2017 Standard Eurobarometer: Fixing the roof while the sun is shining
For the first time since the economic and financial crisis began in 2007, a majority Europeans think the situation of the economy is good, according to a new Eurobarometer survey released today. The survey also found that positive perception of the economic situation nationally has increased in the last months and support for the euro is at its highest since 2004 in the euro area and optimism for the future of the EU outweighs pessimism. Overall, trust in the EU remains high and a majority of Europeans are optimistic about the future of the EU. “The free movement of people, goods and services within the EU” and “peace among the Member States of the EU” are perceived as the two most positive results of the EU. Respondents were also asked about their views on the main issues faced by the EU – immigration has overtaken terrorism as the biggest challenge in the eyes of citizens, followed by the economic situation, the state of Member States’ public finances and unemployment. In another survey on the Future of Europe, a majority of Europeans were found to regard the EU as a place of stability in a troubled world. The two surveys, the “Autumn 2017 – Standard Eurobarometer” and the “Special Eurobarometer ‘Future of Europe’, were conducted through face-to-face interviews – a total of 33,193 people were interviewed across all EU Member States and in the candidate countries for the Standard Eurobarometer; and a total of 27,881 people were interviewed in Member States for the Special Eurobarometer. More information is available in the press release online.
State aid: Commission approves progressive application of renewable energy surcharge for certain self-suppliers of electricity in Germany
The European Commission has endorsed under EU State aid rules German plans to progressively apply renewable energy surcharges to certain self-suppliers of electricity. The surcharge reform will contribute to lower electricity bills for consumers, in a sustainable way for existing self-suppliers. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “It is important that the costs of the energy transition in Germany are distributed fairly between different German electricity consumers. At the same time, where consumers have made investments in good faith to produce their own electricity, the rules should be changed in a way that is sustainable. The reform of the renewable energy surcharge in Germany tries to strike the right balance and we approved it today”. With today’s decision, the Commission has endorsed German plans on the exemptions and reductions of the EEG surcharge for all existing self-suppliers of electricity (i.e. having entered into operation before August 2014), new self-suppliers (i.e. having entered into operation as of August 2014) using renewable energy sources and new small self-supply installations. The Commission is in ongoing, constructive contact with the German authorities on the issue of reductions for new cogeneration installations used for the self-supply of electricity and heat, which are not covered by this decision. A full press release is available in here
State Aid: Commission approves Irish support scheme for SMEs
The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules an Irish scheme to reduce the taxation of employee share options for SMEs. The scheme will allow small and medium-sized companies to recruit and retain employees without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market. Under the Irish support scheme, employees of small and medium-size companies (SMEs) will be relieved from paying income tax and social contributions when exercising their share options. The aim of the tax relief is to help SMEs attract and retain their employees by making their share options more attractive. The scheme will run for a period of 6 years. The Commission believes that the public intervention is needed to facilitate Irish SMEs’ efforts to attract and retain employees, allowing these companies to contribute further to economic growth and innovation. This is also in line with the Commission policy to promote a more entrepreneurial culture and create supportive environment for SMEs. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(3)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which allows State aid to facilitate the development of certain economic activities or areas. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure is in line with EU State aid rules. A full press release is available in here
State aid: Commission approves the Maltese tonnage tax scheme subject to commitments
The European Commission has conditionally approved under EU State aid rules the Maltese tonnage tax scheme for a period of 10 years. The scheme will ensure a level playing field between Maltese and other European shipping companies, and will encourage ship registration in Europe. In 2012, the Commission opened an in-depth investigation into the Maltese tonnage tax scheme to examine its compatibility with EU State aid rules. With today’s decision, the Commission endorses the Maltese scheme, subject to the amendments introduced by Malta. Malta has committed to introduce a number of changes to its scheme to prevent any discrimination between shipping companies and to avoid undue competition distortions. In particular, Malta agreed to restrict the scope of the scheme to maritime transport and to remove those tax exemptions for shareholders which constitute State aid. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “Tonnage tax systems are meant to promote the competitiveness of the EU shipping industry in a global market without unduly distorting competition. I am pleased that Malta committed to adapt its tonnage tax system to achieve this. Moreover, by encouraging the registration of ships in the EU, the scheme will enable the European shipping industry to keep up its high social and environmental standards”. A full press release is available in here
