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EXME09 / 28.10
News from the Communication Directorate General's midday briefing
Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Direction Générale Communication
28 / 10 / 09
I. Résultats de la Commission du 28 octobre 2009 – Outcome of Commission meeting of 28 October 2009
The Commission has agreed a Communication that aims to improve the functioning of the food supply chain in Europe. The recent sharp decline in agricultural commodity prices alongside persistently high consumer food prices has raised concerns on the efficiency of this crucial sector of the European economy. Improving commercial relationships between actors of the chain will be a significant step towards a more efficient food supply chain ultimately benefitting all actors of the chain and consumers alike.
The European Commission has today adopted a progress report on the implementation of its action plan to strengthen the shared management of the EU structural and cohesion funds. The report, presented by Commissioners Paweł Samecki (Regional Policy) and Vladimir Špidla (Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities), highlights measures taken to improve financial controls in Member States and to reduce errors that can result in incorrect payment claims from the EU budget.
As digital TV replaces our old analogue TV, four-fifths of the airwaves that used to carry TV broadcasts to our homes will be freed up. This means that they can be used for new, innovative services that use radio spectrum, from wireless internet and more advanced mobile phones to new interactive and high-definition TV channels. Remote regions could be big winners from this as wireless broadband could use the new spectrum to deliver high-speed internet to areas not yet reached by landlines. The Commission today set out plans for a coordinated distribution of spectrum that encourages investment and competition in these potential new services. If the allocation of the newly freed airwaves – the "digital dividend" – to new services is coordinated across Europe it could give the economy a boost of €20 to €50 billion. The plan for the realisation of the digital dividend's full potential involves the European Parliament and EU countries, reflecting the major part they have to play.
Less congested roads, better and more efficient energy delivery or state of the art medical treatment managed at home are typical examples made possible by the Internet of the Future. It will connect physical objects such as cars or mobile devices with infrastructures (for example traffic management systems), so that massive amounts of data can be used in real-time to improve their business process and efficiency. The European Commission today unveiled a strategy to put Europe at the forefront when it comes to the development of smart internet-powered infrastructures. It calls on Europe's governments and its ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) sector to take advantage of the increasing demand for innovative applications of the internet to make existing infrastructures like healthcare systems, energy grids or traffic management 'smart'. To do this it will launch a partnership between public authorities and major ICT players with a budget for 2011-2013 of €300 million available for projects to be selected in the near future, to complement the €200 million yearly ICT support to ongoing research for underlying internet technology.
The European Commission has today decided that public financing for the operation of ferry shipping services in Scotland is compatible with State aid rules. However, this decision is subject to the condition that the national authorities launch a transparent and non-discriminatory public tender for the operation of the Gourock-Dunoon route in the western islands. The Commission will continue to closely monitor the public financing of the Scottish ferry transport system in order to avoid any undue distortion of competition.
La Commission européenne a décidé aujourd’hui d’autoriser les États membres à effectuer un versement unique en faveur des agriculteurs d’un montant maximal de 15 000 EUR sous forme d’aide d'État. Cette décision s’inscrit dans la ligne des efforts actuellement déployés par la Commission pour stabiliser les revenus des producteurs laitiers, mais il va de soi qu’elle s'applique également aux agriculteurs des autres secteurs. La décision modifie le cadre temporaire pour les aides d’État, adopté par la Commission en janvier 2009, qui prévoit différentes possibilités d’aide destinées à favoriser l'accès au financement des entreprises de l’UE. La décision adoptée aujourd'hui par la Commission intègre dans le cadre temporaire un montant limité d'aide compatible distinct, fixé à 15 000 EUR et destiné aux agriculteurs. Ce montant ne peut être accordé qu'une seule fois à chaque exploitation jusqu’à fin 2010. Toute aide de minimis déjà reçue depuis le début de l'année 2008 devra être déduite de ce montant. Les régimes d’aide mis en place au titre de ce nouvel instrument devront être ouverts à tous les producteurs primaires et devront compléter d’autres mesures générales de crise déjà instaurées par un État membre. L’idée d’autoriser une aide d’État plafonnée à 15 000 EUR en faveur des agriculteurs était prévue dans la communication de la Commission sur le secteur laitier du 22 juillet 2009.
The European Commission has approved under EC Treaty state aid rules a package of measures to support the restructuring of UK mortgage bank Northern Rock. The bank will be split into a 'good' bank that will continue the economic activities of Northern Rock and a 'bad' bank, an asset management company which will run down the remaining assets. Following an in-depth investigation launched in April 2008 (see IP/08/489 and MEMO/08/202), which was extended due to substantial amendments to the original plan in May 2009 (see IP/09/713), the Commission has concluded that the aid is compatible with the EU rules on state aid (Article 87(3)(b) of the EC Treaty), and with the Commission's Communications on the application of the state aid rules to banks in times of crisis (see IP/08/1495, IP/08/1901, IP/09/322 and IP/09/1180). In particular, the Commission is satisfied that the package of measures, including the split, will restore the long-term viability of the 'good' bank and will allow orderly liquidation of the 'bad' bank, without unduly distorting competition.
The European Commission has requested Spain, under EC Treaty state aid rules, to abolish a Spanish corporate tax provision that allows Spanish companies to amortise goodwill (i.e. write off over a period of time the excess price paid for the acquisition of a business over the market value of the assets composing it) deriving from acquiring a stake in non-Spanish companies. After an in-depth investigation, opened in October 2007 (see IP/07/1469), the Commission concluded that the scheme distorts competition within the Single Market because it confers an unjustified advantage to Spanish companies especially in the context of competitive takeover bids. The Commission has therefore ordered Spain to recover any unlawful aid granted under this provision as regards European acquisitions since 21 December 2007. As regards the application of this provision to acquisitions outside the EU, the Commission will continue its investigation.
