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EXME06 / 20.12


News from the Communication Directorate General's midday briefing

Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Direction Générale Communication

20 / 12 / 06

I. Résultats de la Commission de ce jour -
Outcome of today's Commission meeting

The European Commission today underscored its firm commitment to combating climate change by proposing legislation to bring greenhouse gas emissions from civil aviation into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). EU emissions from international air transport are increasing faster than from any other sector. This growth threatens to undermine the EU's progress in cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions. Including civil aviation in the EU ETS is a cost-effective way for the sector to control its emissions and implements an approach endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The proposed directive will cover emissions from flights within the EU from 2011 and all flights to and from EU airports from 2012. Both EU and foreign aircraft operators would be covered. Like the industrial companies already covered by the EU ETS, airlines will be able to sell surplus allowances if they reduce their emissions and will need to buy additional allowances if their emissions grow. Any increase in ticket costs resulting from the scheme is expected to be limited, and significantly lower than rises due to oil price changes in recent years.

The European Commission has decided to partially exclude Bulgaria from the benefit of the internal aviation market. Following an inspection performed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) earlier this month, the Commission considers that there is a considerable risk that Bulgaria will not be able to ensure full compliance with the Community rules on aviation safety and on the internal aviation market. Therefore a safeguard clause based on the Act of Accession is invoked, in order to ensure the proper functioning of the EU air transport market and to guarantee the highest level of safety to EU citizens.

L'Office européen de police (Europol) est en passe de faire peau neuve. Afin de doter l'Office d'un cadre plus souple, la Commission européenne propose une décision du Conseil en remplacement de la convention du 26 juillet 1995, qui l'avait créé. Europol va ainsi être plus souple et efficace dans sa mission d'assistance aux Etats membres dans la lutte contre le terrorisme, le crime organisé et toute forme de criminalité grave.

The European Commission has decided that Spain has violated Article 21 of the EU Merger Regulation, which gives the Commission exclusive competence over mergers of a European dimension, in that certain conditions imposed on E.ON for its proposed acquisition of control over Endesa are incompatible with EC law and are therefore illegal. The Commission decision refers in particular to new conditions imposed in a decision of 3 November 2006, adopted in the framework of an administrative appeal against a previous decision of the Spanish Energy Regulator, CNE, on the proposed transaction. The Commission decision requires Spain to withdraw the illegal conditions by 19 January 2007.

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed takeover of Crompton's Lydney paper mill by Glatfelter of the US. The Commission undertook an in-depth investigation to verify whether the proposed acquisition would create a dominant market player with the ability to restrict production of so called 'wetlaid fibre materials' (used inter alia to make tea bags) and drive up prices in the industry (see IP/06/1228). However, the market investigation has shown that several competitors are active in the relevant market for wetlaid fibre for tea and coffee filtration, which is still growing. The Commission has therefore concluded that the transaction would not significantly impede effective competition in the European Economic Area or a significant part of it.

The European Commission has re-adopted a decision on a cartel in the stainless steel sector and fined ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG (formerly Krupp Nirosta GmbH) a total of €3,168,000. The infringement consisted in the participation of Thyssen Stahl GmbH (formerly Thyssen Stahl AG) in a cartel fixing an important part of the price of stainless steel ("the alloy surcharge") between 1993 and 1994 in violation of Article 65 of the (now lapsed) ECSC Treaty. The re-adoption follows a judgement of the Court of Justice of 14 July 2005, confirming the Court of First Instance's partial annulment, on procedural grounds, of the Commission decision of 21 January 1998 insofar as the fine imposed on ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG for the infringement committed by Thyssen Stahl GmbH was concerned.

The European Commission has authorised, under EC Treaty state aid rules, €76 million of aid which the German Government intends to grant to Conergy over three years for the creation of a new production plant for solar energy modules in Frankfurt (Oder), Brandenburg. The Commission considered the aid to be compatible with the rules on regional state aid to large investment projects.

