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EXME 14 / 25.06
25 / 06 / 14
The European Commission has found that Lutèce, Prochamp and Bonduelle participated in a cartel to coordinate prices and allocate customers of canned mushrooms in Europe during more than a year and has imposed fines totalling € 32 225 000. Lutèce was not fined as it benefited from immunity under the Commission's 2006 Leniency Notice for revealing the existence of the cartel to the Commission. Prochamp benefitted from fine reductions. Since all three undertakings agreed to settle the case with the Commission, their fines were further reduced by 10%. Canned mushrooms are mushrooms sold in tins and jars, except fresh mushrooms or frozen mushrooms. The cartel covered the sales of private label canned mushrooms via tender procedures to retailers and food wholesalers such as cash and carry companies and professional customers such as catering companies in the European Economic Area (EEA). Vice President Joaquín Almunia, said: "The cartel for canned mushrooms, which aimed to avoid a fall in prices, covered sales to retailers throughout Europe for more than a year. This means that potentially, all consumers may have been affected. After the shrimps cartel at the end of last year, this is yet another cartel penalised by the Commission in the food sector, where it is essential to protect European consumers against anticompetitive practices."
See video statement by Vice President Almunia
The European Commission has issued revised rules (its so-called "De Minimis Notice") for assessing when minor agreements between companies are not caught by the general prohibition of anticompetitive practices under EU competition law. The Notice facilitates the assessment of compliance with EU antitrust rules for companies, especially SMEs. At the same time it allows the Commission to concentrate its resources on agreements with a higher risk of distorting competition in the Single Market. See also MEMO/14/440 . Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) prohibits agreements that are aimed at or result in appreciable restrictions of competition. The revised De Minimis Notice, in line with its predecessor (see IP/02/13), defines what the Commission considers not to be an appreciable restriction of competition by reference to market share thresholds. It creates a "safe harbour" for companies whose market shares do not exceed 10% for agreements between competitors or 15% for agreements between non-competitors. These are unchanged from the previous Notice.
An event to raise global funding for the Global Partnership for Education, a multilateral body committed to ensuring every child has access to a quality, basic education, is taking place tomorrow (June 26) in Brussels (At “The Egg”, Rue Bara 175). Co-hosted by the European Commission, it will bring together more than 600 key players in education to show their commitment to education by making solid pledges at the conference. The benefits of education to health, economic development and stability are clear, yet aid funding for education has fallen by an average of five percent each year since 2010. Participants include the Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, ministers from more than 40 developing countries, and from donor countries, UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova, UN Special Envoy for Education, Gordon Brown; and EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs.
A press conference will take place after the closing session (at 16.30) on Thursday, with EU Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, Julia Gillard, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education and former Prime Minister of Australia and the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Augustin Matata Ponyo. The overall amount raised for education during the conference will be highlighted during the press conference.
Images of the press conference will be available on EBS .
Commissioner Oettinger meets Ukrainian Energy Minister Prodan
EU Energy Commissioner Günther H. Oettinger will meet Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan and Naftogaz-CEO Andriy Kobolev today. They will discuss issues related to gas supplies and energy security as well as the next steps after the latest round of trilateral negotiations between the EU, Ukraine and Russia in Kiev.
The meeting will be followed by a press point with Commissioner Oettinger and Minister Prodan at the VIP Corner of the Berlaymont at 14:00 CET.
The new smartphone app "Going Abroad" provides important road safety information for all EU countries. It is available for iPhone and iPad, Google Android and Microsoft Windows phones in 22 languages. The app covers all topics that carry the biggest risk for accidents, including speed and alcohol limits, traffic lights, and the use of mobile phones.
The European Commission has proposed to provide Greece with €6 million from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) to help 508 former workers of the bakery manufacturer Nutriart and its providers and downstream producers to find new jobs, as well as 505 young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs). This is the first application for EGF assistance presented under the new EGF Regulation , which offers the possibility of providing NEETs with EGF support up to a number equal to the number of redundant workers supported. European Commissioner László Andor commented: "I am happy the Commission has responded positively to Greece's request for EGF support to provide occupational guidance, counselling, training, and further support to the redundant workers, along with young people not in employment, education or training. Today's decision will help to prepare over 1,000 people for new jobs and first job opportunities".
