likely to rely heavily on imports of energy crops.

5.   New jobs with climate-friendly agriculture and agricultural policy

5.1

It is true that climate change is threatening agriculture in parts of Europe, but at the same time it can also represent an opportunity for agriculture and for Europe's workforce, if agriculture is serious enough about its role in relation to the new trends in climate policy and promotes that role.

5.2

Agriculture remains an important source of employment in the European Union. One Commission communication contains a detailed discussion of employment trends in rural areas (23). It points out that despite being a relatively small employer, agriculture is very important in rural areas. The Commission expects jobs in agriculture (full-time equivalents) to decrease from the current 10 million by 4-6 million.

5.3

At the same time, a shortage of skilled labour is forecast for many European countries, especially of workers who are able to take up leadership roles or operate complex technology. In addition, shortages of skilled labour are aggravated by the fact that existing jobs are unattractive. The Committee has already explicitly commented on this development and pointed out that a discussion of job quality is necessary (24).

Job-creating potential of bioenergy

5.4

The potential for environment friendly production of biomass for energy in Europe was investigated in a 2006 report carried out by the European Environment Agency. If biomass from waste (e.g. household waste) and forestry is included, 15-16 % of estimated primary energy needs of the EU-25 could be produced in this way in 2030. This could guarantee or even create 500 000 to 600 000 jobs in rural areas.

5.5

Whether bioenergy creates new jobs and if so, how many, closely depends on the strategy adopted. The Scientific Advisory Board of the German Federal Ministry for Agriculture forecasts that the most beneficial effect in terms of climate protection and job creation will be achieved if the focus is on ‘producing bioenergy in heat-led cogeneration systems or heating systems based on woodchips or on biogas derived from liquid manure and waste materials’. However, if support for bioenergy means a shift from livestock farming or, as current trends suggest, a reliance on imported biofuels, the employment impact on rural areas will be negative.

5.6

Examples of successful transition to closed-loop bioenergy systems show certain types of bioenergy production to be economically, environmentally and socially advantageous, for both agriculture and regional labour markets. (The municipalities of Mureck and Güssing (both in Austria) as well as Jühnde (Germany) have achieved renewable energy supply levels of up to 170 %). This impressive environmental performance is accompanied by a positive impact on the local labour market (local crafts), without even counting jobs for farmers delivering raw material (25).

5.7

Since income and wealth differentials between urban and rural areas can be expected to widen further, particular attention must be paid to rural areas in employment policy. Sustainable production of energy crops and their conversion into energy can secure and create jobs in rural areas, if value added then remains in the region.

Guaranteeing high-quality jobs in agriculture

5.8

The goal of climate protection can be achieved only with the help of skilled labour. Businesses must provide the right training framework for them to achieve this.

Setting and guaranteeing social standards

5.9

It is generally assumed that demand for imported biomass from developing countries and emerging economies will increase further. In this situation, potential cost advantages must not be used if that means destroying the environmental and social fabric in producer countries. The production of bioenergy must therefore comply with the ILO Core Labour Standards and its employment protection standards (26).

Involvement of workers and trade unions

5.10

Structural change in agriculture will have a considerable impact on the quality of jobs and incomes. Workers and trade unions must therefore participate in this process of change. Since models of worker involvement vary widely within Europe, more consideration must be given to the participation concerns of agricultural workers within the current European and national structures. This is particularly important because these forms of communication and idea-sharing can protect and preserve jobs.

5.11

The European social dialogue committee for agriculture, which was set up in 1999, is a representative grouping of social partners for questions of employment and future development of the new role of agriculture, serving as a qualified expert and advisory body. The EESC recommends that the Commission strengthen the role of this body, not least in relation to climate policy. As experts on climate-related issues in agriculture, the social partners should have more say at national level on the committees that monitor the development of rural areas.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  e.g. fires in Greece in 2007 which destroyed olive plantations, among other things.

(2)  COM(2007) 414 final, 18.7.2007, EESC opinion OJ C 224, 30.8.2008, p. 67 adopted on 29 May 2008.

(3)  COM(2007) 722 final.

(4)  CO2e = carbon dioxide equivalent.

(5)  Cool Farming: Climate impacts of agriculture and mitigation potential, Study by Greenpeace, December 2007.

(6)  Source: European Environment Agency, EEA Report 5/2007.

(7)  IPCC WG III Chapter 8 (2007), Agriculture.

(8)  Including fodder.

(9)  Soils are the second-largest stores of carbon dioxide, after the seas. The EESC is aware that the there are some quite major discrepancies in figures from different sources, but the following are some statistics: arable land contains about 60 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare, grassland and woodland soils contain twice as much (in woodlands, additional carbon dioxide is also stored in trees), and a hectare of moorland can store up to 1 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

(10)  For example, production of soya as fodder for European livestock and palm or jatropha oil production for energy purposes (‘bio’ fuels).

(11)  Oil, coal and gas reserves, surface biomass, carbon stored in soils, and oceans.

(12)  Such as cross-compliance criteria.

(13)  ‘N2O release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming reduction by replacing fossil fuels’, in: Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 7, 11191-11205, 2007.

(14)  Around 3.3 billion tons CO2e/year.

(15)  Global cattle stocks: 1 297 million head of cattle (in 1990), 1 339 million (2004), EU (25): 111.2 million (in 1990), 86.4 million (2004), China: 79.5 million (in 1990), 106.5 million (in 2004).

(16)  For example, see the feature on ‘Klimaschutz und Öko-Landbau’ (Climate protection and organic farming) in: Ökologie & Landbau, 1/2008.

(17)  The federal government's reply to the parliamentary question put by the BÜNDNIS 90/Die Grünen Group on ‘agriculture and climate protection’, Parliamentary Paper 16/5346, paragraph 13.

(18)  OJ C 44, 16.2.2008, p. 34, and opinion TEN 338 on the proposal for a directive on renewable energy (COM(2008)019), under preparation.

(19)  e.g. that of the Scientific Advisory Board of the German Federal Ministry for Agriculture.

(20)  OJ C 162, 25.6.2008, p. 72.

(21)  OJ C 162, 25.6.2008, p. 52.

(22)  Empa is a research institute for materials science and technology belonging to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.

(23)  COM(2006) 857 final, Employment in rural areas: closing the jobs gap.

(24)  OJ C 120, 16.5.2008, p. 25.

(25)  For more information, see www.seeg.at.

(26)  http://www.ilo.org/global/What_we_do/InternationalLabourStandards/lang--en/index.htm.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/66


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/87/EC so as to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading system of the Community’

COM(2008) 16 final — 2008/0013 (COD)

(2009/C 27/15)

On 13 February 2008 the Council of the European Union decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 175 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/87/EC so as to improve and extend the greenhouse gas emission allowance trading system of the Community.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Adams.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 124 votes to 2 with 8 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and Recommendations

1.1

The value of the Emission Trading System (ETS) will be measured by its impact on European GHG emissions and its relevance and example in stimulating global action and/or evolving into a comprehensive global scheme. In this context:

The move towards more auctioning of allowances is welcome as it is in line with the polluter-pays-principle, avoids windfall profits, incentivises and funds low carbon installations and products and fosters innovation.

Measures in order to protect specific energy-intensive sectors and sub-sectors vulnerable to international competition should be considered in the absence of an effective international agreement on climate change which places emission reduction obligations on all respective industries globally in order to avoid ‘carbon leakage’. The EU ETS must not have a negative impact on the competitiveness of EU industry.

Regulation on auctioning should be prepared and adopted as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary uncertainties.

Proposals should be advanced by the Commission as to how the commitment to move from a 20 % to a 30 % reduction target will be achieved in the event of an international agreement.

Every effort should be made to influence and form a common platform with emerging ‘cap and trade’ legislation in the USA and other OECD countries.

Maritime transport should be included in the ETS if effective proposals are not urgently presented by the International Maritime Organisation.

1.2

The ETS must be seen to stimulate a low-carbon economy and encourage climate protection, adaptation and mitigation.

If free allowances are provided, this should be done in the context of rigorous benchmarking and performance-based targets.

At least 50 % of revenues from allowance auctioning should be mandated to support the measures defined in Article 10.3.a-f.

Potential disincentives which may limit the contribution and growth of co-generation (CHP — combined heat and power) and efficient district heating schemes should be eliminated.

The action on issues of forestry as a carbon sink, deforestation and land use must have greater emphasis than currently allowed for in the Commissions package.

1.3

The ETS should seek to minimise bureaucratic obstacles and achieve clarity and transparency.

Those measures in the proposal whose development is currently left to the comitology process need urgent attention and clarification.

