Category Archives: Group 4

EU Struggles to Speak With One Voice on Syria

European Union is pretending to speak with one voice concerning Syrian atrocities while in reality division takes place.


A press conference by Nassir Al Nasser, a president of UN General Assembly, discussing Syria's issues in the European Parliament

The Division of  EU member states’ voices 

European member states reactions towards what is happening in Syria is different. France, Germany, and United States decided to close their embassies in Damascus. However, Denmark which holds EU presidency this year still has their ambassador there in Syria.

Michael Mann is the Chief Spokesperson to High Rep­resentative of the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and he is totally convinced that closing embassies or not is an individual decision and it depends of the country itself. His excuse to close down the embassies is “for security reasons” and EU cannot prevent any member state to be afraid of its ambassador.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the UN General Assembly, thinks that “there is few countries that decide to close their embassy to put pressure on the Syrian government. The Syrian government decided to ask all their ambassadors of the EU to go back…”

Al-Nasser declines the fact that closing the embassy or not is important, but the most important thing form his own point of view is that the international community has a political problem regarding Russia and China.

“They should start solving the Syrian problem by trying to encourage the Russian and Chinese to come together in the Security Council and maybe this will result in different behavior and attitude by the Syrian government,” Al-Nasser added.

The division of voices comes when Hans-Gert Pöttering, MEP and former president of the European parliament, admit the fact that EU suffers from speaking with one voice concerning arbitrary killing, injury, detention and abuse of many peaceful protesters in Syria.

“Member states should coordinate their policy together because we need a strong government. I appreciate the border control, but we need more cooperation and should continue to have ever closer” Pöttering said.

Søren Schmidt who is a project researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen agreed that there is a division and said that “it will be nice for international community to speak out with one voice because this would help to make a transition to a real democracy in the Middle East.”

Søren Bo Søndergaard is giving some suggestions regarding Syrian Probelm

Søren Bo Søndergaard who is from group of European United Left and a member of budget control committee thinks that EU is not really do actions for Syrians. He said “At least one European country has an embassy in Syria, and Denmark has two oppositional elements inside Syria through Danish constitution in Damascus.” Søndergaard thinks that if there is a one country which should stay, it would be Denmark because it does not have a big power and interest in Syria.

“Of course, EU member states should have opened borders for Syrian people fleeing from Syria; they should have supported the Kurds. There are a lot of things which can be done but I omit that it will not be something which can solve the problem in a short run.” Søndergaard added.

 The road of Democracy in Syria

According to European External Action Service website, EU calls upon al-Assad to resign immediately and to allow the Syrian people to realize their as­piration for democracy. On the contrary, Al-Nasser said that, “While Kofi Atta Annan visited Syria last week; His mission is not an easy one because Syrian regime is not responding to his proposal.”

The idea of foreign military intervention has been debated because many people see it is urgent to invade Syria and save Syrians form al-Assad, and others do not believe so. Pöttering implied that EU does not decide whether to invade Syria or not unless it goes back to Arab League. If Arab League demands that, then they will have strong arguments.

Pöttering stated that EU tries to find peaceful solution because al-Assad calls the opposition just terrorists. There may be some terrorists, but the main part of the opposition want to live in democracy.

“Military interference is very difficult and who should do it. I think President Obama will not do it because he has elections and everything connected. But it might be necessary to give weapons to the opposition, in order to protect themselves.” Pöttering added.

Schmidt thinks that Syria’s catastrophe will not be solve unless democracy is built in the Middle East through solving Palestinian Israeli conflict and Western Iranian conflict.

Syrians has different opinions regarding al-Assad’s regime 

Hassan Sam Arslan who is a Syrian entrepreneur and he is living now in Egypt thinks that dictatorship in Syria was so extreme.” People disappeared a lot of times for no reason, more than 60 percent are living below the poverty line which is one of the worst economies in the world and freedom is all what we have,” Arslan added

Arslan implied that EU is not doing that much towards Syrians and he suggests military interference, because “history shows that this regime reached power through violence and the only way to remove it is by violence. Another reason is that the regime will not leave the country unless it faced a higher power like turkey or the U.S.”

