European Union
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Amnesty International reports its findings on "extraordinary rendition"

Amnesty International has accused the EU of failing to hold its members to account for their role in the detention of terrorism suspects by the CIA. It calls for European governments to ensure justice for suspects who were interrogated under the programme known as “extraordinary rendition”.

Countries including Poland have been accused of hosting secret CIA prisons. Several European nations have been accused of co-operating by hosting secret CIA prisons or allowing CIA flights carrying the prisoners to use airports on their way to other countries.

In its report Open Secret: Mounting Evidence of Europe's Complicity in Rendition and Secret Detention, published on 15 November, Amnesty presents what it says is the latest evidence of European countries' involvement in the CIA programmes.

"The EU has utterly failed to hold member states accountable for the abuses they've committed," said Nicholas Berger, director of Amnesty International's European institutions office. "These abuses occurred on European soil. We simply can't allow Europe to join the US in becoming an 'accountability-free' zone. The tide is slowly turning with some countries starting investigations, but much more needs to be done."

All the rendition victims interviewed by Amnesty International said they were tortured or otherwise ill-treated in custody, the report said. A number of individuals were subjected to enforced disappearance, including in secret CIA detention, and the whereabouts of some remained unknown, it added.

Based on its own investigations and interviews with former detainees, Amnesty said that eight European countries were implicated in some way in the controversial CIA programme, and in particular that secret prisons existed in Poland, Lithuania and Romania, while other countries, including Germany and Italy, facilitated the transfer of individuals.

Dick Marty, the former Council of Europe Rapporteur on Torture, said in October that there was now a “criminal standard of proof” to support long-held suspicions that the CIA had used Poland in a global network of detention sites for the most important al-Qaeda suspects. Poland and Lithuania had then already begun investigations into whether officials in each country had broken the law in assisting CIA activities, and a committee of the Lithuanian parliament has concluded that the CIA did indeed set up prisons in the country.

Amnesty has acknowledged that some European countries have been investigating their role. "There is progress in a number of European countries towards accountability. The momentum must not be lost. The too often repeated mantra of 'need for state secrecy in order to protect national security' must not be used as a screen for impunity," Nicholas Berger said.

Romania and Poland deny hosting detention facilities, but Polish prosecutors have been investigating since early in the year. Polish logs reveal that CIA flights landed at an isolated rural airstrip in Szymany, North-east Poland, between December 2002 and September 2003. Polish prosecutors are examining whether officials were involved in wrongdoing but say their investigation will take months to complete.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner on Human Rights, has called for officials who were complicit in ill treatment to be prosecuted.

The UK has also announced that it will hold an inquiry into the actions of its intelligence services in relation to alleged complicity in the torture of detainees held abroad.

November 2010    

Immigration to the UK from central Europe fell in 2009

Provisional data from the Office for National Statistics, released on 25 February 2010, suggested that in the year to June 2009 the number of immigrants entering the UK from Central and Eastern Europe fell by a third. There were 68,000 new arrivals from the eight central European states joining the EU in 2004 ("A8" countries), compared with 100,000 in the year to June 2008.

Overall, the figures showed there were still more people entering the UK annually than leaving. Just over half a million people entered the UK in the year up to June 2009, and about 370,000 left. This gave a net increase in the population of about 147,000.

Migration from A8 countries 2004-09

Other figures show that the number of people seeking British citizenship rose by almost a third in the last quarter of 2009 (October-December), reaching 51,315. Almost 45,000 people who had applied were granted a British passport over the same three months - and 204,000 people became citizens over the course of the year.

Monitoring permitted immigration rates is mainly done through the Worker Registration Scheme which counts economic migrants from the eight central and eastern European members of the EU. There were 28,495 applications under the scheme in the last quarter of the year - almost half the rate in the last three months of 2007.

The number of approved workers from Poland fell to 12,125, down from 16,970 in the previous year - but that was offset by a rise in applications from Latvian and Lithuanian workers.

Alternative data comes from the issue of National Insurance numbers - meaning people who are probably employed and paying tax. These showed that there were 186,000 NI numbers issued for central European workers in the year to June 2009.

The latest Migration Statistics Quarterly Report was released jointly by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Home Office.

