ISSN 1725-2423

doi:10.3000/17252423.C_2010.079.eng

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 79

European flag  

English edition

Information and Notices

Volume 53
27 March 2010


Notice No

Contents

page

 

I   Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

 

OPINIONS

 

Committee of the Regions

 

81st plenary session held on 5-7 October 2009

2010/C 079/01

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions — An EU strategy for the Danube area

1

2010/C 079/02

Own-initiative opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Priorities for regional and local authorities to prevent violence against women and improve support for victims

7

2010/C 079/03

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the White Paper — Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action

13

2010/C 079/04

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on A Community approach on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters

19

2010/C 079/05

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions — Green Paper TEN-T: A policy review

23

2010/C 079/06

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on An updated strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training

27

2010/C 079/07

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions — A simplified CAP for Europe — a success for all

33

2010/C 079/08

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on The Stockholm programme: Challenges and opportunities in view of a new multi-annual programme on the EU area of freedom, security and justice

37

 

III   Preparatory acts

 

Committee of the Regions

 

81st plenary session held on 5-7 October 2009

2010/C 079/09

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Competitive rail freight transport

45

2010/C 079/10

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the Pharmaceutical package

50

2010/C 079/11

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on The future Common European Asylum System II

58

2010/C 079/12

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Progress Microfinance Facility

71

EN

 


I Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

OPINIONS

Committee of the Regions

81st plenary session held on 5-7 October 2009

27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/1


81st PLENARY SESSION HELD ON 5-7 OCTOBER 2009

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions — ‘An EU strategy for the Danube area’

(2010/C 79/01)

I.   GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS:

1.

welcomes the announcement by the European Commission at the Committee of the Regions plenary session held in Brussels on 8 October 2008 that the EU would draw up its own strategy for the Danube area, similar to the strategy that already exists for the Baltic Sea area (1);

2.

welcomes the fact that on 18-19 June 2009 the European Council requested the Commission to draw up an EU Strategy for the Danube Area by the end of 2010;

3.

welcomes the setting up of a Danube area interregional group at the Committee of the Regions on 27 November 2008 and supports its work;

4.

welcomes the attention paid by the European Parliament to the Danube area and the efforts to set up an inter-group at the European Parliament too (2);

5.

points outs that an EU strategy for the Danube area will serve the goal of increasing prosperity, security and peace for the people who live there. The entire European Union will benefit from this, including local and regional authorities;

6.

notes that in a European Union that now has 27 Member States macro-regions are playing an increasingly important role, particularly for the EU's territorial cohesion;

7.

notes that the Danube area comprises both countries bordering the Danube and those which lie in the Danube catchment area; further notes that the Danube area consists of EU Member States, candidates for EU membership, potential candidates for EU membership and countries which are included in the European Neighbourhood Policy;

8.

underlines the European perspective of the Danube area; stresses at the same time the external dimension of the Danube area and emphasises that it can be a model for cooperation with third countries;

9.

points out the far-reaching political, economic and social reforms which have taken place in the Danube area since the fall of the Iron Curtain. For this reason, the European Commission has included these changes as a subject for its 2009 work programme (3) and in its communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Central Bank, entitled, ‘Five Years of an enlarged EU – Economic Achievements and Challenges’ (4);

10.

acknowledges the supporting role of the Danube area at European level, the continued efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law in this area and supports in particular non-EU countries in the Danube area on their path towards democratic development;

11.

believes that cooperation at regional and local level in implementing the European principles of subsidiarity, proximity and partnership has a major role to play as does responsible governance in third countries, and refers to the added value of regional and local cooperation in the Danube area in further preparing accession countries and potential accession countries for EU membership;

12.

emphasises the traditional cultural and historical ties throughout the entire Danube area and underlines the contribution of regional and local authorities in this field in particular;

13.

takes account of existing international, national, regional and local cooperation, networks and institutions which are active within and for the Danube area and points out that their experience and knowledge should be taken into account in the dialogue with the European institutions;

14.

supports the European Commission in its efforts to forge effective and comprehensive relations with neighbouring countries and establish tailor-made political and economic relations with individual regions and partners;

15.

underlines the particular importance, the role and the responsibility of the Danube area which consists of EU Member States, EU accession candidates, potential accession candidates and countries which are included in the European Neighbourhood Policy. This area acts as an important interface between the EU's cohesion policy programmes, measures for accession candidates and potential accession candidates as well as programmes for countries included in the European Neighbourhood Policy;

16.

emphasises the political role of the Committee of the Regions in the strategic framework which helps to dovetail the European Commission's European Neighbourhood Policy with an EU strategy for the Danube area. The Committee of the Regions is familiar with local needs and thus can assess the impact of such measures and programmes on the ground very effectively;

17.

underlines the importance of the recognition of the Danube macro-region by the European cohesion policy and emphasises its role for future territorial development across the EU and the neighbouring countries, in the same way that the Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions are recognized;

18.

sees the content of the EU strategy for the Baltic Sea region in particular as a model for the Danube area. Both macro-areas are promoting the integration of former communist countries into the European Union and cooperation with third countries. Both areas are examples of how internal EU strategies can be dovetailed with cooperation with non–EU countries. In this regard, it is also worth referring to the experience of the European Neighbourhood Policy implemented by the outermost regions together with surrounding third countries;

II.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

EU strategy for the Danube area:

19.

considers the request of the European Council to the Commission to draw up an EU Strategy on the Danube area by the end of 2010 to be an acknowledgment of the importance of the Danube area for the future development of the EU and for its relations with neighbouring states, and calls on the Commission to involve regional and local authorities and institutions in preparing the strategy, to respect the responsibilities of Member States and regional and local authorities and their internal division of powers during implementation and to use existing institutions, reporting obligations and monitoring processes;

20.

views regional and local authorities, as well as organisations with responsibility for regional development, as essential partners in any Danube strategy. These can make a major contribution by successfully developing the European Commission's concept of territorial cohesion and cross-border cooperation. Stakeholders from business, academia, culture and environmental organisations, as well as institutions in society play an important role here;

21.

draws attention to the fact that regional and local authorities, together with regional development agencies and bodies, which on account of their proximity to the public are very familiar with the needs and concerns of citizens, have a central role to play in planning, implementing and further developing an EU strategy for the Danube area, as announced by the European Commission;

22.

stresses the importance of the Danube area's development as a major element in the successful European integration of the countries, regions, municipalities and people in this area, and supports the European Parliament, the European Council as well as the European Commission in their efforts to push ahead with this integration;

23.

supports the fact that the Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe has been changed into a regional cooperation network (Regional Cooperation Council, RCC), which works within the overall framework of the South-East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP). This regional reference comes in useful for the specific needs and requirements of the Danube area;

Strategic policy areas

24.

regards the strategy policy areas of transport, environmental protection and energy security, the economy, security, education and culture, work, health and social affairs as central elements of an EU strategy for the Danube area;

25.

refers to the major regional differences in economic performance in the Danube area and views the inclusion of the Danube area in the European Commission's work priorities for 2010 and the perception of the Danube area as a single major unit as prerequisites for further integration and sustainable economic development of the region;

Transport

26.

urges the European Commission, in line with the EU's sustainability strategy, to take account of the special role of the Danube as a Europe-wide transport and route and waterway with a promising future, which has the capacity to relieve congestion significantly on other European transport routes. The development of infrastructure, both on water and on land, helps the entire region to use its role as a link between west and east and north and south and above all to improve its own competitiveness;

27.

advocates rapid implementation of TEN-T infrastructure projects since they will make a lasting contribution to ensuring that the Danube region is linked up more effectively with existing European transport routes and that the Danube countries are better connected with one another; urges the participating local and regional authorities in this connection to also come up with proposals for solutions to longstanding problems and bottlenecks and to implement them within the framework of sustainable development;

28.

stresses that transport and environmental protection should not be mutually exclusive, but on the contrary must go hand in hand; emphasises that the sustainable development of the Danube area should be the overriding goal and that the guiding principles of the joint statement on ‘Development of Inland Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin’ adopted by the Danube Commission, the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) and the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) should be applied;

Environmental protection and energy security

29.

points out that cross-border cooperation is essential for the sake of the environment, joint efforts to tackle the impact of climate change and flood protection;

30.

believes that the countries of the Danube area have an important role to play in energy security and stresses the role of the Danube as a natural, renewable energy source offering valuable hydroelectric power potential. The use of this source should be especially promoted wherever there is scope for reconciling the environment and the economy;

31.

refers in this connection to conventions such as the one on cooperation and protection and sustainable use of the Danube river (Danube River Protection Convention establishing the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) (5)), which came into force in 1998 and the Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians (the Carpathian Convention). The Joint Statement on Guiding Principles for the Development of Inland Navigation and Environmental Protection in the Danube River Basin (6) is a good example of this cooperation;

32.

calls on Member States and local and regional authorities in the Danube area, as well as organisations with responsibility for regional development, to contribute to environmental programmes promoted by the European Commission, such as the LIFE+ programme (redevelopment of rivers and riverside systems), the European Territorial Cooperation Programmes (ETC), as well as the Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE) programme to foster local energy networking projects among local authorities in the area;

33.

points out that measures to implement the water framework directive should also help to maintain fish stocks over the long term. Fish stocks in the Danube system are very diverse, comprise many endemic species of fish and are therefore especially in need of protection;

34.

stresses the importance of sustainable Community plans for tourism. For instance, the countries of the Danube area could increase cooperation on implementing the Espoo (7), Aarhus (8) and Bern conventions (9). The example of the Danube cycle path highlights the benefit of such cooperation for all stakeholders;

35.

regards, in particular, an exchange of experience in these fields between regional and local authorities, as well as organisations with responsibility for regional development, as useful for the overall development of the Danube area. With their specialist skills and local knowledge, these authorities can ensure the sound implementation of common projects. Joint government agreements and cooperation, which many countries and regions in the Danube area undertake among themselves, indicate the form that targeted cooperation might take;

The economy

36.

points out that the Danube should be seen as a vector for the further economic development of the region. This applies for example to the linking-up of water and land routes, as well as harbours and economic centres located in the region;

37.

refers to the importance of cross-border projects which help to overcome the economic isolation of border regions and enables them to enhance their competitiveness and stability;

38.

notes that the regions and municipalities have a key role to play in supporting the establishment of contact between small and medium-sized enterprises;

39.

believes that efforts by non-governmental organisations, economic and social stakeholders and regional and local authorities to further promote cross-border and transnational projects play a central role. It should be ensured here that the synergies between cross-border, transnational and inter-regional territorial cooperation programmes (Objective 3) and Objective 1 and 2 programmes are used. They enable countries, regions and municipalities within the Danube area but outside the European Union to be brought closer to the EU and, in particular, make it possible to explain the Community's values of democracy and the rule of law to people locally; attaches particular importance to increased cooperation in the areas of technological transfer and research, on the basis of existing potential (human resources, infrastructure) with a view to achieving the sustainable economic development of the Danube area;

40.

invites the competent national authorities, in the Danube area countries, to take the appropriate steps for allowing participation of local and regional authorities in future EGTCs, as allowed by the Regulation (EC) 1082/2006;

Security

41.

recalls that the Danube is a very busy river which will probably become even busier in future, and underlines therefore the importance of measures to increase transport safety;

42.

refers in this connection to the Belgrade Convention (10) which regulates navigation on the Danube;

43.

calls on countries bordering the Danube to continue their joint efforts to tackle all forms of cross-border crime, but in particular organised crime, drug smuggling, illegal immigration and human trafficking;

44.

stresses the importance of environmental safety as an important aspect of security, particularly with regard to preventing cross-border pollution and flooding;

Education and culture

45.

stresses the role of regional and local authorities in promoting intercultural dialogue. Given their often heterogeneous populations, cities and regions are especially suited to supporting intercultural and inter-religious dialogue through their direct experiences;

46.

refers to the bridge function of regional cultural work with home regions and regions of origin in countries bordering the Danube as a way of promoting coalescence in Europe;

47.

points to the importance of extending twinning, for example on the DonauHanse® network. This is an important measure for implementing the European motto of ‘Unity in diversity’ by involving the public directly in the European Union. Mutual dialogue contributes not only to the removal of intercultural prejudices, it also forms the framework for economic and social cooperation and sustainable development and thus promotes the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy goals;

48.

refers to the fact that institutions such as the European Danube Academy, the Gyula Andrássy university in Budapest or the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM) can play an important role by consolidating existing potential and developing new target groups;

Work, health and social matters

49.

views the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion (2010) and the European Year of Volunteering (2011) as an opportunity to point out that the economic development of the Danube area must be accompanied by social development if society is to become persuaded of the benefits of the European Union for all citizens;

50.

thanks all stakeholders for ensuring the exchange of experience with governmental and non-governmental organisations in the Danube area with a view to accelerating development on social and health matters and requests that they continue to provide this support at all levels;

A single EU development area

51.

notes that the development of competitive and sustainable regions as part of the process of globalisation and in view of the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy goals will play an increasingly important role;

52.

points out that in the current 2007-2013 development period the Danube area is split into two partly overlapping transnational development areas: Central Europe and Southeast Europe. The division of the former single development area of Central and Southeast Europe into the Baltic Sea and the Aegean (CADES) can, particularly in the Danube area, have a long-term counterproductive effect on territorial, social and economic cohesion. Given its special geographical and cultural and historical importance especially for cohesion between eastern and western Europe, the Danube area has a special political and strategic spatial dimension. In light of its geopolitical importance, this can be best taken into account in a single area of cooperation;

53.

notes that in order to exhaust its full economic, social, environmental and cultural potential, the Danube area should thus be viewed as a single transnational, European area of development. A single EU development area would ensure that:

The potential of this area can be used effectively, especially in the strategic policy fields of infrastructure, waterways, flood protection, energy and energy security, sustainable economy as well as environmental policy

The joint economic potential can be fully and sustainably exploited

The path of cooperation can be further pursued at national, regional and local level

The Danube area can be viewed as the shared cultural, natural and historical heritage of all of Europe;

54.

calls on the European institutions to treat the Danube area as a single transnational EU development area in the next development phase. The IPA and ENPI instruments are flexible tools aimed at fully integrating candidate and potential candidates for EU membership as well as third countries into the whole of the development area. Further development here will ensure the coherent development of the Danube area. In this connection, it should be actively examined whether the Commission's responsibility for the ERDF, IPA and ENPI development instruments and for the ETC programmes can be consolidated and carried out exclusively by a single Commission service.

Brussels, 7 October 2009.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


(1)  European Commissioner calls for European Danube strategy IP/08/1461.

(2)  Written declaration by Victor Bostinaru and Daciana Octavia Sârbu on setting up a working group with a view to drawing up and implementing a Danube strategy; PE422.681v01-00; submitted on 23 March 2009.

(3)  Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Commission Legislative and Work Programme 2009. Acting now for a better Europe; COM(2008) 712 final.

(4)  Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Central Bank: Five Years of an Enlarged EU. Economic Achievements and Challenges; COM(2009) 79 final.

(5)  Convention on cooperation and protection and sustainable use of the Danube River; adopted in Sofia on 29 June 1994.

(6)  http://www.icpdr.org/icpdr-pages/navigation_and_ecology_process.htm.

(7)  Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, adopted in Espoo on 25 February 1991.

(8)  Convention on Access to Environmental Information, Public Participation in Environmental Decision-making and Access to Justice, adopted in Aarhus on 25 June 1998.

(9)  Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, adopted in Bern on 19 September 1979.

(10)  Agreement on regulating shipping in the Danube; adopted in Belgrade on 18 August 1948.


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/7


Own-initiative opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Priorities for regional and local authorities to prevent violence against women and improve support for victims’

(2010/C 79/02)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

stresses that violence against women is a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms and is an obstacle to securing equal opportunities for men and women;

2.

points out that it will be impossible to achieve economic and social cohesion, one of the cornerstones of the European Union, if the personal and professional development of half the population continues to be curbed – and even their physical and psychological well-being are threatened – simply because they happen to be women;

3.

notes that this is a universal problem. It affects all cultures, from East to West. The World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995, declared that violence against women is the most common crime in the world, yet also the least frequently detected: ‘violence against women is a manifestation of the historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of women's full advancement. Violence against women […] derives essentially from cultural patterns […] that perpetuate the lower status accorded to women in the family, in the workplace, the community and society’;

4.

recognises that over the past century, women have increasingly entered the public arena. They have brought benefits to society as a whole, contributing to culture, academia, politics, science and the economy for example;

5.

supports women's efforts towards freeing themselves and reaching their full potential and condemns the ideas and practices that threaten and restrict them. Violence against women runs counter to the fundamental principles of a democratic society;

6.

highlights the fact that violence against women is a reality throughout society, and in all EU Member States, regardless of social class or level of education;

7.

draws attention to this unacceptable infringement of the rights and freedoms of the women and children who are victims of violence;

8.

notes that both work to prevent violence against women and tackling violence and identifying relevant solutions are priorities in order to maintain women's physical and emotional well-being, secure equality between women and men, and achieve a greater level of economic and social development in regions and local areas;

9.

believes that it is time to evaluate the extent to which gender equality is a reality in society, and use this evaluation as the basis for developing effective measures within the framework of a social policy which is tailored to the needs of local people;

10.

believes that violence against women derives essentially from the way in which the structure of society perpetuates inequality between women and men and that in order to eradicate the problem we need to fast-track policies which focus on achieving true gender equality. Equality implies that women and men must have the same opportunities to shape society and their own lives and presupposes equality of rights, opportunities and responsibilities in all areas of life;

Regional and local self-government and subsidiarity

11.

notes that it is local and regional authorities that are closest to the public and are able to put these values into practice, applying economic, education and social policies to everyday life. The European Charter for Equality of Women and Men in Local Life, drawn up by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions within the context of the Fifth Community Action Programme on Equal Opportunities, acknowledges that policies to promote equal opportunities between men and women can be consolidated most effectively at local and regional level;

12.

notes that the local authorities that signed the Charter recognise in Article 22 that gender-based violence constitutes a violation of fundamental human rights and pledge to establish policies and actions to tackle the problem;

13.

notes that the European institutions recognise that the success of measures will depend on their making best use of the practices and resources that regional and local authorities already have in place. As these bodies are closest to the public, they are the best placed to take forward the opinions and concerns of the population and seek effective solutions to support and promote European policies;

14.

believes that local and regional authorities have a high level of responsibility on these issues, together with a wealth of experience, tried and tested ways of working, and programmes designed specifically for both victims and perpetrators;

15.

emphasises the role played by the European institutions, recognising the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and the part played by local and regional authorities, and supports the continued development and coordination of their actions;

Progress in terms of legislation

16.

highlights the fact that there is growing concern to raise awareness that violence against women is a violation of human rights. International declarations and national legislation have spelt this out;

17.

is interested to note the progress made in terms of legislation to eradicate violence against women in Member States and regional and local authorities and the importance of encouraging the exchange of experience on legislation and its enforcement. It is highlighted how important an issue this is, and how essential legislation is in the campaign to eradicate violence against women, using prevention and integrated support services for victims;

18.

points out that securing equal opportunities between men and women is one of the basic tenets of Community Law, as established in the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam (Articles 2 and 3) which states that the EU's task is to promote equality between men and women, mainstreaming this principle in all EU policies and programmes;

Definition of violence against women

19.

recognises that violence against women has been defined in various ways, but the most widely accepted definition was established by the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, which was adopted by Resolution 48/104 on 20 December 1993 at the UN General Assembly. In Article 1, violence against women is defined as ‘any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life’. This definition of violence against women has been used in this opinion;

Comments of the Committee of the Regions

20.

believes that preventing gender-based violence is one of the European Union's priorities for achieving gender equality. The Committee of the Regions recognised this in its opinion, adopted on 6 December 2006, 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 Roadmap for Equality between women and men (2006-2010);

21.

notes that many States have recognised the scale of the problem and the need to find comprehensive solutions. On 27 November 2006 the Council of Europe launched the Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, which operates on three levels: intergovernmental, parliamentary and local/regional, recognising how important it is to involve those bodies that are closest to the public;

22.

recognises that available data on violence against women does not provide the whole picture by any means. Women are therefore at a clear disadvantage when they want to participate fully in society;

23.

supports the eradication of the problem through the use of preventative measures, advocates mobilising appropriate services and practices to inform migrants, particularly women and children, about the risks of possible fraudulent migration offers and exploitation, raising public awareness of the issue, and organising victim support and protection;

24.

believes that violence against women should be examined from a range of different perspectives, and all forms of violence should be considered, to understand the problem in all its complexity:

From a purely legal perspective, gender-based violence undermines democratic principles and the fundamental rights of victims.

It is also necessary however to look at the issue from a health point of view, as gender-based violence can have a serious impact on victims' health. (Recommendation 1582 on domestic violence against women which was adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 27 September 2002 highlights the fact that domestic violence is the main cause of death or permanent disability for women between 16 and 44 years old. Domestic violence causes more deaths among women from this age group than cancer, road accidents or war.

In terms of social policy, women should have access to support services such as job services, housing services, and economic benefits.

