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VoxEeurop | Science & environment

The talk of the continent


One Planet Summit: Melting

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 23:45:52 +0100

Cartoon movement, Amsterdam – Cartoon. See more.

Cinema and advocacy: “A Turning Tide In The Life Of Man” — the citizen lobbying of John O’Brien

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 16:03:07 +0100

Occasionally, ordinary people succeed in having their voices heard and seeing their interests win out against those of multinationals in their appeals to European institutions. It’s rare enough to be worth exploring, and that’s what director Loïc Jourdain is doing in his documentary, A Turning Tide in The Life of Man, which has won many accolades and is now in cinemas.

Over many months, Jourdain followed the fishermen of the small island, Inishboffin. Competing with the deep-sea trawlers encouraged by the European Common Fisheries Policy which penalises small coastal fishing and favors industrial fishing, the fishermen find themselves deprived of their livelihood, and their traditional way of life seems threatened.

John O’Brien is one of those fishermen. He sees the results of his labour dwindle from day to day due to the industrial exploitation of fish stocks by large fishing companies, and the banning of drift nets by order of the European Union and Irish government policy. Then there is the plethora of regulations imposed by European bureaucracy on large as well as small fishing operations. O’Brien is sure that he and his fellow fishermen in Inishboffin are not the only ones in Europe experiencing this problem. So, low on options, he decides to head to Brussels to assert the interests of small coastal fishermen.

With the aid of the NGO, International Collective in Support of Fisherworkers (ICSF), the consultant Michael Earle and many generous experts, John O’Brien managed to unite fishermen all over Europe as well as other island communities, to encourage a better understanding of the particularity and specificity of their way of life. Forming around the Ocean 2012 coalition, O’Brien and his allies manage, after a self-evidently unequal legal battle against industry lobbies that lasted eight years, to influence the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, such that the conditions and interests of small fishing operations are taken into account and the more absurd measures abolished.

John O’Brien’s story is exemplary for demonstrating the way in which European citizens and local communities can successfully assert their needs and interests — indeed, the public interest — when they can organise themselves, just like the multinationals and industries. In fact, European institutions are not necessarily hostile to this form of citizen lobbying, especially when they can formulate new policies or reforms, and represent the public interest.

Unfortunately, the representatives of civil society have more modest means than industrial operations and multinationals. This obliges them to unite and work together with other interested parties . Thankfully, good-will is often easy to come by. This is an example, therefore, of the “Citizen lobbying” conceptualised by the Italian legal expert, Alberto Alemanno, as a tool for exerting pressure on institutions, and for democratic and participative development.

Dieselgate: Car emissions in excess responsible for thousands of premature deaths

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 15:40:53 +0100

MobileReporter, Rome – About 10,000 people die prematurely every year across Europe because of pollution from diesel cars associated to Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), a new international study shows. This story is part of an international investigation run by MobileReporter. See more.

Waste management: What happens to our holiday garbage?

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 10:35:18 +0100

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa, Trento – In tourist areas across Europe, the waste generated by tourism is managed by recycling and disposal systems that are often inefficient, as data collected in various European countries reveals. See more.

US Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement: Europe can take the lead in defending the planet

Thu, 08 Jun 2017 22:42:48 +0100

La Stampa, Turin – Donald Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, in which 195 countries committed to limit their CO2 emissions, is an environmental catastrophe, but also an opportunity for the EU to take on a leadership role alongside China in the fight against global warming. See more.

Apple tax ruling: Forbidden fruits

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 20:50:39 +0100

Trouw, Amsterdam – Cartoon. See more.

Climate change and refugees: Adaptation is the key to preventing displacement

Sat, 23 Jan 2016 11:53:54 +0100

, – The hundreds of thousands of refugees who came to Europe lately have been fleeing wars and persecutions in Syria, Afghanistan or Erythrea. But an even greater wave provoked by climate change might soon pose a bigger challenge. See more.

COP21 in Paris: Stretching it out

Sat, 12 Dec 2015 20:13:13 +0100

Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich – Cartoon. See more.

