COLLEGE MEETING: Commission proposes to amend the EU-Morocco fisheries partnership agreement and renew its protocol
Following the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 27 February, the Commission today adopted a proposal for a Council Decision authorizing it to negotiate with Morocco the amendment of the current EU-Morocco partnership in the fisheries sector and the renewal of the protocol. The aim is to preserve and further develop the fisheries partnership between the EU and Morocco by concluding an environmentally sustainable agreement and protocol that is economically viable and fully compliant with international and European law. Morocco is a close EU partner enjoying “advanced status” under the EU Neighborhood Policy and the EU-Morocco Association Agreement. Today’s proposal aims to improve fisheries governance, in particular by strengthening the monitoring, control and surveillance of fisheries in the region. The continuity of the agreement will be beneficial to both parties: on the one hand by providing Morocco with support for its “Halieutis” strategy for the sustainable development of the fishing sector, thanks to the significant financial contribution that will be paid to it under the Protocol and, on the other hand, by offering EU operators, including small-scale fishermen from several Member States, access to the fishing opportunities offered by the amended agreement and the renewed protocol. The EU proposal plans to extend this agreement to Western Sahara under certain conditions. The proposal and the annex are available online
COLLEGE MEETING: European Commission decides not to register European Citizens’ Initiative entitled ‘British friends – stay with us in the EU’
The College of Commissioners today decided not to register a proposed citizens’ initiative, from a group of non-British EU citizens, entitled: “British friends – stay with us in the EU”, whose stated objective is “to create a platform which would enable all European citizens to take part in this initiative and to reach a majority of British Citizens… thereby giving to all British citizens an opportunity to voice their opinion.” No further information was provided about the legislative tool which could potentially support this initiative, and enable EU citizens outside the UK to overturn the sovereign Brexit decision by the British people or compel them to change their minds. The conditions for admissibility of a European Citizens’ Initiative are that the proposed action does not manifestly fall outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act, that it is not manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious and that it is not manifestly contrary to the values of the Union. While the Commission regrets the decision of the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, there is no legal basis in the Treaties which would allow for the adoption of an EU legal act challenging or overturning the UK’s decision to withdraw from the Union. As such, the College has no legal basis to register this proposed Initiative.
COLLEGE MEETING: Commission puts in place first EU counter-measures on listed non-cooperative tax jurisdictions
The European Commission is today delivering on its pledge to ensure that the EU’s common EU list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions is backed up by effective countermeasures. Guidelines adopted today mark the first step in stopping the transit of EU funds through non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. They will ensure that EU funds do not inadvertently contribute to global tax avoidance. Today’s guidelines should guarantee in particular that EU external development and investment funds cannot be channelled or transited through entities in countries on the EU’s common list. The first-ever list was agreed and published in December 2017 and is being updated on a continuous basis. The new requirements seek to align the EU’s objective of tackling tax avoidance at the global level with the rules governing the use of EU funds by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as the European Investment Bank (EIB), development financial institutions (DFIs) – including the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) – and other eligible counterparties. Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Union said: “The EU’s blacklist of tax havens is a living document and more countries will be added if they don’t live up to the commitments they have made to improve their tax systems. The Commission will not allow EU funds to contribute to global tax avoidance. These EU level countermeasures should act as a wake-up call for those jurisdictions as they show the EU is serious about tackling tax avoidance on a global scale.” A press release on the new guidelines is available here
COLLEGE MEETING: Antitrust: Commission fines eight producers of capacitors €254 million for participating in cartel
The European Commission has fined Elna, Hitachi Chemical, Holy Stone, Matsuo, NEC Tokin, Nichicon, Nippon Chemi-Con, Rubycon € 253 935 000. Together with the immunity applicant, Sanyo, these companies operated a cartel for the supply of aluminium and tantalum electrolytic capacitors between 1998 and 2012. The Commission’s investigation found that the nine companies participated in multilateral meetings and engaged in bilateral or trilateral contacts to exchange commercially sensitive information. The objective was to coordinate future behaviour and avoid price competition. The investigation found that the cartel participants were aware of the anti-competitive nature of their behaviour, as evidenced by their intention to conceal it. Under the Commission’s 2006 Leniency Notice: i) Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd. and its parent Panasonic Corporation received full immunity for revealing the existence of the cartel; ii) Hitachi Chemical, Rubycon, Elna and NEC Tokin benefited from reductions of their fines for cooperating with the Commission’s investigation; and iii) Rubycon was the first to submit compelling evidence that allowed the Commission to extend the duration of the infringement from June 1998 to August 2003. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: “Capacitors are an essential part of almost all electronic products, ranging from smart phones to appliances in our homes, electronic systems in our cars and wind turbines producing electricity. The nine companies fined today colluded to maximise their profits. This may have happened not only at the expense of manufacturers but also of consumers. Our decision again makes clear that we will not tolerate anti-competitive conduct that may affect European consumers, even if anticompetitive contacts take place outside Europe.” A full press release is available in here.
