Why Does This Remind Me of Christmas?

December 19, 2008

With Christmas getting near, I want to share with you some music by a man who I consider to be one of the greatest Europeans, Johann Sebastian Bach.

What is the connection with Christmas? Well I don’t know exactly, maybe it’s a childhood association, or maybe it’s the fact that the music seems to glisten like Christmas tree lights, or maybe it’s the dark minor key mystery that associates it with the darkest time of the year when magical things are expected to happen?

Whatever the reason, this music always reminds me of Christmas!



European Parliament Agrees Climate Change Package

December 18, 2008

The EU leads the world on measures to combat climate change. In a historic vote yesterday, the European Parliament voted to implement a package of proposals to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. These measures are now binding on the EU, and it is to be hoped that other major economies will now follow suit.

The targets of the European Union are: a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 20% improvement in energy efficiency, and a 20% share for renewables in the EU energy mix.

The EU Press Release follows:

Revising the EU’s Emission Trading System – report by Avril Doyle (EPP-ED, IE)

The revised EU Emission Trading System (ETS) is a key tool for achieving the EU’s aim of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. It will apply from 2013 to 2020 and should lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 21 % compared to reported 2005 levels. The EU ETS is a “cap and trade” system: it caps the overall level of emissions allowed but, within that limit, allows participants buy and sell allowances as they require, so as to cut emissions cost effectively. The Community-wide quantity of allowances issued each year will decrease in a linear fashion, so as gradually to reduce the overall level of emissions each year.

The ETS currently covers over 10,000 installations in the energy and industrial sectors, which are collectively responsible for close to half of the EU’s emissions of CO2 and 40% of its total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (the remaining 60 % will be covered by the ‘non-ETS’ Effort Sharing decision).

In the first and second ETS trading periods (2005 -2012) the great majority of allowances were allocated free of charge to installations. The revised directive establishes auctioning from 2013 in principle (as proposed by the Commission and backed by the Environment Committee) but it includes several exceptions, as advocated by the European Council on 12 December 2008.

The legislative resolution was adopted with 610 votes in favour 60 against and 29 abstentions.

Effort sharing: Member States targets for CO2 reduction – report by Satu Hassi (Greens/EFA, FI)

The “effort sharing” decision sets binding national targets for each EU Member State to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from non-ETS sources (e.g. road and sea transport, buildings, services, agriculture and smaller industrial installations), between 2013 and 2020. These sources currently account for about 60% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions. The decision aims to reduce these emissions by 10% overall between 2013 and 2020, so as to contribute towards the EU’s overall aim of a 20% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. The effort sharing decision is the first of its kind worldwide.

National targets for UK and Ireland

Member State greenhouse gas emission limits by 2020 compared to 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels for sources not covered under Directive 2003/87/EC:

Ireland – minus 20%
United Kingdom – minus 16%

The legislative resolution was adopted with 555 votes in favour, 93 against and 60 abstentions.

Equipping power plants to store CO2 underground – report by Chris Davies (ALDE, UK)

Parliament also approved a proposed directive providing for the legal framework for the new carbon dioxide capture and storage technology (CCS). To cut their CO2 emissions, industrial installations and power plants could in future use this new technology to capture CO2 and store it “permanently and safely underground” in geological formations. MEPs secured the funding of demonstration projects by ensuring that 300 million ETS allowances will be awarded to large scale CCS projects in the EU.

The legislative resolution was adopted with 623 votes in favour, 68 against and 22 abstentions.

20% renewable energy in the EU’s energy mix by 2020 – report by Claude Turmes (Greens/EFA, LU)

A new directive will lay down mandatory national targets to be achieved by the Member States through promoting the use of renewable energy in the electricity, heating and cooling, and transport sectors in order to ensure that by 2020 renewable energy makes up at least 20% of the EU’s total energy consumption. The agreement foresees that by 2020 renewable energy – biofuels, electricity and hydrogen produced from renewable sources – account for at least 10% of the EU’s total fuel consumption in all forms of transport.

The legislative resolution was adopted with 635 votes in favour, 25 against and 25 abstentions.

National targets for UK and Ireland

National overall targets for the share of energy from renewable sources in final consumption of energy in 2020.

Share of energy from renewable sources in final consumption of energy, 2005 (S2005)
UK – 1.3%
Ireland – 3.1%
Target for share of energy from renewable sources in final consumption of energy, 2020 (S2020)
15% UK
16% Ireland

Reducing CO2 emissions from new cars – report by Guido Sacconi (PES, IT)

A new regulation will set emission performance standards for new passenger cars registered in the EU. The compromise backs the Commission’s proposed target of an average of 120g of CO2/km for the whole car industry by 2012, compared to the current levels of 160g/km. The regulation sets an average target of 130g CO2/km for new passenger cars to be reached by improvements in vehicle motor technology. It will be supplemented by additional measures to achieve a further 10g/km reduction, so as to reach the 120g/km target, through other technical improvements. The compromise introduces a long term target for 2020 for the new car fleet of average emissions of 95 g CO2/km.

Manufacturers will be given interim targets of ensuring that average CO2 emissions of 65% of their fleets in January 2012, 75% in January 2013, 80% in January 2014 and 100% from 2015, have to comply with each manufacturer’s specific CO2 emissions target. In case the average emissions of CO2 exceed the targets, manufacturers will have to pay fines.

The legislative resolution was adopted with 559 votes in favour, 98 against and 60 abstentions.