Global warming: A map showing Europeans’ greenhouse gases emissions

Wed, 09 Dec 2015 11:25:14 +0100

src='[]=Total%20GHG%20Emissions%20Including%20Land-Use%20Change%20and%20Forestry%20Per%20Capita&year[]=2012&act[]=Armenia&act[]=Austria&act[]=Azerbaijan&act[]=Belarus&act[]=Belgium&act[]=Bosnia%20%26%20Herzegovina&act[]=Bulgaria&act[]=Croatia&act[]=Cyprus&act[]=Czech%20Republic&act[]=Denmark&act[]=Estonia&act[]=Finland&act[]=France&act[]=Georgia&act[]=Germany&act[]=Greece&act[]=Hungary&act[]=Iceland&act[]=Ireland&act[]=Italy&act[]=Latvia&act[]=Lithuania&act[]=Luxembourg&act[]=Macedonia%2C%20FYR&act[]=Malta&act[]=Moldova&act[]=Montenegro&act[]=Netherlands&act[]=Norway&act[]=Poland&act[]=Portugal&act[]=Romania&act[]=Russian%20Federation&act[]=Serbia&act[]=Slovakia&act[]=Slovenia&act[]=Spain&act[]=Sweden&act[]=Switzerland&act[]=Turkey&act[]=Ukraine&act[]=United%20Kingdom&sortIdx=NaN&sortDir=asc&chartType=geo&view=viz&embed=1' width='700' height='466'>

This interactive map, by CAIT, the Climate Data Explorer of the World Resources Institute using various sources (as the International Energy Agency and the FAO), shows the per capita emissions from all greenhouse gases (GHG) and major emission sources for each country in 2012. It includes the estimations of the GHG emissions resulting from direct human-induced land use, land-use change and forestry activities like, for example, cutting down forests. The darker the color, the more GHG were generated.

As discussions at COP21 Climate conference in Paris enter their final days, French diplomats are pushing to reach a final agreement by the 11 December deadline. Currently, "the EU and 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries demanding regular reviews to ramp up the ambition of greenhouse gas reduction promises, and the biggest developing countries demanding additional financing pledges and rejecting calculations of how much the rich world has already provided", reports the Guardian. But, it adds, "behind the scenes the French presidency is conducting crucial ministerial talks – with each negotiating bloc in turn and in small groups – with the aim of producing a draft trade-off deal by Wednesday".

COP21 in Paris: Why is this Climate summit so important

Thu, 03 Dec 2015 07:59:05 +0100

The Guardian, London – A short guide to what is at stake in the most critical climate event of the decade, in the form of a Q&A. See more.

COP21 in Paris: Time for Europe to deliver on climate action

Mon, 30 Nov 2015 07:26:55 +0100

Wake Up Europe!, London – Europeans may well be inspired by US president Barack Obama’s policy when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, by focusing on policy and implementation rather than setting ambitious targets it might not reach, says the founder of Climate Answers. See more.

Lobbying in Brussels: All Big energy’s men

Thu, 05 Nov 2015 16:42:20 +0100

MobileReporter, Rome – Energy lobby groups may influence EU climate policies through privileged access to top decision-makers. Leaked email correspondence between a prominent current European Commission cabinet member, and his former employer E.ON. illustrates the case. See more.

Energy transition in Germany: How ‘green’ is the green leader actually?

Wed, 04 Nov 2015 11:53:04 +0100

De Standaard, Brussels – Since Angela Merkel announced the energy transition, Germany has been looked up to as the world’s “green leader”. But the transition to a sustainable and green economy does not come without obstacles. See more.

Global warming: The map showing how climate change will affect the economy

Thu, 29 Oct 2015 11:43:16 +0100

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"Unmitigated climate change is likely to reduce the income of an average person on Earth by roughly 23 percent in 2100, according to estimates contained in research published in the journal Nature that is co-authored by two University of California, Berkeley professors", write the Berkeley News. The magazine adds that –

The findings indicate climate change will widen global inequality, perhaps dramatically, because warming is good for cold countries, which tend to be richer, and more harmful for hot countries, which tend to be poorer. “Differences in the projected impact of warming are mainly a function of countries’ baseline temperatures, since warming raises productivity in cool countries,” the researchers write. “In particular, Europe could benefit from increased average temperatures.”

Lobbying for fracking: Fossil fuel firms are killing new EU control

Wed, 07 Oct 2015 08:30:22 +0100

The Guardian, London – The UK government has added its weight to a behind-the-scenes lobbying drive by oil and gas firms including BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil to persuade EU leaders to scrap a series of environmental safety measures for fracking, according to leaked letters seen by the Guardian. See more.