The Commission should consider raising — from 10 000 to 25 000 tonnes — the exclusion limit for small installations, provided equivalent, compensatory measures are in place.

1.4

The ETS should be seen as equitable within the EU whilst recognising the pressing need of newly industrialising and less developed countries to create sustainable growth and poverty alleviation.

A rebalancing of the burden between the sectors covered by ETS and those outside of it is to be considered.

The implications of restricting the use of Joint Implementation (JI)/Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) credits in the absence of an international agreement should be reviewed.

A solution must be found to potential difficulties which may be caused in those Eastern European Member States whose main grid electricity supply comes from Russia rather than the EU.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The ETS was established by Directive 2003/87/EC in October 2003. It aims to control contributing factors to climate change, specifically anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs), by providing economic incentives for lowering emissions. It is a ‘cap and trade’ system where a limit or cap has been set on the amount of a pollutant (mainly CO2) that can be emitted. The ETS is the EU's most significant mechanism for limiting GHGs, preferred over direct taxation on carbon or direct regulation.

3.   General Principles

3.1

The current ETS applies to over 10 000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors, together responsible for 40 % of the EU's GHGs. Installations are issued emission permits ex ante and are required to surrender a number of allowances (or credits) which represent the right to emit a specific amount equivalent to their actual emissions. The total amount of allowances and credits cannot exceed the cap, limiting total emissions to that level. Companies that emit more GHGs than the number of allowances they received must buy credits from those who pollute less or at the auctions of any further allowances.

3.2

The transfer of allowances is referred to as a trade. In effect, any emitter under the system is paying a charge for polluting, while any installation will be rewarded for having reduced emissions by more than was needed. Thus, in theory, those that can easily reduce emissions most cheaply will do so, achieving the pollution reduction at the lowest possible cost to society. In the ETS an ‘allowance’ equates to the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent for a specified period — other GHGs being converted into CO2 equivalents.

3.3

Member States may also allow the use of credits from emission-saving projects in third countries in the same way as allowances. Such projects have to be recognised under Kyoto's Joint Implementation (JI) mechanism or Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

4.   ETS trading periods

4.1   ETS first trading period 1.1.2005-31.12.2007

4.1.1

The first learning phase established the infrastructure of emissions trading but was severely limited in effectiveness by over-allocation of allowances by Member States (For the first and second phase Member States have drawn up national allocation plans — NAPs — giving a total level of emissions and how many allowances each installation receives.). There was a wide variation in the allowance trading price during this period, including a collapse of the carbon price by the end of the first trading period.

4.1.2

Numerous criticisms of the ETS emerged which focused on initial allocation methods and the use of proceeds; the level of the cap; problems of equity, complexity, monitoring and enforcement; the risk of encouraging relocation to unregulated countries by major emitting industries; the value, credibility and reliability of JI/CDM credits and the future imposition of disadvantageous production costs. It became clear that these issues would have to be dealt with in revisions to the ETS for the system to gain credibility with both industry and NGOs.

4.2   ETS second trading period 1.1.2008-31.12.2012

4.2.1

This phase applies to all 27 MS and coincides with the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and the requirement to reduce GHGs. So far the allowance trading price has been on a stable upward trend at levels that strongly encourage reduction measures. The current (May 2008) trading price is around EUR 25 per tonne. For this period the Commission has carried out a systematic assessment of the caps proposed by Member States based on verified emissions and as a result emissions from ETS sectors have been capped at an average of 6.5 % below 2005 levels. There has been little other scope for system change or modification in the second trading period though emitters actively continue to respond and adjust. Data verification and trading experience continues to accumulate, which, for the most part, confirms the schemes underlying concept.

4.3   ETS third trading period 2013-2020

4.3.1

The Commission is now proposing significant changes to the ETS which will take effect during this phase. This is the purpose of amending Directive 2003/87/EC.

5.   Summary of the proposed amending Directive

5.1

Although the EU ETS has created the world's largest single carbon market (1), the initial excessive allocation of (free) allowances in NAPs was a setback and clearly not in line with efficient reduction of emissions in the ETS sectors, EU-wide. In the context of firm GHG reduction commitments the revised ETS is seen as essential in providing a long-term carbon price signal, enabling incentives for low-carbon investments and transforming Europe into a low GHG economy.

5.2

The amendments will:

introduce one EU-wide cap on emission allowances instead of 27 national caps — NAPs will cease to exist;

greatly increase the proportion of allowances which are auctioned and harmonise rules on free allocation to promote carbon-efficient technologies;

establish part of the rights to auction as based on per capita income;

streamline key definitions and improve legal and technical clarity;

include new sectors (petrochemicals, ammonia and aluminium) and new GHGs (nitrous oxide and perfluorocarbons) increasing coverage by 6 %;

enable smaller installations to be excluded from the ETS, subject to compensating measures;

set out rules for the use of credits stemming from JI/CDM projects.

5.3

Starting in 2013, allowances will decrease annually (2) leading to a 21 % reduction of GHGs in the EU ETS sector by 2020, compared with 2005. This reduction process will be continued into the fourth phase (2021-2028) at the same rate. Concurrently, the proportion of allowances being auctioned will be increased, starting at 60 % in 2013. It is proposed that the power generation sector should not receive any free allocation and would thus be required to purchase all allowances at auction or at the secondary market from 2013, with a general phasing out of free allowances in other sectors by 2020. The exceptions will be sectors judged to be at significant risk of ‘carbon leakage’ — relocation to countries without comparable emission constraints and therefore increasing emissions globally. Such sectors may have a free allowance of up to 100 %. This decision will be taken in 2011. Member States will carry out the auctions and be encouraged, though not required, to use income to invest in climate friendly policies.

5.4

Certainty is given that JI/CDM credits (from third countries) which can now be purchased by EU operators can be used in the period until 2020. The total number to be used in this period is equal to the total quantity that has been allowed for use in the 2nd trading period, i.e. 1.4 billion allowances, which corresponds to one third of the overall reduction effort. When the EU steps up its reduction effort in the context of an international climate pact, 50 % of the additional effort can be achieved by JI/CDM credits.

5.5

Although credits from land use (carbon ‘sinks’ like forests) will not be allowed, domestic credits from emission saving schemes not covered by the ETS could be allowed, provided straightforward rules can be devised.

5.6

Provision has been made for the EU ETS to link with other trading systems to encourage the development of a worldwide system.

5.7

Contingent on the conclusion of an international agreement, the amount of allowances under the ETS will be reduced in line with this agreement, while the scope for recurring to CDMs will be increased.

5.8

A 5 % provision of allocations for new installations that enter the system after 2013 will be made. It is probable that aircraft emissions will become part of the ETS towards the end of the second period but this is covered by a separate proposal (3).

5.9

There are no provisions for including maritime transport into the ETS.

6.   General Comments

6.1

The EU ETS is not an academic exercise nor a type of ‘green’ taxation. It combines elements of a free market approach with regulation and general direction mediated and adjusted through a political process. Individual companies are free to choose how or if they will reduce their emissions and should select the least-cost way to comply with the pollution regulation. The ETS's main role is therefore to create incentives which reduce the cost of achieving a pollution reduction goal. The EESC endorses and supports this approach.

6.2

The existing pollution reduction goal — to stabilise GHGs in the atmosphere at 450-550 ppm by 2050 — is estimated to cost around 1 % of global GDP. Failure to act effectively could reduce global GDP by 20 % (4). However, the continuing flow of evidence and research (5) indicates accelerating GHG production, a reduction in the planet's absorption capacity and seriously questions whether reduction targets are adequate.

6.3

The ETS is effectively aiming at definitive leadership in what must become a global effort. This process is taking place in a global setting as the atmosphere is part of the global commons. Therefore evaluation of the system cannot exclude its interaction and impact on global polluters.

6.4

It should be noted that outline legislation in the US, likely to come into effect in the new administration, is based on a cap-and trade system with similar features. The possibility of a joint US/EU programme would be a highly significant step towards a global scheme, as would links with other proposed schemes in OECD countries.

6.5

The EESC has therefore paid particular attention to the role of the ETS in delivering equitable and sustainable impact on global GHG reduction. Does it demonstrate that European action is both credible and effective? In this context it has to be stated that the EU target of a 20 % reduction in GHG emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels (which underlies the ETS and the burden sharing proposals) is lower than the 25-40 % reduction range for industrialised nations which was supported by the EU at the Bali Climate Change Conference in December 2007. The Commission starts from the targets as agreed in the European Spring Council 2007 leaving undiscussed whether this level of reduction is really sufficient to achieve global objectives or whether it is just the maximum reduction that may conceivably be accepted, given the balance of short-term political and economically motivated interests of Member States. The EESC concludes that accumulating evidence on climate change demands the re-setting of targets to achieve greater GHG emission reductions.

