Daily News of 2013-12-17
European Commission - MEX/13/1217 17/12/2013
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EXME 13 / 17.12
17 / 12 / 13
Compared to last year, European SMEs are becoming more resource efficient and are contributing substantially to the transition towards a low-carbon economy, according to the results of the 2013 Eurobarometer survey on "SMEs, resource efficiency and green markets" published today. For example, the survey shows that 42% of EU SMEs now have at least one full or part-time green employee – a 5% increase from 2012 which exceeds the expectations set by businesses almost two years ago ( IP/12/316). Furthermore, more than nine in ten SMEs are taking at least one action to be more resource efficient and the level of their efforts has increased since last year. The most common actions are minimising waste (67%), saving energy (67%) and saving materials (59%). At least half are also recycling by reusing material or waste within the company, or by saving water (both 51%). Half of European SMEs active in green markets offer products and services with environmental features such as organic production and eco-labelling or eco-design (51%). More than one third (35%) offer products or services in the area of recycled material - 6% more than in 2012. Construction, food & beverages and electronic & mechanical machinery and equipment are still the most commonly sold green products and services.
Today, the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, sent a message of congratulations to Dr Angela Merkel, who was re-elected by the Bundestag as Federal Chancellor of Germany. In his message President Barroso qualifies her re-election as "both an endorsement of your past efforts and a signal of confidence for the coming years." He underlines that "Germany and the European Union jointly face the challenge of pursuing the course of consolidation and reform" and highlights the "impressive efforts to counter the crisis" whose fruits "are already clearly visible and confirm that we are on the right track." President Barroso expresses confidence that "we now have the great opportunity to truly put this crisis behind us by generating sustainable growth and at the same time giving the European Union and the Eurozone in particular a credible and effective armoury against future risks. Not least with an eye to the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament in May 2014 we will, in this way, be sending out a clear signal on the side of responsibility and solidarity and against populism and irrationality."
The European Commission welcomed today's final investment decision (FID) on extracting gas from the Shah Deniz II gas field in Azerbaijan. With this long-awaited decision, it is confirmed that Europe will get 10 billion cubics metres (bcm) per year starting from end 2019. All decisions taken so far - including to choose TAP as pipeline to bring gas to Europe - were conditional on this final investment decision. EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "Today's decision by the Shah-Deniz-II-Consortium is a strategic door opener for stronger European energy security. Building on the Joint Declaration I signed with President Aliyev in January 2011, this important step will give the EU direct access to gas from the Caspian basin. This is a major milestone for the diversification of our energy supplies, to the benefit of European consumers and businesses." EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said: "This decision to open the Southern Gas Corridor is a real breakthrough. Through its further enlargement, the corridor will have the potential to meet up to 20 per cent of the EU’s gas needs in the long term.” An official signing ceremony was held in Baku today in the presence of Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger and others. More than 18 billion Euro will be invested in platforms and subsea wells to extract 16 bcm of gas in water depths of 500 meters in the Caspian sea. Following earlier agreements, starting from the end of 2019, 6 bcm gas will be delivered to Turkey and 10 bcm to Europe.
President Barroso receives UN commissioners and offers €147 million for Syria
On 18 December morning, President Barroso will receive Ms Valerie Amos, Under Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator UNOCHA, Mr António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Anthony Lake and UNICEF Executive Director. They will sign three important contracts between the EU and the UN Agencies totalling €147 million to deliver vitally needed aid to people directly affected by the Syrian crisis.
A press point with President Barroso, Commissioner Georgieva and the UN leaders will take place at 2pm at the Berlaymont’s 13th floor. In order to be escorted, media representatives are requested to be at the Berlaymont reception not later than 1.50 pm.