The European Commission has concluded that Italian measures in favour of two R&D projects concerning helicopters are of a military nature and therefore fall within the scope of Article 296 of the EC Treaty (that allows Member States to take measures necessary for the protection of their essential security interests). The Commission has therefore closed its in-depth state aid investigation, opened in 2003 following a complaint (see IP/03/1319). However, the Commission considers that these measures also have an impact on the civilian market. Therefore, the Commission will continue to work with Italy in order to jointly examine how these measures can be adjusted to the rules laid down in the EC Treaty, including the competition rules.
The European Commission has concluded that the financing regime of Austria's public service broadcaster ORF is now, following formal commitments from the Austrian Government, in line with EU state aid rules and has closed its investigation. In particular, Austria has undertaken to clarify ORF's public service remit, to limit ORF's financing to what is strictly necessary to fulfil its public service tasks, to organise a public consultation on proposed new media services and to clearly separate ORF's commercial activities from its public service mission. This decision applies for the first time the criteria outlined in the Commission's revised Broadcasting Communication of 2 July 2009 (see IP/09/1072).
La Commission européenne a autorisé, en vertu des règles du traité CE relatives aux aides d'état, l'établissement de zones franches urbaines (ZFU) dans certaines régions d'Italie. La mesure en question a pour bout de stimuler la régénération de certains quartiers particulièrement défavorisés. Dans les 22 quartiers classés en ZFU, les micro- et petites entreprises créant une nouvelle activité pourront bénéficier d'un bouquet d'exonérations fiscales. La Commission a conclu que les mesures envisagées ne sont pas de nature à altérer les conditions des échanges dans une mesure contraire à l’intérêt commun et que les effets sur le commerce seront très limités.
Today the European Commission appointed Jan Truszczyński as Director-General of the Education and Culture DG. He will be responsible for overall management of the Directorate-General and its staff of over 650 women and men. This is the first appointment at Director-General level of a national of an EU-12 member state.
Today the European Commission appointed Jean-Claude Thébault as Deputy Secretary-General. In this role, he will support the Commission's Secretary-General, Catherine Day, and have specific co-ordination and management responsibilities for a number of directorates in the Secretariat-General.
The Commission has adopted today a communication drawing from the lessons of the first year of its register of interest representatives. Registration has now become a normal step for those intending to interact with the European institutions. With more than 2000 organisations registered so far, the voluntary approach has worked and made the register a good basis on which to build further. While the fundamentals of the Commission's register are safeguarded – voluntary nature of the register linked to a code of conduct, reasonable level of financial disclosure, declarations by organisations rather by individuals – the functioning of the register is improved. The Commission now hopes to make speedy progress on agreeing a common, improved register with the European Parliament.
The European Commission adopted today a report in which it outlines a series of options for animal welfare labelling, to facilitate an in-depth political debate with the other institutions. The overall goal of policy in this area is to make it easier for consumers to identify and choose welfare-friendly products, and thereby give an economic incentive to producers to improve the welfare of animals. The report also presents options for the possible establishment of a European Network of Reference Centres for the protection and welfare of animals. Such a network, modelled on the existing Community Reference Laboratories for animal health, could provide technical support for the development and implementation of animal welfare policies, including regarding certification and labelling. The document, based on an external study and a broad stakeholder consultation, is the Commission's response to the conclusions of the May 2007 Agriculture Council which called for a report that would allow an in-depth debate on animal welfare labelling. Although the report does not endorse any of the options outlined, it identifies those which are considered to be the most feasible today. Harmonised requirements for voluntary animal welfare claims, for example, constitute one such option to support transparent information to consumers. Another is a voluntary Community Animal Welfare Label open for all to use, provided they meet the criteria.
Commission President Barroso today named Mr Johannes Laitenberger, currently Head of the Commission's Spokesperson's Service and Commission Spokesman, as new Head of his Cabinet, as of 1 November 2009. Mr Laitenberger succeeds Mr João Vale de Almeida, who was appointed earlier this year as the Commission's Director-General for External Relations and who will take up his new role on 1 November 2009. Mr Vale de Almeida will continue to personally assist the President in the capacity of G8/G20 sherpa. Mr Fernando Frutuoso de Melo, currently Director in the Commission's Secretariat General, will take over as Deputy Head of the Cabinet, also on 1 November 2009. He succeeds Mr Jean-Claude Thébault, who was today appointed as a Deputy Secretary General of the Commission, taking up his role also on 1 November 2009. Ms Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, currently Deputy Spokeswoman of the Commission, will on 1 November 2009 take over as Commission Spokeswoman, succeeding Mr Laitenberger.
The European Commission is today reaching out to the press and media in the fight against poverty with two major events in Brussels ahead of the 2010 European Year Against Poverty – to be launched in Madrid on 21 January. The seminar on “Poverty and Media” and the conference on “Poverty: between perceptions and reality – the communication challenge” will bring together key media and stakeholders to discuss how communicators and the media can play a crucial role in helping to tackle poverty and exclusion.
With a plan for consolidated and strengthened action, the European Union stands ready to take on the complex challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Concerted support from the international community is needed now more than ever.
• Memo Q&A: Progress report on Action Plan to strengthen the European Commission's supervisory role over shared management of structural actions (IP/09/1594)
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