The report presents a range of migration-related data. Provisional estimates from the International Passenger Survey suggested:

* There was little change in long-term immigration to the UK in the year to June 2009 (518,000 in the year to June 2009 compared with 531,000 in the year to June 2008)
* There was little change in long-term emigration from the UK in the year to June 2009 (371,000 in the year to June 2009 compared with 363,000 in the year to June 2008)
* Long-term immigration of A8 citizens declined in the year to June 2009 (68,000 in the year to June 2009 compared with 100,000 in the year to June 2008, a fall of 32%)
* Long-term emigration of A8 citizens increased in the year to June 2009 but the rise was not statistically significant (58,000 in the year to June 2009 compared with 43,000 in the year to June 2008)

The report can be downloaded as a PDF document:
Migration Statistics Quarterly Report no.4:  February 2010

February 2010    

EU proposes deeper ties to six former Soviet nations

On 3 December 2008 the European Union proposed deeper ties with six former Soviet nations, even suggesting that it could involve Belarus, sometimes described as Europe's last dictatorship. The proposed new "Eastern Partnership" with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus would be the most significant outreach to eastern European nations since the EU expanded in 2004 and 2007 to take in the Baltics and the central European countries.

The European Commission proposal sets out to tempt the six countries with offers of free trade deals, closer energy ties and easier access to visas. It proposes financial assistance over two years worth a total of €600 million.

The proposal will however disappoint Ukraine and Moldova because it offers no clear prospect of EU membership.

The new group is likely to meet in a Prague summit next spring. Outlining the proposal, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, denied suggestions that the EU was seeking to establish itself as an alternative power centre to Moscow. "The Cold War is over," he said, "and where there is no Cold War, there should be no spheres of interest."  Russia is less likely to see a free-trade zone on its doorstep as a threat, whereas it had reacted angrily to the expansion of NATO up to its borders.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EC external relations commissioner, said that the plan would bring eastern nations closer to the EU by aligning them with EU commercial standards.

For Ukraine, the favoured relationship on offer to Kiev will also be extended to Azerbaijan and Armenia. Barroso described Ukraine as being in the "avant-garde" of the Eastern Partnership.

Poland has been a strong advocate of binding Ukraine more closely to European structures. Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a Polish centre-right MEP and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, welcomed the move. "The recent crisis in the South Caucasus," he said, "has once again brought to evidence the need for a strong EU presence in its Eastern neighbourhood. For the sake of stability on our doorstep, we have decided to move beyond declarations, improve on our up-to-date performance and offer tangible benefits to our closest neighbours."

December 2008

UK immigration from central and eastern Europe slows

The number of workers from the eight central European EU states registering in the UK has dropped for the second quarter in a row. Home Office figures for the 2nd quarter of 2007 show 50 thousand applicants, mostly Polish, have registered to work in April, May and June 2007.

The cumulative total shows 683,000 applicants from nations which joined the EU after May 2004 - but the rate of arrivals has slowed in 2007.

Between April and June 2007 there were 50,000 applications to join the UK worker registration scheme compared with 52,000 in the first three months of 2007 and 65,000 in the last three months of 2006.

Some 66% of the applications have been Polish, a trend which has continued month-by-month in 2007. About 8% of the workers have dependants including children.

Nationality of approved applicants 2004-2007

*   In the period 1 May 2004 to 30 June 2007, the highest proportion of approved applicants were Polish (66% of the total), followed by Lithuanian (10%) and Slovak (10%). By Jan-June 2007 the percentage of Polish nationals was 71%.

*  Only 595 Slovenian applications have been approved since May 2004, and this is too few to register in the chart above.

Bulgaria and Romania

Only 9,565 people from Bulgaria and Romania applied to come to the UK between April and June 2007. Citizens of the two countries are governed by tighter rules rather than the free access to the UK that applied to the other countries. The figures show that between April and June 2007 3,990 were granted access to work for employers in the labour market – 21% lower than the 5,075 granted in the first quarter of the year January to March. In total 9,335 Bulgarian and Romanian nationals had their applications granted. This includes those registering as self-employed and self-sufficient. An additional 3,980 were issued cards for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme.

Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said: “It is too soon to evaluate the full impact of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU. Our indications are that the policy of restricting access to the UK’s labour market is helping to ensure that only those who have something to offer the UK are allowed to work here. …. The message is clear – while we welcome those who are here to work legally bringing their skills and expertise and benefiting our country, those who don’t have permission to work here won’t find a job.”