Good progress has been made in record time on the banking union front. We are almost there thanks to hard work and a spirit of compromise demonstrated by both Member States and the European Parliament. Europe is well on the way to living up to its commitments and important milestones are due to be reached in the coming days. On the single resolution mechanism, an extraordinary ECOFIN meeting will take place tomorrow to hopefully finalise Council’s general approach. On the recast directive on Deposit Guarantee schemes, the Council now has a mandate to finalise negotiations with the European Parliament. There is no time to lose so the legislative procedure can be finalised before the end of the current parliamentary term. And this is crucial, as these new rules will help build a stable financial sector which is the basis for a healthy economy. This memo sets out what has been done so far to create a robust financial framework for all 28 Member States and where we stand in building the banking union. It provides useful information in support of today’s technical briefing on banking union. This memo will be updated regularly to reflect latest developments.
The European Commission today launched eight contractual Public Private Partnerships (cPPPs) of strategic importance for European industry. The partnerships will leverage more than €6 billion of investments to be allocated through calls for proposals under Horizon 2020, the new EU programme for research and innovation. Each euro of public funding is expected to trigger additional investments of between three and 10 euro to develop new technologies, products and services which will give European industry a leading position on world markets ( MEMO/13/1159).
A report on the possibility to extend mandatory origin labelling for meat of all species used as an ingredient was published today by the Commission. Based on an external study, completed in July 2013, this report weighed up the need for the consumer to be informed, the feasibility of introducing mandatory origin labelling and provided a cost/benefit analysis including the impact for the single market and international trade. On the basis of the discussions with EU Member States and the European Parliament, the Commission will consider what, if any, appropriate next steps should be taken.
Plant Health: Commission updates quality requirements for seed potatoes
New rules to modernise and harmonise quality and health requirements for the marketing of seed potatoes were endorsed today by experts meeting in the Standing Committee for Seeds and Propagating Material. The new harmonised requirements reflect recent technical developments in seed potato production, a sector with a total annual value of 1bn euros. The new rules reflect developments at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). Standards for the early starting material of the propagation process, vital for the production of healthy, high-quality seed potatoes that farmers can plant in their fields, are introduced as well. All this will help the European seed potato industry to benefit more from the single market and to strengthen their position in the export markets, where rising demand is a key development.
Commission opens debate on potential optional label for "product of island farming"
The European Commission has published today a report exploring the possibility of introducing "product of island farming" as a new optional quality term, as requested by the current legislation on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs . Reviewing the specificities of agriculture in islands, the report presents the advantages and drawbacks of creating a new such label at EU level and opens the debate on whether this is the right solution to help island producers to communicate better the added value of their products. It seems unrealistic to establish specific characteristics common to all island products, the Report concludes. A new quality term could help to protect island farming products against misuse. It could also be helpful for some small scale producers, in particular on small islands without a sufficient scale to use other quality schemes, but it could also penalise producers already engaged in quality schemes. As the majority of island products are sold locally or within specific Member States, the regulation of such labelling may be better addressed at Member State level, the report adds, adding that islands' structural problems might be better addressed by existing structural instruments. The report will now be forwarded for discussion in Council and in the European Parliament.
Employment: EU Globalisation Fund pays €2.6 million to help 1,010 redundant workers in Italy
The European Commission has paid €2.6 million from the European Globalisation adjustment Fund (EGF) to support 1,010 former workers of the Italian car manufacturer De Tomaso Automobili S.p.A. The financial aid will help dismissed workers back into employment, following their redundancies in the automotive sector. The Commission proposed the payment to the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament on 28 June 2013 (see IP/13/619).
In a new urban mobility package adopted today, the Commission will reinforce exchange of best practice, provide targeted financial support and invest in R&D to stimulate a shift towards cleaner and more sustainable transport in urban areas. Cities are home to over 70% of the EU population and account for some 85% of the EU's GDP. Most journeys begin and end in cities. In many urban areas, however, increasing demand for urban mobility has created a situation that is not sustainable — severe congestion, poor air quality, noise emissions and high levels of CO2 emissions. Urban congestion jeopardises EU goals for a competitive and resource-efficient transport system. Moreover, a new Eurobarometer survey published today shows that European citizens are concerned by the negative impacts of urban mobility, and many of them are pessimistic about the prospects for improving mobility in their cities. A large majority consider congestion (76%), air quality (81%) and accidents (73%) to be serious problems. Less than a quarter believe that the situation will improve in the future (24%) and most believe it will stay the same (35%) or get worse (37%).
A delegation from the European Commission (EC), in liaison with the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Banking Authority (EBA), carried out the fifth and final review of the financial sector assistance programme for Spain from 4 December to 13 December 2013. Spain has successfully implemented the necessary measures to repair its financial sector, so that the programme can end in January as planned. Compliance with the horizontal policy requirements in the Memorandum of Understanding contributed to a thorough overhaul of the governance, regulatory and supervisory framework of the Spanish banking sector. These results should be considered as an encouragement to maintain the reform momentum. This joint statement by the EC and the ECB presents the specific progress made during the last phase of the programme implementation. It also takes stock of the remaining challenges for the financial sector and the Spanish economy as a whole, which the European Commission will continue monitoring under all relevant EU surveillance processes.
Staff teams from the Commission, ECB and IMF concluded the 10th review of the economic adjustment programme for Portugal. They concluded that the programme remains on track, and the Portuguese authorities are determined to ensure continued compliance with the programme. Further signs of recovery have emerged since the last review. The programme’s fiscal targets have been confirmed. The banking sector is stable, but low profitability signals that challenges remain. Continued structural reform efforts will have to be the centrepiece of a credible strategy for sustainable growth in the coming years. The programme is supported loans of €52 billion from the EU, and €26 billion from the IMF. Final endorsement of this review by the Eurogroup, Ecofin and IMF Executive Board will pave the way for disbursement of €2.7 billion in total.
State aid: Commission approves extension of Portuguese guarantee scheme
The European Commission has authorised, under EU State aid rules, the extension until 30 June 2014 of a guarantee scheme for credit institutions in Portugal. The scheme was initially approved in October 2008 (see IP/08/1601) and prolonged several times, the last being in August 2013 (see MEX/13/0801). The Commission found the extension of the measures to be in line with its guidance on state aid to banks during the crisis (see IP/08/1495 and IP/11/1488). In particular, the extended measure is well targeted, proportionate and limited in time and scope. The Commission therefore concluded that it represents an appropriate means of remedying a serious disturbance in the Portuguese economy and is as such compatible with the internal market pursuant to Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
Euro area annual inflation was 0.9% in November 2013, up from 0.7% in October. A year earlier the rate was 2.2%. Monthly inflation was -0.1% in November 2013. European Union annual inflation was 1.0% in November 2013, up from 0.9% in October. A year earlier the rate was 2.4%. Monthly inflation was -0.1% in November 2013.
Hourly labour costs in the euro area (EA17) rose by 1.0% in the year up to the third quarter of 2013, compared with +1.1% for the second quarter of 20133. In the EU28, the annual rise was also 1.0% up to the third quarter of 2013, compared with +1.1% in the previous quarter. These figures are published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. The two main components of labour costs are wages & salaries and non-wage costs. In the euro area, wages & salaries per hour worked grew by 1.3% and the non-wage component by 0.4% in the year up to the third quarter of 2013, compared with +1.4% and +0.3% respectively for the previous quarter. In the EU28, hourly wages & salaries rose by 1.2% and the non-wage component by 0.3% in the year up to the third quarter of 2013, compared with +1.3% and +0.5% respectively for the second quarter of 2013.
2013 report on Rural Development confirms ongoing structural changes
Latest indicators confirm the ongoing structural trends in rural areas across the EU. The annual report on Rural Development measures published by the European Commission today shows that the number of farms declined by 12% between 2007 and 2010. The average farm size increased to 14.3 ha (against 12.7 ha in 2007) and close to 70% of all farms in the EU still have less than 5 ha of agricultural land, while full-time jobs in agriculture decreased by 16.5% over the same period. There has also been an increase in the area under organic farming (+6.9%/year between 2006 and 2011), or in the area under protective/protected forest. The report figures also show a continued improvement in greenhouse gas emissions (though at a slower pace over the last five years) and a decline in nitrogen and phosphorus surpluses and in the concentration of nitrates in surface water. The Report compiles further statistical information on the socio-economic, agricultural and environmental situation of rural areas, while a specific chapter focuses on the implementation of rural development programmes. Home to 113 million people in the EU, rural areas provide food, raw materials, jobs and numerous environmental goods and services, contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of cultural landscapes, biodiversity, water and soils as well as carbon storage. The sustainable development of rural areas has been a key objective of the Common Agricultural Policy since the full establishment of Rural Development programmes as the so-called second pillar in 2000.