Steel industry and air pollution: Belgian “CO2 champion” plant bought off forged Chinese carbon credits

Wed, 23 Sep 2015 11:45:22 +0100

MobileReporter, Rome – The Arcelor Mittal steel plant in Ghent is Belgium’s leading “polluting permits” buyer. But those CO2 credits are largely bought from a Chinese chemicals plant that forged its emissions scheme. See more.

Light pollution: The map showing the most illuminated parts of Europe

Tue, 08 Sep 2015 08:46:24 +0100

Europe is one of the regions with the highest light pollution in the world because of its demographic density and its high level of development. Using images of the earth at night produced by NASA, the geographer Benjamin D. Henning has published this map of Europe on his site.

The scale of different European regions have been modified according to their population, such that the most densely populated regions appear bigger, with each section of the map representing a similar number of inhabitants. As you might expect, the most densely populated zones – like London, the Benelux nations or the Ile-de-France region – are also the most brightly lit.

The map shows two interesting differences present in Europe. First, western Europe is on the whole clearly more illuminated than eastern Europe. Second, there are regions in Europe where the population is concentrated in a few large cities (in eastern Europe, but also in Paris, Madrid and Athens) and then there are regions characterised by a dense network of medium-sized cities, like in northern Italy, western Germany and the Benelux nations.

Big energy lobbying: How BP undermined EU support for renewables

Tue, 01 Sep 2015 11:21:52 +0100

The Guardian, London – BP was part of oil and gas lobby that successfully undermined EU renewable energy targets and subsidies in favour of gas as a climate fix in 2011, reveal some documents seen by The Guardian. See more.

EU and environmental protection: Brussels’ stance on nature strengthens the case for Brexit

Mon, 17 Aug 2015 11:23:26 +0100

The EU's nature directives are in many European countries the only legal recourse for protecting the natural world, writes George Monbiot in The Guardian. But, according to the British environmentalist, the European Commission has proposed damaging reforms to these pieces of legislation, which consist of the birds directive and the habitats directive. Reforming them would put "at mortal risk" a "reliable if sometimes eccentric set of protections" by pandering to the industrial lobbyists who have long campaigned for looser environmental regulation.

The European Commission recently abandoned proposals for a soil framework directive under pressure from the agricultural lobby and the British government. Should a similar capitulation occur with the nature directives, Monbiot argues, “it will not be obvious what continued membership" of the EU has to offer environmentalists and will make the case against Brexit much more problematic.

While Monbiot does not go as far as to advocate leaving the EU, he has urged readers contribute to the public consultation on the nature directives (now closed). His intervention marks a growing dissatisfaction with the EU in the UK's left-wing media, particularly in the light of the TTIP negotiations and the Greece crisis

The threat to the directives arises not from a demand by business as a whole, but from pressure by two of the most destructive industries in the EU, Big Farmer and the construction lobby. That the European commission should have chosen to listen to them while ignoring the views of everyone else cuts to the heart of what is going wrong there. So when the referendum comes, I will find myself in a struggle I never anticipated. I am an internationalist. I think it’s essential that issues which transcend national borders are tackled together, rather than apart. […] I feel nothing in common with the Eurosceptics of the right, who appear to see the EU as interfering with their god-given right to exploit other people and destroy their surroundings. [I have] a sense that I ought to join the defence of this institution against reactionary forces, but that it has succumbed so catastrophically to those forces that there is little left to defend.

Climate change: Dutch government ordered to cut CO2 emissions

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 18:27:01 +0100

For the first time in history, a national government has been told to implement a more rigid climate policy, writes De Volkskrant. On June 24, a court in The Hague summoned the Dutch state to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels within the next five years. That is “much more than planned” – the government only anticipated 14-17%.

Environmental organisation Urgenda, which brought the suit, has argued for years that the government should do more to avoid crossing the 2°C maximum target for global warming. Their legal counsel says in The Guardian: “This is the first a time a court has determined that states have an independent legal obligation towards their citizens. That must inform the reduction commitments in Paris because if it doesn’t, they can expect pressure from courts in their own jurisdictions.”

According to De Volkskrant, the judge stated that –

The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts. […] Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.

The Dutch governement will probably appeal to the decision.

Climate change – on the eve of COP21: How a ‘fiddled’ emissions scheme granted Serbia EU support

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 16:00:39 +0100

The Guardian, London – Belgrade's emissions pledge ahead of December UN climate conference in Paris has been enthusiastically labeled as 'exemplary' by the European commission. But its scheme will involve a de facto 15% increase in CO2 emissions, warn EU sources. See more.