From an education perspective, we should examine not just how schools and universities teach values, but at all the ways in which people are influenced growing up in society, including the impact of family and the media;

25.

supports the initiatives and projects that are being carried out by regional and local authorities to prevent violence against women, and encourages the exchange of good practice;

26.

recognises that combating violence is essential to create an area of freedom, security and justice in the European Union, yet the impact of violence and the measures required to prevent it also have significant economic and social implications;

27.

considers that human sex trafficking and all other forms of exploitation violate fundamental rights of individuals. Human trafficking constitutes a serious violation of personal human dignity and of the right to have control over one's own life and body. Human sex trafficking mainly concerns young women and girls, and is a modern form of human slavery which undermines shared European values and fundamental human rights and therefore constitutes a serious obstacle to social and sexual equality;

Economic impact of violence against women

28.

draws attention to the direct and indirect economic cost of violence against women for local and regional authorities in Member States. Violence affects victims' working lives as well as their physical and mental health and social situation. It also impacts adversely the health and well-being of other members of a family who witness violence against women, particularly children and the costs of dealing with the long term health issues costs often falling on local and regional authorities. These indirect costs – which take their toll on goods, services and victims' well-being – go hand in hand with the direct cost of specific or general resources that are used to deal with the problem. Statistics support the use of prevention programmes as they are inexpensive in comparison with the social cost of violence;

29.

draws attention to the effect of violence on society as a whole, noting that it is a social problem which must be tackled as a priority: violence not only has an impact on individuals, families and communities but also actually slows down the economic development of nations;

30.

is concerned by the figures presented in the 2006 study carried out by Carol Hagemann-White for the Council of Europe on measures adopted by its member states to combat violence against women. The report states that between 12 and 15 % of European women over 16 have experienced abuse in a relationship at some time in their lives, sometimes even after the break-up of the relationship;

31.

supports the Daphne initiatives, which were launched in 1997, to combat violence against women in the European Union. The Daphne III programme was adopted for the period 2007-2013. The project has a budget of EUR 116,85 million to develop programmes to protect children, young people and women from all forms of violence and attain high levels of health protection and social cohesion. The programme also supports the use of multi-disciplinary networks. As the different projects financed under the scheme are rolled out, lessons can be learnt on the needs of the bodies responsible for the projects and on the types of action they have taken;

Recommendations of the Committee of the Regions

32.

suggests that EU local and regional authorities follow the recommendations of the World Health Organisation, which highlights the need to ‘support research on the causes, consequences, and costs of violence against women and on effective prevention measures’ so that research can provide a starting point for action and prevention and offer a deeper understanding of the effectiveness of the action taken;

33.

emphasises the need for all studies to provide data according to gender, age, social class and other relevant indicators. This will provide a clearer picture of the situation, ensuring that social and economic strategies and measures can be tailored to bring about a more egalitarian society, with greater levels of progress and economic and social well-being;

34.

calls for the creation of a system and reliable procedures for obtaining standardised, comparable data on violence and gender equality policy in all regional and local authorities in order to raise awareness of the problem and suggest changes in the way political, economic and other relevant decisions are taken;

35.

calls for a study to be carried out at European level on the prevalence of violence against women in the different regions of the EU in order to gain an understanding of the extent of the problem and ensure innovative proposals can be developed to prevent violence. The research should be carried out in line with a standardised set of criteria which defines the concepts and sets out guidelines for intervention;

36.

emphasises the need to focus more on education, as education, together with family influences, are the factors which have the greatest impact on children growing up in society. There is a particular need to promote the principle of equal opportunities between women and men and develop training programmes and strategies to prevent violence against women and raise awareness of the problem at all levels of the education community and throughout all disciplines;

37.

suggests that measures should be taken to raise awareness of the problem among the whole population so that people stop thinking of gender-based violence as a private matter and get involved in finding solutions;

38.

calls for action to be taken against aggressive and discriminatory behaviour which insults the dignity of women, and for specific messages to be used to target different sectors of society (young people, female victims, male perpetrators, minors, as well as men and women who are not directly affected by the issue) to ensure that the whole population is involved. Sanctions against the perpetrators should be enforced;

39.

insists on the need to eliminate from society ways of seeing masculinity and femininity that involve unequal economic, social or political power and are propagated through advertising, the media and educational material for example. Alternative ways of seeing masculinity and femininity must be put forward which are fairer and more egalitarian;

40.

confirms that in the countries in which professionals working in education, law, health, psychology, social services, and law enforcement agencies have received specialised training, improvements have been made in detecting gender-based violence early and in providing more specialised victim support services;

41.

calls for protection measures to be stepped up for women who are victims of violence in all regional and local authorities. Among other targeted measures, more police personnel and technological resources should be freed up to safeguard victims' emotional and physical well-being;

42.

encourages the important work of NGOs involved in combating violence against women at the different levels and supports active co-operation with these NGOs, including appropriate logistic and financial support;

43.

suggests that local and regional authorities adopt measures to ensure that women victims and their dependents have access to specialist resources and integrated support services. Temporary accommodation should where possible be immediately available. Specific intervention programmes should be implemented for minors, who should also be considered victims of gender-based violence as they are particularly vulnerable because of their youth and dependence on parents;

44.

encourages decision-makers at the local and regional level to take into account women's safety and means to prevent violent acts in public places in their planning and administration, in particular with regard to necessary measures such as public lighting, the organisation of public transport and taxi services, the design and planning of car parks and residential and public buildings;

45.

calls on regional and local authorities to support legislating bodies' efforts to legislate on gender issues and equal opportunities, and to take a joined-up, holistic approach to gender-based violence by considering the issue in terms of discrimination and the principle of equality. All public authorities and local people need to take a firm stance on the issue: violence against women should be tackled as a structural and political problem;

46.

reminds EU local and regional authorities of their duty to ensure equal treatment between men and women in all fields – economy, education, politics and employment – as stated in Directives 2006/54/EC on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation and 2004/113/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between women and men in the access to and supply of goods and services. Progress in justice and economic and social development can only be achieved in the regional and local authorities that really take a stand on enforcing equal opportunities between men and women;

47.

stresses the need to encourage local and regional authorities to share good practice on campaigns to raise awareness, prevention, training professionals and support services for women who are victims of violence;

48.

recommends setting up dedicated units, insofar as they do not already exist, within law enforcement agencies, health organisations, and legal and social services to offer specialised support services in cases of violence against women. Additionally, the introduction of emergency services such as anonymous, free of charge telephone helplines and the use of new ICT facilities to provide online counselling and complaints procedures for victims of violence and/or persons confronted or threatened by situations of violence should be explored; these services should also facilitate access to the appropriate medical and forensic medical examination and treatment, as well as to post-traumatic psychological and social support and legal assistance;

49.

suggests rolling out programmes for changing the behaviour of male perpetrators and using quality criteria. Exchange of experience should be encouraged to optimise the use of resources;

50.

calls on the EU institutions and regional and local authorities to implement dedicated programmes – using quality criteria – which offer of the necessary support and follow-up services for women who are victims or have been victims of gender-based violence, together with their dependents;

51.

calls on regional and local authorities to use the definition of violence against women which is set out in Resolution 48/104 of the UN General Assembly, and was adopted on 20 December 1993;

52.

recommends ensuring tailored services are provided for particularly vulnerable women: women with disabilities for example, women immigrants, and women living in areas which are less well covered by social services, such as deprived urban or rural areas, as well as women with special needs arising from multiple social issues such as mental health problems and drug addiction;

53.

believes that robust efforts are needed to combat human trafficking or other means of exploitation for the purpose of sexual exploitation, for exploitative labour (domestic work, the catering industry, caring for children, the elderly and the sick, etc.), for the commercial marriage market and for organ trading, and to combat the practices of female genital mutilation and forced marriage. It is equally needed to develop and evaluate existing national and international models and methods to prevent and to put an end to these forms of violence. General measures to opinion-forming and awareness–raising of citizens are crucial in order to solve the problem;

54.

recommends the adoption of the measures to raise awareness, prevention and attention to women victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM);

55.

suggests that regional and local authorities should roll out programmes which help women who have been victims of abuse or exposed to violence get back to work and get on with their lives, by encouraging employers to take on these women or encouraging their self employment, and using training and action plans to advance their careers and help them become financially independent;

56.

calls on local and regional authorities to set up joint, co-ordinated ways of working across all departments and sectors to improve the provision of holistic support services for victims of violence, as well as facilitate the prosecution of individuals accused of domestic violence against women;

57.

calls on all relevant institutions dealing with violence against women (police, medical and social services) to draw up medium- and long-term co-ordinated action plans to combat violence and ensure the protection of victims; The media can be a useful means for disseminating information on such co-ordinated action plans and should be used to raise awareness about these issues;

58.

calls on the media working at all levels to play their part in awareness-raising so that prevention work is carried out and everything is done to eradicate gender-based violence, and to ensure the processes are in place to ensure information on violence against women is properly circulated;

59.

suggests that an EU observatory on violence against women should be set up. This observatory shall function within the existing European Institute for Gender Equality, created by Regulation (CE) 1922/2006, and would promote and coordinate measures adopted on the issue by local and regional authorities to promote and co-ordinate measures adopted on the issue through active networking;

60.

with the support of all the European institutions, the Committee of the Regions intends to promote a Community policy ensuring that women are completely emancipated and able to participate fully in society, starting with local and regional authorities. This will be achieved by implementing effective procedures to prevent violence through education and social policy. The procedures will improve services for victims by training professionals, and providing a social support network which will ensure women are better protected.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/13


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the ‘White Paper — Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action’

(2010/C 79/03)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

welcomes the White Paper on adapting to climate change and its appendices which are sound and well thought through. The Committee of the Regions notes that there is a consensus in the academic community, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that climate change is happening and accelerating and that much of it is caused by continuing and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. The challenge is therefore to organise all relevant actors in a comprehensive and sustainable climate protection effort that combines prevention, mitigation and adaptation measures;

2.

endorses the comprehensive approach of the European Commission, which incorporates different sector requirements and recognises the need for adaptation to be horizontally integrated into key EU policy areas;

3.

highlights the fact that different geographical regions in the EU are affected in diverse ways. A European framework for action must take this into account. This means that any measures should have the greatest possible flexibility and should strictly comply with the subsidiarity principle. Only then can sufficient account be taken of regional differences in order to reduce the economic, environmental and social impact;

4.

draws attention to the fact that climate change does not distinguish between geographical, organisational or administrative boundaries, and therefore urges that a horizontal joined-up approach be taken at local, regional and national bodies that share common features such as stretches of water, estuaries, coastal and river flood plains, islands and outermost regions, whereas, from a vertical perspective, adaptation effort requires bottom-up action and recommends that joint actions on adaptive measures be undertaken by all relevant levels of government, outlining the respective actions, financial responsibilities and time scales to achieve the proposed goals, and allowing for an integrated response and shared responsibility for the outcome;

5.

underlines the importance of ensuring that the various initiatives are not counterproductive or duplicated at other levels of authority. Timely involvement of local and regional authorities could ensure that the proposals complement each other as municipalities, cities and regions can offer information on the experiences and solutions that have already been developed at sub-national level;

6.

points out that an ambitious and effective climate policy can prevent the escalation of social inequalities as a consequence of climate change. The aim is to jumpstart a green ‘New Deal’ by means of measures that, for instance, increase research into climate-friendly energy solutions, strengthen employment in green sectors and develop green and help the workforce in affected sectors to develop flexible skills. A shortage of appropriate training and flexible skills is a major barrier to adaptation, both in local and regional government and the private sector. The design and construction industry and local authority planning and building control departments will require significant long-term investment and training to develop these skills and incorporate them into their work. A green ‘New Deal’ could also help to prevent undesirable climate-related migration. The climate change challenge can thus be transformed into an opportunity to provide sustainable green economic growth as a remedy to combat the financial crisis and it is therefore important that links with future priorities of the post-2010 EU Jobs and Growth Strategy be established;

Climate change impact on sector policies

7.

recalls the need to employ a combination of policy instruments, including local strategic planning. It is highly important that aspects of climate change be incorporated directly into local planning tools in order to ensure that climate impact is taken into account;

8.

agrees with the view that many areas of life, particularly infrastructure (buildings, transport, trunk and local road networks, energy, sewerage, flood protection and water supply), ecosystems, agriculture and forestry are particularly affected by climate change and that there is therefore a need for both sector-specific and cross-sectoral tools to address these areas. It is important that a cross-sectoral policy approach to adapting to climate change be pursued, but this must not frustrate the original goals of individual policies;

9.

endorses the view that the development of guidelines and mechanisms to monitor the impact on human health of climate change could contribute to the improvement of instruments to manage for example cross-border climate-related diseases, which will affect citizens in diverse ways;

10.

underlines that the comprehensive and integrated approach that is needed to ensure robust measures are introduced to adapt to climate change requires public control over the choice of measures within the various sectors. This would also lead to environmental and economic synergies and spin-off effects between the sectors;

11.

supports the view that climate change will have a direct impact on agriculture, forestry and the countryside in general, and stresses that measure for adapting to climate change adopted by rural communities, farms and forestry businesses will have an increasingly important part to play. In order to bring about early adaptation, thereby minimising the impact on this sector, research into climate and farming needs to be driven forward and applied to the features of agriculture in each region. Measures to combat and adapt to climate change are often associated with reduced yields and increased costs. A cost-benefit analysis of individual measures must therefore be carried out. Furthermore, the costs associated with measures to combat and adapt to climate change must be reasonable. The agricultural sector will have a direct role in ensuring that rural areas cope with the challenges of climate change on issues such as water storage and conservation, crop management, woodland creation and management, except in regions with a share of forest that exceeds 50 %, arable reversion to grassland, organic farming and wetland management, etc. Rural and agricultural land that is close to urban areas and agglomerations may also acquire strategic importance based on its ability to provide secure water retention areas during extreme weather or floods;

12.

recognises that climate change will have an effect on forests and their surrounding ecosystems. Climate effects can impact on timber production and impinge on outdoor recreational activities, water quality, biodiversity and rates of carbon storage. In the context of the EU Forest Action Plan, a debate should be launched to establish the effects of adaptation to climate change on forests, including any need to take action in this regard;

13.

endorses the view that climate change will be an added stress factor for the fisheries sector (including inland fisheries), affecting marine (and other) ecosystems that are already vulnerable to overfishing and stock depletion;

14.

recognises that climate change will have a direct effect on both the supply of and demand for energy, e.g. heat waves and droughts will affect electricity production while severe storms and flooding will cause interruptions in energy supplies and therefore welcomes the fact that the effects of climate change are being taken into account in the strategic energy reviews. In particular, the CO2 balance should be improved and the use and efficiency of alternative sources enhanced;

15.

draws attention to the fact that tourism will be both positively and negatively affected, which will break old patterns of travelling;

16.

is surprised that the Commission's White Paper does not mention the need to define sector-specific targets for reducing emissions in the air transport and maritime sectors. The best way to prevent expenditure on adaptation to negative impacts of climate change is to prevent emissions;

17.

points out that changing weather patterns will affect coastal management. Efforts must be made to ensure that the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) recommendations are fully respected, and to ensure that the follow up proposal to the ICZM recommendations and accompanying impact assessment (due to start in 2009) sufficiently incorporates the role of coastal management into adaptation measures, while taking account of the principle of subsidiarity, for example via the use of Local Coastal Partnerships made up of local communities and relevant stakeholders, whereby adaptation measures are fully incorporated into coastal management from the bottom up;

18.

points out that climate change is taking place more quickly in mountainous areas and that these areas are in many respects more vulnerable to the effects of climate change;

19.

endorses the view that animal and plant health will also be severely affected and that there will be increasing inward migration and spread of non-native diseases and parasites in animal and plant stocks. Land ecosystems will change significantly with an increasing loss of indigenous biodiversity and through inward migration. Measures taken with a view to adapting to climate change may also have an increasing and unexpected impact on biodiversity. The Habitat Directive is an essential tool which should be used proactively within its remits to secure a favourable conservation status for Natura 2000 sites and to develop such sites further;

20.

notes that climate change has a major impact not only on animal and plant health, but also on human health and living conditions;

21.

stresses that a comprehensive plan for coastal areas needs to be drawn up to deal with the anticipated rises in sea levels and increases in storms leading to floods, and that therefore the resources need to be found to implement and administer such a plan;

22.

endorses the view that water resources will be affected, in both quantity and quality, with a significant environmental, human and economic impact. The EU will experience both flooding and drought. A combination of flooding and limited drainage capacity of existing sewage systems could cause reduced mobility due to overflowing onto roads and damage to housing and other infrastructure. It is therefore unfortunate that the Commission has not made specific mention of sewerage as a pivotal tool. This system is particularly affected and adaptation of the existing sewage systems will be very costly. Although this matter comes under the remit and responsibility of the local and regional levels, sub-national authorities will be unable to bear the financial burden involved on their own;

23.

recognises that a number of EU directives will affect the state of the EU’s water resources. In the directives, binding deadlines are an integral part of implementation. The Water Framework Directive operates with a deadline of 2015 by which time all water authorities must achieve a good ecological status. The first River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) are to be completed on the 22nd December 2009 at the latest, and it is therefore important that the guidelines and a set of tools be developed by the end of 2009 to ensure that the RBMP take account of the current knowledge of the local impact of climate change and continually adapt to new findings of climate modelling and research. The Flooding Directive operates with three deadlines. In the years 2011, 2013 and 2015, preliminary flood risk assessment, flood hazard maps and flood risk management plans have to be carried out. The Water Scarcity and Droughts Strategy will introduce drought management plans. These defined targets will in large part be implemented and driven by municipalities and regions throughout Europe. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the right tools and adequate levels of resources be provided in due time by the Union and the Member States to the local and regional tiers of government;

24.

asserts that the regions will endeavour as far as possible, on the basis of current scientific knowledge and measures deemed socially achievable, to factor climate change into the first-generation River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) and to take into account the latest findings of climate research when drawing up management plans of the second-generation after 2015 To that end, it is extremely important to develop guidelines and tools that, while underpinned by state-of-the-art scientific knowledge, are also practicable for regional authorities;

25.

argues for the need to ensure that existing EU water management legislation (the Water Framework Directive, Groundwater Directive, Floods Directive, Water Scarcity and Droughts Strategy, etc.) is fully consistent, and that future EU climate change adaptation proposals and goals are kept in line with this existing legislation. The implementation of European water management legislation will have a significant impact on the way that water planning is carried out in Europe’s municipalities, cities and regions;

26.

recognises that in the financing of the adaptation of water management, local and regional authorities will need to undertake groundwater protection in order to ensure sustainable water distribution. Some of the funding can be achieved by establishing a financial mechanism, in accordance with the Water Framework Directive, which will ensure that in addressing the impact of climate change on the water cycle due account is taken of water consumers’ consumption levels;

27.

supports the Commission’s inclusion of ‘no-regret’ actions and measures in order to increase the resilience of ecosystems and infrastructure;

28.

points out that any solutions to sector-specific problems which are found can help create sustainable green growth and additional jobs through innovation and research;

Commission proposal for EU framework: objectives and actions

29.

welcomes the Commission's two-phase approach. However, notes that the task ahead requires that all levels of government work closely together in all phases. It is not acceptable for local and regional authorities to be involved in the first phase only. It must be recognised that municipalities, cities and regions are key actors in adapting to climate change. The overall adaption strategy at EU-level should be detailed enough, so that the strategy can be applied at the regional level throughout the EU, while taking into account the diversity of regions, climate conditions and economic structures;

30.

demands that the available scientific evidence be accessible before 2012. Local, regional and national authorities have budgetary patterns that are different from that of the EU, and many local and regional authorities already work with adaptation. They need to know the climate scenarios they have to adapt to. The local, regional and national authorities will collect data, prepare the adaptation strategies and start the work on adaptation before 2012. The EU should support this development, firstly by providing scientific scenarios, which are detailed enough for all the regions of the EU, before 2012 and secondly by supporting the ongoing work financially when adaptation to climate change is incorporated into the budget;

31.

welcomes the establishment of an EU-wide Clearing House Mechanism, which should be based upon national platforms that would allow the exchange of information on climate change impact, vulnerability and best practice, and emphasises the need for it to be accessible for local and regional authorities to contribute to and benefit from, by means of local and/or regional climate change observatories and other bodies, Interactivity that would allow local and regional authorities, through their climate change observatories and other bodies, to actively involve the relevant sectors and to seek timely expertise and experience for example in response to severe weather events from other authorities, would be of significant value and should be incorporated. The mechanism should focus on providing user friendly models, data and instruments and on facilitating exchanges of experience and information;

32.

advocates the creation of a Climate Change Monitoring Platform properly supported by the Commission, drawing on the successful model of the Covenant of Mayors. The platform could assist local and regional authorities in developing and exchanging local climate knowledge. This would be of direct benefit to them as well as being a mechanism that could feed into the EU Clearing House Mechanism;

33.

calls on the EU and Member States to make full use of local and regional authorities proximity and better understanding of local climate impacts by providing them with sufficient leadership and resourcing that could enable them to implement local adaptation initiatives;

Financial instruments

34.

agrees that financial constraints constitute the main barrier to adaptation. Currently, the financial means provided by the EU and the Member States are insufficient. It is therefore necessary to allocate more resources to the sub-national level, to be specifically targeted at adaptation to climate change, and to coordinate these resources with those for use in natural disaster prevention;

35.

welcomes the fact that the European Economic Recovery Plan takes account of mitigation and adaptation to climate change into economic revitalisation measures; regrets, however, that no European green recovery plan has been proposed and that the topic of the environment has been relegated to within the various national action plans, in an uncoordinated manner, despite it being time to pave the way towards a green, sustainable, low-carbon economy as a way out of the current financial and economic crisis;

36.

backs the Commission's idea that, from 2013, Member States should earmark at least 50 % of the revenue generated through the auctioning of emission rights to tackle the climate issue through adaptation, and feels that use of available funding for adaptation purposes must also be contingent on specific local and regional conditions. Local and regional authorities will need a substantial amount of financial resources and, especially in the short run, the percentage of funds earmarked for the projects at local and regional level should be considerably increased;

37.

acknowledges the need to explore how to secure private involvement, by making use of the advantages offered by voluntary (or ecological) agreements, through financial mechanisms. However, given the structural and long term relevance of the challenges posed by climate change, public sector support might be necessary, especially in terms of addressing the gaps and market failures not properly addressed by the private sector;

38.

agrees that specialised Market Based Instruments (MBIs) and public-private partnerships should also be considered as financial instruments to address climate change. Involvement of the private sector, through MBIs and public-private partnerships, in adapting to climate change can create the right economic incentives to incorporate adaptation measures into their behaviour;

39.

points out the need to ensure that integrated policies, which are currently being developed at EU level, are used as a vehicle to address horizontal and cross-policy challenges such as those posed by climate change. In doing so, overlaps, inconsistencies and gaps between different policies and between governance levels, including the sub national levels, will be fully addressed;

40.

believes that the forthcoming EU Budget review and indeed the next Financial Perspectives post 2013 must make climate change challenges a priority, both to take into account the reinforcement of the World Environment Fund and Kyoto Adaptation Fund set to be decided at the Copenhagen COP 15 summit in December 2009 and to finance specific European measures decided upon in the context of the EU's future sustainable development strategy.. Further, it has to be fully recognised that sustainable economic prosperity and efforts to adapt to climate change go hand in hand despite the upfront cost that climate change adaptation might generate in the short to medium term. Since adaptation measures are in many cases essentially local efforts, it is essential to ensure that EU support is made available to local and regional authorities;

41.