Link: The Bulgarian and Romanian Accession Statistics 2nd quarter 2007

Accession Monitoring Report for the A8 countries May 2004 to June 2007
Download as PDF document (39 pages)

August 2007

Economic outlook for central Europe suggests continuing high growth

In its new forecast for central, east and south-east Europe, published in early July, the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies has analysed the current economic situation in the region as well as development prospects for 2007 and 2008.   Brief country surveys are added for Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Slovenija, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey (as well as China). An annex contains indicators of competitiveness as well as revised projections of per capita GDP until 2015.

May 2007 marked the third anniversary of the accession of the eight countries of central Europe to the EU. The first three years of EU membership were a clear economic success. Over the period 2004-2006 GDP in the new member states increased by 5.3% on annual average, 2.2% faster than in the previous three years.

The new member states substantially increased their lead in terms of growth over the EU-15 and their catching-up process accelerated. The difference between pre- and post-accession periods was even more spectacular when looking at investments. Export growth rates nearly doubled after EU accession and trade balances in the new member states have improved. Stronger economic growth reduced unemployment and fostered employment.

Exports - new member states
Central European countries exports 2001-2006

The report forecast that during 2008 high GDP growth would continue in the new member states, except for Hungary. Nevertheless, in all but two countries (the Czech Republic and Hungary) growth rates are predicted to be somewhat lower than, or equal as, in the current year, because of constraints on further acceleration of the current rapid pace of growth. There were risks of overheating in Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic States. Only in Slovakia did very high growth seem to be sustainable, at least over the next two years. Export growth would be high, reflecting a favourable international environment, growing import demand of the main trading partners and continuing competitiveness of the new member states.

Wiener Institut für Internationale Wirtschaftsvergleiche
The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies

High Growth Continues, with Risks of Overheating on the Horizon
Research Report no.341, by Vladimir Gligorov, Sándor Richter et al, July 2007

July 2007

Migrants to UK find work but short of help with integration

Three reports published on 29 May by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examined the effects of migration into Britain. The first report examined the effects of migration on neighbourhood relationships in Manchester and London, whilst the other two focussed on the experiences of east European migrants in the UK.

The findings of the reports on migration from eastern Europe drew attention to weaknesses in local services. Less than half of the migrants in the survey had received practical information on arrival. This left many ignorant of the conditions attached to their immigration status, and lacking knowledge on how to access health care, or their legal rights at work.

Although usually successful in finding employment, many migrants’ experiences at work, which included working long hours or low pay, had a major impact on their lives beyond the workplace, restricting opportunities to improve their English language or to mix with British people.

The findings made a strong case for addressing:

* the most cost-effective means of ensuring that all new migrants have access to the practical information they need;
* the accommodation of migrants in the context of wider strategies on affordable housing;
* the barriers migrants can experience in accessing English classes;
* the relationship between migrants and other members of the public.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation Director Julia Unwin said:   “These three reports suggest that the government should value migrants as more than simply an economic resource and must continue to place importance on ensuring their integration into wider British society, even when their stay is expected to be temporary.”

The three reports are:
* Social cohesion in diverse communities by Maria Hudson, Joan Phillips, Kathryn Ray and Helen Barnes from the Policy Studies Institute;
* Migrants’ lives beyond the workplace: the experiences of Central and East Europeans in the UK by Sarah Spencer, Martin Ruhs, Bridget Anderson from the University of Oxford; and Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex
* East European immigration and community cohesion by Eugenia Markova and Richard Black from the University of Sussex.

The experiences of Central and East European migrants in the UK

This research explored the experiences beyond the workplace of migrants from east and central Europe working, with or without permission, in four low-wage occupations in the UK. The study was conducted before and after EU enlargement on 1 May 2004, drawing on a survey and interviews with over 600 migrants. It explores their access to information and to English classes, their accommodation, leisure time, social relationships and long-term intentions about staying in the UK.

Key points from the survey:

* Migrants’ experiences at work, including low pay and long working hours, had a significant impact on their lives beyond the workplace, showing that labour market and social experiences cannot be understood or addressed in isolation.
* A lack of practical information on arrival left many migrants ignorant of the conditions attached to their immigration status, how to access health care, where to obtain advice and their rights at work.
* English language proficiency was a key factor in whether migrants had received the information they needed, the extent of their social contact with British people and how they felt treated by them.
red_point.gif (889 bytes) One-third had taken English classes
red_point.gif (889 bytes) Those with poor English were the least likely to have done so.
Long working hours, accessibility and cost of classes were contributory factors to this.

