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Romania racing to become the second EU country to launch its own satellite

Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent



The first Romanian satellite will be launched from the Black Sea area using a rocket designed and manufactured exclusively in the country, writes Cristian Gherasim.

With the June launch, Romania will put into orbit its first space satellite, becoming thus the second country in the EU after France to have done so.

According to the Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association (ARCA), a private endeavor which focuses on building rockets and high altitude balloons, the launch is scheduled for early June.

By getting involved in launching Romania’s first satellite the Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association aims to win the € 10 million prize offered by the European Commission. The award aims to stimulate the European aerospace industry to build satellite launch missiles, with a low impact on the environment and a low launch cost.

On ARCA Facebook page it’s being mentioned that the company has previously blasted into the higher layers of the atmosphere two stratospheric rockets, four large-scale stratospheric balloons, including a cluster-type balloon, and received two government contracts with the Romanian Government and a contract with the European Space Agency. It is also in the process of devising EcoRocket - a semi-reusable, steam-powered missile.

In the meantime, the volume of information needed to be gathered in order to prepare for the June space launch is staggering. There are very demanding requirements to be met in order for everything to go according to plan.

The people involved in every detail of this endeavor have to first go through a very rigorous training program, both from a theoretical but also practical standpoint. The technicalities involved are numerous and so many things can go wrong.

The company handling the launch said in a statement: “ARCA launch missions that include naval operations are the most complex type of mission we conduct. They require an exceptional effort to coordinate operations, in close cooperation with actively involved naval and military and civil aviation units. The security measures of the launch are exceptional, and we are proud of a 100% safety percentage."


Bucharest prepares for Solar Decathlon Competition in 2023

Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent



Romania’s capital will preparing for the Solar Decathlon Competition which is an international competition for solar home designs, writes Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent.

The event was announced following a press conferences held by EFdeN and the Energy Endeavour Foundation, a recent winner of the European Solar Prize, stewarding student research competitions & awareness activities in the fields of social, economic & environmental resource-responsibility.

The Solar Decathlon Europe (SDE) is an international student-based Competition that challenges collegiate Teams to design, build and operate highly efficient and innovative buildings powered by renewable energy.The winner of the Competition is the Team able to score the most points in 10 contests.

Solar Decathlon is the most important sustainable housing competition in the world and first took place in 2002 in the United States. The Minister of Environment, Waters and Forests, Barna Tánczos, announced that the Government will partially provide financial support for the organization of the competition in Bucharest, and next week will approve a formal Memorandum in the Government in this regard, after which a Government Decision will be drafted.

The Minister of Environment likened this competition to the World or European environment championship.

“We will succeed in organizing flawlessly such an international competitions in Romania. It's like having a World or European Championship taking place in your country. Certainly we are much more receptive sometimes to the European Football Championship, because we are used to being in the stands, to support the national team. But this national team made up of young researchers, students with vision and the will to do something as important as any other national team, managed to bring such a competition to Romania. The Ministry of Environment will support this team and this initiative, together with our colleagues from the other ministries ", the minister declared during the press conference.

Until 2023, when the competition is scheduled to take place in Bucharest, Romania will be present at the 2021 edition of the international competition, which will take place in Germany, in Wuppertal.

At the previous edition of the “Solar Decathlon”, which took place in November 2018, in Dubai, EFdeN, the NGO which will be representing Romania during the upcoming edition, designed the EFdeN Signature solar house project, carried out by a team made up mainly of students. The house has a usable area of 75 square meters and consists of dining, living room, a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen. The building is 100% electric, and the energy is produced with the help of photovoltaic panels, which are arranged on the roof of the house. The price of the house amounts to 300,000 euros.

Gabriel Paun, environmental expert, told EU Reporter that the Solar Decathlon Competition brings forward some of the best environment friendly designs and some most innovative projects ever conceived.

“I would bet that the winner will come up with a house design that is equally efficient from the energy point of view and minimalist in terms of using resources/materials. It should also be a very beautiful, comfortable, plastic free and vegan”, Paun told EU Reporter.

Paun said that there are some many tools and methods to develop an environment friendly home.

“New findings show that even plastic can be made out of plants. Hemp can be used as an isolation material”, he told EU Reporter.

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Animal welfare

130.000 sheep from Romania expected to die due to the Suez bottleneck

Cristian Gherasim, Bucharest correspondent



You might think the Suez crisis is over, but not for the hundreds of thousands of live animals which are still trapped in the Suez crossing, animals that are now running out of food and water. There are a total of over 200.000 live animals coming from Colombia, Spain, and more than half from Romania which have not yet reached destination. They are very likely to die as feed and water are quickly running out in the overcrowded ships that take them to their slaughter - writes Cristian Gherasim

The maritime blockade generated by the Ever Given might have passed but there are still a great many ships caring live animals over thousands of kilometers that haven’t even crossed the Suez despite expectations that they might have been given priority due to the fragile cargo and the fact that they are days behind schedule.

Animal welfare NGOs explained that even though the EU legislation demands transporters to load 25 percent more food than planned for their trip in case of delays, that rarely happens.

Animal rights NGOs say that even with the 25 percent buffer, these ships would now run out of animal feed long before they arrive in port.

For example, ships that left Romania on 16 March was scheduled to arrive in Jordan on 23 March, but instead it would now reach port on 1 April at the earliest. That is a nine-day delay. Even if the ship had the required 25 percent additional animal feed, it would only have lasted for 1.5 days

Some of the 11 ships full to the brim that left Romania carrying 130.000 live animals to Persian Gulf states have ran out of food and water even before the Ever Given was dislodged. Romania authorities said in a press release that they have been informed that priority will be given to this ships but nothing of that sort happened, said NGOs.