COLLEGE MEETING: Commission proposes new measures to ensure that all companies pay fair tax in the EU
The European Commission has today proposed new rules to ensure that digital business activities are taxed in a fair and growth-friendly way in the EU. The measures would make the EU a global leader in designing tax laws fit for the modern economy and the digital age. The recent boom in digital businesses, such as social media companies, collaborative platforms and online content providers, has made a great contribution to economic growth in the EU. But current tax rules were not designed to cater for those companies that are global, virtual or have little or no physical presence. The change has been dramatic: 9 of the world’s top 20 companies by market capitalisation are now digital, compared to 1 in 20 ten years ago. The challenge is to make the most of this trend, while ensuring that digital companies also contribute their fair share of tax. If not, there is a real risk to Member State public revenues: digital companies currently have an average effective tax rate half that of the traditional economy in the EU. Two distinct legislative proposals proposed by the Commission today will lead to a fairer taxation of digital activities in the EU. The first initiative aims to reform corporate tax rules so that profits are registered and taxed where businesses have significant interaction with users through digital channels. This forms the Commission’s preferred long-term solution. The second proposal responds to calls from several Member States for an interim tax which covers the main digital activities that currently escape tax altogether in the EU. Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President for the Euro and Social Dialogue said: “Digitalisation brings countless benefits and opportunities. But it also requires adjustments to our traditional rules and systems. We would prefer rules agreed at the global level, including at the OECD. But the amount of profits currently going untaxed is unacceptable. We need to urgently bring our tax rules into the 21st century by putting in place a new comprehensive and future-proof solution.” Pierre Moscovici, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs added: “The digital economy is a major opportunity for Europe and Europe is a huge source of revenues for digital firms. But this win-win situation raises legal and fiscal concerns. Our pre-Internet rules do not allow our Member States to tax digital companies operating in Europe when they have little or no physical presence here. This represents an ever-bigger black hole for Member States, because the tax base is being eroded. That’s why we’re bringing forward a new legal standard as well an interim tax for digital activities.” A press release, MEMO and factsheet are available online.
Mergers: Commission clears Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto, subject to conditions
The European Commission has approved under the EU Merger Regulation the acquisition of Monsanto by Bayer. The merger is conditional on the divestiture of an extensive remedy package, which addresses the parties’ overlaps in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “We have approved Bayer’s plans to take over Monsanto because the parties’ remedies, worth well over €6 billion, meet our competition concerns in full. Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger. In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same. That is important because we need competition to ensure farmers have a choice of different seed varieties and pesticides at affordable prices. And we need competition to push companies to innovate in digital agriculture and to continue develop new products that meet the high regulatory standards in Europe, to the benefit of all Europeans and the environment.” As part of its in-depth review, the Commission has assessed more than 2,000 different product markets and reviewed 2.7 million internal documents. It concluded that the transaction as notified would have significantly reduced competition on price and innovation in Europe and globally on a number of different markets. The Commission also had concerns that it would have strengthened Monsanto’s dominant position on certain markets, where Bayer is an important challenger of Monsanto. The commitments submitted by Bayer meet these competition concerns in full, addressing the parties’ overlaps in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the divestment package enables a suitable buyer to sustainably replace Bayer’s competitive effect in these markets and continue to innovate, for the benefit of European farmers and consumers. Bayer has proposed BASF as purchaser for the remedy package. The Commission’s assessment is ongoing whether a) the divestiture to BASF meets all purchaser requirements, and b) whether it creates any problematic overlaps or raises other competition concerns. Bayer and Monsanto can only implement the transaction when the Commission has completed its review of the proposed buyer. The full press release is available online here.