Climate change – on the eve of COP21: Krakow’s long fight against smog

Sun, 07 Jun 2015 20:15:29 +0100

The Guardian, London – Poles have historically heated their houses with coal and wood. The recent ban on these heat sources will have unprecedented repercussions on health and the economy, the Guardian reports. VoxEurop is joining the divestment campaign launched by the British daily in the run-up to December’s COP21 conference on the environment. See more.

Air pollution: A map of the health consequences of weak EU coal regulation

Thu, 21 May 2015 10:04:37 +0100

This map, by Zachary Davies Boren, from the Greenpeace Energy desk, shows how EU countries will likely be affected by premature deaths in the decade after 2020 due to the EU's weak proposed air emission standards.

According to a recent study by environmental economist Mike Holland, the EU’s draft power plant pollution regulations – called BREF – could lead to 71,000 avoidable deaths in 2020-2030 because the currently proposed standards do not require adoption of the latest, most effective techniques. The analysis comes two months after Energydesk revealed that the energy industry was disproportionately represented in the EU technical working group that helped write BREF; more than half of the group’s 352 members were found to have ties to the industry.

Anti-Orbán demonstrations in Budapest: Government faces corruption accusations in nuclear deal

Tue, 10 Mar 2015 13:23:57 +0100

In Budapest, demonstrations against Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his nationalist policies have been growing for more than a year. Magyar Narancs reports that Hungarians took to the streets of the capital on 8 March to protest corruption and express discontent towards a new controversial measure: on 3 March, Parliament voted to extend the period during which the details of a civilian nuclear deal signed with Russia on 17 February will be classified as secret from 15 to 30 years.

Thousands who demonstrated at the call of the opposition carried placards reading “this government is corrupt” and cried “Mocskos Fidesz” (“Fidesz is dirty”) in reference to Orbán’s party, writes the daily.

The deal concerns a €10bn loan granted by Russia to Hungary in order to cover 80 per cent of the construction costs of two new reactors for the country’s only nuclear station at Paks, a project of Russian energy company Rusatom that provides Hungary with about 40 per cent of its electricity.

While the government cites a “matter of national security”, notes the site, the opposition believes that —

it is a matter of covering up corruption. While the opposition calls on János Áder, the President of the Republic, to use the Constitutional Court, the demonstrators plan to hit the street once again on 28 March.

2014 in Review: Angela Merkel, person of the year

Fri, 26 Dec 2014 10:44:57 +0100

British newspaper The Times has named German Chancellor Angela Merkel its person of the year for her “central role in preserving European stability at a time of resurgent Russian aggression”. In a leader article, the paper praises the German leader’s “refusal to be rushed and sense of what matters in a dangerous world” —

Increasingly clumsy postwar institutions including Nato, the EU and the United Nations Security Council failed to adapt to the swirling crises […]. In many hours of direct conversations with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin she has sought to set limits to his ambition and in so doing has helped to focus the west on what it values most, and what is worth fighting for. She is the pre-eminent European politician, the world’s most powerful woman.

The paper also looks to the challenges facing Merkel in 2015, when she enters her tenth year in power. These include renewing EU sanctions against Moscow when “several EU members, dependent on Russian energy, want to lift at least some of the punitive measures.” But The Times warns Merkel not to become “too distracted to play the central role expected of her management in the EU” —

It would be a terrible irony if by concentrating on healing the wounds in the east-west relationship Mrs Merkel neglects the gangrene afflicting north-south relations in the eurozone. Much ­depends now on her finding an imaginative solution that addresses British concerns on immigration and welfare and then persuading the rest of the union of the validity of the British cause.

CO2 reduction in Germany: ‘The beginning of the end’

Thu, 04 Dec 2014 09:19:55 +0100

The German government approved on 3 December a new plan to cut carbon emissions in order to meet its climate targets — a 40 per cent drop in emissions by 2020 compared to the 1990 levels, reports Die Tageszeitung. The European Union as a whole is aiming to reach that target by 2030.

The plan, which German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks calls the “most comprehensive climate package ever passed by a government”, represents investments of €80bn, notes the Berlin daily. It includes cutting coal plant emissions by at least 22 million tonnes (the equivalent of shutting eight plants), with an additional “18 million tonnes to come from the industry, especially through greater efficiency. Climate-friendly buildings will contribute by 6 to 10 million tonnes; the transport sector by 7 to 10 million tonnes; agriculture by 3.6 million and commercial and waste management by 3 to 8 million.” Incentives for electric cars have also been announced.

