how europe can give a jolt to electric car infrastructure



If the EU really wants to supercharge the electric vehicle revolution, it needs a quick, coordinated rollout of recharging infrastructure that sorts out issues with different chargers yet leaves room for further innovation, writes Teodora Serafimova.

Teodora Serafimova is a policy adviser at Bellona Europa and leads work on electric recharging infrastructure within the Platform for Electro-Mobility. The platform is an alliance of 24 organisations from across industries and transport modes representing manufacturers, infrastructure managers, operators and users of all types of vehicles as well as cities, civil society and other stakeholders.

The headlines screaming that carmakers were finally embracing the electric car era came thick and fast last month. ‘Toyota is finally getting serious about electric cars,’ Fortune told us. ‘VW wants to conquer America with SUVs and electric cars,’ proclaimed Business Insider.

But with much less bombast, the EU has been tinkering away on fulfilling its side of the electro-mobility bargain: the infrastructure to power it. And with consumer anxieties about electric vehicle range and charging compatibility, Europe has much to do.

A lot is at stake. Electro-mobility offers an unequalled solution to make Europe’s transport more efficient, less dependent on imported energy, low-carbon, clean and quiet. By electrifying land transport in parallel with decarbonising electricity generation, EU member states come a lot closer to meeting their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030 and beyond, and to addressing the public health crisis posed by urban air pollution.

But old concerns about the range of electric vehicles die hard and these, along with ‘interoperability’ issues (‘Will my car’s plug fit this charging socket?’), pose a barrier to the wider uptake of electric transport in a majority of EU countries. Yet the coming year looks promising for eliminating these barriers and accelerating the roll-out of electric recharging infrastructure. Right now member states are submitting their national plans for the implementation of the crucial Alternative Fuels Infrastructure (AFI) Directive.

The AFI has a three-pronged approach to nailing consumers’ concerns:

  • clear the way for more private recharging points;
  • mandate a build up of more publicly accessible charging stations (there are not nearly enough); and
  • set EU-wide standards for both charging connectors and the information that public authorities should make available to EV drivers.

Clearly, harmonising technologies and setting common standards are key if all of Europe is to go electric fast. But the EV market is a fast moving environment in which technological and business innovations are crucial and should be promoted. This calls for a fine balance to be struck between standardisation and leaving room for innovation.

That is why the Platform for Electro-Mobility, an alliance of 24 organisations, each with a stake in a successful transition, calls on EU governments to ensure a flexible implementation of the AFI Directive so that the connector requirements for normal and high-power charging stations are seen as minimal, and only applied to publicly accessible charging points. Read more about this in our recent paper.

The distinction between public and private infrastructure is crucial for enabling the more advanced charging solutions of the future, in particular “very high power charging” solutions. In fact, the industry now expects that by 2020 a majority of new electric cars will be capable of accepting 150 kW or even possibly 350 kW charging. Evidently that’s much more than the 50 kW provided for in the current standards on both passenger vehicles and charging equipment.

Of course, it’s not all about the technology of tomorrow – we need a fast roll-out of what’s already available. That means simplified regulations and approval procedures for normal power charging points and increased Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funds for the construction of multi-standard, downward compatible high-power charging infrastructure (150 kW and higher). And let’s speed up the standardisation of the charging interface for electric buses and make sure that recharging stations can handle these vehicles as well as cars and vans.

Railway stations and other public transport hubs are prime locations for public charging points: linking up with existing electric infrastructure would reduce the investment cost of the roll out while improving the connectivity between private and public transport.

Then there’s the seemingly obvious stuff we still mustn’t forget: parking schemes to ensure recharging points are optimally used and not misused; and customer-friendly ways to find, access and pay for charging services across the whole continent. And let’s be transparent: give consumers all the information on pricing, level of service, and the origin of electricity; but also let drivers switch easily between different service providers.

Finally, let’s make the transition to electric mobility cheaper for all, by rewarding people who charge their cars at times when the electricity grid is not overloaded.