Commission welcomes adoption of negotiating directives for a multilateral investment court
The Commission received yesterday a green light from Member States to start international talks for establishment of a multilateral investment court. For the first time, the Council also made its negotiating mandate public at the time of adoption. Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said: “This is a very welcome decision. In the EU’s bilateral trade talks, we have already moved away from the old ISDS model towards the modern and transparent investment court system. Looking ahead to the long term, the multilateral level will be highly important for managing the growing number of bilateral investment agreements. I am delighted that EU Member States in the Council have now given their unanimous backing to this initiative, that we proposed last September. The EU’s new policy on investment is fundamentally based on transparency, so I am glad that the Council decided to make the mandate publicly available. We can now continue working with like-minded partners around the globe, towards launching negotiations to create a multilateral investment court – knowing that EU citizens are fully informed of our negotiating instructions.” Since 2015, the Commission has followed a new approach to investment dispute settlement, which implies including the Investment Court System (ICS) in the EU’s bilateral agreements. The Commission has in parallel been working on the multilateral investment court project. The new approach was a direct response to problems identified with the traditional ad-hoc mechanism for arbitrating investment disputes and with the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), including its lack of legitimacy, consistency and transparency. The multilateral investment court initiative aims to replace existing bilateral mechanisms – including those in the over 1,400 investment treaties concluded by EU Member States and other interested countries – with a permanent body to decide on international investment disputes. More information about the initiative to create a multilateral investment court: webpage, factsheetand recording of a stakeholders’ meeting.
Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy opens headquarters in Brussels
The new headquarters of the Global Covenant of Mayors will be opened in Brussels on 22 March following on the European Covenant’s recent 10th anniversary in February this year. To mark this occasion, an inauguration ceremony will take place in the presence of His Majesty King Philippe of the Belgians, together with European Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union Maroš Šefčovič and Michael R. Bloomberg, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and Co-Chair of the Global Covenant and other leaders and personalities. The Covenant is the world’s largest movement for local climate and energy actions. It has more than 7500 city signatories across 6 continents, all committed to implement clean energy solutions and stem the tide of climate change. The opening ceremony will be an opportunity to highlight the central role cities play in meeting the objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement on climate change. Speaking before the event, Vice-President Šefčovič said:“The EU Covenant of Mayors, now 10 years young, has proven to be a real success story. As the global fight against climate change will not succeed without cities, the Global Covenant of Mayors has to become a similar success story. With its headquarters based in the EU’s capital, Brussels, we signal Europe’s leadership on the clean energy transition and its engagement in this quest to save our planet, and to give our citizens a healthier environment, greener jobs, and higher quality of life.” The European Commission has supported the Global Covenant of Mayors, as well as cooperation between cities and regions from Europe and third countries, with more than €21 million under the International Urban Cooperation Programme of the Partnership Instrument(PI).The ceremony will take place on Thursday 22 March from 12:00-13:00, at the new headquarters located at Boulevard Charlemagne 1 (Mezzanine Floor, 1000 Brussels). More information here.
Mergers: Commission clears joint venture between Marubeni-Itochu and Sumitomo Corporation
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of joint control over Hiroshima Steel Center by Marubeni-Itochu Steel Inc. (“MISI”) and Sumitomo Corporation, all of Japan. Hiroshima Steel Center processes and sells steel products outside the European Economic Area (EEA). MISI trades, manufactures and processes iron and steel products, and it is controlled by Marubeni Corporation and Itochu Corporation. Sumitomo Corporation is a conglomerate producing products and services in a wide range of sectors, including metal products and mineral resources. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would raise no competition concerns because the joint venture will have no or negligible activities within the EEA. More information is available on the Commission’s competition website, in the public case register under the case number M.8799.