6.6

The EESC supports the move towards more auctioning of allowances. Auctioning is in line with the polluter-pays-principle, avoids windfall profits, gives incentives and generates funds to invest in low carbon installations and products and thus fosters innovation.

6.7

There are, at present, many unresolved issues which concern European business in general. These centre around a revised ETS imposing competitive disadvantages on industry, particularly with respect to newly industrialising countries outside the EU. Such countries argue, with some justification, that two centuries of Western industrialisation and contributory GHG emissions must be taken into account, as must their drive to lift substantial sectors of their population out of poverty. A global agreement resolving such issues will need to be confident that it has greater support and understanding of these factors by consumers and industry in OECD countries.

7.   Specific Comments

7.1

If the EU ETS is to become the global standard for carbon trading then it is essential that the scheme is as robust and effective as possible. The EESC therefore recommends:

7.1.1

The free allocation of allowances to specific large energy-intensive sectors and sub-sectors vulnerable to international competition should only be considered in the absence of an effective international agreement on climate change which places emission reduction obligations on all respective industries globally. The EU ETS must not have a negative impact on the competitiveness of EU industry.

7.1.2

If possible, an earlier decision should be made as regards the sectors which will, due to the risk of carbon leakage, receive free allowances. These sectors will be identified by June 2010 but a decision should be made earlier, in connection with the directives, so as to avoid uncertainty in the investment climate and so that the sectors concerned can make necessary long-term plans.

7.1.3

Although auctioning is to be the major allowance allocation method, there is almost no indication of how such auctioning would be organised. Reference to introduce a regulation on auctioning only by 31 December 2010 brings additional uncertainty for all of the EU ETS participants in view of the necessary pending massive investments in the energy sector.

7.1.4

A rebalancing of the burden between the sectors covered by ETS and those outside of it is to be considered. The EESC questions if the distribution of the reduction obligations between sectors covered by ETS (– 21 % compared to 2005 levels) and the others (– 10 % compared to 2005 levels) is justified. Research (6) shows that in some sectors which are not covered by ETS, especially in the two biggest ones, buildings and transport, there is a potential to reduce emissions at zero or even at negative costs. These are moreover sectors where the risk of carbon leakage is relatively small or nonexistent. The buildings sector in addition has a large potential for job creation within the EU.

7.1.5

All allowances allocated to air transport when it joins the scheme are to be auctioned (7).

7.1.6

In view of the growing GHGs emissions from shipping (1.12 billion tonnes globally — twice as much as emissions from aviation (8)) the Commission should bring forward measures to include shipping in the ETS if effective proposals are not urgently presented by the International Maritime Organisation.

7.1.7

The revenue generated through the auctioning of allowances, currently estimated at EUR 50 billion per annum by 2020, should be, to a much greater degree, mandated to fund climate protection, mitigation and adaptation measures — with a specific focus on vulnerable, less-developed countries and towards research and development. In the proposal (Article 10 paragraph 3) suggesting a 20 % allocation is insufficient and misses an opportunity to greatly stimulate the move to a low-carbon economy. The EESC recommends this is increased to at least 50 % of revenues. Attention should be paid to supporting the role of forestry, reafforestation and the prevention of deforestation in the EU and elsewhere where this is demonstrated to provide an effective carbon sink.

7.1.8

Greater clarity and transparency should be apparent in those measures in the proposal whose development is currently left to the comitology procedure.

7.1.9

The Commission should consider raising — from 10 000 to 25 000 tonnes — the exclusion limit for small installations, provided equivalent, compensatory measures are in place.

7.1.10

A clearer indication should be given in the proposal of how, once an international agreement has been reached, the EU will fulfil its commitment to make a further increase in CO2 reduction from 20 % to 30 %.

7.1.11

To prevent an adverse effect on the growth and contribution of co-generation (CHP) schemes MS are urged to review their ‘feed-in’ tariffs.

7.1.12

Regarding district heating, measures should be taken to avoid disincentivising efficient examples of such programmes.

7.1.13

A solution must be found to potential difficulties which may be caused in those Eastern European Member States whose main grid electricity supply comes from Russia rather than the EU.

7.1.14

The current proposal to limit the possibility to use JI/CDM credits pending an international agreement should be kept under review, particularly in the light of the adverse effects on the developing international capital funding market for such programmes.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  The World Bank, State and Trends of the Carbon Market, May 2007.

(2)  From 1.974 million tonnes of CO2 to 1.720 million tonnes.

(3)  EESC opinion: OJ C 175 of 27.7.2007, p. 47.

(4)  The Stern Review 2006.

(5)  According to the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, CO2 levels in the atmosphere are already at 387 ppm, the highest for at least the last 650 000 years.

(6)  Vattenfall/McKinsey, The Climate Map

http://www.vattenfall.com/www/ccc/ccc/Gemeinsame_Inhalte/DOCUMENT/567263vattenfall/P0271636.pdf.

(7)  Consistent with the Committee's previous recommendation, OJ C 175, 27.7.2007, p. 47.

(8)  IMO report February 2008.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/71


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the effort of Member States to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Community's greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments up to 2020’

COM(2008) 17 final — 2008/0014 (COD)

(2009/C 27/16)

On 11 February 2008, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 175 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the:

Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council on the effort of Member States to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Community's greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments up to 2020.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Morkis.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 116 votes to 2 with 8 abstentions.

1.   Summary of the EESC's comments and recommendations

1.1

The European Economic and Social Committee welcomes the European Commission's initiative under which, to combat climate change, Member States are asked to share the effort of meeting the Community's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sources not covered under Directive 2003/87/EC (sources outside the EU emissions trading scheme (EU ETS)) from 2013 to 2020.

1.2

The Committee recognises and endorses the EU's leading role in the international negotiations on environmental and climate protection commitments. Through its own commitments, the EU is leading by example and seeking to spur other countries on to comparable measures.

1.3

The Committee considers that civil society has a key role to play in implementing the decision and meeting the commitments undertaken by the countries concerned. The Member States should do more to promote community initiatives designed to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and develop ways of backing up such initiatives:

Civil society as a whole could play a key role in implementing this decision. The requirements of the decision and its means of implementation in each Member State thus need to be more widely disseminated.

There is also a need to increase the emphasis on educational campaigns to raise public awareness and understanding of the need for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is also vital to train experts and raise broad public awareness in the fields of energy-saving, environmental protection and climate change.

1.4

The Committee believes that measures to cut greenhouse emissions should be implemented in such a way as to protect and even enhance Europe's economic competitiveness in a long term perspective. Renewable energy development and energy efficient products and modes of production will increasingly be in demand in the world, and Europe is well placed to gain a competitive edge by becoming a world leader in many of these areas. The EU and the Member States must support such R&D.

1.5

Under Article 3(3) of the proposed decision, a Member State may carry forward from the following year a quantity of greenhouse gas emissions equal to 2 % of the limit of that Member State or, if the emissions are below the limit in paragraph 2, may carry over its excess reductions to the subsequent year. This provision is too rigid, as the one-year timeframe lacks the flexibility required to implement large-scale projects and deliver good results. That is especially important for small Member States implementing large-scale GHG mitigation projects.

The Commission proposes that each Member State should prepare a plan for achieving its national target. However, the average annual emissions of GHG during the period 2013-2020 should not be higher than the average of annual emissions from 2005 to 2020. In the Committee's view it will be important for the implementation of these plans to be monitored regularly at national and European level to allow any divergences to be identified promptly and corrective action taken.

1.6

In order to enhance the overall cost efficiency of the total commitment of the Community and to achieve the joint objectives at the lowest cost, the Committee feels that the decision should enable a Member State, on the basis of bilateral, intergovernmental agreements, to be able to transfer part of its allowed GHG emissions entitlement to another Member State.

1.7

The Committee feels that, by using flexible tools in projects designed to secure the joint implementation of the Clean Development Mechanism, an appropriate balance must be struck between action taken within the EU to cut greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand, and a sense of solidarity in the face of the introduction of emission-reducing measures in developing countries on the other. However, the use of flexible tools should be appropriate only when they really reduce global GHG emissions. They should not stimulate leakage of GHG emissions from EU to non-EU countries.

1.8

The Committee endorses the commitments made and approves effort-sharing between Member States. It believes the public must be better informed about the principles underpinning effort-sharing. In arrangements for effort-sharing, an assessment must be made of the specific circumstances of each individual country, the costs involved in cutting emissions and the impact on that country's competitiveness and development. The effort-sharing decision should lead to an equal relative cost of mitigation in relation to GDP of each country.

1.9

The Committee calls on the Commission to establish a compliance regime, under which Member States would, for instance, be fined for exceeding the set emission levels.