State aid: Commission approves introduction of tradable phosphate rights for dairy cattle in the Netherlands
The European Commission has approved under EU State aid rules a trading system for phosphate rights for dairy cattle in the Netherlands. The measure aims to improve water quality in the Netherlands by limiting phosphate production from dairy cattle manure and promote a shift to land-based farming. Given the high density of dairy cattle in the Netherlands, the phosphate contained in dairy cattle manure represents a significant environmental concern, as this can pollute ground and surface water.To limit phosphate production from dairy cattle manure in the Netherlands and to encourage land-based farming in the dairy cattle sector, and so improve water quality, the Dutch authorities are setting up a trading system for phosphate rights for dairy cattle. In addition to the main environmental objectives, the system also provides some support for young farmers and is intended to have a positive effect on grazing and grassland.The new system will enter into force on 1 January 2018, when dairy farms will be awarded phosphate rights for free and will only be allowed to produce phosphate from dairy cattle manure corresponding to the phosphate production rights they hold. At the end of each calendar year, farms will be required to demonstrate that they have sufficient phosphate rights to justify the amount of phosphate produced by their dairy cattle manure. A full press release is available in here
Third quarter of 2017 – Annual growth in labour costs at 1.6% in euro area – At 2.1% in EU28
Hourly labour costs rose by 1.6% in the euro area (EA19) and by 2.1% in the EU28 in the third quarter of 2017, compared with the same quarter of the previous year. In the second quarter of 2017, hourly labour costs increased by 1.8% and 2.3% respectively. These figures are published by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union.
Full text available here
Kosovo joins COSME, an EU funding programme for SMEs
SMEs and entrepreneurs from Kosovo will now be able to participate in COSME, the EU Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Programme,under the same conditions as their counterparts from EU Member States and other associated countries. Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs said: “Today’s agreement is a milestone for SMEs and entrepreneurs in Kosovo. It opens doors for cooperation with businesses across the EU and will help create a better business environment.” COSME, the first EU programme that Kosovo has joined, will bring new possibilities to Kosovo entrepreneurs for increasing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. It will support projects on a wide range of topics that include clusters, SME internationalisation, building entrepreneurship skills, tourism, reducing the administrative burden for companies and protection of intellectual property rights. It will also help SMEs identify funding sources. Kosovo is the eleventh partner outside the EU to join and contribute to the programme, after Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, the Republic of Moldova, Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Armenia and Ukraine.
European Commission and Member States’ consumer authorities call on Volkswagen to fully deliver on its commitment to repair the affected cars
Today, European consumer authorities announced that Volkswagen committed to continue and speed up the repair, free of charge, of the remaining cars affected by the Dieselgate in 2018. This is a result from their joint letter sent last September to the CEO of Volkswagen, urging the group to swiftly repair all affected cars. Commissioner Jourová said: “Volkswagen has not fully delivered on its commitments and needs to do much more for EU consumers. Now we need to draw the right lessons from the Volkswagen case, strengthen consumer’s hands and the enforcement of EU law. And we will propose new ways for groups of consumers to defend their interests more effectively, especially when they face large companies. These proposals will be included in the New Deal for consumers I plan to announce in spring of 2018.”The Member States’ consumer authorities required Volkswagen to improve the level of repair, as it reaches by now 73% of cars across the EU. Authorities also insisted that Volkswagen works harder to handle all complaints pre and post repair and provides detailed information about the repair to all affected consumers. This will be followed up early next year in the framework of the ongoing enforcement action. In September 2017, EU consumer authorities, under the leadership of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), and with the facilitation of the Commission, had asked Volkswagen to take steps to ensure a fair treatment of consumers across the Union. The Consumer Protection authorities’ press release is available here.