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of YOOX Net-a-Porter by Richemont
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of YOOX Net-a-Porter of Italy by Richemont of Switzerland. YOOX Net-a-Porter is an online retailer of luxury goods and operates four multi-brand online stores. Richemont is active in the design, production and distribution of luxury goods, mainly jewellery and watches. The Commission concluded that the proposed acquisition would raise no competition concerns given: i) the companies’ moderate combined market positions after the proposed transaction; and ii) the limited horizontal overlaps or vertical links between the activities of the companies. 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.8806.
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of Pro bAV Pensionskasse by Frankfurter Leben Holding
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of sole control over Pro bAV Pensionskasse AG (“PPAG”) of Germany by Frankfurter Leben Holding GmbH & Co (“FL Group Holding”) of Germany and controlled by Fosun International Holdings Ltd of the British Virgin Islands. PPAG is active in the pension insurance sector in Germany.FL Group Holding is specialised in the acquisition and administration of life insurance portfolios and life insurance undertakings. Fosun is an investment group active in the insurance, investment and wealth management and innovative finance sectors, as well as in the health, tourism and entertainment, real property and natural resources industries. The Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would raise no competition concerns given its limited impact on the market structure and the very limited overlaps and vertical links between the companies’ 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 case number M.8784.
Mergers: Commission clears acquisition of joint control of Bayport Polymers by Borealis, Nova and Total
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the acquisition of joint control over the joint venture Bayport Polymers LLC, by NOVA Chemicals Inc, Total Petrochemicals & Refining, all three of the US, and Borealis AGof Austria. The joint venture will be active in the production and marketingof polyethylene.NOVA Chemicals produces and sells ethylene, polyethylene, styrene and co-products thereof. Total is engaged in the oil and gas industry, as well as other energy sectors. Borealis is active in the production and commercialisation of polyolefin, base chemicals and fertilisers. The Commission concluded that the proposed transaction would raise no competition concerns because the envisaged joint venture will have negligible actual or 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.8772.
Commission launches online training program for companies on consumer lawIn order to further improve consumer protection in the EU and support businesses, especially SMEs, the Commission has launched an online training program to help companies better understand and apply EU consumer law. Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality said: “Companies are still not sufficiently informed about consumer rights and to improve their knowledge I encourage all companies, especially SMEs, to enroll in the ConsumerLaw Readytraining program, which will contribute to better consumer protection in the EU. ” Through this website, businesses will be able to learn through online programs, register for online courses or seek expert advice. They will receive training on consumers’ rights in terms of the guarantee, the right of withdrawal of consumers, the information to be provided to their customers, alternative dispute resolution solutions and how to avoid unfair practices. The information is adapted to the needs of each country and is available in its own language. The training program was developed jointly by the European Consumers’ Organization (BEUC), the European Association for SMEs (UEAPME) and the European Association of Chambers of Commerce (Eurochambres). Training is available here: ConsumerLaw Ready.
EU solidarity on energy: Leaders discuss integration of the Baltic States’ electricity network
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has invited the Heads of State or Government of the Baltic States and of Poland to meet on Thursday 22 March 2018 in the European Commission premises ahead of the European Council. President Juncker and the President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė, the Prime Minister of Estonia Jüri Ratas, the Prime Minister of Latvia Māris Kučinskis and the Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki will discuss the integration of the Baltic States’ electricity network into the European system, building on the political commitment expressed by Ministers in December 2017 (see STATEMENT/17/5271 and MEMO/17/5316). From early in the mandate the Juncker Commission has been committed to working towards implementing strategic energy infrastructure projects and addressing the various aspects required to end the energy isolation of the Baltic Sea region by reinforcing its integration into the European Union energy market. This includes the objective to ensure the synchronisation of the electricity grids of the Baltic States. The synchronisation of the three Baltic States’ electricity grid with the continental European network will increase solidarity and energy security in the region and is of key for completing the Energy Union. Photo opportunities will take place on Thursday 22 March at 11:15 at the Commission Berlaymont building. For accreditation contact Oscar.SANCHEZ-BENITEZ@ec.europa.eu.