2.   Introduction: the Commission document

2.1

On 23 January 2008, the European Commission unveiled a package of proposals to combat climate change and promote renewable energies.

2.2

The purpose of the Commission proposal is to put into effect the agreement reached at the European Council meeting on 8 and 9 March 2007 under which the European Union is committed to a 20 % reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990, and, also by 2020, to a target share of 20 % of renewables in its energy consumption.

2.3

The total effort for greenhouse gas reduction is divided between the EU ETS and non-ETS sectors. The Commission is proposing the following approach: a 21 % reduction in EU ETS sector emissions compared to 2005 by 2020; a reduction of around 10 % compared to 2005 for the sectors that are not covered by the EU ETS. Taken together, these reductions will result in an overall reduction of 14 % compared to 2005, which is equivalent to a reduction of 20 % compared to 1990.

2.4

The Council announced even more ambitious targets provided that a global and comprehensive agreement is signed for the period beyond 2012 and that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and economically more advanced developing countries to contributing adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities. Within these parameters, the Community would have to seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 % by 2020.

2.5

The present proposal for a decision determines the contribution of Member States to meeting the Community's greenhouse gas emission reduction commitment from 2013 to 2020 for greenhouse gas emissions from sources not covered under Directive 2003/87/EC (sources outside the EU ETS).

2.6

The proposed decision lays down rules on the determination of the contribution of Member States to meeting the greenhouse gas emission reduction commitment of the Community from 2013 to 2020.

2.7

The Commission also takes the view that greenhouse gas reduction efforts should be shared among Member States, taking into account economic differentials and each country's per capita GDP. Thus, Member States that currently have a relatively low per capita GDP and high GDP growth expectations for the future should be allowed to have higher greenhouse emissions in 2020 than in 2005.

2.8

In the light of the proposed differentiation, the Commission recommends that certain limits be established for individual countries, albeit no Member State should be required to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 to more than 20 % below 2005 levels, and no Member State should be allowed to increase its greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 to more than 20 % above 2005 levels.

2.9

The Commission stipulates that each Member State must, by 2020, limit its greenhouse gas emissions from sources not covered under Directive 2003/87/EC by the percentage set for that Member State in the annex to the decision in relation to its emissions in the year 2005.

2.10

The Commission's view is that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must take place every year between 2013 and 2020. However, there is also some degree of flexibility, in that each Member State is allowed to carry forward from the following year a quantity equal to 2 % of the greenhouse gas emission limit of that Member State. Any Member State whose emissions are below its limit is also allowed to carry over its excess emission reductions to the subsequent year.

2.11

Each Member State is to annually limit these greenhouse gas emissions in a linear manner to ensure that the emissions do not exceed the maximum level for that Member State in 2020 as specified in the annex to the decision.

2.12

In order to provide for further flexibility for Member States in implementing their commitments, to promote sustainable development in third countries, in particular in developing countries, and to provide certainty to investors, the Commission is proposing that Member States should continue to be able to use CDM credits to help ensure a market for those credits even after 2012.

2.13

To help ensure such a market as well as to ensure further greenhouse gas emission reductions within the EU and thus enhance the implementation of the objectives of the Community relating to renewable energy, energy security, innovation and competitiveness, it is proposed to allow the annual use by Member States of credits from greenhouse gas emission reduction projects in third countries, until a future international agreement on climate change has been reached, up to a quantity representing 3 % of the emissions of each Member State from sources outside the ETS in the year 2005. This maximum quantity is equivalent to around a third of any Member State's reduction effort in 2020. Member States should be allowed to transfer the unused part of that quantity to other Member States.

2.14

The Commission feels that once a future international agreement on climate change has been reached, Member States should only accept emission reduction credits from countries which have ratified that agreement and subject to a common approach.

2.15

The Commission also takes the view that, following the conclusion by the Community of a future international climate change agreement, Member State emission limits should be adjusted on the basis of the Community's new greenhouse gas emission reduction commitment as set out in that agreement.

2.16

Member States, in their annual reports submitted under Article 3 of Decision 280/2004/EC, must report their annual emissions resulting from the implementation of Article 3 and the use of credits in accordance with Article 4. Member States are also to submit an update of their projected progress before 1 July 2016.

3.   General comments

3.1

The European Commission's initiative under which, to combat climate change, Member States are asked to share the effort of meeting the Community's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from sources not covered under Directive 2003/87/EC (sources outside the EU ETS) from 2013 to 2020 is an important link in a chain of decisions taken to combat climate change.

3.2

The Committee is convinced that this decision will help the Community meet its tasks vis-à-vis environmental protection and climate change. Community policy in this area must secure a considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through the imposition of mandatory requirements on the Member States, coupled with strict compliance checks.

3.3

At the same time the Committee would like to draw the attention to the fact that the effectiveness of the Parliament and Council decision on sharing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is significantly dependent on the other two components of the energy and climate change package: the directive on renewable energy sources and the EU-ETS directive. This means that they must function in direct synergy; any amendment to one will impact on the others.

3.4

The Community's commitments are to be adjusted should an international agreement be reached. There are high hopes for the negotiations launched in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007, which may potentially be of vital importance for worldwide action up to 2020. It would be most helpful to wind up these negotiations and secure a climate protection agreement at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009. Progress on this front is also expected to be made at a further climate summit due to be held before then in Poznań, Poland.

3.5

It is good that EU is taking the lead in these negotiations. Through its own commitments, the EU is leading by example and seeking to spur other countries on to comparable measures. Although emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil are not, understandably, set to cut emissions, they are in a position to curb any increase relative to economic growth. The EESC encourages the Commission to make every effort to reach an international (post-Kyoto) agreement, committing developed countries to a 30 % cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared to 1990 levels; this would be in line with the projections of the 4th IPCC report, which estimates that a 25-40 % reduction by 2020 on 1990 levels is needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If this international agreement can be concluded, it will of course be necessary to revisit this and the other proposals contained in the Commission's energy and climate change package in order to recalibrate their objectives to the tighter target. It is important therefore that all concerned should recognise and plan on the basis that the targets currently proposed for 2020 are only the first step and that tighter targets will be needed in due course, possibly as soon as 2020 and certainly in later years.

3.6

The Committee believes that measures to cut greenhouse emissions should be implemented in such a way as to protect and even enhance Europe's economic competitiveness in the long term. Renewable energy development and energy efficient products and modes of production will increasingly be in demand in the world, and Europe is well placed to gain a competitive edge by becoming a world leader in many of these areas. The EU and the Member States must support such R&D. Otherwise, the objectives will be difficult to achieve. It is also vital to train experts and raise broad public awareness in the fields of energy-saving, environmental protection and climate change.

3.7

Civil society has a key role to play in implementing the decision and meeting the commitments undertaken by the countries concerned. The Member States should do more to promote community initiatives designed to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and develop ways of backing up such initiatives:

Civil society as a whole could play a key role in implementing this decision. The requirements of the decision and its means of implementation in each Member State thus need to be more widely disseminated.

There is also a need to increase the emphasis on educational campaigns to raise public awareness and understanding of the need for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is also vital to train experts and raise broad public awareness in the fields of energy-saving, environmental protection and climate change.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

The Committee feels that, by using flexible tools in projects designed to secure the joint implementation of the Clean Development Mechanism, an appropriate balance must be struck between action taken within the EU to cut greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand, and a sense of solidarity in the face of the introduction of emission-reducing measures in developing countries on the other. However, the use of flexible tools should be appropriate only when they really reduce global GHG emissions. They should not stimulate leakage of GHG emissions from EU to non-EU countries.

4.2

The Commission is proposing that Member States should continue to be able to use CDM credits to help ensure a market for those credits even after 2012. The Committee has concerns regarding the quality of the certified emissions reductions (CER) resulting from the CDM and proposes that, if the investing States (in projects begun pre-2013) are to continue to benefit from CER, the baseline should be revised and verified to determine whether the project is still additional. In the case of new CDM projects that are planned to go towards a Member State's contribution to sharing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, only projects using BAT (best available techniques) as the baseline should be considered.

4.3

The Commission refers only to the general principle that countries that have a high per capita GDP are to take on board tougher reduction commitments, which are to be less stringent for countries where per capita GDP is lower. However, it is quite possible that, even if — in relative terms — they have a similar per capita GDP, different countries may require different degrees of effort to achieve the same results in cutting emissions. In arrangements for effort-sharing, an assessment must be made of the specific circumstances of each individual country, the costs involved in cutting emissions and the impact on that country's competitiveness and development. The effort sharing decision should lead to equal relative cost of mitigation in relation to GDP of each country.