endorses the view, that while EU funding mechanisms and networks such as the TENs, the Structural Funds or the EAFRD should mainstream climate change and adaptation issues in individual policy areas, particularly on issues such as increasing resilience of production systems and physical infrastructure; the original purpose of such policies and funds should not be undermined by the need to combat climate change and therefore specific measures and EU funds for that purpose would have to be envisaged particularly to avoid the dispersal of Community funds in this area; therefore, calls upon the European Commission to look into the ‘green earmarking’ of existing Structural Funds based on the earmarking model used for the Lisbon Strategy, or to create a European environmental adaptation fund that would finance training, retraining or back-to-work programmes for workers in sectors likely to be affected by sustainable development, or to support the creation of businesses attuned to environmental needs;

Partnership with local and regional authorities

42.

supports the creation of an Impacts and Adaptation Steering Group (IASG) since the process of developing an EU strategy as well as national strategies must be managed to ensure that the effort is coordinated both in regard to policy sectors and levels of authority. However, it is important to ensure the mandate and budget of the steering group are determined before the group is set up, and therefore calls on the Commission to do so as soon as possible;

43.

emphasises the need for local and regional authorities to be a part of IASG, since local and regional authorities are responsible for planning, steering and implementing many of the sectors concerned. Local and regional authorities therefore possess valuable knowledge and could contribute considerably to building the knowledge base on both impacts and possible solutions. The IASG should take on a bottom-up approach and clearly define areas of responsibility on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity;

44.

calls for the establishment of Climate Change Task Forces at national level that fully involve local and regional authorities. The action plans for adapting to climate change that are drawn up at local and regional level should provide the basis for the work in these task forces. Their work should link directly with the work of the IASG. These task forces could be organised around the need for research, socioeconomic impacts, local and regional authorities, the general public and privates companies;

45.

emphasises the need to educate the public as adapting to climate change will involve changes to lifestyles. Citizens need to understand why adaptation measures are necessary, why the costs of some services may increase, how they can help and what is being done to minimise the risks to themselves. Such communication and behavioural changes will require a carefully constructed and targeted approach, supported by appropriate measures. The Committee therefore calls for the EU, Member States and regional and local authorities to work together with the media to develop a pan-European information campaign on causes and effects of climate change and changes these effects will bring. It should be made clear that climate change will cause a growing scarcity of resources which is why there is a need to focus on changing everyday behaviour. Local and regional authorities stress the need of proper funding resourcing of such campaigns, as well as having due consideration of the need of localising messages in different Member States, nations and regions;

46.

points out that local and regional authorities also play an important role beyond the borders of the EU. Municipalities, cities and regions can play a constructive role in transferring expertise to developing countries that face the greatest adaptation challenges;

Recommendations to the EU Presidency

47.

demands that the Commission and the EU Presidency secure political commitment to the timely development and implementation of the European adaptation strategy in collaboration with local and regional authorities;

48.

requests that the Commission and the EU Presidency involve the local and regional authorities in the process of drafting and implementing the EU’s framework for action by involving them in the workings of the IASG. Overall long-term strategies should be developed through broad cooperation between the governmental levels if successful implementation is to be ensured. Local and regional authorities possess hands-on knowledge regarding the impact of climate challenges, since they are on the front line. Furthermore, in the event of emergencies caused by climate change, citizens will appeal to local and regional governments in the first instance. This clearly justifies their involvement;

49.

stresses the need for local and regional authorities to be recognised as pivotal actors in the struggle against the harmful effects of climate change, since they are ready to assume the co-responsibility and already are taking action to adapt communities to the consequences;

50.

calls for more attention to be paid to solutions and instruments for urban areas (particularly those located on the coast and near major rivers) and infrastructure, such as dikes and sewage systems, which are fundamental to reducing the vulnerability of the infrastructure;

51.

calls for realistic cross-border climate risk scenarios, detailed enough for all the regions in the EU, to be developed in cooperation between local, regional, national and EU level. The data, models, methods and climate scenarios should be made freely available as soon as possible so that the risk areas can be defined and countermeasures established;

52.

stresses the need for the right financial incentives for action. Local and regional authorities should be supported in their efforts to develop proactive solutions that will reduce the vulnerability of local communities;

53.

underlines that local and regional authorities should receive additional financial support to mitigate losses and meet the additional costs of adaptation since meeting the varied challenges of climate change will impose significant new financial burdens on local authorities.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/19


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘A Community approach on the prevention of natural and man-made disasters’

(2010/C 79/04)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

is perturbed to note the sharp rise over the past few years in the number, magnitude and intensity of disasters – either natural or directly or indirectly man-made – in the regions of the European Union. Change in the climate all over the world is making that of Europe more unstable and will lead to more extreme weather conditions, in turn making harm to people, infrastructure and the environment more likely.

2.

notes that disasters, whatever their cause, often inflict considerable harm on people, the economy, the environment and cultures. This damage and the cost of tackling disasters can far outstrip the cost of investment needed in preventive measures.

3.

notes that the focus of the established EU disaster-prevention instruments – Community Civil Protection procedures, the Civil Protection Financial Instrument and the EU Solidarity Fund –that are customarily deployed in the disaster management cycle of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery has predominantly been on the last three of these elements.

4.

for this reason, supports the political goal of developing a joint strategy for the – hitherto rather neglected – sphere of disaster prevention and of launching a broad debate on the matter. The strategy must help to achieve a balanced Community concept of civil protection for the EU.

5.

for this reason, agrees with the Commission that prevention is to be understood in two ways: firstly, as far as possible preventing disasters before they occur, and secondly, containing the consequences of those that cannot be avoided.

6.

also takes the view that disasters are sudden, unforeseen events that lead to a break-down of central public organisations, systems and operations and that conflict-related emergencies and terrorist attacks do not fall within this definition.

7.

stresses that, although most of these disasters are highly localised, they can transcend administrative boundaries, thus making collaboration between areas facing a common threat essential, especially in the area of prevention.

8.

points out that local and regional authorities, in particular, as the tier closest to the public, are the first to be directly affected and called upon to act. For this reason, they should be involved in all aspects of drawing up disaster-protection strategies and measures.

9.

also points out, in this connection, the crucial importance of taking direct action as swiftly as possible the moment a disaster threatens in order to contain its impact in any region of the EU, without regard to its geographical situation. For this reason, disaster-prevention measures must also be taken at the level most immediately affected and most capable of a rapid response.

10.

stresses, therefore, that both local and regional authorities – with their experience-based knowledge of their own local and regional circumstances – have the pivotal role to play in disaster prevention. It is not uncommon for the technical know-how to be available, but the funding for prevention strategies to be lacking.

11.

At the same time, recognises the fact that the drafting and implementation of emergency plans, as a preventative measure, has produced some excellent results in those cases in which it has been possible to implement them, although underfunding represents a significant difficulty in being able to carry out this preventative policy.

12.

for this reason, expressly welcomes the European Commission's request to the Committee of the Regions to provide it with further information with a view to consolidating a Community strategy for the prevention of natural and man-made disasters.

Development of knowledge-based prevention strategies at all levels

13.

shares the Commission's view that a better understanding of disasters is indispensable to the creation of effective local and regional disaster-prevention strategies.

14.

for this reason, welcomes the Commission's intention to develop a comprehensive inventory of existing sources of information relating to disasters. The evaluation of information already to hand should always take precedence over the gathering of additional data.

15.

notes in this connection that extensive data on disasters and their economic and social consequences are available both in the Member States and at European level. Additional measures should therefore only be invoked where knowledge is demonstrably patchy due to a lack of information or insufficient comparability.

16.

also endorses the proposal to compile an inventory of tried and tested practices. Local and regional authorities in the Member States are able to draw on a wealth of experience in disaster prevention which they should exchange with one another and make generally accessible (1).

17.

is profoundly sceptical, however, about whether sectoral approaches in particular acts of legislation, such as the Floods Directive or the Seveso Directive, can be meaningfully applied more generally. The nature of the danger from different kinds of disaster varies enormously depending on geographical, climate and geomorphologic circumstances. For this reason, the blanket application of a single prevention instrument is hardly likely to bring additional benefits against all risks.

18.

considers that drawing up a list of existing national guidelines on hazard/risk mapping and making this list available to the Member States could increase the comparability of dangers and risk across Europe. Such a list could be particularly helpful for Member States that do not yet have national measures for mapping hazards or risks.

19.

emphasises, however, that possible guidelines to be elaborated on that basis can only serve as recommendations. On the one hand, they must not lead to a costly re-drawing of maps that already exist in the Member States; on the other, the Member States must retain the ability to set their own priorities derived from specific local and regional characteristics.

20.

welcomes the setting of disaster-prevention priorities in the implementation of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. Community-backed research is a sensible addition to the corresponding efforts of the Member States.

Linking the actors and policies throughout the disaster management cycle

21.

supports the Commission's proposal to extend the current ‘lessons learnt’ programme of the Community Civil Protection Mechanism to aspects of disaster prevention.

22.

is convinced that a Community concept for disaster prevention should also include a mutual assessment by Member States that are regularly affected by similar disasters. Such procedures (peer reviews) and the dissemination of their experience can help to embed disaster-prevention mechanisms in all Member States.

23.

also notes that aspects of disaster prevention should assume an important role in national courses and training on disaster protection. These training opportunities provided by the Member States for politicians and civil servants could be complemented, if need be, by training at Community level.

24.

stresses that, when it comes to raising public awareness in general, measures to inform people about disaster risks and action being planned in this area should take particular account of children, the elderly and those with reduced mobility. These awareness-raising measures should include individual preparatory and emergency actions and the Europe-wide ‘112’ emergency number, as well as foregrounding the opportunities for those afflicted to work together (e.g., making sure emergency services are not hampered and cooperating in evacuation).

25.

also takes the view that close cooperation and coordination should be promoted between stakeholders involved in defining and implementing measures designed to influence disaster prevention over the long term. Disaster prevention requires a multidimensional, forward-looking approach, bringing together all levels of state and private action, if it is to be fully effective.

26.

stresses at the same time that it lies with each Member State to organise collaboration and coordination between all participants in line with its competences. The importance of voluntary commitment and organisations in this sphere should be particularly recognised.

27.

for this reason, approves in principle the Commission's intention to put together a European network composed of representatives of the various national departments in order to improve coordination. However, an examination should be conducted into how far this goal can be served by further coordination or fusion of extant networks and improved collaboration, without creating additional structures.

28.

regrets that the Commission has not advanced any further measures aimed specifically at stepping up cross-border exchange of information, experience and good practices. There should be an intensive exchange of this kind particularly between local and regional authorities of neighbouring Member States that could fall victim to crossborder disasters such as floods and between Member States that are frequently plagued by the same kind of disaster, such as forest fires.

29.

points out that the INTERREG initiative has proved to be extremely effective in the exchange of tried and tested practices in the prevention of natural disasters in precisely such crossborder contexts. The establishment of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) can further improve the implementation of disaster-prevention measures in the areas of shared databases, exercises, risk assessment and early warning systems, as well as technology transfer and exchange of experts.

Making existing instruments perform better

30.

calls for an inventory to be made of existing Community instruments relevant to supporting disaster-prevention measures and for the cataloguing of prevention measures for which EU funding can already be used. Both of these measures are very well suited to giving new emphasis to the prevention element in disaster protection, including at subnational levels. Possibilities of financial support for crossborder plans, exercise and training should merit particular attention here.

31.

highlights the fact that these measures can markedly improve disaster prevention in the short term, even within the 2007-2013 financial perspective. Over the medium term, improved access to already available resources could ensure more efficient and effective use of funds even without raising the total disaster-protection budget.

32.

has misgivings, however, about the way some aspects of disaster prevention are treated in Council Directive 85/337/EEC on the assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment (EIA Directive) and in the Seveso Directive 1996/82/EC. Existing procedures must not be overloaded if extra bureaucracy is to be avoided. In order to ensure effective disaster prevention, targeted and coordinated measures at local and regional level should be given precedence over a blanket extension of administrative and authorisation procedures.

33.

supports the Commission in its endeavours to integrate the common European design codes for buildings and civil works (‘Euro code 8’) into national planning regulations. Better building standards are the best way of palliating the consequences of the most disparate disaster scenarios and significantly cutting the number of potential causalities.

34.

in this connection, encourages the Commission to put disaster prevention centre stage in future cooperation initiatives with third countries.

Final comments

35.

notes that protecting the public from disasters is essentially a task for the Member States and their regional and local tiers and that many Member States already have extensive national strategies for disaster prevention in place. All efforts to improve disaster prevention must continue to build on the principles of solidarity, cooperation, coordination and support between these levels.

36.

expects the EU to respect the subsidiarity principle and make it a priority to give effective help to the Member States and regions repeatedly afflicted by natural disasters as they work towards developing and implementing their own prevention measures. The purpose of Community action must be to help them help themselves.

37.

urges the EU-Institutions to encourage and support, by means of the existing instruments preventative measures consisting for instance in the drafting and implementation of various emergency plans by local and regional authorities;

38.

for this reason, welcomes the Community approach set forth by the Commission of developing disaster prevention based on existing arrangements intended to complement national measures and concentrate on areas in which effective disaster prevention necessitates a common approach.

39.

in conclusion, reiterates its call (2) to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to heed the views of the local and regional authorities in planning any disaster-prevention initiatives and to put in place an effective procedure of prior consultation of individuals directly responsible for disaster management.

Brussels, 7 October 2009.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


(1)  See CdR 116/2006 fin. Appendix, OJ C 206, 29.8.2006, p. 13.

(2)  CdR 116/2006 fin; C 206, 29.8.06, p. 9.


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/23


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions — ‘Green Paper TEN-T: A policy review’

(2010/C 79/05)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

On the foundations on which the future TEN-T policy should rest

1.

warmly welcomes the in-depth review of TEN-T policy, which would appear necessary in the light of the major delays suffered in the completion of the network defined in 1996 and the constraints on the European transport budget, and notes that the financial crisis makes it all the more necessary to optimise the investments to be made as part of TEN-T;

2.

emphasises that in the current economic crisis, TEN-T development and the integration of transport in the EU and its neighbouring countries constitute considerable stakes for ensuring the internal market’s long-term viability and territorial, economic and social cohesion in the EU; therefore calls on Member States to reverse the drastic TEN-T budget cutbacks during the course of the 2009/2010 mid-term review of the Financial Perspectives;

3.

notes that this opinion is an important addition to the opinions it has previously adopted, in particular those on greening the transport sector and on urban mobility;

4.

would draw the Commission's attention to the fact that the development of transport infrastructure is inextricably linked with the other two strands of transport policy: policy on traffic charging and regulation (for instance under the Eurovignette directive) and the improvements in transport efficiency, quality and safety (for instance through the development of rail interoperability); and therefore recommends that the Commission develop these three strands coherently and simultaneously;

5.

hopes that greater attention will be given to the objectives of sustainable development and environmental protection and thus that TEN-T policy will nurture more environmentally-friendly modes of transport (rail, sea and river transport);

6.

proposes that specific attention be given to the existence of environmentally sensitive areas such as coastal and mountain areas, where special measures should be taken to encourage a switch from road haulage to rail or to sea motorways;

7.

regrets that the Green Paper does not do more to highlight the importance of transport in European regional planning and, in full accordance with the EU objective of territorial cohesion, recalls that one of the basic objectives of TEN-T is to contribute to a better balance between the regions by enabling the free movement of people and goods, in particular between more remote or less developed regions and major European economic centres in order to give these regions a much-needed economic boost and, in the case of the outermost regions, taking account of their right to accessibility;

On network planning

8.

would like to restrict the Trans-European Transport Network to transport axes that contribute significantly to the strategic objectives of the European Union, particularly cohesion policy, over the long-term (the ‘principal networks’) and as part of a two-level TEN-T structure with a comprehensive TEN-T network and a core network;

9.

takes the view that, in the case of a comprehensive TEN-T network based on agreed methods and general principles at Community level, a flexible system should be put in place so that different parts or components of the network (new ports, airports, rail connections, etc.) can be quickly and effectively integrated into the TEN-T network;

10.

considers it inevitable that a distinction be drawn between freight and passenger transport as they differ in purpose and nature, and hopes to see the priorities of these two types of network defined more clearly where appropriate (currently decisions often favour passenger transport); believes that the scarcity of funding means that priorities need to be set in developing the overall TEN-T network, and that resources should be targeted at removing bottlenecks;

11.

is of the opinion that making this distinction would not preclude close coordination in the definition and implementation of the two networks or the possibility of freight and passenger functions sharing the same infrastructure, either temporarily or permanently provided needs in terms of goods and passengers services are met;

12.

recommends that the trans-European ‘principal networks’ for freight and passengers incorporate the current ‘priority projects’ which could be expanded to include other projects and all the infrastructure necessary to ensure continuity in circulation (including small scale infrastructure enabling a rapid improvement in traffic effectiveness, quality and safety) thanks to which corridors can be developed that reflect what the public wants;

13.

considers that the redefined TEN-T network should also encompass the transport nodes located on these principal networks and which are particularly important for the cohesion and economy of the EU's regions, as these nodes provide considerable added value, particularly because they are designed to be multimodal; transport nodes are the main source of congestion and other failings in efficiency; the TEN-T network should in particular include infrastructure surrounding major cities, in order to restrict the number of routes shared by long-distance traffic and everyday peri-urban traffic also seeking alternatives through non-congested areas;

14.

judges it important that the TEN-T network be defined according to a logic of intermodality and thus be extended to the major hubs for connections and logistics (stations, airports, ports, intermodal terminals) as well as to secondary infrastructure serving these hubs and linking them to the principal networks; it is also worth bearing in mind here the maritime role of certain land corridors as a basic axis for the priority network for freight transport by rail linked to sea transport via the rail connection with the main intermodal transport nodes (logistics platforms and ports);

15.

also considers it essential that ports which are of strategic importance for Europe, especially those linked to European multimodal platforms which handle the greater part of European external trade and which can play a greater role in terms of intra-EU trade, be connected efficiently to inland areas by the TEN-T rail and river network and recommends the development of Motorways of the Sea, which constitute a flexible, environmentally friendly alternative facilitating the integration of remote and peripheral areas; rail and river transport should be given priority in connections between European sea ports and their hinterlands;

16.

insists on the need to involve cities and regional and local authorities closely in defining the TEN-T network and its priorities, particularly in order to ensure consistency with local and regional planning and especially when defining transport hubs and secondary infrastructure as, while city and regional growth depends largely on transport infrastructure, the result is that cities and regions shoulder certain costs and suffer various impacts;

17.

notes that unlike planning based on principal networks, the scope of the current ‘comprehensive network’ hinders the effective development of TEN-T; against this backdrop, would welcome limiting the comprehensive network to the stringent application of legislative measures on interoperability, safety and cohesion funds; notes that the maintenance of a comprehensive network is the only opportunity for outlying regions without priority projects to benefit from transport infrastructure services funded by the EU, thus guaranteeing accessibility for all regions; the comprehensive network could be subject to a stringent assessment of clearly defined EU ‘added value criteria’;

18.

would welcome an ambitious policy to develop ‘intelligent’ intermodal and interoperable systems for user interfaces and information, as this could make a major contribution to passenger and freight transport efficiency; and, in particular, recommends putting in place an integrated ticketing system in the area of international rail passenger transport;

19.

recommends continuing work on standardising technical provisions (for instance the standards already adopted in rail transport) and operating systems for transport in order to provide a coherent framework for the various national infrastructures and to enable interoperability between local transport systems and standards but without imposing any particular standards on local and regional transport authorities;

20.

calls for clarification and precisions regarding what the Green Paper refers to as the ‘conceptual pillar’ as the current definition is too vague and makes it impossible to express an opinion;

On the implementation of TEN-T policy

21.

believes it is necessary to focus European subsidies on a more limited number of operations, primarily on the major trans-national projects, which often suffer as a result of governments favouring strictly national projects, and then on operations enabling rapid improvements in the quality and safety of exchanges and environmental sustainability; any eventual decision on that front should be supported by the rigorous application of ‘EU added value criteria’; in this connection, the application of co-financing and other supporting measures must have absolute competitive neutrality. Demonstration of this should form an integral part of an approval procedure;

22.

welcomes the adoption at European level of socio-economic evaluation methods enabling comparisons between projects to be made on a harmonised basis so as to evaluate their ‘European added value’;

23.

nevertheless draws the Commission's attention to the dangers of allocating European financing on this basis alone, as socio-economic evaluation methods tend to apply set criteria and cannot take all the factors in the decision into account, particularly when it comes to regional planning, territorial cohesion and accessibility;

24.

stresses the need for the Guidelines to include provisions that will ensure that each Member State defines a structure whereby the local and regional bodies that are legally responsible for transport planning and network management are fully involved in the process of defining and implementing the TEN-T guidelines as the best way to ensure the harmonious development of local, regional, national and TEN-T networks;

25.

believes that to secure more environmentally-sound rail, maritime and river networks it is essential to set up a favourable tariff and regulatory framework, and hopes therefore that an ambitious policy will be implemented in this area not least by internalising external costs or through European support for freight undertakings to use sustainable modes such as rail or maritime transport (as is the case for the Ecobonus);

26.

considers it essential that implementation of the TEN-T network be accompanied by measures to improve the efficiency and quality of transport, in particular to remove technical and regulatory obstacles to crossing borders; though inexpensive, these measures can have very significant results;

27.

notes that the opposition of local people or local authorities to certain infrastructure projects, often because of the disruption they entail, can lead to significant delays and additional costs;

28.

therefore suggests extending European financing to cover measures which the Member States and regional authorities could deploy after public consultation in order to prepare local areas to welcome major projects (such as training the local labour force, worker accommodation, adjustment of the local economic fabric to the needs of the projects, etc.) which would enable these sites to also be sources of positive knock-on effects for local areas;

29.

also suggests that European financing should be extended to certain accompanying investments, with a view to addressing environmental constraints more effectively;

30.

believes that when it comes to the completion of very large projects the European contribution should be contractualised as part of global financial plans. This is not possible under current procedures for allocating European subsidies, which are limited to a budgetary period of seven years (the completion period for very large projects is longer);

31.

suggests that on the basis of the redefined TEN-T, ‘programme contracts’ between the EU and each Member State should be signed, setting out mutual commitments regarding financing and timetables for completion. These programme contracts should cover not only the infrastructure that is part of the TEN-T, but also secondary infrastructure that States (or Regions) would commit to completing in order to secure the smooth running of the principal network;

