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EXME 12 / 27.02

Midday Express of 2012-02-27

News from the European Commission's Midday Briefing

Nouvelles du rendez-vous de midi de la Commission européenne

EU assesses progress of its strategy to dismantle trade barriers

The European Commission today published its second Trade and Investment Barriers Report, which describes the progress achieved in dismantling barriers to the markets of six strategic economic partners - China, India, Japan, Mercosur, Russia and the US. The report recognises some success stories in the removal of certain trade barriers, such as in India, but also underlines the overall persistence of barriers for European business to access key markets. Dismantling these barriers would improve and open up new export and investment opportunities for European companies and people. The report will be presented to the European Council on 1-2 March.

One million smuggled cigarettes seized in customs operation

Around 1.2 million cigarettes were seized in the first joint customs operation targeting rail traffic along the EU Eastern border. Twenty-four EU Member States, Croatia, Turkey, Norway and Switzerland participated in the operation which was organised by the Polish Customs Service in close cooperation with the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). The operation took place from 18 to 27 October 2011. The final results of the operation were made public today at the Polish Customs Service in Sopot in Poland. The results could only be made public now not to interfere with further enquiries which had to be performed by the various customs authorities.

European films 'The Artist' and 'The Iron Lady' scoop seven Oscars

European Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has welcomed the major success of Europeans films at last night's 84th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood. 'The Artist' was crowned with five Oscars and 'The Iron Lady' with two. This year, nine nominated films received support from the European Union's MEDIA programme for cinema. 'The Artist' scooped the big prizes for Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), Best Actor (Jean Dujardin), Costume Design (Mark Bridges) and Best Music (Ludovic Bource). 'The Iron Lady' collected the statuettes for Best Actress (Meryl Streep) and Best Makeup (Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland).

Commission Action team leaves for Greece

Today, the European Commission action team is travelling to Greece, a Member State with one of the highest youth unemployment rate in the EU. Greece has 46.6 % of young people without a job. The main causes are a combination of both, economic and financial crisis and existing structural problems which got further exacerbated by the crisis. Greece suffers of lack of job openings, important skills mismatch between what the unemployed offer and the market demands. Youth unemployment affects especially females, holders of university degrees or early school leavers. In order to best address youth unemployment and support small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) – the main driver for jobs and growth, the Action team will be working on the ground with a Greek team of experts on targeted actions for a rapid re-focussing of the 21% of EU Structural Funds that are still to be allocated. For example, the funds could be used for short term measures focussing on entrepreneurship training that enable the young people to acquire new skills or, on better combining on-the-job training with incentives for employers. Greece also has one of the lowest numbers of students and graduates acquiring experience elsewhere in the EU. Short-terms learning mobility can bring back to Greece new skills and entrepreneurship ambitions. Hence, more apprenticeships and traineeships could be offered for example via programmes Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci. Concrete actions will be discussed and agreed with the national authorities and social partners to find the best solutions and deliver quick results. The work of the Action team is complementing what the Task Force for Greece is already doing on the ground. The latter is helping the Greek government with structural reforms, privatisations, tax reforms and re-focussing of the Cohesion Funds to better match growth oriented reforms. Both are, thus, underpinning the implementation of the reforms undertaken within the EU/IMF programme which is designed to help Greece's economy back on its feet. The President of the European Commission, Mr Jose Manuel Barroso, launched this intensive joint effort at the informal meeting of the European Council on 30 January, calling for an extra effort to be made to tackle youth unemployment and prevent the alienation of young people from the labour market; and to focus on helping hard-pressed SMEs. The President proposed to create Action teams of Commission and national experts, with the involvement of national social partners, to develop targeted plans to be included in the National Reform Programmes which will be submitted to the European Commission (mid-April) as part of the European semester of EU economic governance. President Barroso will report back on initial results at the European Council on 1-2 March 2012.

Strengthening the European labour force through adult learning

Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, launches the implementation phase of the European Agenda for Adult Learning at an event in Brussels on 27-28 February. The Agenda was formally adopted by the Council in November 2011 and focuses on providing second-chance opportunities for low qualified adults by strengthening their basic skills, such as literacy, numeracy and digital knowledge. The event brings together stakeholders and Member States to explore possibilities for co-operation and to bring learning opportunities to the attention of a maximum number of adults. "The rapid pace of change in the world means that education can no longer be a concern only for the young. Learning has to be life-long to make sure that everyone can keep up with rapidly changing labour market needs", said Commissioner Vassiliou. "Improving the knowledge, skills and competences of adults is a priority for the Commission because it would greatly benefit not just these individuals but also society as a whole." The Agenda predicts that, by 2020, adult learning systems will be faced with a strong demand for access to high-quality lifelong learning opportunities and an enhanced role for local authorities, employers, social partners, civil society and cultural organisations. Among the issues targeted for action in the Agenda are improved quality assurance, viable funding, accessible information and guidance, validation of non-formal and informal learning and a focus on well-developed learning provision for seniors to support their active ageing and enable them to contribute to society for longer. The European Union target for average participation in lifelong learning across the EU is 15% by 2020, for adults aged 25-64. The average participation in 2010 was 9.1%, which means that more than 25 million adults (aged 25 -64) participated in a learning experience that year. However, adult participation in lifelong learning varies greatly; for example, in Denmark over 32% of adults participate, while in Bulgaria the figure is just 1.2%.