On the contrary, Wael Qatma who is Syrian and studies at University of science and technology thinks that what’s happening in Syria is a conspiracy against Syrian people. He is pro al-Assad regime because first of all, medical care, education, and other services are free. Second of all, the alternative is going to be worse because he is coming depend on his loyalty to other countries not to Syria”

Qatma stated that most of the people are receiving their information from Western media which is not totally true. “Western media know how to shape their mind and how to make the entire world against one regime,” he added.


Renovating … are we?

Tough negotiations ahead for EU Energy Efficiency Directive buildings clause

By Jasmine Siu

It was 14 December 2010.

“The time has come I think for us to put up our hands and admit we got it wrong in 2008. We should have made the target binding then, and we really need to go forward now and find ways of making it possible,” said Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall at the occasion of the European Parliament’s Energy Efficiency Action Plan debate.

Now, a year on, how far are we headed for energy efficiency.

Let’s get started

When EU presented “Europe 2020”, it was meant to be a package of policies that will set out the goals and tasks for its member states to meet by 2020. Some targets are binding, some not, and the extent of implementation differs from sector to sector, country to country.

In the field of climate change and energy, three specific goals were set, with the first two being binding ones, namely, 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, 20% increase in renewable energy, and 20% increase in energy efficiency.

“So far, the sad fact is that where we are on track to meet the binding renewables target and the binding Co2 reductions target, we are very far from on track meeting the non-binding energy efficiency target,” said Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, “There we should be on track to meet the 20%, but there we are not even on track to meet 10%.”

Hall said, “We need to recognize we failed and binding target is usually what succeeds. We look at renewable energy, which is a binding target, member states are on track pretty well to achieve what they were set out to achieve.”

In light of the progress on meeting the energy efficiency target, on 22 June 2011, the European Commission tabled a proposal for a new Energy Efficiency Directive, which aims at helping member states to meet the 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020.

The renovation goal

The original Directive proposal came in 82 pages, specifying targets for the public buildings sector, energy companies, governments and municipalities to follow.

In particular, the proposed annual buildings renovation rate of 3% for public buildings over 250m2 marks the first of its kind as it sets out specific requirements on how and when buildings should be renovated.

“It is symbolically an important article, it tackles a sector that is very important cause buildings consume 40% of energy in the EU and that’s where the biggest saving potential is,” said Jacek Truszczynski, Directorate-General for Energy at the European Commission.

“As far as buildings are concerned, to get the public bodies doing something with their own buildings, particularly doing some deep renovation, that’s important because the market is very under-developed at the moment,” said Hall.

Define “Public”

However, the buildings renovation proposal has hit a major setback as the European Council and the Parliament define “public buildings” differently.

On one hand, ministers and heads of states at the European Council have narrowed the definition to “central government buildings”, meaning buildings occupied by the central administration.

On the other, while members of the European Parliament have lowered the renovation rate from 3% to 2.5%, they maintained the ambition of defining “public buildings” as “publicly owned buildings”, which would also include municipalities, schools, and hospitals.

Such a sharp division in views then places the keyword “public buildings” on a pivotal point, determining the ambition and success of the Directive article.

“I am disappointed,” said Truszczynski, “Central government buildings are just a few percentages of the public bodies buildings. The Council has adopted a position which would probably lead, almost, to no results.”

“’Central government buildings’, that’s a difficult phrase,” said Hall, “Given that some countries have very federal structures, so there are not very many central government buildings in Belgium, for example, or indeed in Germany which has a very decentralized structure.”

The nature of the Directive being a co-decision legislation meant its final text has to be one that both the European Parliament and the Council will agree on, “So we need to find something which incorporates enough buildings for it to have any effect on the growth of the market in this,” said Hall.

Money, money, the next big thing

“The biggest challenge right now is money. Because public money is scarce, all member states are cutting their deficits and so on so they are not willing to spend. And what we tell them is that we can use other sources, other structures of financing,” said Truszczynski.

Hall explained there are many financial mechanisms available for buildings renovation but quite often member states are not aware of it or they have not strategically utilized the different schemes that could bring money in.