32.

notes that the financing tools set up by the European Union (e.g., loan guarantees and risk capital) are well suited to projects where the private sector takes commercial risks, particularly for road projects, where the financial input of the private sector can be major (these projects can generally be carried out under a licence);

33.

notes, on the other hand, that they are ill-suited to rail port and intermodal freight projects which more often than not do not allow the commercial risk to be passed onto the private sector and therefore receive only marginal financial support from the private sector;

34.

believes that eurobonds issues would enable priority projects to be completed more rapidly, providing they enable the Community share in the financing to be increased;

35.

believes that, in spite of their contractual complexity, certain major projects can benefit from public-private partnerships, first because they enable public subsidies to be paced out, and second by taking advantage of the private sector's operational experience. This type of set-up does not however alter the balance of the economic situation over the medium-term;

36.

believes that clarification of EU rules on public-private partnerships would make it easier to develop this type of set-up;

37.

welcomes the extension of the role of the European coordinators, currently responsible for priority projects only, to include the ‘principal networks’ of the redefined TEN-T;

38.

suggests that the coordinators should also play a part in defining and implementing measures with a view to improving transport efficiency, quality and safety, as is already the case for certain priority projects;

39.

believes that another type of coordination exists, that could be called ‘macro-zone coordination’. This would involve dividing up the EU into zones with similar features and conditions, which would make it easier for States that are close to one another to work together. It would also facilitate coordination with regard to extensive corridors, for which the regions of origin and destination do not have much in common.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/27


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘An updated strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training’

(2010/C 79/06)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

Principles and general remarks

1.

welcomes the Communication from the Commission entitled An updated strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training; fully endorses the general objectives set out, namely, to build higher skills through better education and training systems, an objective quite rightly described as an absolute priority for meeting the challenges facing the European Union;

2.

subscribes totally to the Commission's general analysis; education and training are crucial if Europe is to mobilise competitively in conditions that can safeguard a high level of social and environmental protection, bearing in mind that Europe's biggest asset is its people (1); recalls, in this context, that 79 % of jobs will require high or medium qualifications by 2015 (2);

3.

endorses the idea, developed by the European Commission, that education and training policy should enable all citizens, irrespective of age, gender and socio-economic background, to acquire, update and develop over a lifetime job-specific skills and active citizenship; these policies are therefore key factors for personal emancipation and social integration;

4.

recalls the importance of the responsibilities of the local and regional authorities and their key role in education and training, which makes them central players in the implementation process for achieving the strategic objectives set. Depending on national systems, local and regional authorities are responsible for various levels of education ranging from pre-school education to adult education and training, all of which are addressed in this Communication. Furthermore, European cooperation in the area of education and training is closely linked to employment and sustainable economic development strategies, migration issues, including multilingualism, demographic trends, and EU policies on social inclusion, business, research and innovation. As a result, it falls to the local and regional authorities to ensure an effective implementation of education and training policies incorporating all these aspects. The working methods chosen for long-term European cooperation in education and training should therefore take the responsibilities of local and regional authorities into account;

5.

emphasises that, in this respect, this Communication addresses a subject of long-term importance to the Committee, and, in the short term, the subject is linked to the Committee's priorities for 2009 (3);

6.

appreciates the fact that the proposed measures support and complete the actions of the Member States, thus contributing European added value without prejudicing the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality;

7.

emphasises, moreover, that with regard to the education and training of children from migrant backgrounds, which is also mentioned in the strategic challenges and priorities, this issue could be considered as equally relevant to the integration of third-country nationals in the European Union; recalls, in this regard, that integration measures do not fall within the EU's current remit in the area of immigration (Articles 61, 62 and 63 TEC) but under the direct responsibility of the Member States, which means that the EU can only play a supporting role in this area, pending the possible ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which would strengthen EU prerogatives in this field;

8.

recalls that rising immigration in Europe constitutes a cultural, linguistic and demographic enhancement that is an opportunity rather than a burden, and that for this reason, education and training for first as well as second generation immigrants should be a priority insofar as it is the key to integration and effective participation in social and professional life (4); urges the Commission to pay attention to the most vulnerable migrants;

9.

notes the Commission's intention to strengthen the use of the open method of coordination (OMC) by adding peer review to existing peer learning activities; therefore urges the Commission to take account of the fact that strengthening the OMC may increase the financial and administrative burdens on local and regional authorities that are largely responsible for education and training;

10.

recalls that, particularly in the area of general and vocational education, the OMC can only function if the sub-national level is directly involved. The performance of Member States, which is the combined performance of their regions and municipalities, should be based on the wealth of their cooperation through sustained solidarity;

11.

is very attentive to gender inequality issues, as mentioned in several of its earlier opinions (5) and therefore calls on the Commission to pay special attention to this persistent gender-based imbalance;

12.

draws attention to the need to facilitate the integration of people with disabilities, irrespective of their age, in mainstream training and education, which would greatly enhance their social inclusion and employability;

13.

welcomes the importance given to adult training, which is essential for improving employability, mobility, social inclusion and personal development; recalls, in this context, that the Committee has already expressed its willingness to play an active role in promoting lifelong learning and training, an area which closely concerns local and regional authorities (6);

14.

queries the Communication's failure to mention the issue of training and maintaining a qualified workforce and people with key skills, an issue that is, however, crucial for most European countries in the context of developing a knowledge-based economy, both with respect to the ‘brain drain’ and the need to train high-level personnel in all disciplines; therefore urges the Commission to focus on this issue without, however, necessarily introducing further indicators, which could have a negative impact on the overall consistency of the set objectives;

15.

draws the Commission's attention to the fact that the Committee considers the involvement of third countries engaged in the EU accession process to be of vital importance and calls on the Commission to explore the different possibilities for achieving this;

Strategic challenges

16.

approves the four strategic challenges and the priorities proposed by the Commission for 2009-2010;

17.

notes that the short-term strategic challenges and priorities are in line with work already carried out under the Education and Training 2010 work programme;

18.

welcomes the fact that the strategic challenges are not restricted to labour market issues and approves, in particular, the challenge that seeks to ‘promote equity and active citizenship’; furthermore, first contact with policy and day-to-day implementation of active citizenship takes place at the sub-national levels;

19.

recalls its commitment to mobility, an essential aspect of cultural and professional development insofar as it contributes to overcoming economic as well as cultural barriers; stresses, therefore, that mobility must become the norm for all learners;

20.

highlights the key role played by local and regional authorities in learner mobility, both in providing information and flanking measures to complement EU programmes (7). The Committee therefore calls on the Commission to take more account of this role by involving the regions in the process of drawing up the programmes and by bestowing more responsibility on those regions that so wish in respect of their implementation.

21.

recalls that regional and local authorities must play a frontline role in achieving the ‘mother tongue plus two’ objective, especially in implementing education programmes (8);

22.

recalls the need to develop progress in language acquisition at primary and secondary school; the education process must provide more opportunities to speak at least one foreign language at primary school (9);

23.

recalls the need to step up efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of language learning (10);

24.

approves the intention to develop teachers’ initial training and the range of lifelong professional development opportunities for staff involved in teaching and guidance activities;

25.

considers that trends in terms of skills needs must be taken into account when developing education and training. These are often first identified at local and regional level;

26.

believes that education geared to sustainable development, and especially raising awareness of climate change, biodiversity and the conservation of all natural resources (soil, water, air, mineral resources, etc.), together with the development of media literacy, are essential and intrinsic components of active citizenship, approaches which could be included among the priorities for 2009-2010;

27.

recalls, in this regard, that active citizenship and understanding the issues of sustainable development are among the key competences for Europeans set out in the recommendation on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning – A European Reference Framework  (1);

28.

considers that early, pre-school learning and primary education plays an important role in the development of basic skills that equip people for life and work (11);

29.

approves plans to develop mutual learning on best practices for the education of children from migrant backgrounds. Mutual learning of this kind is an essential measure for promoting European citizenship and for a successful integration process;

30.

would emphasise the importance of mother-tongue instruction for children of migrants since this improves their ability to learn both the language of the host country and other languages; but state support should clearly prioritise learning the language of the host country and being able to use it confidently;

31.

emphasises the major importance of local authorities and regions in developing innovative environments (11);

32.

believes that societal challenges relating to environmental issues (water, energy, climate, biodiversity, pollution, etc.) should be given particular consideration under the objective that seeks to ‘enhance innovation and creativity’; at a broader level, these challenges call for in-depth changes to many professions and for many new ones to be created; they should therefore be incorporated in lifelong training, including by establishing suitable training courses;

33.

approves the proposal to develop partnerships between education and training providers and businesses, research institutions, cultural actors and creative industries; when followed through, these activities have demonstrated their innovative effectiveness;

34.

considers that developing cooperation between Member States is a prerequisite for meeting shared challenges that will result in the emergence of a dynamic knowledge-based society; feels that cooperation among local and regional authorities also contributes to this objective and should therefore be encouraged;

35.

therefore calls for a comparative overview of (i) Member States’ general and vocational training systems and (ii) the reforms that are planned in the near future to be drawn up and published on the internet in all official EU languages. This would allow education experts in municipalities, regions, municipal councils and school communities to obtain the information they need on other countries’ experiences with general and vocational training, and thus to contribute to discussions on the ongoing reorganisation of general and vocational training as equal partners at the central decision-making level;

The indicators

36.

approves the use of benchmarks within the framework of the open method of coordination; however, this should not give rise to covert harmonisation of systems in individual Member States;

37.

approves the Commission's intention to use quantitative (benchmarks, statistics) and qualitative (information sharing and good practice) measures (12); these should mainly build on existing measures and be based on comparable data while taking account of the different situation in individual Member States. Member States would be invited to consider how and to what extent they can jointly contribute to achieving the goals while taking account of changing economic and social circumstances and their national priorities;

38.

emphasises that discussions have yet to take place regarding the resources that regions and municipalities might require in order to be able to take on any additional administrative and financial costs involved in the establishment of the new indicators;

39.

notes, however, that the objectives set in respect of four of the five benchmarks adopted in 2003 will not be met by 2010; furthermore, the impact of peer learning and information and good practice sharing remains uncertain, which argues in favour of reviewing the relevance of the set objectives and/or the working methods;

40.

advocates that the Commission, the Member States and local and regional authorities examine the reasons why these benchmarks have not been met;

41.

endorses the Commission's intention to raise the adult participation in lifelong learning objective from 12,5 % to 15 %; raising participation levels is particularly important in a period of crisis since efforts must be made to facilitate career conversion and provide further training for many workers;

42.

supports the proposal to set a benchmark for mobility, which is essential insofar as it enhances employability and contributes to developing European citizenship, although this indicator has yet to be defined by the Commission; believes, without prejudice to efforts made for university students, which should be pursued, that emphasis should be placed on the mobility of apprentices and young people in vocational training, an area where many regions are active;

43.

approves the intention to create benchmarks for low achievers in basic skills, which have been extended to mathematics and sciences, but stresses the need to focus primarily on reading and writing; recalls, however, that a knowledge of information and communication technologies (ICT) and foreign languages are important for the acquisition of knowledge and the implementation of lifelong learning and training objectives; children, in particular, should be able to acquire ICT skills at an early age (12); draws attention to social inequalities in accessing these technologies, which should be met with appropriate responses from national, regional and local or European institutions, thus enabling local and regional authorities to rely on existing EU programmes and new Commission programmes and to participate in the fight against functional illiteracy under the revised Lisbon Strategy; similarly, these bodies should take account of the importance of migrants learning the language of the host country in facilitating their social inclusion and employability;

44.

In work on developing new educational and training indicators and benchmarks as part of the open method of coordination, reading comprehension testing should be extended to skills in dealing with media content, given that nowadays in electronic or digital contexts such content comprises a combination of written texts, images and videos.

45.

believes that efforts made in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science and ICT are by no means incompatible with the teaching of other school subjects, which all contribute to the development of other qualities, such as creativity, self-respect and social skills (9);

46.

endorses the objective to further stimulate the progress made to provide teaching in two foreign languages from an early age and therefore approves the language benchmark;

47.

is very circumspect with regard to the introduction of a benchmark on investment in higher education: a proactive measure that raises investment in higher education to 2 % of GDP is in itself positive, but the public-private aspect of this objective should not relieve States of their responsibilities; this, moreover, should not lead to households having to pay a larger proportion of higher education funding, as this would, inter alia, undermine the equal opportunities objective, particularly in a period of crisis;

48.

endorses the benchmark for tertiary level attainment, as well as the proposal to discontinue the benchmark for maths, science and technology since it has been reached, and values the attention paid to the gender imbalance in these studies; recalls, in this context, the Committee's opinion on the Communication from the Commission Towards a Community framework strategy on gender equality  (13);

49.

has reservations about the Commission's proposal to establish a benchmark for employability since although the establishment of a link between levels of educational attainment and market labour success is a shared concern, other variables, in particular the economic situation, have to be included; this measure therefore warrants more precise definition;

50.

approves the Commission proposal to establish a benchmark for pre-primary education, since early learning creates new development opportunities and is an important aspect of lifelong learning;

51.

endorses the intention to leave the early school leavers benchmark unchanged and considers that various different approaches must be identified to reach this objective;

52.

has strong reservations regarding the proposal to develop a fixed benchmark for enhancing innovation and creativity considering current levels of experience; The Committee, however, supports the idea that Member States should examine the possibilities of developing indicators which have the potential to boost their efforts in the field of innovation and creativity.

53.

proposes exploring ways to enhance inter-state information and good practice sharing on the benchmarks for innovation and creativity and employability, with the close involvement of the regions;

54.

shares the commitment to maintain and expand effective and ambitious education and training policies; the ongoing crisis should not deflect us from this objective but, on the contrary, spur us on to its accomplishment.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


(1)  CdR 31/2006 fin.

(2)  Future skill needs in Europe: medium term forecast, CEDEFOP, 2008.

(3)  CdR 380/2008.

(4)  CdR 253/2008.

(5)  CdR 233/2000 and CdR 19/2001.

(6)  CdR 49/2004 fin and CdR 31/2006 fin.

(7)  CdR 34/2006 fin.

(8)  CdR 6/2008 fin.

(9)  Ibid.

(10)  CdR 33/2006 fin.

(11)  CdR 133/2008 fin.

(12)  CdR 349/2002 fin.

(13)  Cf. CdR 233/2000 fin.


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/33


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions — ‘A simplified CAP for Europe — a success for all’

(2010/C 79/07)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS,

Introduction

1.

notes that this opinion on the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is set against an exceptional economic background and comes in the middle of an ongoing schedule, in between the current CAP health check and the preparation of a revised CAP for the period after 2013, focusing specifically on the future budget perspectives;

2.

stresses that the evolving global economic and climate change situation allows us to get a better understanding of and clearer framework for common support policies in sectors like agriculture, enabling us to improve the conditions in which this policy is regulated in all areas of production and in all regions and, in the process, building the policy's foundations;

3.

considers that in this context, the value of the concept of Community preference, which stops short of protectionism, and of purchasing local products is clearly apparent and responds to the full spectrum of global food needs, which is still a burning issue;

4.

stresses that the Common Agricultural Policy must not only take account of high-quality food production but also of conditions relating inter alia to key strategies such as land use and rural development (strategies for forestry and areas suffering from natural handicaps). This approach must also meet the objectives of territorial cohesion in the major geographical groupings in continental Europe and the outermost regions;

5.

considers that, in accordance with the Committee of the Regions’ previous opinions, simplification of the CAP must be directed towards all those working in the field, but must also aim to help the public to understand the need for its existence, in order to defend one of Europe's economic pillars;

6.

believes that the CAP must look to the future and in line with the resolution ahead of the UN Climate Change summit in Copenhagen, adopted at the CoR plenary session in June 2009, climate change needs to be mainstreamed into agriculture with a view to reducing energy consumption and the production of greenhouse gases;

Chronological observations on the text of the communication

7.

specifies that the simplified CAP must be easy to read and readily understood by farmers, economic and institutional operators and the public of the European Union;

8.

draws the attention of the European Commission (hereinafter: Commission) and the Member States to the fact that simplification of the CAP is not the same as reform of the CAP with a change in the rules for its application. Simplification must be seen as a development. In particular, it must be ensured that any changes in the CAP rules respect the production cycles of all agricultural products;

9.

urges the Commission and the Member States to seize the opportunity of the simplification of the CAP to provide the European public and farmers with relevant, full and objective information, by continually drawing attention to the CAP's objectives, and the timetable and means made available for implementing it;

10.

points out that a CAP simplified for all must also be a CAP that is understood by all;

11.

alerts the Commission to the fact that farmers and the public at grassroots level are not aware of the simplification, although it has been proceeding since 2005;

12.

wonders if the cleaning up of the agricultural rules is really meaningful given that it only covers the texts relating to dairy products. Although it does require particular attention, the Committee is surprised that the Commission has restricted itself to this sector alone;

13.

holds that, in the context of the current economic crisis, Europe's agricultural sector, which is covered by a common policy, must be entitled to draw on state aid adapted to emergency situations (whether relating to the climate, health or economic realms) whilst maintaining and reaffirming the foundations of the CAP (see the CoR's previous opinions);

14.

considers that, in addition to the Commission's approach of creating an expert group, both the Member States and regional and local authorities should also promote exchanges of experience, carry out comparative studies and identify the most successful achievements, particularly in the area of reducing administrative costs. Like the Commission, each Member State should ensure that stakeholders from the agricultural sector are involved;

15.

points out that, under the cover of simplification, the Commission has actually introduced reforms that have led to major restructuring in all regions;

16.

wonders about the perception that the single payment system is ‘farmer friendly’ and believes that the inclusion of landscape elements such as hedges and walls is a measure of general benefit;

17.

welcomes the fact that the Commission has taken account of the need for impact analyses and regular evaluations. This approach must also be incorporated in the shaping of a CAP that is better adapted to the regions and professional stakeholders by 2013, on the basis of the health check and simplification;

18.

draws attention to the importance of better consultations with local and regional authorities and the need to include the CAP in the process of multi-level governance, as set out by the Committee of the Regions in its White Paper, with a view to making the process of European integration more effective, balanced and open to broader participation;

19.

stresses the need for IT data at all levels of the Commission to be made available for agricultural use on the ground. Electronic exchanges of information must involve all the various players;

20.

is surprised at the priorities selected in the action plan and would like them to be ordered and presented in rank of importance;

21.

asks the Commission to ensure that cross-compliance is maintained as a fundamental principle of the CAP direct payments; believes, though, that determined simplification is necessary, laying down requirements for producers that are rational and that can, in consequence, be objectively checked by the authorities administering them;

22.

urges the Commission to demonstrate that the single CMO represents a genuine simplification that is of benefit to those working in the sector, the public and the regions, and that this applies to all the Commission's implementing provisions regarding the Member States and the regions;

23.

reaffirms that the reduction in the administrative burden must apply to all forms of production to ensure that it benefits the regions, the public and farmers. In addition, the Committee stresses that any reduction must also meet the objectives of the CAP;

24.

raises questions with regard to the Commission's general statements on coupled support schemes and asks the Commission whether directing the CAP towards further decoupling is really a simplification which respects the differences between regions. The Committee also wishes simplification of the CAP through the health check to lead to a better and fairer CAP for all, with aid distributed more equitably between farmers, sectors and regions;

25.

once again draws the Commission's attention to the need to take account of all the forms of agricultural production and their specific cycles;

26.

in any case, wishes the cross-compliance regulations to be harmonised across the European Union, on the basis of the lowest common denominator, and stresses that this is a priority;

27.

alerts the Commission to the need for complete information to be provided in ways that the public and farmers can understand;

28.

maintains that the quality policy must be one of the cornerstones of the CAP and should not be abandoned;

29.

emphasises that local and regional authorities must be involved in exchanges of best practice and the quest for simplification;

30.

wishes emphasis to be placed on policies to make the various European sectors still more professionalised, thereby enabling Europe's agri-food sector - one of Europe's economic pillars - to continue to develop and grow to adapt to global economic and climate changes;

31.

calls for CAP instruments to be more responsive to sectors facing crises (be they related to markets, climate, social issues or health, among other things). Simple tools need to be provided within an effective institutional mechanism, enabling resources to be pooled to assist production and thereby guarantee decent incomes for farmers dealing with such crises;

32.

endorses the Commission's message encouraging Member States to move towards greater simplification to enable them to use their powers within the common policy more effectively. Subsidiarity must not lead to more complicated and burdensome procedures which could undermine respect for a European agro-food model;

33.

reaffirms that the priority accorded to rural development must bring added value at local level rather than substituting for the policies of Member States or local authorities. Rural development must be integrated into the major European Strategies (LISBON-GOTEBORG), within the basic framework of territorial cohesion and its corollary of solidarity, on the one hand, and the key policies needed to develop the European continent, on the other, whilst continuing to include agricultural and para-agricultural projects within the framework of LEADER-type partnerships;

Conclusion

34.

feels that it is important to restate its commitment to maintaining a Common Agricultural Policy and its rejection of any form of renationalisation. This policy which, it should be remembered, is being conducted in a context of economic crisis, is a fair way of regulating markets. It must evolve by responding to the needs of all the various branches and in all the various regions of the European Union, in accordance with a framework of sustainable development. It is vital to incorporate this approach into a CAP that is focused towards 2013 and accords with the framework of the European financial perspectives;

35.

wonders if the simplification of the CAP currently being proposed by the Commission really accords with the objectives and guidelines which have emerged from the recent debates on the health check, and recommends pursuing efforts at national and European level, in close consultation with regional and local authorities, to improve implementation conditions for those working in the sector and better public and therefore consumer understanding of this leading common policy;

36.

also specifies that the necessary simplification being sought must enable the EU to react more rapidly to crises in agricultural markets and to unforeseeable climate and health-related events; the current crisis in the dairy sector requires swift action and the introduction of simplified and more flexible management instruments.

