Here are some of the events and decisions within the EU that were noticed in 2008. The European Union includes 27 nations, according to countryaah.
Al Barakaat. In an EC ruling in September, the informal Somali banking network Al Barakaat, established in Sweden, was established. Following the September 11 attacks in New York 2001, Al Barakaat was put on the UN list of suspected terrorists linked to Usama bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The UN list was introduced into EU law through a regulation (which was later annulled in the EC judgment). Due to the terrorist stamp, the financial assets of three Swedes of Somali origin were frozen, which was also prevented from traveling and working. In the judgment, the European Court of Justice states that fundamental rights were violated when the network was put on the terrorist list. Those designated did not know why they were terrorist-stamped and they were not allowed to face charges or defend themselves. The European Court of Justice also revokes a previous judgment of 2005, where the Court of First Instance did not step on Al Barakaat’s line, which caused the banking network to appeal the judgment to the European Court of Justice. Despite the EC ruling, the legislation did not cease to apply directly, but the assets were frozen for another three months.
Labor market. Temporary employees should have better working conditions. The new rules mean that staff employed by staffing companies have the same rights as permanent employees when it comes to eg. salary, vacation, parental leave, rest periods and opportunities for union representation and continuing education. The agreement gives employees at staffing companies basic working and employment conditions from the first day of the assignment, provided that collective agreements do not specify otherwise. Within the EU, the number of people in staffing companies has steadily increased, and they make up about 10 percent of the workforce or the equivalent of about three million people.
Child safety. A new directive was adopted during the year to make toys for children under 14 years safer. The old Toys Directive was 20 years old and not adapted to all new ones, including electronic, toys. On the Swedish initiative, rules were added to protect children’s hearing from loud noise in toys. Stricter demands on toy manufacturers mean that they have an obligation to control the safety aspects of the entire production chain – that the toys are safe, non-toxic or dangerous to children’s health and have clear warning texts when warranted. Toys intended for the youngest children under the age of three should be able to be washed or otherwise cleaned. Of the toys imported to the EU, 80 percent come from China.
Other measures to strengthen children’s safety include banning the sale of cigarette lighters without child restraints. During the year, the common European telephone number for reporting missing children was also used. The phone number – 11 60 00 – can be used everywhere, and the hope is that it will be easy to remember and speed up the search process when a child disappears.
Frauds. In its annual report from the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, the Agency noted that there have never been so many reports of suspected fraud with EU funds. The report was valid in 2007, when 886 reports were made of suspected cases of misuse of EU funds. Of the reports, 210 led to an investigation, of which 64 concerned the aid area, followed by EU institutions and bodies, agriculture and customs. About 478 million euros were demanded back by the former beneficiaries. Most of the recoveries were for agriculture and customs.
Reports to OLAF can be made by both Member States and individuals about abuse of EU support or suspicion of corruption among officials of EU institutions and authorities in EU countries. The single most scrutinized institution was the European Commission. The countries Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and Romania were the subject of 60% of all new cases in 2007. At the top of the countries surveyed was Romania, which has only been a member of the EU since January 2007.
Ecodesign. The Committee for the Implementation of the EU Ecodesign Directive is a new EU body. Ecodesign means that energy-using products, such as lighting and electronics in the home, are adapted (designed) so that they become energy efficient and environmentally friendly. To be covered by ecodesign requirements, a product group must have a market in the EU of at least 200,000 units. In December, the Committee decided to eventually discontinue ordinary energy-consuming incandescent light bulbs, in favor of different types of energy lamps. Carpet bulbs as well as clear 100 watts will first be removed from the bulbs that will disappear from the store shelves. In households, lighting accounts for about a quarter of the electricity consumption, but only ten percent of the energy becomes visible light. The Ecodesign Directive was adopted by the EU in 2005, and the Ecodesign Act in energy-using products became applicable in Sweden on 1 May 2008.
EU Ambassador. In July, Christian Danielsson (born 1956) was named Sweden’s new EU ambassador. He succeeded Sven-Olof Petersson (born 1947) as head of the Swedish EU representation in Brussels. The EU representation with 110 employees is Sweden’s largest foreign authority and represents the government in the negotiations in Coreper, the Permanent Representatives Committee, and in the various council working groups. Danielsson was previously Head of the European Commission unit responsible for the candidate countries Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey. He has also held other positions in, inter alia, The European Commission and the Swedish OECD delegation in Paris.
EU Treaty.In a referendum in June 2008, Irish voters voted against the new EU Treaty, called the Lisbon Treaty. The year before, the Treaty had been signed in Lisbon by the EU Heads of State and Government, and the plan was for it to enter into force in June 2009. However, for this to happen, the Treaty must first be ratified, approved, by all Member States. Following Ireland’s no, the ratification procedure continued in other countries, usually in the parliaments without a referendum. Sweden’s Parliament approved the Lisbon Treaty on November 20 with 243 votes in favor and 39 votes against. By the end of the year, all EU countries except Ireland had ratified the Treaty. At the December summit with EU leaders, the Irish government pledged to organize a new referendum in 2009. They are expected to have resolved issues such as: fiscal policy, the neutrality and abortion issue that has troubled the country’s voters. At the EU summit, Ireland received guarantees that the Treaty would not infringe on the Irish Government’s right to decide on these issues.
