Two years to full EU broadband coverage

BRUSSELS’ plans to ensure full broadband coverage throughout the EU by 2013 and universal high-speed internet access by 2020 moved a step closer this week following a vote by a high-level committee in the European Parliament.

BRUSSELS’ plans to ensure full broadband coverage throughout the EU by 2013 and universal high-speed internet access by 2020 moved a step closer this week following a vote by a high-level committee in the European Parliament.

MEP’s on the Industry Committee voted overwhelming in favour of the draft Radio Spectrum Policy Programme, a central plank of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe.

The programme envisages using Europe’s so-called “digital dividend” - the radio frequency bands that will be freed up when EU member states switch from analogue to digital television broadcasting - for new services like mobile internet. MEPs on the committee said the freed-up spectrum will allow for faster and faster broadband connections as time goes on. They urged the Commission to monitor technological developments to see if additional frequencies can be harnessed to make room for new users and services.

The vote is expected to be endorsed by the full European Parliament in June.

Food labels to include transfats

A TOP EU committee has bowed to big business this week by deciding not to publish nutritional information in its most visible form on food packaging. MEPs in Brussels voted against front-of-pack labelling for fats, sugar and salt in a move that’s been roundly condemned by consumer groups. If the decision is rubberstamped by the European Parliament in July, it will mean that only calorie information will be published on the front of packaging, with eight other nutritional categories hidden away on the back.

Labour MEP Nessa Childers, a member of the Environment and Health Committee that took the vote, says the decision contradicts all evidence of what works best for consumers when trying to choose healthier food. “People have the right to know what’s in the food they buy, and they need to be able to see that information easily and quickly so that they can make healthy choices,” she said.

However Ms Childers welcomed the decision to back mandatory labelling of transfats, the dangerous fatty substance already banned in some countries because of its links to diseases like Alzheimer’s and infertility. She also approved of the decision to extend country-of-origin labelling to include all fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy products, including when they are used as an ingredient in processed foods.

EU green energy fund

LOCAL city and county councils across Leinster are being urged to take advantage of a new €220 million fund for sustainable energy projects launched this week in Brussels.

The European Energy Efficiency Facility will enable local authorities to apply for the necessary funds to implement measures like energy-saving in public and private buildings, clean urban transport, street lighting and the greater availability of renewable energy. Initial funding of €146 was increased to €220 when investors backed the project, and it’s hoped the available funding could rise further as more investors come on board.

In the meantime, local government bodies and any public or private companies acting on their behalf are encouraged to apply for the green funding, which will be allocated over the next three years, ending in 2014.

Welcoming the announcement, Fianna Fáil MEP Liam Aylward said targeted and effective investment in energy efficiency and sustainability is pivotal to cutting CO2 emissions and reducing Europe’s dependence on imported energy.

“The creation of this facility will mean that energy efficiency initiatives will be supported from community level upwards, strengthening the overall greening efforts of our regions and increasing the potential for innovation and growth in the green sector,” he said.

Students offered chance to network with journalists

THIRD-level students in any discipline, but particularly in journalism, communication or media studies, are being given the opportunity to take part in a three-day briefing for working journalists in Brussels.

The trip is being offered as the prize in a new competition entitled “The EU Communication Challenge,” being run by the European Parliament and Commission Offices in Ireland. As the name suggests, participants are invited to submit a print article, or a report suitable for TV or radio broadcast, on an EU-related topic. The challenge is to present the piece in a “clear, accurate, understandable and interesting manner.”

Speaking at the competition launch in the European Parliament offices last week, RTÉ’s European Correspondent Paul Cunningham explained that depicting the EU can be challenging. “Explaining what goes on in Europe is difficult, not just because there are 27 member states, but because the language employed by its institutions is usually very dry and often legally focused. What’s happening in Brussels is fascinating, but you often have to wade through an ocean of documents to understand what’s going on,” he said.

However he added that new media like blogging and tweeting has opened up an entirely new opportunity for people to bypass traditional media outlets and carve out their own niche. “Media careers are being started from bedrooms by smart bloggers who are prepared to dig online for all those important links which others have overlooked.”

The closing date for the competition is June 15. Entries should be submitted to the European Parliament Office in Ireland, 43 Molesworth St, Dublin 2.