EXME 10 / 28.05
Midday Express of 2010-05-28
News from the Communication Directorate General's midday briefing
Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Direction Générale Communication
Almost 280 trade restrictive measures have been put in place by the European Union's major trade partners during the economic crisis over the last 18 months according to a new report published today by the European Commission. Contrary to the G20 commitment, hardly any measures have been removed despite signs of economic recovery in most countries. The European Commission calls on trading partners to remove these restrictions in order to give a much needed boost to the recovery.
The Commission has adopted changes to simplify access to EU funds by cutting red tape and saving costs for EU beneficiaries, on 28 May 2010. New rules will also provide more scope for combining public and private funding for a bigger investment impact. The changes will help deliver the new generation of EU programmes post 2013.
Germany, Belgium and Latvia have joined nine EU Member States in asking for legislation that will bring legal certainty to international couples wishing to divorce. Under the European Commission proposal of 24 March 2010 ( IP/10/347), couples will be able to agree which law would apply to their divorce even when they do not plan to separate. The plan follows a request from nine EU Member States, which wanted to move forward after a 2006 Commission proposal became deadlocked in the Council. The new solution will help couples of different nationalities, those living apart in different countries or those living together in a country other than their home country. The aim is to lessen the burden on children and to protect weaker partners during divorce disputes. It would be the first time that EU countries use the so-called “enhanced cooperation” mechanism in EU history. Under the EU Treaties, enhanced cooperation allows nine or more countries to move forward on a measure that is important, but blocked by a small minority of Member States. Other EU countries keep the right to join when they want.
On 27th of May in the late afternoon, the European Commission’s Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) received a request for assistance from the United States Coast Guard to provide specific types of oil recovery equipment. Within a few hours, the MIC was able to put together a consolidated European offer with equipment available from Spain, the Netherlands and the European Maritime Safety Agency.
La Commission européenne a autorisé, en application du règlement de l'UE sur les concentrations, le projet d'acquisition de la caisse d'épargne autrichienne Allgemeine Sparkasse Oberösterreich Bank Aktiengesellschaft (ASK) par la Erste Bank (Autriche). Après examen, elle est parvenue à la conclusion que l'opération n’entraverait pas de manière significative l'exercice d'une concurrence effective dans l’Espace économique européen (EEE) ou une partie substantielle de celui-ci.
The European Commission has opened proceedings against J&T Finance Group, J&T Investment Advisors (both part of the "J&T Group") and Energetický a průmyslový holding, active in the electricity and lignite sectors in the Czech Republic, to investigate whether these companies have obstructed the Commission's inspection of 24 to 26 November 2009 at their premises. The Commission will in particular examine whether these companies produced the required records in incomplete form and whether their behaviour constitutes a refusal to submit to an inspection, in violation of EU rules governing antitrust investigations.
In the EU27, household electricity prices fell by 1.5% between the second half of 2008 and the second half of 2009, and gas prices by 16.0%. Between the same time periods of 2007 and 2008, household electricity prices in the EU27 rose by 6.8%, and gas prices by 21.0%. These figures are published by Eurostat.
EU27 trade in goods with Russia had increased steadily until 2008, before dropping sharply in 2009. EU27 exports to Russia rose from 23 billion euro in 2000 to 105 bn in 2008, then fell to 66 bn in 2009. Imports rose from 64 bn in 2000 to 178 bn in 2008, then decreased to 115 bn in 2009. As a result, the EU27 trade deficit with Russia increased significantly from 41 bn euro in 2000 to 73 bn in 2008, then fell to 50 bn in 2009. The share of Russia in the EU27's total external trade in goods went steadily upwards between 2000 and 2008, but went down in 2009. In 2009, Russia was the EU27's third most important trading partner after the USA and China, accounting for 6% of EU27 exports and 10% of EU27 imports. On the occasion of the 25th European Union - Russia summit, which will take place on 31 May and 1 June in Rostov-on-Don in Russia, issues data on trade and investments between Russia and the EU.
Antitrust: Commission market tests Visa Europe's proposed commitments
The European Commission has invited comments from stakeholders on Visa Europe's proposed commitments regarding multilateral interchange fees (MIFs) and other rules applied to transactions with debit cards. The MIF is a bank-to-bank fee for card payments, collectively fixed by Visa Europe's member banks, that is ultimately paid by consumers. The Commission had concerns that Visa's MIFs may restrict competition between merchants' banks. In response to these concerns, Visa Europe has proposed to reduce to 0.20% the maximum weighted average MIF for all cross border transactions and for national transactions in a number of Member States with debit cards. It also proposes to maintain and further develop measures which will increase transparency and competition in the payment cards market. If the outcome of the market test indicates that the proposed commitments are suitable to remedy the competition concerns, the Commission may adopt a decision under Article 9 (1) of Regulation 1/2003, which would make the commitments legally binding on Visa Europe.
See IP/10/462 of 26 April and the Notice detailing the commitments on: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/elojade/isef/case_details.cfm?proc_code=1_39398
Commission moves to optimise levels of checks on EU funds
Today the European Commission adopted a proposal for new control benchmarks for EU funding in research, energy and transport, and rural development, in line with requests from the European Parliament, Council, and based on a concept developed by the Court of Auditors. The aim of the proposal is to strike a better balance between the costs of controls and their benefits. The proposal suggests that a “tolerable risk of error” of 2-5%, should be taken into account when defining the intensity of controls for research, energy and transport, and rural development, in order to reflect the real level of financial risk, while ensuring the proper protection of EU funds in these sectors. Under the current system, the risk of error is 2% for all policy areas, regardless of the size of the projects or the complexity of the specific rules and the risk associated with the measure in question. This can result in unjustified administrative burdens for beneficiaries and Member State authorities, and lead to the cost of controls being higher than any gains from the recovery of unduly paid sums. For example, in research, energy and transport, with the current 2% threshold, the costs of controls to reach this level could be such that, for every €2 spent on an additional audit, only €1 could be recovered. This clearly does not make sense, nor does it meet the objectives of protecting the EU’s financial interests. The new benchmarks proposed today would establish a sensible risk-management approach to controls, making the costs proportionate to the risk at stake and ensuring better use of tax-payers’ money in carrying out controls. It is important to underline that these new benchmarks would ensure sound control of the use of EU funds in these sectors. The Commission maintains a strict zero-tolerance approach to errors in the spending of EU funds: all detected errors have to be corrected and any funds not used according to EU rules are clawed back. For more information, see: http://ec.europa.eu/budget/documents/management_systems_en.htm?go=t8_0
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn nominates a High-Level Panel on the Measurement of Innovation
Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn has appointed members of a High Level Panel, chaired by Professor Andreu Mas-Colell, to advise her and the European Commission on an indicator measuring Europe's progress towards a more innovative economy. At the Spring European Council, EU leaders agreed that such an indicator should be produced to complement the Europe 2020 target of investing 3% of GDP in R&D. The Panel members are leading business innovators and economists. The indicator will aim to capture overall research and innovation performance and the reasons why it differs between Member States. It could also help to benchmark Europe's performance against its main trading partners. It will feed into the implementation of the Research and Innovation Strategy for Europe that Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn will propose in the autumn. Professor Andreu Mas-Colell is Secretary General of the European Research Council and Professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. More details and a full list of the members appointed can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/geoghegan-quinn/hlp/index_en.htm
The European Commission has cleared under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed acquisition of Mobil Oil Austria by Agip Austria, which is wholly controlled by ENI of Italy. After examining the operation, the Commission concluded that the transaction would not significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area (EEA) or any substantial part of it.
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