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to establish whether the €8 million aid the Polish authorities intend to grant for the restructuring of machine-tool manufacturer Bison-Bial is compatible with the EC Treaty rules on state aid. On the basis of the information currently at its disposal, the Commission doubts whether the notified restructuring plan is sufficient to restore the firm's long term viability and has concerns that the aid would create undue distortions of competition in the machine tool sector,which already suffers from overcapacity. The opening of an in-depth investigation allows interested parties to comment on the proposed measures. It does not prejudge the outcome of the procedure.

Following an in-depth investigation, the European Commission has concluded that restructuring aid to Fabryka Samochodow Osobowych ("FSO"), Poland, is compatible with EC Treaty state aid rules provided that certain conditions are respected. The Commission found that the aid is limited to the minimum necessary and that the restructuring plan of FSO is sufficient to restore the firm's long term viability. However, the Commission also considers that, without appropriate safeguards, the aid could lead to undue distortion of competition. The car manufacturing sector has excess capacity and the aid risks shifting the difficulties and the burden of adjustment to other firms and workers in other Member States. In this context, FSO must limit its annual car production to 150000 units until February 2011.

The European Commission has approved under EC Treaty state aid rules, two regional aid schemes for the Canary Islands, the Economic and Fiscal Regime (REF) and the Special Economic Zone (ZEC). The measures are intended to promote regional development in the Canary Islands by enabling companies established in this outlying region to overcome their natural structural handicaps. The fiscal measures, with a combined planned budget of €7,135 million for the period 2007-2013, offer incentives for investment, job creation and the diversification of the regional economic structure.

The European Commission has launched a formal investigation under EC Treaty state aid rules into the sale of Bank Burgenland. Land Burgenland decided to sell the bank in March 2006 to the Austrian insurance company Grazer Wechselseitige Versicherung AG (GRAWE) for €100.3 million, although the tender procedure had also produced an offer of €155 million by an Ukrainian/Austrian Consortium. The Commission has to make sure that the tender was conducted in a non-discriminatory manner and that the sale did not involve incompatible state aid. The opening of an investigation procedure gives interested parties the possibility to comment on the measures under scrutiny. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

The European Commission has approved under EC Treaty state aid rules regional investment aid totalling €2.03 million for the German shipyard Rolandwerft. After an in-depth investigation initiated in February 2006 concerning a first set of investments worth €1.56 million (see IP/06/203), the Commission has concluded that the investment is limited to a modernisation of the yard which will improve its productivity. It will not result in a disproportionate capacity increase. Simultaneously, the Commission has approved further investment aid to Rolandwerft worth €0.47 million notified in August 2006.

A l'issue d'une enquête approfondie ouverte en décembre 2004 (voir IP/04/1484), la Commission européenne a conclu que le dispositif fiscal de financement de biens mis en location par des groupements d'intérêt économique (GIE) constitue une aide d'Etat en vertu des règles du traité CE relatives aux aides d'Etat. Ce régime, qui a principalement bénéficié au secteur du transport maritime, est une aide d'Etat en raison de l'avantage sélectif qu'il procure à certains secteurs et du caractère discrétionnaire de ses conditions d'octroi. Ce régime est incompatible avec le marché commun, à l'exception des aides visant à faciliter le développement du transport ferroviaire (article 87, paragraphe 3, point c, du traité) et des autres aides éventuellement compatibles en application de règles sectorielles ou régionales. La récupération des aides illégales et incompatibles est limitée à celles octroyées depuis l'ouverture de la procédure formelle d'examen pour des raisons tenant au respect du principe de sécurité juridique. La France doit désormais modifier le régime des "GIE fiscaux", dans les limites de son incompatibilité, afin de le rendre conforme aux règles du traité CE relatives aux aides d'Etat.

In today's decision, the European Commission has doubts as to the classification of payments made to the firms Bahnen der Stadt Monheim and Rheinische Bahngesellschaft by the Verkerhrsverbund Rhein Ruhr and by the firms Monheimer Verkehrs- und Versorgungswerke and Düsseldorfer Stadtwerke Beteiligungsgesellschaft mbH as public service compensation within the meaning of the Altmark ruling.

The European Commission has approved aid to alleviate the cost of retrofitting Danish lorries and passenger buses with particulate filters. Such filters will especially reduce the pollution level of elderly heavy duty lorries and buses and thus contribute to the protection of human health and the environment, particularly in urban area.

