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Σάββατο, Δεκεμβρίου 13, 2014

Boat protest against Canaries oil prospecting

LANZAROTE, Spain: Protesters plunged half-naked into the icy sea and unfurled banners on Saturday (Dec 13) to try to stop oil prospecting near Spain's Canary Islands, a major tourist destination.

Ten boats from the archipelago took protesters eight nautical miles from where Spanish firm Repsol is exploring with a view to possibly drilling off the islands in the Atlantic ocean.
Protesters warn the oil and gas project is a threat to the environment and the tourist industry on which the Canary Islands rely. They say drilling would raise the risk of an oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster that struck at a BP oil prospect in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The government says finding oil could create thousands of jobs and reduce Spain's dependency on energy imports. The country currently imports 80 per cent of its energy. The beaches on the archipelago off northwest Africa are a popular draw for tourists from Britain, France and elsewhere.

Opponents of Repsol's operations are furious at the Spanish government for authorising Repsol to probe below the sea bed 50 kilometres from the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

Environmentalists have branded it a threat to dolphins and other local fauna and flora. "I have been a boat owner for 10 years and what they are doing here pains me. I am sick of seeing the sea polluted and destroyed," said Samuel Rocio Garcia, 32, a protester who dived into the water.

On board one of the boats was the leader of the local government from the island of Lanzarote, Pedro San Gines Gutierrez. He said the protest was "a symbolic act of vigilance" to try to monitor the activities of the Rowan Renaissance, the ship Repsol is using to probe below the sea bed.

Spanish authorities last month temporarily impounded a boat of the environmental campaign group Greenpeace after it protested at the Repsol project in the same area. Spain said the crew had defied orders to leave a restricted zone.

On Nov 15, three Spanish navy boats rammed vessels in which Greenpeace activists were approaching the Rowan Renaissance, a video distributed by Greenpeace showed. An Italian protester fell in the water and was injured, Greenpeace said. It said its activists were protesting peacefully.

Τετάρτη, Δεκεμβρίου 03, 2014

Stephen Hawking: Artificial Intelligence could spell end of human race

World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC he believes future developments in artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to eradicate mankind.
The Cambridge professor, who relies on a form of artificial intelligence to communicate, said if technology could match human capabilities “it would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.

He also said that due to biological limitations, there would be no way humans could match the speed of development of technology.
Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete and would be superseded,” he said.
The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
Hawking suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neuron disease, and uses AI technology as part of a system which senses how he thinks and predicts which words he will use next.
His bleak forecast came in response to questions about updates to his AI communication systems.
His latest upgrade, developed by Intel Corporation over the past three years, will allow the professor to write up to 10 times faster and communicate more effectively with friends, family and students. 

“With the improvements made, I am now able to write much faster, and it means that I can continue to give lectures, write papers and books and, of course, speak with my family and friends more easily.”
“This new system is life changing for me, and I hope it will serve me well for the next 20 years,” he said. 

Other technology specialists do not share Hawking’s grim outlook. Rollo Carpenter, creator of Cleverbot, said he believes mankind will maintain control over technology.
“I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realized,” he said.
Carpenter’s software responds to stimulation from conversations with actual humans, and has the capability to learn from its previous interactions.
Cleverbot has scored highly in the ‘Turing test’, which is designed to examine how closely machines can replicate human behavior.
We cannot quite know what will happen if a machine exceeds our own intelligence, so we can't know if we'll be infinitely helped by it, or ignored by it and sidelined, or conceivably destroyed by it,” Carpenter added. 

Technology and a rise in the capabilities of AI are already affecting workplaces nationwide, as many employers opt to invest in a machine, rather than hiring people.
In November, a study from the University of Oxford suggested that a third of UK jobs could be replaced by machines over the next two decades.
Low-paid jobs featuring repetitive tasks are most likely to be superseded by technology, with clerical and support service jobs most at risk.
The study further found that jobs with a salary under £30,000 are almost five times more likely to be replaced than jobs over £100,000. 

Κυριακή, Οκτωβρίου 19, 2014

Egypt inks deal with 6 firms to dredge New Suez Canal

Egypt has signed two contracts with a consortium of six international firms for the dredging work of the New Suez Canal alongside the original one, head of the Suez Canal Authority Mohab Memish said on Saturday.

Memish announced the signing at a press conference attended by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, saying that they refer to the consortium as "the Challenge Coalition" due to the challenging dredging work they have to accomplish under a tight deadline.

"It is a very challenging project if you look at the timeline. We are looking at moving about 180 million cubic meters of soil in a time span of less than nine month operational time and we have one month to bring the equipment here to do that job," Bas van Bemmelen, area director of Dutch Boskalis dredging company, one of the six partners, told Xinhua Saturday.