Less greenhouse gas emissions from fuels – report by Dorette Corbey (PES, NL)

The revised fuel quality directive requires fuel suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by extraction or cultivation, including land-use changes, transport and distribution, processing and combustion of transport fuels (i.e. fossil fuels like petrol, diesel and gas-oil and also biofuels, blends, electricity and hydrogen) of up to 10% by 2020.

The legislative resolution was adopted with 670 votes in favour, 20 against and 25 abstentions.

From http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/expert/infopress_page/064-44858-350-12-51-911-20081216IPR44857-15-12-2008-2008-false/default_en.htm

Emergency Number 112

December 16, 2008

I don’t know about you, but every day that goes by, I find a new thing to learn about the European Union. Did you know that there is now (as of today) a single number you can dial from any phone anywhere in the EU to contact the emergency services? It’s good to know that you can do this, you don’t have to remember a different one for each country, or have to remember which of the member states you happen to be in! Just that one number 112 is all you need.

Below is a quote from the EU press release.

People can now reach emergency services from anywhere in the EU, simply by dialling 112, the single European emergency number. Now that 112 can be called from any phone in Bulgaria, it has achieved complete availability just before the Christmas period when thousands of people travel between EU Member States to visit family, hit the slopes or look for winter sun. It also crowns the combined efforts of the European Commission and EU Member States to make 112 fully available everywhere so that Europeans will always have a lifeline in the EU.

“112 working everywhere in the EU is a nice present to all Europeans, and the timing is perfect: during the holiday season of hectic travel people will spend a lot of time in other EU countries. From now on I expect 112 to be an essential travel companion for holiday makers in every corner of the EU,” said Viviane Reding, the EU Telecoms Commissioner. “There is still work to be done by the EU Member States, but the first target of having a single emergency number has been achieved. I am very glad that our efforts to make sure Member States get the common emergency number in place have paid off, because now we can see how the Europe of results can help people in everyday life.”

You can read the full story on European emergency number 112 now works in all EU Member States

Bach’s Mass in B Minor

December 13, 2008

After posting about Beethoven (as I did in the previous post) and giving the chance to listen to the entire performance of one of the greatest interpretations of his monumental 9th Symphony, I felt like continuing the classical music theme, so to speak.

No blog that claims to be about Europe could possibly be complete without at least one piece, and ideally more, by that awesome genius of counterpoint, J. S. Bach. You are in good hands here, because what you are about to hear (should you choose to click the play button) is an extract from one of the most incredible works of music in all history, the Mass in B Minor. Not only that, but this performance, by John Eliot Gardiner, is acclaimed by critics the world over.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a religious person to appreciate this music, you just need to be someone who can recognize beauty in sound.

Should Britain Adopt the Euro as its Currency?

December 13, 2008

When the EU countries changed to a single currency at the beginning of the century, Britain opted out, keeping the pound. It was understood at the time that this would probably be only temporary, and that the situation would be under frequent review. Events have prevented the government from having much time to look at the question again.

When any country now applies to join the EU, they have to commit to changing to the single currency as soon as they meet the convergence criteria.

Given the fact that the euro is now the world’s strongest currency, looking likely to replace the dollar as the first choice reserve currency, and given the continued poor performance of sterling against the euro, is it now perhaps time for Britain to make the change?

Bismark’s Greatest Error

December 12, 2008

I was taking part in a discussion about the persons that people considered were admirable in history, and someone (not a German but an American, I think) said they admired Bismark because he had brought about the unification of Germany. Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Count of Bismarck-Schönhausen, Duke of Lauenburg, Prince of Bismarck, nicknamed the Iron Chancellor, did indeed unify Germany, but at what a terrible cost! Because he did it by the exercise of war, and of power, and of dictatorship from above, he caused untold suffering to the ordinary people of that country.

And his actions also paved the way for the imperial expansionist policies that would come later, and which led to the two World Wars of the 20th century.

So while it is true that unification of the country can be seen as a good thing, the way that Bismark did it was the wrong way, and so it must be counted, not as his greatest achievement, but as Bismark’s greatest error. We now know that what he SHOULD have done is the following:

1. Give every man and woman the vote.

2. Institute a High Authority to regulate coal and steel production, thereby creating a “de facto solidarity” among the many small states of Germany.

3. Devolve as much power as possible to the lowest level of government, so that decision-making and policy-making power would be as close as possible to the citizen.

If he had done these things, instead of ruling with a rod of iron and building up powerful armies, the sufferings of Europeans in the 20th century would have been averted.

Beethoven 9th Symphony

December 12, 2008

This is the piece of music which many people argue is the greatest of all music. It is the 9th Symphony of Beethoven. It certainly has a valid claim for consideration as the greatest. This version of it, by the conductor Herbert von Karajan, is one of the most majestic interpretations.

Bethoven himself was a great European, who, I feel sure, would have welcomed the events of the present day, regarding the unification of Europe. He was one of those who supported the ideals of the French Revolution, and when Napoleon rose to power, Beethoven believed the new leader would bring the ideals of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity to the whole continent, ushering in a new golden age of enlightenment and peace. He even dedicated his 3rd Symphony, called the Eroica (Heroic) to Napoleon. When Napoleon had himself proclaimed Emperor, Beethoven’s hopes were dashed, and he angrily scratched out the dedication. He realised that all Napoleon wanted was power, and not the welfare of the European people.

The final movement of the 9th contains the famous tune which has been adopted as the anthem of the European Union. You can hear it in the second video of Karajan’s performance, which appears below this.

Happy listening!