The European Commission has decided to open a formal investigation in respect of the financing of the Hessische Staatsweingüter by the Land Hessen. The Commission expresses its doubts as to the compatibility of different support measures with State aid rules. Hessische Staatweingüter is the biggest vineyard in Germany, with a cultivated area of some 190 hectares. It is 100% owned by the Land Hessen.

Dans moins de deux semaines, l'Union européenne aura 23 langues officielles, lorsque la Bulgarie et la Roumanie adhéreront et que l'irlandais deviendra une langue officielle. Pour se préparer à ce nouveau défi, la Commission européenne a adopté une stratégie destinée à orienter sa traduction de textes écrits en 2007 et au-delà. Cette stratégie vise à mieux identifier les besoins et fournisseurs de traductions et consacre le multilinguisme comme un élément essentiel dans l'élaboration des politiques et la planification par la Commission. Les démarches entreprises en Bulgarie et en Roumanie pour fournir des traducteurs et des interprètes aux institutions de l'UE ont bien avancé.

II. Other news - Autres nouvelles

  • Markos Kyprianou reaches agreement in principle with Russian Agriculture Minister

In Moscow on 19 December, European Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou reached an agreement in principle with Russian Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev to secure the continuation of EU exports of animal products to Russia after the accession of Bulgaria and Romania on 1 January 2007. The verbal agreement remains subject to finalisation by experts with a view to a Memorandum of Understanding being signed by the services of the Commission and the Russian Ministry of Agriculture at the 'Green Week' in Berlin on 18 January. Mr Kyprianou stressed the importance of meeting this deadline and if possible signing the Memorandum even earlier. Commissioner Kyprianou and Minister Gordeyev agreed that their meeting was a good opportunity for an exchange of views on similar concerns and that their services would start to work together already tomorrow morning in Moscow on the Memorandum of Understanding. Commissioner Kyprianou said: "We managed to resolve this issue because we share the same concerns and have the same target, which is to reduce risks but at the same time maintain trade. We appreciate the confidence that the Russian authorities have shown in our high veterinary and food safety standards, which while protecting ourselves also protect Russia."

  • Commission clears acquisition of Access by Avnet

The European Commission has granted clearance under the EU Merger Regulation to the acquisition of sole control of MRA Systems Inc. dba Access Distribution (Access) of the US by Avnet Inc. (Avnet) of the US. Avnet distributes electronic components, computer products and technology services, information technology (IT) products, solutions and services. Access distributes IT products, solutions and services. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.

  • Commission clears acquisition of CTF by Dresdner Bank and Gazprombank

The European Commission has granted clearance under the EU Merger Regulation to the acquisition of joint control of Carbon Trade & Finance S.A (CTF) of Luxembourg by Dresdner Bank AG of Germany, part of the German Allianz group, and Joint-Stock Bank of the Gas Industry (Gazprombank) of Russia, part of the Russian Gazprom group. Dresdner Bank is active in a full range of banking and financial services, including the trading of EU CO2 emission credits under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Gazprombank provides universal banking and financial services to non-corporate and corporate customer in Russia. The Carbon Trade & Finance joint venture will invest in "primary" projects generating Kyoto CO² emission credits and repackage the credits for resale at a "secondary" level. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.

  • Commission clears acquisition of TECHEM by Macquarie

The European Commission has granted clearance under the EU Merger Regulation to the acquisition of sole control of Techem AG (TECHEM) of Germany by MEIF II Energie Beteiligungen GmbH & Co. KG (MEIF II KG) of Germany, owned, by the Macquarie Bank Limited (Macquarie) of Australia. MEIF II KG is a German limited partnership, active in the acquisition and sale of companies or their assets and all related actions and legal transactions. Macquarie provides specialist financial and investment banking services. TECHEM is active in sub-metering utilities consumption and the market for energy contracting. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.