37.

feels it is vital to communicate more effectively with respect to the current CAP, so that all the stakeholders involved (the public, consumers, farmers, and local and regional authorities) are able to appropriate it for themselves;

38.

would like EUROPE to decide to develop the agricultural policy into an ambitious common agricultural and food policy that could be known as the CAFP. This would strengthen the policy both within the European Union and at global level. The success of such a policy would promote the return to the stability and balance the world needs;

39.

expects the Member States, the European Parliament and the Council to assume their responsibilities from 2013 to define this policy, together with financial perspectives compatible with the objectives and conditions for its application at all levels.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President ofthe Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/37


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘The Stockholm programme: Challenges and opportunities in view of a new multi-annual programme on the EU area of freedom, security and justice’

(2010/C 79/08)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS,

General recommendations

1.

welcomes the Commission's initiative, which aims to continue the work on establishing a genuine area of freedom, security and justice serving the citizen, and points out the importance of this in an increasingly mobile world;

2.

welcomes the Commission's initiative, which aims to establish a new multi-annual EU programme laying down priorities for the next five years in fields related to the area of freedom, security and justice; notes, however, that the Commission Communication makes no reference to relevant changes that would be made by the Lisbon Treaty;

3.

considers that the new programme should be sufficiently ambitious to guarantee significant progress in these areas, but that it should also focus greater attention on evaluating initiatives proposed over the last ten years in order to increase their effectiveness and ensure that they achieve their objectives;

4.

reiterates its concern that the Commission once again does not pay sufficient attention to the role played by local and regional authorities in the areas of freedom, security and justice;

5.

points out that local and regional authorities have a special interest in the areas dealt with in the Communication, as they have a direct impact on the everyday life of people living in the European Union and on the duties of local and regional authorities;

6.

reiterates the fact that, as the political assembly representing local and regional authorities, the Committee of the Regions is one of the appropriate forums for serving the interests of citizens and ensuring the implementation of the rights and obligations arising from European citizenship;

7.

considers that the Committee of the Regions should be involved in the area of Freedom, Security and Justice and therefore directly involved in the application and development of the Stockholm Programme and its Action Plan, as well as in the design and implementation of the evaluation mechanisms and instruments referred to in it, in so far as its remit is concerned;

8.

affirms its intention to promote a system of multilevel protection of fundamental rights and welcomes the fact that progress made on the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice places citizens at the centre of the project;

9.

reiterates the need to bring the issues of security and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms together in a balanced way, by implementing coherent instruments in the field of freedom, security and justice;

10.

feels that progress has not matched expectations, and reminds the Member States that slowing down progress towards the establishment of an area of freedom, security and justice could affect the rights and freedoms of European citizens;

11.

shares the Commission's view that ensuring the effective application of legislation is key to the development of an area of freedom, security and justice, and therefore shares concerns about divergences in the implementation of directives and calls on the Commission to design new measures to ensure that the spirit and letter of laws and policies adopted at European level are reflected in national legislation;

12.

points out that freedom of movement is a key aspect of European citizenship, and calls on the Commission to adopt measures to ensure the correct implementation of the relevant legislation;

13.

points out that, as the level of government closest to the grassroots, local and regional authorities can play a major role in evaluation instruments and mechanisms; therefore asks, in line with the recommendation made by the High-Level Advisory Group on the Future of European Justice Policy, to be involved in establishing these arrangements so that the practical experiences of local and regional authorities can be better taken into account;

14.

proposes that the external dimension of European domestic policy be covered in a consistent manner by the Stockholm programme action plan, which could deal specifically with common interests relating to legal and illegal migration such as asylum, cooperation on border protection matters, combating crime and terrorism, setting geographical priorities for individual topics, framework conditions for exchanges of information, guarantees for basic and human rights protection, transparency and freedom to access information, data protection and concomitant legal protection guarantees for citizens of the Union and third country nationals;

15.

believes that policies developed in the fields of justice and internal affairs should be coordinated and integrated with other Union policies, and highlights the need for better coordination of the issues of justice, security and internal affairs with the European Union's economic policy, social policy and external policy, with a view to reinforcing these policies’ effectiveness and coherence;

16.

agrees with the political priorities of the new programme, and points out that the participation of local and regional authorities is a key element of the process of building a citizens’ Europe, conferring greater democratic legitimacy on the process;

17.

shares concerns about the assignment of financial resources to political priorities, and highlights the need to ensure the participation of local and regional authorities in the drawing up of budget instruments in areas in which these authorities are competent;

18.

notes the fact that it will be possible to assess compliance with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality only when the detailed proposals are announced, and urges that the Action Plan to be adopted in December 2009 ensure maximum compliance with these principles;

19.

calls for special attention to be paid to guaranteeing the principle of subsidiarity, as Member States can use it for repatriating powers at national level;

A Europe of rights

20.

welcomes the European Union's planned accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, and points out that the protection of fundamental rights must be the basis for any action by the Union and its Member States;

21.

points out that the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights recognises rights which are applicable to any person, independently of his or her nationality or administrative residence status in the European Union, and stresses the importance of the residence principle for local and regional authorities with a view to guaranteeing social cohesion and peace;

22.

stresses that the application of the directive on the free movement of persons is of key importance in guaranteeing the right of Europeans and their families to move and reside freely in the Member States, and points out that the directive has not been fully implemented by any Member State (1);

23.

notes with concern that family members of EU citizens with long-term residence status who are nationals of third countries are subject to discriminatory restrictions on grounds of ethnic origin when entering the EU and during their residence, and calls for particular vigilance to guard against any discrimination;

24.

lends its support to any initiative aimed at combating discrimination, racism, anti-semitism, xenophobia or homophobia, calls for swift adoption of the Proposal for a Council Directive on implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation (COM(2008) 426), and stresses the major role which local and regional authorities can play in preventing and detecting xenophobic and racist attitudes, as well as the role they play in educating people in democratic principles; believes, moreover, that the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion (2010) is an opportunity for fresh impetus in drawing up and implementing policies to combat discrimination against vulnerable social groups;

25.

agrees that there is a need to establish a comprehensive system of data protection based on the fundamental right to privacy and protection of personal data, incorporating instruments appropriate to its objectives maintaining a high level of protection;

26.

expresses its concern at the exponential growth of digital information on private individuals resulting from the development of information and communication technologies, stresses the importance that Europeans attach to the protection of data and privacy (2), and considers that the Stockholm Programme and the subsequent Commission Action Plan should pay more attention to the development of a strategic approach based on ‘privacy by design’ and ‘privacy-aware’ technologies (3);

27.

expresses its concern at the low turnout at the European elections, concedes that as an EU body it did not do enough in this respect, and regrets that the Commission has not come up with any really innovative ideas to increase participation in the democratic life of the Union (4);

28.

encourages the Commission to seek more ways of promoting new forms of participation based on new technologies and to emphasise the value of e-government and initiatives like e-participation with a view to strengthening people's civic and political involvement (5);

29.

considers that it is necessary to strengthen information mechanisms, enabling Europeans to have a better understanding of their rights, particularly with regard to diplomatic and consular protection in third countries in which their country is not represented;

30.

takes note of the need to improve the system of common training in the field of civil protection, and endorses the proposal of the final report of the Future Group that networking be promoted in relation to training and that common definitions of standards be drawn up (6);

31.

regrets that greater emphasis is not placed on the role of local and regional authorities in connection with mechanisms to strengthen civil protection, given that these authorities play a key role in prevention and the mobilisation of human and material resources in case of need;

A Europe of law and justice

32.

reaffirms the importance of a European legal area and the need to eliminate existing obstacles with a view to guaranteeing Europeans the full exercise of their rights and the effective operation of internal market instruments;

33.

recognises the difficulties of dealing with 27 different legal systems, but calls for a coherent and effective cross-border judicial cooperation on the basis of mutual recognition, mutual confidence and respect for the principle of subsidiarity; underlines that this should be accompanied by a minimum degree of harmonisation of criminal procedures, as well as minimum standards for civil procedures;

34.

believes that access to justice is key to guaranteeing a Europe of rights, and welcomes the Commission's general proposals, particularly with regard to e-justice, which should be implemented in such a way as to guarantee data protection;

35.

considers that the potential for using new technologies in the field of judicial cooperation should be explored to the full;

36.

considers that the mechanisms for applying judicial cooperation instruments in the field of family law should be strengthened, particularly where the rights of minors are concerned;

37.

calls for greater efforts to guarantee the correct implementation of European law in the field of justice, as well as to prevent the effectiveness of legal instruments from being undermined;

38.

agrees that there is a need to bring about mutual recognition of disqualification decisions, particularly those relating to occupations involving minors, but calls on the Commission to be vigilant in guaranteeing data protection when information is exchanged and to guard against abuses;

39.

agrees that training and skills are key elements in building a Europe of justice which respects diversity and promotes cooperation, and encourages the Commission to develop exchange programmes between professionals from different countries;

40.

acknowledges the need to approximate national legislation in the field of civil law on particularly serious cross-border offences, in order to boost the development of cross-border activity and to afford better protection to citizens’ rights, which is one of the aims of establishing the European area of justice;

A Europe that protects

41.

welcomes the Commission's efforts to base security and justice policies on respect for the fundamental rights of citizens, but reiterates the need to guarantee consistency and balance between the issues of security and protection of rights and freedoms when seeking to establish an internal security strategy;

42.

agrees that there is a need to create a common culture among security professionals and welcomes the initiative aimed at promoting mechanisms for the exchange of experience and good practice; in this context, it is vital to stress the importance of prevention policies as compulsory preliminary part of the whole process of combating crime;

43.

regrets that only national players are mentioned, as the establishment of a common security culture ought also to involve players from local and regional government;

44.

recommends examining to what extent the codification of European police law could facilitate cross-border police operations within the EU;

45.

adds that, without questioning the internal allocation of powers of each Member State, there should be mechanisms allowing local and regional institutions involved in the effective application of Community security and police legislation to have reasonable and regulated access to the cooperation and information mechanisms established by the Union (7);

46.

considers it necessary to step up the use and effectiveness of technological tools for guaranteeing the security and freedom of persons in the exercise of their right of mobility, but acknowledges people's concerns about the rapid development of these systems without sufficient evaluation;

47.

acknowledges the need to reflect on an architecture for information systems with a view to improved efficiency and effectiveness, minimisation of costs and maximisation of benefits;

48.

points out that professionals from local and regional authorities should be involved when discussing research and development in relation to security and the possible establishment of an internal security fund;

49.

considers that, when tackling issues which affect people's security such as terrorism, organised crime, especially people trafficking, drug trafficking or the sexual explication of minors, prevention is just as important as prosecution, and reminds the Commission of the crucial role played by local and regional actors in developing crime prevention strategies;

50.

supports stepping up the effectiveness of police and judicial cooperation in Europe, and considers that local and regional authorities should play a major role in the fight against organised cross-border crime, given the ever-closer links between local criminality and international organised crime;

51.

stresses that any progress in combating crime should go hand-in-hand with efforts to protect the right to legal defence, with common minimum judicial guarantees for defendants, particularly with regard to issues such as the presumption of innocence and police custody;

52.

acknowledges that protecting the EU’s external borders is crucial for guaranteeing security and freedom of movement within the Union, and endorses the reference to absolute respect for human rights and international protection when developing the European strategy for integrated border management, but expresses its concern at the Communication's lack of detail on the subject and calls for recognition of the fact that Europe is an area of freedom and rights when moving forward on this issue;

53.

calls on the Commission to establish mechanisms for an independent evaluation of operational cooperation between Member States (FRONTEX) as well as relevant cooperation with third countries, in particular on intervention affecting EU citizens’ and third country nationals’ fundamental rights, before introducing any new instruments;

54.

reminds the Member States that the control and monitoring of sea borders must not mean neglect of fundamental maritime rescue obligations;

55.

considers that existing information systems (SIS II, VIS) should be fully developed and evaluated before introducing changes or establishing new instruments, and expresses its concern at the Communication's lack of information on revision and monitoring mechanisms for the use of biometric data in these systems;

56.

expresses its concern at the establishment of an electronic system for recording entry to and exit from Member States’ territory and the possible development of a European system for the collection of advance information on individuals wishing to enter a Member State of the European Union, which could be prejudicial to fundamental rights, especially the protection of personal data;

57.

points out that there is a need to boost cooperation strategies for promoting the interchange of information and cooperation between police forces and customs authorities;

58.

adds that any new instrument contemplated, such as the common European Schengen visa, must be developed in an effective and efficient way, taking account of data protection and guarantees of the right to privacy;

59.

supports efforts to improve cooperation between Europol and Eurojust with a view to making progress on the investigation of cross-border organised crime activities;

60.

echoes the Commission's concern at the threats identified and stresses the role which local and regional authorities can play in identifying and detecting criminal practices of this kind;

61.

urges the Commission to draw up specific action plans for combating people trafficking and to integrate this campaign into relations with third countries;

62.

expresses its concern at the increase in offences connected with the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography (8) on the Internet, and points out that punitive measures must be accompanied by public awareness-raising and educational measures relating to these offences;

63.

stresses the role which local and regional authorities can play in developing preventive approaches aimed at safeguarding the dignity and rights of minors, especially abandoned or unaccompanied minors (9);

64.

recognises the need to make progress on combating economic and computer crime, and the need to improve coordination and cooperation mechanisms in these fields, where crimes are not always investigated in the country in which they were committed;

65.

reminds the Commission of the role which the local and regional authorities can play in combating corruption and counterfeiting, and in the development of the European Union's anti-drugs strategy;

66.

considers the terrorist threat to be one of the main concerns of Europeans, and regrets that the Communication does not mention the role of the local and regional authorities in reducing this threat, particularly with regard to combating violent radicalisation;

67.

fears that the preventive measures listed in the Communication will only serve to criminalise ethnic or religious groups while failing to tackle the root causes of terrorist activity;

68.

proposes that political, social and economic factors which may contribute to the rise in political violence emanating from various groups should be taken into consideration before focusing on its national, ethnic or religious origins, which could give rise to increased racism and xenophobia;

A Europe of solidarity with regard to immigration and asylum

69.

reiterates that the European Union must adopt a genuine European immigration policy, based on the principles of solidarity, mutual trust and co-responsibility between Member States, and which fully respects human rights, whilst maintaining the existing division of powers, making full use of its powers in this field, and respecting the subsidiarity principle;

70.

points out that the local and regional authorities are in the front line with regard to the implementation of immigration and asylum policies and have to be the first to react to the economic and social impact of migratory flows in their areas;

71.

calls on the EU Member States to share responsibilities for hosting and integrating refugees and establish a mechanism for redistribution between Member States;

72.

calls on the Commission to ensure improved coordination of the various existing instruments for laying down areas of action on immigration and asylum, and points out that these must be based on respect for fundamental rights and freedoms;

73.

welcomes the priority assigned to the global approach to immigration, and endorses the emphasis on promoting a genuine and balanced partnership with countries of origin and transit in order to manage migratory flows in an organised manner;

74.

reminds that the EU should better match economic migration with Member States’ labour market needs and calls on a common flexible admission system whereby Member States can determine the numbers of NON-EU nationals to be admitted;

75.

expresses its concern at the fact that greater solidarity is restricted to a utilitarian and selective approach based on meeting perceived needs by admitting highly qualified immigrants who are in demand on European labour markets;

76.

agrees that there is a need for greater coordination between the Union's immigration and external policies and considers that cooperation and dialogue with third countries is necessary to both combat illegal immigration and focus on legal migration; investing in the economy of these third countries is a more efficient tool to help people who intend to migrate for economic reasons; crucial to this task is the role of local and regional authorities, especially those that are closest to or have the strongest links with third countries, which can act as platforms for EU cooperation with those countries;

77.

considers that local diplomacy should be strengthened by developing the action plan for an area of freedom, security and justice, as local and regional authorities can make a substantial contribution to improving relations and living conditions in cities and regions of origin and transit;

78.

agrees that there is a need to use migration policy instruments coherently, and calls for evaluation of initiatives like the partnerships for mobility and their conditions and consequences in countries of origin before entering into new agreements;

79.

agrees that there is a need for improved management of economic immigration throughout the European Union and calls for the further development of a strategy – based on the European Platform for Dialogue – which includes local, regional and national stakeholders in the Union and which respects the right of Member States to determine the volume of admissions of nationals of third countries in the light of labour market conditions, guaranteeing these individuals decent working conditions (10);

80.

notes with interest the proposal to establish an observatory to analyse and promote understanding of migratory phenomena, and stresses the need to ensure that this initiative does not conflict with existing initiatives. There is an increasingly urgent need to organise and optimise existing instruments in this area;

81.

believes that, despite its obvious benefits, the proposed immigration code needs to be analysed carefully, particularly in view of the pending adoption of the Council Directive on a single application procedure for a single permit for non-EU Member Country nationals to reside and work in the territory of a Member State and on a common set of rights for Non-EU Member Country workers legally residing in a Member State. The development of this code should not create confusion or undermine the existing system of rights and guarantees for nationals of third countries resident in the European Union;

82.

is pleased that the Commission recognises the role which local and regional authorities play in integrating immigrants (11) and recognises the need to launch a major debate on integration in Europe; stresses once again in this context that integration policy must not be an immigration control tool in disguise, influencing family reunification in particular, but must be designed to enable social, economic, cultural and civic integration of immigrants to take place once they settle in a Member State;

83.

considers essential the participation of the local and regional authorities and of the Committee of the Regions in setting out the annual and multiannual priorities of the European Integration Fund, as well as guarantees that the Member States will implement and distribute the Fund’s resources to the local and authorities correctly;

84.

encourages the Member States to include the local and regional authorities in the next interministerial conference on integration, to be held under the Spanish presidency in early 2010, and calls for improved mechanisms for cooperation with platforms like the future ARLEM on migration issues;

85.

agrees with the Commission that illegal work and people trafficking are key contributors to the existence of irregular immigration in Europe, and calls on the Member States to seek shared strategies to combat these problems;

86.

recognises that the concerns aroused by the adoption of the return directive make it doubly important to monitor the directive's effective application, and urges the Commission to ensure that the return directive coming into force in December 2010 is implemented in accordance with the Charter of Fundamental Rights;

87.

points out that it is impossible to speak of a voluntary return unless mechanisms for dialogue with countries of origin are established, ensuring that the return is viable and that no new migration project is initiated;

88.

calls for greater attention to be paid to unaccompanied immigrant minors, which should be included as a specific point in the Stockholm Programme Action Plan, highlights the need to promote solidarity, responsibilities, and the sharing of the financial burden of the issue of unaccompanied minors among regional, national and European authorities, and encourages the Commission to propose more stringent punitive measures for people trafficking networks which exploit minors;

89.

calls on the Commission to ensure that asylum systems in the Member States keep pace with the progress made on the establishment of a common European asylum system based on the Geneva Convention and other related international instruments, and warns against signing new readmission agreements with countries which are not signatories to the Geneva Convention;

90.

recommends, given that the proportion of asylum applications accepted differs widely between Member States, reviewing the European common asylum system to make processing an asylum application the responsibility of the country in which the asylum applicant files their application, whilst ensuring solidarity between Member States;

91.

calls on the Commission to work to ensure that the European Asylum Support Office operates correctly and to involve the local and regional authorities in its activities, as well as the Committee of the Regions when the local and regional dimension of issues so requires;

92.

recognises the importance for local and regional authorities of the integration of refugees and beneficiaries of international protection, and calls for local and regional authorities to be able to participate in the establishment of a mechanism for internal resettlement;

93.

calls for progress on analysing the viability of the common handling of asylum applications, and agrees with the Commission on the need to re-examine the European Refugee Fund, which should involve local and regional authorities more closely;

94.

stresses that the Member States, in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity, must involve the local and regional authorities in drawing up policies relating to the establishment of a European area of freedom, security and justice;

95.

calls lastly for the Action Plan arising from the Stockholm programme to be credible; it should go hand in hand with greater funding for the area of freedom, security and justice. This will require the coordination of internal financial instruments with those covering our relations with third countries.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


(1)  See the Communication on guidance for better transposition and application of Directive 2004/38/EC on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, COM(2009) 313/4.

(2)  Eurobarometer: Data Protection in the European Union. Citizens’ perceptions. Analytical Report, February 2008.

(3)  Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on an Area of freedom, security and justice serving the citizens, http://www.edps.europa.eu/EDPSWEB/webdav/site/mySite/shared/Documents/Consultation/Opinions/2009/09-07-10_Stockholm_programme_EN.pdf.

(4)  In this connection the Commission is encouraged to consult the study entitled Participation in the European Project: how to mobilise citizens at local, regional, national, and European levels being drawn up by the Institute for European Studies-VUB and the Danish Technological Institute on behalf of the Committee of the Regions, which will be presented in Gödöllo on 16 October.

(5)  An outstanding example is the online discussion on consumer health and safety which was launched by the Health DG on 14 September 2009.

(6)  Freedom, Security, Privacy – European Home Affairs in an open world. Report of the Informal High Level Advisory Group on the Future of European Home Affairs Policy (The Future Group), June 2008.

http://www.statewatch.org/news/2008/jul/eu-futures-jha-report.pdf.

(7)  It is particularly important that there be rapid and guaranteed access to the databases referred to in Council Decision 2008/615/JHA of 23 June 2008 on the stepping up of cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism and cross-border crime.

(8)  In the light of its concern at the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography, the Committee of the Regions will in the coming months be issuing an opinion on Council Framework Decision 2004/68/JHA of 22 December 2003 on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography.

(9)  See the CoR opinion on Local and regional cooperation to protect children and young people from abuse and neglect in the European Union (CdR 225/1999 fin) and the opinion entitled Towards an EU strategy on the rights of the child (CdR 236/2006 fin).

(10)  See opinion on A global approach to migration: developing a European policy on labour immigration in conjunction with relations with third countries (CdR 296/2007 fin).

(11)  See the conclusions of the Committee of the Regions’ seminar on The role of the cities and regions in integrating immigrants (Athens, 16 October 2008) (CdR 323/2008 fin).


III Preparatory acts

Committee of the Regions

81st plenary session held on 5-7 October 2009

27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/45


81st PLENARY SESSION HELD ON 5-7 OCTOBER 2009

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Competitive rail freight transport’

(2010/C 79/09)

I.   POLICY PROPOSALS

INTRODUCTION

1.

The proposed Regulation of the EP and the Council on a European rail network for competitive freight was adopted in response to the need to create the safest, most effective and most environmentally sound freight transport system for use by the public and businesses.

2.

In accordance with the 2001 White Paper on transport and in the light of current changes within the structure of the EU and the constant new challenges facing EU Member States, it is essential to focus on developing co-modality between all modes of transport.

3.

Whereas a series of measures have already been carried out in the area of road and air transport with positive results, there is still a need for action in rail transport.

4.

