Brussels Daily
21 Jun 2017


Brussels Daily


European agri-food sector upholds strong export performance

The monthly value of EU agri-food exports in April 2017 reached € 10.6 billion, a level equal to the last 4-year average. The latest figures published today show that the highest increases in monthly export values (April 2016 compared to April 2017) were recorded for Turkey (€+87 million) and Korea (€+86 million). Other gains in EU agri-food exports were mainly located in Asia (Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia). Monthly exports to China, the USA, Egypt and Algeria decreased. Similar to last month, milk powders saw the highest export growth. When it comes to imports, monthly values increased in April 2017 compared to the year before. However, the monthly trade balance remains positive with a surplus of € 860 million. When looking at annual figures from May 2016 to April 2017, EU agri-food exports reached a value of €133.2 billion, corresponding to an increase by 3.4% in value terms compared to the same period one year ago. The full report is online.

Food quality: Stakeholders undertake to continue to cooperate on the issue


Yesterday, the European Commission brought together food industry organizations, specialized NGOs and consumer protection authorities from member states to discuss the dual standard of food quality at the High Level Forum on Food Improving the functioning of the food supply chain. Following discussions at the European Council and the Agriculture and Fisheries Council last March, Member States had been asked to provide evidence to establish the dual food quality standard so that the Commission can identify the scope of this problem. The evidence received by the Commission from 21 of the Member States does not, for the moment, reveal serious market anomalies, the existence of structural differentiation of products to a lower quality or nutritional content then the European markets, particularly to the Eastern European countries, which have raised this potential problem. The participants agreed that this issue would continue to be discussed by all stakeholders in this forum, as well as within the cooperation network of consumer protection authorities. The Joint Research Center of the European Commission also undertakes to reflect on a common methodology, the establishment of which would make it possible to take better account of the forthcoming comparative studies carried out by the national authorities. The next meeting of the forum is expected to be held in October.


European Union receives prestigious Premio Princesa de Asturias de la Concordia award

The European Union is very honoured to have been awarded today the prestigious “Premio Princesa de Asturias de la Concordia” award from Spain. President Jean-Claude Juncker, together with President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani and President of the European Council Donald Tusk have issued a joint statement recalling that the award is a “significant recognition in a year marked by the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Six decades ago, the founding fathers of the EU sowed the seeds of a united Europe in the ashes of a devastating war. Since then, the path we have followed has helped us develop a union of peoples, allowing Europeans to embark upon a project of peace, democracy and prosperity. Thirty years ago, Spain joined this European adventure enthusiastically and with a constructive spirit. Today, it has become one of the main protagonists of the European project. On behalf of the European Union, we accept this prestigious award and we express our appreciation for the recognition and great honour bestowed upon the EU by Spain.” The statement is available online here.


Commission forges ahead on new transparency rules for tax planning intermediaries

The European Commission has today proposed tough new transparency rules for intermediaries – such as tax advisors, accountants, banks and lawyers – who design and promote tax planning schemes for their clients. Recent media leaks such as the Panama Papers have exposed how some intermediaries actively assist companies and individuals to escape taxation, usually through complex cross-border schemes. Today’s proposal aims to tackle such aggressive tax planning by increasing scrutiny around the previously-unseen activities of tax planners and advisors. Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said: “We are continuing to ramp up our tax transparency agenda. Today, we are setting our sights on the professionals who promote tax abuse. Tax administrations should have the information they need to thwart aggressive tax planning schemes. Our proposal will provide more certainty for those intermediaries who respect the spirit and the letter of our laws and make life very difficult for those that do not. Our work for fairer taxation throughout Europe continues to advance.” Cross-border tax planning schemes bearing certain characteristics or ‘hallmarks’ which can result in losses for governments will now have to be automatically reported to the tax authorities before they are used. The Commission has identified key hallmarks, including the use of losses to reduce tax liability, the use of special beneficial tax regimes, or arrangements through countries that do not meet international good governance standards. More information will be available in our press release and MEMO.


Commission proposes €3.5 million from Globalisation Fund for former Microsoft Mobile Oy workers in Finland

The European Commission has proposed to provide Finland with €3.5 million from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) to help 1,000 former Microsoft Mobile Oy workers to find new jobs. Marianne Thyssen, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, commented: “Today’s decision will help to prepare the former Microsoft workers for new job opportunities. Helping these workers to manage their difficult transitions is important. Globalisation offers opportunities, but also challenges to many Europeans. With the Globalisation Fund, we make sure that no one is left behind and that we are solidary with those affected by changing trade patterns.” Finland applied for support from the EGF following the dismissal of 1,248 workers at Microsoft Mobile Oy and eleven of its suppliers and downstream producers in different regions of Finland. The measures co-financed by the EGF would help the 1,000 workers facing the greatest difficulties in finding new jobs by providing them with career coaching and individual guidance; employment and business services; a variety of vocational trainings; start-up grants; hiring incentives and training-related allowances. The total estimated cost of the package is €5.8 million, of which the EGF would provide €3.5 million. The proposal now goes to the European Parliament and the EU’s Council of Ministers for approval.


Antitrust: Commission fines three car lighting system producers €27 million in cartel settlement

The European Commission has fined Automotive Lighting and Hella a total of€27 million for participating in a cartel concerning the supply of vehicle lighting systemsin the European Economic Area. Valeo was not fined as it revealed the cartel to the Commission. The cartel related to the supply of vehicle lighting systems to manufacturers of passenger and commercial vehicles after the end of mass production of a car model. All companies acknowledged their involvement and agreed to settle. Automotive Lighting and Hella benefited from reductions of their fines for their cooperation with the Commission investigation. In addition, under the Commission’s 2008 Settlement Notice, the Commission applied a reduction of 10% to the fines imposed on the companies in view of their acknowledgment of the participation in the cartel and of the liability in this respect. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “The Commission has sanctioned another cartel in the automotive sector. Three lighting producers harmed car and commercial vehicle manufacturers by colluding instead of competing against each other. Today’s decision underlines that we do not accept cartels that affect the European market.” A full press release is available online in here


State aid: Commission approves Danish support to convert Kalundborg cogeneration plant from coal to biomass

The European Commission has approved under EU state aid rules Danish investment aid of DKK 422 million (€57 million) to DONG Energy Thermal Power A/S for the conversion of an existing thermal power unit from coal to a high efficiency unit using biomass in Kalundborg. The new cogeneration unit will supply renewable electricity to the grid, renewable district heating to Kalundborg Forsyning, and renewable process steam to the industry. The measure will contribute to the long-term goal of a fossil-fuel-free Denmark by 2050. The Commission’s investigation found that the aid will help further EU environmental and energy targets and that the support is limited to what is needed. In particular, the aid amounts to 33% of the eligible costs, which is below the 45% allowed under the 2014 Guidelines on State Aid for Environmental Protection and Energy. The Commission found that the project concerns the replacement of an existing unit, and that it will not lead to undue distortions of competition in the electricity market. On the basis of this analysis, the Commission concluded that the investment aid is in line with EU state aide rules. More information will be available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.44922.


State aid: Commission approves public support for Croatian railway company HZ Cargo

The European Commission has approved state aid of HRK 975 million (around €129.5 million) granted by Croatia to HZ Cargo, a state-owned rail freight operator. HZ Cargo was in financial difficulties due to its over-indebtedness. In May 2015, Croatia decided to cancel HZ Cargo’s debt held by the State by way of its conversion to equity. Such debt cancellation constitutes state aid because it relieved HZ Cargo from the repayment obligation, something the company would not have obtained on the market. The Commission found, however, that the aid complies with the EU state aid rules as it fulfils the criteria set out in the Commission’s 2008 Guidelines on state aid for railways. This is in particular because the cancelled debt was incurred prior to Croatia’s accession to the EU in July 2013 and was directly linked to HZ Cargo’s transport operations. In addition, the company faced an excessive level of indebtedness which hindered its sound financial management. Finally, the aid was necessary to rectify HZ Cargo’s financial difficulties and did not prevent effective competition on the market. More information will be available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.39877.


Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of joint control over Ascend Learning by Blackstone and CPPIB

The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of joint control over Ascend Learning Holdings, LLC, by Blackstone Group L.P., both of the USA, along with Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (“CPPIB”), of Canada. Ascend Learning provides educational content and software tools for students, educational institutions and employers, including admissions testing, educational content, test preparation, professional certifications and continuing education. Blackstone is a global alternative asset manager and CPPIB is an institutional investor which invests in public and private equities, real estate, infrastructure and fixed income investments. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would not raise competition concerns, because Ascend Learning has negligible actual and foreseen activities within the European Economic Area. 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.8490.



Commissioner Mimica discussing future relationship with the Caribbean region

Tomorrow, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, will meet with the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) in Cancun, Mexico. He will exchange views with Ministers of the Caribbean region on their future relationship with the European Union. In November 2016, the Commission had presented its ideas for a new political partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries after 2020, when the Cotonou Partnership Agreement expires. The Commission’s vision is to create a single legally binding umbrella agreement. This should be combined with regional tailored partnerships for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific respectively, which address the specific regional opportunities and challenges. On this occasion, Commissioner Mimica said: “Modernising our partnership in this way will help to address key common challenges, for example climate change, peace and security, inclusive growth, migration or joint efforts for a fairer and more balanced multilateralism. As we look back on over 40 years of successful cooperation, as well as a broad base of common values and interest, our Caribbean partners are very important allies in the global arena.”


European Commission announces Director of its Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized enterprises

The European Commission decided today to appoint Mr Julien Guerrier to the position of Principal Adviser in the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW), and to second him, for a period of four years, to the function of Director of the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized enterprises (EASME).The term is renewable once. The date of effect will be determined later. Mr Guerrier, a French national, joined the Commission’s Industry department in 1994. Throughout his career, he held a variety of management positions. In 1996, he headed the Brussels office of the EU-Japan Centre for Industrial Cooperation, a non-profit joint venture between the European Commission and the Japanese government, and was later Deputy Head of Unit in DG Trade. Between 2008 and 2011, he was the centre’s General Manager and First Counsellor to the EU Delegation to Japan. Back to Brussels, Mr Guerrier became Head of Unit “Enterprise Policy & Support Programmes” in Directorate-General (DG) Enterprise and Industry. In his role, he coordinated the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework for the DG and worked on the Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (COSME) programme. He is currently Head of Unit “Corporate Management, Budget & Administration” in the Commission’s Secretariat-General.



DAILY NEWS 21- 06 -2017-

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