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EXME09 / 30.04
News from the Communication Directorate General's midday briefing
Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Direction Générale Communication
30 / 04 / 09
The biocide dimethylfumarate (DMF) has caused severe allergic reactions, including skin itching, irritation, redness, burns and, in some cases, acute respiratory difficulties, in hundreds of consumers in the EU because of its use in imported every day consumer products such as couches and shoes. There has even been one case of a soft toy for small children. On May 1, a European Commission Decision comes into force to ensure that no consumer product containing the strongly sensitising DMF is placed on the market in the EU. If already on the market, these products will have to be recalled and withdrawn without delay, and consumers will have to be informed about the serious risk. The Commission Decision is an EU wide emergency measure, pending the adoption of a more permanent regulatory solution.
To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the 5th anniversary of the EU's 2004 enlargement, the European Commission is organising, together with the Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union, an international conference entitled "From the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 to the Enlargement of the European Union in 2004 – the Role of Civil Society and the Idea of Europe in Democratic Transformation in Central and Eastern Europe". The conference will be held in Prague on 1 May.
The European Commission has authorised, under EC Treaty state aid rules, a Slovak measure to help businesses to deal with the current economic crisis. Aid of up to €500 000 per firm may be granted in 2009 and 2010 to businesses facing funding problems because of the current credit squeeze. The scheme meets the conditions of the Commission’s Temporary Framework for state aid measures, which gives Member States additional scope to facilitate access to financing in the present economic and financial crisis (see IP/08/1993). It is therefore compatible with Article 87(3)(b) of the EC Treaty, which permits aid ‘to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a Member State’.
The European Commission has approved under EC Treaty state aid rules a prolongation of the Finnish support scheme to stabilise financial markets by providing guarantees to eligible financial institutions. The Commission found the measure, initially approved on 13 November 2008 (see IP/08/1705), to be in line with its Guidance Communication on state aid to overcome the financial crisis (see IP/08/1495). In particular, the measure as amended is limited in time and scope. The Commission therefore concluded that the measure is an adequate means to remedy a serious disturbance of the Finnish economy and as such in line with Article 87.3.b of the EC Treaty.
The European Commission has produced a new weekly competition newsletter, available by e-mail, summarising key developments in all areas of competition policy, including antitrust and cartels, merger and state aid. The summary also includes speeches of Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes and important competition cases at the EU Courts. This summary complements the State Aid Weekly e-News which has over 4000 e-mail subscribers. In addition, a new e-mail subscription system will enable users to choose which alerts and news on publications they wish to receive. The initiative is part of the Commission’s efforts to raise awareness of competition policy and ensure a better understanding of its role within the European Single Market.
Council Regulation 1/2003 has contributed to stronger enforcement of antitrust rules within the EU since it came into force on 1 May 2004, modernising the enforcement of EC Treaty rules on restrictive business practices (Article 81) and abuse of dominant market positions (Article 82). This is the main conclusion of a report adopted by the European Commission on the first five years of the application of Regulation 1/2003. The Regulation put an end to the previous notification system, under which companies notified agreements to the Commission for approval under the antitrust rules. This has eliminated unnecessary bureaucracy and has allowed the Commission to focus its resources on serious competition problems. The Regulation also created the European Network of Competition Authorities (ECN), within which the Commission and national competition authorities coordinate the application of EC Treaty antitrust rules. This has proved to be a successful model of cooperation, with the Commission being informed about more than 300 decisions planned across the EU based on EC Treaty antitrust rules. The report highlights a limited number of areas which merit further evaluation, such as the impact of divergences in national procedures and fining powers on the effective enforcement of the EC antitrust rules and the divergence of national laws in the area of unilateral conduct.
Il y a un an, les 2 et 3 mai 2008, le cyclone Nargis frappait le sud-ouest du Myanmar, provoquant des destructions considérables dans la région du delta de l'Irrawaddy. C'était la deuxième pire catastrophe naturelle mondiale en près de quatre décennies (après le tsunami de 2004 dans l'Océan indien). On estime que 140 000 personnes ont péri et que des centaines de milliers d'autres ont perdu leurs habitations et leurs moyens de subsistance. La Commission a réagi rapidement, finançant de manière accélérée une aide vitale dans les régions touchées. Louis Michel, le commissaire européen chargé du développement et de l'aide humanitaire, s'est rendu au Myanmar/en Birmanie à la mi-mai, engageant des négociations directes avec les autorités afin d'ouvrir un corridor humanitaire. Cette démarche a été suivie d'un soutien supplémentaire de la Commission destiné à financer les besoins humanitaires du moment. À ce jour, l'aide humanitaire fournie par la Commission en réponse au cyclone s'élève à 39 millions €.