Though environmental organisations generally welcomes the announcement as a positive step, they criticised the government for not going further in reducing its reliance on coal-fired power plants.

Space Exploration: ‘Europeans reach historical agreement on new Ariane 6 launcher’

Wed, 03 Dec 2014 17:42:35 +0100

Officials of the 20 member countries of the European Space Agency have reached an agreement on the building of a new launcher — Ariane 6 — after Germany gave its green light at a meeting in Luxembourg on 2 December. Until recently, Berlin supported “a progressive evolution of Ariane 5”, writes Le Monde.

The French daily points out that the programme was “put into orbit” 19 years after the Ariane 5 programme was launched in Rome.

Ariane 6’s first launch is scheduled for 2020. Ariane 6 “is poised to be the answer to the American launcher Space X”, which cut launch prices by 30 per cent, bringing them to €48.5m apiece. According to Le Monde, Europeans have to react swiftly if they don’t want to “lose their advantage on the commercial satellite launchers’ market”.

Natural gas: ‘Putin writes off South Stream’

Tue, 02 Dec 2014 09:30:36 +0100

Russian president Vladimir Putin has announced he will no longer build the South Stream gas pipeline, due to EU opposition.

Speaking at a press briefing with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on 1 December, Putin said that “since we have not received Bulgaria’s permission”, Russia “cannot continue the implementation of the project”, reports Standart.

South Stream would link Russian gas fields to Austria and Italy via the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary from 2016. It would bypass Ukraine and increase Europe’s dependence on Russia. The European Commission “threatened to launch legal action on grounds that South Stream violates EU anti-monopoly laws, with Bulgaria halting construction in August”, notes EUobserver.

According to Standart, “Bulgaria is about to lose billions” from Russia’s withdrawal, as Putin —

recalled that the country would receive €400m a year in transit fees. […] The news shocked Bulgaria, which was unable to take a stance between the EU and Russia.

Poland: Protesters storm electoral office over delays

Fri, 21 Nov 2014 11:17:41 +0100

A demonstration of the radical right led to an occupation of the National Electoral Commission (PKW) in Warsaw on Thursday night, halting the process of counting votes of local elections, Gazeta Wyborcza reports.

Amid accusations of election rigging, the demonstrators demanded for PKW members to resign, for repeat elections to be held and for changes in electoral law as a result of the information chaos that ensued when IT system failure delayed the announcement of the results of the 16 November vote.

According to the daily’s commentator Jarosław Kurski, the occupation of the PKW office was “an act of terror against democracy unseen for the past 25 years”. Kurski blames the “act of vandalism and blind anarchy” on the leaders of the opposition parties Law and Justice (PiS) and Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), who insinuated that the elections had been rigged and demanded a repeat vote for political reasons. The demonstrators were removed from the building by the police during the night.

Rzeczpospolita warns the PKW is not ready for the parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2015, citing a report by the Supreme Audit Office that says the PKW has not yet announced tenders for the IT system that will support next year’s votes.

Space Exploration: Bouncing

Mon, 17 Nov 2014 16:45:21 +0100

Le Temps, Geneva – Cartoon. See more.

Environment: Nice and warm

Fri, 24 Oct 2014 14:41:43 +0100

Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich – Cartoon. See more.

EU-Russia: Bracing for winter

Tue, 21 Oct 2014 08:34:50 +0100

The approach of winter “reminds every-one [Russian president] Vladimir Putin still holds the cards when it comes to supplying gas”, writes economic journalist Liam Halligan in The Spectator. What will become of the tensions between Russia and the European Union as the cold season approaches?

EUobserver reports that a European Commission “stress test” published on 16 October shows “Bulgaria and Finland would end up with gas supply shortfalls of 100 percent, while Estonia would miss 73 percent” if Moscow were to stop the flow, and that Lithuania, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Greece, Slovakia, Latvia and Croatia would also be affected. However, the EU insists this situation is less worrying than it appears, since the continent could resort to —

tapping storage vats (currently 90 per cent full in most of Europe); using interconnectors to move gas round the EU; buying more liquid gas on world markets; boosting imports from Norway; and switching to other fuels, such as biomass.