“There is money available from the Emissions Trading Scheme, there’s money from the structural funds, and there are some very new and innovative financing mechanisms like the UK screen deal where you pay back the renovation using the money that you’ve saved,” explained Hall.

Why renovate?

Challenging and ambitious as it may sound, the buildings clause alone is estimated to have a job effect of 2 million all over Europe, which according to Hedegaard fits the much needed youth employment and the low employment in the buildings sector.

“That is good economics, why don’t we do it? I mean it’s not rocket science, it’s not very complicated, does not take years to educate people to do it, we know how to do it,” said Hedegaard.

Oliver Rapf, Director of Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE) further points out that higher energy efficiency benefits the quality of living.

“When we look at the buildings sector, when you renovate a building to high efficiency standard, then you normally also improve the quality of that building dramatically,” said Rapf, “As human beings we spend most of our living time in buildings, and I think we should really aim at making these buildings as livable and energy efficient as possible.”

On top of all, improving Europe’s energy efficiency by 20% will help reduce dependence on energy imports, saving 368 million tonnes of oil equivalent each year.

“It is a policy to reduce the dependence on energy exports,” said Rapf, “it is also a policy which makes a country more resilient against energy price fluctuations. I think more and more governments in Europe will recognize these additional benefits of energy efficiency.”

So are we renovating?

The European Parliament will begin its negotiations starting from 26 March 2012.

“I think it’s going to be really tough negotiations, but I’m reasonably confident because I think there’s a lot of will on the side of the Presidency, on the side of the Parliament and on the side of the Commission to make sure this thing goes through, and maybe even amongst the member states,” said Hall.

“It is a tough task ahead of us, but basically this will be on the top of our agenda,” said Nicolai Wammen, Danish Minister for European Affairs.

“Can I promise you today that we will have a conclusion within the Danish Presidency? No. Can I promise you that we’ll do everything to achieve this? Yes.”

Should the Directive be successfully voted pass during the Danish Presidency, member states will have to begin renovations starting from 1 January 2014.


School Fruit Scheme survives yet another year

The now four year old school fruit scheme survives for a new period. Twenty four member states have decided to participate in 2012/2013. Sweden, Finland and the UK have opted out once again.

By Jakob Chor

Money has, again, been set aside to support the intake of fruit amongst school children in the entire EU – almost.

In Randers, Denmark, the scheme is an integrated part of the daily food and health plan that addresses issues such as bad nutrition for school children.

The school, Vesterbakkeskolen, is a municipality school that has selected to participate in the school fruit scheme. According to Vivi Høyer, principal at the school, the scheme is a good way of branding them as a healthy school.

“This fit in to our nutrition plan for the kids. We want to be a healthy school, and the scheme allows us to reach that goal,” she says.

In Denmark, 375 schools out of 2300 schools participate in the scheme or are suitable for receiving the support.
The scheme was meant to be implemented as a permanent part of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). However the scheme was only prolonged for another year – and not all countries participate. About 500 million Euros are given to agricultural programs, such as School Milk, Social Support, or free meat for socially deprived persons in the EU.

A Danish idea
In 2009, former Danish commissionaire for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel with a big smile presented the scheme as a great way of dealing with the bad nutrition in schools all over Europe.

“This will be a major contribution to encourage our young people to eat more of these healthy and tasty products,” she said back then.

The background for the scheme is to be found in the obesity epidemic in Europe. With over five million obese children in 2006 in the EU-25 it was obvious that action was needed. Since then, the European Commission has started several schemes that should address the problem.

90 million Euros were marked for the scheme in order to help the flow of fruit running in schools. In detail each member states gets costs to certain products covered. The Food Ministry in the member state collects information on how many schools that are interested in the scheme.

This information is then forwarded to the Agricultural and Rural Development secretary under the European Commission for reimbursement.

However, an auditor report from October 2011 sows doubt on the fruit scheme. Only 35 percent of the 90 million Euros has actually reached its targets namely fruit for the school children.
There are two reasons for that. Countries volunteer in the program and the money set aside for each member state is not necessarily spent.