On Thursday 30 April 2009, at 3.30 p.m. CET young Europeans will gather in Berlin, Milan and Prague to ask loud and clear: « Can you hear me Europe? ». Thousands of other young people from Venice to Vilnius will join them from parks and squares, from their windows or from their mobile phones and webcams to create a "European soundwave" that symbolically demonstrates the importance of their voice in the upcoming European elections.
The Commission is leading EU Member States' coordination efforts to exchange information on surveillance, case definition and measures taken by EU countries to respond to this novel flu virus. The situation is changing rapidly and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is monitoring the situations on a continuous basis. The Commission holds daily audio meetings with the EU's Health Security Committee and national contact points of the Early Warning Rapid Alert System (EWRS) with the aim of adopting a common guidance document on managing the novel flu virus. This will include information on the case definition, advice to travellers and management of cases. Earlier this week health Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou called for an extraordinary Health Ministers' meeting which will take place in Luxembourg today. The meeting will discuss further common approaches to tackling the novel flu virus including countermeasures such as anti-virals and vaccines.
Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, Minister of Trade and Industry of the Czech Presidency, Martin Riman and Maud Olofsson, Minister for Enterprise and Energy and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, met the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and the Russian Minister of Energy Sergey Shmatko in Moscow today, in the framework of the fourth EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council on Energy. They discussed in particular latest developments in the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue, bilateral cooperation on energy in the framework of other international organizations and exchanged views on future energy relations between Russia and the EU.
Euro area annual inflation is expected to be 0.6% in April 2009 according to a flash estimate issued by Eurostat. It was 0.6% in March. Euro area inflation is measured by the Monetary Union Index of Consumer Prices (MUICP). To compute the MUICP flash estimates, Eurostat uses early price information relating to the reference month from Member States for which data are available as well as early information about energy prices.The flash estimation procedure for the MUICP combines historical information with partial information on price developments in the most recent months to give a total index for the euro area. No detailed breakdown is available. Experience has shown the procedure to be reliable (17 times exactly anticipating the inflation rate and 7 times differing by 0.1 over the last two years). Further information can be found in Eurostat News Release 113/2001 of 5 November 2001.
The euro area (EA16) seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 8.9% in March 2009, compared with 8.7% in February. It was 7.2% in March 2008. The EU27 unemployment rate was 8.3% in March 2009, compared with 8.1% in February. It was 6.7% in March 2008. Eurostat estimates that 20.154 million men and women in the EU27, of which 14.158 million were in the euro area, were unemployed in March 2009. Compared with February, the number of persons unemployed increased by 626 000 in the EU27 and by 419 000 in the euro area. Compared with March 2008, unemployment went up by 4.061 million in the EU27 and by 2.816 million in the euro area. These figures are published by Eurostat.
In the fourth quarter of 2008, in both the euro area and the EU27, the seasonally adjusted household saving rate increased, while the household investment rate decreased. In both zones, businesses recorded a fall in investment rates and in profit shares. These data come from a detailed set of quarterly European sector accounts released by Eurostat and the European Central Bank (ECB).
The European Commission today approved a revision of the nationally financed Nordic Aid scheme for agriculture in the northern part of Finland. So-called Article 142 aid, part of Finland's Accession Treaty, was agreed to help maintain farming in the country's northernmost regions. Following a Commission evaluation of the programme and a Finnish request for modifications, consultations on changes to the system were concluded in December 2008. The changes are reflected in today's Decision. It simplifies the aid scheme by setting maximum aid rates and maximum eligible volumes for the whole area covered by the scheme rather than by sub-region. The different production sectors will be re-grouped into six groups: milk, ruminants, pigs and poultry, horticulture, crop production and other aid (mainly reindeer). Aid to pigs and poultry will be decoupled from production. The maximum authorised aid per year is fixed at €358 million. Payments in the last four years have not exceeded €330 million. To allow for some flexibility in the payment levels between sectors, the sum of the maximum aid amounts for the six production groups is €40 million higher than the overall ceiling, but actual payments may not exceed €358 million per year.