The proposal under consideration emerged following broad consultation among Member States, railway undertakings, infrastructure managers, representatives of industry and freight forwarding firms.

5.

As a result of this work, it was established that setting up international rail corridors for competitive freight would make rail more competitive within a short space of time and help to improve macro-economic indicators.

Policy proposals

6.

The Committee welcomes the legal act regulating the way in which the European rail network for competitive freight transport functions. The aim is to establish an efficient freight transport network through the intelligent use of the existing infrastructure or its development.

7.

The Committee considers that consistent implementation of the provisions of the above legal act will quickly raise the effectiveness of rail transport. This will ensure that, as the safest and most environment-friendly mode of transport, rail will be capable of competing with other modes of transport in terms of effectiveness.

8.

The Committee considers that when rail freight transport corridors are created, there should be links to other forms of transport through appropriate land, sea and air terminals, including inland ports.

9.

The Committee draws attention to the development of logistical centres involving local and regional authorities, which should be taken into account when setting up a European rail network for competitive freight transport. Local and regional authorities should be involved in the planning and development of logistical centres of this kind.

10.

The Committee draws attention to certain provisions in the Regulation which might lead to excessive, unnecessary red tape in the systems governing the European rail network.

11.

The Committee stresses that, comparatively speaking, rail freight transport is environment-friendly and safe, and by making it more effective and competitive it can become an alternative to modes of transport that consume more energy and are less user-friendly and safe.

12.

Measures to make European rail transport more effective and competitive must be geared towards solving existing problems without delay, such as:

Improving cooperation between infrastructure managers and Member States in order to eliminate border effects, carry out investments, and enhance cooperation and coordination between different transport modes as regards the use of rail.

Developing and expanding intermodal terminals for rail transport and making them more effective by using the latest technologies to manage them.

Improving interoperability significantly.

Minimising the loss of efficiency associated with the break-up of companies following market liberalisation

Setting up an effective rail network that connects the whole of the EU from north to south and east to west.

13.

Within the framework of these measures, it is important to utilise initiatives already adopted and work carried out at national and international level in the following areas:

Access and the levying of charges for infrastructure

Capacity and traffic management of transport corridors

Railway safety

Developing the interoperability of rail transport.

At the same time, the following measures are necessary:

development of route networks geared to capacity,

the establishment of efficient new bypass routes for freight (analogous to bypasses for road transport) for heavily used railway junctions.

14.

Experiences from the trans-European transport network (TEN-T), the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and other previous and current activities will make it possible to implement a European rail network for competitive freight transport far more effectively and quickly as a result of the synergy between all measures.

15.

Establishing a European rail transport network requires an international structure that is capable of boosting coordination between Member States and infrastructure managers within the framework of individual transport corridors. These structures should oblige Member States to honour their commitments to establishing corridors.

16.

It is essential for the relevant EU bodies or Member States or the appropriate management structures to continue work on eliminating current restrictions which lower effectiveness and thus the competitiveness of rail transport, such as:

the elimination of language barriers in cross-border transport;

the lack of uniform training programmes for engine drivers covering the principles of rail transport throughout the EU,

the absence of common standards on safety and capacity,

non-uniform use of information and communications technologies (ICT) and satellite and radio systems,

absence of a system and of clear-cut civil liability for transport delivery in inter-modal transport chains,

existence of a large number of technical and administrative problems during international rail transport border crossings,

the elimination of capacity bottlenecks, particularly in conurbations, to separate freight and passenger transport and to improve the competitiveness of rail as a transport mode overall, insofar as this is technically and logistically feasible,

track gauge differences

failure to implement standards on transport punctuality, especially in combined transport, e.g. rail-road transport,

lack of consensus on optimal train dimensions and lengths with due consideration for increasing transport capacity and protecting the environment.

17.

It would make sense to introduce a set of rail standards. This would reduce logistics costs, improve competitiveness, make the markets more accessible, strengthen interoperability and intermodality, and ensure there is a balance between economic development and environmental requirements. Rail standards would also make the railways an integral part of the European business network, adding value and helping to optimise production, supply and distribution processes.

18.

Should it not be possible to give this body the powers to eliminate barriers, the EU or Member States should eliminate these restrictions directly through their own measures.

19.

The structure governing the corridors should not become bureaucratic but should function flexibly in accordance with the market situation and resist unwarranted interference from Member States and EU institutions.

20.

Demand for transport services, should also determine the number of rail freight corridors that are to be created in individual countries.

21.

The creation of a European rail network for competitive freight transport will achieve the goals set provided that there is close cooperation with the local and regional authorities through which the rail network corridors will pass.

22.

This cooperation should involve both the planning and coordination of investment associated with the establishment of the networks, as well as the use, repair and modernisation of rail transport corridors, taking account of existing infrastructure and traffic.

23.

While recognising the importance of ensuring that tracks for freight transport are of good quality, are reliable and that there is a good transport service, it is important that operational principles are set for both forms of transport on tracks which will not be separated for freight and passengers, and that efforts are made to take regional and local interests into account. This should be carried out in such as way that there is no negative impact on the mobility of residents and that it does not contradict other social interests.

24.

Appropriate spatial planning at regional and urban level with due consideration for corridor routes and location of terminals and handling stations will increase the effectiveness of networks significantly and at the same time help to improve the economy of cities and regions.

25.

Local and regional authorities as well as EU Member States must take steps to adapt road traffic flows to the distribution and delivery to customers of goods transported by rail.

26.

Local and regional authorities have greater scope for cooperation and dialogue with producers and businesses which make use of rail transport, and are able far more effectively to encourage users of transport services to adopt a specific approach to selecting transport modes and particular routes. This ensures that businesses adopt the best possible approach when selecting modes of transport for their products, with due consideration for environmental safety, reliability, speed and competitive prices too of course.

II.   CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

27.

While recognising that the establishment of an internal rail market is an essential element of the Lisbon Strategy and the strategy for sustainable development in the European Union, the Committee of the Regions acknowledges that the Regulation issued by the EP and the Council is a vital legal act enabling rail to compete with other, less environmentally and user-friendly transport modes. In the process of implementation, appropriate account should be taken of existing traffic, for example passenger services, when allocating routes for priority freight transport. Moreover, the same priority should in principle be given to national traffic as to cross-border traffic.

28.

A significant role in implementing the Regulation will be played by local and regional authorities, which through appropriate planning and skilful investment in roads, regional rail and ports, will be able to significantly increase the effectiveness and competitiveness of rail transport.

29.

It is essential that the principles for transporting dangerous materials are set in cooperation with rail corridor managers and local and regional authorities.

30.

Despite the fact the decisions to set up freight transport corridors will be discussed and taken at Community level, local and regional authorities should at all events be consulted beforehand, i.e. during the planning and approval stage at national level.

31.

These consultations should identify the essential infrastructure elements associated with creating a corridor, thus ensuring that its route does not have a negative impact on the lives of local communities who live near to the corridor's path and make it easier to select the most appropriate areas for the corridors to run through.

32.

It is crucial to ensure that high-speed passenger networks, conventional speed and local passenger networks and all types of freight networks co-exist as smoothly as possible in a given area.

33.

On account of the specific parameters for rail lines in transport corridors, there will need to be changes in the organisation of both road and rail transport in some localities. For this reason, it is essential for local and regional authorities to be provided with appropriate financial instruments enabling them to carry out the investment and modernisation work that is required for the routes of the lines that run through these places. At the same time, the legal framework for successful property expropriation in the public interest should be simplified, so that modernisation and building plans for routes and infrastructures are not held up by the principle of appropriate compensation for expropriated property.

34.

These instruments should be available for use within the timeframe for implementing the provisions of Chapter 2, Article 3(3) of the Regulation, i.e. the legally binding deadlines laid down in the Regulation for implementing individual rail freight corridors.

35.

Existing logistical centres involving local or regional authorities should be used effectively and included in the system of rail freight transport corridors.

36.

Using infrastructure managed by local or regional authorities should, in accordance with Article 4 (2) of the Regulation, lead to the participation of representatives of local or regional authorities in bodies which run freight transport corridors.

37.

The number of rail freight corridors in individual EU Member States established in Article 3 of the Regulation should be set in accordance with the potential demand for transport services, an analysis of their effectiveness and the actual technical feasibility of implementation within the deadlines established in the regulations.

38.

The requirement for a certain number of transport corridors in individual EU Member States, as determined by the number of tonne-kilometres of rail freight transport in a given Member State, should be dropped.

39.

The market research described in Article 5 (3) of the Regulation should be carried out in accordance with needs, to be determined by the corridor managers. In this connection, this research should not necessarily be conducted every year, as required by the Regulation.

40.

In the initial period following the introduction of the Regulation, any decisions on the location of rail freight transport corridors must be ased exclusively on substantive reasons linked to the effectiveness, accessibility, quality and size of the infrastructure, where possible leaving aside political reasons.

41.

The establishment of rail transport corridors should be monitored to ensure that norms on environmental protection and public health are respected, particularly those concerning noise, transport safety and other phenomena since these norms prevent negative repercussions on the environment of local residents. All action should be underpinned by criteria that 1) ensure that residents living near freight transport corridors are not at a disadvantage in terms of hygiene requirements and living conditions and 2) prioritise transport safety.

42.

The Committee of the Region proposes that the European Commission implement the Regulation as quickly as possible and take account of the observations and proposals put forward in this opinion.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/50


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the ‘Pharmaceutical package’

(2010/C 79/10)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

broadly welcomes the initiatives set out by the Commission in the pharmaceutical package. In earlier opinions (1), the CoR asked DG Enterprise to present a policy on medicinal products and called for better coordination with the public health policy proposed by DG Health and Consumer Protection. The legislative proposal on pharmacovigilance and the proposal for more effective collection of data on the side-effects of medicines are beneficial from the point of view of public health protection in Europe;

2.

stresses that it is important that drug treatments are ethically, medically and economically justified. The goal must be that the right patients receive the right dose of the right medicine at the right time so that resources can be used in the best possible way. Patients’ needs and interests must always come first;

3.

believes that the proposed directive is of direct relevance to local and regional authorities in that in many Member States they are responsible for health and healthcare services. The Commission proposal does not consider the local and regional role in this regard. The principle of subsidiarity should be preserved;

4.

welcomes the Commission's focus on measures reducing the harmful consequences of medicinal products on the environment, but these measures need to be specified in more detail;

Communication: Safe, Innovative and Accessible Medicines: a Renewed Vision for the Pharmaceutical Sector (COM(2008) 666 final)

5.

recognises that the European-based pharmaceutical industry plays role both as a scientific base for the healthcare sector and as an economic player;

6.

emphasises the need to strike a balance between competitiveness and public health policy;

7.

believes that all the interested parties must ensure that biosimilar medicinal products (biological medicinal products which have been authorised by a procedure similar to that used for generic medicinal products) and generic medicinal products (medicinal products which do not enjoy patent protection) become quickly accessible once they have lost their patent protection, and that they be of impeccable quality from the point of view of the patient and manufactured to high standards;

8.

recommends that the Commission take into account the findings of the Commission inquiry in the pharmaceutical sector (2);

Information to the general public on medicinal products subject to medical prescription (COM(2008) 663 and COM(2008) 662 final)

9.

shares the view that members of the general public are interested in decisions concerning their own health and will become increasingly so in the future;

10.

believes that the pharmaceutical industry's principle task is to develop, on the basis of quality and safety criteria, medicinal products whose effectiveness and safety have been proven in clinical trials, meeting patients’ therapeutic needs with a concomitant increase in their quality of life. Companies’ investment efforts should therefore focus on investment in research and development;

11.

calls on pharmaceutical companies to comply with their obligations regarding improving the quality of package labelling and the information it contains and in a format that is accessible and comprehensible patient leaflets in more than one community language, in accordance with current legislation on better use of drugs by patients. These companies should also be encourage to establish a scheme guaranteeing the traceability of medicinal products and substances;

12.

also supports the maintenance of the ban on advertising for medicinal products subject to prescription. The ‘promotion’ of diseases and disorders by pharmaceutical companies in the media to circumvent the ban must also be controlled Pharmaceutical companies must only be allowed to provide information on medicinal products subject to medical prescription in accordance with established quality criteria and via pre-specified information channels. Advertising on TV, radio and other non-prespecified channels of communication must not be permitted;

13.

believes that information provided by the pharmaceuticals industry must comply with quality standards and with respect of national legislation be approved in advance, either by the Member State where the medicinal product is authorised or at EU level in the case of centrally-authorised medicinal products. Each Member State would decide itself on a monitoring system for ensuring compliance with the rules applicable to medicinal products authorised under the mutual recognition framework in accordance with Directive 2001/83/EC. Centrally authorised medicinal products would be monitored at EU level in accordance with Regulation (EC) 726/2004;

14.

thinks that there is a need to abolish the exception concerning advertising in respect of vaccination campaigns and other campaigns promoting public health. Information on these medicinal products should be subject to the same legislation as other prescription-only medicines. The exemption from the advertising ban should only be maintained with regard to preventive travel vaccines;

15.

is in favour of strengthening and promoting the role of local healthcare professionals in providing information and of clarifying the roles of different players. Informing patients and ensuring that their needs are met as fully as possible implies a relationship of trust which is at the very core of the work of healthcare professionals;

16.

would point out the importance of providing information on both the risks and benefits of a particular medicinal product and believes that such information is essential to ensure that the purpose of the information provided by pharmaceutical companies is not to promote sales;

17.

wants to ensure that it will continue to be possible for the information channels of authorities and healthcare services to contain information on medicines subject to prescription and on comparisons between different treatment options;

18.

believes that it is difficult to establish which information channels can be defined as health-related publications and therefore proposes that such channels be removed from the proposal except from information from patient organisations;

19.

stresses that it is important that interpretations of the directive do not differ significantly from each other across Member States. Therefore the Commission should draw up a list of practices for monitoring systems and communicate them to Member States;

20.

believes that the possibility for retailers to provide information on medicinal products subject to prescription should be subject to more in-depth examination by the Commission;

Prevention of the entry into the legal supply chain of medicinal products which are falsified in relation to their identity, history or source (COM(2008) 668 final)

21.

supports proposal to set up a coordinated network of all those concerned by the falsification of medicines in order to make it easier to identify falsified medicinal products, prevent them from entering the supply chain, as well as imposing more stringent obligations on sellers and buyers with regard to these products;

22.

requests the Commission to also take steps to address to the problem of falsified medicinal products traded outside the legal supply chain. The directive stipulates that the legislation only applies to medicinal products intended to be sold in member States (3);

23.

believes that public knowledge and awareness of the risks attached to and possible after-effects of medicinal products outside the legal distribution channel should be increased;

24.

calls on the Commission to take adequate steps to ensure the total traceability of medicinal products, in particular by recognition for each medicinal product packaging at European level;

25.

supports the possibility of continuing parallel trade in safe medicinal products as this helps to keep prices down;

26.

would also like to make sure that the directive does not delay the entry of generic drugs to the marketplace;

27.

asks the Commission to monitor price developments with a view to ensuring that the proposed authorisation procedure does not lead to higher medicine prices and notes that the measures taken must be devised so as to strike a balance between increased safety and growing costs;

28.

calls on the Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, to support the drawing up of an international convention against the counterfeiting of medicinal products, thus strengthening the sanctions applicable to counterfeiting of medicinal products, or to provide for the inclusion of an additional protocol in the Palermo Convention on Organised Crime;

Pharmacovigilance, Directive 2001/83/EC on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use (COM(2008) 664 final and COM(2008) 665 final)

29.

welcomes changes in Community legislation aimed at strengthening legal provisions governing medicinal products;

30.

believes that both patients and healthcare services should always be encouraged to report the adverse effects of medicinal products. Healthcare professionals must report any adverse reaction to medicinal products of which they are aware. This is all the more important for medicinal products subject to a conditional authorisation. One way to make this clear for patients is to use a common symbol or an agreed system of symbols on the packaging and for safety information to be provided in more than one community language;

31.

thinks that healthcare services must be able to carry out safety checks of medicinal products and have access, via regional or national pharmacovigilance centres, to the European database on adverse effects;

32.

calls for regional pharmacovigilance centres to become an integral part of public health and the main contact point for patients on pharmacological issues;

33.

believes that the publication of adverse effects must be the subject of serious prior study and approved by the competent authorities before such information is made available to patients;

34.

would emphasise that the tasks of regional pharmacovigilance centres must not be confined to collecting information but should also include information and prevention, advice and evaluation of benefits and risks; regional pharmacovigilance centres are involved in health monitoring and health conferences. In addition to this, the aim must be for enhanced cooperation between doctors, pharmacists and patient self-help groups on issues relating to medication;

35.

believes that the proposed amendments with respect to package leaflets – in particular those concerning the close monitoring of adverse reactions – will help to speed up changes to the contents of package leaflets. This may lead to a situation where patients receive out-of-date package leaflets, possibly containing misleading or false information. The long-term aim must be that when a medicinal product is dispensed it is always accompanied by an up-to-date package leaflet; Healthcare professionals should inform patients of any adverse effects that have not yet been included in the leaflet should this be deemed necessary, in line with each patient’s specific situation;

36.

opposes the proposal to introduce a summary of the package leaflet in a square surrounded by a black border as there is a risk that patients would only read the information contained in the square.

II.   RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1

COM(2008) 663 final - Article 1(2)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Directive 2001/83/EC is amended as follows:

Article 88(4) is replaced by the following:

‘(…) 4.   The prohibition set out in paragraph 1 shall not apply to vaccination campaigns and other campaigns in the interest of public health carried out by the industry and approved by the competent authorities of the Member States.’

Directive 2001/83/EC is amended as follows:

Article 88(4) is replaced by the following:

‘(…) 4.   The prohibition set out in paragraph 1 shall not apply to .’

Reason

Vaccines should be subject to the same rules as other prescription-only medicinal products. The exception with respect to vaccination campaigns and other campaigns in the interest of public health should be limited to preventive travel vaccines. Under current European legislation only vaccination campaigns are exempt from the general advertising ban. The Commission proposal seeks to make it possible for the pharmaceutical industry to inform the public about campaigns in the interest of public health. It is judged that the present exception has led pharmaceutical companies to provide information on their products in a way which is perceived to be assertive, with a message which is clearly geared to selling the product. The Commission proposal to widen the scope of the exception to include ‘other campaigns in the interest of public health’ runs the risk of undermining the advertising ban on prescription-only medicinal products. This is because it is difficult to define exactly what is meant by ‘other campaigns in the interest of public health’.

Thanks to scientific advances, the number of vaccines will increase in the future, for example with the emergence of therapeutic vaccines, with the result that differences between vaccines and conventional medicinal products are likely to become more blurred. Vaccination of the population is an important part of public health work. At present, Member States apply different routines in their vaccination programmes. In order to carry out an overall risk-benefit assessment and make optimal use of healthcare resources, information related to vaccination campaigns should be evaluated by society at large and not just by pharmaceutical companies.

Amendment 2

COM(2008) 663 final - Article 1(5)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Article 100b

The following types of information on authorised medicinal products subject to medical prescription may be disseminated by the marketing authorisation holder to the general public or members thereof:

(…) (c)

information on the environmental impact of the medicinal product, prices and factual, informative announcements and reference material relating, for example, to pack changes or adverse-reaction warnings;

(d)

medicinal product-related information about non-interventional scientific studies, or accompanying measures to prevention and medical treatment, or information which presents the medicinal product in the context of the condition to be prevented or treated.

Article 100b

The following types of information on authorised medicinal products subject to medical prescription may be disseminated by the marketing authorisation holder to the general public or members thereof:

(…) (c)

information on the environmental impact of the medicinal product.

Reason

The term ‘environmental impact’ is far too vague. In view of the increased attention paid to the potentially adverse effects of medicinal products on the environment, the term ‘environmental risk’ is to be preferred. Use of the term ‘environmental risk’ better reflects the type of environmental effect the Commission wants to reduce.

The rules should be devised in such a way that it is made clear that only the contents of the summary of the product characteristics, the label and the package leaflet are considered as information. This information can, however, be complemented with information on the environmental effects of the medicinal product. Article100b (d) is unclear and should therefore be deleted. The Commission itself noted in a report (4) that non-interventional safety studies are ‘often of poor quality and frequently promotional’.

Amendment 3

COM(2008) 663 final – Article 1(5)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Article 100c

Information on authorised medicinal products subject to medical prescription disseminated by the marketing authorisation holder to the general public or members thereof shall not be made available on television or radio. It shall only be made available through the following channels:

(a)

health-related publications as defined by the Member State of publication, to the exclusion of unsolicited material actively distributed to the general public or members thereof;

(b)

internet websites on medicinal products, to the exclusion of unsolicited material actively distributed to the general public or members thereof;

Article 100c

Information on authorised medicinal products subject to medical prescription disseminated by the marketing authorisation holder to the general public or members thereof shall not be made available on television or radio. It shall only be made available through the following channels:

(a)

internet websites on medicinal products , to the exclusion of unsolicited material actively distributed to the general public or members thereof;

Reason

The term ‘health-related publications’ is difficult to define and therefore this channel should be omitted. The current proposal requires each Member State itself to define the publications concerned, which creates the risk of different interpretations. The current wording raises the problem of the definition of advertising and information.

Amendment 4

COM(2008) 668 final – Article 1(1)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Directive 2001/83/EC is amended as follows:

1)

In Article 1, the following point 17a is inserted after point 17:

‘17a.

Trading of medicinal products:

All activities consisting of negotiating independently on behalf of another person the sale or the purchase of medicinal products, or billing or brokering medicinal products, apart from supplying medicinal products to the public, and not falling under the definition of wholesale distribution.’

Directive 2001/83/EC is amended as follows:

1)

In Article 1, the following point 17a is inserted after point 17:

‘17a.

of medicinal products:

All activities consisting of negotiating independently on behalf of another person the sale or the purchase of medicinal products, or billing medicinal products, apart from falling under the definition of wholesale distribution.’