East European immigration and community cohesion

This study profiled new immigrants from five eastern European countries - Albania, Bulgaria, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro and Ukraine. They were living in the London Boroughs of Harrow and Hackney and the City of Brighton & Hove, and the study involved questionnaire surveys with 388 new immigrants and 402 long-term residents in the same neighbourhoods.  This research explored the characteristics and experiences of new European immigrants to the UK since 1989, including their interaction with local long-term residents, and in relation to issues of community cohesion.

Key points from the study:

* Generally, the immigrants interviewed were in the UK to work and had been very successful in finding employment, but in low paid work with limited occupational mobility.
* When asked about ‘sense of belonging’, only a minority of immigrants felt they belonged to their neighbourhood, despite feeling they belonged to the UK as a whole. Most felt a sense of belonging to both the UK and their home country.
* Immigrants’ sense of belonging to the neighbourhood was positively affected by:
red_point.gif (889 bytes) better housing status;
red_point.gif (889 bytes) length of time in the UK;
red_point.gif (889 bytes) plans to stay in the UK;
red_point.gif (889 bytes) having their children living with them.

The three reports can be downloaded as PDF documents:

* Social cohesion in diverse communities
Maria Hudson, Joan Phillips, Kathryn Ray and Helen Barnes (Policy Studies Institute)
* Migrants’ lives beyond the workplace: the experiences of Central and East Europeans in the UK
Sarah Spencer, Martin Ruhs, Bridget Anderson (University of Oxford) and Ben Rogaly (University of Sussex)
* East European immigration and community cohesion
Eugenia Markova and Richard Black (University of Sussex)

May 2007    

2004 Accession states unlikely to enter Schengen zone in 2007

Plans to expand the Schengen zone to include the ten states which joined the EU two years ago will definitely not be fulfilled in 2007. A spokesman for the European Commission confirmed the news in Brussels on 11 September, saying that technical difficulties with establishing a central database are to blame for the delay. The Schengen Information System II will store biometric data, including digital files and finger prints, but the database is experiencing difficulties that have held up its implementation. EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the issue at their October meeting. The EU Commission now expects that borders should be opened to the newer members in October 2008 or later - not October 2007 as originally planned. The newcomers have been warned to expect a delay of a year or more.

Work on a new police database has fallen behind schedule to such an extent that meeting the original deadline is practically impossible. The base, which stores information on stolen vehicles and wanted persons, is vital for the expansion of the Schengen zone and, although the newcomers have criticised the delay, EU officials say nothing can be done about it.

Radek Khol from the Institute for International Relations said the repercussions would be psychological as well as practical. "This is the practical manifestation of one of the fundamental EU freedoms i.e. the freedom of movement of people that the EU had promised all the newcomers. So for them it is an indication that they are not yet full members of the EU because in practical life there are still police controls at the borders. "

Similarly, businesses would be affected by the postponement. Their goods carriers would still have to queue up at state borders while knowing that between France and Germany or Belgium there were no internal borders or delays carrying goods across these borders.

Two possible alternative solutions were still on the table - integrating the 10 newcomers into the old database or having two central data-bases running in parallel. Both these options have been described as time consuming and expensive - and diplomats in Brussels have indicated they are unlikely to be implemented.

Map of present Schengen area The Schengen border-free area currently consists of the 15 pre-2004 countries of the EU, with the addition of Norway and Iceland, but Britain and Ireland are not members of the zone.

Visegrad states want no delays in joining Schengen zone

Four of the 2004 EU accession states - the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - said on 5 September that they wanted to enter the Schengen borderless zone according to an agreed schedule next year. This was despite calls from Brussels to postpone the move. All four member states had agreed to work together to try and maintain the original date - October 2007 - or at least to negotiate in a way as to ensure that blame for any delay does not fall on the four countries. EU diplomats have called for a postponement because of delays in building a new police database. The four EU newcomers meet for regular sessions within the Visegrad Group alliance to debate regional issues and EU related matters.