The European Commission has today set out revised and updated criteria under which Member States can support agriculture, forestry and rural areas, in line with EU state aid rules. This is part of the Commission's State Aid Modernisation (SAM) initiative, aimed at fostering growth and competitiveness in the EU, and goes hand in hand with the Common Agricultural Policy, more particularly with the new rural development policy of the EU. In more precise terms, the Commission has adopted a new Agricultural Block Exemption Regulation (ABER) and new Guidelines for State aid in the agricultural and forestry sectors and in rural areas 2014 to 2020 (GL). ABER allows the granting of certain categories of State aid to the agricultural and forestry sectors and in rural areas without prior notification to the Commission. The GL aim at setting the general criteria which will be used by the Commission when assessing the compliance of aid with the internal market. These new rules will apply from July 1, 2014.
The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to verify whether compensation paid by the Polish state to Autostrada Wielkopolska S.A. (AWSA), the operator of part of the Polish A2 motorway, was in line with EU state aid rules. The measure was intended to compensate AWSA for a change in Polish law exempting heavy goods vehicles from the obligation to pay motorway tolls. At this stage, the Commission has serious concerns that the compensation, or part of it, may have provided AWSA with an undue economic advantage that may distort competition in the Single Market. The opening of the investigation gives interested parties an opportunity to submit their views; it does not prejudge the outcome.
The European Commission has approved Bulgaria's map for granting state aid between 2014 and 2020 within the framework of the new regional aid guidelines adopted by the Commission in June 2013 (see IP/13/569). The new guidelines set out the conditions under which Member States can grant state aid to businesses for regional development purposes. They aim to foster growth and greater cohesion in the Single Market.Commission Vice President in charge of competition policy Joaquín Almunia said: “Bulgaria´s new regional aid map allows the Bulgarian authorities to promote investment throughout the country and further economic growth and cohesion in the Single Market. It also provides a basis for an easier and targeted use of regional development programmes co-financed by the European Structural Funds.”
The European Commission has found that a Lithuanian scheme aimed at boosting the information technology (ICT) sector in Lithuania is in line with EU state aid rules. In particular, the Commission has concluded that the measure contributes to EU cohesion policy objectives by furthering the development of Lithuania's less advantaged regions without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market. In March 2014, Lithuania notified plans to support companies investing in the ICT sector as part of its efforts to support and develop the modern technology branch of the Lithuanian national economy. As electricity prices are relatively high in Lithuania, the scheme allows for reductions in the electricity bill for companies that are active in data processing, web servers (hosting) and related activities and that have committed to invest in Lithuania. Under Lithuania's regional aid map, the whole territory is eligible for regional aid (see IP/06/1451). The estimated total budget of the scheme until 30 June 2014 is LTL 124,300,800 (around €36 million).
La Commission européenne a conclu que l'aide octroyée par la France à STMicroelectronics (ST) pour le développement de nouvelles technologies dans le secteur nanoélectronique était conforme aux règles de l'UE relatives aux aides d'État. La Commission considère, en particulier, que le projet contribuera à la réalisation des objectifs de l'UE en matière scientifique et environnementale, sans fausser la concurrence de manière indue. Joaquín Almunia, vice-président de la Commission chargé de la concurrence, a déclaré à ce sujet : "Le programme Nano2017 ambitionne des avancées majeures dans le domaine de la nanoélectronique. Il porte en lui une dimension européenne inédite qui permettra de renforcer les synergies entre les trois grands clusters européens et structurer la filière. Une fois de plus, notre décision démontre que le contrôle des aides d'Etat ne fait aucunement obstacle à des politiques industrielles modernes et tournées vers l'avenir, mais est un moyen d'investir efficacement dans un secteur clé qu'est la recherche, l'innovation et le développement."
State aid: Commission approves fourth prolongation of Cypriot bank guarantee scheme
The European Commission has found that the prolongation of a Cypriot government guarantee scheme for credit institutions until 31 December 2014 was in line with EU state aid rules. The original scheme was approved in November 2012 (see IP/12/1171). It was prolonged several times, the last time in December 2013 (see MEX/13/1812). The prolonged measure is targeted, proportionate and limited in time and scope. The Commission has therefore concluded that the guarantee scheme is in line with its rules on state aid to banks during the crisis (see IP/13/672 and MEMO/13/886). During the application of the extraordinary crisis rules for state aid to banks, the Commission is authorising guarantee schemes on banks’ liabilities for successive periods of six months in order to be able to monitor developments and adjust conditions accordingly.
State aid: Commission approves Czech support for regional public bus services in Usti
The European Commission has found that certain public service contracts for the delivery of regional bus services in the Czech Republic were in line with EU state aid rules. Following a complaint, submitted by a former competitor who was previously the incumbent operator of those services, against ten regional bus operators in the Czech Republic, operating under three different sets of public service contracts, the Commission had opened an in-depth investigation regarding three measures: i) total compensations for the public service contracts for all operators amounting to around €15 million, ii) two guarantees covering loans of CZK 35 million (€1.4 million) and CZK 5 million (€ 0.2 million) given by the municipality of Usti nad Labem to one of the regional bus operator (DP Usti), and iii) a capital increase of CZK 160 million (€ 6.4 million) granted to DP Usti (see IP/08/585). The Commission concluded that part of the compensation for the public service contracts and the capital increase granted to DP Usti involves state aid. However, this aid is in line with the applicable rules for public service compensations and Article 93 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) that allows the grant of state aid for certain transport needs. The rest of the compensation as well as the guarantees given to DP Usti do not constitute state aid as they provide no undue economic advantage to the companies concerned. More information is available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.20350 .
The European Commission has decided not to refer the planned acquisition of Ziggo by Liberty Global to the Dutch competition authority for assessment under Dutch competition law. Although under the EU Merger Regulation, the Commission has jurisdiction to examine this proposed transaction, the Dutch competition authority (ACM) had submitted a request to review it instead. The Commission concluded that the Dutch competition authority was not better placed to examine the transaction because of the Commission's experience in assessing many mergers in the converging media and telecommunications sectors, the presence of Liberty Global in 12 countries of the European Economic Area (EEA), and the need for a consistent application of the merger control rules. The Commission will therefore continue its investigation and has until 17 October 2014 to take a final decision.
Mergers: Commission clears change from joint to sole control over Ocidental Seguros and Médis by Ageas in insurance sector
The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of sole control over Companhia Portuguesa de Seguros S.A. (trading as "Ocidental Seguros") and of Companhia Portuguesa de Seguros de Saude S.A. (trading as "Médis"), both of Portugal, by Ageas Insurance International N.V. of the Netherlands. Both Médis and Ocidental Seguros provide non-life insurance in Portugal. Ageas is a provider of life and non-life insurance services with activities in Europe and Asia. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would raise no competition concerns, in particular because there are no overlaps between the parties' activities. The transaction 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 under the case number M.7262 .
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of the Enterprise Solutions Business of Alcatel-Lucent by China Huaxin
The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of the enterprise solutions business of Alcatel-Lucent S.A. of France, by China Huaxin Post and Telecommunication Economy Development Center, of China. The enterprise solutions business of Alcatel-Lucent provides hardware and software for enterprise communications and network solutions. China Huaxin is an investment company active in the information and communication technology sectors. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would not raise competition concerns, because there are no horizontal overlaps or vertical relationships between the activities of China Huaxin and the enterprise solutions business of Alcatel-Lucent. The transaction 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.7244 .
In its continuous strive to improve the safety of toys the European Commission has decided today to set a strict limit of 0.1 mg/l (migration limit) in toys for children up to the age of 3 years and in any toys intended to be placed in the mouth. The limit was taken from European Standard EN 71-9:2005+A1:2007, which is applied voluntarily by the European toy industry to control the content of BPA in toys. This has contributed to keeping the exposure of children to BPA from toys low in comparison to other non-food contributors such as cosmetics or dust, and far lower than the exposure from BPA in the diet according to the related report of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). The complex health effects of BPA, including endocrine disrupting effects, are still under scientific evaluation at the EFSA and in other scientific fora. If relevant new scientific information becomes available through the ongoing scientific work, the limit that the Commission has now adopted would have to be reviewed.
More information on Toys Safety .
Climate change in Europe: act now or pay dearly, new study says
Taking no further action on climate change is the most costly scenario for Europe's future. According to the new study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), acting now means sparing Europe from paying for damages estimated at a net loss of 1.8% of Europe's GDP. The findings show that climate change could cost Europe more than 190 billion EUR across different sectors while also leading to more severe and frequent weather extremes. This could be the case if nothing was done to prevent a temperature increase of 3.5°C, expected by the end of the century, under today's economic circumstances. EU's climate chief Connie Hedegaard said: "No action is clearly the most expensive solution of all. Why pay for the damages when we can invest in reducing our climate impacts and becoming a competitive low-carbon economy? Taking action and taking a decision on the 2030 climate and energy framework in October, will bring us just there and make Europe ready for the fight against climate change.''
More information about the study is available here .
The European Commission has launched the first call for proposals under the LIFE funding programme for projects dedicated to environment. The LIFE sub-programme for environment will provide €238.86 million in 2014 to develop and implement innovative ways to respond to environmental challenges across Europe, focusing on the conservation of nature and biodiversity, resource efficiency and environmental governance and information.
More than a third of teachers in the European Union work in schools with a shortage of qualified staff and 81% feel teaching is not valued in society. Although teachers feel well equipped for the job, early career support is not universally available. These are among the main findings of the new Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey, based on teachers' perceptions of their career conditions, includes feedback from 55 000 lower secondary teachers and school leaders in the EU. The European Commission has analysed the TALIS findings and its implications for EU education and training policy in a report which is also issued today.
