Midday Express of 2013-07-17
European Commission - MEX/13/0717 17/07/2013
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EXME 13 / 17.07
17 / 07 / 13
Protecting taxpayers’ money against fraud: Commission proposes European Public Prosecutor's Office
Today, the European Commission is taking action to improve Union-wide prosecution of criminals who defraud EU taxpayers by establishing a European Public Prosecutor's Office. Its exclusive task will be to investigate and prosecute and, where relevant, bring to judgement – in the Member States' courts - crimes affecting the EU budget. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will be an independent institution, subject to democratic oversight. In parallel, the Commission is also proposing a reform of the European Union’s Agency for criminal justice cooperation (Eurojust) and presenting a Communication on the governance of the EU Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). For more information: IP/13/709 ; MEMO/13/693
Après une enquête approfondie, la Commission européenne a conclu que le système espagnol de location-financement fiscale pour l'acquisition de navires est en partie incompatible avec les règles de l'UE relatives aux aides d'Etat. Ce système, mis en place en 2002, n'a jamais été notifié à la Commission européenne pour autorisation préalable, comme cela aurait dû être le cas. Ce système a permis à des Groupements d'intérêt économique (GIE) et à leurs investisseurs de bénéficier d'un avantage sélectif par rapport à leurs concurrents. Ces bénéficiaires doivent, conformément aux règles européennes, rembourser cet avantage à l'Etat espagnol. En application du principe de sécurité juridique, la Commission ne demande pas la récupération des aides accordées entre le début du régime en 2002 et le 30 avril 2007, date à laquelle la Commission a publiquement déclaré incompatible un dispositif français similaire. Voir Memo/13/696 .
After amendments resulting from a public consultation in March 2013 (see MEX/13/0320), the European Commission is inviting comments on a second draft for a revised Regulation on small aid amounts (so-called "de minimis" aid). According to this Regulation, aid measures below a certain ceiling do not constitute state aid in the meaning of EU rules because they have no impact on competition and trade in the internal market. Measures that fulfil the criteria of the Regulation therefore do not need to be notified to the Commission for approval before they are implemented. The revised draft simplifies and clarifies the criteria and proposes the introduction of a mandatory register of de minimis measures after a transition period. Comments can be submitted until 9 September 2013. In light of the submissions, the Commission will then adopt a new regulation at the end of 2013. The review is part of the Commission's State Aid Modernisation initiative (SAM, see IP/12/458)
The European Commission has concluded that a loan of €80 million to be granted by the Dutch authorities to support the construction of a new multipurpose nuclear reactor in Petten (region of Noord-Holland) is in line with EU state aid rules. The Commission found, in particular, that the aid will contribute to the security of supply of medical radioisotopes for the benefit of European patients and to other objectives of common interest without unduly distorting competition in the internal market.
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to verify whether the new interpretation of a Spanish scheme allowing tax deductions in connection with the acquisition of shareholdings in non-Spanish companies is in line with EU state aid rules. The Commission had found the original version of the scheme incompatible with the state aid rules because it gave the beneficiaries a selective economic advantage over their competitors performing domestic acquisitions. According to consistent administrative practice, the original scheme applied only to direct acquisitions, whereas the new Spanish interpretation would retroactively allow tax deductions also for indirect acquisitions. At this stage, the Commission considers that the amended scheme may again involve state aid and has doubts as regards the compatibility of such aid. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested third parties an opportunity to submit comments on the measure under assessment. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The European Commission has referred Greece to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to comply with two distinct Commission decisions that ordered Greece to recover incompatible state aid from three Greek casinos (see IP/11/635) and from Aluminium of Greece SA (see IP/11/864) In both cases, over two years after the Commission decisions, the full aid amounts have still not been paid back.
The European Commission has decided that the aid granted by France to the car component manufacturer Valeo to conduct the “Essencyele” research and development programme complies with the EU rules on state aid. The aim of this project is to develop an intermediate (or “mild”) hybrid system for petrol-engined vehicles capable of constituting a compromise between the existing “micro” hybrid technology (with a low‑cost start‑stop system, which generates limited CO2 emission gains) and expensive “full” hybrid solutions (with an electric drive mode, generating substantial emissions gains). The aid addresses a genuine market failure without giving rise to an undue distortion of competition.
The European Commission has adopted two separate decisions on German support schemes in favour of energy-intensive industries. Firstly, the Commission has concluded that a scheme compensating energy-intensive users for CO2 costs in their electricity price as of January 2013 is in line with EU state aid rules, in particular because it maintains incentives for the beneficiaries to further reduce their CO2 emissions. In contrast, the Commission found that a 2009 scheme supporting non-ferrous metal producers was incompatible with the internal market, in particular because it would have entailed serious distortions of competition to the detriment of producers in other Member States.