Big data: Commission launches €2 million Horizon Prize to forecast energy traffic
The European Commission launched today the Big Data TechnologiesHorizon Prize for optimising the use of energy grids through a more precise forecasting system. A total sum of €2 million will be awarded to the winning data analytics solutions that devise an energy grid traffic forecasting system that is accurate, fast and scalable.The three top ranked contestants will have to develop software solutions that will be designed to analyse extremely large collections of datasets, from time recordings of weather conditions to operation of energy grid management. More information on the big data prize is available here. What the Commission is doing to facilitate cross-border access to non-personal data is outlined in this press release. Another emerging technology prize was launched last week, when the Commission announced the €5 million European Innovation Council (EIC) Horizon Prize on Blockchains for Social Good.It will award 5 prizes of €1 million to social innovations using Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), including blockchain based solutions. The prize is the third of six EIC Horizon Prizes. Both prizes are funded under Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme. Further details on blockchain prize are available here and in a video trailer.
State aid: Commission approves recapitalisation of the Lithuanian Central Credit Union
The European Commission has found that Lithuania’s plan to support the recapitalisation of the Lithuanian Central Credit Union by EUR 8.9 million is in line with EU State aid rules. The Commission assessed the Lithuanian public support in view of the rules applicable to restructuring aid, in particular the Restructuring Communication and the 2013 Banking Communication. It found that the conditions under which the aid measure is granted are in line with the exemption provided in the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, so that the measure can be implemented without the beneficiary being resolved (“precautionary recapitalisation”). Under the Lithuanian Central Bank’s stress test and asset quality review, the Lithuanian Central Credit Union has no capital shortfall under the baseline scenario and a capital shortfall of around €8.9 million under the adverse scenario. Lithuania’s planned precautionary capitalisation only addresses the shortfall in this adverse scenario. The Commission therefore concluded that the proposed restructuring aid will ensure that the Lithuanian Central Credit Union continues to be viable in the long-term while distortions of competition will be minimised, in particular given the small size of the beneficiary, its small market share and the aid amount. Burden-sharing principles under EU State aid rules have been fully respected. More information will be available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the reference SA.48920.
Security Union: new EU Forum to protect public spaces
On Wednesday and Thursday, the Commission is organising the first meeting of the EU Operators’ Forum, an important deliverable under theAction Plan on protecting public spaces from terrorism, announced by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union Address and presented by the Commission in October. The Forum will connect Member State authorities and private operators of public spaces, such as concert venues, sports arenas or shopping malls, to enable them to work together and jointly identify the best ways of keeping those spaces safe from terrorist attacks. Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King will deliver an opening speech to inaugurate the Forum. On Wednesday, participants will discuss guidance, develop recommendations and share good practices in protecting public spaces against terrorist attacks. On Thursday, a first thematic sub-group of the Forum will focus on the car rental sector and discuss possible ways to make it more difficult for terrorists to rent vehicles for attacks. For more information please see the press release on the Anti-Terrorism Package, a factsheet on ‘Protecting Public Spaces‘ and a video on ‘Europe that Protects’, which are available online.
Commission renews mandates of three top researchers to the European Research Council’s governing body
Today, the European Commission renewed the mandates of three members to the governing body of the European Research Council (ERC), the Scientific Council, for two more years. The three members are professors Martin Stokhof, Professor of philosophy of language at the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC) and the Department of Philosophy of the University of Amsterdam, Nils Stenseth, Research Professor in ecology and evolution and Chair of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES) at the University of Oslo and Michel Wieviorka, Professor at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris) and chair of the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (Paris). The ERC Scientific Council is an independent body that decides the strategy and distribution of ERC funding. All of its members are selected by an independent Identification Committee. The ERC’s main goal is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-driven frontier research across all fields, on the basis of scientific excellence. An ERC press release is available online.