Education is an essential element of entrepreneurship. Studies show that students who receive entrepreneurship education are not only more likely to be employed, but also more likely to start their own companies. Promoting entrepreneurship as a viable and attractive career path among young people was a recurring theme in many of the entries received this year for the European Enterprise Promotion Awards (EEPA). This year there were applications from a record number of countries from across Europe: a total of 31 countries submitted entries, including all 28 EU Member States, as well as Iceland, Serbia and Turkey. The Awards showcase the most successful promoters of enterprise and entrepreneurship around Europe. They celebrate the best entrepreneurship policies and practices, create a greater awareness of the role entrepreneurs play in society and encourage and inspire budding entrepreneurs from across Europe.
Montenegro is the first candidate country to join the EU's Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Programme (COSME), under which the European Commission promotes entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial culture, improves access to finance for SMEs and access to markets, boosts the competitiveness of Enterprises, and in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Today, European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani and Mr Vladimir Kavarić, Minister of Economy of Montenegro, signed an Agreement formalising the entry of Montenegro in the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Programme.
Senior management changes
As part of a range of senior management changes, the Commission has decided to transfer Mr Luis RIERA FIGUERAS, currently Principal Adviser in the Development and Cooperation – EuropeAid Directorate-General, to the function of Director 'Human and Society Development' in that same Directorate-General. Mr Riera Figueras, who is Spanish, has held previous Director posts in the Development, Regional Policy and Employment and Social Affairs Directorates-General. He also served as Deputy Head of Cabinet to former Commission Vice-President Manuel Marín. He will be replaced by Cypriot national Ms Androulla KAMINARA, who is currently Principal Adviser in the Communication Directorate-General. Ms Kaminara, a former Head of the Commission Representation in Cyprus, served in the Cabinets of former Commissioners Poul Nielson and Christos Papoutsis, and was also a former Head of Unit and Director in EuropeAid. Both decisions take effect on 1 July 2014. Mr Christos ELLINIDES, Director 'Digital Workplace Solution' in the Informatics Directorate-General, is appointed Deputy Director-General in the Translation Directorate-General. Mr Ellinides, a Cypriot national, joined the Commission as a Director in 2006, after 20 years in the private sector. This decision takes effect on 1 September 2014. Also appointed to Deputy Director-General, in charge of Youth and Sport, Erasmus+ and Culture and Creativity in the Education and Culture Directorate-General, is Danish national Mr Jens NYMAND-CHRISTENSEN, currently a Director in the Secretariat-General. The date of effect will be determined later. Finally, British national Mr James MORRISON has been appointed Director 'Institutional and Administrative Policies' in the Secretariat-General. Mr Morrison is currently Head of Cabinet of HR/VP Catherine Ashton. The date of effect will be determined later.
What Commissioners said
EU supporting growth and security in the Visegrád 4: President Barroso and Commissioner Hahn address meeting in Budapest
President Barroso and Commissioner Hahn attended the conference entitled “Visegrád Group: the Growth Engine of Europe”. They were speaking to the audience at the Hungarian Academy of Science which included the prime ministers of the four Visegrád countries: Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia.
President Barroso said: “We must build on our recent progress and show to our citizens, through action and concrete delivery, that the European Union is very much part of the solution and that the destructive forces of Euroscepticism, those that have, for instance, predicted the implosion of the euro and even the disintegration of the European Union, that they were, and are, on the wrong side of history. And we must use our new seven year budget smartly, with its strong emphasis on cohesion funds for investment and growth, to support Member States to make that progress."
Commissioner Hahn, responsible for EU Regional Policy, said: "Cohesion Policy has […] been the key tool at EU level mobilised to mitigate the impact of the financial crisis. Before the crisis, investments under EU Cohesion Policy accounted for 51% of total public investments in the Visegrád 4 countries. By 2013, that was up to 68%. […] For 2014-2020, some 135 billion Euro - has been allocated for the four Visegrád countries."
Full speech by President Barroso available here .
Full speech by Commissioner Hahn available here .
Following President Barroso issued a statement on behalf of the European Commission and himself, congratulating Prime Minister Stubb "warmly as you take up our new duties as Prime Minister of the Republic of Finland." President Barroso furthermore said: "With your experience as senior national minister, Member of the European Parliament and within the European Commission, you bring to the post your intensive personal knowledge of and enthusiasm for European integration, which can only further strengthen Finland's longstanding tradition of constructive influence in European matters."