Source: www.euractiv.com


digital single market needs real skills and substance to succeed


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Europe is creating digital jobs, but lacks the skilled workforce to fill them. The Commission should promote the benefits of action at national level without drowning member states in red tape, writes Jamie Greene.

Jamie Greene is a Conservative member of the Scottish parliament and the Scottish Conservative spokesman on connectivity, digital economy and technology.

The Europe we live in today is vastly different from the Europe of 15 years ago. As personal computers were brushed aside by smart phones and everything from banking to food shopping switched online, the continent’s skills remained stuck in an analogue mind-set.

Europe’s growth remains sluggish; so any attempt to return to the pre-2008 levels will require an asserted and strong digital agenda to ensure that any future growth is led by technology, not merely reacting to it.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has been vocal about using a digital strategy to finally end the EU’s economic woes. His flagship Digital Single Market (DSM) policy has clear merit and advantages, with gains estimated to be between €250-€415 billion by 2020, or 4% of EU GDP.

Importantly, the Commission must understand that these benefits cannot be achieved in the absence of the necessary skills to complement the infrastructure and regulatory environment.

Creating roles for software programmers without training software programmers isn’t progress. Across the EU, 28% of the population is reported to be lacking in any formal IT training.

We can draw parallels with the situation we face in Scotland today. Every year we create 11,000 digital vacancies but only manage to fill around half of them. The digital sector’s presence in our economy is set to increase dramatically but a lack of focus in Scottish education has seen graduates in critical subjects such as the sciences, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) diminish.

Empirica projected that 820,000 digital jobs could be added to the EU by 2020 but if we look at the EU’s 2016 Digital Economy and Society Index we see major economies such as France, Spain, Italy and Poland below the overall EU average.

When measured by crucial human capital (the necessary skills to take advantage of digital opportunities) the outcome remains concerning. The pool of digital talent is struggling to keep pace with increasing digitisation.

Based on the European Commission’s 2015 Digital Scoreboard, 40% of the EU population “lacked digital skills”, while 22% had no digital skills. Advanced digital skills hover around 8% across the continent and only 10% of Europeans have any experience of complex coding.

Commission Vice-President and DSM chief Andrus Ansip has acknowledged this is a “cause for concern” but despite this and despite key events such as the Riga Declaration, the digital skills gap isn’t narrowing at the necessary pace. A focus on digital education might be a step forward by individual member states to compliment the Commission’s agenda but this will be a long-term process that will likely not arrive in time for the 2020 deadline.

European institutions are capable of acting only within their remit, which at this point primarily concerns the coordination of infrastructure and the setting of regulatory regimes. Although the European executive could provide a coordinating role, it would be better suited to outlining the individual national benefits as a means of motivating member states to take action of their own accord.

A positive role the Commission could play is addressing industry concerns over the DSM such as IPR and the financial impact of geoblocking on our creative industries. For example, how will content be funded when roughly half of member states do not pay a TV or radio licence fee?

International licensing (i.e. for European football broadcasting) is a more complex task than is being portrayed and is exceedingly expensive, so why is there such little conversation around the practicalities of this?

In the world of tech, cloud and virtual markets, borders are created with software, not checkpoints, but the principles of security, sovereignty, and ownership must never be forgotten.

So far these concerns have been brushed aside by Commissioners Ansip and Günther Oettinger without any real attention to the potential impacts this could have on broadcasters, data merchants and IP owners.

Ensuring the industry has enough flexibility to thrive is also crucial. The European Commission may want to tear down technical barriers, but if it insists on adopting the common European approach of over-regulation, it risks suffocating Europe’s digital industry in red tape.

With 2020 only three years away, a renewed focus on digital is an immediate necessity if any progress is to be made with digitising the continent. The UK government has just announced a massive digital infrastructure investment package in its Autumn Statement with some projections suggesting £13 billion could be added to the Scottish economy alone. National capitals might consider following this example.

