FREE News: 25th February

“UK SUPPORT FOR EU MEMBERSHIP HITS NEW HIGH” (EuObserver)

“Britons would vote to remain in the EU by a 10 percent margin, according to new polling published on Wednesday (25 February).

Forty-five percent of Britons would back continued membership of the bloc, while 35 percent would vote to leave, according to pollsters YouGov. The lead for the ’IN’ campaign is the largest since YouGov began monthly polls on the question of EU membership in September 2010.

The growing support for EU membership, which is up from 42 percent last month, marks a big shift since the depths of the eurozone crisis in 2011 and 2012 when a majority of Britons favoured leaving the EU”

Read the full article here

VIRTUAL BIOMETRIC FRONTIER AWAITS TRAVELLERS TO EU (EuObserver)

“The EU commission says setting up a virtual frontier for all visiting non-EU nationals will help create a more “welcoming” Europe.

Fingerprints and or full facial captures may await future visitors to the EU when the Brussels-executive proposes a revised version early next year of its controversial 2013 ‘smart borders’ package.

EU migration affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Monday (23 February) said the digital dragnet would help make Europe a more attractive destination by cutting down border crossing times and cracking down on others who “do not respect the conditions of their rights to stay”.

Disembarking travellers from long-haul trans-Atlantic flights, for example, would be required upon arrival to give border guards biometric data sets.

‘Indiscriminate collection of data’

But not everyone is convinced by the plans. One of the parliament’s lead negotiators on the file, Slovenian centre-left Tanja Fajon, said that the “indiscriminate mass collection of data without a specific just cause must be a concern for all of us”.

The initial idea proposed creating a two-tiered system of biometric scans of visiting non-EU nationals – the registered travellers programme (RTP) and the entry-exit system (EES).

Both systems rely on collecting, storing, and processing biometric data and are designed for visitors, like US travellers, who do not need a visa to enter the EU in the first place.

While people under EES would have their biometric checks at arrival, the RTP pre-vets frequent travelers in advance who can then pass through the control points with a special card.

But outstanding issues of costs, access to law enforcement, estimated border crossing times, and the amount of data to be collected remain.

Despite the plan having been temporarily shelved, the EU is still moving ahead with a multimillion euro “proof of concept” test set for launch in mid-March at a half dozen airports and other sea, train and road points.

Fajon said it is still unclear to what extent member states actually use existing information systems and if the almost €1 billion needed for smart borders is worth the investment.

Schengen states already have at their disposal a central IT system that allows national authorities to exchange traveller visa information known as the EU’s visa information system (VIS).

An EU-funded study last October on smart borders noted VIS averaged only 11 search queries and five retrievals per day in the first half of 2014 from all national law enforcement points combined.

The same study, which is feeding into the commission’s policy deliberations on the revised proposal, recommends integrating parts of the visa information system into a package alongside the entry-exit system and the registered travel system.

The study also recommended extending the retention period from the initially-proposed six months in the entry-exit system to up to five years should police be granted access.

“When law enforcement access would be allowed to the system it would be of very limited interest if the data retention period is only up to six months,” said Rob Rozenburg, an EU commission official in charge of the study.

Police access

The possibility of police access has sparked debates over privacy concerns.

Avramopoulos, who was addressing several dozen MPs from around the EU, Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey at the European parliament’s civil liberties committee, said the issue is still an open question.

But most of the visiting MPs who spoke out at Monday’s session want it included.

Thirteen member states in the border-free Schengen zone, as well as the UK, already operate their own entry-exit systems.

These systems are not connected and are unable to detect someone who enters one member state and leaves from another.

Supporters also say the system is needed because the number of people travelling to Europe is set to increase, putting an additional strain on border control points.

Just under 200 million non-EU nationals visited the EU last year.

“We expect that in the next decade, this number will grow by at least another 100 million,” said Avramopoulos.”

