|EU Civil Protection Forum on 5-6 March in Brussels The Commission will host Europe’s largest public event on civil protection cooperation on 5 and 6 March. Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides, will make an opening speech at 14:00 on 5 March. On 6 March Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete will address a session on climate resilience. On the same day, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas will deliver a speech launching the EIC Horizon Prize on Epidemics. Journalists can register to attend the event here. The full programme is available here.
Commission Recommendation on measures to effectively tackle illegal content online
In its Communication of September 2017 on tackling illegal content online, the European Commission promised to monitor progress in tackling illegal content online and assess whether additional measures are needed to ensure the swift and proactive detection and removal of illegal content online, including possible legislative measures to complement the existing regulatory framework. As a follow-up, the Commission is today recommending a set of operational measures – accompanied by the necessary safeguards – to be taken by companies and Member States to further step up this work before it determines whether it will be necessary to propose legislation. These recommendations apply to all forms of illegal content ranging from terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material, counterfeit products and copyright infringement. More information here
EU supports new fund for early-stage digital companies in central and northern Europe
Trind Ventures, an early-stage tech investor based in Tallinn, has raised €21 million for its new fund thanks to financial support from the EU. The three largest investors are the European Investment Fund (EIF) under the Juncker Plan, LHV pension funds (LHV) and Trind Ventures’ team itself. The fund will invest into early-stage digital companies in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and the rest of central and northern Europe. It will help to address the increasing demand for seed capital by early-stage companies in the ICT sector. Trind Ventures is supported by Horizon 2020 and the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the core of the Investment Plan for Europe. European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, responsible for the Digital Single Market, said: “Improving access to finance for Europe’s vibrant digital startup sector is at the top of the EU’s agenda. The European tech industry creates jobs faster than any other industries, so it’s vital we do what we can to give early-stage companies a helping hand. I am very proud that the EU is supporting Trind Ventures in its quest to provide seed capital to digital businesses across central and Northern Europe”. See press release here.
Commission awards European Heritage Label to nine historical sites across Europe
The European Commission has today awarded the European Heritage Label to nine sites which celebrate or symbolise European ideals, values, history and integration. They are Leipzig’s Musical Heritage Sites (Germany); the Dohány Street Synagogue Complex (Hungary); Fort Cadine (Italy); Javorca Church (Slovenia); the former Natzweiler concentration camp and its satellite camps (France and Germany); the Sighet Memorial (Romania); the Bois du Cazier (Belgium); the Village of Schengen (Luxembourg) and the Maastricht Treaty site (The Netherlands). Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport,Tibor Navracsics, said: “I warmly welcome the nine new sites we have added to the list today. Each of them has been chosen for its symbolic value, representing a different aspect of European ideals, values, history and integration. They will help us understand our past as we build our future – which is an aspect of our patrimony that we are celebrating throughout the European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018.” An independent panel set up by the Commission chose the new sites from 25 candidates preselected by participating Member States. An award ceremony will take place in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) on 26 March during a conference on “Cultural heritage: for a more sustainable Europe” organised by the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU and the European Commission. Today’s decision brings to 38 the number of sites holding the European Heritage Label. More information about European Heritage Label sites is available online.
Commission to provide travel opportunities with educational and cultural value for young people
The European Commission has today taken first steps to implement the European Parliament’s proposal for a “Free Interrail pass for Europeans turning 18” by adopting a Financing Decision. With a budget of EUR 12 million in 2018, this action is expected to give an estimated 20,000-30,000 young people a travel experience that would help foster a European identity, reinforce common European values and promote the discovery of European sites and cultures. This proposal fits well with the EU’s ambitions to promote learning mobility, active citizenship, social inclusion and solidarity of all young people. Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics, said: “It is important that we offer all our young people the opportunity to broaden their horizons by experiencing other countries. Education is not only about what we learn in the classroom, but what we discover about the cultures and traditions of our fellow Europeans.” The action will seek to offer young people, regardless of social or educational background and including people with reduced mobility, a chance to travel abroad. A promotion campaign to inform young Europeans turning 18 about this new opportunity will be organised and may include an open competition to select the first young people who will be travelling. The first participants are expected to travel this summer. They will do so by rail as a general rule, but alternative modes of transport should be available where necessary, taking into account environmental considerations, as well as time and distance.