September 2006    

EU summit sets date for Schengen enlargement  (December 2006)

Statistics released on central European migrant workers in the UK

Figures released by the UK Home Office on 22 August showed that 447,095 people from the mainly central European 2004 EU accession states had applied to work in the UK under the Worker Registration Scheme. 427,095 of them were issued with Worker Registration certificates and cards.  The overall figure would be larger if self-employed workers could be counted accurately. The data covers the 2 years up to June 2006.

Those who properly registered to work brought with them 36,000 dependents - spouses and children - though some spouses and teenagers could also be workers. Some 27,000 child benefit applications were approved.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty said the migrants were helping the UK economy, but as the figures were considerably higher than original estimates for migrant workers there was concern about potential overloading of public services in some areas.  The Home Office said, however, that they were "making few demands on our welfare system".

The great majority of migrant workers are aged 18-34 (82%).  56% work in factories. Well over half of them were Polish (62%), with Lithuanians (12%) and Slovaks (10%) the next largest national groups.

Stories of Polish plumbers and nurses taking over gaps in the UK market could not be sustained by the figures. Of all migrant workers in this survey, plumbers, heating and ventilating engineers made up less than a twentieth of one percent. Combining nurses with nursing auxiliaries and assistants made a proportion about one-eighth of 1 percent. Playgroup leaders, nursery nurses and assistants were a similar proportion. Of all registered workers about 5% were in health and medical jobs.

occupations.GIF (12847 bytes)
Home Office: from Final Accession Monitoring report (link below)

The leading areas for all central European migrant workers were in less skilled jobs: working in factories (20%), warehouses or packing (11%), kitchen, catering, cleaning and domestic work (10%). By contrast, a substantial proportion were in administrative, management or business services (32%).

Liberal Democrat spokesman Ed Davey said that despite difficulties migrants had brought many positive benefits. "Jobs that weren't being done are now being done, productivity improvements, and the skills gap in certain sectors being met." But the former Labour minister Frank Field thought the number of migrants was unmanageable and made it increasingly difficult for local people to get jobs.

The south-east of England found places for just 7% of migrant workers.

These PDF documents can be downloaded:

Final Accession Monitoring Report
  (22 August 2006)

The impact of free movement of workers from central and eastern Europe

on the UK labour market: early evidence

Department for Work and Pensions, Working Paper No 18 (2005)

August 2006    

Employment restrictions lifted by four more EU countries

Two years after EU enlargement, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain have joined the UK, Ireland and Sweden in lifting employment restrictions on workers from the eight new member states from central Europe.

But the pattern of migration over the past two years indicates that these opportunities will only be taken up in significant numbers by workers from a few of the central European countries.

Since they lifted restrictions, the UK and Ireland have provided employment for just over 500,000 citizens from the eight central European countries which joined the EU in May 2004.

Based on statistics of registered workers, British and Irish figures show the same pattern when it comes to the national origins of these migrant workers. 300,000 workers - 60% of the total – came from Poland. This is hardly surprising since Poland has by far the largest population. More surprising is the large proportion coming from Lithuania and Latvia, two countries with very small populations. Between them they account for about 25% of the total (around 110,000 workers). Workers from the third Baltic state, Estonia, hardly figure in the statistics - under 2% of the overall figures.

Similarly, few have come from Slovenija, and only a relatively small number from Hungary or from the Czech Republic.

18% unemployment in Poland is one of the highest in the EU, and thus a substantial incentive for Polish workers to seek jobs abroad. Last year a British diplomat showed that the UK had created more jobs for Poles since May 2004 than Poland itself. There have traditionally been large numbers of Poles living in the UK, so it has been a natural destination for Poles looking for employment.

In the case of Ireland, which previously had few Polish residents, it is the boom in its economy that has attracted the large numbers of Poles arriving in recent years.

EU policy document –  Free Movement of Workers and the Principle of Equal Treatment

May 2006    

Young migrant workers in UK have their own magazine

Since European Union enlargement two years ago, hundreds of thousands of young people from the new, mostly central European member states have come to the United Kingdom and Ireland in search of the opportunity of work. A free weekly magazine called Fusion, directly aimed at such young immigrants, was launched in London earlier this year. Its editor Klara Smolova is Czech. She explained the thinking behind it.

"The aim of Fusion is to cater to people from central and eastern European countries, mainly those that entered the European Union in May 2004, basically to give them all the information they need for life in London and the UK in general. … They're looking for basic information, and for information about their community, about where to go to have fun, where to eat, good tips, travel and stuff like this."