The project was designed to be finished within three years, but Egyptian newly-elected President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ordered the New Suez Canal be done in one year sharp and be open for ship navigation in early August 2015.

"It is the hugest dredging work in the world and the new canal will be inaugurated on August 5, 2015," Memish said.

The new 72-km waterway project includes 35 km of dry digging and 37 km of expansion and deepening of the current canal, with a total cost of more than eight billion dollars. The national project also includes the digging of six new tunnels underneath the New Suez Canal that will be constructed simultaneously.

"We have finished 68 million cubic meters of dry digging so far and we will keep our promise to complete such a historical project on time," Memish added, noting that his authority will be in charge of dredging one of the six zones using six dredgers, while the international firms will do the other five using 30 dredgers. "The first batch of dredgers will arrive next week," he said.

Earlier in August, Sisi gave the go-ahead signal for digging the new 72-km canal. The new waterway is expected to help revive Egypt's ailing economy by increasing ship traffic revenues, luring huge foreign investments and creating thousands of job opportunities.

Source:Xinhua - globaltimes.cn

Κυριακή, Οκτωβρίου 05, 2014


(Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries)

" It has become clear over the past years that our seas and oceans can generate huge economic growth and create jobs, much needed in these times. That is why we have been working for the past five years on our Blue Growth strategy to foster sustainable blue economy. Ocean energy is part of this strategy. It is a very promising sector, capable to exploit an indigenous, predictable, safe source of clean energy.

Earlier this year, in April, we launched an Action plan on blue energy. Part of it is the creation of the Ocean Energy Forum, gathering all stakeholders to cooperate and elaborate the further development of the sector.

This Wednesday I was proud to take part in the very first high-level meeting of this Ocean Energy Forum. Together with EU Ministers and stakeholders we discussed the ways of overcoming the challenges of ocean energy but also the progress made.

I am convinced the time is now.

I told the stakeholders I met on Wednesday to “get ready”. We have set up a good basis for ocean energy, very much appreciated after the Ukrainian conflict. It is clear that renewable energy is the future the EU wants to invest in. There is an open door for blue energy to become an EU success story."
Maria Damanaki's blog  


Σάββατο, Σεπτεμβρίου 27, 2014


(Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries)
 - One of the paradoxes of our time is that, while half of our young people are unemployed in the EU, the blue industry has difficulties to find people with the appropriate skills. We know for example that there is a shortage of qualified workers for the growing sector of offshore wind industry.

Considering that the EU needs to be at the forefront of Blue innovation and should not risk being overtaken by competitors, we need to concretely address this skills gap.

But how? Well, by bridging the gap between the education sector and stakeholders of the labour market.

All stakeholders, industry, researchers, training institutes and universities should closely cooperate and map the skills needed by the sector. Like this, industry and academia can design together training programmes which would help better match the competences needed with the requirements of the blue labour market.

Blue economy features a wide range of professions, from shipbuilding to tourism, aquaculture and offshore energy, all of which require diverse qualifications and skills. This is why the EU is working towards addressing the skills gap in these sectors. It is part of the Communication which I tabled earlier in June in order to contribute to stimulating Blue innovation, while fostering growth and creating jobs.

Maria Damanaki's blog

Πέμπτη, Σεπτεμβρίου 25, 2014

Le parlement européen prolonge les droits d'émission de CO2 gratuits pour l'industrie

La commission de l'Environnement du Parlement européen a donné son feu vert mercredi à la liste des industries lourdes qui pourront bénéficier dans les prochaines années de droits d'émission de CO2 gratuits. 

En principe, les entreprises doivent acheter des droits pour le CO2 qu'elles émettent.

 La Commission européenne a toutefois rédigé une liste de secteurs qui peuvent bénéficier de dérogations parce qu'elles subiraient des désavantages concurrentiels sur le marché mondial et risqueraient dès lors de délocaliser leurs activités. 

La liste comprend notamment les secteurs de l'acier et du ciment. Une majorité de la commission parlementaire a soutenu la proposition de prolonger cette liste jusqu'en 2020.

 Les Verts et certains socialistes ont dénoncé le manque de transparence de ce document qui, selon eux, n'est pas fondé sur des données réalistes. 

Ils ont épinglé le prix du charbon qui sert de référence: il est établi à 30 euros la tonne alors qu'habituellement, la Commission estime qu'il ne dépassera pas 16,5 euros d'ici 2020. (Belga) 

Τετάρτη, Σεπτεμβρίου 24, 2014

Interview: how to charge firms for CO2 emissions without it costing jobs (EP)

Charging companies for CO2 emissions can be a great way of encouraging them to become cleaner, but also risks pushing them to move production to somewhere with lower environmental standards. The European Commission aims to prevent the practice known as carbon leakage by continuing to give some allowances away for free. Bas Eickhout proposed to block this decision, saying many industries can afford to pay for the allowances. The environment committee voted against his proposal on 24 September.