“DEBATES ON TERRORISM, EMU AND UKRAINE WITH TUSK AND JUNCKER AND ECB WITH DRAGHI” (European Parliament – Press Release)

“The outcome of the 12 February informal summit, including the call for a European Passenger Name Record (PNR) system, progress in the Economic and Monetary Union and developments in Greece and Ukraine will be debated with European Council and Commission presidents Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, on Wednesday at 17.00. MEPs will then debate the European Central Bank’s work with its President Mario Draghi.

You can watch the plenary debates via EP Live and EbS+ (here).

At the informal summit, EU heads of state or government urged EU legislators to “urgently adopt a strong and effective European Passenger Name Record [PNR] directive with solid data protection safeguards”.

On Thursday at 9.00, a new draft report on the PNR proposal and a possible timetable for its further discussion and approval will be presented by lead MEP Timothy Kirkhope (ECR, UK) in the Civil Liberties Committee.”

“ENERGY UNION: SECURE, SUSTAINABLE, COMPETITIVE, AFFORDABLE ENERGY FOR EVERY EUROPEAN” (European Commission – Press release)

“Energy is used to heat and to cool buildings and homes, transport goods, and power the economy. But with ageing infrastructure, poorly integrated markets, and uncoordinated policies, our consumers, households and businesses do not benefit from increased choice or from lower energy prices. It is time to complete the single energy market in Europe. Delivering on this top priority set out in President Juncker’s political guidelines, today the European Commission sets out its strategy to achieve a resilient Energy Union with a forward-looking climate change policy.

The Energy Union means in particular:

Solidarity clause: reducing the dependence on single suppliers and fully relying on their neighbours, especially when confronted with energy supply disruptions. With more transparency when EU countries make deals to buy energy or gas from countries outside the EU;

Energy flows, as if it were a Fifth freedom: that of free flow of energy across borders – strictly enforcing the current rules in areas such as energy unbundling and the independence of regulators – taking legal action if needed. Redesigning the electricity market, to be more interconnected, more renewable, and more responsive. Seriously overhauling state interventions in the internal market, and phasing out environmentally harmful subsidies.

Energy efficiency first: fundamentally rethinking energy efficiency and treating it as an energy source in its own right so that it can compete on equal terms with generation capacity;

Transition to a low-carbon society that is built to last: ensuring that locally produced energy – including from renewables – can be absorbed easily and efficiently into the grid; promoting EU technological leadership, through developing the next generation of renewables technology and becoming a leader in electromobility, while European companies expand exports and compete globally.

In an Energy Union, citizens are at the core. The prices they pay should be affordable and competitive. Energy should be secure and sustainable, with more competition and choice for every consumer.”

Read the full article → here

BUZEK: “ENERGY UNION CAN HELP TO BOOST ECONOMIC GROWTH AND JOBS” (European Parliament – Press Release)

Energy issues have dominated the EU’s political agenda for a long time. When Jean-Claude Juncker took over as president of the European Commission, one of his priorities was creating an energy union. Today this union will be debated with Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič. Ahead of the debate we spoke to former EP President Jerzy Buzek, a Polish member of the EPP group who is now the chair of the EP’s energy committee. about the energy union and the role Parliament should play.

What exactly is the energy union? Why do we need it?

I see the energy union as a political umbrella which will bring together all relevant sectors and players and which will allow for an integrated approach to our energy challenges. It can also help to boost economic growth, competitiveness and jobs.

Stable, sustainable, affordable and competitive energy is a challenge which no EU member state is capable of meeting by itself. To tackle the challenge, we have been pursuing an integrated energy policy, but its implementation is still far from being completed.

Read the full article → here

“LA MAJORITÉ DES ALLEMANDS CRAIGNENT L’IMMIGRATION EXTRA EUROPÉENNE” (Euractiv)

“Un sondage Eurobaromètre indique que 37 % des Allemands estiment que l’immigration est le principal défi de l’UE. La majorité de la population s’oppose à l’accueil d’immigrés provenant de pays en dehors de l’UE”

Read the full article here

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