Brexit or no Brexit, the virtual markets of the world will continue to exist and consumers’ thirst for products and services will only grow.

The DSM cannot be achieved simply through the offices in the Berlaymont in Brussels, nor through the German Chancellery Office. It will be created through classrooms, universities and training facilities at the national, regional and local levels. If Europe is serious about regaining the digital initiative, it will need to embark on an ambitious education of its digital workforce.

Source: www.euractiv.com


commission's sustainable development package must be taken further



The EU will not meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals without rethinking its approach to individual targets. So far, this has not happened, writes Damien Demailly.

Damien Demailly is the coordinator of the New Prosperity programme at the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI).

On 22 November, the European Commission presented its strategy for the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through three communications. For the record, all of the United Nations member states committed in September 2015 to achieving the SDGs by 2030. Reducing poverty and inequalities, ensuring access to quality education and social protection, protecting biodiversity and the oceans and providing (sustainable) development assistance for vulnerable countries. In total, 17 global goals comprising 169 targets were adopted.

This strategy, which will now be discussed by the heads of state and the European Parliament, covers both the EU’s external policies and its domestic policies. This is very good news: since the SDGs do not concern only the developing countries, they are not limited to the EU’s trade or cooperation policies. They also imply changes to domestic and European policies.

Another positive is that this package is led jointly by the Vice-Presidents of the Commission, Frans Timmermans and Federica Mogherini, and by the Commissioner for International Cooperation, Neven Mimica. In so doing, the EU is putting itself in an institutional position to ensure domestic and external policy coherence and to take account of the impact of its sectoral policies on other countries. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans’ leadership of SDG implementation in Europe is a good thing, as it is a precondition for ensuring political trade-offs at the highest level take account of potential synergies and conflicts between the different SDG targets, rather than continuing to work in the silos inherent to institutional operations. Agricultural policy, for example, should thus report more systematically on issues of employment, environmental protection and food security for the EU and its trade partners, something reflected by the SDGs and an issue Mr Timmermans will need to examine with the administrations responsible for these issues.

These communications are therefore a first and necessary step. But it is regrettable that the strategy does not go further, in particular concerning SDG implementation in the EU.

While Finland is currently identifying the targets on which it will concentrate its efforts, and Estonia, Norway and Sierra Leone have already defined their priority targets or even intermediate goals up to 2030, nothing similar has been done by the Commission, which has merely drawn up a list of current public policies that contribute to the different SDGs, without assessing the capacity of these policies to actually achieve the targets set. However, the SDGs cannot be achieved by maintaining the status quo. Whether for poverty or gender inequality, for example, the EU member states are in danger of failing to meet numerous targets if there is no new political impetus (as shown by the analysis of the Frenchand  Swedishcases). It will not be enough, as proposed by the Commission, to implement the policies already adopted and to conduct economic, social and environmental impact studies for future policies. The Commission must rapidly identify the targets that require changes to EU policies as well as to those of its member states.

The SDGs also raise another question that has not yet been addressed by the Commission. What is to be done about the international commitments the EU made when it adopted the SDGs that are more ambitious than the existing EU goals? For example, the SDG target of halving poverty by 2030 goes much further than the Europe 2020 strategy. Likewise, the target of reducing income inequalities does not exist as such in EU strategies. With the Europe 2020 strategy approaching its end, it is perhaps necessary to identify and then integrate these new commitments into a future Europe 2030 strategy. Aligning the SDGs with this future roadmap and including them in the indicators and objectives that help to steer EU action would without doubt send a strong message to the international community.

Finally, the Commission is still saying little about the mechanism for monitoring progress made by the EU and its member states on the SDGs. This monitoring cannot be limited to the annual publication of statistics by Eurostat: who would then make a political appraisal of the successes and failures revealed by these statistics? With the European Semester, the EU has built a powerful mechanism for monitoring the economic and budgetary policies of the member countries, which is gradually opening up to social and environmental challenges. Rather than creating an ad hoc mechanism to monitor the SDGs, why should they not be integrated into the existing mechanism.