Most of the magazine is in English. One section is translated into all of the eight languages, is a section called First Aid, which gives very essential information about how to open a bank account, how to get insured, how to find a job. An unofficial estimate is that there are about half a million central Europeans in London now. The biggest community is of Polish people, about 58%.

"According to the statistics from the workers registration scheme," Klara Smolová explained, "when they come here they mostly engage in administration and business management, and then hospitality and catering. And in third place is agriculture, which is rather seasonal work. But I've also met a lot of people that are studying or want to advance their career."

It might seem that with the Poles the biggest group of central Europeans in London, that might influence the content of Fusion magazine, but Klara Smolová denied this. "We are trying to be very equal and offer information for everybody, and treat all the nations equally."

Fusion magazine has an on-line version

March 2006


European Year of Workers’ Mobility

The year 2006 has been officially designated by the European Commission as European Year of Workers’ Mobility (EYWM). The campaign was launched in February 2006 at a major conference in Brussels entitled: “Workers’ Mobility: a right, an option, an opportunity?”

This European Year is the first of its kind to pair the issues of employment and mobility, aiming to help Europeans learn more easily about working across borders and changing jobs.

One of the major EYWM events in 2006 will be the first European-wide Job Fair – simultaneous job fairs taking place in more than 50 European cities on 29-30 September. Throughout 2006, public authorities, social partners, business, academia and citizens at large have been invited to develop new initiatives designed to improve the management of skills and adaptability of European workers. The EYWM will be a step towards more and better jobs and the creation of a true European labour market. Around 4 million euros will be dedicated to pilot projects and activities to raise mobility awareness. A new web portal on job vacancies across Europe will be launched during 2006. Work will continue on improving the portability of pension rights, and on implementation of the European Health Insurance Card.

Why a European Year of Workers’ Mobility ?

There are currently few reliable statistics on mobility, but it seems that mobility rates in the EU remain relatively low, both in terms of occupational and geographical mobility.

In terms of occupational mobility, the number of workers in the EU who have changed jobs over the past year has rarely exceeded 10%. There is a comparison with the USA - American workers stay an average of around 6.7 years in the same job. In Europe the average duration of employment is 10.6 years.

On the question of geographical mobility, recent studies show that only around 2% of the EU-25 working age population live in a different EU state from their country of origin. Although cross-border commuting between EU states has been steadily increasing over recent years, it still remains quite low – Belgium has the highest rate, with 1.7% of its working residents working in neighbouring countries.

Click for more about the European Year of Workers’ Mobility

February 2006

Flying swans picture UK presidency of EU

Twelve swans in an arrowhead formation, the leading bird soaring high into the air on its strong wings - this is the chosen logo for the UK Presidency of the European Union, which began its 6 month stint on 1 July. "The idea is a metaphor for leadership, teamwork and efficiency, which is particularly appropriate for the EU, given the system of rotating leadership," explained Kate Thomson of the European Secretariat of the UK Cabinet Office .

Austrian newspaper Der Standard extended the explanation: "Migrating birds fly in a V formation. This is highly efficient, because all the birds in the formation, except for the leader, are in the slipstream of another bird. Periodically the leading bird drops back and another bird moves up to take its place."

The designers of the swan logo wanted to avoid "the usual clichés" especially stars borrowed from the EU flag. The last UK logo, for its 1998 presidency, was an arrangement of children's drawings of stars, unkindly compared by some to squashed pizzas.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds thought the logo was "very appropriate" because migrating birds, such as the Bewick's swan, united Europe. One of the concerns to be tackled in the UK's EU and G8 presidencies, it also pointed out, was climate change, which could potentially prevent Whooper and Bewick's swans wintering in this country.

July 2005    

Sir Stephen Wall on the British Presidency

Mixed feelings about future enlargement of European Union

Olli Rehn, the European Commissioner handling future accession to the EU, refers to the current crisis in confidence as "Enlargement Blues" but he still believes there will be further expansion.

But it is clear that many citizens among the 450 million people in the present 25 states think the EU is already too large. The "No" votes in France and the Netherlands on approval of the new EU constitution appear to be partly due to hostility to enlargement. In the Netherlands research by the Maurice de Hond institute found that, among Dutch "No" voters, 40% were motivated by opposition to enlargement.