But the winter could have a whole other impact on the country at the heart of the belligerence. If Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, as EUobserver notes, is “optimistic” Russia and Ukraine would be able to reach a deal on winter gas prices, Halligan notes the latter is facing “financial meltdown” —

In June, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development forecast Ukrainian GDP would shrink 7 per cent this year. Last month that forecast was downgraded to a whopping 9 per cent drop, with the EBRD warning of “formidable difficulties” if energy supplies from Russia weren’t fully restored before winter. Gazprom generally supplies over half of Ukraine’s still heavily subsidised gas.

With the eurozone in trouble once again – not least, Halligan notes, because the sanctions over the political crisis in Ukraine have pushed the German economy to “the brink of recession” – Western powers do not want to risk a default. Halligan thus predicts an easing of the sanctions as the protagonists come up with a rescue plan: as “there’s barely the money and certainly not the political will to help Ukraine” in Europe and the United States, a solution for Ukraine requires —

both Chinese and (whisper it) Russian money. That’s not going to happen until the West drops its sanctions or gives a very clear commitment to do so, allowing Moscow to do the same. For the reality is that the West – or at least Europe – wants sanctions to end much more badly than Moscow.

Ukraine: “We will not subsidise Gazprom!”

Tue, 17 Jun 2014 13:02:34 +0100

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has condemned the 16 June decision by Russian energy giant Gazprom to suspend gas supplies to Ukraine, in the wake of Kiev’s refusal pay arrears and an estimate of its consumption for the month of June.

In response to a suit filed by Gazprom with the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC) to obtain arrears of €3.3bn, Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz has filed a complaint for “overbilling” for Russian gas since 2010 along with a request that the SCC determine a fair price.

“The European Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, has failed in his mission as arbitrator”, writes Den, “The trilateral talks in which he was acting as a mediator finally ran aground yesterday”, reports the newspaper. Now “Russia has ignored the ‘rescue plan’ proposed by Oettinger and turned off the tap”.

Ukraine: Asphixia

Tue, 17 Jun 2014 11:14:33 +0100

Expresso, Lisbon – Cartoon. See more.

Biotechnology: ‘GMOs: France will be able to say no’

Fri, 13 Jun 2014 11:50:43 +0100

The environment ministers of the 28 EU member states agreed during a 12 June meeting in Luxembourg to “legislation that would give member states the leverage to ban GMOs [genetically modified organisms] on their territory”, writes French paper Le Monde, bringing an end to a fifteen-year debate. However, notes the daily, “decisions concerning the use of transgenic seeds would be made at the European level” —

To break this deadlock, the European Council hopes to facilitate authorisation of transgenic seeds within the Union by granting refractory states a stronger legal basis to ban GMOs on their own territory. Aside from exclusively scientific considerations, they will be able to cite socio-economic and ethical factors, as well as the interest of keeping public order.

Anti-trust: ‘Facebook asks Europe to “like” deal’

Thu, 29 May 2014 10:28:31 +0100

In an attempt to avoid a potential anti-trust review in Europe, “Facebook has asked European Union antitrust regulators to examine its $19 billion [€13,9 billion] deal to buy messaging service WhatsApp”, reports the Wall Street Journal Europe. The daily adds that —

The move was unexpected because the deal had been approved in the U.S. and wasn't expected to face scrutiny by the European Commission, the EU's central antitrust authority. But, in light of the potential for reviews by some of Europe's national antitrust watchdogs, Facebook is seeking one hearing that will cover the entire 28-nation bloc.

Renewables: ‘Electricity war between Berlin and Brussels’

Thu, 19 Dec 2013 11:10:30 +0100

On December 17, the European Commission announced, the launch of an investigation into German tax exemptions for Green energy, which have been of benefit to hundreds of companies. Brussels is demanding that the German Renewable Energy Act (EEG) be changed, reports Die Welt.

The daily explains that approximately 2,300 companies in high-energy consumption sectors, such as chemicals and metalworking, currently benefit from some €23bn of exemptions from the tax paid by private individuals and other economic sectors in what the Commission insists is a breach of European competition law.

However, the daily notes —

… this view is not shared by the [new] German government, which has thus entered into its first major conflict with Brussels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag: ‘given that other European countries continue to benefit from cheaper energy costs than those charged to German industry, I cannot see why we are being criticised for contributing to a distortion of competition’.