Although these communications mark a first step for the EU in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, others will be needed if the EU is to lead by example and demonstrate its commitment to these global goals, which it actively negotiated and which are consistent with the EU model: social justice, innovation and the protection of natural heritage.

Source: www.euractiv.com


COMMISSION 'DANGEROUSLY' OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY ON BIOFUEL


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A response delivered by Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete in the European Parliament last week demonstrates just how dangerously out of touch with reality the executive is on a policy that impacts on the lives of hundreds of thousands of EU citizens, writes Dick Roche.

Dick Roche is a former Irish Minister for the Environment and former Minister for European Affairs and is currently an advisor to the Hungarian company Pannonia Ethanol.

A senior Commission staffer admitted that the EU executive’s biofuels policy was being formed on the basis of bureaucrats’ interpretation of public opinion rather than facts and science. This prompted Romanian independent MEP Laurentiy Rebega (ENF) to file a parliamentary question with the Commission in September.

Rebega pointed out that “peer-reviewed economic analysis suggests that Romania has a huge unrealised capacity as a producer of bioethanol which if realised fully, could produce tens of thousands of jobs, produce up to 18 billion litres of ethanol and add very significantly to Romania’s GDP”. He asked, “Has the Commission carried out any assessment as to the impact of its post-2020 proposals on Romania’s potential in this area, and in particular of the proposals’ impact on job potential and on potential farm income?” Rebega requested that the Commission “publish its calculations on both areas and outline the methodology used to reach its conclusions”.

In a response given on 25 November, Commissioner Cañete said that “the Commission intends to adopt a package of energy from renewable sources by the end of 2016, including proposals for the revision of the Directive on renewable energy and policy regarding the sustainability of bioenergy for the period after 2020”.

Cañete continued, “the Commission has already indicated that biofuels based on food crops have a limited role in decarbonising the transport sector and that they should not receive public support after 2020″.

The Commissioner goes on to say that the executive is looking at ‘”various options” for the phasing out and replacement of conventional biofuels with “more advanced” alternatives.

Cañete concluded – in a striking example of putting the cart before the horse – that when all of the deliberations within the Commission are completed, “an impact assessment analysing the impact of social, economic and environmental effects of relevant policy options” will be produced.

In what must be a first –  even for the Commission-  the executive planned to destroy an industry which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs across the EU, which supports farm incomes, which brings investment to rural areas and which could provide a much-needed boost for the economy of Romania and indeed for other EU member states. And, after the axe has fallen, the Commission will pull together an “impact assessment”.

The Commissioner’s reply is of course not  surprising. It has been clear for some time that the Commission, by hook or by crook, is set on getting rid of “first generation biofuels irrespective of science, analysis or logic”.

The statements by the Commission official which prompted the parliamentary question made it clear that the Commission intends to ignore “economic models and scientific theories” and that  “policy would be based on the Commission’s interpretation of citizens’ concerns, sometimes even if these concerns are emotive rather than factual based or scientific”.

For good measure, the Commission official added that in the Commission’s view, the first concern is a purely emotive reaction to “food versus fuel”.

This extraordinary assertion that a bureaucrats ‘hunch’ as to the state of public opinion should inform public policy like the Commissioner’s ‘non-answer’ is a stunning indication of how dangerously out of touch the Commission has become on biofuels policy.

Coming as it did a year after the FAO Director-General had called for a paradigm shift in the debate on food production, suggesting that “We need to move from the food versus fuel debate to a food and fuel debate,” the Commission’s position is all the more disturbing.

Evidently, the FAO  message  has not been picked up in the  EU Commission.

At a time when EU citizens are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the European project, the Commission’s bull-headed behaviour is a disturbing reflection of the way things were managed in one part of Europe before the Berlin wall came tumbling down.