European Commission. The Italian elections brought about a revamp in the European Commission. Italian Franco Frattini resigned as EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security to become Foreign Minister in Silvio Berlusconi’s new government. This Commissioner post was taken over by Frenchman Jacques Barrot, who had hitherto been the European Commissioner for Transport. The Italian Transport Commissioner, as well as the Vice-President of the Commission, was appointed Italian Antonio Tajani. New EU commissioners also became Androulla Vassiliou of Cyprus, in charge of health, and Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom, in charge of trade. Ashton succeeded Peter Mandelson, who left his EU mission to join the British government.
EU parliament. On March 19, 2008, the European Parliament filled half a century. In 1958, the first statutory meeting was held in Strasbourg. At that time, the Parliamentary Assembly had only an advisory function, while Parliament is now a legislator in a large number of areas. On Wednesday, March 12, the 50th anniversary was celebrated with Speech by President-in-Office of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering, Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Prime Minister Janez Jansa from the Presidency of Slovenia.
Film Award. For the second year, the European Parliament’s film prize Lux was awarded. The winner was the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne with the movie Lorenas silence. The film has been produced in Belgium, Germany, France, Italy and the UK. The purpose of the prize is to better disseminate European film across countries’ borders and language barriers. The winning film is subtitled in all EU official languages. The film is also adapted for deaf and hearing impaired persons as well as for persons with visual impairment.
Financial crisis. The troubled financial market and the global recession became a hot topic in the EU, especially during the autumn. EU statistical body Eurostat reported two quarters of recession in the economy of the euro area countries, which was the first time since the single currency was introduced in 1999. The automotive industry was one of the sectors hit hard, and the industry was promised EU support, provided that they switch production to more environmentally friendly cars.
In October, EU heads of state and government promised to take all necessary measures to protect deposits on banks and the financial system. The goal was to restore confidence in the banks, strengthen the resilience to crises and start lending to companies and households.
EU governments allocated more than EUR 2 trillion to various rescue packages. Through the rescue plan, governments were able to guarantee banks’ lending, secure liquidity in the short term and partly state-run some banks. The European Central Bank has pumped in billions of euros into banks that have been short of cash.
Concerned small-scale savers had started picking out their savings from the banks and other financial institutions, as they no longer felt secure. In order to prevent unnecessary withdrawal of saved funds, many EU countries increased the deposit guarantee, which guarantees payment of the money in bank accounts even if the banks go bankrupt. In Sweden, the deposit guarantee was increased October 6 from SEK 250,000 to SEK 500,000.
EU leaders criticized banks’ policies with large parachutes and bonuses for bank executives. The financial crisis meant that some countries, including Italy and Poland, pledged to postpone climate and environmental improvement measures until the economy became more stable. However, these objections did not stop the EU’s major climate and energy packages.
Flight for the disabled. From July 2008, European airports must facilitate the accessibility of people with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility all the way from their arrival at the airport until they board the aircraft. The rules apply to all airlines flying from EU airports. European airlines flying to the EU from abroad must also, if notified in advance, allow disabled people to board the plane free of charge in the best possible way. Disabled people should also be able to get help if they cannot walk the long distances that are often required at modern airports. The new rules also make it easier for many older people to travel by air.
Fruit and vegetables. Crooked cucumbers are again approved after the EU abolished special marketing standards for 26 types of fruits and vegetables. In previous rules, the EU required that fruits and vegetables be divided into different quality classes in order to be sold. For example, a cucumber in the highest class “extra” would be at least 30 centimeters long and almost completely straight. However, the marketing standards are maintained for ten products: grapes, citrus, strawberries, kiwi, peppers, peaches and nectarines, pears, lettuce, tomatoes and apples. However, these may also be exempted from the standards if they are sold with appropriate labeling. The new rules mean that national authorities can allow the sale of all types of fruits and vegetables, whatever their size and shape.
Georgia. In the conflict between Georgia and Russia, the EU participated in the negotiations to put an end to the fighting. A ceasefire under EU supervision was negotiated. The agreement meant the cessation of fire and the return to the positions that existed before the five-day war, when Russian troops advanced their positions in Georgia beyond South Ossetia. At the EU’s Extraordinary Summit on September 1, the situation in Georgia was discussed. EU leaders decided to postpone talks with Russia on a new partnership agreement until Moscow withdrew its forces. The EU also condemned Russia’s recognition of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
The EU decided on humanitarian aid (distributed through NGOs, UN agencies and the Red Cross / Red Crescent) for EUR 6 million, reconstruction packages and peacekeeping forces for the people affected by the conflict in South Ossetia and other parts of Georgia. Individual EU countries contributed another € 8.4 million in humanitarian aid.
