EXME 12 / 08.02
Midday Express of 2012-02-08
News from the European Commission's Midday Briefing
Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Commission européenne
Foundations pursue objectives benefiting the public at large. Their activities focus on areas that are important for European citizens and the European economy. For instance, they are active in social and health services; they foster research and promote culture. To this end, foundations raise money, award grants and run projects. However, differences between and obstacles in national laws often make the conduct of their cross-border activities costly and cumbersome. When they decide to operate abroad, for example, foundations often have to spend a part of their resources on legal advice and fulfilling legal and administrative requirements laid down by the different national laws across the EU. This diminishes the amount of funding available to foundations for the purpose of activities benefiting the public at large and can deter them from further developing their work.
Since the presentation of its proposal for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) last June, the Commission has proposed over 120 changes to simplify the rules governing EU funding for Small and Medium Enterprises, towns and regions, students, scientists and others. Today's communication "A simplification agenda for the 2014-2020 MFF" brings them altogether in one single document. The key question now is whether the European Parliament and the Member States are ready to make the life of EU funds' beneficiaries easier by reducing the administrative burden on them.
The European Commission has referred Italy to the Court of Justice for not complying with a Commission decision of 23 February 2011 (see IP/11/215) finding that subsidised electricity tariffs that Italy had granted to metal producers Portovesme, ILA and Eurallumina were incompatible with EU state aid rules and needed to be recovered from the beneficiaries. To date, Italy has not implemented this decision.
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether financial arrangements between public authorities and the airport of La Rochelle (France), as well as rebates and marketing agreements concluded between this airport and some of the airlines using it, are in line with EU state aid rules. The opening of proceedings gives interested third parties an opportunity to submit comments on the measures under assessment; it does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The European Commission has concluded that the sale of a food processing facility from the Swedish municipality of Vänersborg to the real estate company Hammar Nordic Plugg is incompatible with EU state aid rules. Since the sale was not carried out at market conditions, it gives the company an undue economic advantage over its competitors. The Commission has therefore ordered Sweden to recover SEK 14.5 million (around € 1.61 million) from the beneficiary.
The European Commission has found an Austrian scheme to support the production of energy from renewable sources in line with EU state aid rules, in particular because it creates incentives for an increased use of renewable energy while containing safeguards to limit distortions of competition. The scheme is designed to assist Austria in reaching by 2020 the mandatory national renewable energy target set under EU legislation.
Despite dealing with severe winter conditions at home, European countries have responded swiftly to Bulgaria’s request for assistance to fight floods and prevent further damage from the severe winter that has engulfed much of the country. Several dams are overflowing in Bulgaria due to the heavy snow of the past few days. On Monday, 6 February, a wall of the Ivanovo dam broke and the released water inundated the village of Biser in South Eastern Bulgaria. Other towns in the region are also in danger of flooding.
The European Commission is scaling up its humanitarian assistance to €123.5 million for the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa where 12 million people are at risk of hunger.
New EU rules for “organic wine” have been agreed in the Standing Committee on Organic Farming (SCOF), and will be published in the Official Journal in the coming weeks. With the new regulation, which will apply from the 2012 harvest, organic wine growers will be allowed to use the term “organic wine” on their labels. The labels must also show the EU-organic-logo and the code number of their certifier, and must respect other wine labelling rules. Although there are already rules for “wine made from organic grapes”, these do not cover wine-making practices, i.e. the whole process from grape to wine. Wine is the one remaining sector not fully covered by the EU rules on organic farming standards under Regulation 834/2007 .
Today, the Commission presented the final report to the Budgetary Authority on recruitment of nationals from Bulgaria and Romania - the two Member States which joined the EU in 2007 (EU2). The Commission recruited 478 Bulgarians and 727 Romanians, exceeding its overall recruitment target by 23.3% - or 228 recruitments.
In 2010, 115 million people, or 23.4% of the population, in the EU27 were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means that they were at least in one of the following three conditions: at-risk-of-poverty, severely materially deprived1 or living in households with very low work intensity. The reduction of the number of persons at risk of poverty or social exclusion in the EU is one of the key targets of the Europe 2020 strategy. In 2010, the highest shares of persons being at risk of poverty or social exclusion were recorded in Bulgaria (42%), Romania (41%), Latvia (38%), Lithuania (33%) and Hungary (30%), and the lowest in the Czech Republic (14%), Sweden and the Netherlands (both 15%), Austria, Finland and Luxembourg (all 17%).