Merger: Commission clears acquisition of Essor by SCOR and MAF

The European Commission has granted clearance under the EU Merger Regulation to the acquisition of the Brazilian direct insurance corporation Essor Participações Ltda, by SCOR, a French re-insurance group and the Mutuelle des Architectes Français (MAF), a French direct insurance services group. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.

Merger: Commission clears acquisition by PetroFina of ExxonMobil's jointly controlling stake in FAO

The European Commission has granted clearance under the EU Merger Regulation to the acquisition of ExxonMobil's interest in Fina Antwerp Olefins N.V. ("FAO") by PetroFina S.A., a company belonging to the Total group. FAO is a processing company, which owns three naphtha crackers, satellite units and logistics and which manufactures base chemicals (ethylene and propylene) and their co-products. Through its chemical business segment, the Total group manufactures, distributes and sells base chemicals, commodity polymers and specialty chemicals. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.

Merger: Commission clears acquisition of joint control by Power Machines and Toshiba over a newly created JV.

The European Commission has cleared under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of joint control by the Russian undertaking OJSC Power Machines ("Power Machines") and the Japanese Toshiba Corporation ("Toshiba") in a newly created Joint Venture who will produce and sell oil immersed power transformers and oil immersed shunt reactors. Power Machines is active in the manufacture of power generation equipment and other devices for power plants. Toshiba manufactures and supplies a range of products for the transmission and distribution of electrical power. The Commission concluded that the transaction will not raise competition concerns due to the limited overlaps between the parties' activities.

The European Commission has granted clearance under the EU Merger Regulation to the acquisition. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure.

State aid: Commission approves prolongation of the Polish recapitalisation scheme for financial institutions

The European Commission has authorised, under EU state aid rules, a prolongation of the Polish recapitalisation scheme for financial institutions until 30 June 2012. The scheme aims at maintaining stability in the Polish financial sector by underwriting capital increases to eligible financial institutions. This scheme complements the liquidity support granted under the support scheme for banks' funding in Poland (see IP/09/1360). 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 21 December 2009 (see IP/09/1979) and prolonged on 5 July 2010, 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).

Giving Europe a Mobile Broadband Boost

Vice President Neelie Kroes will today give a major speech today at the 2012 Mobile World Congress (14h00 CET) in Barcelona. Kroes will announce her support for bringing down mobile data roaming costs through a permanent solution known as "local break-out", which allows users to choose the best offer like they would choose a WiFi network. “Local break-out is the best answer for data users: it is a simple solution, a boost for competition and consumer confidence," Kroes will say. The solution will need support from Parliament and Council, and would replace roaming price caps which are expected to be phased out in coming years. Kroes will also stress the important role of next generation mobile networks to meet the 2020 EU broadband targets, and open debate on possible allocation or co-allocation of the 700 Megahertz band of radio spectrum for mobile broadband. UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL 14:00 CET

Enregistrement d'une dénomination de produit agricole

La Commission européenne a ajouté une dénomination à la liste des appellations d'origine protégées (AOP). Il s'agit de "Alföldi kamillavirágzat", fleur de la camomille sauvage de Hongrie. Cette dénomination s'ajoute à la liste de plus de 1000 produits déjà protégés en vertu de la législation sur la protection des indications géographiques, des appellations d'origine et des spécialités traditionnelles. Des renseignements sur les produits de qualité ainsi que la liste des dénominations protégées sont disponibles sur l'internet à l'adresse: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/quality/schemes/index_fr.htm

Infringements

Environment: Commission takes France to Court for failing to combat water pollution by nitrates

The European Commission is referring France to the EU Court of Justice for failing to take measures to guarantee that water pollution by nitrates is addressed effectively. Although the Nitrates Directive has been in force since 1991, France has still not designated a number of zones that are vulnerable to nitrates pollution, and it has yet to adopt measures to effectively combat nitrates pollution in these zones. The Commission is therefore taking France to the EU Court of Justice.