The European Commission has found support granted by Latvia for the transformation of the Latvian Mortgage and Land Bank (MLB) to be in line with EU state aid rules. In particular, the sale of MLB's commercial assets and its subsequent exit from the commercial banking market will minimise the distortions of competition brought about by the state support.
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to verify whether the transfer of public cable infrastructure between 2003 and 2006 by several French municipalities to the French Telecom operator Numéricâble was in line with EU state aid rules. As Numéricâble received the infrastructure for free, the transfers gave the company a huge economic advantage over its competitors and therefore constitute state aid. At this stage, the Commission has doubts that such aid could be found compatible with EU rules. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives interested third parties an opportunity to submit observations on the measure under assessment. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Behr by Mahle
The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of Behr by Mahle both of Germany. Behr was already jointly controlled by Mahle and Behr. Mahle is active in the automotive supply industry, in particular the development and the production of high-quality components and systems for the international motor vehicle and engine industry. Behr is active in the development and the production of components, modules and comprehensive systems for engine cooling and the air-conditioning of motor vehicles, heat transfer products and thermostatic control devices for coolant circuits. The Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would not raise competition concerns, because Behr was already controlled by Mahle and the market structure does not change with the current transaction. The operation was examined under the simplified merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission's competition website in the public case register under the case number M.6938 .
In the construction sector, seasonally adjusted production fell by 0.3% in the euro area (EA17) and by 0.2% in the EU27 in May 2013, compared with the previous month, according to first estimates released by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. In April 2013, production rose by 1.0% and 1.1% respectively. Compared with May 2012, production decreased by 5.1% in both zones in May 2013.
How many foreign citizens live in an EU Member State? And how many of them come from another EU Member State? How is the risk of poverty influenced by the level of education? Are there more females or more males among the student population in the EU? Answers to these questions and many more can be found in the 1st edition of the European social statistics pocketbook, published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. The pocketbook presents a comprehensive summary of social statistics available at Eurostat and offers users an interesting and easy understandable overview. It includes seven chapters on population, health & safety, education & training, labour market, income & living conditions, social protection and crime & criminal justice.
Ahead of the EU-South Africa Summit to take place on July 18 in Pretoria (South Africa), the European Union has approved a ground-breaking €100 million programme to support infrastructure development, through an innovative grant-loan blending mechanism, for South Africa and the region. The Infrastructure Investment Programme for South Africa will be used to leverage investments from development finance institutions in areas identified by the country itself which were in deep need of financing. Recognising improved infrastructure as vital to bettering peoples' lives, EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who is going to attend the EU-South Africa Summit, stated: “Improving infrastructure is key to the development of any country. South Africa is currently held back by its infrastructure, which restricts people’s access to health, education and job opportunities. By taking an innovative approach, our new support programme will help to significantly boost trade in the region and get the country on the road to further growth”.
Commissioner Hedegaard at Major Economies Forum in Cracow
Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, will participate in a meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) in Cracow, Poland this evening and tomorrow (17-18 July). Set up by US President Obama to facilitate dialogue on climate change policy between key developed and developing countries, the MEF brings together ministers from 17 of the world's major economies which are collectively responsible for some 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as a number of observer countries. The talks will focus on cooperative 'MEF actions' to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, how to promote ambition and inclusiveness in the new international climate agreement due to be adopted in 2015, and expectations for the two UN climate conferences to be held before then, in Warsaw in November 2013 and in Lima, Peru in late 2014.
Days before European rules on offshore safety for European companies abroad enter into force, and just months before additional requirements for companies operating in US waters take effect, EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger has called for operating and drilling companies to deliver the highest standards including when operating outside of American and European waters. During his visit to Washington Commissioner Oettinger said that this places the spotlight on the global companies who have done much to improve standards since Macondo to give leadership to safety wherever they operate, and where the US and EU rules do not apply. With regard to EU and US arrangements coming into force this year, Commissioner Oettinger said: "Our colleagues in the US DoI have reaffirmed the value of the long-standing cooperation between offshore regulators in Europe and the USA in securing the transparently highest levels of safety in the offshore oil and gas industry". Meeting the offshore industry in Houston, Commissioner Oettinger said that he is interested to hear what more is to be done to reassure people everywhere that the safety lessons of Macondo and the legacy of Piper Alpha are truly and visibly embedded wherever companies operate. Read joint EU/US statement .