Animal Health: UE experts assess state of play on “Schmallenberg Virus”
At the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health held yesterday in Brussels, both the European Commission and Member States experts further discussed the evolution of the Schmallenberg virus (SBV) situation in the EU. This virus was first detected last November in ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats), and, as of 6 February 2012, the situation is as follows: Germany (314 cases), the Netherlands (93 farms affected), Belgium (88 farms), the United Kingdom (11 farms in East Anglia) and France (66 farms in Northern France). The virus was mainly found in newborn lambs, calves or baby goats showing congenital malformations that appear to stem from infection picked up during pregnancy which occurred some months ago (in summer or early autumn 2011). The transmission of this virus is by means of insect vectors (mosquitoes and midges). Due to the current winter conditions and lack of insect activity, the circulation of the virus does not seem to be occurring at present. It is unclear however if the virus will re-emerge this coming spring/summer. Following a request of the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) presented a preliminary analysis of the likely future scenarios related to SBV. In the coming months, EFSA will work in close cooperation with Member States' scientists to gather data to carry out a full assessment of the risk posed by this virus. The risk assessment will be used as a basis for possible disease control measures. EFSA will also liaise with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to address the potential risk that this virus might pose for public health. However, based on the information available, the ECDC has already stated that "It is unlikely that this new orthobunyavirus can cause disease in humans but it cannot be excluded at this stage". The Committee also endorsed a Document drafted by the Commission setting the priority actions to be carried out in the EU to address SBV. The Committee has also maintained the position of not applying any trade restrictions in relation to the SBV, as is done with other similar viruses of the same family (Orthobunyaviridae), on live animals, their products, meat, milk or animal by-products. In accordance with available information such measures would be disproportionate to the risks that they pose. This approach is also in line with international standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Further information on the Schmallenberg virus can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/diseases/schmallenberg_virus/index_en.htm . Further information on the preliminary analysis carried out by EFSA can be found at: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/supporting/doc/241e.pdf
Commissioners Georgieva, Füle and Oettinger visit Turkey
Commissioner Georgieva will visit Turkey tomorrow and Friday where she will hold talks with the Government on the country's growing importance as an international humanitarian aid donor and explore ways to intensify partnership with the EU on crisis response. The Commissioner will meet in Ankara with the deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay. She will visit the eastern province of Van to inspect relief work undertaken after the region was struck by a powerful earthquake in October last year. Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle and Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger will visit Istanbul on Thursday to discuss intensified EU-Turkish cooperation in the energy sector with their Turkish counterparts Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış and Energy Minister Taner Yildiz in Istanbul.
State aid: Commission approves prolongation of the Polish support scheme for financial institutions
The European Commission has authorised, under EU state aid rules, a prolongation of the Polish support scheme for financial institutions until 30 June 2012. The scheme covers guarantees and other liquidity support measures in favour of different types of financial institutions in Poland. Poland amended the pricing conditions of the scheme to bring them in line with the requirements of the Commission's 2011 Communication on state aid to banks during the crisis (see IP/11/1488). Other conditions of the original scheme remain unchanged. The Commission found the prolongation of the scheme, initially approved on 25 September 2009 (see IP/09/1360) and prolonged on 9 February 2010 (see MEX/10/0209), 29 June 2010 (see IP/10/864), 16 December 2010 (see MEX/10/1216), and 28 June 2011 (see MEX/11/0628) to be in line with its guidance on state aid to banks during the crisis (see IP/08/1495 , IP/08/1901 , IP/10/1636 and IP/11/1488), because they are well targeted, proportionate and limited in time and scope. The Commission, therefore, concluded that the measures were compatible with Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
Merger: Commission clears acquisition of Kogeneracja by EDF
The European Commission has granted clearance under the EU Merger Regulation to the acquisition by Electricité de France S.A of sole control of Zespół Elektrociepłowni Wrocławskich Kogeneracja S.A. ("Kogeneracja") of Poland. Currently EDF and Energie Baden-Württemberg AG ("EnBW") jointly control Kogeneracja, which is active only in Poland. Kogeneracja's main activities are the heat and power generation. EDF is active in the energy sector, including generation, transmission, distribution and supply of electricity. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.
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