Agriculture or scheme
MEP’s admit that the schemes are conducted in order to subsidize farmers in Europe. According to Dan Jørgensen, MEP in the Party of European Socialist (S&D), the scheme is an indirect support to European farmers.

“It is clear that scheme is agricultural subsidies. It is however just a small thing in the big picture”, he says.

That statement is confirmed by Emilie Turunen member of the Green Party in the parliament. Although both groups support the agricultural support they do not think this scheme is adequate and relevant in addressing the obesity issue and unhealthy intake of food amongst youngsters in the EU.

James Nicholson a third term member of the parliament for the EPP group disagrees.

“I think this is a good initiative in order to assure health and good nutrition for kids in Europe. And then it is good for farmers across Europe,” he says.

And exactly EU farmers benefit from the scheme. Technical requirements make it difficult for fruit suppliers outside the EU to deliver fruit for the scheme.

Fruit is healthy, scheme is unhealthy
It is not the first time schemes are discussed. Since early 90s a school milk scheme was introduced and in 2007 it was made a permanent part of the EU-budget. In 2010 and 2011 the European Commission handed out free meals for poor people in all of EU. It was under huge controversy as countries, including Denmark, tried to block the decision. Denmark and other nations implied that it wasn’t an EU matter, arguing that it is the member states responsibility to provide for the poor.

The European Commission has conducted an investigation on how the different projects work and as of that they have appointed an expert committee on school fruit. Bent Egberg Mikkelsen, nutrition expert from Aalborg University, is a part of that committee.

In his opinion, school fruits are a very good way of giving kids a healthy snack in the schools. He knows that there are problems and he would rather see kids eat the fruit as a daily routine without a scheme.

“The scheme is a great opportunity for the member states to actually put healthy nutrition on the agenda. However it should be there already,” he says.

School fruit on the abstract
Back in the parliament, the three MEPs agree that school fruit is only a little thing of a bigger package it isn’t a topic that needs attention.

“Come on. Why care about school fruit? Sometimes things are too small to talk about”, Emilie Turunen says.

But according to Sine Nørholm Just, professor and expert on intercultural communication and the future of the EU, that is a dangerous path to follow.

“The debate will be on certain over-themes but the debate about the things that construct the EU will disappear,” she says.

According to her it could leave a democratic deficit because certain EU issues are more complex and cannot be taken out of the EU-debate under the excuse of “being a part of package”.

“The point is that it removes the focus from what the EU actually does. Instead of discussing agricultural politics we discuss school fruit. Instead of discussing cohesion funds, we discuss youth initiatives,” she says.

The school fruit scheme is prolonged until 2013. The auditor report in 2011 said that less than 15 percent of the fruit was actually handed out as an EU-project. The school fruit program exists because of parental support or government programs. EU covers about 50-75 percent of the expenditure. The rest is covered by parents and member state programs.

An evaluation from 1999 on these sorts of programs taking its starting point in school milk suggests that the milk program should be terminated immediately. But for now the school fruit scheme survives.

Anti-Nuclear groups question the safety of nuclear plant evaluations in European Union member states

Stress Tests testing the safety nuclear energy in the EU as well as some neighboring states have been the subject to a lot of debate over their safety and reliability.

by Cailie Skelton

In March of 2011, immediately after Fukushima, the European Commission called for voluntary stress tests on all of its 143 nuclear power plants in its member states. The tests were to be started before June 1, 2011.

The tests however, have received a lot of scrutiny from anti-nuclear groups, as well as members of the European Parliament for not being comprehensive enough, and also leaving too much room for error. Members of Parliament

The Civaux Nuclear Power Plant in France is an extremely modern plant.
The Civaux Nuclear Power Plant in France is an extremely modern plant.

against nuclear energy as well as other members of the EU also criticize the stress tests due to their inability to ensure the safety of nuclear power plants.

In a Plenary meeting on March 12, the President of Parliament Martin Schulz addressed the anniversary of Fukushima and supported the European Commission’s work on trying to make nuclear energy safer. He discussed the closeness of European countries and their reliance on each other for energy, and touched upon the necessity of nuclear safety, considering that nuclear energy currently creates 30 percent of energy across Europe.