4.4

The Committee also draws attention to a glaring inconsistency in the text of the decision. The Commission proposes 2005 as the reference year for assessing Member States' efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and 2020 as the end of the period. Under the second subparagraph of Article 3(2), each Member State is to annually limit the greenhouse gas emissions concerned in a linear manner. At the same time, under the first subparagraph of the same article, each Member State is to ensure that its total greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 from sources not covered under Directive 2003/87/EC do not exceed the average annual greenhouse gas emissions of that Member State from those sources during the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, as reported and verified pursuant to Directive 2003/87/EC and Decision 280/2004/EC. This means that 2008, 2009 and 2010 serve as the reference years for evaluating the position in 2013.

4.5

Under Article 3(3) of the proposed decision, a Member State may carry forward from the following year a quantity of greenhouse gas emissions equal to 2 % of the limit of that Member State or, if the emissions are below the limit in paragraph 2, may carry over its excess reductions to the subsequent year. This provision is too rigid, as the one-year timeframe lacks the flexibility required to implement large-scale projects and deliver good results. That is especially important for small Member States implementing large scale GHG mitigation projects.

The Commission proposes that each Member State should draw up a plan to achieve its national targets. However, the average annual emissions of GHG during the period 2013-2020 should not be higher than the average of annual emissions in 2005. In the Committee's view it will be important for the implementation of these plans to be monitored regularly at national and European level to allow any divergences to be identified promptly and corrective action taken.

4.6

In order to enhance the overall cost efficiency of the total commitment of the Community and to achieve the joint objectives at the lowest cost, the Committee feels that provision should be made in the decision whereby a Member State should, on the basis of bilateral, intergovernmental agreements, be able to transfer part of its allowed GHG emissions entitlement to another Member State.

4.7

The Committee calls on the Commission to establish a compliance regime, under which Member States would, for instance, be fined for exceeding the set emission levels.

4.8

Also, in terms of the equitable geographical distribution of projects, Article 4(1)(c) is not specific enough as to the application of measures on the purchasing of credits.

4.9

To implement this decision, the Commission should provide the Member States with pointers for action, instruments and other measures. A good first step could be to issue a guide containing examples of successes already achieved in the EU.

4.10

To achieve the objective of this decision, the Committee recommends that Member States make use of the Structural and Cohesion Funds for projects that do not produce, or that even reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

4.11

For ETS installations, provision has been made for the auction of emission allowances during the next allocation round from 2013 to 2020. This will secure the funds needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from non-EU-ETS sectors. Part of the funds obtained in this way should be directed towards economic sectors that are making an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The other part should be channelled into a solidarity fund for developing countries, and allocated to climate change adaptation projects in those countries.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/75


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide and amending Council Directives 85/337/EEC, 96/61/EC, Directives 2000/60/EC, 2001/80/EC, 2004/35/EC, 2006/12/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006’

COM(2008) 18 final — 2008/0015 (COD)

(2009/C 27/17)

On 8 February 2008 the Council of the European Union decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 175 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the geological storage of carbon dioxide and amending Council Directives 85/337/EEC, 96/61/EC, Directives 2000/60/EC, 2001/80/EC, 2004/35/EC, 2006/12/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 4 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Wolf.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 138 votes to one with four abstentions.

Contents

1.

Summary and conclusions

2.

Introduction

3.

Commission proposal

4.

General comments

5.

Specific comments

1.   Summary and conclusions

1.1

Capture and long-term storage (CCS) of carbon dioxide (CO2) released by the use (combustion) of fossil fuels would substantially help to combat climate change. This technology should therefore be developed more rapidly and used as soon as possible.

1.2

The Committee welcomes the Commission's proposed directive as a prerequisite for the development and use of CCS, and broadly endorses its content.

1.3

The directive addresses the most important aspects and sets out provisions to deal with them. In particular, human and environmental safety issues and the associated responsibilities are covered, thus helping to secure public acceptance of the directive and addressing safety concerns on the part of ordinary citizens.

1.4

The development of the overall CCS value-added chain, involving the capture, transport and storage of CO2, is in an early — and, in some cases, still exploratory — stage. The provisions of the directive need to take this into account, and some fine-tuning is still needed in certain areas.

1.5

To enable rapid implementation of initial projects, some sections of the directive should be amended to make them more manageable by both the relevant national authorities and potential investors; this would also ensure planning certainty and provide incentives for action. This applies for instance to liability issues and the nature and extent of financial security payments.

2.   Introduction

2.1

Following the Council decisions of March 2007 on climate change and threats to the security of energy supplies, the Commission proposed a package of measures in the form of separate documents in order to meet the objectives set by the Council decisions. These measures focus on energy efficiency, promoting renewable energy sources and developing and using the relevant innovative technologies. The Committee has drawn up specific opinions on each measure (1).

2.2

One area of key importance in this context is the development of methods to sustainably reduce greenhouse gas emissions arising from the use of fossil fuels, which is the subject discussed in this opinion, with particular reference to the Commission's proposal for a directive on the geological storage of carbon dioxide (CO2).

2.3

This opinion ties in with a Committee opinion (2) on the same technology discussing the Commission's communication on Supporting Early Demonstration of Sustainable Power Generation from Fossil Fuels.

3.   Commission proposal

3.1

On the basis of (i) the fact that the growing demand for sources of energy at international level is likely to be met predominantly by the use of fossil fuels and (ii) the objective of achieving a global reduction of CO2 emissions of 50 % by 2050 and a reduction of between 60 and 80 % in the industrialised states, the Commission considers that it is essential to exploit all possibilities of bringing down the level of emissions. With this aim in view, carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) (3) is of major importance.

3.2

The European Council of March 2007 called for the development of the necessary technical, economic and regulatory framework to bring environmentally safe CCS to deployment; the proposal under review represents one means by which this objective is to be achieved. The proposal relates, above all, to the establishment of the regulatory framework on the basis of Article 175(1) of the EC Treaty. It also provides for simplification of legislation and simplification of administrative procedures for public authorities, be they EU or national.

3.3

Existing provisions, such as those set out in Directives 96/61/EC, 85/337/EEC, 2004/35/EC and 2003/87/EC, are taken into account or where necessary amended in the proposal.

3.4

Actual contents of the Commission proposal:

3.4.1

Chapter 1 covers the subject matter, purpose and scope of the proposal. Definitions of terms are also set out.

3.4.2

Chapter 2 covers site selection and exploration permits. The Member States are to determine the areas to be made available for storage and the rules governing the allocation of exploration permits.

3.4.3

Chapter 3 covers storage permits, conditions for awarding them and the relevant powers of the European Commission. An important element is the environmental impact assessment, which includes impact assessments and public consultations.

3.4.4

Chapter 4 covers operation, closure and post-closure obligations, including CO2 acceptance criteria, monitoring and reporting obligations, inspections, measures in case of irregularities and/or leakage, closure and post-closure obligations and provision of financial security.

3.4.5

Chapter 5 addresses the issues of access to transport and storage networks.

3.4.6

Chapter 6 covers general provisions relating to the competent authority, cross-frontier cooperation, penalties, reporting to the European Commission, amendments and the relevant comitology procedures.

3.4.7

Chapter 7 sets out the required amendments to other legislation, including the necessary adaptations to water and waste legislation. Additional conditions in respect of the authorisation of new power stations are also set out.

3.4.8

Annex I specifies detailed criteria for the requirements on site characterisation and risk assessment. Annex II sets out detailed criteria for the requirements on monitoring. The European Commission may amend the Annexes, in which case the European Parliament also has a say.

4.   General comments

4.1

The EESC has drawn attention on a number of occasions (4) to the fact that affordable energy is the life blood of modern social market economies and a prerequisite for the provision of all basic services. The need to step up the development of new technologies is of particular importance in this regard (5).

4.2

The Committee welcomes the Commission's proposed directive on this subject as an important prerequisite for developing and using CCS as a technology to achieve this objective, and broadly endorses its contents.

4.3

In this connection, the EESC has drawn attention (6) to the fact that the fossil fuels coal, petroleum and natural gas are currently the mainstay (7) of both European and global energy supply and will perhaps retain their importance over the next few decades.

4.4

This is not at variance with the declared goal of bringing about a dramatic increase in the share of renewables, since, even bearing in mind the EU's target of achieving an at least 20 % share of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption by 2020 (8), there will, for many decades to come, continue to be a considerable need for energy produced from other sources in order to cover the remaining 80 % — by 2050 still approximately 50 % — of energy consumption.

4.5

In the case of renewables, up until now it has only been possible to use hydropower and biomass (9) to generate electricity at the level dictated by demand, whereas wind and solar energy are characterised by a limited, weather-dependent availability. Nevertheless, considerable efforts should be put into continued development and use of such energy sources, while working out adequate and economical storage options. However, this subject is dealt with in separate Committee opinions.