La Commission européenne se félicite de l'accord intervenu le 19 décembre entre les ministres de l'agriculture de l'Union au sujet d'une réforme radicale du régime d'aide aux producteurs de bananes. Cette réforme permettra d'adapter le système selon les grands principes des réformes menées dans les autres secteurs agricoles, tout en garantissant un niveau de vie équitable aux producteurs communautaires de bananes et en tenant compte des particularités des régions productrices. Fondée sur une proposition de la Commission, elle abolira le régime actuel d'aide compensatoire aux producteurs de bananes. Les fonds jusqu'ici consacrés au soutien des producteurs de bananes viendront s'ajouter à la dotation du programme POSEI, programme d'aide à la production agricole dans les régions ultrapériphériques de l'Union. En ce qui concerne les bananes produites en dehors de ces régions, les crédits seront transférés vers le régime de paiement unique, mis en œuvre pour les produits agricoles visés par les précédentes réformes. Les nouvelles dispositions entreront en vigueur au début de l'année 2007.

The European Commission welcomes decision on 19 December by the Agriculture Council to extend until 2010 the simplified direct aid scheme applicable in eight of the Member States which joined the EU in 2004. In the interests of simplifying the management of the CAP, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia will be allowed to continue operating the Single Area Payment Scheme (SAPS) for a further two years until the end of 2010. Under SAPS, uniform per-hectare entitlements are granted within any one region from regional financial envelopes.

La Commission européenne se félicite de la décision prise le 19 décembre par les ministres de l'agriculture de l'Union d'étendre aux nouveaux Etats membres qui actuellement n'y ont pas droit le bénéfice de la prime aux cultures énergétiques, introduite dans le cadre de la réforme de la PAC de 2003. Grâce à cette décision, les agriculteurs de Bulgarie, de République tchèque, d'Estonie, de Chypre, de Lettonie, de Lituanie, de Hongrie, de Pologne, de Roumanie et de Slovaquie auront la possibilité de toucher €45 par hectare consacré aux cultures énergétiques. Cette mesure portera de 1,5 à 2 millions d'hectares la superficie totale admissible au bénéfice de l'aide. Afin d'encourager davantage la production de matières premières destinées à la production d'énergie renouvelable, le Conseil a également autorisé les Etats membres à octroyer une aide pouvant représenter jusqu'à 50% des dépenses afférentes à l'établissement de cultures permanentes sur des superficies ayant fait l'objet d'une demande d'aide aux cultures énergétiques.

  • Study into the administrative burden for farmers

Today the European Commission signed a contract to conduct a study into the administrative burden imposed on farmers by the direct payment rules introduced in the 2003 CAP reform. In the framework of simplification, the Commission is seeking to identify and to assess the administrative burden resulting from CAP-related measures. This study will be a big step forward in identifying what can be and should be simplified. It forms part of DG Agriculture and Rural Development's contribution to promoting Better Regulation and therefore contributing towards the Lisbon Strategy. To cover the different ways in which the direct payments could be implemented after the 2003 CAP reform, the study will measure the actual burden in five Member States: Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland and Italy. The study also covers the administrative burden related to the cross compliance obligations that are a part of the direct payments system. First results of the study are expected mid-2007. The measurement of administrative burdens is a key element in identifying policy areas in which simplification would have the biggest economic impact. To ensure comparability of results the contractor will follow the EU methodology for assessing administrative costs as set out in COM (2005) 518 final.

With adoption of the revised Financial Regulation the EU has committed itself to full transparency about who receives monies from the EU budget. There will be annual ex-post publication of beneficiaries of money received from the Structural Funds as from 2008 and of money received under the Common Agricultural Policy as of 2009. The Commission has itself already started publishing information on beneficiaries under the programmes it manages directly. With this, the European Commission's ambitious Transparency Initiative launched end 2005 has achieved its first objective. The European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee is today debating a working document on the Transparency Initiative.

Two years after the tsunami hit South East Asia, the European Union and the international community have successfully made the transition from providing immediate humanitarian aid to reconstruction aid: helping local authorities and communities re-establish their lives within a longer term vision – re-building homes, livelihoods and infrastructure 100% of the €123 million humanitarian aid and 96% of the €350 million in medium and long-term reconstruction pledged by the European Commission has been contracted. The first concrete results are now being seen.

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