Reason

The proposed point 17a is entitled ‘Trading of medicinal products’. The definition states, inter alia, that gross and retail distribution do not fall under the concept of ‘trading of medicinal products’. In view of the fact that ‘trading of medicinal products’ already has a well established meaning in many Member States, the transactions referred to in point 17a should be called something else. Failure to do so could result in a confusion of concepts

Amendment 5

COM(2008) 665 final – between points 17 and 18

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

Reason

The Committee of the Regions would like to propose an amendment to the current legislation which has not been taken into account in the Commission proposal. The current legislation, Directive 2004/27/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 amending Directive 2001/83/EC on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use, states in Article 54(j): ‘specific precautions relating to the disposal of unused medicinal products or waste derived from medicinal products, where appropriate, as well as reference to any appropriate collection system in place:’

The current legislation requires all Member States to have collection systems for unused and outdated medicinal products, but patients have not been given enough information about these systems. Lack of clear instructions for patients leads to unwanted medicinal products ending up in wastewater systems and to increased loads on waste treatment facilities and wastewater reservoirs. The provision of clearer information on the packaging would improve the prerequisites for adequate management of unused and outdated medicinal products.

Amendment 6

COM(2008) 665 final - between points 15 and 16

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

Reason

The CoR considers that where medicines are concerned it is much more appropriate to separate the environmental risks from those relating to health, as is the case in Directive 2004/27/EC. This retains the conventional risk-benefit concept for medicines.

Brussels, 7 October 2009.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


(1)  In its opinion of 9-10 April 2008 on the White Paper Together for Health: A strategic approach for the EU 2008-2013, the Committee of the Regions noted that the proposed strategy did not address the issue of pharmaceuticals and therefore called for closer examination of this issue.

(2)  Commission inquiry in the pharmaceutical sector, preliminary report (working document of DG Competition), 28 November 2008.

(3)  2001/83/EC, Article 2: ‘This Directive shall apply to medicinal products for human use intended to be placed on the market in Member States… .’

(4)  Strategy to better protect public health by strengthening and rationalising EU pharmacovigilance: public consultation on legislative proposals, Brussels, 5 December 2007 (point 3.2.5).


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/58


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘The future Common European Asylum System II’

(2010/C 79/11)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

underlines in particular that local and regional authorities will continue to be at the forefront of implementing European legislation on essential elements of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS); and reiterates the recommendations made in its first Opinion on the CEAS adopted at the 74th Plenary Session (CdR 177/2007 fin);

2.

identifies, in this second Opinion on CEAS, specific further issues in relation to the Policy Plan in general, and the available proposed legislation in particular, while endorsing the original findings;

3.

is concerned that the documents under consideration in this Opinion make inadequate reference to the local and regional dimension. Inclusion of the local and regional dimension is necessary both for the effective implementation of CEAS II and for compliance with the principle of subsidiarity;

The Policy Plan on Asylum

4.

welcomes the recognition that, in this policy field, harmonisation must be coupled with an increase in standards, but does so with some reservations. In particular, the Committee notes that there maybe consequential costs for local and regional authorities;

5.

underlines that, insofar as CEAS concerns asylum seekers and refugees, it should remain rooted in the principles of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and that no diminution of its standards should be allowed or implied;

6.

welcomes the fact that a key feature of the Policy Plan and the associated legislation is the unification of approaches to asylum and forms of subsidiary protection. This is important because it recognises the limitations of the refugee definition, and that many people seeking international protection may not be refugees in the strict sense (for example, persons fleeing natural disasters). The applicable reception arrangements and procedures, as well as the status granted, should guarantee the equal treatment of these persons;

7.

believes that successful harmonisation is a means of alleviating the disproportionate burden faced by certain local and regional authorities caused by their geographic or border location, in combination with differences in national approaches. Where reception conditions and processes, or the application of qualification criteria for international protection, are (or are perceived to be) more strict in one Member State than another, this may contribute to secondary migration within the EU. This makes implementing CEAS more difficult, and may place undue burdens on some Member States and local and regional authorities;

8.

stresses that the principal causes of forced migration are circumstances external to the EU, rather than conditions inside it;

9.

recommends that where access to housing, welfare, health, education and the labour market are administered by local or regional authorities, there should be recognition by Member States of the necessity of solidarity and burden-sharing at the sub-national level;

10.

considers that in order for the policy of European harmonisation to succeed, local and regional authorities may require either additional direct European support, or guarantees that they will benefit proportionately from funds allocated to Member States;

11.

recognises that disproportionate burdens resulting from geographic location at the EU’s borders and from demographic characteristics that can hinder the effectiveness of harmonisation and therefore agrees that further harmonisation of national standards through CEAS must be coupled with enhanced practical cooperation to fairly distribute asylum responsibilities among Member States and regions;

12.

is concerned that the Policy Plan does not address the operation of the EU border agency, FRONTEX, either on harmonisation or practical cooperation. The improved attention paid in the CEAS proposals to human rights generally, and the human rights of vulnerable persons in particular, should be mirrored in the rules governing FRONTEX;

13.

stresses the need for improvements in communication at local and regional level concerning the difference between forced and unforced migration, and between recipients and seekers of international protection, in order to ensure that communities have informed and positive messages about beneficiaries of international protection;

The Reception Directive

14.

supports the combining in this Directive of measures to cover reception standards for both asylum seekers and persons seeking subsidiary protection;

15.

points out that in harmonising reception standards, social assistance given to asylum seekers in relation to housing, welfare, health, education and access to the labour market, must certainly be provided at a level no higher than equivalent with the national population;

16.

considers that the proposed human rights guarantees, including special measures for vulnerable people, should be applied to all forms of processing, including any form of extra-territorial processing such as that envisaged in paragraph 5.2.3 of the Policy Plan. Further moves in this direction will require careful scrutiny, especially in relation to their lawfulness, effectiveness, and advisability;

Detention: Articles 8-11

17.

strongly welcomes the recognition in Article 8(1) that persons should not be detained for the sole reason that they are an applicant for international protection, as called for by this Committee in para. 16 of its first Opinion on CEAS. The Committee recognises that there may be good reasons for competent authorities detaining certain applicants, such as those likely to abscond;

Access to the labour market after 6 months: Article 15

18.

agrees that these proposals could benefit both the asylum seeker and the Member State, although it recognises that this is a controversial proposal for some Member States, especially those with rising unemployment and those under pressure due to their geographical position. The Committee welcomes that Article 15(2) of the recast Reception Directive also makes it clear that, ‘Member States shall decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market’;

19.

reiterates its views on integration policy stated in paras. 34-38 of its first Opinion on CEAS, and draws attention to its Opinion of 11 October 2007 on ‘Applying the global approach to migration to the borders of the EU’ (CdR 64/2007 fin); the conclusions of the October 2007 Tenerife conference on ‘The role of regions and cities in managing migration flows’, co-organised by the Committee of the Regions and the Canary Islands Government; the Opinion of 15 June 2006 on ‘The protection of minorities and anti-discrimination policies in an enlarged Europe’ (CdR 53/2006), in which integration policy was discussed; and the Opinion of 12 February 2009 on ‘Local and regional authorities at the forefront of integration policies’ (CdR 212/2008); as well as the conclusions of the October 2008 Athens seminar on ‘The role of cities and regions in integrating immigrants’ organised by the Committee of the Regions and the Local Union of Municipalities and Communities of Attica;

20.

reaffirms the recommendation made in para. 4 of its first Opinion on CEAS that European legislation should require Member States to establish a system of networks of regional authorities, in order to integrate refugees in an informed way;

Rules on material reception conditions and health care: Articles 17-20

21.

has its concerns about the requirement to apply national welfare provisions to asylum seekers and would instead suggest that, in a bid to secure a basic level of provision, consideration be given to Europe-wide uniform minimum standards;

22.

recognises that the provisions regarding material conditions are of particular importance to the local and regional authorities that play a significant role in delivering housing, welfare, health, and education. Where Member States have discretion over the implementation of these standards, they should assure local and regional authorities that they will receive proportionate financial support where they are placed under additional duties;

23.

identifies a need for training for local and regional authorities officers asked to undertake the means-testing suggested in these provisions, so as to ensure that contributions to the cost of material reception conditions or healthcare are not taken unnecessarily from the applicants for international protection themselves;

Provisions for persons with special needs: Articles 21-24

24.

reiterates its deep concern for vulnerable people (paras. 29-33 of its first Opinion on CEAS), and welcomes the steps taken towards addressing this issue. The Committee draws particular attention to the health needs of persons seeking international protection in conditions giving rise to injury, malnutrition and psychological trauma. Since health services are often provided at local or regional level, the burdens on particular regions must be researched, identified and alleviated;

Treatment of applicants refused international protection

25.

The harmonisation of the treatment of failed asylum seekers could assist in the reduction of secondary migration. However, action must be allowed to encourage those concerned to leave voluntarily. These actions should not affect necessary medical assistance or subsistence support provided to people in this category;

26.

stresses that forced destitution and denial of healthcare should never be used to effect immigration and asylum policies related to the removal of refused applicants for international protection;

Minors

27.

welcomes the fact that the Reception Directive and the other recast CEAS II instruments now provide a clear definition of a minor, namely ‘a third-country national or stateless person below the age of 18 years’. Likewise, it is to be welcomed that each of the instruments creates additional safeguards for minors. However, whilst a person identified as a minor will benefit from these standards, there is insufficient protection for those applicants for international protection whose age is contested by the Member State receiving the applicant, processing and deciding the application, or applying the Dublin criteria;

28.

notes that material reception conditions will be the first part of the CEAS experienced by applicants for international protection. It is vital therefore that where the age of an applicant is disputed, they are treated as minors until it is proven that they are not (with due regard to the rights and safety of other applicants for international protection); that they are treated at all times humanely and with dignity; and that legal safeguards to age determination procedures apply, in particular where there is recourse to medical examination. If the age of the applicant is wrongly assessed at this stage, then the child applicant for international protection may be wrongfully denied the increased levels of protection that the CEAS II legislation would seek to enshrine for minors;

29.

Recognises the exceptional pressure placed on some local and regional authorities for the provision of services for unaccompanied or large numbers of minors, and recommends that such authorities should be adequately resourced.

Recast Dublin Regulation

30.

notes that this is of particular importance to regions, since, under the Dublin system, asylum seekers may be transferred to the first Member State they entered, which puts pressure on Member States and regions at the external borders of the EU and major points of entry;

31.

endorses the aim of improving the efficiency of the system, but only where it is consistent with the application of harmonised reception and qualification standards and procedures. This ensures that Member States transferring third country nationals to another Member State do not breach their own obligations under international human rights law, including the right to respect for family life, the best interest of the child, and the prohibition upon refoulement, including indirect refoulement, under Article 19 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, Article 33 of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and Article 3 of the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture. The provisions of the proposed Regulation should only take effect once the revised Reception, Procedures, and Qualification Directives have been fully implemented;

32.

welcomes Article 6 on protecting the rights of unaccompanied minors, which partly addresses the concerns raised in paragraphs 29-33 of the Committee’s first Opinion on the CEAS. Effective safeguards for other vulnerable people, such as pregnant women and disabled people, should be introduced. The Regulation should also address the existing shortcomings in relation to maintaining the family unit;

33.

welcomes the recognition in Article 27 that persons should not be detained for the sole reason that they are an applicant for international protection, echoing as it does the suggestion of this Committee in para. 16 of its first Opinion on the CEAS;

34.

endorses the procedures proposed in Article 31 for suspending the provisions contained in this Regulation where a Member State is faced with a particularly urgent situation which places an exceptionally heavy burden on its reception capacities;

35.

suggests that a formal means of communication between the regions and the European Commission be established to highlight situations that could give rise to the use of its discretion under Article 31(2) where the conditions in the Member State as a whole do not satisfy the evidential standard required by Article 31(1). However, and in order to prevent over-use of these provisions, the Commission should carefully monitor the situation and consider whether it is a genuinely urgent situation, or whether non-compliance with the Directive laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and with Directive 2005/85/EC should give rise to infringement proceedings under Article 226 of the EC Treaty;

Recast Procedures Directive

36.

welcomes the recognition that the harmonisation of procedural standards is to be coupled with ‘better standards’ in the processing of applications for international protection. This has the benefit of reducing the length of time taken to reach a decision. Long periods of assessment can have a negative impact upon health and mental wellbeing, which can result in a significant draw upon local and regional resources. Even where decision-making is handled as part of a national (rather than a regional) scheme, delays may result in undue pressure on local and regional authorities where hearings or tribunals are heard;

Recast Qualification Directive

37.

welcomes the recognition that the harmonisation of qualification standards is to be coupled with ‘better standards’. Given the humanitarian context of any legislation on the issue of refugees, solutions to the problem of inconsistency in the recognition of refugees should take priority over solutions to the problem of secondary migration caused by differing welfare provision and labour market access. The consequences of unjust refusal of international protection are especially grave;

38.

welcomes the increased emphasis on subsidiary protection. The Committee welcomes the attention placed in para. 3.3 of the Policy Plan upon improvements in the application of the so-called ‘internal flight alternative’ in particular. This ‘alternative’ should never be used in such a way as to mask refoulement;

39.

recognises that improvements in the quality of decision-making on asylum and subsidiary protection, which includes sharing best practice on the interpretation of existing and proposed legislation, will reduce the rate of appeals (which in some Member States is high). They may also contribute to a higher rate of voluntary returns for those whose application for international protection has been rejected. Success in both of these areas will reduce the extent to which regions will be under disproportionate pressure to provide support for persons excluded from national support;

40.

reiterates that, under international law, displaced persons have the right to seek international protection, even if they entered the EU illegally; and insists, therefore, that the mode of entry into the EU not be held against applicants for international protection, in particular victims of human trafficking;

41.

observes that ‘credibility’ does not form a part of the international or European refugee definition, but that many applications for international protection are, nevertheless, rejected on credibility grounds. Applicants refused international protection may need considerable support from local and regional authorities before they leave the EU, and it is therefore essential that applications are not unduly rejected on credibility grounds;

42.

recommends that the recast Qualification Directive more clearly establishes that the provisions on credibility (currently Article 4(5)) are supplemental to the refugee definition: They outline the circumstances in which an individual’s unsupported statements may be admissible as evidence, contributing to the standard of proof required for demonstrating facts giving rise to a need for international protection;

Practical cooperation

43.

stresses the need for networks sharing information and best practice on asylum issues at the local and regional level, and of providing appropriate financial support for networks’ activities;

44.

welcomes the decision to establish the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), and believes it will actively contribute to the improvement of international standards and a greater consistency of approach;

45.

considers that the Committee of the Regions should be included at point 17 of the proposed Regulation under ‘other Community bodies’ (Article 49);

46.

stresses the importance of undertaking research and comparative studies in improving the evidence base of both policy and practice, and that local and regional government will play a key role in providing this. Local and regional authorities should be mentioned in connection with ‘pooling information and best practice’ (Article 3) and ‘gathering and exchanging information’ (Article 11);

47.

seeks clarity on the proposed regulatory framework and indicators for measuring the effectiveness of policy development and service delivery;

48.

recommends that funding programmes that can be accessed by local and regional authorities be developed to improve public awareness of asylum issues in areas where this could improve community information and integration. The Consultative Forum should include local and regional authorities and the Committee of the Regions;

49.

further recommends that the EASO should play a key role in building relations with third countries, NGOs and international bodies;

50.

strongly underlines the contribution of local and regional authorities to achieving high standards of practical management for asylum seekers and refugees. In addition, the development of training for staff at borders, reception centres and resettlement facilities is crucial to the promotion of international protection programmes;

51.

expresses deep concern over the omission of representation from local and regional government on the Management Board, and recommends that administrative arrangements for the EASO be strengthened by the inclusion of representation from the CoR, and that consultation be established on a regular basis;

Fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity within EU

52.

notes that while solidarity between Member States is recognised as a key element of the proposals, in particular as regards amendments to the Dublin II Regulation, the proposals still leave considerable discretion to Member States on the implementation of the policies. It is important to recognise that, just as there is a need for burden-sharing and solidarity between Members States, there is a need for it within them;

53.

reiterates its satisfaction with the practical support offered to Member States by the European Refugee Fund and European Return Fund, as expressed in para. 46 of the Committee’s first Report on CEAS. These funds will be particularly important in successfully implementing the Reception and Procedures Directives. The Committee seeks reassurance that local and regional authorities will have direct access to these funds and a role in monitoring the allocation of support through them;

54.

tentatively welcomes the possibility of joint processing of specific EU caseloads, subject to a high level of regard for human rights and respect for the principle that each case be considered individually;

External solidarity

55.

notes the importance of voluntary resettlement and welcomes the proposals for improvements. The Committee seeks confirmation that mechanisms will be in place to consult local and regional authorities on this, given their important role in the successful integration of refugees and other beneficiaries of international protection. The Committee notes that, if managed well, voluntary resettlement will allow regions to benefit from constructive managed migration;

On the Establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Programme

56.

welcomes these EC communications, and considers that this initiative will enhance solidarity in resettlement practices as well as improving standards across members states particularly with reference to the role of local authorities in the reception, resettlement and integration of resettled persons;

57.

particularly welcomes the development of the Resettlement Expert Group and stresses the important role Local and Regional Authorities undertake in reception and resettlement processes, and, that their contribution to the identification of needs, annual priorities and exchange of good practice be recognised as stakeholder expertise within this group;

58.

requests that sufficient resources from the funding proposed by the European Commission for supporting resettled persons; be provided to local and regional authorities which have to play a key role in the successful implementation of the EU resettlement programme.

II.   RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1

Proposal for a Reception Directive [COM(2008) 815] - Article 2c)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

‘Family members’ means, in so far as the family already existed in the country of origin, the following members of the applicant's family who are present in the same Member State in relation to the application for international protection:

‘Family members’ means, in so far as the family already existed in the country of origin, the following members of the applicant's family who are present in the same Member State in relation to the application for international protection:

(i)

the spouse of the asylum seeker or his or her unmarried partner in a stable relationship, where the legislation or practice of the Member State concerned treats unmarried couples in a way comparable to married couples under its law relating to aliens;

(i)

the spouse of the asylum seeker or his or her unmarried partner in a stable relationship, where the legislation or practice of the Member State concerned treats unmarried couples in a way comparable to married couples under its law relating to aliens;

(ii)

the minor children of couples referred to in point (i) or of the applicant, on condition that they are unmarried and regardless of whether they were born in or out of wedlock or adopted as defined under the national law;

(ii)

the minor children of couples referred to in point (i) or of the applicant, on condition that they are unmarried , and regardless of whether they were born in or out of wedlock or adopted as defined under the national law;

(iii)

the married minor children of couples referred to in point (i) or of the applicant, regardless of whether they were born in or out of wedlock or adopted as defined under the national law, where it is in their best interests to reside with the applicant;

(iv)

the father, mother or guardian of the applicant, when the latter is a minor and unmarried, or when he/she is a minor and married but it is in his/her best interests to reside with his/her father, mother or guardian;

the father, mother or guardian of the applicant, when the latter is a minor and unmarried, or when he/she is a minor and married but it is in his/her best interests to reside with his/her father, mother or guardian;

(v)

the minor unmarried siblings of the applicant, when the latter is a minor and unmarried, or when the applicant or his/her siblings are minors and married but it is in the best interests of one or more of them that they reside together;

the minor unmarried siblings of the applicant, when the latter is a minor and unmarried, or when the applicant or his/her siblings are minors and married but it is in the best interests of one or more of them that they reside together;

Reason

The European Commission's proposal in effect widens the definition of the family. This would significantly expand the circle of people who are entitled to assistance. The original circle of beneficiaries should therefore be maintained.

Amendment 2

Proposal for a Reception Directive [COM(2008) 815] - Article 6 – New paragraph 1

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

1.

Reason

So long as identity cannot be established with any great certainty, it is important that each asylum seeker be treated in a way which is legally certain. It is important that the article begin with this fundamental standpoint, which is based on human dignity and the principle that all men are of equal worth.

Amendment 3

Proposal for a Reception Directive [COM(2008) 815] - Article15 (4)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

For reasons of labour market policies, Member States may give priority to EU citizens and nationals of States parties to the Agreement on the European Economic Area and also to legally resident third-country nationals.

Reason

Regarding the European Commission's proposal to grant unrestricted access to the labour market, it must without question be possible for Member State to give priority to nationals and EU/EEA citizens. Article 15(4) of the current version of the Directive should therefore be maintained.

Amendment 4

Proposal for a Reception Directive [COM(2008) 815] - Article 20 – New paragraphs 6, 7 and 8

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

 

 

Reason

These provisions are necessary to ensure compliance with European human rights standards, in particular Article 3 ECHR. Withdrawal and reduction of material reception conditions encourages refused applicants to break contacts with the host Member State; this may impede eventual removal and encourage illegal working. The financial implication of maintaining material reception conditions for refused applicants provides an incentive for Member States to improve their removal procedures and to improve their voluntary return schemes (destitution and the denial of healthcare cannot be seen as encouraging returns that are genuinely voluntary; they are illegitimate forms of forced return). However the increased tax revenues from allowing applicants for international protection to access the labour market no later than six months after arrival in the EU will contribute to the cost of this amendment.

The provision of primary healthcare to refused applicants is also necessary to protect public health. Moreover, where refused applicants are denied primary healthcare, they may typically present their symptoms at hospitals when their condition has become acute. This puts severe pressure on healthcare budgets, which are administered regionally in many Member States.

Amendment 5

Proposal for a Reception Directive [COM(2008) 815] - Article 20(1)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Member States may reduce material reception conditions where an asylum seeker:

(a)

abandons the place of residence determined by the competent authority without informing it or, if requested, without permission, or

(b)

does not comply with reporting duties or with requests to provide information or to appear for personal interviews concerning the asylum procedure during a reasonable period laid down in national law, or

(c)

has already lodged an application in the same Member State.

Member States may reduce material reception conditions where an asylum seeker:

(a)

abandons the place of residence determined by the competent authority without informing it or, if requested, without permission, or

(b)

does not comply with reporting duties or with requests to provide information or to appear for personal interviews concerning the asylum procedure during a reasonable period laid down in national law, or

(c)

has already lodged an application in the same Member State.

Reason

The Commission proposal severely limits the possibilities at Member States’ disposal for withdrawing material reception conditions. This would take a way an effective incentive for asylum seekers to cooperate actively in the asylum process. The existing provision should therefore be maintained.

Amendment 6

Proposal for a Reception Directive [COM(2008) 815] - Article 21 - paragraph 2

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

2.

Member States shall establish procedures in national legislation with a view to identifying, as soon as an application for international protection is lodged, whether the applicant has special needs and indicating the nature of such needs. Member States shall ensure support for persons with special needs throughout the asylum procedure and shall provide for appropriate monitoring of their situation.