4.6

It therefore follows that to ensure base load supply — as a supplement to and/or replacement (10) for nuclear energy — a large number of power stations running on fossil fuel will remain a necessity. In addition, if we are to have adequate — positive or negative — reserve capacity available, more power stations will be needed whose output can be adjusted sufficiently quickly to compensate for fluctuating levels of energy generated by wind power.

4.7

With regard to providing peak capacity and reserve capacity, gas-fired and pump-fed hydroelectric power stations are the main options. However, there is limited scope for the development of pump-fed hydroelectric plants, as the specific geographical features which they require have to a large extent already been used.

4.8

For base load and intermediate load supply, coal-fired power stations are mainly used, in addition to nuclear power stations. In Member States which decide not to produce nuclear energy themselves, the use of coal for electricity generation becomes of even greater importance for these types of electricity supply.

4.9

There is therefore a need to reduce CO2 emissions to the lowest possible level, including when coal-fired power stations are used. With this aim in view, two lines of development — characterised by varying degrees of technical maturity and a variety of impacts — are being pursued: on the one hand, power stations are being developed with even greater efficiency; and, on the other hand, power stations are being developed which have recourse to CCS (11). In the case of the latter, whilst by far the greater part of the CO2 emitted no longer goes into the atmosphere, the process inevitably involves a noticeable loss of efficiency, in order to cover the additional energy requirements brought about by CCS. There is also a need for continued development of technologies to capture CO2 from manufacturing processes.

4.10

The development of CCS, involving the capture, transport and storage of CO2, remains at an early — and, in some cases, still at an exploratory — stage. While it is true that measures to increase the efficiency of conventional power station technology are, by contrast, gradually making progress, they are already approaching the limits of what is physically feasible. Bearing in mind the urgent need to replace power-station capacity over the next few decades, the EESC recommends that a pragmatic approach be adopted under which both technologies are developed side by side. Whilst the development of a higher level of efficiency may be largely market-driven, CCS technologies — for both power stations and infrastructure — require additional support at the demonstration and marketing stages.

4.11

CCS technology is being pursued along various development paths: (a) integrated power station technology involving the capture of CO2, where, in the coal gasification process, carbon is captured before the combustion process, or, in the oxyfuel process, CO2 is enriched by the process before capture; and (b) post-combustion technology, which involves washing out CO2 from the flue gas after combustion (CO2 washing). Once it has undergone suitable development, method (b) would be suitable for deployment in highly efficient new power stations provided that they are designed accordingly (‘capture ready’). A common feature of these development paths is the fact the CO2 so captured has to be brought from the power station to a suitable storage site.

4.12

CO2 can only be stored in suitable, safe geological formations. Existing research suggests that deep saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas deposits would be the best options, whereas abandoned coal mines are probably less suitable. It is vital to have largely intact rock sealing in the CO2 so as to prevent leakages, with as few surface outlets as possible.

4.13

When a storage site is selected by experts in compliance with the proposed rules set out in the directive, it must be established that the risks associated with storage are minimal. In the case of suitable storage formations, sudden escape of large quantities of CO2 is practically impossible (12). It should also be established that induced seismic shocks do not pose a threat, with the maximum storage pressure chosen so as not to destroy the rock layers used for storing and sealing (13), as these must be preserved in order to ensure storage.

4.14

The issue of the safe, long-term storage of CO2 is a matter of decisive importance for the social and political acceptance of this process.

4.15

The Committee therefore feels it is very important for the public to be fully informed by the Commission, and — in particular — the Member States and potential operators, of all aspects of this new technology, and for them to be involved through transparent dialogue in the associated decision-making processes. Appropriate procedures should be developed to this end.

4.16

The Committee would like to advocate a further preventive measure at the end of this section. This relates to the possibility of CO2 being needed in the more distant future, either in unforeseeable applications as a basic chemical substance, or as a variable within ‘natural’ long-term climate cycles (14). As an additional preventive measure to ensure sustainability, the EESC therefore recommends that, whilst the storage of CO2 should indeed be carried out, consideration should however be given to the possibility of at least partial re-emission under the closure plans, or that documentation on potential re-emission options be required from particular storage complexes. Of course, the priority must be to ensure that storage sites are as safe as possible and leak-proof.

4.17

In general, the EESC welcomes the European Commission's proposed directive and sets out its views on a number of individual points in the proposal in the following section.

5.   Specific comments

5.1

The proposal contains the fundamental provisions which are necessary to provide operators of CCS installations with the requisite legal framework, though in a small number of cases they go beyond what is necessary to achieve this objective.

5.2

Some points in the proposal are, however, in need of clarification in order to make it possible to implement the provisions and to ensure legal certainty.

5.3

Under the Commission's proposal, CO2 captured and stored is to be credited as ‘not emitted’ under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS); consequently, no CO2 allowances have to be surrendered in this case (see recital 23 which refers to Directive 2003/87/EC). As a result there is a useful market-based incentive to invest in CCS installations, albeit an as yet inadequate incentive in the case of the demonstration stage.

5.3.1

The EESC therefore welcomes the proposed inclusion of these measures in the ETS; a market-based approach is clearly preferable to compulsory CCS, particularly as, given the current stage of development of CCS technology, such an obligation to carry out CCS would be clearly premature.

5.3.2

It is, however, the right course of action to oblige new power stations to make available suitable space for the equipment necessary to capture and compress CO2 (Article 32, amendment of Article 9a in Directive 2001/80/EC). These measures, which systematically give rise to increased costs, should, however, always be backed up by corresponding market economy incentives (15) (in the form of, for example, the allocation of CO2 allowances on favourable terms or using part of the proceeds of the options held under the ETS for promoting CCS).

5.4

In order to prevent unnecessary restrictions being placed upon storage, the ban stipulated in Article 2(3) of the Commission's proposal should apply not to ‘storage of CO2 in geological formations’ but rather to ‘storage site’. This amendment is being proposed since ‘geological formations’, as defined in Article 3(4) can easily extend beyond the area defined in Article 2(1), whereas the likelihood of a corresponding extension of a ‘storage site’ is clearly less great. A clause could be included to provide for additional storage options through reliable contractual agreements with non-EU states.

5.5

The definition of the term ‘storage site’ in Article 3(3) should really refer to that ‘part’ of a ‘specific geological formation used for the geological storage of CO2’. (A geological formation can extend over millions of km2 in terms of surface area; only part of such a geological formation can therefore be designated as a ‘storage site’). It is perfectly possible — and indeed probable — that several storage sites will be situated in a given geological formation.

5.6

Under Article 4(1) of the proposal, the Member States reclaim the right to designate suitable storage sites. It should be clearly stipulated in this context that the areas which are in principle suitable for the storage of CO2 must actually be designated by the Member States, provided that there are no important reasons standing in the way of such designation.

5.7

The EESC welcomes the fact that the proposed provisions call for a maximum level of security. This is essential both to protect human beings, the environment and climate (16) and also to ensure the integrity of the trade in emission allowances.

5.7.1

This goal must be achieved by making use of appropriate, state-of-the-art monitoring systems. This requirement needs to be taken into account when permits are being issued by the Member States (17).

5.7.2

Monitoring systems require and must also ensure that processes in the actual storage site can be understood and modelled as accurately as possible (measurements taken at or near surface level do not provide sufficient information on this). For this reason, the models which are used should if possible be tested or certified using two independent simulation/modelling systems.

5.7.3

The term ‘leakage’ should be defined as follows: ‘Any release of CO2 from the storage complex which can be verified using state-of-the-art monitoring systems’. It is not possible to provide absolute (i.e. 100 %) leak-tightness, nor could such tightness be proved because of the natural release of CO2 from the ground. Nor is such leak-tightness essential on grounds of safety or climate protection (18). This definition, based on state-of-the-art technology available at a given time, would ensure increasingly precise monitoring systems, which would also benefit from development of CCS, thus making a dynamically developing contribution to further improvements in safety.

5.7.4

Should there be any plan during subsequent day-to-day operation to set maximum permitted leakage levels, the level chosen could be one at which there is no threat to safety or climate, and therefore one which is of no relevance to emissions certificates, for example leakage of 0.1 %/100a.

5.8

The duration of exploration permits, as proposed by the Commission in Article 5(3), is too short. Experience shows that a period of at least four years is necessary, even under optimal circumstances, in order to implement the exploration work programme. We must, on no account, be faced with a situation in which exploration work has to be halted solely because the prescribed duration, including the extension period, has expired, even in cases where very little data have still to be obtained. Provision should therefore be made for flexible rules, taking account of the local conditions whilst, at the same time requiring operators to proceed apace with the exploration programme, in order to prevent potential storage sites from being blocked because of delays in exploration.