Ukraine-Russia: ‘Brother Ukraine becomes a billionaire’

Wed, 18 Dec 2013 12:19:40 +0100

As pro-European demonstrations continued in Kiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at the Kremlin on December 17.

Putin agreed to drastically reduce the price of gas sold to Ukraine by Russia. The cost will fall from over $400 to $268.50 per 1,000 m3 as of January 1. The two also agreed to economic aid in the form of "Russia buying $15bn or €10.9bn of sovereign debt, reports Russian business daily, Kommersant.

The two men further wish "to fully implement a free-trade zone (but not between Ukraine and the EU) [...] which would totally exclude any other options regarding the EU", the paper says.

The gas contract, notes Kommersant, is the same as the one signed in 2009 by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, which later resulted in her being convicted for abuse of power.

Croatia: ‘Gazprom interested in INA takeover’

Fri, 13 Dec 2013 13:11:45 +0100

According to Poslovni Dnevnik, the Russian energy giant is considering the acquisition of a majority holding in Croatian oil company INA. Apparently, the question was recently raised by Gazprom CEO Sergei Miller in a discussion with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Hungarian oil company MOL, which is 25 per cent owned by the Hungarian state, has a 49 per cent share of INA, which Gazprom would like to acquire. For its part the Croatian state controls 19 per cent of the company. The daily points out that Orbán has threatened on several occasions to sell MOL’s share in INA, in the wake of Croatia’s issue of an arrest warrant for MOL CEO Zsolt Hernádi, who is suspected of corruption offences. Poslovni Dnevnik explains that —

… a majority holding in INA would provide Gazprom with a base for expansion in southeastern Europe and Mediterranean countries.

Renewable energy: The Feldheim model

Fri, 13 Dec 2013 12:56:53 +0100

Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zurich – This village near Berlin is the only place in Germany that is completely autonomous in terms of energy supply. Thanks to wind turbines in their backyard and an independent grid, residents pay minimum prices for electricity. It’s an example for environmentalists everywhere. See more.

Natural gas: ‘South Stream goes on, the Slovenian energy sector stands firm’

Wed, 11 Dec 2013 12:07:47 +0100

Slovenian PM Alenka Bratušek met her Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow on December 10 for talks on the development of the South Stream gas pipeline in south eastern Europe.

Both pledged their continued support for the project, reports Delo, following strong criticism last week from the EU, which threatened to bring a legal challenge if Russian energy giant Gazprom, which is part of the consortium behind the plan, failed to comply with EU rules.

But Delo underlines that the plan has a significant economic and strategic benefit for Slovenia.

The gas pipeline is set to cover some 266km in length and is estimated to be worth around €1bn, making it by far the biggest Russian investment in Slovenia.

United Kingdom: ‘Fracking gets the green light’

Wed, 11 Dec 2013 10:38:11 +0100

The UK should throw its weight behind hydraulic fracturing, the controversial procedure to extract shale gas from deep fields, the chairman of the government’s climate change advisory group Lord Deben announced on December 10, rejecting criticisms from green groups that the technology could damage the environment.

Deben, who served as environment minister in former prime minister John Major’s government (1990-97) told to The Times that fracking, as the procedure is also called, would allow the UK to exploit its shale gas reserves and reduce its reliance on foreign energy, adding –

it just isn’t true that fracking is going to destroy the environment and the world is going to come to an end if you frack. And yet to listen to some people on the green end, that’s what they say.

Romania: ‘The match in Pungești’

Mon, 09 Dec 2013 11:11:55 +0100

The eastern Romanian town of Pungești was the scene of violent clashes on December 7 between some 500 demonstrators protesting against US company Chevron’s shale gas exploration project and security forces, reports Adevărul. The government had declared the area around the village in Vaslui County a "special security zone".

Demonstrators destroyed fences at the site where Chevron plans to drill. There were 15 arrests including a leading member of the local football supporters' club.

In Bucharest, several hundred protesters also took to the streets to show support for the residents of Pungești, adds the newspaper, which wonders if "democracy is not the main fatality in Pungesti" —

The main achievement of the 1989 Revolution was the right to express opinion without fear of being arrested and beaten.

Natural gas: EU opposes construction of South Stream

Thu, 05 Dec 2013 14:12:25 +0100

“In its current form the South Stream gas pipeline cannot operate on European territory,” writes the website of the Sofia-based weekly Kapital, which cites remarks made by the European’s Commission’s director for the internal energy market, Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, at what the newspaper describes as a “stormy” meeting with Russian representatives in Brussels.