2.

Member States shall establish procedures in national legislation with a view to identifying, as soon as an application for international protection is lodged, whether the applicant has special needs and indicating the nature of such needs. Member States shall ensure support for persons with special needs throughout the asylum procedure and shall provide for appropriate monitoring of their situation.

Reason

This is in order to ensure that children are not wrongfully denied the enhanced protection for minors enshrined in the CEAS II proposals. It is important that age identification has adequate safeguards at this stage, since the provisions of the Reception Directive also ‘directly apply’ to the recast Council Regulation 343/2003/EC (the Dublin Regulation) (Preamble, clause 9). These provisions should also cross refer to the detailed provisions on unaccompanied minors in the current Article 17 of Directive 2005/85/EC (the Procedures Directive) or its replacement.

Amendment 7

Recast Dublin Regulation [COM(2008) 820 final] - Article 31

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

1.

When a Member State is faced with a particularly urgent situation which places an exceptionally heavy burden on its reception capacities, asylum system or infrastructure, and when the transfer of applicants for international protection in accordance with this Regulation to that Member State could add to that burden, that Member State may request that such transfers be suspended.

1.

When a Member State is faced with a particularly urgent situation which places an exceptionally heavy burden on its reception capacities, asylum system or infrastructure, and when the transfer of applicants for international protection in accordance with this Regulation to that Member State could add to that burden, that Member State may request that such transfers be suspended.

The request shall be addressed to the Commission. It shall indicate the grounds on which it is based and shall in particular include:

The request shall be addressed to the Commission. It shall indicate the grounds on which it is based and shall in particular include:

(a)

a detailed description of the particularly urgent situation which places an exceptionally heavy burden on the requesting Member State's reception capacities, asylum system or infrastructure, including relevant statistics and supporting evidence;

(a)

a detailed description of the particularly urgent situation which places an exceptionally heavy burden on the requesting Member State's reception capacities, asylum system or infrastructure, including relevant statistics and supporting evidence;

(b)

a substantiated forecast of the likely evolution of this situation in the short-term;

(b)

a substantiated forecast of the likely evolution of this situation in the short-term;

(c)

a substantiated explanation of the further burden that the transfer of applicants for international protection in accordance with this Regulation could add to the requesting Member State's reception capacities, asylum system or infrastructure, including relevant statistics and other supporting evidence.

(c)

a substantiated explanation of the further burden that the transfer of applicants for international protection in accordance with this Regulation could add to the requesting Member State's reception capacities, asylum system or infrastructure, including relevant statistics and other supporting evidence.

2.

When the Commission considers that the circumstances prevailing in a Member State may lead to a level of protection for applicants for international protection which is not in conformity with Community legislation, in particular with Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and with Directive 2005/85/EC, it may decide in conformity with the procedure laid down in paragraph 4, that all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned be suspended.

2.

When the Commission considers that the circumstances prevailing in a Member State may lead to a level of protection for applicants for international protection which is not in conformity with Community legislation, in particular with Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and with Directive 2005/85/EC, it may decide in conformity with the procedure laid down in paragraph 4, that all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned be suspended.

3.

When a Member State is concerned that the circumstances prevailing in another Member State may lead to a level of protection for applicants for international protection which is not in conformity with Community legislation, in particular with Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and with Directive 2005/85/EC, it may request that all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned be suspended.

3.

When a Member State is concerned that the circumstances prevailing in another Member State may lead to a level of protection for applicants for international protection which is not in conformity with Community legislation, in particular with Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and with Directive 2005/85/EC, it may request that all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned be suspended.

The request shall be addressed to the Commission. It shall indicate the grounds on which it is based and shall in particular include detailed information on the situation in the concerned Member State pointing to a possible lack of conformity with Community legislation, in particular Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and Directive 2005/85/EC.

The request shall be addressed to the Commission. It shall indicate the grounds on which it is based and shall in particular include detailed information on the situation in the concerned Member State pointing to a possible lack of conformity with Community legislation, in particular Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers and Directive 2005/85/EC.

 

4.

Following the receipt of a request pursuant to paragraphs 1 or 3, or upon its own initiative pursuant to paragraph 2, the Commission may decide that all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned be suspended. Such decision shall be taken as soon as possible and at the latest one month following the receipt of a request. The decision to suspend transfers shall state the reasons on which it is based and shall in particular include:

(a)

an examination of all the relevant circumstances prevailing in the Member State towards which transfers could be suspended;

(b)

an examination of the potential impact of the suspension of transfers on the other Member States;

(c)

the proposed date on which the suspension of transfers shall take effect;

(d)

any particular conditions attached to such suspension.

4 .

Following the receipt of a request pursuant to paragraphs 1 or 3, or upon its own initiative pursuant to paragraph 2 , the Commission may decide that all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned be suspended. Such decision shall be taken as soon as possible and at the latest one month following the receipt of a request. The decision to suspend transfers shall state the reasons on which it is based and shall in particular include:

(a)

an examination of all the relevant circumstances prevailing in the Member State towards which transfers could be suspended;

(b)

an examination of the potential impact of the suspension of transfers on the other Member States;

(c)

the proposed date on which the suspension of transfers shall take effect;

(d)

any particular conditions attached to such suspension.

5.

The Commission shall notify the Council and the Member States of the decision to suspend all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned. Any Member State may refer the decision of the Commission to the Council within one month from the receipt of the notification. The Council, acting by qualified majority, may take a different decision in one month from the date of the referral by a Member State.

.

The Commission shall notify the Council and the Member States of the decision to suspend all transfers of applicants in accordance with this Regulation to the Member State concerned. Any Member State may refer the decision of the Commission to the Council within one month from the receipt of the notification. The Council, acting by qualified majority, may take a different decision in one month from the date of the referral by a Member State.

6.

Following the decision of the Commission to suspend transfers to a Member State, the other Member States in which the applicants whose transfers have been suspended are present, shall be responsible for examining the applications for international protection of those persons.

The decision to suspend transfers to a Member State shall take due account of the need to ensure the protection of minors and of family unity.

.

Following the decision of the Commission to suspend transfers to a Member State, the other Member States in which the applicants whose transfers have been suspended are present, shall be responsible for examining the applications for international protection of those persons.

The decision to suspend transfers to a Member State shall take due account of the need to ensure the protection of minors and of family unity.

7.

A decision to suspend transfers to a Member State pursuant to paragraph 1 shall justify the granting of assistance for the emergency measures laid down in Article 5 of Decision No 573/2007/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council35, following a request for assistance from that Member State.

.

A decision to suspend transfers to a Member State pursuant to paragraph 1 shall justify the granting of assistance for the emergency measures laid down in Article 5 of Decision No 573/2007/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council35, following a request for assistance from that Member State.

8.

Transfers may be suspended for a period which cannot exceed six months. Where the grounds for the measures still persist after six months, the Commission may decide, upon a request from the Member State concerned referred to paragraph 1 or upon its own initiative, to extend their application for a further six months period. Paragraph 5 applies.

.

Transfers may be suspended for a period which cannot exceed six months. Where the grounds for the measures still persist after six months, the Commission may decide, upon a request from the Member State concerned referred to paragraph 1 or upon its own initiative, to extend their application for a further six months period. Paragraph 5 applies.

9.

Nothing in this Article shall be interpreted as allowing Member States to derogate from their general obligation to take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of their obligations arising out of the Community legislation on asylum, in particular this Regulation, Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers, and Directive 2005/85/EC.

.

Nothing in this Article shall be interpreted as allowing Member States to derogate from their general obligation to take all appropriate measures, whether general or particular, to ensure fulfilment of their obligations arising out of the Community legislation on asylum, in particular this Regulation, Directive […/…/EC] laying down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers, and Directive 2005/85/EC.

Reason

This proposed amendment addresses the situation where certain regions may face a disproportionate burden in comparison to their Member State as a whole and where the Member State cannot, therefore, avail itself of Art 31(1) because the situation across its territory is not of sufficient gravity. Unlike existing Art 31(1), this is not a direct request for the suspension of transfers, but a request for the Commission to exercise its discretion under Art 31(2). The amendment therefore recognises the importance of local and regional authorities, without attempting to place them on an equal footing to Member States.

Amendment 8

EASO Regulation [COM(2009) 66] Article 11 – paragraph 1

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

1.

The Office shall organise, coordinate and promote the exchange of information between national asylum authorities and between the Commission and national asylum authorities concerning the implementation of all relevant instruments of the Community asylum acquis. To this end, it may create factual, legal and case-law databases on national, European and international asylum instruments.

1.

The Office shall organise, coordinate and promote the exchange of information between national asylum authorities and between the Commission and national asylum authorities concerning the implementation, , of all relevant instruments of the Community asylum acquis. To this end, it may create factual, legal and case-law databases on national, European and international asylum instruments.

Reason

The implementation of much asylum policy is at the regional level, and so in relation to gathering and exchanging information it is important that the regions are consulted directly.

Amendment 9

EASO Regulation [COM(2009) 66] Article 25 – paragraph 3

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

3.

The Management Board may invite any person whose opinion may be of interest to attend its meetings as an observer.

3.

The Management Board may invite any person whose opinion may be of interest to attend its meetings as an observer. .

Reason

This amendment recognises the importance and experience of local and regional authorities in relation to asylum policy.

Amendment 10

EASO Regulation [COM(2009) 66] Article 30 – paragraph 9

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

9.

The Executive Committee may invite any person whose opinion may be of interest to attend its meetings as an observer.

9.

The Executive Committee may invite any person whose opinion may be of interest to attend its meetings as an observer. .

Reason

This amendment runs in parallel to the proposed amendment to Art 25(3) to ensure that the expertise and experience of the regions is fully recognised and utilised.

Amendment 11

EASO Regulation [COM(2009) 66] Article 32 – paragraph 1

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

1.

The Office shall cooperate closely with NGOs and civil society institutions operating in the field of asylum policy at national, European or international level and shall set up a Consultative Forum for this purpose.

1.

The Office shall cooperate closely with NGOs and civil society institutions operating in the field of asylum policy at , national, European or international level and shall set up a Consultative Forum for this purpose.

Reason

This amendment also recognises the importance and experience of regional governments in relation to asylum policy.

Brussels, 7 October 2009

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


27.3.2010   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 79/71


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Progress Microfinance Facility’

(2010/C 79/12)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

The Need for Action

1.

Supports the immediate action of the Commission and the EIB in ensuring that the EU's resources are used effectively to help businesses in this period of constrained liquidity and emphasises that the recent financial crisis has led to a credit crunch for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) and micro-enterprises and that this both worsens the economic downturn and hampers any subsequent recovery;

2.

Acknowledges that the Financial Perspectives 2007-2013 constrain the possibility for the Commission to allocate new funding to the proposed new ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility;

3.

Expresses concern that the reallocation of EUR 100 m from the PROGRESS programme to the new ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility may compromise the objectives, impact and effectiveness of that Programme and calls on the Commission to consider other appropriate funding options for implementation of the Facility;

4.

Draws the Commission's attention to the fact that the proposed EUR 100 m ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility is unlikely to be sufficient to provide the EUR 500 m in additional funds needed in order to alleviate current lending constraints, boost micro-finance provision and meet the current levels of demand;

5.

Welcomes the ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility being consistent with the principle of subsidiarity and thus, complementary to the provision of micro-credit facilities by Member States or local and regional authorities;

6.

Points out that more than 90 % of EU enterprises are micro-enterprises and that the greatest barrier to innovation for those enterprises results from restricted access to micro-credit;

7.

Concurs that the majority of micro-credit to disadvantaged persons in the EU is provided by non-commercial micro-finance institutions and that these providers require further support in order to meet the current levels of demand;

8.

Believes that the Commission's efforts to develop micro-credit in the EU will prove to be a useful tool to enable those excluded from the conventional credit market to start up new enterprises and support employment creation;

9.

Regrets that the role of and impact on local and regional authorities is not fully taken into consideration by the ex-ante evaluation undertaken by the Commission.

Focus on Delivery

10.

Calls on the Commission to target innovative micro-enterprises, especially knowledge intensive ones to boost innovation and productivity in the EU;

11.

Calls on the Commission to streamline existing EU initiatives and to clarify the coherence between the new ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility and other EU financial instruments, especially PROGRESS, ESF, JASMINE, JEREMIE and CIP (1);

12.

Recommends that the Commission more accurately differentiates between the specific target groups and considers the unemployed and disadvantaged persons, including the young, women, older people and minority ethnic communities as target groups and gives these groups a specific and appropriate position in programmes and initiatives related to micro-credits;

13.

Calls on the Commission to emphasise the importance of wider business support measures in addition to financial provision for business start-ups and existing businesses. Providing finance for new and existing businesses should be complemented with active business support mechanisms such as mentoring, training, coaching and capacity building, in addition to interest-rate support from the ESF programme, to encourage sustainable business growth and to ensure business failure rates decrease;

14.

Notes that conditions for the provision of and the demand for micro-credit differ greatly across the EU and calls on the Commission to ensure that micro-credit is equally available to areas not benefiting from structural funds as pockets of deprivation and disadvantage may exist even in prosperous areas;

15.

Reminds the Commission, Member States, local and regional partners that the EUR 100m Microfinance Facility should be seen in context against other programmes and initiatives. Specifically, the Facility's limited resources will be accessible to all 27 Member States over the next four years. Consequently, the funds should be allocated against specific criteria that deliver maximum impact;

16.

Recalls the Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the ‘European Recovery Plan and the Role of Local and Regional Authorities’ (CdR 12/2009) that requested the Commission to ‘submit a proposal for rules on the granting of micro-credit within the EU … [and] establish basic parameters for awarding micro-credit’.

Communication

17.

Reminds the Commission and the EIB Group that the success of the Facility is dependent upon partners, financial institutions and potential beneficiaries being fully aware of the scheme;

18.

Insists that the Commission and the EIB Group be proactive in communicating their role and the methods of accessing funding under the different programmes, in partnership with local and regional authorities;

19.

Calls on the Commission and EIB Group to clarify the added value of the ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility and its complementarities to existing business support initiatives at the European, national, regional and local levels;

20.

Emphasises that the Committee has previously called upon the Commission and the EIB group to be more proactive in communicating the role, added value and opportunities offered by other business support programmes, i.e. JEREMIE, CIP (see the opinion on a Small Business Act for Europe, CdR 2008/246).

Co-ordination of Delivery

21.

Reminds the Commission and EIB Group that the Microfinance Facility will be more effective if co-ordinated and implemented alongside the existing European financial instruments and local and regional programmes within Member States;

22.

Recalls the Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on 'The Lisbon Growth and Jobs Strategy' (CdR 245/2008) that reiterated the need for ‘co-ordination between Structural Funds and other relevant European programmes… to maximise European added value and involve regional and local authorities’;

23.

Suggests that the Commission builds upon the flexibility of the Facility being delivered through non-financial institutions by, where appropriate, working with local and regional authorities as microfinance providers;

24.

Calls on the Commission, Member States, local and regional authorities and those bodies entrusted with implementing the Facility to support potential beneficiaries in applying for the loan funds, to minimise the bureaucracy involved in the application, processing and drawdown of funds and to offer further support to reduce the bureaucracy resulting from receipt of these funds.

Evaluation and Monitoring

25.

Proposes that the Commission should carry out interim and final evaluations at its own initiative, in close cooperation with international financial institutions, and in consultation with local and regional authorities and final beneficiaries. The final evaluation shall, in particular, examine the extent to which the Facility as a whole has achieved its objectives and complemented other existing EU financial instruments e.g. PROGRESS, ESF, JASMINE, JEREMIE and CIP. The final evaluation should also include an analysis of the distribution of funds across the EU 27;

26.

Proposes that while the Microfinance Facility is a temporary measure within the current budgetary framework, if it proves successful the Commission and the EIB should consider continuing the programme beyond 2013.

II.   RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1

Article 2 of COM(2009) 333

Text proposed by the European Commission

Committee of the Regions amendment

1.

The Facility shall provide Community resources to increase access to micro-credits for:

(a)

persons who have lost or are at risk of losing their job and want to start their own micro-enterprise, including self-employment;

(b)

disadvantaged persons, including the young, who want to start or further develop their own micro-enterprise, including self-employment;

(c)

micro-enterprises in the social economy which employ persons who have lost their job or which employ disadvantaged persons, including the young.

1.

The Facility shall provide Community resources to access to micro-credits for:

(b)

disadvantaged persons, including the young, , who want to start or further develop their own micro-enterprise, including self-employment;

(c)

micro-enterprises in the social economy which employ persons who have lost their job or which employ disadvantaged persons . .

Reason

(i)

There is little common definition and understanding of the term ‘at risk of losing their job’. Therefore it is necessary to reference the definition given in the recently amended EC Regulation establishing the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund No 1927/2006.

ii)

There are a number of disadvantaged groups in addition to the ‘young’ that should be specifically mentioned.

iii)

The reference to the ‘young’ is deleted from paragraph (c) as disadvantaged groups are already defined under paragraph (b).

Amendment 2

Article 4 of COM(2009) 333

Text proposed by the European Commission

Committee of the Regions amendment

1.

The Facility shall be implemented by using the following types of actions, as appropriate:

(a)

guarantees and risk-sharing instruments;

(b)

equity instruments;

(c)

debt instruments;

(d)

support measures, such as communication activities, monitoring, control, audit and evaluation which are directly necessary for the effective and efficient implementation of this Decision and for the achievement of its objectives.

2.

The Facility shall be open to public and private bodies established in the Member States which provide microfinance to persons and micro-enterprises in the Member States.

1.

The Facility shall be implemented by using the following types of actions, as appropriate:

(a)

guarantees and risk-sharing instruments;

(b)

equity instruments;

(c)

debt instruments;

(d)

support measures, such as communication activities, monitoring, control, audit and evaluation which are directly necessary for the effective and efficient implementation of this Decision and for the achievement of its objectives.

2.

The Facility shall be open to public and private bodies established in the Member States which provide microfinance to persons and micro-enterprises in the Member States.

Reason

(i)

Given the limited funds available and to ensure the benefits of the Facility are maximised, it is important that a clear eligibility criteria is established and that this criteria is applied consistently across all 27 Member States.

ii)

Clear eligibility criteria would support effective communication and support differentiation between, and co-ordination with, other programmes.

Amendment 3

Article 5 of COM(2009) 333

Text proposed by the European Commission

Committee of the Regions amendment

1.

The Commission shall manage the Facility in accordance with Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002.

2.

To implement the actions referred to in Article 4(1), except for the support measures referred to in point (d) of Article 4(1), the Commission shall conclude agreements with international financial institutions, in particular with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF), in accordance with Article 53d of Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002 and Article 43 of Commission Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 2342/2002. These agreements shall contain detailed provisions for the implementation of the tasks entrusted to them, including the necessity to ensure additionality with national schemes.

3.

Proceeds, including dividends and reimbursements, received by the international financial institutions referred to in paragraph 2 may be re-invested by them into actions referred to under Article 4(1) (a), (b) and (c) for a period of six years after the starting date of the Facility. Upon closure of the Facility, the remaining balance due to the European Communities shall be repaid to the general budget of the European Communities.

4.

The international financial institutions referred to in paragraph 2 of this Article shall conclude written agreements with the public and private providers of microfinance referred to in Article 4 (2) laying down their obligations to use the resources made available from the Facility in accordance with the objectives set out in Article 2 and to provide information for the establishment of the annual reports referred to in Article 8 (1).

5.

The budget for support measures referred to in Article 4 (1) (d) shall be managed by the Commission

1.

The Commission shall manage the Facility in accordance with Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002.

2.

To implement the actions referred to in Article 4(1), except for the support measures referred to in point (d) of Article 4(1), the Commission shall conclude agreements with international financial institutions, in particular with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF), in accordance with Article 53d of Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002 and Article 43 of Commission Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 2342/2002. These agreements shall contain detailed provisions for the implementation of the tasks entrusted to them, including the necessity to ensure additionality with national, schemes.

3.

Proceeds, including dividends and reimbursements, received by the international financial institutions referred to in paragraph 2 may be re-invested by them into actions referred to under Article 4(1) (a), (b) and (c) for a period of six years after the starting date of the Facility. Upon closure of the Facility, the remaining balance due to the European Communities shall be repaid to the general budget of the European Communities.

4.

The international financial institutions referred to in paragraph 2 of this Article shall conclude written agreements with the public and private providers of microfinance referred to in Article 4 (2) laying down their obligations to use the resources made available from the Facility in accordance with the objectives set out in Article 2 and to provide information for the establishment of the annual reports referred to in Article 8 (1).

5.

The budget for support measures referred to in Article 4 (1) (d) shall be managed by the Commission.

Reason

It is important to emphasise that the ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility will be more effective if co-ordinated with national, regional and local schemes.

Amendment 4

Article 9 of COM(2009) 333

Text proposed by the European Commission

Committee of the Regions amendment

1.

The Commission shall carry out interim and final evaluations at its own initiative and in close cooperation with the international financial institutions referred to in Article 5(2). The interim evaluation shall be completed four years after the start of the Facility and the final evaluation at the latest one year after the end of the mandate(s) given to the international financial institutions referred to in Article 5(2). The final evaluation shall, in particular, examine the extent to which the Facility as a whole has achieved its objectives.

2.

The results of the evaluations will be transmitted, for information, to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

1.

The Commission shall carry out interim and final evaluations at its own initiative and in close cooperation with the international financial institutions referred to in Article 5(2), . The interim evaluation shall be completed four years after the start of the Facility and the final evaluation at the latest one year after the end of the mandate(s) given to the international financial institutions referred to in Article 5(2). The final evaluation shall, in particular, examine the extent to which the Facility as a whole has achieved its objectives .

2.

The results of the evaluations will be transmitted, for information, to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

Reason

(i)

The delivery of the ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility should be delivered in partnership with local and regional authorities. Consequently, any evaluation should be undertaken in consultation with the local and regional authorities and final beneficiaries as they are ideally placed to advise on the overall impact and effectiveness of the ‘Progress’ Microfinance Facility.

ii)

The Facility will only be effective if it complements other existing EU financial instruments, therefore the extent to which this has occurred should be part of the evaluation framework.

Brussels, 7 October 2009.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE


(1)  European Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity (PROGRESS), European Social Fund (ESF), Joint Action to Support Micro-Finance Institutions in Europe (JASMINE), Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises (JEREMIE), Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP).