Daily News of 2013-12-18
European Commission - MEX/13/1218 18/12/2013
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MEx 13 / 1812
18 / 12 / 13
The human toll for poor air quality is worse than for road traffic accidents, making it the number one environmental cause of premature death in the EU. It also impacts the quality of life due to asthma or respiratory problems. The Commission is responding with new measures to reduce air pollution, adopted today. The clean air policy package updates existing legislation and further reduces harmful emissions from industry, traffic, energy plants and agriculture, with a view to reducing their impact on human health and the environment. Air pollution causes also lost working days, and high healthcare costs, with vulnerable groups such as children, asthmatics and the elderly the worst affected. It also damages ecosystems through excess nitrogen pollution (eutrophication) and acid rain. The direct costs to society from air pollution, including damage to crops and buildings, amount to about €23 billion per year. The benefits to people's health from implementing the package are around €40 billion a year, over 12 times the costs of pollution abatement, which are estimated to reach €3.4 billion per year in 2030.
The European Commission has today adopted three draft laws on animal cloning and on novel food which will provide legal certainty in this field. Two proposals will ban the use of the cloning technique in the EU for farm animals (i.e. bovine, porcine, ovine, caprine and equine species) and the imports of these animal clones. The marketing of food from animal clones will also be prohibited. These proposals intend to address animal welfare and other ethical concerns related to the use of the technique. The draft law on novel food revises the existing Novel Food Regulation with a view to improving access of new and innovative food to the EU market, while still maintaining a high level of consumer protection. EU Commissioner in charge of Health Tonio Borg said: "Today's initiatives on animal cloning respond to animal welfare concerns as well as consumer perceptions on food from animal clones in a realistic and workable way. The changes on novel food will create a more efficient system. It will offer EU consumers the benefit of a broad choice of foodstuffs and provides a favourable environment for Europe's food industry." See also MEMO/13/1170
The European Commission is inviting comments on a proposal for revised State aid guidelines for assessing public support projects in the field of energy and the environment. This revision is part of a broader initiative to modernise EU State aid rules. The Commission proposes to extend the scope of the existing guidelines beyond the environmental field into the energy area and to clarify and simplify the assessment of state aid measures. Comments can be submitted until 14 February 2014.
The European Commission has opened three distinct in-depth investigations to verify whether various public support measures in favour of certain Spanish professional football clubs are in line with EU state aid rules. None of the measures was notified to the Commission, who was alerted by concerned citizens. The Commission has concerns that these measures provided significant advantages to the beneficiary clubs to the detriment of the clubs which have to operate without such support. The opening of an in-depth investigation gives Spain and interested third parties an opportunity to comment on the measures under examination; it does not prejudge its outcome.
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether the reduction granted to energy-intensive companies on a surcharge for the financing of renewable energy sources in Germany (the so-called "EEG-surcharge") is compatible with EU state aid rules. Under the Renewable Energy Law as amended in 2012 (EEG-Act 2012), energy intensive industries are granted reductions on the EEG-surcharge. The Commission will also investigate the reduction on the EEG-surcharge granted when a supplier sources 50% of his electricity portfolio from domestic renewable electricity ("green electricity privilege"). The opening of an in‑depth investigation gives third parties an opportunity to comment on the measure under assessment. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The European Commission is inviting comments from stakeholders on a draft revised version of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). The Regulation exempts unproblematic categories of aid from prior Commission scrutiny, allowing Member States to grant such aid without notifying it to the Commission. The revised draft includes new categories of exempted aid and further simplifies the assessment, reducing the administrative burden for Member States and local public authorities. It will also improve the ex-post control of aid granted under this notification exemption. In light of the feedback received, the Commission will adopt the final Regulation in the second quarter of 2014. See also MEMO/13/1175.
Following three public consultations, the European Commission has adopted a revised Regulation on small aid amounts that fall outside the scope of EU state aid control because they are deemed to have no impact on competition and trade in the internal market. Measures that fulfil the criteria of the Regulation do not constitute "state aid" in the meaning of EU rules and therefore do not need to be notified to the Commission for approval before they are implemented. The reform, which simplifies and clarifies the rules, is part of the Commission's State Aid Modernisation initiative (SAM, see IP/12/458). It will significantly reduce administrative burden for companies and Member States.
The European Commission has found French public support for the construction and renovation of nine stadiums in order to host the UEFA EURO Championship in 2016 to be in line with EU state aid rules. After the championship, the stadiums will continue to be available to clubs and citizens for social, sports and cultural events. The Commission therefore concluded that the measure will further the promotion of sport and culture without unduly distorting competition in the EU internal market.
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to examine whether UK plans to subsidise the construction and operation of a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset are in line with EU state aid rules. In particular, the Commission has doubts that the project suffers from a genuine market failure. The opening of an in-depth inquiry gives interested third parties an opportunity to comment on the measure. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
The European Commission has approved in five distinct decisions state aid measures in favor of five Slovenian banks. The Commission approved the restructuring plans of Nova Ljubljanska banka d.d. (NLB) and of Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor d. d. (NKBM), in particular because they will enable the banks to become viable in the long term without unduly distorting competition. The Commission also approved aid for the orderly winding down of Factor Banka d.d. and Probanka d.d., in particular because the distortions of competition created by the aid will be minimised by the complete market exit of the two banks. Finally, the Commission temporarily approved rescue aid in favor of Abanka Vipa d.d., for reasons of financial stability. The final decision will be taken in the context of the assessment of Abanka's restructuring plan, which Slovenia committed to submit within the next two months.
The European Commission has found that public funding of €93 million for the purchase of long-distance passenger rolling stock by the Polish passenger rail operator PKP Intercity (PKP IC) is in line with EU state aid rules. The project is aimed at increasing passenger transport by rail. It should also contribute to improving the country's territorial cohesion and the accessibility of individual regions. The Commission has found that this project will further EU cohesion and transport objectives without unduly distorting competition. This decision is on the compatibility of the project with EU state aid rules. It is without prejudice to the on-going assessment by the Commission under EU structural funds rules.
The European Commission has found that public support to seven projects aimed at improving and expanding the Greek electricity network complies with EU state aid rules. Those projects will contribute to ensuring the security of energy supply by improving the reliability of the national transmission system and thus enhance the functioning of the energy market. The Commission has concluded that the aid furthers major energy objectives and environmental policies of the EU without unduly distorting competition in the internal market.
The European Commission has accepted the commitments offered by the German railway incumbent Deutsche Bahn (DB) regarding its pricing system for traction current in Germany and made them legally binding. Traction current is the electricity used to power locomotives. The Commission had concerns that DB's pricing system, in particular discounts that only railway companies belonging to DB could obtain, may have hampered competition in the German markets for rail freight and long-distance passenger transport in breach of EU antitrust rules. To address these concerns, DB offered to introduce a new pricing system for traction current that would apply uniformly to all railway companies and should enable electricity providers not belonging to the DB group to directly supply traction current to railway companies. After DB amended its initial commitments proposal in light of the results of a market test (see IP/13/780), the Commission is satisfied that the final commitments remedy its competition concerns.
The European Commission has cleared under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed acquisition of the ground and cargo handling service provider Servisair by rival Swissport. The clearance is conditional upon the divestment of Swissport's ground handling activities at Birmingham airport and Servisair's ground handling activities at Helsinki, London Gatwick and Newcastle airports, where the merged entity would have faced insufficient competition to avoid price increases for ground handling services. The commitments offered by the parties address these concerns.
State aid: Commission approves prolongation of Portuguese Guarantee Scheme on EIB lending
The European Commission has authorised, under EU State aid rules, the extension until 30 June 2014 of a Portuguese scheme providing State guarantees to banks that guarantee European Investment Bank (EIB) loans granted to companies in Portugal. The scheme was initially approved on 27 June 2013 (see IP/13/617). The Commission found the prolongation of the measure to be in line with its guidance on state aid to banks during the crisis (see IP/08/1495 , IP/11/1488 and IP/13/672). In particular, the prolonged measure is well targeted, proportionate and limited in time and scope. The scheme will allow the continuation of funding provided by the EIB to the real economy and prevent the disruption of the credit granted by the EIB through the banks participating in the scheme. 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).
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of La Gardenia Beauty by Bridgepoint and Orlando
The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of joint control over La Gardenia Beauty S.p.A. by Bridgepoint Advisers Group Limited of the UK and Orlando Italy Management S.A. of Luxembourg. La Gardenia Beauty, which is currently solely controlled by Orlando, is active in the retail distribution of perfumes and cosmetic products in Italy. Bridgepoint and Orlando are private equity funds. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would not raise competition concerns, because it would lead to no new overlaps between the activities of the portfolio companies of Orlando and Bridgepoint. The operation was examined under the normal merger review procedure. More information is available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.7097 .
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of joint control over Varo by funds managed by the Carlyle Group
The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed acquisition of joint control over Varo of Switzerland by the Carlyle Group of the US and the Vitol Group of the Netherlands. Varo is currently jointly controlled by the Vitol Group and by Alea Iacta Est B.V. ("AtlasInvest") from the Netherlands. By the same transaction, Varo also acquires sole control over Vitol Germany and Petrotank, both of Germany, currently solely controlled by the Vitol group. Carlyle is a global alternative manager of funds that invest in the fields of corporate private equity, real assets and global market strategies and solutions. The Vitol Group trades commodities and financial instruments relating in particular to oil and gas, the operation of storage terminals and the exploration and production of oil and gas. Varo operates a crude oil refinery in Switzerland and is active in the storage and wholesale marketing of petroleum products in Switzerland. Vitol Germany sells refined petroleum products of middle distillates and Petrotank operates storage tank terminals for mineral oil products in Germany. The Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would not raise competition concerns, because it does not change the market structure. 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.7087 .
The Commission has today adopted a Regulation which changes the threshold at which national aid for primary agricultural production is defined as a state aid, i.e. the level below which schemes are considered to be “de minimis”. Applicable from the start of next year, the new Regulation raises this ceilings for de minimis aid from €7 500 to €15 000 per beneficiary over three fiscal years and from 0.75% to 1% of the total value of agricultural production for each Member State. Aids above this level have to follow the state aid procedures which are either formal notifications or block exemptions.
Commission approves third prolongation of Cypriot bank guarantee scheme
The European Commission has authorised, under EU state aid rules, a prolongation until 30 June 2014 of a Cypriot guarantee scheme for credit institutions. The original scheme was approved on 6 November 2012 (see IP/12/1171). It was prolonged a first time in January 2013 (see MEX/13/0122) and a second time in July 2013 (see MEX/13/0725) . The Commission found this third prolongation of the measure to be in line with its guidance on support measures for banks during the financial crisis (see IP/13/672 and MEMO/13/886). The prolonged measure is targeted, proportionate and limited in time and scope. The Commission has, therefore, concluded that the guarantee scheme represents an appropriate means of remedying a serious disturbance in the Cyprus economy and as such, is compatible with Article 107(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU). During the application of the extraordinary crisis rules for state aid to banks, the Commission is authorising guarantee schemes on banks’ liabilities for periods of six months in order to be able to monitor developments and adjust conditions accordingly.
Today President Barroso and Commissioner Georgieva meet Ms Valerie Amos, Under Secretary General and Emergency Relief Coordinator UNOCHA, Mr António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ms Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Programme and Mr Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF. 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 14:00 at the Berlaymont's 13th floor. In order to be escorted, media representatives are requested to be at the Berlaymont reception not later than 13:45.
Commissioner meets UNICEF chief and announces new initiative to improve children's rights
Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, will today meet UNICEF's Executive Director, Anthony Lake, to discuss future EU-UNICEF cooperation and look at how EU projects can continue to best support children. The Commissioner also announced a new Child Right's Toolkit, a practical guide to enable EU projects to focus on children, and ensure that children’s rights and initiatives to promote the well-being of all children are effectively integrated and applied across all EU development programming.
There are countless ways in which children lose out because of poverty – lack of education, poor access to healthcare, inadequate water or sanitation facilities. But there are other areas, apart from those which are obviously focused on children, in which their rights are compromised. That’s why the new Child Rights Toolkit is so important - it looks beyond traditional child-focused sectors and programmes to demonstrate how EU development cooperation can effectively contribute to the fulfilment of children’s rights in every area of its work. For example, it looks at how children’s rights can be better protected in areas such as infrastructure, governance or budget support. The toolkit is now being rolled out across EU delegations and used in the programming of projects. The European Union has contributed to this project with four million euro.
The European Research Council (ERC) today announced the winners of 13 ERC Synergy Grants, who will share total funding of €150 million. The projects will each receive an average funding of €11.5m,up to a maximum of €15 million, for the coming six years. Each project brings together two to four outstanding researchers, often across a number of disciplines. The selected researchers will explore a wide variety of topics. The projects include: creating the first ever picture of a black hole; addressing the future of Internet security; evaluating the environmental impact of the lack of phosphorous; and developing new instruments for non-invasive eye treatments.
In October 2013 compared with September 2013, seasonally adjusted production in the construction sector fell by 1.2% in the euro area (EA17) and by 0.3% in the EU28, according to first estimates from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. In September 2013, production in construction decreased by 0.5% and 0.7% respectively. In October 2013 compared with October 2012, production in construction declined by 2.4% in the euro area and by 0.8% in the EU28.
Internet access and use is widespread amongst the EU population. In the EU28, 79% of households had access to the internet in 2013 and 76% had a broadband internet connection, compared with 55% and 42% respectively in 2007. For most individuals in the EU28, using the internet has become a regular activity, with 62% of individuals using it every day or almost every day and a further 10% at least once a week. On the other hand, 21% of individuals reported in 2013 that they have never used the internet, compared with 37% in 2007. With regard to the use of e-government, 41% of individuals in the EU28 used the internet to interact with public authorities or services in 2013. Reasons for this interaction reported by EU28 e-government users2 were income tax declarations (44% of internet users who interacted with public authorities), requests for personal documents (20%), claiming social security benefits (16%) and enrolment in higher education or university (9%).
Protected quality farm products: Commission approves a Belgian application
The European Commission has approved the addition of a new quality farm product to the register of protected designations of origin (PDOs) and protected geographical indications (PGIs) for Belgium. " Liers Vlaaike " (PGI) is a small, round cake made of short pastry with a filling dominated by the blend of four spices and candy syrup. It is traditionally baked in the Flemish town of Lier. The denomination will be added to the list of more than 1,200 products already protected. More information: webpages on quality products and DOOR database of protected products.
Five new Directors appointed
The College has decided to appoint five new Directors. The first, Ms Gail KENT, is currently Head of Unit 'Local Services' in the Human Resources and Security Directorate-General. Ms Kent, a British national, will become Director 'Support' in the Communications Networks, Content and Technology Directorate-General. Also appointed is Ms Mechthild WOERSDOERFER, who becomes Director 'Energy Policy' in the Energy Directorate-General. Ms Woersdoerfer, who is German, is currently a Head of Unit in the same Directorate-General, responsible for energy policy and monitoring of electricity, gas, coal and oil markets. A third appointment is Mr Massimo GARRIBBA, who will become Director 'Nuclear Safety and Fuel Cycle' in the Energy Directorate-General. Mr Garribba is Italian and already works in that Directorate-General, heading the unit in charge of nuclear safety architecture, and multilateral and international co-operation. Mr Pascal LEARDINI, a Belgian Head of Unit in the Secretariat-General responsible for corporate management, budget and administration, will become Director 'Relations with other Institutions' in the Secretariat-General. All these decisions take effect on 1 January 2014. The final Director appointment concerns Ms Pia AHRENKILDE HANSEN, currently Spokeswoman of the European Commission. Ms Ahrenkilde Hansen, who is Danish, will become Director 'Representations' in the Communication Directorate-General. The date of effect of this decision will be determined later.
New Deputy Directors-General and Principal Advisers
The College has decided to appoint two new Deputy Directors-General and two new Principal Advisers. Mr Timo PESONEN, a Finn who is currently Head of Cabinet of Vice-President Olli Rehn, will become Deputy Director-General in the Communication Directorate-General. German national Mr Johannes LAITENBERGER will become Deputy Director-General in charge of institutional questions in the Legal Service. Mr Laitenberger is currently the Head of Cabinet of President José Manuel Barroso. The date of effect of both decisions will be determined later. Also at a date to be determined later, Mr Valère MOUTARLIER will be appointed Principal Adviser in the Taxation and Customs Union Directorate-General. Mr Moutarlier, who is French, is a Member of Commissioner Algirdas Šemeta's Cabinet. Finally, Luxembourg national Ms Viviane HOFFMANN will become Principal Adviser in the Communication Directorate-General. Ms Hoffmann is Deputy Head of Cabinet of Vice-President Viviane Reding. This decision takes effect on 1 April 2014.
Changes in the membership of the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee
The Commission today decided to appoint Mr Nikolaus Van der Pas to replace Mr Michel Petite as a member of the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee. Mr Petite recently informed the Commission that he wished to resign as a member of the Committee. President Barroso thanked Mr Petite for his important role in providing independent and impartial advice over a period of four years. The Commission also confirmed its appreciation of the work of the other two members of the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee, Mr Terry Wynn and Mr Rafael Garcia, who have agreed to continue to serve. The European Commission is committed to applying high standards of ethical behaviour. Clear rules apply both to Members of the Commission and to its staff. In 2003 the Commission established an Ad Hoc Ethical Committee to assess, on request, the compatibility of former Commissioners’ envisaged post-office activities with the Treaty and with the Code of Conduct. The current members of the Ad Hoc Ethical Committee have served since 2009. The members of the Committee are not paid for their services, receiving only reimbursement of expenses incurred in carrying out their task.
Social entrepreneurs: have your say! Where: Palais des congrès, Strasbourg - When: 16-17 January 2014
The European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the City of Strasbourg will host a large European event on social entrepreneurship and the social economy. This two-day event will use a collaborative, participatory approach. The participants themselves will drive the issues to be debated and identify together the way forward for the social entrepreneurship sector.
Top speakers will include: José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and Henri Malosse, President of the European Economic and Social Committee. Three European Commissioners - Vice-President Antonio Tajani and Commissioners Barnier and Andor - will enter into live discussions with social entrepreneurs. Europe is changing and new economic models are needed. European citizens, business, entrepreneurs and policy makers are taking action on the challenges we are facing in our social, economic and environmental spheres, through social innovation, new forms of investment and surprising solutions. The social economy is an important pillar of the European economy, representing some 10% of GDP. More than 11 million workers or 4.5 % of the active EU population are employed in the social economy. 1 in every 4 new businesses set up each year is a social business, rising to 1 in 3 in France, Finland and Belgium. Participants include social entrepreneurs, academics, policy makers, financing providers, social activists and many, many more. For the programme and more information on how to register: http://ec.europa.eu/social-entrepreneurs .
What Commissioners said
Tobacco: Commissioner Borg welcomes agreement on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive
"I welcome the agreement reached at COREPER level today on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive. It's a direct outcome of the last trilogue between the European Parliament and EU Member States on this important text for EU citizens. This agreement – pending the vote in the European Parliament Plenary and formal adoption by the Council – means a new Directive will ensure that tobacco products look and taste like tobacco products and help discourage young people from starting to smoke. I am particularly pleased that the Parliament and the Council have endorsed the two keys measures of the Commission proposal: large mandatory photo and text warnings on both sides of the pack of cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco, and no characterising flavours allowed in these products." Full statement and key elements of the proposal: MEMO/13/117 7
Just a few days after the agreement on bank recovery and resolution (BRRD), the European Parliament and the Council have reached agreement on the deposit guarantee schemes. With this text, we are taking another important step towards completing the single rulebook on crisis management for credit institutions in the EU. We are also reaching another milestone in the banking union agenda in compliance with the calendar set by the European Council. It is good news ahead of an important ECOFIN Council meeting, which is expected to agree on a general approach on another leg of the banking union : the single resolution mechanism. In a statement published last night, Commissioner Barnier welcomes this breakthrough and explains in particular why these new rules will benefit all EU citizens. “not only will their savings be better protected, but they will also have the choice of the best savings products available in any EU country without worrying about differences in the level of protection. The new Directive will require better information to be provided to depositors to ensure that they are aware of how their deposits are protected by the guarantee schemes.” The agreement reached last night must now be confirmed by the two co-legislators.
Today Cecilia Malmström, Commissioner for Home Affairs, issued a statement on detention centres in Lampedusa: "The images we have seen from the detention centre in Lampedusa are appalling and unacceptable. We will contact the Italian authorities to ask for more information on these events and we ask them to shed full light over what happened. We have already started investigations on the terrible conditions in many Italian detention centres, including Lampedusa, and we will not hesitate to launch an infringement procedure to make sure EU standards and obligations are fully respected. Our assistance and support to the Italian authorities in managing migratory flows can only be continued if the country guarantees humane and dignified reception conditions to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees."
The Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting of December 2013 took place in Brussels on 16-17 December 2013. The Council discussed and reached agreement on fishing opportunities for 2014 for the main commercial fish stocks of the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Black Sea. Over two days of negotiations, the Council reached a compromise on several important points.