Transparency. In 2008, an information service, in the form of a web-based database, was launched with the aim of showing the public how the EU’s money is spent. The service provides information on all grants handled by the Commission in the previous accounting year, totaling over 28,000 entries. The information service is part of the EU Commission’s campaign for increased transparency and responsibility. The various EU countries will also publish information on their respective websites on payments in, for example. agricultural policy and regional and social development, which account for more than 80% of the EU budget.
Internet. Sweden is at the forefront of broadband development in the EU in terms of competition, coverage, speed and quality. This was stated in a study commissioned by the European Commission. Two came the Netherlands. The Commission notes that high tendency to use advanced services and high competition in both countries have resulted in high speeds and affordable prices. The study of broadband development was presented together with the Commission’s strategy for information and communication technologies in preparation for “Web 3.0”, the next generation of services on the Internet.
Climate and energy. After many years of discussions and investigations, the European Parliament approved in December the long-term climate and energy package to enter into force by 2011. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20%, increase the share of energy from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass, from about 8.5 per cent to 20 per cent of total energy production and to reduce total energy consumption by 20 per cent of the estimated levels for 2020 by improving energy efficiency. Today, 54% of the EU’s energy consumption is imported.
For the member states, binding national targets are set with greater demands for environmental measures in richer countries. Sweden, for example, will achieve 49 percent renewable energy, while Malta will achieve 10 percent. Sweden is the EU country with the highest proportion of renewable energy in relation to final energy use.
Environmental hazardous emissions from passenger cars should be reduced. Car exhaust emissions may contain no more than 130 grams of carbon dioxide per km on average from 2012. Further reductions in emissions, with 10 grams of carbon dioxide per km, are estimated to be achieved through better tires and the use of biofuels. The long-term target is a ceiling on emissions of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per km in 2020. Car manufacturers who do not meet the targets should be able to be fined. The current situation is that, on average, newly manufactured cars emit 160 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. In the future climate-adapted EU, at least 10 per cent of the fuel for transport must be renewable (e.g. biofuel, hydrogen or green electricity). In order to achieve the climate targets, the requirements for the EU emissions trading system from 2013 will also be tightened. The number of emission rights sold will gradually decrease.
Kosovo. EU Member States were divided in the view of Kosovo, which declared itself independent in February 2008. EU Foreign Ministers agreed on a text that allowed Member States to decide individually, in accordance with national practice and international law. relations with Kosovo. Sweden recognized Kosovo as an independent state in March. The EU declared itself ready to support and monitor Kosovo’s development towards a modern legal society, including: through the establishment of the EU’s largest civilian effort to date, EULEX Kosovo, with up to 2,200 people deployed. Sweden is one of the largest contributors to Kosovo.
Mobile telephony. The price cut for mobile calls while traveling within the EU continued. From August 30, it will cost a maximum of SEK 4.35 plus VAT per minute to call from another EU country and a maximum of SEK 2.08 plus VAT per minute to receive calls. In the summer of 2009, the price ceiling is lowered further. Then it can cost a maximum of € 0.43 plus VAT per minute to call with the mobile user’s regular subscription in the EU. Receiving calls may cost a maximum of EUR 0.19 plus VAT. The cost in Swedish kronor is calculated according to the current euro exchange rate on July 30, 2009.
Presidency. During the first half of 2008, Slovenia, with Prime Minister Janez Jansa, chaired the EU. Slovenia was the first Presidency among the countries that joined the EU in 2004. In July, the Presidency was handed over to France and President Nikolas Sarkozy. French Minister for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet played an active role in France’s presidency.
Duty free. From December 2008, new EU rules apply to duty-free goods when traveling to the EU from a country outside the EU. If you travel by road, you can take goods worth a total of no more than 300 euros without paying tax on them. When traveling by air or boat, the goods may be worth a maximum of 430 euros. The allowable wine ration is increased from 2 liters to 4 liters, and for beer a maximum limit of 16 liters is introduced. However, for perfume, coffee and tea, it is free to enter, as previous restrictions have been completely removed.
Enlargement. Among the candidate countries, Croatia is nearing the end of EU membership negotiations, according to the Commission report on enlargement. The requirements for Croatia in the membership negotiations include: that the country strengthens the rights of minorities and continues to fight corruption and reform of the judiciary. The candidate country Turkey is further from a membership, i.a. some political reforms are needed. The third candidate country, Macedonia, is yet to begin negotiations. The country is not considered to meet the political requirements for EU membership. inter alia due to widespread corruption and shortcomings in the electoral system. Potential future candidate countries include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.