Some industrial sectors in the EU are given a substantial share of their CO2 emissions allowances for free, as it is feared they would otherwise relocate if they had to pay for them. The Commission has now prepared a list of sectors at risk of relocating on the assumption of a €30 price per allowance.
However, the market price today  is only €5 and some say that many of the sectors listed could actually afford paying the current market price or even more for allowances without putting jobs at risk in the EU.

We discussed the situation with Mr Eickhout.

What is wrong with the Commission proposal?

Sectors that are not at all exposed to the risk of carbon leakage are now receiving free allowances.

The Commission’s methodology to identify sectors eligible for the allocation of free allowances is based on a carbon price of €30 per allowance. This price is far too high and puts sectors on the list that do not belong there.

Meanwhile in an impact assessment that was not made public, the Commission uses a price of 16.5. Under this scenario, more sectors will have to buy allowances, member states will earn about €5 billion and several CO2-intensive sectors will have an incentive to innovate.

Is there a risk that some energy-intensive sectors, if removed from this list, might relocate their businesses to other regions?

No. A recent study, which was carried out for the Commission, even questions whether carbon leakage exists at all.

Moreover, the aforementioned impact assessment also concludes that some sectors can be safely removed from the list. The list should only contain the sectors that face unfair competition, whereas it currently the list contains 96% of all industries participating in ETS (Emissions Trading System).

How could the EU make companies pay for CO2 emissions while still preserving the jobs in the Union?

First of all, the revenues can be used to lower labour taxes, which will make it attractive for companies to hire more people. Secondly, companies will have to innovate to reduce their emissions, which in turn will create green jobs.

Πέμπτη, Μαΐου 01, 2014

Job rich recovery and undeclared work, the focus of the Employment Ministers Meeting in Athens

Ministers for Employment and Social Policy of the European Union had the opportunity to exchange views and best practices on Europe 2020 Strategy core issues, issues that concern each European citizen. The contribution of these issues to the goal of economic recovery with more jobs and quality jobs and stronger social cohesion is crucial.
On 30 April, at the morning plenary session, the President of the Council, Minister of Labour, Social Security and Welfare of Greece, Ioannis Vroutsis, highlighted that Europe has entered a path to recovery. However, the goal is to lay strong foundations for enhancing the recovery, with special attention to those mostly hit by the crisis.

Afterwards, the key findings from the meetings held on 29.04.2014 were presented. The first meeting with the Social Platform focused on the role of minimum income schemes in economic recovery. The issue of labour market reforms on the way to job rich recovery was discussed at the second meeting with the Social Partners.
  • Two parallel workshops took place under the general title: “The Employment and Social Dimension of the Europe 2020 Strategy: Lessons Learnt and Future Orientations”.
The Italian Minister of Labour and Welfare, Giuliano Poletti, chaired the first Workshop with the theme: “Labour Market Reforms on the Way to Job Rich Recovery. Combatting the long-term unemployment and increasing the participation in the labour market. The role of wage setting systems and reforms on Employment Protection Legislation”. The Greek Minister of Labour, Social Security and Welfare, Ioannis Vroutsis, chaired Workshop II, the theme of which is “Economic recovery and social policies: the role of minimum income schemes”.
The afternoon plenary session, chaired by Mr. Vroutsis, focused on the issue of undeclared work. Ministers exchanged views and experiences on the topic: “Towards quality jobs: measures to prevent undeclared work”.
Ministers for Employment and Social Policy of the European Union, participating at the meeting, welcomed the initiative of the Greek Presidency to include this issue in the agenda of the Informal EPSCO meeting. Combating undeclared work is one of the Priorities of the Greek Presidency in the field of employment and social policy. 
The Greek Minister underlined that the issues of quality jobs and tackling undeclared work are crucial, for achieving both sustainable recovery and the main objectives of Europe 2020 strategy. He added that facing up to the challenge of undeclared work demands both preventive and repressive actions. 
During the closing session, the President made the following remarks:
Minimum Income Schemes should be designed in a way to provide adequate protection, broad coverage and be characterised by administrative simplicity. Furthermore, schemes should be accompanied by proper activation and training measures as well as the provision of services. While these systems provide for a social shield, we cannot forget that they should operate temporarily as a mechanism to tackle poverty and that the focus of all relevant policies remains the successful labour market integration. The aim is to prevent beneficiaries from being trapped by these schemes and to help re integrate them into the labour market.
It is necessary to remain on the path of reforms so that labour market performances be improved. These reforms must balance the need for improvement in the labour market functioning and quality of work. In order to achieve that, cooperation with the social partners is essential as well as responsible social dialogue, thus contributing to the enhancing of the social dimension of the EMU. 