“Unlike many who have discussed only after the tragedy, the European Parliament has acted. We welcome the efforts undertaken by the European Commission and by the experts in our own home last year to make nuclear energy safer,” said Schulz.

Are the stress tests accurate?

There was a lot of criticism about the Stress Tests lacking a control. The Energy Commission however has maintained the tests are are done in an even manner. In a speech last June, Commissioner Günther Oettinger guaranteed that the tests have remained accountable and were a fair assessment of the safety of the plants.

The tests will use a peer review method, which takes the reports from the individual plants and compares them to the specifications of the stress tests. Both officials from the member states as well as the Energy Commission are present at the time of the plant assessment to ensure that the tests are accurate and credible. Oettinger ensured that this approach is harmonized, and that the entire EU will follow a similar method when testing all nuclear plants.

“We are committed to implementing the highest safety standards in the EU and therefore our understanding is that assessments are to be made in a rigorous and timely manner, but without compromising the quality of the stress tests,” he said.

Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jo Leinen is against the use of nuclear energy in the EU member states, and claims that the risk of nuclear energy is greater than any other energy generation in the past.

“The inherent risk of a commercial nuclear power station is there,” said Leinen. “But you cannot avoid the biggest nuclear accident would happen. As we have seen there is a combination of factors that we are not able to calculate. It’s a political choice if you want to keep that risk or get rid of that risk.”

Anti Nuclear members of parliament also debate that there is no 100 percent way to prove that a nuclear accident won’t happen.

Margrete Auken is an MEP from Denmark who also feels that there isn’t a way to secure nuclear safety.

“The only thing that is safe and secure about nuclear is that our grandchildren will hate us,” said Auken. “That’s the only thing you can say for sure.”

The Stress Tests in the EU

The stress tests are being overseen by the Energy Commission and are intended to be in addition to the member states own security measures to ensure the safety of their own nuclear plants.

The Commission, according to their website, has set up strict guidelines to test nuclear plants on their ability to withstand the pressure of one or more natural disasters including earthquakes, extreme weather changes, tornados, floods and storms. The plants must also prove that they have enough back up energy supply to withstand a power outage. The tests are also supposed to account for outside disasters occurring close to the nuclear plant which would put the plant at risk, such as nearby explosions.

Some groups however are still uneasy about the lack of an evaluation.

“There are reasons for taking terrorist attack as an important issue for nuclear power stations,” said the Greenpeace Nuclear Policy Advisor Jan Haverkamp, in an article on “I am very concerned that this security group is not looking at the real issues.”

However ways to prevent certain terrorist attacks from affecting plants aren’t covered in these tests due to these tests being a national security issue, and needing a separate committee of experts. Several member states also expressed concern over such testing claiming that tests for safety against terrorism would include having to give up confidential information, according to Oettinger in a plenary meeting last June.

While the Energy Commission claims that the tests were safe and comprehensive, anti-nuclear groups still have doubts about the tests ability to evaluate each plant the same when there was no one aspect of the test that was the same.

Results of the Stress Tests

Although the final reports of the stress tests will not be released in full until June 2012, some preliminary information has been released, which has people concerned, especially about the reliability of older plants.

Although the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), Yukiya Amano told Reuters that nuclear energy is safer than it was a year ago, there is also still concern over aging nuclear plants. According a report released by the IAEA, 80 percent of the worlds nuclear reactors were built over 20 years ago. These aging facilities cause concern with the IAEA over their safety, and if running old reactors could fulfill safety regulations.

Auken sees these debates on nuclear energy as a good time to begin the switch to other sources of energy such as efficiency, energy saving and renewables.

“You have to start one day,” said Auken, who insists that you can’t wait to find new energy supplies until it’s time to close the plant down.

“You should always use a crisis to find new ways,” added Auken. “It’s more inviting, people are more entitled to do something when you have a crisis than when you’re just continuing while it works.”

In June, when final reports are released, if a plant does not meet the requirements of the stress tests, the country can either decide to fix the plant or phase it out.