|Social media companies need to do more to fully comply with EU consumer rules
Social media companies need to do more to respond to the requests, made last March by the European Commission and Member States’ consumer authorities, to comply with EU consumer rules. The changes made by Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to align their terms of services with EU consumer protection rules have been published today. These changes will already benefit more than a quarter of a billion of EU consumers who use social media: EU consumers will not be forced to waive mandatory EU consumer rights, such as their right to withdraw from an on-line purchase; they will be able to lodge their complaints in Europe, rather than in California; and the platforms will take up their fair share of responsibilities towards EU consumers, similarly to the off-line service providers. However, the changes only partially fulfil the requirements under EU consumer law. Vera Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “As social media networks are used as advertising and commercial platforms, they must fully respect consumer rules. I am pleased that the enforcement of EU rules to protect consumers by national authorities is bearing fruit, as some companies are now making their platforms safer for consumers; however, it is unacceptable that this is not complete and that it is taking so much time. This confirms that we need a ‘New Deal for Consumers’: EU consumer rules should be respected and if companies don’t comply, they should face sanctions.” While Google’s latest proposals appear to be in line with the requests made by consumer authorities, Facebook and, more significantly, Twitter, have only partially addressed important issues about their liability and about how users are informed of possible content removal or contract termination. The national consumer authorities and the Commission will monitor the implementation of the promised changes and will actively use the notice and action procedure provided by the companies. Moreover, authorities may take action including enforcement measures where necessary. A full press release, as well as a table summarising the main changes made by the companies are available online.
VAT: Commission launches compliance check to assess whether businesses are refunded quickly enough in all Member States
The European Commission today launched a compliance check to assess whether VAT refunds to business in EU Member States are in line with current EU law and case law of the European Court of Justice. A lack of access to a simple and fast VAT refund procedure can have a major impact on cash flows and on the competitiveness of businesses. This is especially true for the smallest companies who cannot afford to go through long and burdensome procedures to get the VAT they are owed back from the State. Over the next eight months, tax provisions in each Member State will be scrutinised to ensure that refund procedures allow businesses to quickly and easily recover VAT credits both in their own country and in other EU countries. The study will examine, for example, the length of time it takes to complete procedures in each country and any unnecessary hurdles in the system which can create financial risks for business. The Commission could decide to launch infringements procedures in cases of non-compliance with the rules. This exercise forms part of the Commission’s efforts towards a Single VAT area where administrative burdens for business, in particular micro-businesses and SMEs, will be drastically reduced.
EU solidarity at work: Commission offers financial aid to France, Greece, Spain and Portugal following natural disasters
Today the Commission proposes to give €104 million from the EU Solidarity Fund (EUSF) to four Member States that were hit by natural disasters in 2017. The aid package includes €50.6 million for Portugal and €3.2 million for Spain following the forest fires of the summer and October 2017, €49 million for the French regions of Saint-Martin and Guadeloupe, after hurricanes Irma and Maria and €1.3 million for the Greek island of Lesbos after the June 2017 earthquake. Commissioner for Regional policy Corina Creţu said: “In Portugal, in Spain, and from the Greek island of Lesbos far off in the Aegean sea to the French Outermost regions in the Caribbean, the EU leaves no one alone in the face of tragedy. Once again the Solidarity Fund shows the EU’s unfailing support for reconstruction works following natural disasters and for helping rebuilding people’s lives.” This is a concrete delivery on the Juncker Commission’s promise to offer more than condolences when an EU country is struck by a disaster. EU Solidarity Fund money can be used to support reconstruction efforts and cover some of the costs of emergency services, temporary accommodation, clean-up operations and protection of cultural heritage, in order to relieve the financial burden borne by national authorities. A full press release is available here. Factsheets on EUSF interventions in Spain, France, Greece and Portugal can be found online, as well as more information on how EUSF aid is calculated.
Mergers: Commission approves acquisition of Refresco by PAI Partners and bcIMC
The European Commission has approved, under the European Merger Regulation, the acquisition of Refresco Group, based in the Netherlands, by PAI Partners, based in France and British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), based in Canada. Refresco manufactures fruit juices, soft drinks and mineral waters, and packages beer, cider, alcohol-based beverages and soft drinks in cans and PET bottles. PAI manages and advises specialized private equity funds. bcIMC invests on behalf of public sector clients in fixed income instruments, mortgages, public and private securities, real estate, infrastructure and renewable resources. The Commission concluded that the proposed merger would not raise competition concerns, as the companies are not active in the same market or in related or complementary markets. The transaction was examined under the simplified merger control procedure. Further information is available on the competition website of the Commission, in the public case register under the case number M.8755.