Four days after Commissioner Cañete delivered his non-answer to MEP Rebega’s parliamentary question,  Farm Europe released its studyProducing Fuel and Feeds.

The report provides a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the impact of the development  of biofuels in the EU on agricultural land, food security, and sustainability.

The study focuses on the period 2005 – 2015, covering the years before and since the RED was enacted.

The study, which is lucid, fact based and logical, provides the latest evidence as to just how grotesquely inadequate the undifferentiated approach to biofuels that the Commission has pressing is. It also provides another debunking of the myths on food versus fuel which EU bureaucrats seem intent on propagating.

Its key findings are that:

  • Claims that  EU sourced biofuel production has caused either food price rises or reduced global food supply are false.
  • EU biofuel production has contributed to global food security,
  • The EU has increased its export capacity for cereals by 10 million tonnes during the study period.
  • EU biofuel production has reduced the EU demand for imported protein soy feed by producing 13 million tonnes of high protein non-GMO animal feed.
  • Biofuel production has made a positive contribution to a key CAP objective of keeping land in good agricultural status in order to maintain the potential of EU agriculture. Without the biofuel industry, increasing amounts of land would be lost to agriculture.
  • Shows the need for a clear distinction between EU-sourced biofuels– and biofuels made from imported palm oil and imported “waste oils”.
  • Finds that biofuels made from imported palm oil have highly damaging impacts on the climate and environment while EU-sourced biofuels have clearly positive climate, environmental and economic impacts.
  • Biofuels helped to secure farm income of € 5-7 billion, led to very significant investment in rural regions and supported 300.000 jobs.

In the words of its authors, the report “highlights the need for EU decision-makers to promote a fact-based strategic approach when it comes to biofuels and provides evidence on the capacity of EU biofuels to be a lever for both environmental sustainability and economic development in rural areas without any detrimental effects”.

It will be interesting to see whether this report will penetrate the thinking in the Commission in any way, or whether the College of Commissioners and their staff will choose to remain impervious to facts, to economics and to science as has been their choice to date.

Source: www.euractiv.com


commission launches youth volunteer 'solidarity' corps


European solidarity corps

European? Aged 18-30? Unemployed? Want to work abroad for pocket money? The EU’s new Solidarity Corps may be for you.

Would-be recruits and campaigners on youth issues offered a wary welcome on Wednesday (8 December) to the European Commission’s launch of a scheme to give 100,000 people a chance to work elsewhere in Europe for up to year, either as volunteers or paid trainees.

With mass unemployment among the young helping to fuel a crisis for the European Union, where eurosceptic nationalists have been fired up by Britain’s vote to leave and public concerns about immigration, the Commission hopes the Corps can foster cross-border solidarity and positive views of the EU.

Launching a recruitment drive, complete with baseball caps, T-shirts and signing-on forms in a tent outside the Commission’s Brussels headquarters, outgoing Vice President Kristalina Georgieva called it a chance to help “our young people do what you are best at – excite the rest of us about the unity of Europe”.

Allan Pall, Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, said he was concerned about running down funding for much larger programmes: “Volunteering develops skills in an amazing way,” he said. “But it’s perhaps not the most effective answer now.”

Volunteers will have travel and insurance costs covered, as well as living expenses and “pocket money”, while those who find intern and apprentice roles would have appropriate wages.

Some 4.2 million EU citizens under 25 have no job – more than two in five young Greeks and Spaniards and one young Italian in three.

Brando Benifei, a 30-year-old Italian centre-left EU lawmaker, said other types of effort were needed.

“These instruments are useful to mobilise young people … to develop a European identity,” he said. “To create jobs, we need stronger economies, we need growth, we need investments.”

But for Roxane Van Lerberge, 25 from Brussels, who stopped by the launch from her traineeship in an EU office, the European Solidarity Corps seemed at least intriguing.

“It’s a wonderful idea because of youth unemployment. It can add one more skill on your CV,” she said. “I would look for something social.”

Source: ww.euractiv.com

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