France's CSA opinion poll found that for 14% of all French voters it was the possible entry of Turkey that was the most important issue in the referendum. They were worried that the constitution would pave the way for Turkey to become the first Muslim nation inside the EU.

The present position in countries which may join the EU

Romania and Bulgaria have signed treaties with the EU to join in 2007 or 2008. There is still a risk that one or both could be failed over corruption or other weaknesses, and their accession could therefore be delayed for at least a year.

It was agreed in October 2005 that Turkey could start initial accession talks.

The resumption of talks with Croatia leading towards full membership were approved in October 2005.  This has been offered subject to more active co-operation with the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.   But if it does not promptly hand over indicted former army general Ante Gotovina, Croatia could quickly become a casualty of "enlargement blues".

Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia and Serbia & Montenegro expect to join eventually, but are not ready to start accession talks.

In eastern Europe Georgia, Moldova and the Ukraine hope to be accepted for the membership process, but no formal candidature has been established.

There has also been speculation that more of the Mediterranean littoral, including North African states such as Morocco and Algeria, may be long-term candidates for membership.

Internal politics in Germany and France have led to contradictory attitudes to eastwards expansion, mainly from the fear of cheap labour undermining social standards.  In Britain, Scandinavia and the central European countries there remains confidence in the value of further expansion.  Positive policies see advantages in including Muslim countries and encouraging economic and political stability.

June 2005    

Internet portal for young people in Europe

A recent addition to the Europa internet site is the European Youth Portal - an initiative of the European Commission. Its aim is to give young people 15-25 quick and easy access to relevant information on European topics relevant to young people. The aim is to increase their participation in public life and active citizenship. The initiative was first suggested in a European Commission White Paper  A new impetus for European Youth.

There is a discussion forum on the future of Europe moderated by the European Youth Forum. The main content is translated into 22 languages - an ambitious undertaking but not yet complete. Basic information (such as the homepage, pages with a European dimension, introductory pages on themes) will be offered in all official EU languages. More specific information on some topics and on particular countries will be offered in the official language of the country and in English.

Internet usage in the EU

In the 25 countries of the EU during the first quarter of 2004, 47% of individuals aged from 16 to 74 used the internet. More men used the internet than women, and more young people than old. At the beginning of 2004, 89% of businesses were using the internet, and over half had broadband connection.

Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Communities, recently released the results of its survey of internet usage by individuals and enterprises for the 25 EU member states, plus Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Norway and Iceland. As well as internet use, the report covers broadband connections, e-commerce and e-government.

In the first quarter of 2004, the highest levels of internet usage by individuals in the EU25 were recorded in Sweden (82%), Denmark (76%) and Finland (70%). The lowest levels were registered in Greece (20%), Hungary (28%), Lithuania, Poland and Portugal (all 29%). On average the proportion of men using the internet (51%) was higher than for women (43%). Only in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland was usage more or less the same for men and women.

Internet usage was highest amongst those aged 16 to 24, and decreased with age. Across the EU25, 76% of men and 74% of women used the internet during the research period. Amongst those aged 25 to 54 it was just over half (men: 57%, women: 51%), and for those aged 55 to 74 it was a quarter or less (men: 26%, women: 16%).

At the beginning of 2004, the highest levels of internet usage by businesses were recorded in Denmark and Finland (both 97%), and in Belgium and Sweden (both 96%). The lowest levels were registered in Portugal (77%), Hungary (78%), Lithuania (81%), and Cyprus (82%).

Broadband offers a much faster connection to the internet, and offers the potential of changing the way the internet is used. Among the Member States for which data is available, the proportion of households with a broadband connection in 2004 was highest in Denmark (36%), Finland (21%) and Estonia (20%). Across the EU25, 53% of businesses had a broadband connection. The highest levels were recorded in Denmark (80%), Sweden (75%) and Spain (72%).

May 2005    

People trafficking from south-eastern Europe worsens

Human trafficking for the sex trade and cheap labour is on the increase in Europe but is less visible because it is going deeper underground, officials of the OSCE and U.N. agencies said at the end of March. The problem -- particularly involving men, women and children from south-eastern Europe -- was made worse by governments in western Europe who treated people trafficked as criminals rather than victims of a global criminal business.

"The problem is not diminishing... but is going more underground," Helga Konrad of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on 31 March. "For example, you no longer find the women victims only in brothels but also in private apartments and clubs."