Τετάρτη, Απριλίου 02, 2014

Europe’s economic and financial outlook and its social impact, growth and banking sector issues on the agenda of the Informal ECOFIN meeting

The two-day informal meeting of the ECOFIN, as well as the 13. Joint ECOFIN / FEMIP Ministerial Meeting, organized by the Geek Presidency in Athens on 1-2 April had a full agenda and Ministers were able to exchange views on a number of key issues affecting Europe’s economy and financial situation.
In particular, Europe’s social problems and their implications for economic growth were discussed, based on a research and policy paper presented by Bruegel, which confirms the link between poverty and unemployment on the one hand and economic growth on the other. There was a fruitful discussion on how fiscal sustainability is negatively affected by social problems, as well as on concrete measures to be taken to address persistent unemployment and social insecurity, which constitute a major problem for the EU.

In conjunction with Central Bank Governors of Member States, Ministers discussed the economic outlook, growth prospects and financial stability in the EU. The discussions highlighted that the macro-economic situation is improving, but that complacency should be avoided. Sustainable growth, growth that tackles unemployment and social challenges will continue to depend on growth-friendly fiscal consolidation and structural reforms.
Furthermore, a very fruitful and constructive discussion and exchange of views took place based on the Commission Communication on long term financing of the economy (adopted on 27 March) and on the High-Level Experts Group (HLEG) Report on SME and Infrastructure financing of 11 December 2013. In this context, Ministers took stock of public and private initiatives at national level to improve access to capital markets, in light of the HLEG final recommendations and examined outstanding issues and public responses both at EU and national levels.
As far as the Preparation of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings and the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting on 10-11 April in Washington is concerned, the EU Terms of Reference were endorsed along with the International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC) Statement, which focuses on the economic situation and outlook, policy challenges to strengthening economic recovery in the European Union, progress in financial regulation, and specifically IMF policy issues.
On the issue of banking structural reform, Ministers had the opportunity to hear a comprehensive presentation by the Commission on its proposal on banking structural measures improving the resilience of EU credit institutions. This was the first opportunity for Ministers to listen to the Commission, as well as to the Chair of the High-level Expert Group on Bank Structural Reform, Erkki Liikanen. Before kick-starting the regular legislative work, the Presidency deemed it useful to have an exchange of information and views on this very innovative legislative proposal. A close examination of the legislative initiative will be starting under the Greek Presidency, with meetings planned at working party level, but the work will definitely go well beyond the current semester.
There was also an exchange of views about the state of play on the implementation of the Single Supervisory Mechanism, on the basis of an update by the Chair of the ECB's Supervisory Board, Ms Danièle Nouy. The ECB is now steering Phase II of the Asset Quality Review. This AQR exercise will be crucial to deliver a thorough assessment of the degree of soundness of our banking system, especially within the SSM. For that purpose, stress tests will be an essential complement to the AQR. The detailed methodology for the stress tests will be published only later this month.
All in all, there was a good exchange on the SSM implementation, and there was a strong interest in following-up on this exchange when we may take stock of further major developments later in the year.
Ministers had a sort of “stock-taking” exchange on the EU’s Banking Union and on the Single Resolution Mechanism in particular, mainly on the way forward following the agreement reached by the Greek Presidency on this key file.
Moreover, interesting and fruitful discussions took place at the 13th Joint ECOFIN / FEMIP Ministerial Meeting, co-chaired by ECOFIN President, Yannis Stournaras, and Werner Hoyer, President of the European Investment Bank, in presence of EIB Vice-President Philippe de Fontaine Vive. Discussions focused on the challenges and levers for sustainable growth and the new strategy of the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the Mediterranean: “Roadmap 2020”. Fostering growth and job creation, especially for young people, was a key aspect.
At the press conference, following the conclusion of the two days’ sessions, ECOFIN President Yannis Stournaras highlighted also recent provisional political agreements reached by the Greek Presidency on the Payments Account Directive (PAD) and on the Regulation on Key Information Documents - Packaged Retail and Insurance-based Investment Products (KID - PRIIPs):
“The agreement on Payments Account Directive (PAD) is an important milestone for the deepening of the internal market and the reinforcement of competition in the financial services to the benefit of consumers”, he said.
On the KID - PRIIPs agreement, Minister Stournaras noted that it enhances investor confidence and protection: “We expect that this new approach of consumer-friendly rules on standards for information about these products will contribute to restoring confidence of investors in the markets, which we consider essential for ensuring sustainable economic growth in the coming years”.

In his overall assessment of the Informal Eurogroup and ECOFIN Meetings in Athens, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras stated:
“I am very pleased. We had very interesting discussions on the economic and financial situation, as well as on the financing of the SMEs”, the backbone of the European economy.

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