Today the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) backed a European Commission's proposal to better protect the euro from counterfeiting through the use of criminal law measures. The proposal aims to crack down on criminals who counterfeit euro notes and coins – a phenomenon estimated to have cost at least €500 million over the past decade. Vice-President Reding said: "The euro is our common currency. If we don't take action to protect it, nobody else will." Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta added: "This proposal is important for ensuring confidence in our most valuable asset: the euro. It is also needed to protect honest businesses and citizens from ending up with fake money in their pockets. Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta added: "This proposal is important for ensuring confidence in our most valuable asset: the euro. It is also needed to protect honest businesses and citizens from ending up with fake money in their pockets.
Today the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) voted by 20 votes in favour, 1 against and 3 abstentions to back the European Commission's proposal to modernise Europe’s rules on cross-border business insolvency, helping to give otherwise viable businesses a ‘second chance’. Cross-border insolvencies affect an estimated 50 000 companies and 1.7 million jobs across the EU every year. The new rules will shift the focus away from liquidation towards a new approach helping businesses overcome financial difficulties. Vice-President Reding said: "We need to lend a helping hand to our businesses when the going is rough. The first option for viable businesses in financial difficulty should be to keep afloat rather than liquidating. That is why we need to update our current rules on cross-border insolvency to give honest businesses and their employees a second chance."
Today the Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) voted to endorse the Commission’s proposal to scrap the Apostille stamp and a further series of arcane administrative requirements Member States still require for certifying public documents for people living and working in other Member States. Currently, citizens who move to another EU country have to spend time and money demonstrating that their public documents from another Member State are authentic. Businesses operating across EU borders in the EU’s Single Market are also affected as they are often required to produce a number of certified public documents in order to prove their legal status when operating cross-border. Vice-President Reding said: "EU citizens should be able to live, move and work in other EU countries as easily as they can in their home countries. If citizens can move freely, their documents should too."
Consultation on information about characteristics of furniture products
Information on furniture products relates to characteristics, such as to weight, dimensions, origin, materials and substances used, quality processes applied, product durability, instructions and precautions on use, cleaning and disposal, etc. Without having such information, consumers may find it difficult to compare different furniture products, and thus some EU countries have introduced or are considering developing information schemes. These complement information required under the EU product safety legislation and may well facilitate consumers’ purchasing decisions, but their divergent information content between Member States can possibly impact the companies trading furniture across the EU. The objective of this public consultation is therefore to gather stakeholders’ views on the possible needs for and impacts of enhanced information accompanying furniture products sold in the EU. More information
The European Commission has today appointed Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon as the next President of the European Research Council (ERC), the EU's premier funding body for investigator-driven frontier research. Professor Bourguignon, a mathematician and French national, will take over in his new role as of 1 January 2014, replacing Professor Helga Nowotny. He will be the first ERC President to be based in Brussels, in a new reinforced role where he will devote most of his time to the job. He joins the ERC at a vital moment for its further development, with a strongly increased seven-year budget of over €13 billion under Horizon 2020, the new EU programme for research and innovation.
What Commissioners said
The Council of EU Agriculture Ministers formally adopted yesterday the 4 Basic Regulations for the reformed Common Agriculture Policy, as well as the Transition Rules for 2014. This follows on the approval of these Regulations by the European Parliament in November. EU Agriculture & Rural Development Commissioner Dacian Cioloş stated: "I welcome the adoption of the CAP Reform regulations by EU Ministers. This follows on from our political agreement earlier in the year. As far as the implementation of the reform is concerned, the Commission has worked extremely hard with Member State and EP experts in recent weeks to clarify the Delegated Acts, and it seems that we are now very close to a stable text. The onus now turns to Member States to decide how they intend to implement the reform, based on the options provided in the agreement."