A joint report with the OSCE by the U.N. children's agency UNICEF and the refugee organisation UNHCR said that to combat the lucrative business all European countries needed to adopt more flexible policies. These would have to adapt to the "changing nature of trafficking" and be combined with more research into what fuels the business. That would include the demand in Western Europe for cheap, unprotected labour and services.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Mehr Khan Williams said that adults and children who had been trafficked should be treated as victims, not illegal immigrants. Sending them back to their countries of origin was ineffective.

The 337-page report Trafficking in human beings in south eastern Europe covered Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania and Serbia & Montenegro.

The full 2004 report can be downloaded as a PDF file

April 2005    


EU sets out the facts behind the media fantasies

The Press and Communication directorate of the European Commission has begun a counter-offensive against the British media. In mid January its website included a list some of the distortions of EU policy, and gives detailed information on the real facts behind some of the bizarre stories which leave newspaper readers with a "picture of the EU as a bunch of mad eurocrats". While the website is aimed at all European media, nearly 90% of the stories come from Britain. Most British national papers are criticised - with The Sun and the Daily Mail in the lead - as well as the BBC website. Even The Times has 6 articles included. "The British press is quite prepared to report fantasy, and they have a habit of deliberately distorting stuff. But many of them are very funny, and we have a laugh ourselves. We do have a sense of humour," a Commission official said.

The Commission hopes that targeting the British press - the most influential in Europe - will stop stories from spreading. "Mostly, they start in the British press and spread. The story about pigs needing toys started in Britain and went to Germany and the Czech Republic," the official said.

The website, called Get Your Facts Straight, had been intended for journalists, but Margot Wallstrom, the new Communications Commissioner, whose job is to improve the image of the EU, wants the public to see it too. With the European constitution soon being put to a referendum in 11 member states, the Commission has made a priority of improving public confidence in the EU. "It is useful to remind people of the truth. Our purpose is to ensure there is an informed debate, and this is part of that."

The British Government spokesman in Brussels commented: "It's a good thing if stories are rebutted, but it would be better if journalists reported them right in the first place."

Some of the stories rebutted by the EU did not actually originate with the Commission, but with other European bodies. Others seem to be the result of over-zealous interpretation by local authorities or trade associations. Sometimes issues are represented as compulsory, whereas they are actually voluntary.

See some examples - with links to the EU comment

March 2005    


Central European workers have contributed £240 million to UK economy

Home Office minister Des Browne said on 22 February that workers from central Europe had contributed £240m to the UK economy up to the end of December 2004. More than half of all these workers were from Poland, with Lithuanians and Latvians being the next biggest groups. Most worked in hospitality, catering, agriculture or other service sectors.

More than 130,000 people from central Europe have registered to work in the UK since their countries joined the EU last May, Home Office figures released on 22 February showed. The worker registration scheme was set up by the Government to monitor the impact of EU accession on the UK labour market and restrict access to benefits. The total number of applicants since May 2004 totalled around 130,000. The numbers registering declined in the last quarter of 2004. There were 40,000 new workers registering in October-December compared with 59,000 during May-July.

nationalities.gif (5084 bytes) Around 40% of migrant workers from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenija, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland were already in the UK before EU accession in May 2004. "People from the accession states already here have legitimised their position by registering with the scheme and are now contributing to our economy, paying tax and National Insurance," Des Browne said. "Workers now available from the new EU countries mean that we can phase out over time our current quota-based schemes in the agriculture, food processing and hospitality sectors."

Des Browne emphasised that the figures showed how strong and vibrant the UK economy was. "We are not and cannot be 'fortress Britain' if our businesses are to grow and prosper and our economy to thrive. We are a strong player in an increasingly international marketplace, and today's figures show that we are successfully attracting the workers that Britain needs."

At the end of 2004 central European workers made up just under 0.4% of all workers in the UK. They can only claim unemployment benefit after a year's continuous employment. Fewer than 800 were receiving benefits with 97% having claims refused immediately, according to the report. Many workers were returning home after brief periods of temporary work or unsuccessful attempts to find work, the report added. The Government's five year strategy on migration set out plans to bring in a points-based system for people applying to work in the UK. Points would be adjusted to respond to changes in the labour market, giving the system flexibility and control.

The full Accession Monitoring Report, May - December 2004 can be downloaded as a PDF file

February 2005    

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