Environment: Malta asked to ensure bird protection

The Commission has asked Malta to improve the protection of birds that pass over its islands in the autumn. Since Malta joined the EU in 2004 it has allowed the autumn trapping of four species of birds protected by EU laws: the Turtle Dove, Quail, Golden Plover and Song Thrush. The Commission is sending a reasoned opinion to ask Malta to correctly implement the relevant bird protection legislation. If Malta fails to reply within two months, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

Environment: Commission asks Poland to correctly transpose legislation concerning water monitoring

Brussels, 27 February 2012 – Poland has not yet complied with EU legislation on water protection, including monitoring of water quality. The Commission is sending an additional reasoned opinion to ask Poland to correctly implement the EU's Water Framework Directive (WFD). This is the third time Poland has been reminded of the need to comply with EU water legislation and if Poland fails to reply within one month, the Commission may refer the case to the EU Court of Justice.

Agriculture: la Commission demande à la France de respecter les règles européennes en matière de commercialisation des eaux-de-vie de vin et distillats de

La Commission européenne a officiellement demandé à la France de modifier ses règles en matière de production et de commercialisation de certains produits obtenus par distillation des lies et des marcs. En effet, cette affaire concerne l'autorisation donnée par les autorités françaises aux distillateurs agréés de produire, à titre expérimental, des eaux-de-vie de vin et des distillats de vin à partir de la distillation des sous-produits de la vinification (des marcs et des lies), en vue de leur commercialisation sous les dénominations "eaux-de-vie de vin" et "distillats de vin".

Free movement of workers: Commission asks Luxembourg to end discrimination in access to study grants and allowances

The European Commission has requested Luxembourg to end discrimination against migrant workers and members of their families in accessing study grants, financial aid for volunteers and the so-called allowances of 'boni pour enfant'. Following several citizen complaints received in 2010, the European Commission started its investigation on a piece of legislation adopted in 2000 that imposes a residence condition for access to these benefits. This condition amounts to indirect discrimination on the grounds of nationality as it is likely to affect EU workers more than national workers and may put the migrant workers at a disadvantage. It therefore breaches EU law on free movement of workers. The request takes the form of a 'reasoned opinion' under EU infringement procedures. Luxembourg now has two months to reply. If the reply is not satisfactory, the Commission may decide to refer Luxembourg to the EU's Court of Justice.

Social security coordination: Commission asks Malta to stop cuts to civil service pensions from other Member States

The European Commission has requested Malta to stop reducing Maltese old-age pensions by the amount of civil servant pensions received from other Member States. Maltese legislation provides that Maltese statutory old-age pensions are partly decreased by the sum of service pensions paid for past services in Malta or abroad. Such a practice breaches social security coordination rules of the European Union as all pensions based on national legislation, such as civil service pensions, fall under the protection of the EU rules on social security coordination. This prohibits the application of national rules on suspension and reduction of benefits to a pension calculated under social security coordination rules. The request takes the form of a 'reasoned opinion' under EU infringement procedures. Malta now has two months to inform the Commission of measures it has taken to bring its legislation into line with EU law. Otherwise, the Commission may decide to refer Malta to the EU's Court of Justice.

Labour law: Commission requests UK to take fully on board new rules for European Works Councils

The European Commission has requested the United Kingdom to complete the full transposition of new EU law on European Works Councils (the recast of EU Directive on European Works Councils) into its national law. The request takes the form of a 'reasoned opinion' under EU infringement procedures. If the United Kingdom does not bring its legislation into line with EU law in its whole territory within two months, the Commission may decide to refer the Member state to the EU's Court of Justice.

Energy Labelling: Commission urges Cyprus, Romania and Italy to adopt consumer-friendly legislation

The Energy labelling directive is important in promoting energy efficiency and raising consumers' awareness. By giving consumers comparative information on the energy consumption of the products they buy, the energy label favours better energy and cost saving decisions. In addition, it encourages manufacturers to develop products with a good energy efficiency rating. Moreover, defining common EU thresholds related to energy efficiency (B, A, A+ etc.) provides Member States with a clear framework when it comes to purchase requirements. This framework is useful also for other stakeholders such as private companies in their advertising activities.

Internal energy market: national legislation in 8 Member States still not in line with EU rules

Opening energy markets for competition is key to competitiveness of the EU economy as a whole. An efficient, interconnected and transparent European internal energy market will also offer consumers a choice between different companies supplying gas and electricity and will make the market accessible to all suppliers. The Electricity and Gas Directives of the Third Energy Package had to be transposed by the Member States by 3 March 2011. As to date Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania and Slovakia have not informed the Commission of any transposition measures for the two Directives and Estonia has not done so as regards the Gas Directive.

Sanctioning employers of irregular migrants: Commission urges three Member States to act

Some Member States are still failing to apply EU rules on sanctions and measures against employers who exploit irregular migrants. Today, the Commission decided to advance infringement proceedings and issue reasoned opinions requesting Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden bring their laws into line with the Employer Sanctions Directive (Directive 2009/52/EC), which should have been implemented before 20 July 2011. The Directive targets employers who take advantage of irregular migrants' precarious position and employ them for what are usually low-paid jobs with poor working conditions. It also strengthens the rights of the individual migrant by requiring employers to pay outstanding wages.