Aujourd'hui, la Commission a adopté une décision déclarant incompatible avec le marché intérieur une aide sous forme de report de paiement accordée par l'Italie à ses producteurs de lait, redevables à l'Etat italien du montant du prélèvement laitier que celui-ci avait payé en leur nom au budget de l'Union au titre d'une aide approuvée par une décision du Conseil.
A Commission proposal to restrict the use of Fipronil, an insecticide which has recently been identified as posing an acute risk to Europe’s honey bee population, was backed by Member State experts meeting in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. This proposal follows a scientific risk assessment carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that was published on 27 May 2013 which identified that seeds treated with pesticides containing Fipronil pose an acute risk to Europe’s honey bee population. Tonio Borg, Commissioner for Health said “A few weeks ago, in the aftermath of the restriction on use of neonicotinoids, I pledged to do my utmost to protect Europe’s honey bee population and today’s agreement with Member States, not only delivers on that pledge but marks another significant step in realising the Commission’s overall strategy to tackling Europe’s bee decline.” 23 Member States supported the restriction, 2 Member States voted against and 3 Member States abstained during the standing committee vote.
Second special CCAMLR meeting in Bremerhaven - An opportunity missed to protect important marine areas in the Antarctic
Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki expressed her big disappointment that the Special meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Bremerhaven, Germany, was unable to reach an agreement on the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). The meeting this week considered two MPA proposals – a proposal by Australia, France and the European Union for a network of MPAs in East Antarctica and another one by New Zealand-United States on the Ross Sea region. Together with other CCAMLR members the EU had been working very hard to prepare for this meeting and to ensure that CCAMLR would live up to its commitments made in 2009 to establish a representative network of MPAs by 2012. She said: "It is a shame that the large support for the protection of these areas was blocked by a few. This is a step backwards and puts at stake the reputation of an organisation that has always been one of the frontrunners in the sustainable management of marine living resources. I do hope that this missed opportunity will be repaired soon”.
Appointment of a new Director in Directorate-General Home Affairs
Laurent Muschel has been appointed Director of "Migration, Asylum" in the Directorate-General for Home Affairs. Mr Muschel joined the Commission in 1994 and is currently Deputy Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Cecilia Malmström where he is responsible amongst other subjects for the external aspects of the Home Affairs portfolio including visa policy and the Terrorist Finance Tracking programme. Prior to this he was Deputy Head of Cabinet of Vice-President Jacques Barrot where he dealt with border management and immigration and asylum policy. Formerly he was Head of Unit for "International Energy Relations and Enlargement". Laurent Muschel is French and obtained his Masters at the Sorbonne University. This decision will take effect on 16 September 2013.
Appointment of a new Director in Directorate-General Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid
Roberto Ridolfi has been appointed Director for "Sustainable Growth and Development" in EuropeAid. He is currently Head of Delegation/Ambassador to Uganda. Prior to this he has also served in Namibia, Kosovo, Fiji and in Brussels in the Directorate-General for Regional Policy dealing also with Public Private Partnerships for the ISPA (Instrument for Pre-Accession) programme. He started his career in the private sector in Italy in financial engineering and management before joining the Commission in 1994 as Development Advisor in Malawi. In 2004 he joined AIDCO (EuropeAid) to start up the new EU-ACP Water facility, and later was Head of Unit of the DCI (Development Cooperation Instrument) thematic budget lines. Roberto Ridolfi is Italian, obtained his MSc and PhD from the University of Rome "La Sapienza" and also has an MBA. The effective date of this decision will be determined later.
What Commissioners said
During his visit in Washington DC, EU Energy Commissioner Oettinger provided a key note speech on the "Transatlantic Energy Revolution: Europe's Energy Diversification and U.S. Unconventional Oil and Gas" at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He said: "In the North American continent, it is clear that a significant energy "revolution" has taken place; one that is having and will continue to have a major impact on EU and global energy markets. […] He underlined that within the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership "we now have a real opportunity to take the joint lead in setting the rules and standards for the global energy market. And with the growing energy potential of the North American continent, there is the real possibility of a renewed trans-Atlantic energy trade. The reduced US call on the international LNG markets has already benefitted the EU by introducing price pressures on the traditional pipeline suppliers in addition to supplying the growing Asian market. In the near future, we could also potentially see US LNG exports and further US exports of refined oil products. So while our energy markets in terms of import dependency on hydrocarbons may be diverging, this may in fact open up significant opportunities for an increased energy partnership and trans-Atlantic energy trade." Read the speech: SPEECH/13/642 .