Commissioner Jourová takes stock of progress made to advance LGBTI equality
Today, on the International Day for Zero Discrimination, Commissioner Věra Jourová presented the second annual report on the list of Actions to advance Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Equality to the High Level Group on Non-Discrimination, Equality and Diversity. She said: “We have to continue protecting the rights of more vulnerable groups in society: 47% of LGBTI people have report being discriminated or harassed.” Commissioner Jourová also unveiled a new set of 17 EU-funded projects in 21 EU member states, which will, amongst others, support the Baltic and the Czech pride, anti-bullying campaigns in Greek schools, online tools to prevent hate speech in Italy. Regarding its staff, the European Commission adopted last year a new Human Resources diversity strategy with specific actions for LGTBI staff. More information on the List of Actions and awareness raising videos are available online.
State aid: Commission approves €4.7 billion public support scheme for advanced biomethane and biofuels in Italy
The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules an Italian support scheme for the production and distribution of advanced biofuels, including advanced biomethane. The scheme supports the production and distribution of second and third-generation biofuels for use in the transport sector. It has an indicative budget of €4.7 billion and will run from 2018 until 2022. Advanced biofuels and biomethane are the most sustainable and environmentally friendly biofuels. However, they have much higher production costs than fossil fuels. Under the scheme, producers of advanced biomethane and biofuels receive a premium which allows them to compensate for these higher costs and compete with fossil fuels in the transport sector. The scheme will also incentivise farmers to produce biofuel and biomethane from manure and other residues originating from their farming activities and use them in turn to power their agricultural machines and vehicles. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure will contribute to reaching EU energy and climate change goals while limiting distortions of competition.Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This is yet another step towards greater use of renewable energy in Europe and helping Italy’s transition to more environmentally friendly fuel sources. The scheme will encourage the production and consumption of advanced biofuels in Italy, while limiting distortions of competition.” A full press release is available here.
Mergers: Commission clears merger between Essilor and Luxottica
The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the proposed merger between Essilor and Luxottica, two leaders in the optical industry. The Commission concluded that the merger would not adversely affect competition in the European Economic Area or any substantial part of it. Today’s decision follows an in-depth investigation of the proposed merger between Essilor and Luxottica. Essilor and Luxottica mainly sell complementary optical products, which do not compete with each other. The Commission opened the in-depth investigation to assess whether the merged company might use Luxottica’s powerful brands to make opticians buy Essilor lenses and exclude other lens suppliers from the markets, through practices such as bundling or tying. During its investigation, the Commission received feedback from nearly 4 000 opticians throughout Europe. The Commission concluded that the transaction would raise no competition concerns. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Our job is to ensure that a merger won’t lead to higher prices or reduced choices. In this case for opticians and consumers in the EU. We’ve received feedback from nearly 4,000 opticians in a market test in Europe that Essilor and Luxottica would not gain market power to harm competition. As the result of the market test did not support our initial concerns we can let this merger go ahead unconditionally.” A full press release is available here.
Vice-President Dombrovskis in Lisbon
Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue, also in charge of Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, is on a European Semester visit to Portugal today and tomorrow. He meets Prime Minister António Costa, Minister of Finance Mário Centeno and Minister of Labour, Solidarity and Social Security José António Vieira Da Silva and other officials. He will attend a hearing in the Portuguese parliament and have discussions with social partners and the Portuguese Economic and Social Committee. He will also meet leaders of FinTech companies and banks, ahead of the upcoming Action Plan on FinTech. The Vice-President will participate in a Citizens’ Dialogue, together with Minister Centeno, on strengthening Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union, which can be viewed online starting at 19:00 CET. The visit to Portugal is part of the regular dialogue with Member States on topical economic and social issues in the context of the European Semester.