'Blue Card': Commission warns Member States over red tape facing highly qualified migrants

Three Member States are still making it too difficult for highly skilled people to come and work in the EU, prompting the Commission to act. Despite having been warned in July 2011, Austria, Cyprus and Greece have not yet transposed the rules of the Blue Card Directive, which should have been implemented before 19 June 2011. This is why the European Commission today issued reasoned opinions (Article 258 TFEU) requesting Austria, Cyprus and Greece to bring their laws into line with EU legislation.

Compensation to crime victims: Greece complies with Court of Justice ruling, adopts EU law

The European Commission welcomes that Greece has adopted into national legislation a European Union Directive on compensating crime victims. Greece has complied with a ruling by the European Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) of 31 March 2011 and paid the Commission a €3 million penalty for ignoring a previous ECJ ruling for not implementing the EU rules. As a result, the Commission is now closing the infringement case against Greece.

Certification des navires à passagers: La Commission adresse un avis motivé au Danemark

La Commission européenne a adressé un avis motivé, dernière étape procédurale avant la saisine éventuelle de la Cour de justice, au Danemark, pour entrave en matière de libre prestation de service. En exigeant systématiquement une certification au titre de la Convention SOLAS pour tous les navires à voile néerlandais de plus de 12 passagers accostant dans ses ports à la suite d'un voyage international, le Danemark omet de rechercher si pour chacun de ces navires, les règles de sécurité auxquelles il est déjà soumis aux Pays-Bas, ne suffiraient pas pour leur assurer un niveau de sécurité adéquat. En l’absence de réponse satisfaisante dans un délai de deux mois, la Commission pourra saisir la Cour de justice de l'Union européenne.

Consumers: Commission calls on Slovakia to ensure full protection of consumers' interests

The European Commission has asked Slovakia to ensure the correct transposition of Directive 2009/22/EC concerning certain actions for the protection of consumers' interests. Although Slovakia has proposed to amend its national legislation transposing the Directive, it has not provided a reasonable timeframe for doing so, thus failing to adequately protect some consumer rights. Directive 2009/22/EC enables a consumer association or a public consumer protection organisation in one Member State to introduce a action against a commercial operator established in another Member State. The so called "injunction", is an order granted by a court or an administrative body obliging a commercial operator to immediately cease activities which go against certain consumer interests, for example unfair marketing techniques, misleading advertising or pressure selling, until a final judgement on their legality is handed down.

Taxation: European Commission requests Belgium to review discriminatory venture capital tax incentive

The European Commission has officially asked Belgium to amend its legislation on tax credits for investing in venture capital. Belgian legislation grants a personal income tax credit to individuals investing in shares and units of ARKimedes funds. This tax credit is only granted on the condition that these investors are resident in the Flemish region. Residents of other Member States cannot benefit from the mentioned tax credit even if they are fully taxable in Belgium because they derive all or almost all of their personal income in Belgium.

European Commission calls on Germany to change its rules on VAT

The European Commission has officially asked Germany to change its VAT rules as regards the application of a reduced VAT rate to the supply of works of art and collectors' items. Germany's current rules are incompatible with EU law. In Germany, a reduced rate of VAT is applied to all supplies of works of art and collectors' items, as well as the letting of such goods.

Taxation: European Commission requests Belgium to amend property transfer tax in the Brussels Capital Region

The European Commission has officially asked Belgium to amend its legislation on the property transfer tax in the Brussels Capital Region. The legislation at stake allows for a tax base reduction of the property transfer tax when buying a primary residence in the Brussels Capital Region on the condition of staying resident in the Region during the next 5 years.

La Commission demande à la Belgique de respecter la demande des 26 autres Etats membres sur les exonérations fiscales

La Commission européenne a demandé à la Belgique de se conformer aux lois européennes régissant les exonérations fiscales dont bénéficie l'Union européenne. Ces lois ont été adoptées par les Etats membres afin d'éviter que les Institutions européennes paient des taxes au bénéfice d'un seul Etat (celui du siège) et conduisent à une augmentation du budget européen.

Autre matériel diffusé :

Speech by President Barroso: "A stronger Europe in stormy times" - rediffusion

Memo on Joint Customs Operation "Barrel"

Memo on Infringements: "EU law, Commission acts to ensure that European Legislation is fully and properly implemented"

Memo "Joint statement of High Representative/Vice President Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Štefan Füle on the agreements reached in the latest round of Belgrade-Pristina dialogue" - rediffusion

Speech by Vice-President Almunia: "Restructuring EU banks: The role of State aid control" at CEPS Lunchtime Meeting - rediffusion


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