5.9

Whilst the exploration of a potential storage site requires know-how, skilled staff, time and money, success is by no means guaranteed. A decisive incentive to carry out exploration would therefore be lost if this commitment on the part of enterprises were not to be backed up by a prior claim to the use of storage sites. The provisions proposed by the Commission in Article 5(4) should therefore be backed up by the granting of first right of access to storage, for instance by including the following sentence (already under discussion): ‘After this time, the CO2 storage exploration permit shall either be converted into a CO2 storage permit or else be relinquished for the total area covered’.

5.10

The Commission rightly proposes that a corrective measures plan be drawn up. This plan (see Article 9(6) and Article 16(1)) should, however, only be applied in line with the requisite changes to the definition of the term ‘leakage’ (Article 3(5)).

5.11

Articles 6 to 9 of the proposal set out provisions governing applications for storage permits, the conditions for granting such permits and the contents of these permits. It is clear from these provisions that several operators may be working in one geological formation.

5.11.1

In principle, the EESC welcomes the idea that access should be free of discrimination. Difficult questions relating to delimitation, however, arise with regard to the responsibility for leakages and the transfer of responsibility to the State.

5.11.2

For this reason, there should be a rule that only one operator can be granted a permit for each storage complex, thus ensuring that responsibilities are clearly identified. Article 20 would also ensure that access to storage sites is free of discrimination.

5.12

Under the Commission's proposal a national authority has to notify the Commission before finally awarding permits (Article 10 and Article 18) and then await the Commission's opinion for a period of up to six months. The Commission's opinion has then to be taken into consideration when granting the permit or, where appropriate, the authority has to state the reasons if it deviates from the Commission's opinion.

5.12.1

The proposed provisions would bring about delays and lead to heightened bureaucracy. Furthermore, they are out of step with the subsidiarity principle.

5.12.2

The Committee therefore recommends amending these provisions of the regulation in such a way as to ensure sufficient uniformity in national procedures while avoiding preventable delays and ensuring sufficient compliance with the subsidiarity principle. To this end, one possible approach would be to limit the licensing process to an obligation on the part of national authorities to notify the Commission. If infringements take place, the Commission could have recourse to the tried-and-trusted instrument of an infringement procedure under Article 226 of the EC Treaty. The text of Article 10 could therefore read: ‘The competent national authority shall notify the Commission of its decision on storage permits, for the purpose of verification’.

5.13

The EESC believes that the national authorities require effective instruments and also need to carry out regular checks in order to ensure the safety of storage sites at all times. The EESC does, however, doubt whether this goal is furthered by the Commission's proposal for an additional review of storage permits every five years. This provision would not further enhance safety but would give rise to additional bureaucracy affecting all stakeholders.

5.14

Article 18 of the proposed Directive sets out stringent demands in respect of the transfer of responsibility for storage sites to the respective Member State. The EESC welcomes these provisions which are the right course of action.

5.14.1

Article 18(1) of the proposal calls, however, for all available evidence to indicate that the stored CO2 will be ‘completely’ contained for the indefinite future. Absolute leak-tightness cannot, however, be assured, and should not therefore be made a requirement. In this context, the EESC would, therefore, refer to its comments in points 5.7.3 and 5.7.4.

5.14.2

To avoid creating insurmountable obstacles to the transfer of responsibility, the passage in question should read: ‘… all available evidence indicates that leakages are not to be expected for the indefinite future (19)’. (This is in line with the definition referred to in point 5.7.3 above).

5.15

Under the Commission's proposal, it is essential for the undertaking to lodge a financial security when developing storage sites and starting storage operations (Article 19). The EESC endorses this provision and welcomes the fact that responsibility for determining the form of this financial security is to be in the hands of the Member States.

5.15.1

In the EESC's view, it is not, however, appropriate for the security in question to be provided, in full, prior to the submission of the application for a storage permit. Rather, the financial security payment should in principle be geared to the security required at that particular stage of the project. Failing this, the financial incentive for companies to invest in this new technology, which has in any case been insufficient up to now, will be even lower.

5.15.2

In the event of leakages which could impact on climate change, additional emissions certificates will have to be purchased subsequently. In view of the extensive investigations preceding awards of storage permits, it is unlikely that such leakages will occur. Proof of sufficient assets which are accessible even in the event of storage operators becoming insolvent should therefore suffice as financial security. Given the remote probability of such an eventuality, requiring more than this would place a disproportionate burden on companies' investment capacity.

5.16

Some of the procedures required in Annex I for characterisation and assessment of storage sites are still at the R&D stage. To ensure the manageability of such procedures in practice, documentation requirements should refer to ‘state-of-the-art’ technology.

5.17

In Annex I and in the risk assessment of potential storage sites, the concept of biospheres should be clarified. Biospheres in which no negative impact is permitted should include not only biospheres on the earth's surface but also biospheres down to the level of drinking water aquifers.

5.18

Details should also be given of membership and working methods of the expert group responsible for ongoing revision of the Annex.

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  CESE 1201/2008, CESE 1202/2008, CESE 1203/2008 of 9.7.2008, not yet published in the OJ.

(2)  COM(2008) 13 final.

(3)  CCS: Carbon (i.e. carbon dioxide) Capture and Storage. TEN/340 — CESE 562/2008 recommends using the abbreviation CCTS (Carbon Capture, Transport and Storage) instead. This opinion sticks to CCS.

(4)  e.g. OJ C 162, 25.6.2008, p. 72.

(5)  See CESE 1199/2008 of 9.7.2008, not yet published in the OJ.

(6)  See, for example, CESE 643/2005 and, more recently, CESE 1246/2007. Not yet published in the OJ.

(7)  Initially, the use of CCS is mainly envisaged for electricity production from fossil fuels. In the EU, about 30 % of electrical energy currently comes from nuclear power, with practically no emissions of carbon dioxide.

(8)  See the Presidency conclusions of the March 2007 European Council.

(9)  Biomass only has a positive impact on overall CO2 emissions if the energy input for production, transport and processing does not exceed the energy yield. Article 24(a) of the ETS Directive provides for the option of appropriate support for biomass power plants equipped with CCS facilities.

(10)  In Member States which have decided not to produce nuclear energy.

(11)  See also CESE 1246/2007. Not yet published in the OJ.

(12)  Only if this happened would there be any danger for people living in the immediate vicinity, as CO2, unlike CO, is not toxic, and is not life-threatening until it reaches a concentration of over 8 % (at present, the average concentration of CO2 in the air is around 380 ppm (ppm: parts per million)).

(13)  In contrast to the use of geothermal energy.

(14)  Ice-core samples, obtained from drilling, provide evidence relating to global climate development over the last 600 000 years. This evidence shows that in the past there has been a succession of warm periods and ice ages, alternating at regular intervals of typically 100 000 years, with a sawtooth variation of temperature over time, together with correlated changes in CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Given that there has, at the moment, been a prolonged warm period, with temperatures at the top end of the sawtooth cycle, and that the end of the last warm period was over 100 000 years ago, a gradual drop in global temperatures and CO2 levels is again likely in the foreseeable future, unless current greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity have precisely the opposite effect.

(15)  See, in this context, the general recommendations set out in point 3.3 of OJ C 162, 25.6.2008, p. 72.

(16)  Often also an HSE (Health, Security, Environment) requirement.

(17)  See also Article 13(2) and Annex II of the proposed directive.

(18)  If this were not the case, emissions certificates would be needed (emission trading scheme).

(19)  Translator's note: footnote does not apply to the English-language version.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/81


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2006/66/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators as regards Article 6(2) on placing batteries and accumulators on the market’

COM(2008) 211 — 2008/0081 (COD)

(2009/C 27/18)

On 22 May 2008 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95(1) and Article 251 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the

Proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2006/66/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators as regards Article 6(2) on placing batteries and accumulators on the market.

Since the Committee endorses the contents of the proposal and has already set out its views on the subject in its earlier opinion 655/2004-2003/0282 COD, adopted on 28 April 2004 (1), it decided, at its 446th plenary session of 9 and 10 July (meeting of 9 July), by 138 votes to 1 with 3 abstentions, to issue an opinion endorsing the proposed text and to refer to the position it had taken in the above-mentioned document.

 

Brussels, 9 July 2008.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Dimitris DIMITRIADIS


(1)  EESC opinion on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on batteries and accumulators and spent batteries and accumulators, OJ C 117 of 30.4.2004.