A regulation on the introduction into the European Union of small quantities of animal products intended for personal consumption – a measure that will help reduce the risks of importing serious animal diseases into the EU – enters into force tomorrow May 1, 2009. The regulation brings together in one legal text, the different weight limits for the quantities of products of animal origin that can be introduced into the EU by travellers or sent through the post. The introduction of meat, milk and their products, with a few exceptions, is not permitted. Small quantities of fishery products or other products of animal origin, such as honey and snails for example, are allowed as long as they are intended for personal consumption. The regulation also strengthens the obligations of international passenger transport operators and postal services, which now have to ensure that their customers are aware of the rules, by means of several communication tools included in the regulation including posters (see annex), leaflets and a video. The video is intended to be screened at EU points of entry and in particular in airports, as well as during flights coming from outside the EU. Finally, EU Member States will be required to carry out effective controls on travellers' luggage, as well as on parcels sent through the post and to provide detailed information on the results of these controls to the Commission. For more information please visit: http://ec.europa.eu/food/animal/animalproducts/personal_imports/index_en.htm
At a meeting of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in Geneva from 4-8 May, the EU will call for nine new chemicals to be added to its list of dangerous substances to be phased out globally. If successful, it will be the first time since the adoption of the Convention that new substances have been added to the list. The EU has nominated the majority of the substances. The nine proposed chemicals are: commercial pentabromodiphenyl ether, commercial octabromodiphenyl ether, Chlordecone, hexabromobiphenyl, alpha hexachlorocyclohexane, beta hexachlorocyclohexane, Lindane, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, its salts and perfluorooctane sulfonyl fluoride and pentachlorobenzene. Use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) is heavily restricted within the European Union, because of the risks they pose to human health. POPs can lead to cancer, birth defects and immune and reproductive system dysfunction. Because of their nature, these chemicals can travel long distances and are found even in remote areas of the planet, far away from their use and production. Once emitted into to the environment they remain there for decades, and make their way up the food chain, accumulating in ever increasing concentrations in the fatty tissue of animals and humans. The EU therefore believes they meet the requirements for being phased out at a global level. The nine chemicals will be discussed during the 4th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Stockholm Convention, which currently targets 12 POPs, known as the "dirty dozen". The 12 consist of nine pesticides including DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) previously used in industry, and unintentional by-products of industrial processes including dioxins and furans. Other important subjects for the COP include reaching agreement on rules to determine when a Party is in breach of the Convention and how to respond to such breaches; endorsing a decision to promote synergies between the three chemicals Conventions (Stockholm, Basel and Rotterdam); and examining the effectiveness of the Convention and the tools for assessing this. EU legislation implementing the Stockholm Convention goes further than the international agreement. Its aim is to eliminate the production and use of internationally recognised POPs. The EU adopted an implementation plan in 2007 to complement Member State national plans. Further information: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/pops/index_en.htm
Today, the European Commission presented a progress report covering the first two years of the 7thEU framework programme for R&D (FP7), which will last until 2013. The biggest EU R&D funding programme ever, with a €54bn budget over 7 years, proves to be well suited to answer the EU's economic and societal needs. Its structure and new instruments help the EU to address its challenges. Priority areas such as environment, energy or nanotechnologies contribute to building a sustainable, low carbon economy, with industry-led technology platforms helping to define topics which meet industry's long term needs; the European Research Council supports our best researchers to globally compete on scientific excellence. Joint Technology Initiatives embody new public–private ventures on an unprecedented technological and financial scale. FP7 is a strong asset in the EU's fight against the current crisis with its budget growing every year by 13% until 2013. The report underlines remaining challenges for the FP7 such as the mobilisation of new Member States, the participation of SMEs and administrative simplification.
Policy makers and business leaders operating in transport gathered in Brussels today to look at the best way forward to improve security, quality and availability of parking areas for heavy goods vehicles along the European road network. The conference was organised under the auspices of the European Commission.