According to the Commission, there are “at least three” bones of contention — the lack of a separation between the producer and the distributor using the pipeline, a transport monopoly, and a lack of transparency in pricing structures — in the deals concluded by Gazprom and several European countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Russia, Serbia and Slovenia).

Kapital points out that, as early as October 18, Bulgaria warned the Commission of its reservations. However, that did not stop authorities in Sofia from inaugurating construction of the Bulgarian section of the pipeline on October 31.

Economy: ‘EU leaders put their crowning glories first’

Thu, 28 Nov 2013 12:33:14 +0100

In the run-up to the official signature of an agreement between member states and the European Parliament on automobile CO2 emissions, De Morgen announces that “the climate has fallen victim to European protectionism.”

The daily points out that Angela Merkel has blocked the adoption of stricter environmental regulations to avoid “harming” the interests of German carmaker BMW, an initiative that has secured the backing of the UK in exchange for favours for the City of London. At the same time, France has given in to pressure from Renault, which in turn is being pushed by its business partner Daimler, whose main lobbyist is a former Merkel advisor.

Environmental NGOs are furious over the situation, adds De Morgen, which cites a Greenpeace transport expert —

After the near-failure of global climate talks in Warsaw, the EU is now distancing itself from its earlier promises to reduce the damage to climate caused by cars [...] The EU considers that the short-term interests of a few companies are more important than those of its citizens and the rest of the economy.

Renewable energy: ‘Energy giant axes £4bn UK turbine project’

Tue, 26 Nov 2013 09:56:32 +0100

German energy firm RWE npower is withdrawing from the £4bn (€4.7bn) Atlantic Array windfarm project in the Bristol Channel after rising costs made the project uneconomic, reports The Guardian.

The company pulled out of the windfarm plan saying that “technical difficulties” had pushed up the cost of the project and the current level of subsidies offered by the government were insufficient to cover this increased cost.

The UK, which is in midst of an energy crisis partly caused by soaring gas prices, hopes to develop a new renewable energy sector allowing the country to produce 15 per cent of its energy capacity from renewables by 2020. However, the energy industry is worried by plans by opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband to block energy firm prices rises.

Environment: Obstacle course

Mon, 25 Nov 2013 16:15:31 +0100

Kleine Zeitung, Graz – Cartoon. See more.

Netherlands-Russia: ‘Activists released on bail’

Thu, 21 Nov 2013 13:51:08 +0100

On November 20, a court in St Petersburg granted bail to a further eight Greenpeace activists, whose Dutch-flagged vessel was stormed by the Russian navy on September 19 after the protesters tried to board a drilling platform in the Arctic Ocean, notes NRC Handelsblad.

Those granted release include Dutch national Faiza Oulahsen and the captain of the activists' vessel, the Arctic Sunrise.

To date, 24 of the 28 activists who were arrested in this operation have been granted bail. Two journalists who were accompanying them will remain in preventive custody. NRC Handelsblad notes the bail bond demanded is 2 million roubles per person, (approximately €45,000).

In the newspaper, a Greenpeace legal expert has accused so-called “social workers” employed by Russian authorities of attempting to squeeze information from the activists in custody.

NRC adds that on November 22, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, will rule on a case filed by the Netherlands to obtain the definitive release of all of the members of the crew and the two journalists.

Italy: ‘How bad weather and negligence kill’

Wed, 20 Nov 2013 10:18:03 +0100

At least 16 people have died following flooding in northeastern Sardinia after the arrival of cyclone Cleopatra, which hit the island on November 18, reports Corriere della Sera. The Italian government has earmarked €20m for emergency aid and asked that reconstruction costs not be included in the Italian "stability pact", which seeks to limit regional government spending in line with EU budget targets.

In the wake of the tragedy, local authorities have been criticised for failing to adequately prepare, but as one mayor pointed out: “No one could have predicted that six months worth of rain would fall in 24 hours.” However, “bad luck” is not the only explanation, adds Corriere’s editorial

According to [an Italian] parliamentary environment committee’s last report [...] 68 per cent of all Europe’s landslides happen in Italy. [...] Our territory’s natural vulnerability has been made worse by mistakes. Unchecked wood cutting, construction of residential buildings in flood plains, [...] and the progressive cutting of funding for environmental risk protection: From €551m to €84m between 2009 and 2012. This year it is down to €20m.