It is very likely that we will never know the magnitude of the worst maritime animal welfare disaster in history, as transporters regularly throw dead animals overboard to hide the evidence. More so, Romania would not release that information either, because it would not look good and authorities know that it would lead to investigations.

Live animals are slowly baked alive in the scorching heat from those confined metal containers.

Repeated investigations showed animals exported to Gulf countries dying from the high temperatures, being unloaded violently off ships, squeezed into car trunks, and slaughtered by unskilled butchers

Romania exports a great deal of live animals despite the appalling conditions. It has been singled out by the European Commission for its bad practices regarding live-animal exports. Only last year more than 14,000 sheep drowned when a cargo vessel capsized off the Black Sea coast. A year before the EU commissioner for food safety called for live exports to be suspended due to the heat. Romania doubled then their exports.

Live animal exports are not only cruel but also detrimental to the economy. Farmers lacking local meat processing facilities say that they are losing money having to ship their livestock overseas. Live animals are being sold 10 times cheaper than if the meat were to be processed in the country and then exported.

Live animal exports from Romania remains unabated even during the hot summer months despite the repeated warnings from Brussels, despite the fact countries such as Australia and New Zeeland put a stop to that, and despite this being an economical nonsense. Experts and studies show that processed and refrigerated meat would be more beneficial, bring economic advantages and higher returns

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EU anti-racist policy should align with the EU Roma inclusion policy

Guest contributor



The first EU Anti-racism summit is taking place today (19 March). It is a new EU platform that is going to unite and amplify the voice of racial justice movements in Europe, including the Roma rights movement, writes Marek Szilvasi, Team Manager with the Public Health Program of the Open Society Foundations.

This is welcome move, however, the EU Anti-Racist Action Plan contains only one reference to environmental justice and one to climate chance. This, I believe, is inadequate for our times and we should address it. The EU anti-racist policy should align with the EU Roma inclusion policy and we must tackle environmental racism.

I remember the Mayor of Prašník, Emil Škodáček, in a small town in Slovakia, while addressing a journalist on why the municipality assembly would not approve the extension of public water supply to their neighbourhood, said, “because Roma would then reproduce more” and “there would be twice as many of them”. 

Shocked, I remember walking along a path through the forest and a meandering local creek as the local Roma took me  to their only source of water  – a stream spitting out of a metal pipe on the ground. The place is known among local residents as a "gypsy well”. I could, immediately see that it was a health hazard. 

The Roma of Prašník took action. They mobilized and filed a court case against the municipality and are now negotiating settlement conditions. Even though the rights to water and sanitation are rights recognised by the UN, European Roma are being left to live in unsafe environments, detrimental to their health and wellbeing. According to the European Commission, some 30% of Roma in nine EU Member States with the largest Roma populations still live without water within their dwellings, 36% without a toilet, shower, or bathroom. 

In October 2020, the European Commission published the EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion, and participation. While the new document reaffirms the central role of structural discrimination in four priority policy areas of housing, education, health, and employment, it also introduces a new priority of environmental justice. This is the first time that a major EU policy document recognizes environmental justice as an important area of intervention. 

The new strategy documents introduce environmental discrimination as “long neglected reality […], which saw marginalised communities more vulnerable to contamination and other associated health issues.” The Commission urges the national governments to tackle environmental discrimination against Roma in access to water, adequate sanitation, waste collection and tackle the health impact of exposure to pollution, contamination and spatial segregation. The Commission has also mandated the FRA to collect brand new indicators of “Fighting environmental deprivation, promoting environmental justice”. 

This happened as a rest of Roma rights advocates having built the case for this major policy opening over the past two years. It was featured in the Roma inclusion statements of commissioners and MEPs. I would like to highlight that it was due to the paramount work the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and the European Roma Grassroots Organizations Network (ERGO), the OSF grantees, the report became the main reference on environmental justice in Brussels. The report, based on the entries in the Atlas of Environmental Justice, is the first research report and the very first Europe-wide initiative on the environmental racism endured by Roma. 

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) has also pointed out that there are disparities in access to essential services like safe drinking water and sanitation and in exposure to environmental pollution along ethnic lines in Europe. 

We have coma a long way from June, 2020, when European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, responsible for "promoting our European Way of Life", claimed that we do not have “issues now in Europe that blatantly pertain to police brutality or issues of race transcending into our systems”. He said, “Europe as a whole has been doing better than the United States in issues of race, also because we have better systems for social inclusion, protection, universal health care”, adding that because of the “European tradition for protecting minorities, we have less issues than they have in the States". 

The disproportionate exposure to toxic environments, absence of fundamental public infrastructure, and repressive and prejudicial measures in their Roma communities faced during COVID19, reveal how incorrect the Commissioner’s statement was. 

Environmental racism contributes to health inequities endured by Roma. With restricted access to essential infrastructure and services, it is near impossible to adhere to public health measures. Too often, blame is placed on Roma individuals for making wrong “lifestyle” choices, and too often oppressed racial and ethnic groups are seen responsible for their own poor health outcomes. We should instead focus on structural deficiencies and institutional corruption that produce and maintain health inequities. 

The situation might be changing though. On September 18, 2020, in her State of the Union address, the European Commission President Van der Leyen introduced 'A new Action Plan to Turn the Tide in the Fight against Racism'. She emphasized: "Now is the moment to make change. To build a truly anti-racist Union”. 

The new Roma Framework has been described as a first concrete contribution to the implementation of this action plan and it is remarkable that it does not ignore the environmental justice perspective. Neglected for decades, Roma communities are also beginning to mobilize but more solidarity, and support is needed. Let us hope that this Action Plan and the Summit will live to this expectation and recognize environmental and climate justice among its most urgent priorities.

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