3.2.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 27/82


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Non-energy mining industry in Europe’

(2009/C 27/19)

On 17 January 2008, the European Economic and Social Committee, acting under Article 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, decided to draw up an own-initiative opinion on

Non-energy mining industry in Europe.

The Consultative Commission on Industrial Change, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 24 June 2008. The rapporteur was Mr Fornea and the co-rapporteur was Mr Pop.

At its 446th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2008 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 135 votes to one with 10 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and Recommendations

1.1

The main pillars for the future security of raw materials supply in Europe are: domestic supply, international supply, capacity building and resource efficiency.

The policy in raw materials domestic supply should take into account industry, environment policy and land-use planning as an integrated approach. The best practice in the field should be extended to new potential areas. Access to domestic resources within the Member States should be encouraged by providing the necessary balance between the environment and industrial development policies, as well as harmonised incentives for development and protection in extending existing sites and opening new ones where these are, on the one hand, economically and socially viable and desirable and, on the other, environmentally sustainable.

The globalisation impact on the international supply of minerals should be properly assessed by the EU and Member States whenever the import of raw materials from outside prevails. European environmental and social standards should be observed when considering investment policy and industrial relocation. Access to raw material should be guaranteed for European Users and the strategic dependence of the EU should be reduced.

Capacity building in European non-energy extractive industries bears upon a wide range of challenges, such as administrative barriers, the need to improve the sector's image, the need for qualified manpower, management techniques, education and training.

Improved efficiency of resource extraction processes depends on progress made in other sectors active in both mineral extraction and other areas and calls for cooperation between the European Commission and Member States.

1.2

The European Economic and Social Committee urges the Commission and the Member States to work on the following recommendations (see paragraph 3.2 for detailed recommendations):

Better regulation through improved legal framework and permitting system; exchange of best practice in planning policies; cutting-down excessive administrative burden in the issuing of permits; facilitating exploration activities; promoting sustainable development in expanding extraction sites, and securing mineral deposits (1).

Strengthening the compatibility of extraction and environmental protection by: extending best practice in and around Natura 2000; advocating the proximity principle in transport procedures in order to reduce pollution and costs, and improving access to resources (2).

Reinforcing the mineral intelligence at the EU level by establishing a European geological capacity and a European Mineral Resources Information System, to be built on the basis of the capacities of the Member States' National Geological Surveys.

2.   Overview of the Sector

2.1

Minerals are essential for development and therefore for our quality of life and the creation of sustainable communities. Non-energy minerals (3) are basic materials for our daily life: a house contains up to 150 tons of minerals incorporated in: cement, clay, gypsum, calcium carbonate, composite materials, glass, paint, ceramics, tiles and tons of metals; a car contains up to 150 kilograms of minerals in rubber, plastics, glass and more than one ton of metals; 50 % of paints and paper are made from minerals; glass and ceramics also contain up to 100 % minerals (4). Mineral planning ensures that societal and economic needs as well as the extraction and processing impact on people and environment are managed in an integrated way by considering the whole life cycle of the mine/quarry from the very beginning of the extraction process, and to include closure and after-closure care in the planning process. In the light of globalisation and intensified competition on the raw materials' markets, the strategic value of the mining sector is constantly increasing. As far as extraction technology is concerned, Europe has become a world leader, but this should be consolidated with a view to for future developments.

2.2

Today, 70 % of the European manufacturing industry depends on extracted substances, while the EU 27 is currently facing a large-scale restructuring of the mining industry and the price of metals on the global market is rising steadily. In order to tackle this trend, European industrial policies have to take into consideration the fact that security of supply and demand for raw materials should prevail in the context of free market forces.

2.3

The European Non-Energy Extractive Industries provide jobs for 295 000 employees in about 18 300 companies, with a turnover of EUR 45.9 billion, and include many SMEs (5). The sector promotes environmental responsibility and sustainable development through its member organisations and is committed to corporate social responsibility.

2.4

Many Europeans do not recognise the importance of mining, but in future, the sustainable growth of Europe will depend heavily on locally extracted substances, while the high demand for minerals coming from countries such as China and India will have a real potential to affect security of supply for the EU (6). In the context of a global approach, these regions tend to capture the lion's share of raw materials and financial resources, and the result of this is industrial restructuring and investment relocations on an international scale.

2.5

In order to deal with globalisation and climate change, the EU's Energy Policy for Europe and Integrated Mining Policy are vital strategic elements. This was acknowledged from the very beginning of European construction (7). As the Member States are committed to supporting the EU's efforts to promote renewable sources of energy and the efficient use of energy, it is important to understand that this can only be achieved if European industries have safe access to non-energy minerals, primarily base and high technology metals and minerals which are vital to ‘green economies’. Changing patterns of behaviour, energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy have resulted in more technologies and more R&D activities. It is a recognised fact that technological equipment incorporates large quantities of metals, a large proportion of which is made up of rare and precious metals, which, as we must realise, are almost unavailable in Europe (8).

2.6

The European Economic and Social Committee welcomes the proposal from the European Commission to publish a Communication in 2008 on improving sustainable access to raw materials. The Communication should recommend feasible, realistic and helpful actions through which the industries may gain improved sustainable access to resources. This is of particular importance as the industries are facing important supply challenges:

reduced availability of accessible deposits suitable for mineral extraction as a result of insufficient or short term land-use planning or due to the insufficient integration of geological knowledge;

high administrative burden and cost of obtaining extraction permits due to additional regulations and time consuming preliminary studies;

difficulties in obtaining extraction permits, both for new quarries and mining operations and for the extension of existing ones.

2.7

The European Economic and Social Committee appreciates the contributions of the Commission's specialists in the Commission staff working document ‘Analysis of the competitiveness of the non-energy extractive industry in the EU’ (9) and emphasises that Europe's capacity to provide its own supply of metallic minerals through domestic extraction is still limited, in spite of the EU's enlargement.

2.7.1

It is possible to improve the security of supply of European industries by further substantial investments in the mining sector of the new Member States with geological potential, using and improving the existing EU assistance mechanisms.

2.7.2

Major mineral resources are available in the Eastern European countries where the geological structure has always allowed for the development of mining activities. However, in these new EU countries, the sector was underfunded by the state, so the situation today does not show the real potential of the non-energy mining industry. From this perspective, it is essential to have private capital invested in these mining companies in order to supply the financial resources which up to now were provided mostly by the state.

2.7.3

In order to secure the supply of raw materials for European industry and to strengthen its competitiveness, it is crucial to address the challenges of an uneven playing field in terms of sustainable supply and access to mineral resources. These challenges need to be addressed at a high level in a comprehensive approach incorporating a wide range of policy areas, such as trade, development, energy, infrastructure and transport, enterprise and consumer policies.

2.7.4

The extractive industry interacts with a series of other industries such as technology and machinery providers, research, consulting, financial and environmental services, etc. (10) This is why an extractive operation usually provides, on average, four times as many indirect jobs as the direct jobs in the region where it is located. The regional growth potential is considerable, particularly in areas where other economic development is difficult.

2.7.5

The European Economic and Social Committee urges the Commission to review the best practices and model operations that exist at Member State level, in order to develop and promote them at EU level by taking into consideration not only the technical issues related to technology, but also Member States' experience in organising geological surveys and mine and quarry management for minerals (11).

Internationally, a Resource Endowment Project (12) has been developed which provides guidance and case studies on how the best mineral resources can be used for economic development. Such a case study might also be developed in the EU.

3.   Main pillars and recommendations for the future supply of raw materials

3.1   Domestic supply

3.1.1

The limited access to resources, the high administrative burden and the increasing costs for permit application processes result in reduced investment in the EU non-energy industry sector — even in high demand areas. A European raw materials supply policy has to take into account industry and environment policy as well as land-use planning in order to ensure better coordination between national planning competences and the European policy levels.

3.1.2

Some national initiatives on mineral planning for communities and local government can provide good examples of how to manage, in an integrated way, the need of society and the economy for minerals, together with the impact of extraction and processing on people and the environment.

3.2

The European Economic and Social Committee urges the Commission to recommend the following in its proposed Communication:

3.2.1

Improving the legal framework and permitting system (better regulation) through:

the improvement of mineral planning policies through the exchange of good practice in the EC Raw Materials Supply Group (13); in particular, on the one hand, with regard to the involvement of geological surveys and their expertise and knowledge about deposits and, on the other hand, with regard to the consultations with operators already present in the areas concerned by infrastructure and nature protection planning;

the development of a one-stop-shop system (a single contact point for all the parties participating in issuing the permits and that is in a position to assess economic, social and environmental issues), in order to improve the land-use planning and permitting processes. The development of such a system is within the competence of each of the EU Member States;

facilitating exploration by encouraging exploration activities in Europe through better national regulations, by: